Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

The night Zack wore his wolf suit,
and made mischief
of one kind
and another...

Wait. That's not mine.

Zack was a Big Bad Wolf, however. It was inspired by his love of the story of the three little pigs, not Where the Wild Things Are, but he was very pleased when we read the latter and he noticed the similarity of suit. We could ask why he chooses the villain (ah, that Mr. McGreggor of Halloween 2007!), but that will have to be another post.

My sister and I had lots of fun making these costumes from instructions on Martha's show. Well, we made Zack and Sammy's from instructions on the show and Julie improvised the lion very cleverly. I knew having a ridiculous supply of random craft stuff would pay off! Wait. I think we bought just as much as we used from my stash. Darnit. My Halloween confession is that I was a bit wistful that she was doing an original creation and I was just following an existing design, which is crazy. Sigh. But, it was a good thing I made myself stick to the pattern, since I had that second kid thing going on. Creativity gets old when you finish and then have to start again. We did the costumes a few days ahead of time so that by the day of Halloween I was refreshed and happy to quickly make a Huff And Puff And The Pig Gets Blown Down treat bag - I crack myself up.

The actual trick or treating was lots of fun. I have a bias against all these candy-focused holidays (exactly what's the message to our children?), but I was determined to set it aside for tonight and just enjoy. Lo and behold, nobody burst into flame or even exploded from sugar rush. The candy consumption did not spiral out of control when I let down my guard. Go figure.

And I noticed something much better than candy this year. I think our neighborhood was more neighborly. A few weeks ago our block participated in the National Night Out and although it is sponsored by police for crime prevention, it paid more dividends for our street in overall community. The friendliness seems to have carried over. Even for those whose names we had forgotten, we had at least a recognition that enabled us to stop and visit over the kids costumes or the balmy evening.

A few years ago, after reading Making Room for Life, James and I started sitting out in the driveway after Zack went to bed, lounging in our camp chairs and drinking Izzes, visiting with each other and neighbors as we got the opportunity. Unfortunately we seem to keep later hours than our neighbors and they are mostly in for the night before we are even out (even so, that's our best talking time, away from the visible chores that need done an the temptation of the TV and *ahem* the computer). One set of neighbors does come out and visit, so that's one more relationship forming. This Halloween there were many couples and families in chairs on their driveways or porches, welcoming the kids, visiting with the adults. It was a joy to see community formation in action, the connections being made and strengthened. We we got back from trick or treating ourselves, we set up our chairs outside to hand out candy and visited with many as they came by. I think Halloween was even better for the parents than it was for the kids.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Where have I been

Mostly here, having a great visit with my sister and nephew!

I still seem not to have completed my world tour of cold and flu symptoms (although I'm glad my eyes have returned to their normal color), but so far I haven't passed this nasty virus on to anyone else. Here's hoping!

The costume project was great fun and Zack is excited about wearing his outfit. I have high hopes for getting fun pictures tomorrow.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Beach

Last weekend was our annual trip to Port Aransas, Texas for a beach visit. This is our sixth year to go, always in October, always timed to visit our dearest 89 year old friend, Judy. She lives in Austin and we see her at church weekly, but that's just not the same. She spends October in Port Aransas so we arrange a weekend to visit her there for that special time the beach brings. We go with other families (not pictured, since I haven't asked permission) whose kids are roughly the same age as ours. We have so much fun, and as the kids grow, and we add new kids, the fun just increases. This year we reflected on how the kids are so neat and how we genuinely LIKE them. I feel really blessed to be able to say that.

The only fly in the sunscreen was that I was so very sick. The friends were quite nice about it, but if they get what I've got, they are going to hate me forever. Luckily, they'll have no voice during the worst of their ire, so I won't have to hear much about it. Then, after that, the whites of their eyes will turn solid red (yes, my current state) and they won't be able to show their faces out of their houses. Suffice it to say, I was not in optimal health for beach enjoyment. But, I still had a good time and got down to the beach quite a bit, considering.

Now I'm spending an inordinate amount of time staring at the pictures and playing with Picasa 3's collage function. I'm mesmerized by the photos and the combination of photos. I'm looking back at previous years and how all the kids have grown. I'm sure it's a mom-thing, but sometimes the way the light catches on my kids' skin or hair makes me catch my breath. This view of Zack staring up at a kite combined with his mischievous little water kicking is what currently has me delighted:

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Voice of the People

Or rather, just me.

Or rather, NOT me.

Because I don't have one. Not having a voice (yes, literally) is very strange. I am a walking game of charades, and people didn't even know they were playing. Yes, I can whisper, but it hurts. The doctor advised me to do so as little as possible and instead write everything down. That works super for my eight month and four year old. Wait, if I can write everything in three letter words with short vowel sounds, and only two words at a time, maybe the four year old will communicate on my behalf to the eight month old?

People speaking to me either whisper or begin pantomiming things back to me. The grocery store clerk mouthed silently, "IS PLASTIC OK?", eyebrows raised, mouth wide, pointing to the bags in a motion that involved his whole arm and upper torso. Did he think I was deaf? I was making great use of my Sign Language for Babies knowledge to talk to Zack while waiting in line. But, that still doesn't make sense because if I can read lips, surely his response was the equivalent of shouting English to a Spanish speaker.

I was briefly watching four young children in a hotel lobby yesterday while feeding my younger son his solid food. A recipe for disaster, you say? I whispered instructions to them and a complete round of whispered crawl-tag-hide-and-seek ensued. It was the quietest play I've ever seen. They are usually pretty well behaved, but there would have been no way I could have instructed them to whisper the whole time and thought they would be able to stick to it.

The phone is the biggest challenge. I need it. I want it. I apparently cause fiascoes without it.

Today I was supposed to pick up a Pack and Play for use during my sister and nephew's visit from a handy spot at our church. The owner of the item was going to be across the street anyway, so he left it there for me. I told my husband this morning that I would go and get it when I picked up Zack from school. When I arrived there was no Pack and Play. I found the janitor to ask (with great whispering and gesturing) him if he had moved it, but he hadn't. I went back to the car to call the owner (maybe he left it elsewhere?) and discovered I had forgotten my phone. ARGH. I had put in on the charger without setting the charger on my purse (my usual failsafe) because I wasn't all that convinced it was going to be any use to me today anyway. So I lugged the baby across the street and up two flights of stairs to find my friend, who came back with me to look for it. We looked everywhere we could think of. NO Pack and Play. We ended up in the church office asking the bookkeeper if she had seen it and we all sadly concluded that it had been stolen. From a church! Sheesh! At this point I was very late to get Zack from school. I really only had time to run in, nab the item, and head to school, so after the hard target search, I'm late, panicked, guilt-ridden and sweating. I made a hasty and apologetic goodbye and jumped in the car, plotting how I am going to get a Pack and Play for my nephew to sleep in by tonight, and how I'm going to replace the stolen one for my friends. I pull up at school a full fifteen minutes late. They charge by the minute, so that's a $15 late fine. Plus, I'm picturing his teachers standing with the one abandoned preschooler, calling me and not getting me, trying to reassure a crying Zack that his mommy would come soon. I tear into the parking lot, leap out of the car, start to jerk the baby out of his carseat, when what do I see? Zack is standing, holding hands with his grandmother, under a shady tree. I'm a little paralyzed by confusion. Did they call her, failing to reach me? Now my poor mothering has pulled in extended family to compensate! And wait, how did she get here so fast?

I begin to explain how I was at church and got embroiled in a search for a Pack and Play but that it had been stolen when she stops me, confessing she "had tried to help but had messed everything up". SHE had the Pack and Play! The phone log tells the true story.

I had six missed calls, three voicemails and three text messages. She had called me, realized I couldn't talk, and called my husband to see if she could help us by bringing the Pack and Play to our house or to Zack's school. He said Yes, please (uh... what was the point of my telling him this morning not to worry about the Pack and Play, that I would pick it up when I picked up Zack?) and left me a voicemail and a text for me to this effect. She went to the school and when I didn't show up by two o'clock, went in and picked up Zack. She tried to call again but then had a friend of mine text me that she was there and had gotten Zack. After I arrived, I had her call the church and my friend to say that the Pack and Play had not been stolen after all. All the best intentions, and of course my husband DID tell her yes, so certainly not her fault. Whether it's James' fault, well... I COULD make a case, but I won't. Really. Especially since I am the one always harassing James to keep his phone with him.

Stupid lost voice, and stupid me for leaving my phone at home. At least I don't have to buy two Pack and Plays.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

First Cool Evening

It's been muggy in the evenings until late this week. Thursday night it was suddenly 56 degrees, a lovely little chill in the air. James requested chili and cornbread for dinner. Zack requested that we eat outside and roast marshmallows. I don't know how long it's been since we did that, but it must have made an impression on Zack.

We ate our chili outside, Zack's excitement sparkling in the evening air. He told us every bit of his day he could think of, then he and his daddy sat in front of the chiminea long after I had gone in to clean up the kitchen. I left the door open, enjoying the occasional piece of a phrase of Zack's latest story - yet another alteration on the three little pigs - as it drifted in with the fall breeze.

A cool evening indeed.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Blog name

Ok, as previously disclosed and discussed, I acknowledge that the name "Deanna's Blog" is lame. Julie has a list of options, but none have really struck me quite right. Some are downright scandalous ("Making Mungers"? hee hee!).

I really just want to have a chance to write, with the tantalizing thought that someone, somewhere might read it. I want to show pictures of the kids, but I'm not really thinking of an online scrapbook. I like the idea of discussing issues now and then, but it's not really a political forum for me, more like occasional musings. I tried out "Thoughts from Deanna" for a day and hated it. Sounded crazy egocentric to me. I like capturing anything that is creative or fun before it slips away from my Pigeon Brain. What's a girl with too many hobbies and no single focus to do?

I keep thinking back to my wedding, when we were doing so much ourselves that the hours and minutes before the ceremony had to shift into a panic-driven high gear. Julie, who embodies all the best of the Fieldmarshall personality type, began to move everyone along. It was Lead, Follow, or Get Outta the Way! My friend and attendant, Alya, was sprinkling sparkles on the tables for the reception. "Sprinkle, Alya, sprinkle!" Julie barked!

Sometimes my hobbies feel like they only get going when there is a deadline and I have to shift into high gear. I finished scrapbooking my wedding at one in the morning the night before Sammy was born, almost ten years later. I finished my nephew's crocheted blanket in the backseat of the car on the way to the baby shower. I finished the preparations for the M is for Man on the Moon party the night before and morning of only due to high-gear and the help of my mother- and father-in-law and our friend, Glenn. As usual, I was in the kitchen plating up the food on the trays and garnishing at top speed just before the guests began to arrive.

So I'm trying a new name: Garnish, Deanna, Garnish! If I hate it after a few days, I guess we'll go back to the lame name.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Big day for Sammy

This morning when we went in to get Sammy, he was sitting instead of lying in his crib! He's been working really hard on learning to crawl. Right now he's at the stage of getting to all fours, then rocking back and forth but not moving. He occasionally jumps both knees forward like a little bunny and finds he has moved without really knowing how. When he gets tired, he splays out, landing on his tummy, swimming frustrated in the air. And that's where he stays until someone takes pity on him, because he won't roll back over on his back and can't get back up to a sitting position.

Make that couldn't.

When we discovered him sitting, James lowered the crib mattress a notch. I guess we're glad because the next time I went in to get him, he was STANDING in his crib! STANDING! He was not at all pleased that I took a picture instead of picking him immediately up but I couldn't resist.

It seems like Zack always had developmental jumps in multiple areas at the same time, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but he also made what seems like a huge jump in communication - he signed to ask for something! On Monday while Sammy was nursing, he made what I thought was the milk sign. Same on Tuesday. Then today, he was eating his solids and acting a little fussy. I couldn't figure out if he wanted me to feed him faster or stop feeding him and said so to Zack. Sammy then signed "milk". Oh! So he had milk. YAY for the beginning of communication!

I know these sound like little moments, but they are the moments that make me love being a mom.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Food Policy

Today Soulemama had a link to the article "Farmer in Chief" from the New York Times. It is long, but very interesting (edit 11/5/08: you can listen to the content in this npr interview). I hadn't really thought the impact national (and global) agricultural policies have on fuel consumption or public health. Truth be told, I hadn't thought a lot about agricultural policies at all.

I had been thinking about joining a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture. A friend of mine is a member of Johnsons Backyard Garden and loves getting the variety of locally grown fresh produce. I've gotten an extra box of veggies from their delivery a couple of times and it always enriches my cooking for a couple of weeks as I find ways to use in season and sometimes unusual items. The items are of great quality and a broad variety. The only thing that stopped me was that it was a little pricey compared to the grocery. Now I'm thinking it's worth it in other ways. They have a waiting list but I put my name on it.

A few days ago I noticed a friend on Goodreads was reading Food Politics. I don't know why it struck me at the time, but it looked interesting, so I reserved it at the library and was able to pick it up yesterday. I was a bit dismayed at the length - yesterday I thought I might not read it after all. Now my appetite for the subject has been whetted and I think I'll at least try it. I'll let you know how it goes.

p.s. I know some of you have interest in the subject and have good books to recommend, but I can't remember what they were so don't be shy :)

What's for dinner?

This week we've had red peppers on sale, at about half the usual price (I won't say what it is, becuase I always feel a little foolish when my family recoils in horror at the grocery prices I pay. I guess groceries are cheaper in Arizona. I didn't google overpriced food Austin, I promise...). I don't think this photo does justice to how georgeous they are.

James used my first one on a pizza, which seemed like a waste at first but actually made for a fabulous pizza. So I got a few more and made stuffed peppers.

I made the recipe all wrong (it's not like this was a recipe I got from someone else - it's my own recipe!), mixing all the ingredients with the raw meat like I was making a meatloaf, then realizing I was supposed to brown the meat first and dumping the whole mix in the skillet. I didn't have all the ingredients, but it didn't matter at all. They turned out delicious!

I went out and got more. Next red pepper plan, coming right up!

Friday, October 10, 2008

New lunch plan

We're trying a new plan for lunch at school this year. So far it's been great, so I better go ahead and write about it while it's still working.

The old plan:
47 ziplock baggies
loose in the backpack
at room temperature

When we had shopped for a Zack lunchbox last year, everything was huge and covered with some commercial character. I know it's strange, but I don't like commercial characters for my kids clothing, gear and toys. I don't want my (at the beginning of last school year) still two year old sporting an Incredible Hulk lunchbox. And every lunchbox was so big it wouldn't fit in his backpack. Since we are already hauling a napmat (WHY did I have to get the extra thick one?), sippy cup and backpack, we were dangerously close to bringing a pile of gear larger than the gear's owner.

Thus, the lunch ended up being all items I didn't mind keeping at room temperature and all in ziplock bags. The constant stream of ziplock bags was making me feel guilty and the contents of the ziplock bags were making me feel hypocritical, since I have an ongoing rant about the foods considered "kids' food".

The new plan:
reusable containers
insulated lunchbox with ice pack

This year I found a small lunchbox that fits in Zack's backpack. I even got a matching ice pack! Thanks to the Container Store, we found a variety of containers tiny enough to pack small amounts of multiple items for lunch.

Here's the great part - Zack and I sat down with a piece of scrap paper and his crayons and drew out what a variety of foods means. Not exactly a food pyramid, more like a mixed plate. And we decided that if he was going to choose a variety of items for his lunch, then he could choose a sweet item to finish the meal. We had to limit the sweet items, since the school asks that we not send candy, etc., to items like a piece of granola bar, "apple treats" (little does he know apple treats are just dried apples), caramel dip for his fruit or kettle corn. I give him choices from each category, with dips or sauces in the tiny containers, and he has some ownership in what the foods are.

The first day of the mixed plate, he ate his sweet finish with out actually finishing anything else.

"But I asked my teacher if I could eat it. I told her I hadn't eaten my lunch and she still said I could eat it."

So, it became an additional lesson on using integrity and judgment. Now, he's been eating the lunch - including the vegetables - or bringing home some items including his sweet and eating them for a snack. I'm thrilled, at least for now. We'll see how it goes the rest of the year.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Right, Responsibility or Privilege

I went ahead and published yesterday's post without completing it because during the time I was planning to write about that very question, I was instead taking care of Zack with his 104.1 fever. Now today he's feeling better... which translates into stir-crazy and frustrated at not being allowed to run and play outside. That didn't leave much time to write. On the bright side, the laundry AND the vacuuming are done.

Here are my thoughts, starting with the question: What is the purpose of government? If we want to have a society where there is at least a certain level of of safety, liberty and opportunity provided for every human being, then a government is needed to set and maintain that level. This is at the heart of the Declaration of Independence - that all human beings inherently have certain rights and that government is for the purpose of effecting the "Safety and Happiness" of its citizens.

Without any system to the contrary, those who are the strongest and most advantaged naturally prevail, their "Life, Liberty, and pursuit of Happiness" being in little need of protection. It is the weak and the disadvantaged that require help to maintain a basic level of safety and liberty.

What does a basic standard life, liberty and happiness entail? Certainly not spa treatments for AIG executives. But we do say that those with disabilities must be given access to public spaces. Is that a right? We've said it is with the ADA. And, the eighth amendment has been interpreted to say that prisoners right to have no cruel or unusual punishment means they must be provided health care*. So health care is a right for prisoners. To me, it follows that it is a right for the rest of our citizens as well. If we want a society that protects the weakest and disadvantaged, health care is surely as much in the greater society's purview as access ramps.

*U.S. supreme court ESTELLE v. GAMBLE, 429, U.S. 97, 1976 (and no, I didn't look that up myself)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Right, Responsibility or Privilege?

The presidential candidates were asked in last night's debate whether health care in America is a right, a responsibility, or a privilege. I have noticed that that, probably through witnessing abuses of the system, not much sits well with us when when it's called a right. We're tired of seeing an entitlement mentality about anything and everything. It's tempting to recoil at the idea of something being a right.

On the other hand, when we begin to think about the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, something being a right starts to sound much more reasonable.

What do you think?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Texas Parks and Wildlife Expo

Saturday morning found us at the 2008 Texas Parks and Wildlife Expo, and event teaching about and celebrating all kinds of outdoor activities. The great thing about this event is that it is so hands-on. There is something to do in every area of outdoorsmanship and it all introduces kids (and adults) to new and fascinating things.

This year we didn't have a lot of time to be there, so we let Zack pick what he most wanted to do and started there. He was most interested in fishing for a real fish and we were able to get to that activity before there was a line. There were two separate tanks, one for catfish and one for trout, that were very heavily stocked with fish. Each kid got to hold a pole and if they caught a fish there was an attendant to help them hold it and then release it. Zack's pole caught a catfish almost before he had picked it up, so I don't think it felt like his own catch to him, but he was very interested in it.We followed that with a visit to the sea critters tent, where he got to touch a live sea urchin, hermit crab, sponge, blue crab, turtle, and other items. We had some fish identification books we were given at other booths and we looked up the types of fish we saw in various large aquariums showcasing different underwater habitats. There were fish on ice as well that you could pick up and hold (I touched a moray eel!).

Zack got to try casting (and I had to try it too):

And Sammy had an all around good time being out of doors.

We did save a few minutes for the dino dig, then it was off to wedding work for Mommy and off to naps for boys!

on blogging, facebook, etc.

Uh oh. Miss Manners has me in her cross hairs:
The novelty of being able to register oneself with the entire world and to keep an open diary and share every passing thought has seduced many people who have then found to their regret that unselective exposure does not equal popularity. (full article)
p.s. You know who you are, friend with the Miss Manners link in her blog. I got caught up and spent a ridiculous stretch of time reading about the horrors of arriving at a home with your own purchased coffee in hand.


On an irritating and somewhat sad note, I figured out why my pictures have had the "soft glow" look to them lately. Remember this one from the party?

I took a look at my lens and it was downright grubby. No doubt a small child is to blame. The discovery was one of those "I'm trying to record your precious childhood so stop messing it up!" moments (a la Adventures With Gretchen).


P is for Party

We had an M is for Man on the Moon party this year based on Zack's interest in astronauts' journey to the moon and back.

Zack and I made the invitations together (ok, I mostly made them, but he "helped"). They were black with silver stamped text and decorations. I am loving stamping, which my sister got me started on. This was my excuse to get some metallic ink, which I'm excited about. We also glued on (yes, individually) silver stars, small confetti sized ones. Zack would have liked to put about 50 on each side of each card. I only had the patience for three on each invitation.

Our table theme was "S is for Space" so all the food started with S. We had sugar snap peas and squash with spinach dip. There were strawberries and salted soynuts. We had salsa and Santitas tortilla chips. Finally, there were star-shaped sandwiches - peanut butter on white for the kids and caprese on wheat and cheese on pumpernickel for the adults. Too bad I gave in and served crackers with the spinach dip... they were those new "scrackers", yeah, that's it... This picture is before I distributed the Starburst around the table and sprinkled the silver star confetti around. The plates, napkins and forks were silver. I had a great time thinking of foods that started with S to serve, but if you try it be forewarned that it gets in your head. I started speaking solely in sibilant sounds, the sneaky s's stealing into my speech.

I'll point out that when I brought the remainder of the veggies and dip to a church function, I did have a lady there a bit puzzled about this having been food for a kids' party (I didn't even tell her I had to talk myself out of the sushi). It hadn't occurred to me that veggies weren't normal foods to feed kids. But, there were parents at the party, so it was for adults too. I'm glad all that real nutrition wasn't wasted on children. [Abort, abort usual soapbox rant! Return to party report!]

The cake was in the shape of a space shuttle and was seven-up flavor - yum. This was my favorite flavor growing up and it was fun that Zack chose it as well.
For our activity we had a journey to the moon! First we made helmets out of white paper bags. The paper bags were prepared before the party (by Glenn, yay for Glenn) by cutting off the handles, cutting slots for the shoulders and a circle out for the face, then putting a transparency in for a face shield. Since we started with 8x10 plain gift bags (because that was what I could find in a value pack), they were just barely big enough for the kids with the transparency squishing their noses. They didn't seem to mind. We used a black pipe cleaner to form a headset microphone for each helmet. Then the kids got to decorate their helmets with markers, crayons, metallic stars, puffy foam stars and glow-in-the-dark stars. Our friend Lily was the cutest, requesting to "go glow my stars". We stepped in the powder room to see the glow - fun!Then we headed out to the yard where we had a cardboard space shuttle and blasted off to the moon! Uncle Glenn had helped with the artwork, hence the professional appearance. It was a bit of a puzzle to figure out how to make it. James' parents tracked down a refrigerator box for us, so we had a large, sturdy piece of cardboard to begin with. We sketched out a plan, then the shape out of the cardboard, leaving the bottom of it attached to the next panel of the box. That way, we would be able to clamp the panel to the table with big garden clamps and stand the shuttle side up with extra large binder clamps. We used spray paint to paint the shuttle half white, then Glen finalized the design with sharpie over the paint. It ended up to be a sophisticated coloring-book level of detail, and really cool looking. He even did the swoopy little NASA symbol!
The kids climbed up onto the picnic table and we shouted a countdown and blastoff. Then they each picked up a "moonrock" from the yard. The moonrocks were remarkably egg shaped and filled with Pop Rocks - who knew! They were nice moonrocky colors thanks to some acrylic craft paint.
The spaceship became even more entertainment when we laid it flat and let the kids work on coloring and decorating it too.

After cake and all the final birthday festivities, we sent each guest home with a jumbo crayon made in the shape of their first initial. Zack and I made them by melting down his old crayons, though we ran out of the broken ones and used regular crayons too. We poured the melted colors into candy molds and let them set. The finished crayons went into clear bags marked "Z is for Zack" and so on.

We really enjoyed the party and Zack had a great time. We couldn't bring ourselves to throw the space shuttle away, so we still have a gigantic cardboard in the shape of a shuttle in the garage. I guess that could come in handy someday?? As much fun as it was, since it came on the heels of elk camp I was very glad to have it done so I could move on to the next thing!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Too much tv in my house?

Mommy: Zack, do you know what a headache is?

Zack: No, what is it?

Mommy: It's when your head hurts, but not because you bumped it. From the inside, like when you have a fever. Can you remember feeling that?

Zack: No, I don't think so.

Mommy: Well, Mommy has a headache today; that's why loud sounds are bothering me.

Zack: Mommy. Mommy. Depression hurts, Cymbalta can help.

Two Things

Here are a couple of things I'm loving about being a mamma.
  1. The certainty that each of my kids is his own little person. Zack decided his age was three-and-a-whole. No one told him that. We had switched from saying "three and a half" to saying "almost four" or "four in september", but he had his own mind on the matter and no one was going to change it for him. Not much risk though, since most people had no idea what he was saying!
  2. The wonder of seeing them comprehend something I didn't think they could. Last night I was holding Sammy as we tried to convince ourselves to wrap up our fun conversations and head home. It was late and I knew we needed to get going. My friend April saw Sammy chewing on his fingers and said, "Aw, I think he's hungry." I looked at Sammy and he looked up at me and I said "I know sweetie, but we're going to wait until we get home to eat." Sammy put up the most awful frown and CRIED! He did not like that answer! At seven months, I'm astounded that he knew exactly what was going down. I love those moments when I realize I've been selling their understanding short.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Book on Books

I've been enthralled with the The Read-Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease. It was recommended to me for the list of great books to read to your children or your class. I was looking for some slightly longer, more complex books to read to Zack; he still loves picture books and we wouldn't want to give them up, but he loves more complicated and ongoing storylines too. He is constantly asking for another installment in the adventures of three pigs I made up and remembers their actions and interactions from one story to the next, so I wanted to plant the seed of the longer, richer options available in chapter books.

The Read-Aloud Handbook does have a list of recommended books but it is so much more than that. The first 200 pages are an explanation of what hearing books read aloud does for kids and for families. The benefits are so fundamental that they had slipped by me, partly as obvious, partly as undefined. It was extremely interesting to learn the research and statistics that show that it is the best thing you can do for your kids' education. Hearing out-loud reading is far better for overall educational success that learning to read early (though early reading may happen too). Here is the basic logic:
  • The most accurate predictor of educational success is starting vocabulary (p. 13) - since early instruction is oral, children who can understand the words will be able to understand the instruction, follow directions and comprehend their world. Since decoding (or figuring out a written word - sounding it out) depends on knowing if what you have read is the intended word or if you need to keep trying, kids who don't have a word in their vocabulary won't know if they have sounded it out correctly. Vocabulary goes hand in hand with "background knowledge" (p. 11), or the understanding of what is out there in the wide world. The author tells a story of a group of poverty children living near an airport who didn't understand that there were people on the planes that flew overhead until their Head Start program took them to visit the airport. If you don't know what basic situations in life are about, how can you understand when someone talks about them or when you read about them?
  • The best way to build vocabulary is reading aloud to children. Print media are richer in vocabulary than conversation (p. 17). Even Children's books contain broader, more advanced vocabulary than adult to adult conversation or the evening news, and the vocabulary in other print media increases from there. Reading aloud also builds background knowledge (as do museum and zoo visits, travel and trying new activities) and attention span.
  • Reading is pivotal throughout education. Advanced disciplines and careers are taught at least partially through print media. And here's an interjection from me regarding the current financial crisis - if you can't read well, how can you learn about responsible financial decisions and protect yourself from irresponsibility or fraud?
  • People must find reading pleasurable to do it for a lifetime. No one does what they hate, and too many people grow up to hate reading.
  • The way to introduce a love reading is to experience the advantages and avoid the unnecessary pain. Hearing a book read aloud you get the thrill of the plot twist, the joy of connecting with a character, the intrigue, the moral dilemma, the catharsis. Research shows that the giant pile of worksheets weighing down our students has no advantage and discourages love of learning.
  • Sustained Silent Reading by the student can cement the connection to a love of reading. Without this step, the end goal is not reached. Students need to be given time to read to themselves. Even in a classroom setting, this is a good use of time, not a giveaway. It also gives the parent or teacher a chance to model an adult reading for pleasure (aha! an excuse to read books I want to read! It's for role model purposes, reeeally).
  • More reading time produces a better reader (p.102). The reading can be newspapers, magazines, comic books, series books (sometimes looked down upon in comparison to the classics), even product labels. Because of this, the "print climate" in the home, or how much and what variety of printed materials are available, correlates to reading success and also to writing and math skills. The number of minutes spent reading per day correlates directly and decisively with reading scores.
  • It's a cycle - in both directions. The more you read, the better reader you become, and the more you love it. The less you read, the poorer reader you are, and the more you hate it. Structured reading time can build the positive version of the cycle.
The book discusses the deeper benefits of reading, both together and individually - the bonding between parent and child, the ability to make sense of a difficult world, and the search for meaning in life. The author wonders at the lack of assistance churches give in encouraging parents to read to their children, given the strengthening it offers the family and the opportunities for deeper study of faith it offers the individual.

I found the description of how the gap between the haves and have-nots widens without aloud reading to be gripping and heartbreaking. Poverty children will hear less than a third the number of spoken words by five years old than the children of professional families. The print climate in poverty homes tends to be a desert. Poverty level parents are much less likely to understand that television viewing should be limited. Some of this is an effect of long work hours and less money for print media, but much could be remedied with education. However, since education depends on reading, the gap continues to widen. Trelease offers many poignant stories of children and parents breaking through this gap and connecting with reading; in this fifth edition he follows up with families and reports on the rewards they have reaped for their efforts.

Overall, this book was fascinating. I have always loved to read novels aloud - even to adults (think car trips), but having learned the mechanics of the fundamental benefits will inform my parenting both now and in my kids' school days. The stories were compelling and memorable. It addresses some concerns that are often discussed in social and educational situations (comic books, "trash" books, Oprah's book club, television, Internet) in a helpful and sensible way. Trelease is frank about the state of our educational system without being a doomsayer. I recommend it for parents (though it is fairly dense with statistics and took some concentration to get through) and for teachers - but overall for anyone interested in education, how learning occurs and the state of the nation.

Oh, and I found some good books to read!