The Different Ways We Learn

Sight words are such a buzzword in our household right now. And if you’ve had a kindergartener before, you know exactly what I’m talking about. 

Each day my daughter comes home with new worksheets, readers, and other various activities that have to do with sight words. Her teacher also sends her home with a new set of sight words to play with and master from home each week. We’ve had a lot of fun learning these words through the games and activities we’ve come up with together

The way I tend to learn best is repetition, repetition, repetition. If I read the words over and over, say it, spell it, rush through them on flashcards again and again, and then I will never forget the words. My mind has to see the word, deconstruct the word, put the word together again, and then it’s set in there forever. 

Because this is how my mind works best, this was the basis for a lot of the activities I chose to do with my daughter. The more exposure, the better! We were doing so much repetition of the words that I was surprised and frustrated when I started realizing that what we were doing wasn’t sticking. When quizzed on the words, she wasn’t able to recall what the words were. 

To be honest, it made me feel like a failure. I have all of this background in teaching and I can’t even figure out how to teach my own child some sight words. 

One night, my husband lovingly stepped in. He took out the sight word flashcards and they started making sentences together using only sight words. They would make a sentence, read it, and then create a new sentence, repeating the process over and over. Eventually, they pulled out the sticky notes and added CVC words like cat and dad. They spent about ten minutes doing this activity and while they were having fun and bonding, I was doubting his ability to get anything to stick beyond their current work. But nevertheless, I let them have their time. 

The next evening we pulled out our sight word Jenga game, and immediately I was shocked. She knew the words! All of them! We had done so many different activities and nothing was working, but suddenly in one day, it all clicked for her. 

I approached my husband about it afterward and he told me he was playing a word game with her in a way that he would learn the new words best. By application. By seeing them as a part of a sentence and reading them together with other words. 

In my mind, this made no sense. How can she even read the words if she hasn’t spent the time memorizing them beforehand? 

But in both of their minds, the path using real-life applications worked. I was trying to lead her down my own road of rote memorization for learning, while she desperately needed real-life application.

The concept that everyone learns in different ways is something I know and was taught how to work with during my undergrad. But when it came to my own child, I just assumed her mind worked the same way mine did. I was giving her varying activities to do, but the process for all of them was the same. Repeat the words over and over and over until eventually, you memorize them. 

After my revelation, I started catering to her learning style better. 

We continually made up sentences with sight words. We read books filled with sight words. We even wrote our own book using sight words! Anytime we were looking at words and sentences on cereal boxes, in grocery stores, etc., we pointed out the sight words and read them together. 

More application. Less rote memorization. 

It was a great, simple reminder that all minds have different systems and routes for learning. Yes, even our own offspring sometimes. 

And if we can take some time to figure out each individual mind and the route they personally need to take when they are struggling to grasp a concept, it can make all the difference in the world to them. It may even turn them into a little, tiny reader. 

Photo by James Wheeler

New Logo, Who Dis?

The time has come to unveil the new branding for our scholarship! As I stepped into the role of scholarship chair and content writer, I began noticing some variations in the way that those who came before me referred to the scholarship. The original name for our scholarship was the Design A Better Future scholarship (which I’m assuming came from the fact that the projects needs to be based on the design thinking cycle). But as the years went on, it also started being referred to as the Build A Better future scholarship and both titles started being used interchangeably.

In order to *hopefully* limit future confusion, I decided to update the scholarship logo and declare one title to be the official title from now on. The HGU scholarship will henceforth be known as the Build A Better Future scholarship. I felt as though using the verb “design” was too passive and wasn’t giving our applicants enough credit. Yes, they are using the design thinking cycle but they are also going above and beyond to bring their designs to life.

design a better future scholarship high school seniors

In addition to updating the logo and title, the website has been updated with all the information needed for our 2023 scholarship! I look forward to seeing how the next group of applicants works on building a better future for their communities. If you or anyone you know is a high school senior that will be graduating in 2023, you can find more information regarding the scholarship here and here. Please email scholarship@honorsgraduation.com with any questions. Good luck!

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).

Introducing Shoshana Folic: The 2022 Scholarship Top Recipient

This is part of a series of blog posts introducing you to our 2022 Build A Better Future scholarship recipients and their projects. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! For information on our scholarship, click here.

The final scholarship awardee I have for you is Shoshana Folic! Shoshana’s project, Wishing’ U Well, earned her our top spot; which means that in addition to her $10,000 scholarship, she was awarded a $5,000 grant to continue funding her project.

From a very young age, Shoshana began noticing a lack of resources made available to the special needs community. Even before she started Wishing’ U Well, she volunteered with the Best Buddies organization, which offered her valuable insight into the needs of the community and the issues they face. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it exacerbated the disparity and Shoshana knew she needed to do more. She started the Wishing’ U Well platform at the age of fifteen, using her skills as a STEM student to maximize the resources that she wanted to make available. To quote Shoshana directly,

“Wishing’ U Well is a free online platform that is focused on improving the mental, physical, social, and spiritual well-being of those with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The Wishing’ U Well website is equipped with a multitude of different resources, sponsors, and social meetings between Florida high school volunteers and the special needs community.”

The website includes several sections, including workout tips and videos, basic nutrition information, coloring pages and playlists designed to encourage relaxation, mantras and affirmations, and–my personal favorite–the Fun With Friends program. Fun With Friends matches a special needs individual with a high school volunteer based on interests and hobbies and allows them to meet once a week via Zoom to talk, laugh, and bond with each other. Wishing’ U Well also hosts virtual group activities, such as drawing and cooking classes.

When it first launched, Wishing U’ Well only had five members in the special needs community, but has now reached over 850 special needs members from 17 different countries. They have also had over 100 high school students volunteer for the Fun With Friends program. Shoshana is actually trying to encourage more special needs members to join this community, as they have more volunteers than they know what to do with.

Moving forward, Shoshana would like to build up her network of sponsors and content creators to spread the word, increase special needs engagement, and supply even more resources. If you are (or know) someone who might be interested in sponsoring, promoting, or creating content for the Wishing’ U Well organization, you can send an email to shoshana.wishinguwell@gmail.com. Sponsors can be anyone from businesses, non-profits, sports teams, and social media influencers.

Likewise, if you know someone in the special needs community who you think could benefit from the resources provided by the Wishing’ U Well organization (hint: that’s everyone!), or if you would like additional information, please visit the official website: https://www.wishinguwell.org/

Wishing’ U Well can also be found on the following social media sites:

Instagram: wishing.u.well

Facebook: Wishing’ U Well

Twitter: @Wishinguwell_

A big congratulations to Shoshana for winning the top spot and a huge round of applause for her and all the work she has done in providing resources to the special needs community.

Introducing Brooklyn Conrad: A 2022 Scholarship Winner

This is part of a series of blog posts introducing you to our 2022 Build A Better Future scholarship recipients and their projects. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! For information on our scholarship, click here.

Up next on our scholarship winner docket is Brooklyn Conrad! Brooklyn has been a member of her local 4-H since the fourth grade, which provided her with countless service opportunities. Some of those opportunities included gathering donations for her community food shelf. She began noticing that most of the food being donated was highly processed and it opened her eyes to the lack of fresh and healthy foods available to those in need.

And thus, the “Feeding Growing Minds for a Healthy Future” campaign was born.

Brooklyn began meeting with local and county government officials, stakeholders, and community members and explaining the importance of making healthier food choices available to those in need. Through her own research, she learned how to make garden beds from IBC totes and wire cattle fencing. With the help of master gardeners and the food shelf coordinators, she received instruction on what produce was most in-demand and which plants would be best for her garden.

In May of 2021, she was ready to get to work. Brooklyn was able to use her 4-H connection to assemble a group of volunteers and together, they planted a variety of vegetables. She watered the garden throughout the summer, and by July, there were vegetables ready to be harvested and donated to the food shelf. She continued nurturing her project and at the time of her application in May of this year, they had already prepped and planted the gardens for another season of fresh produce.

By partnering with her 4-H chapter, she made certain that her food shelf will continue to receive healthier food alternatives. She has been teaching current 4-H members how to maintain the garden and she connected them with a master gardener for additional expertise. Moving forward, Brooklyn hopes to share her project with other counties and is actively gathering resources and materials to help them start their own food shelf gardens. She also wants to set up a system where community members can donate extra produce from their own gardens to local food shelves, ensuring that an even greater variety of fresh fruits and vegetables are going to those who need them instead of going to waste.

Back to School Affirmations

It’s hard to believe that summer is winding down and students, teachers, and parents everywhere are gearing up for a new school year. This time of year can bring about many changes and stressors, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Fortunately, there are many tools to combat those stressors, including positive affirmations.

“Today is going to be a good day, and here’s why: because today at least you are you. And that’s enough.”

Dear Evan Hansen

Positive affirmations are phrases or statements that are used to challenge negative thoughts. The concept of positive affirmations might seem hokey or awkward at first, but with consistent use, they can rewire and increase neural pathways. Not only can affirmations have physiological benefits, but they have been shown to reduce stress, boost self-esteem, aid in interventions, and increase academic performance. Our core beliefs are often formed during childhood and introducing affirmations to young children is an excellent way to instill a positive sense of identity.

Whether you are a parent looking to recite affirmations with your children in the morning, a teacher looking to incorporate them into her class routine, or a student who wants to practice them individually; here is a list of some affirmations to get you started!

  • I am smart
  • I am talented
  • I am kind
  • I am loved
  • I can learn anything
  • I always try my best
  • I am a problem solver
  • I am needed
  • I am valued
  • I respect myself
  • I am in control of my learning
  • I deserve joy and success
  • I can meet my goals
  • I do not compare my success against the success of others
  • I am proud of myself
  • I can do hard things
  • I am brave
  • I am important
  • My brain and/or body is powerful
  • I choose to include others
  • I can try again
  • I choose how I respond to things
  • I am responsible
  • I am prepared for my test
  • I can make a difference
  • I am creative
  • I am organized
  • I am capable
  • I see the best in myself and others
  • I listen to others
  • There is no one better to be than myself
  • I bring joy to others
  • I can adapt to any situation

I challenge you to choose two or three affirmations that resonate with you and apply them to your daily routine. If you need a little more inspiration, I highly recommend checking out this video:

Introducing Mia Gregory: A 2022 Scholarship Winner

This is part of a series of blog posts introducing you to our 2022 Build A Better Future scholarship recipients and their projects. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! For information on our scholarship, click here.

It’s time to introduce another scholarship awardee! When Mia Gregory was in the 8th grade, she really began noticing the homeless community in her neighborhood. Instead of feeling sorry for them, she decided to take action. She explained the motivation behind her project as follows:

“I knew that I could never solve homelessness directly, but to me, it was more about making them feel loved despite their hard situations. I didn’t like the awkwardness of turning your head from them as if they weren’t human. I wanted them to know that I saw them and that they deserved care.”

And love them she did.

Pass It On bags became Mia’s way to serve the displaced people in her area. Each bag contains food, water, hygiene products, socks, and a pamphlet to connect them to a church organization that provides shelter for the homeless. All throughout high school, she kept a bag or two in her car to hand out to those who needed them. She wrote down her thoughts and feelings about what she was seeing and shared it with her peers. Her words encouraged others to donate supplies and many decided to keep bags of their own to pass out.

Mia has also started connecting with local churches and organizations to raise more awareness for her project; ensuring that bags are still being created and shared after she leaves for school. She is hoping that once word gets out, more donations will come in and more people will be inspired to pass out bags and interact with those who are so often ignored. She will be attending Lipscomb University and is already researching the area and brainstorming ways to network with the university’s mission program to establish Pass It On bags within the Nashville community.

“It’s time to take action, love them anyway, and pass it on.”