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.

How To Effectively Use Roxaboxen In The Classroom

The first time I heard the story Roxaboxen, I was well into my college years. This saddens me, considering the book was written in 1991, a few years before I was even born! It shows what a timeless classic it has become since it’s still used in schools and read to children today. 

I fell in love with this book right away because it drew me back to my childhood when my neighborhood friends and I would spend hours a day in our driveways drawing sidewalk chalk “houses” furnished with lavish furniture and multiple rooms. We would ride our bikes from driveway to driveway to visit each other’s homes. When the rain would wash the houses away we grabbed our sidewalk chalk again and started over. This cycle lasted for years and years. 

Roxaboxen is a story about friends in Arizona who use rocks and boxes to build homes, buildings, and businesses. They have cops so cars don’t go over the speed limit, and a jail for those that do. These children create more and more every year, even making a cemetery for a lizard with an unfortunate ending. 

How can this book be used in the classroom? It teaches about community and working together. This book is an excellent vehicle for a discussion of the topics, whatever the age group. It can give a brief introduction into the life cycle, watching the creation and expansion of the town, then later on how it was deserted once the children grew up. Also, not to mention- the lizard. 

Think of the beautiful creations children can create of their own communities, possibly even with pebbles and sugar cubes, their own rocks and boxes. The amount of possibilities this creates are endless. 

A few years back I took an Art in Education seminar. A dance teacher used Roxaboxen as our main focus of the lesson. We were split into different teams, each given a few cardboard boxes and balls for our rocks and boxes. We collaborated as a team to define our community values then created a dance with our boxes and balls to reflect these values we had chosen. It was beautiful. 

Roxaboxen can lead to many powerful conversations and lessons down the road, but ultimately, I believe it is the perfect book to spark the imagination as a child. I can see my friends and me now, hearing that story in our early elementary days and running with it. We would have run out to recess with ideas swirling in our minds of the communities we were about to create. It’s unfortunate that I never had the exposure to this picture book to place those imaginative ideas in my mind. 

Please, do your students a favor, regardless of their age, and tell them the great story of Roxaboxen

Have you read your students Roxaboxen? What discussions or activities did you use? Most importantly- How has Roxaboxen influenced you as a person and a teacher? 

5 Useful Leveled Texts Resources

We can drill comprehension strategies all day, but until students are given opportunities to grow their knowledge base through reading accessible texts, they will continue to struggle. That’s why I’ve searched out some level-able texts online you might be able to use with students! Meanwhile, I want to make it clear that this should not be a substitute for a diverse classroom libraries that provide students with plenty of choices. But as a supplementary resource, or perhaps while we’re working on building one, here are some resources that may be of use:

#1: Time for Kids: Accessible journalism for kids. Also available to be read aloud, or in Spanish!

#2: Newsela: Connects with Google Classroom to be able to assign reads to students. Some include a quiz or writing prompt as well, and many are available in Spanish.

#3: Wonderopolis: While this resource is not exactly level-able, it’s still made extremely accessible through features such as audio, highlighted vocabulary to look at definitions, a quiz, and just sheer interesting topics that kids are wondering about around the world!

#4: Dogo News: Search by grade or interest, and access assignments & audio. Some of the features do require a Pro account.

#5: ReadWorks: Similar features as elsewhere. I like that there are fiction and poetry options available here.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

10 Delightful Picture Books con español!

Maybe it’s because I’m anxious not to let my high school Spanish slip away entirely, but I absolutely love coming across picture books that include Spanish phrases. Not only are they fun to read out loud to my kids (and fun for them to try and learn new words), but they send an important message of inclusion and honoring diversity.

Here are 10 picture books con español that I would recommend. These are primarily in English, with Spanish phrases woven throughout.

#1: Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales

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#2: El Chupacabras by Adam Rubin and Crash McCreery

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#3: My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero & Zeke Peña

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#4: Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market! by Raúl the Third

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#5: La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya & Juana Martinez-Neal

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#6: Tia Isa Wants a Car by Meg Medina & Claudio Muñoz

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#7: Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

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#8: Alma & How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal  (most of the Spanish phrases are part of the illustrations here)

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#9: The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy & Eugene Yelchin

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#10: How Are You? = ¿Cómo Estás?

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¡que se divierta leyéndolo! Have a great time reading!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

On Allowing Children to NEED the Learning

This quote resonated hard with me today:


If we step back from the pressures and expectations and chaos for a moment, I think we can all agree: reading truly is a gift. Indeed, all of learning is a gift.

But do our fears for readiness and standards swallow up this truth? Particularly where our youngest learners are concerned?

I have been loving Kelsey Corter’s pieces lately on Two Writing Teachers where she emphasizes children learning to read and write because the children themselves realize they need it. In “Finding Purpose: The Key to Making High Frequency Words Stick,” she writes:

“Kaylee learned two words very quickly in the first weeks of kindergarten — two words which she wrote again and again: love and Kaylee.

…Kaylee learned these words before learning all of the names of the letters they are comprised of. She learned these words because they were important to her. She needed them. She needed to know these words to spread her message.”

~Kelsey Corter

Isn’t that just beautiful? What if, instead of being daunted by the lists and the letters and knowledge, we spend time finding out what our children need right now? What if we trust that they will, in fact, come to realize for themselves that they need those letters as a next step in making meaning for themselves? This is another example of choosing trust over fear.

In another post, Kelsey elaborates on all the many ways children will find they need writing through play. To inform, to convince, to observe, to create, to connect, to remember.

When we invite children to read or write, we offer them a magnificent gift to do all of these things, and when we make these invitations in the most natural of settings as play, it becomes even more accessible.

Treasure reading and writing as a gift. Especially when you are worried about your children showing zero interest in those flash cards or letter sounds. If you hold to it as the gift it really is, your children will build a stronger, more beautiful foundation of reading and writing as their own readiness unfolds.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Best Inquiry Picture Books: PYP Round-Up

This is part of a series of inquiry picture book round-ups. See also:

Learner Identities & Subjects, which includes traditional subject areas such as math & writing.

Sustainable Development Goals, which includes the global goals such as responsible production & consumption.

Nearly every one of my “inspiring inquiry” posts ends with at least one book recommendation. I wanted to revisit some of them, but I realized that I’ve now written so many inquiry posts that that would take quite a lot of time to click through.

Which brings me to today’s post! It will be the first of a few book round-ups from my inquiry posts, starting with the International Baccalaureate PYP posts. The words in bold are the topic of the inquiry post (linked back the original as well). Please feel free to add additional book recommendations to the comments. Happy reading!

Empathy: The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

Curiosity: Pond by Jim LaMarche; The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater & The Fan Brothers

Commitment: A Lady Has the Floor: Belva Lockwood Speaks Out for Women’s Rights by Kate Hannigan & Alison Jay

Enthusiasm: Fancy Nancy by Robin Preiss Glasser & Jane O’Connor; Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Jon Klassen & Mac Barnett

Appreciation: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena & Christian Robinson; Windows by Julia Denos & E.B. Goodale; How to Write Your Life Story by Ralph Fletcher

Independence: Chopsticks by Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Scott Magoon

Cooperation: Flora & the Peacocks by Molly Idle; Officer Buckle & Gloria by Peggy Rathmann

Integrity: Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen; The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs; This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen; Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola

Tolerance: Most People by Michael Lennah & Jennifer E. Morris

Respect: A Boy & A Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz & Catia Chien; Don’t Touch My Hair by Saree Miller

Knowledgeable: If Picasso Painted a Snowman by Amy & Greg Newbold

Caring: Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts & Noah Z. Jones

Principled: Penny & Her Marble by Kevin Henkes; We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen; Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen

Risk Taker: I’m Trying to Love Spiders by Bethany Barton; Jubari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall; The Dark by Lemony Snicket & Jon Klassen

Open-Minded: This Is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe; Harold & the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson; Finding Wild by Megan Wagner Lloyd & Abigail Halpin

Inquirer: Claymates by Dev Petty & Lauren Eldridge; Beyond the Pond by Joseph Kuefler

Communicator (& other communication post): The Big Bed by Bunmi Laditan & Tom Knight

Balanced: Moon by Alison Oliver & Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson & Kevin O’Malley

Thinker: What Do You Do With A __? books by Kobi Yamada

Action: What Do You Do With An Idea? by Kobi Yamada & Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller

Social Skills: Do Unto Otters by Laurie Keller; We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen

Self Management Skills: Forever or a Day by Sara Jacoby; The North Star by Peter Reynolds

Where We Live PYP Unit: This House Once by Deborah Freedman

How We Express Ourselves PYP Unit & other unit: The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater; Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen; Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty & David Roberts

Great job if you made it all the way through this list! It made me so happy making it–nothing like a picture book memory lane. You probably also noticed the many Jon Klassen & Mac Barnett reads — I guess their work is just conducive to inquiry!

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10 Books for our Earliest Readers That Are Actually Enjoyable #TeacherMom

Oh, the joys of earliest reading! Yes, they are reading, and yes, it is magical, but spending 8 and a half minutes painfully decoding “yellow” can also feel like a special kind of torture. When said book is also plot-less, or when there are so many words that it will take a discouragingly long time to complete it, it’s even less fun — for your reader and for you.

So where to turn? Here are some of my favorite books for our earliest emerging readers.

#1: Some Bugs by Angela Diterlizzi and Brendan Wenzel

The repetition and rhyming make the words more accessible, and the artwork by Brendan Wenzel are nothing short of delightful!

#2: Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear by Emily Gravett

With the exception of one use of “there,” only the 4 words in the title form this story. But they are played with in a variety of ways with the help of the illustrations (“orange bear.”).

#3: Freight Train by Donald Crews

A few of the words here get a little trickier (like “freight”), but there are still only a few words per page, making this doable a great shared read with your early reader.

#4: Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins

The illustrations take the lion’s share of the story-telling here, and they do a marvelous job in making kids predict what will happen next to that fox. Pat Hutchins was a master at conveying an engaging story with only a few words per page, which is why I’ve also chosen…

#5: Titch by Pat Hutchins

Our very youngest readers will relate to the way it seems like only the big kids or adults get to take care of the big and important things. Until Titch is in charge of a very small seed…

#6: Up, Tall, & High by Ethan Long

Hilarious read that gets kids thinking about comparative terms and perspective. They will love lifting the flaps, too!

#7: Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton

Poor turkey just can’t get it together when it comes to getting dressed. And Sandra Boynton never fails to make us laugh!

#8: Sheep in the Jeep by Nancy Shaw and Margot Apple

The classic adventure of these sheep is perfect for young readers as most of the words rhyme with sheep. Not to mention its hilarious plot!

#9: Cat the Cat, Who is That? by Mo Willems

Seems almost too repetitive, until you reach the twist at the end! Mo Willems has created a great series for our earliest readers here. I would recommend Elephant and Piggie next!

#10: The Mole Sisters and the Rainy Day

I’m a sucker for some good onomatopoeia, and the Mole Sisters really sell it in their adventures! Be sure to check out the complete collection!

These books prove that delightful stories can come in minimal packages. When books for our emerging readers are engaging for kids and adults, they build a powerful foundation for a lifetime of reading. I’d love to hear about your favorites in the comments!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto