Category Archives: education

G the Kid Scientist

I’ve been watching Cosmos with the kids every Tuesday because it’s on past bedtimes on Sundays and we can all watch it together after school using the “on demand” replay. They all look forward to it and it leads to some great discussion. After the first show, G, age 5, declared she wanted to be a “kid scientist.” During our next trip to the library, she picked out books on space and the human body, but really, space is winning out. She told me she wanted to do experiments, so on the next trip to the library, we took out Astronomy for Every Kid: 101 Easy Experiments That Really Work, by Janice VanCleave. Now I will admit I think many of the experiments are a stretch, and many aren’t even experiments in the true sense of the word, BUT G picked out a few to try and she is pleased about feeling like a kid scientist.

experimenting

Here she is seeing how water affects the weight of a rock…which is supposed to relate to the moon’s gravity versus earth’s…which is kind of a stretch. But what’s more interesting is what the kid scientist did next. She told me she had her own “experiment” to do, and she requested a piece of black paper and two balloons. I blew up the balloons and she covered one with brown marks representing craters. Then she made silver marks all over the piece of black poster board I found. Then she set it all up.

earth moon sun model

The sun is in the center, obviously. She had me walk the globe pillow (representing earth, of course) around the sun, while she walked with me, moving her moon balloon (the one with the craters–impossible to see in this action shot) around the earth.

And this is why I love tagging along behind kids following their own interests. If I’d decided it was time to do an “astronomy unit” and had her create a model of the solar system, really, I’d have no idea if she was getting it. But a child who asks for materials to complete a vision in her head that demonstrates the motion of the earth around the sun, and the moon around the earth? That kid understands what she’s doing. It’s so darn cool, every single time.

Give-away: Home/School/Life Magazine Subscription

Thanks to everyone for your supportive comments, and congratulations to Heather, whose number came up on random.org. She commented, “Our family has been seeking a publication like the one you are creating that delves into all aspects of a homeschooling life. We are excited to have the opportunity to be a part of this enriching, inspiring, supportive community. Thank you for creating this magazine. Yay!”

I was very excited when Shelli announced she’d been asked to be the editor of a new homeschooling magazine, Home/School/Life Magazine. Firstly, because I’ve been reading Shelli for a while and I’m truly happy when good things happen for people I know. (I don’t know if I have just found a good corner of the internet or what, but I know of so many creative, generous, hardworking people putting fantastic things into the world.) Secondly, because I don’t read any homeschooling magazines or websites regularly. I read blogs and connect with other homeschoolers online, but I haven’t subscribed to a homeschool magazine in quite a long time. Shelli’s description of the new magazine sounded like it would fill a niche in my mailbox.

And this was before she asked if I’d be interested in writing an art column…

So yes, I now have a personal interest in the success of this magazine, beyond my desire that it succeed because Shelli is the editor and because it will be really nice to have a homeschooling magazine to read. I was really excited to be asked to be a part of it. (So excited I emailed my husband: “I know you’re on a plane right now and won’t read this for hours, but I can’t wait to tell you this!!”) I admit it’s challenging to write a post about something that isn’t, actually, complete yet. The first issue is due this spring, so I can’t review it yet and tell you it’s awesome. But I can tell you I’ve seen the planned contents, and I’m really, really looking forward to it.

HSL flier jpeg

Besides my column, the magazine will include Shelli’s on hands-on science, a curriculum column, and one on books—in every issue. Other regular features include “One Subject, Four Ways,” “Balancing Act,” (something I think we’re all trying to do), and a profile of a homeschooling family. Each issue will also look at a different career path, and have sections devoted to varying grade levels: early grades, middle grades, and high school. And each issue will also include three feature articles. This is an ambitious, exciting-sounding outline for the sort of magazine I’ve been wishing existed.

Shelli and Amy, the editor-in-chief, have generously offered me the chance to give away a one-year digital subscription to the magazine to one of my readers. If you’re interested, leave a comment telling me why you’re excited for a new homeschooling magazine, and make sure to include your name and email address in the proper boxes. (If you’re chosen, I’ll also need your city/state and/or country, but this giveaway is open to everyone, worldwide.) As for me, I am most excited for the tangible connection to a larger community that I think this magazine will represent.

Comments will be open until next Tuesday, February 25, at 6 pm EST, and I’ll contact the winner (and update this post) on February 26.

{PBL} The Fairy Project

It began late last fall. Gradually, a list of questions grew.

list of questions for fairy project at amyhoodarts.com

We went to the library to look up books in their computer, as you do, and came home with some that day and requested many, many others. Shortly after Christmas we were excited to find this book in a used book store, because we’d kept renewing our library copy:

fairyopolis

I need to compile a list of books my girl has found so far for this project so I can share them in another post. Our library search led us to The Fairy Ring, which I read aloud to both my homeschooled kids. My 9yo is just as interested in the magical and mythical, and fairies and their cousins the elves, goblins, etc, qualify, so he’s interested to listen along. The Fairy Ring is a nonfiction book that reads like a novel and tells the story of two cousins in early 20th-century England who posed a photograph with fairies. The younger cousin maintained all through her life that she did see fairies, but at the time, they were simply trying to get their parents to stop teasing them when they claimed they saw them. Word of their photographs gets around, and the situation becomes larger than they expected.

A Midsummer’s Nights Dream was mentioned in the book, so it’s been added to the reading list. That’s the way things go with projects.

G has lots of ideas relating to this project. She’s making a fairy comic, would like to plan a butterfly garden (in hopes that fairies are also attracted, since they favor the same habitat as butterflies), and she’s been looking through a book of fairy houses. She tells anyone who will listen about her project, and when she tells librarians, they often have books to suggest or, in one case, a friend who builds fairy houses on her front porch. That librarian said she’d see if her friend would mind if we visited.

G has also been taking notes. Sometimes, if she wants to record a lot of information at once, I write it. But mostly, she does.

taking notes for the fairy project at amyhoodarts.com

(toes!!)

I’ll keep you updated on this project, definitely. Just as I thought with my son’s monster project, this project is proof that project topics don’t have to be “real” or close by in order to provide huge opportunity for learning. She’s writing and researching, we’re reading, she’s drawing. She’s planning a garden and wants to build fairy houses in the spring (nature). We’ll be reading Shakespeare again soon. If a child is interested and curious, a topic is rich and can lead anywhere.

The Christmas Project

My daughter, who just turned five, really gets Christmas this year, by which I mean, she is into it. By nature, she is a Planner. She likes to plan birthdays–her own, and, if allowed, other people’s as well. She plans birthday celebrations for her stuffed animals that go on for days, complete with presents wrapped up in pieces of printer paper. So last week, after a morning of listening to her ideas about Christmas, a combination of things we’ve done in the past that she remembers (“We need to drive around and look at lights, Mama! And go around the big lit-up tree!”) and things she’s not quite sure we do but would like to (“Do you make the cookies shaped like men? Will you?”), I suggested we make a notebook for all her ideas, and planning Christmas can be her project. Planning Christmas starting on Veteran’s Day is not necessarily my thing, but my daughter is All Over This.

Christmas project notebook at amyhoodarts.com

We made a simple notebook with printer paper, a card stock cover, and the awesome long-arm stapler, and she chose stamps for the front and back covers. Then she got to work listing her ideas. She began with decorations.

decorations from the Christmas Project notebook at amyhoodarts.com

My favorite is “Santa’s sleigh, reindeer and all.” I’m not sure where she envisions this, or how large it’s supposed to be…but I’ve agreed to give her small budgets for her planning. She will have to winnow her list herself…and therein lies one of the bonuses of putting her in charge of her own project, even if it’s Christmas. We won’t be arguing or negotiating; I’ll be helping her prioritize within her budget.

She is, in case you’re wondering, incorporating other family member’s wishes, too. I told her to put everything on the lists, so nothing is forgotten–we’ll sort it out. Her categories so far also include “Activities,” “Foods,” and “Things to Do.” I’m not sure how “Things to Do” differs from “Activities,” but she is, and that’s what counts.

"Foods" in Christmas Project notebook at amyhoodarts.com

There is a lot going on with the Foods list, as you can see. She’ll have to factor cookie cutters into that budget, looks like.

"What to do" list in Christmas Project Notebook at amyhoodarts.com

Her handwriting, my goodness. It just slays me. She asks how to spell everything, and I either spell it out loud or write it down for her to copy. (In a pinch, her oldest brother helps out with spelling things as well.) Creating this notebook has been great for both of us–she has a place to record all of her ideas, which means I’m not feeling pressured to remember them all. And have I mentioned, she loves to plan? She is telling anyone who will listen that SHE is planning Christmas this year.

As far as I can see, this is a win-win!

Snapshots

gold

October has been a beauty, with mild days for most of the month and gorgeous colors. When I saw these leaves one morning this past week while waiting for the bus with my oldest, I was immediately reminded of Robert Frost’s poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay. Unfortunately, just a few days later, we were waiting in weather more like this:

frost

Also pretty in its own way, but much colder. I’ve been feeling the effects of the decreasing amount of daylight, I think, because most evenings find me dozing on the couch. Frustrating, because evenings are my work and blogging time, and I feel behind in just about all of my projects at the moment. Hence this catch-up post of snapshots of our days.

running shoes

My sanctuary + my lifeline.

On Mondays Amanda posts writing prompts on the Kindred site, and on Thursday, she shared my photo and words in response to the idea of “sanctuary.” I am terrible at sitting meditation, but I’ve found that running helps bring me out of my mind and into my body in a way that is sanctuary indeed. Another thing that has helped me this past year is the writing of Pema Chodron. I’m currently slowly reading Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion. I read one or two teachings at a time, every now and then, and let the words sit.

at the beach

On one of the last milder days last week, we headed to the beach to collect items for Mudpuddles to Meteors‘ nature exchange. We just heard our match partners live in Alaska. Fun!

making cheese

Checking the temperature of milk that will become ricotta cheese.

My 9yo wanted to know how cheese was made, so we looked it up at the library and he placed a book of recipes on hold. This past week, he made ricotta cheese–twice, actually, because the first time (using the book’s recipe) didn’t yield much cheese. Perfect! More opportunity for learning, as he Googled recipes to see how they were different from the one in the book. We used his ricotta cheese in baked pasta, but he wasn’t impressed with it. (I was! I thought it was yummy.) He would like to make Monterrey Jack next–”an orderly cheese,” in his words. I think the gloppiness of ricotta displeased him. I’m not sure he’s seen it in its natural state before; he’s always just eaten things made with it. However, he also said, “I love math–when it’s used for cheese-making!” This is self-directed learning, folks, and it’s a wonderful thing.

goat note

We are a little later with wrapping up her goat project than I’d hoped, but G’s enthusiasm for printing goat cards waned a bit, and then I waned a bit, but we’re back on track now. We changed in all her coins for dollars, and we’re heading to the bank on Monday to deposit it all so I can write a check. I interviewed her and typed up a letter to Heifer International explaining her project, and she is including this note–on one of her note cards, of course. I can barely stand it. Biased mama, yes, but I think she’s pretty amazing and awfully sweet. I am also extremely thankful for the family and friends, both near and far, who supported her project and helped her raise $120. She never thought it wasn’t possible, and so many of you helped make sure she was right.

I’m hoping to get my evening energy back so I can get back to making progress with Issue Two of Art Together, and a tutorial I’ve agreed to create, and more embroidery, and that sweater I’m knitting… I’ve no time for hibernation! I hope you’re enjoying nature’s “hardest hue to hold” before we slip thoroughly into the starker colors of winter.

Schooling Update

9yo using Cuisenaire rods to help with Singapore Math.

Friday was conference day at my oldest child’s school, when we sit down together with his teacher to check in and set goals. The pre-conference paperwork asked us, as his parents, to list our goals for him for the upcoming year; we wrote that we wanted him to set his own goals, as our goal is for him to be a self-directed learner. Honestly, I can’t think of any other answer to that question. It seems absurd to state what I think my son’s goals for himself should be.

At the same time, it’s been about a month since we began our non-summer homeschooling schedule. While learning happens all year round, we do add in more required work in the fall. Because I have one child in school, it makes the most sense to stick to the same sort of schedule, although that has its frustrations–I don’t enjoy being beholden to an outwardly imposed schedule. However, it’s a good point at which to check in with how we’re doing.

I began using Singapore Math with my 9yo this year, and I’m happy to say it’s going well. He knows more than he thinks he does; the main thing is overcoming his own self-doubt. A year ago, he’d have fought me on using a workbook and textbook; this year, he sometimes complains and needs reminders to focus, but he gets the work done. I’ve noticed that he does best with word problems (even though he says he doesn’t like them). He also took really well to Life of Fred last year, which is story based. I noted this and pointed it out to him—he seems to comprehend the numbers better when they are presented in a verbal way.

Another great help for explaining some of the concepts are Cuisenaire rods. We’ve had these for quite a long time and they have been useful many, many times. Most recently, I used them to demonstrate the concept of borrowing in subtraction. He needed a visual in order to understand that I wasn’t telling him to get rid of any numbers; we were just regrouping. After seeing it with the rods, it clicked in about a minute. Now he understands what’s going on when he borrows to subtract, rather than just doing it because he’s been told to but without any comprehension.

My 4yo, of course, wanted her own math to do. She was making up her own rather baffling worksheets, so I picked up a workbook for her. She’s happy, and I get a little bit of time to teach the day’s concept to my 9yo without her chatting our ears off.

The other area that has me really excited is language arts. We’re transitioning into using Brave Writer; we read August’s book, The Lemonade War, in September, using the copywork assignments and discussing grammar and a bit about writing style. We haven’t begun October’s book yet because we moved right into the sequel, The Lemonade Crime. This is my main logistical problem with using Arrow; we read aloud as a regular part of our homeschool, and trying to make one chapter book stretch out all month is limiting; there are other books we want to read too. I haven’t quite figured out how to handle that. We’ve also done some free-writing exercises and list-making; gentle ways to get my 9yo writing more often.

But then! I saw the book Guy-Write on the library shelf and asked him if he’d like to read it. He said yes, read it in about a day, and then…began writing a book. Something in that book hit him just the right way, and his writing is alive and exciting. He reads each chapter to me when he’s done. He told me the spelling is all wrong, but I told him when he was done writing, we could type it into the computer and worry about the spelling then. He declared I could be his editor. I’m a bit dumbfounded; he has “hated” writing for a few years now. I am cautiously optimistic, hoping this new-found love of writing will stick around.

My daughter is also writing—asking how to spell words and either writing as we tell her the letters or copying the words she’s dictated to me from another piece of paper. She’s been reciting letters off of signs, asking me what they spell. Just recently she began doing that in reverse, saying words and trying to sound out the letters they contain. Her brain is working constantly, it seems, on the puzzle of reading. It’s really cool to watch.

One area I’m not totally up on is project time. I’ve failed thus far to carve out predictable blocks of time for project work. I keep waiting for our weeks to settle down into a routine, but I think our routine is that there isn’t one. As much as I try to contain the errands, things like doctor’s appointments go where they fit, and we seem to have lots of those. So I’ve begun just claiming the time where I see it. I need to do a better job of reminding the kids what they wanted to accomplish, though. So project time is still a work in progress this year.

Of course we’re continuing our studies of history and science, supported with library books and so on, but math and language arts have taken such a huge leap lately, so that’s where I chose to focus on this recap. It seems like overstating the obvious, but a huge advantage of homeschooling is the ability to work with my child right where he is, to take advantage of leaps of understanding, and to take the time to work on trouble areas…as well as having the time to be patient and wait for the progression of things without feeling pushed and rushed to meet an artificially imposed standard. I’m thankful we can do this right now.

Homeschooling Plans

This photo has nothing to do with this post. It’s just nice to look at.

As we ended our first year of homeschooling my middle child, much was up in the air (my least favorite place to locate things). So I put off planning too much and took a wait-and-see stance for a while. But we’re now definitely homeschooling this year, too, and a few things have fallen into place.

We’ll be continuing with Story of the World as our spine for history, and when our world history gets up to the Age of Exploration, I expect we will start with the first book in A History of US, by Joy Hakim. We’ll also continue with her science text, The Story of Science, supplemented with hands-on science as we go along, primarily based on interest.

Last year for math I used Life of Fred; I talk more in depth about my gentle approach to math here. This year I feel he’s ready to move into something more rigorous, and I’m going back to Singapore Math, which I used for my eldest. It gave him a great foundation in math. We’ll take it as slowly as necessary, and of course real-life math is a part of our days. I’ve noticed my middle child likes to explain his thinking process in his own way. I’ve learned to be quiet and let him have the time he needs to explain what he’s figured out on his own about whatever math concept he’s been thinking about. He doesn’t want to hear me say it; he wants to get there on his own. His train of thought is not necessarily the school/textbook train of thought, but if he gets to the same station in the end, I don’t really care.

My 9yo also came out of school really not enjoying writing at all. I gave him space on that last year and didn’t push it, hoping he’d come around. He had fits and starts but no regular interest. This is something I don’t want him to abandon entirely, so this year we’ll be using the Brave Writer curriculum. He is in the Partnership Writing age group, and I assured him I’d be doing the same writing exercises as he. Actually, I was surprised by his response when I told him we’d be using a writing program this year. A year ago, I’m sure he would have protested immediately. This year, he said okay, as long as it wasn’t like the writing he had to do in school. We each bought three new notebooks: one for copy work (from the Arrow portion of the program), one for lists (because lists are fun), and one for Friday freewriting.

We’ll continue to start our mornings reading aloud together, whether it’s the book for that month’s Arrow or other books. And we will get more focused about project work, which kind of fell by the wayside this spring and summer. I’m enrolled in Lori’s Project-Based Homeschooling Master Class, which begins this week. I expect it will get me more focused and on track to get even better about mentoring my kids’ interests. I’ve already gotten a head start by beginning to tackle our studio space to get rid of some accumulated stuff and improve ease of use. I have my eye on the office/play room too, which has never been used well. (It tends towards entropy.) My hope is that by signing up for the first session of the class, I can take advantage of the natural beginning-of-school-year momentum and keep that ball rolling all the year through.

A big change from last year is that I’m taking a break from our homeschooling co-op, at least for the fall session. This was a hard decision, but several families with older kids left, leaving no offerings for my 9yo’s age and interests except a class I was teaching. I looked at the two classes I was to teach and the effort and time required (which is considerable, because I don’t use a prepackaged curriculum but instead plan as I go based on the students I have), versus what my son would be gaining, and decided it wasn’t the best use of my energy right now. I’ll miss the other moms, but given some challenges at home this winter and spring, I am wary of overextending this fall. My energies need to go to my own kids and family first, my own self-care (running, exercise class, and hopefully art classes), and my work (both shop and classes).

And those are our homeschooling plans, which look quite comprehensive when I write them all out. My biggest challenge, I think, will continue to be that my 9yo and 4yo bicker. They love to play together, but they experience quite a bit of friction, too. My second biggest challenge is that my oldest is in school, so I have to juggle a homeschool rhythm AND a school schedule, and those often work at cross-purposes. Also, I realize I haven’t mentioned plans for my 4yo at all. She’ll do what her older brother does, because she won’t have it any other way. She is practically teaching herself…she is writing more and more, copying down words and reading them back to me, making up her own math games….homeschooling a preschooler is easy as pie, in my opinion. She is also a pro at project work; she just needs her mama to get back to being a good mentor.

We all have our work this school year! I think it’ll be a good one, though. The second year of anything is always a little easier than the first.

A Bit on Running

I promise this isn’t going to turn into a running blog (I wouldn’t even know what that entails), but I do want to talk about running today. I ran competitively for only four years–junior high and the first two years of high school. I ran cross-country, so races of 2.5-3.5 miles on trails, and I began training in the summers. The season began when school began and ended by early November, because this is New England.

Freshman year of high school. Yeesh, could those glasses be any bigger??

I was pretty good at running those distances. My high school’s home course was at Bryant College (pfft, I know that link says Bryant University, but it was a college way back then), and that was also where the division meets were held, so I knew that course well. There was a big hill at one point, coming out of the woods, and how I loved to attack that hill and pass people on my way up. I had a decent kick at the end of races, too; I could usually manage to sprint by anyone who was nearby. I liked running. So why did I quit after sophomore year?

A combination of reasons. I wanted a job, but I probably could have worked one in around cross-country practices; the season, after all, wasn’t that long. My coach left and I didn’t know the new coach. It’s possible I would have continued running without that switch. The new coach came through my line in the grocery store–that was my job, cashiering–the summer before my junior year to try to convince me to come back, which felt kind of…icky. But I think the big reason I quit is because I was all-division my sophomore year and I started hearing things like, You should be all-state by senior year. I didn’t hear that as encouragement; I heard that as pressure. And while I’m very good at self-imposed goals, other people’s expectations feel like a failure possibility. And the surest way not to fail is to decline to compete.

(The best place I can send you for a deeper explanation of that phenomenon is Alfie Kohn. His books should be required reading.)

So I haven’t really run, except for one summer in college, for about 25 years. But all this time, I felt like a runner. At various times I’d consider it, but I was always tied to a nursling or something and it just felt like too many logistics to figure out. For most of this year I’ve struggled with insomnia, and at some point this spring I realized it was light out at 5:15 am, so why not get out of bed and go for a walk through the neighborhood? It was a chance to center my head before having to deal with everyone else’s needs and demands. By the end of June, I felt like I wasn’t moving fast enough to get out of my own head, and I began to run.

My 4yo stretching with me before a recent evening run.

When I was fourteen, my grandmother loudly declared at a family gathering that I had “a runner’s body–nothing extra.” And while I was mortified about the latter part, she’s right about the first part. I do have a runner’s body, and it quickly remembered what to do. I’ve gradually increased distance and decreased my time per mile. Somewhere along the way I signed up for a local 5K, which takes place in a week. My first goal was to run it without embarrassing myself. As my split times fell, I changed my goal to under 9 minutes per mile. I hit that and quietly decided I wanted to run the course in under 27 minutes. I’ve struggled to run 5K through my neighborhood in that time, but my neighborhood is full of hills. Yesterday I ran the comparatively flat 5K race course for practice and finished in 26:39. So I guess I need a new goal for that race.

As I said, I’m good with self-imposed goals. If I’m running, I’m running for myself, and I think that was my hang-up in high school. At a time when I wasn’t at all sure of my own expectations for myself, I simply knew I wasn’t comfortable serving as the instrument of other people’s expectations. The coach who came through my line wasn’t interested in how I felt about running; he knew I was pretty good and wanted me on the team so the team would be better. In the same way, my guidance counselor didn’t care where I wanted to go to college; he pulled me into his office freshman year to lay out a plan that would get me into Princeton, because nobody from my high school had gotten in there yet, and it would reflect well on the school. That was my high school: as a smart, moderately talented student, I was viewed not as an individual with individual wants and interests but as a means to an end that might glorify the school.

That last paragraph is why this post is also filed under “education.” If there’s one overarching goal I have for my kids’ educational experience, it’s that they’re not viewed as a tool for someone else to gain glory. The only goals I’m interested in are their own.

Back to running. I’m loving it. This morning I ran five miles, the longest distance I’ve run this summer. I feel good out there, even when I’m a little gaspy and my thighs feel like rubber. I can feel myself getting stronger, and I feel awesome at the end of every run. I’ll be forty years old next month and I’ve given birth three times and I ran five miles today! I’m so looking forward to next weekend’s 5K. And even though this isn’t going to be a running blog, I hope you don’t mind if I let you know how it goes.

Enough With Your Summer Reading!

My boys last summer, reading in the yard.

My boys last summer, reading in the yard.

The reminders are everywhere this time of year, and have been for a while. Amazon and Scholastic are sending me emails with book lists for my children. Pinterest is full of summer reading posts. The local librarian has visited my oldest’s classroom, encouraging the kids to sign up for summer reading, dangling the carrot of performances and prizes if they’d just, you know, read. I’ve heard all the arguments in favor of these programs, but you won’t convince me. I don’t believe in bribing kids to read. I am wary of extrinsic motivators, and I want—and have—children who read for reading’s sake. I’ve been told that some kids just won’t read all summer without summer reading programs, and while that may be true, summer reading is not solving a problem here. It’s a cosmetic fix for a deeper, underlying problem that isn’t being addressed. Why don’t these kids want to read to begin with?

I have two areas of parenting where I’ve nailed it (yes, only two). All of my kids love books and reading, and they all eat a variety of foods. As I thought about this, I realized that these areas are where my intent, priorities, and desired outcome are completely aligned. We have a hard time, for example, explaining to our kids that they shouldn’t swear when both their parents have a bit of a potty mouth. Until I change my own behavior, all the explanations in the world aren’t going to have an effect. However, I don’t eat cookies while asking my kids to eat an apple; because I value healthy eating and sweets in moderation, they naturally followed my lead. I don’t stare at a TV screen while telling my kids to read a book, either. I have my nose in my own book, thank you very much. Sometimes I’m asked how I “get” my kids to read, and this is my long response to that question.

I began taking my kids to the library in their infancy. Yes, even my firstborn. I spent hours trapped under a sleeping baby who’d awaken if I tried to slip away. I needed books, lots of books, to pass the time, so the baby and I went to the library. As more babies came, they were brought to the library too, and now all of us pick out so many books combined that certain librarians duck when they see us coming. From the beginning I instituted the Mama-First Rule: Mama gets to pick out books first, and then (and only then) will we go to the kids’ section. It’s like putting on my oxygen tank first. Now, of course, I have some kids old enough to wander off by themselves to pick out books anyway. The library, in other words, is a regular part of our life and routine and always has been.

I also began reading aloud to my kids in infancy. My oldest would sit and listen for as long as my voice held out. He was (and is) a placid child. By age two he was listening to chapter books, and at age four he could repeat, word for word, his favorite stories—including The Polar Express, which is quite a long one. I thought he’d be an early reader, but it didn’t click for him until he was seven. He was homeschooled at the time, and he was allowed to learn to read without any external pressures whatsoever. By the time he started school in second grade he was reading well ahead of grade level.

Younger siblings, of course, hear read-alouds from the very beginning. My second child wouldn’t sit still and listen like his brother. He’d squirm off the couch and onto the floor, where he’d busily play. He was a mover. No matter; I knew he was listening. When my oldest began to read on his own, I didn’t stop reading out loud (of course, I had two non-readers at the time, too). Books are part of the activity choice in our house along with toys and other playthings, and were not reserved just for bedtime stories. I read in the morning, the afternoon, and evening. When both my boys were in school, my daughter and I would see the bus off and then come inside to read. I’d sit with my coffee and the stack of books she’d selected and sometimes read for an hour or more before we continued with our day.

My middle child was in school during his learning-to-read process. At the first parent/teacher conference, I told his kindergarten teacher that I didn’t care if he was reading by the end of kindergarten and, in fact, didn’t expect him to be. (This, I was told, was not the normal parent statement about reading in K.) I didn’t want reading to turn into a source of anxiety or pressure. By the beginning of second grade he could read, somewhat laboriously, but it hadn’t clicked for him yet. In the meantime, I told his teacher that I would not be having him fill out a book log, because such a thing made reading a chore. (Have you ever written down everything you’ve read? So boring.) It also reinforced the idea that he should read because school says so and not because he wanted to. Knowing my son’s oppositional nature, I felt there was a risk he’d simply rebel against reading if he felt it wasn’t his decision. No book logs for us. My job was to run interference while my child got his reading feet under him. By mid-second grade, reading had clicked for him, and by the end, he, too, was reading beyond grade level. Still, when we began homeschooling, I continued the morning routine of reading books aloud, now with two kids instead of one. Just because a child can read to himself doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy cuddling up and hearing stories read out loud.

So how did I end up with kids who love reading? I take them to the library and always have. I read aloud, early, often, and even when they can read to themselves. I read books myself, where the kids can see me. I occasionally ignore them because the book is really good. I pick out books for myself at the library. I make sure they are allowed to learn to read at their own pace and without externally imposed pressure, anxiety, or stress. I don’t judge their reading material. Both boys take out books below their reading level along with harder books. I simply remind them to make sure they bring home some longer books, too, because otherwise they finish all their books too soon and I have two kids moping around the house complaining, “I’m out of book.” They love graphic novels and read them again and again. I suggest books I think they might like, I find books they’ve requested, I give books as presents, I provide magazine subscriptions. I thoroughly support their reading habit, as I support my own.

So there is no quick-results answer I can give when someone asks me, “How did you get your kids to read?” It’s a lifestyle; it reflects what’s important to me. These readers of mine are the product of the sum total of my time as a mother; getting a kid to value reading isn’t a quick summer project involving McDonald’s coupons and a magician at the library. Of course, there are outliers. There are people who love to read who grew up in bookless homes, and kids who don’t read at all whose book-loving parents are mystified. But in general, results begin with what you value and where you put your time, which is why my kids love to read and often ask for apples for a snack. They didn’t learn to read because I sat down and made it a chore, and they don’t read now to earn prizes at the library. They read because books take them to different places, different times, different universes, carried along on the wave of a fantastic story. They read for reading’s sake.

The Week’s Work

I don’t feel I made much progress with my own making this week. The first part of the week I felt sluggish and like I wasn’t focusing well, and the second part was busy–so busy that I’m joining in with Dawn’s Making + Listening link-up three days late. Nevertheless, we’ve been making things here.

My oldest made a zine to fulfill a class project. I used this as an excuse to finally buy a long-reach stapler. His only supply request was a non-photo blue pencil (because you don’t need to erase your lines after inking; it doesn’t show up on photocopies). I want to make zines too!

I finally finished my Tang in green wool (so perfect for this time of year…um, not!).

It needs a rinse and block, but my utility sink, which I thought would work so nicely for washing handknits, is full, as always, of drying paintbrushes and paint splotches. I won’t wear this for a few months anyway, and perhaps I’ll remember to do a post with modeled shots when I do…

My daughter made me a cardinal sitting in a nest.

This was all her own idea and execution. She asked for my help reaching the red and green card stock and then set to work with scissors and tape, cutting the shapes out herself. (She used the large circle hole punch for the head and feet.) She ran back and forth to check the bird poster hanging on our wall, the one that includes a cardinal. She was detailed about the feet, wasn’t she? That’s one of the bits she double-checked with the poster. This is so authentically a four-year-old’s creation. I adore it.

I also helped my daughter make more goat note cards.

These sets are already claimed and paid for, and we need to make more to fulfill more orders. I’ll talk more about her work in a future post, but for now I’ll say that I’m so pleased she is having success and so grateful to the communities (both online and in real life) that are helping her achieve that success. My daughter never doubted her plan would work, and I’d do well to observe and learn from the confidence of this four-year-old.

Speaking of which, she also made it to the top of the rock wall at her brother’s school fair today.

Climbing to the top.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo that shows the wall in its entirety so you can see how tall it was. It was really, really tall.

At the top.

It was a little hard to look at my last baby dangling from a harness at the top of that thing, but she was so excited to try and so determined to get all the way up; of course I cheered her on. She drew a little bit of a crowd. A rock-climbing gym recently opened nearby (this was their traveling wall), and I don’t think we’ll be able to keep G out of it.

As for the listening portion, my husband was away this week, so while I wove ends into my sweater and tried to embroider (that being the project I haven’t made much progress on), I watched and listened to Merlin. I have four episodes left to go in Season 3. The younger kids finished listening to The Phantom Tollbooth and The Arabian Nights as I read them aloud. And, because we met friends at the zoo this week, we of course listened to Tom Paxton’s Goin’ to the Zoo on the way. This is such a great CD of fun songs. We all like it.

I hope you are in the midst of an enjoyable weekend, with some time to make and listen to whatever makes you happy.