Nourishing the Seed

Here is a brief list of book recommendations for middle grade readers (3rd-6th Grade). Stay tuned for more recommendations and more age groups!

Hooky by Miriam Bonastre Tur

One scoop of graphic novel, one dash of fantastical adventure, and two heaping tablespoons of witch makes this book the perfect recipe (or spell!) for the hesitant reader in your life. With beautiful illustrations and an engaging storyline, this is the perfect way to introduce middle-grade readers to novels without making them feel like they are reading a novel.

“When Dani and Dorian missed the bus to magic school, they never thought they’d wind up declared traitors to their own kind! Now, thanks to a series of mishaps, they are being chased by powerful magic families seeking the prophesied King of Witches and royals searching for missing princes.” -HaperCollins Publishers

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling

“Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona… she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined.” -GoodReads

This book is the perfect reminder of the importance of friendship, courage, and acceptance (of yourself and others).

The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane by Julia Nobel

Nothing captivates a reader like the suspenseful twists and turns of a good mystery, and this book is no exception! Read aloud or read alone, you’ll find your readers on the edge of their seat.

With a dad who disappeared years ago and a mother who’s a bit too busy to parent, Emmy is shipped off to Wellsworth, a prestigious boarding school in England, where she’s sure she won’t fit in. But then she finds a box of mysterious medallions in the attic of her home with a note reading: These belonged to your father. When she arrives at school, she finds the strange symbols from the medallions etched into walls and books, which leads Emmy and her new friends, Jack and Lola, to Wellsworth’s secret society: The Order of Black Hollow Lane. Emmy can’t help but think that the society had something to do with her dad’s disappearance, and that there may be more than just dark secrets in the halls of Wellsworth…” -Sourcebooks

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

Alright, this recommendation might come from a place of self-indulgence as this was a series that I absolutely LOVED as a kid. But I’ve also reread them as an adult, and they still hold up.

For centuries, mystical creatures of all description were gathered to a hidden refuge called Fablehaven to prevent their extinction. The sanctuary is one of the last strongholds of true magic. Enchanting? Absolutely. Exciting? You bet. Safe? Well, actually, quite the opposite . . . Kendra and her brother, Seth, have no idea their grandfather is the current caretaker of Fablehaven. Inside the gated woods, ancient laws keep order among greedy trolls, mischievous satyrs, plotting witches, spiteful imps, and jealous fairies. However, when the rules get broken, powerful forces of evil are unleashed, forcing Kendra and Seth to face the greatest challenge of their lives, to save their family, Fablehaven, and perhaps even the world.” -Shadow Mountain

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Boys don’t keep diaries—or do they? It’s a new school year, and Greg Heffley finds himself thrust into middle school, where undersized weaklings share the hallways with kids who are taller, meaner, and already shaving. The hazards of growing up before you’re ready are uniquely revealed through words and drawings as Greg records them in his diary.” -ABRAMS Publishing

Anyone who has been a kid, is a kid, has kids, or has even looked at a kid has heard of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. This series is another resource to encourage disinterested readers. I mean, Jeff Kinney wouldn’t be able to write a 17-book series because kids aren’t reading his books, so he clearly knows a thing or two about getting kids excited about reading.

Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar

Accidentally built sideways and standing thirty stories high (the builder said he was very sorry for the mistake), Wayside School has some of the wackiest classes in town, especially on the thirtieth floor. That’s where you’ll meet Bebe, the fastest draw in art class; John, who only reads upside down; Myron, the best class president ever; and Sammy, the new kid—he’s a real rat.” -HarperCollins Publishing

Comedic, clever, and kooky; this book has it all! With chapters that read like short stories, it is ideal for reading out loud. These far-fetched stories will fetch a laugh or two (or 89).

Planting the Seed

Here is a brief list of book recommendations for early readers (PreK-2nd Grade). Stay tuned for more recommendations and more age groups!

Matilda by Roald Dahl

A cult classic for many, Matilda might be daunting for your littles to read on their own, but it makes a GREAT read-aloud! Trunchbull is a bit intense for some, however, so teacher/parent discretion is advised. Rewards for finishing the book can include chocolate cake and watching the equally classic movie adaptation.

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson

This book is a perfect way to teach kindness and friendship. After Jeremy Ross (or “#1 Enemy”, as he is known to the young narrator), moves in down the street, our narrator turns to his dad for help. The father has just the solution! A recipe for a pie that gets rid of enemies. But as it turns out, this secret recipe is much more effective at turning a best enemy into a best friend.

Who Wet My Pants? by Bob Shea

While it might sound like a potty-training story, Who Wet My Pants? is actually a story about how embarrassment can lead to anger, accidents can (and will) happen, and kindness is the best response.

The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak

This book is required to be read aloud. No, really. The book starts off with, “Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say. Side effects of reading this book can include uncontrollable giggles, choruses of, “Again, again!” from the kids, and not being able to take yourself seriously.

What books resonate well with your early readers? How do you encourage them to be excited about reading?

Importance Of Reading 20 Minutes A Day

supporting teachers

Many, many schools push 20 minutes of reading a day. And while using reading charts or similar methods may not be beneficial in the long run, sitting down to read for 20 minutes a day is. Especially if it’s done in an authentic way. Here are some statistics of reading 20 minutes a day: 

Children who read 20 minutes a day are exposed to 1.8 million words in one school year.

They are also more likely to score in the 90th percentile on standardized testing. 

There was also a study done on children reading 15 minutes a day that showed academic achievement and gains in regards to reading, but not as high as the students that read 20 minutes a day. 

Students reading 5 minutes or less a day were more likely to fall behind their peers academically and needed intervention methods to bring them to grade level (statistics from kidskonnect.com).

Beyond just statistics and test scores, what are the other benefits of reading? 

A widened imagination and higher levels of creativity. 

Reading can help foster empathy. 

It exposes children to multiple cultures, ideas, and worlds. 

Reading improves writing skills. 

It expands vocabulary. 

Taking 20 minutes to read every day can boost mental health. 

Improves critical-thinking skills. 

Can encourage them to ask more questions when they don’t understand concepts in the book, such as why some cultures eat, drink, or act in the ways they do. 

Have I convinced you yet?! Encouraging 20 minutes of reading a day can do wonders for children’s education. There are amazing benefits to it! Stay tuned for a blog post in the future on how you can foster a love of reading in your students as well. 

Reading Before Kindergarten- Is It Really Necessary?

Reading before Kindergarten- is it necessary? Is it beneficial? Is it something parents and educators should be spending their precious minutes with the children on? As time goes on, more and more pressure is put on parents to have high academically achieving children and preschools across the nation are meeting this “need” by giving kids an academic-based preschool in exchange for a play-based preschool.  

I’ve been hearing an ad for a local preschool in my area that boasts “We will have your kids reading before kindergarten!” and every time I hear the ad it makes me angry that they are adding to the social pressure put on parents for having a reading four or five year old! No parent should ever have to feel inadequate because their child isn’t an early reader. It goes without saying that this is not a preschool I can support.

Reading to her horses, even though she can’t read! What great pretend play that will eventually lead to reading.

Did you know that if your kid is reading before kindergarten, studies have shown that by 2nd grade they don’t have much advantage over kids who learned to read in kindergarten? Did you know that teaching your child to read before they are ready can actually drive them away from reading and make them a worse reader in the long run? It may be exciting at your mom group to brag about how academically advanced your child is, it’s exciting to celebrate your kid’s accomplishments! But that shouldn’t be shadowing out what they truly need. 

I have even felt the pressure myself and my daughter is not even 3 years old yet. I see friends with kids similar ages who can name letters and sounds so easy, yet my daughter is just barely showing a small interest in letters and not even close to knowing what they are or what they say. This is discouraging because I have read to her every day and she has been exposed to letter for years now!! But she will pick it up in her own time. Until then, she is establishing her love of reading, and that is more important than letter names right now.

Reading before kindergarten is not bad by any means! If your child is genuinely showing an interest in letters and words and stringing them together to read sentences, by all means, let them fly!! When it comes to teaching kids to read, let them lead. 

There are so many other things we can and should be doing with our kids instead of pushing reading on them. First, back to the basics that create lifelong readers, and some of my favorite things to do!

Talk 

Sing 

Read 

Write 

Play 

These fundamental skills build the learning basics of reading. Talking and singing with them will do more in the long run than pushing letter learning on them. Giving them genuine time to play, build, and make-believe will do wonders. Play is a child’s work! It’s how they learn and grow. 

Choosing an academic-based preschool and even kindergarten robs them of their most needed resource- PLAY! Let the kids play, really play! Mary also wrote out 5 lessons her kids taught her about play that is also helpful in this situation! I also loved her perspective of Kindergarten readiness from a teacher AND a parent standpoint when her daughter was almost kinder age! She has amazing resources and tips for us. 

Other things you can focus on with your child that promote kindergarten readiness instead of reading: 

Sensory activities

Writing, drawing, coloring, and painting 

Puzzles and problem solving 

How to maintain and hold a conversation 

Establishing a love for books and being read to 

Build positive relationships with books- from the beginning!

Let’s take the pressure of reading off kids! Let’s play and sing and let the kids lead! Choose a play-based preschool, give them books, point out letters in your daily life, and when they are interested, let them read! 

What are your thoughts on reading before kindergarten? Do you as a parent feel the social pressure of early reading? 

Why Are Labels So Important For Early Readers?

Labels. What’s the deal? Why are they important, especially in younger kids? 

I always knew they were important, but I was able to witness firsthand just how impactful it can be for children. 

In my daughter’s room, we have labeled many of her everyday objects. 

My daughter’s dresser of clothes
The magnetic chore chart on our back door of daily tasks my daughter does
A close up of the magnets for the chore chart
Her favorite puzzle that I added labels to

For each of these items, she has a visual of what exactly the object is or contains. If she pulls out her bin with socks, she knows it has socks. 

On her chore chart, when she sees the picture of the t-shirt, she knows it means she needs to get dressed. 

At 2.5 years old, she cannot read, yet words are present on each of these objects. Are the labels just for me? Absolutely not. At first glance, she didn’t pay much attention to them, just the pictures, but as time went on she started noticing the words and letters. 

“Mom, this says pig.” she would tell me while she held the pig puzzle piece up. 

“It says…. Dishwasher.” when she would move her magnet to “done” after helping me with the dishes. 

Eventually, she stopped focusing so much on the picture and started focusing in on the words.

A study was once done on kids being read picture books at an early age. It tracked their eyes to where they were looking on the page during the story. Kids who did not know how to read yet focused solely on the pictures for the entire story, paying very little attention to the words. Kids who had a very basic foundation skill of words and reading but could not read yet went back and forth between the words on the page and the pictures, trying to put the two together. While kids who could read focused mainly on the words and less on the pictures.

By putting these words and pictures in front of her, I’ve given her the opportunity to see the connection of words with objects and it took very little effort (or even teaching) on my part! She loves to look at each label and read them to me. Most of the time she doesn’t say it exactly right as it reads, but the purpose is that she’s trying. 

She’s gained confidence in her ability to read, it’s not something that’s just for older kids and adults. 

She’s putting together that letters grouped together can create words. 

She’s gathering that words have meaning and can represent objects. 

She’s recognizing familiar letters in the words and seeing them put to use. 

Is she actually reading? No. But she’s laying down the crucial foundational skills she needs to get there. 

And we’re getting there with one simple, simple aspect added to her day- Labels. Never underestimate the power a labeled object can have on an early reader. 

Beautiful Winter Books for Gloomy Winter Days

The only thing I love more than a good list is the Winter season. I know the cold weather isn’t everyone’s favorite, but the magic of the holidays and the peaceful falling snow makes me so happy! If winter isn’t for you, here are a few fun winter-themed books to make the snow and cold a tiny bit more enjoyable. 

The Mitten by Jan Brett: A boy loses a mitten in the snow and animal friends come to help.  

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats: This Caldecott book is not only perfect for its storyline but the artwork as well.  

Wolf In The Snow by Matthew Cordell: A book with no words telling a story of humans and wolves helping one another through the wintery cold snow. 

Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter by Kenard Pak: A brother and sister see the signs of a dying autumn and a growing winter as they take a walk outside. 

Snow Party by Harriet Ziefert: Snowmen throwing a party in the woods, what’s not to love?   

These books are sure to have you smiling and feeling excited about the snow right along with your students. When you’re having a hard time getting to school in the cold and ice, just pull out a fun wintery book and get reading, it’ll be sure to brighten your spirits and appreciate snow for the fun magic it can create. 

Teachers & Parents: Who Deals with the Pressure of Mandates?

“I just don’t know what to do. He has zero interest in the paper books that come home to practice sight words.”

Anxiety. Fear. Worries about falling behind. It was like I was looking in a mirror from several years back when I was stressing about my reluctant kindergartner.

Only this time, as the kindergarten teacher (and as a somewhat-less-neurotic parent than I once was), I was able to offer all the reassurance that I wished I had received for my kindergartner.

I told the parent, “If he is expressing disinterest in those practice books, please don’t push them. It means he just isn’t ready yet, and that is perfectly ok.”

That precise concern was what made me hesitate in sending home those books to begin with. They are part of a program that pushes reading faster and earlier than was ever expected of kindergarten even a few years ago (our state now has standardized testing even for kindergarten that expects them to be reading by the end of the year).

Schools here must comply with these standards in order to keep their doors open. And so, cushioned by as much developmentally-appropriate play as possible, we engage in guided reading, word study, shared/independent reading and writing, and sending home these paper books to practice sight word recognition, in order to coax literacy along.

But just because I’m feeling the pressure of the latest state standard, does that mean I should transfer that pressure to parents, or heaven forbid, to the children themselves?

There are those who believe that warning parents of the growing demands–that if they don’t push, the kids will fall behind–is a kindness; I can see why they would feel that way. They do not want parents to be blind-sided by the increasing pressures from grade level to grade level.

But we can equip parents with tools without alarming them, or putting them in a scarcity mindset with their young children that will only make children hate learning before they’ve even really started. It may be the teacher’s role to shoulder the pressures from educational mandates, but I don’t believe we need to push that on parents. Rather, we can focus on our shared roles as teachers and parents on nurturing a lifelong learner, on preserving and cultivating the innate curiosity we all inherit.

Which is why my weekly emails now include this reminder about those paper books:

“Thank you so much for doing your best to read these with your children at home. These are meant to help your child retain our sight words throughout the year, but of course the most important reading is the kind that makes your child love reading! Stories they choose, text you guys identify as you drive or look at restaurant menus, and other forms of reading are all so beneficial.” 

As I often try to point out, capital “S” struggles–such as developmental delays, disability, and profound lack of access to resources–these are all caveats that should never be dismissed when making decisions on the timing for and types of interventions that might be needed. But barring these extreme circumstances, most children will flourish at their own developmental pace if given the space and resources to do so.

It just so happened that that readiness was closer than either I or my student’s parent thought. Not 2 weeks later, this parent returned and told me, “I don’t know happened! I did what you said and stopped pushing those practice books. And now suddenly he is excited about trying to read everything! It’s hard to keep up!”

And I just smiled to see this beautiful & familiar pattern unfold yet again: when in doubt, go with the child.