Archive for December 6, 2010

Reading Between the Lines (Part 2)

Finally, it is here.  This blog is about three weeks late.  I hope the quality of material will make up for the lost time. I also want to welcome my new Facebook and Twitter followers.  Shockingly, my little blog has been viewed in 8 different countries.  I hope I have written something that has made a difference.  I also want to thank people who have shared this blog on Facebook and Twitter.  The tabs are on the right hand side of the page for those who would like to do this.  Thank you for your support!   

On November 8th, I wrote an important blog that was called Reading Between the Lines.  When you have a chance, take a look at it again because it contained the details of what I did to help Cameron skyrocket his reading.  The blog today takes a more detailed look;  but here were the three basic points.
1.  I used a library consistently.
2.  I subscribed to a newspaper.
3.  I strategically placed books in my home.

Today, I want to go into some more specific details of what I did and my mindset.  Although I am going to refer to Cameron in this blog; the same strategies are being used with my three year old Luke.  The difference is Cameron’s reading and math have already tested in the top 1% in the country in his age group.  It’s not fair for me to refer to Luke until he is old enough to be tested.

The first thing you need to know is all of my strategies were done purposefully.  As a former teacher, I always set up my classroom before the kids walked in.  As a stay at home dad, it’s kind of the same mind set.  The hard part is coming up with the plan.  Implementing it is pretty easy.  There may be reasons you won’t think my reading strategies will work in your home.  I challenge you though to think of why they might.

1.  Cameron’s bedroom is one of the real keys to his reading success.  The reason is he has four things in it- a bed, a dresser, some stuffed animals, and a shelf full of books.  The bedroom is a place for rest in my mind.  It’s the place in the house a child should always be able to really relax with their thoughts.  TV’s, video games, and toys distract the relaxation I am looking for.  Cameron has plenty of toys; but they are in the playroom.

Cameron, like most kids, doesn’t always want to go to bed immediately at bedtime.  This is what the books are for.  During the summer and on weekends, he doesn’t have to go to sleep.  He can read until he passes out for all I care.  Admittedly, there have been nights Cameron has been up later than I’d like.  On most nights though, he reads for a few minutes and goes to sleep on his own.  Not only do we not have bedtime problems; we are actually allowing him to practice a vital skill.  In his mind, he thinks he is getting away with something when he reads and stays up a bit later.  In my mind, it was planned all along. 

2.  I learned his interests and brought books into my home based on them.  Cameron has always had a fascination with garbage trucks.  What kind of books do you think periodically pop up in our home?  You probably guessed it-  books on garbage trucks.  I read to him and sometimes he would read them to me.  If he wants quality reading time with me, he can always have it.  I’ve bought garbage truck books and I’ve checked out plenty from the library.  The point is I had him reading interesting things to foster more reading.  

Now that he is good at reading, he likes doing it alone.  This is a key point.  Kids don’t want to read by themselves until they have the confidence TOOOOOOOO read by themselves.  My general mindset on this point is I want reading to be fun and as easy as possible.  As long as I am providing interesting material and my time( if he chooses), I can accomplish these goals.   

3.  I realize from my teaching days that reading and decoding are two different things.  Decoding means you can say words from a page.  Reading is not only saying these words; but “knowing what the heck you are talking about.”  I actually told this to elementary kids in my classroom every year.  It may have not been the most professional way of saying it; but I got the message across.  When Cameron reads to me, I like to ask probing questions on what he just read.  I don’t do it all the time because a kid should sometimes read just for fun and fluency (reading as clearly as you talk).  Regardless, it’s fun to do at times and a parent can quickly determine whether the reading material is too hard. 

No matter which strategies you choose or whether you have other ones; the important thing is that a reading culture is created.  Once that culture is in full gear, good results will follow.

Finally, my shameless plug.  Please pass this blog along to those who would like their children’s reading skills to improve.  It would be very appreciated.   

All the best and I hope to see you back Wednesday for my behavior blog. 



Teacher Troubles (The Power of an Inquisitive Mom)

Happy Friday to all of you.  Today’s free for all topic stemmed from a friend (Susan) who asked me what to do when the teacher of a child is the problem.

Susan’s child (Nate) is a first grader who goes to a well respected public school in Louisville, KY.  Unfortunately, Susan didn’t feel Nate’s teacher was meeting her son’s needs.  Susan does not receive much homework from Nate’s teacher which bothers her.  Ideas for homework are substandard to Susan as well.  For example, a homework assignment recommended was to play Hangman.  Another was to read 15 minutes. The in class work was not up to par as well.  What Susan was looking for was either a change of teachers or for Nate’s teacher to improve. 

Susan was kind enough to send me all the email correspondence with Nate’s teacher and it was lengthy.  Susan strikes me as the kind of mom who wants the best for her kid.  What sets her apart though with other mom’s I have worked with is she is so inquisitive.  I left teaching 4 years ago and Susan asked me such detailed questions that it took me a while to remember the answers.  Luckily, most of the questions were through email which gave me ample time to think.

Sharing each of Susan’s questions is not what I am looking for in this blog.  Trust me, they were so detailed that it wouldn’t benefit the general population who is reading this.  Regardless, here are some thoughts to consider when there is a problem with a teacher.  These general ideas were what I passed along to Susan. 

First, realize that not all teachers are equal in ability.  Don’t take it for granted that your child has a good teacher.  (Obviously, Susan was on top of this)  If I were to come to your home, how would you prove to me whether your child’s teacher was good or not?  What evidence would you provide?  What are the teacher’s strengths and weaknesses?  If you do not know these answers, odds are you also do not know whether your child’s teacher is really good or not.  Therefore, the first part of the equation is for you, the parent, to have an opinion backed up with indisputable facts.

Second,  many problems can be dealt with quickly through communication.  Sometimes, teachers don’t know there is a problem until you bring it up.  Keep in mind that very few teachers will ever think of themselves as the problem.  There is also not any sense in being angry or confrontational with the teacher.  Simply present your case in a clear manner whether the problem is with academics or with another student.  Make sure you are so clear that there is little room for rebuttal. With Susan, I told her to pretend she was an attorney and her case had to be “air tight.”

Here’s a quick story to illustrate the point.  Once, I had an angry parent confront me because her child was “picked on” by another student.  She went on a mini tirade for about 3-5 minutes and I didn’t say a word.  I am human though and I was a bit angry/amused because I knew something she didn’t.  When she was finished, I looked at her and detailed all that really happened.  It was her son that started the problem and had I not been at the right place at the right time, her child could have been suspended.  I was professional but blunt and I did not use my coddling voice.  When I was finished speaking, mom turned and left with her child extremely embarrassed.  She gave the child a small tongue lashing for not telling her the whole story- all the way down the hall.  Had she only been somewhat professional to me, she would have learned the same story unfortunately; but may have been a little less embarrassed.  On a side note, I was at fault as well because I should have sent a note to the parent detailing what had happened.

Third, if a problem with a teacher isn’t resolved to your satisfaction, you have to go to the principal.  If it’s an academic problem, the principal most likely already knows.  Still, it helps them to know that you know.  It keeps their feet to the fire a bit.  Principals do not have tenure like teachers and unless your points have holes in them, they are going to be inclined to listen.  Also, all principals want the best academic environment possible.  It’s best for the kids first of all and it looks good if the principal wants to advance in their career.  As long as you are making good points, you are most likely going to get a fair shake.

Realize that principals are overwhelmed as well.  They are seldom sitting back in a Lazy Boy chair in their office.  They have a lot on their plate so please be patient while you are waiting for your problem to be resolved.  But don’t be too patient.  There’s nothing wrong with follow up calls and emails to ensure that your needs are being addressed.      

Finally, understand that, as a parent, you are the straw that stirs the drink.  I am speaking mainly of academic problems when I make this point.  If you are in a school with a poor teacher and a lackluster administration, you have got to work hard to make sure your child doesn’t fall behind.  This is the real lesson I want you to learn from Susan.  There is little chance Nate will fall behind despite the circumstances in class because Susan won’t allow it. She has her finger on the pulse and will go to whatever means she needs to in order to ensure Nate’s ultimate success.   

Please have a great weekend with your kids and check back in Monday for my educational blog.  The long awaited 2nd part of Cameron’s reading success will be outlined.  The goal is to make the details so clear; you can implement them with your child.  

What Makes a Child Happy

Well, it’s official.  I have achieved over 1,000 hits on this blog.  I can’t thank everyone enough for reading this.  I truly appreciate your time and hope you have benefited by something I have written.   The rules stay the same.  Judge this blog by its merits.  If you like it, please promote it to your friends and neighbors.  Many people struggle with kids or just want to get a better handle on them.  Topics like the one today may go a long way in achieving the goal.  If the blog isn’t good enough in your mind, don’t pass it along and I will try harder next time.  Today, I want to talk about the happiness of children.

This may seem like a pretty simplistic subject.  From my perspective, it is not.  Many of my readers may already have happy children. Have you ever thought why?  Today’s blog is going to focus on what makes children happy and what you can possibly adjust if your child isn’t happy.  At times, there are quick fixes.  Other times, there is a structural gap.  When I was a teacher, I would sometimes be warned by parents how much the kids “didn’t like school” or what a “handful they would be.”  What was amazing though is I don’t remember anyone being consistently unhappy.  Maybe I had the touch or maybe it was something more.  

Even kids at St. Joseph Children’s Home were happy the far majority of the time.  This may be surprising to some of you because of their circumstances.  After all, they were stripped from their natural homes initially by child care workers with police involvement, stripped from their homes permanently by the courts, and placed in a home full or strangers with no hope of returning to their families.  Could you imagine being in their shoes?  Heck, I worked there and couldn’t imagine it.  What do you think your happiness level would have been if placed under the same circumstances?

The truth is most of my days working there were very pleasant.  The kids looked a lot like yours.  They went to school, played sports, and liked to have fun.  Although they missed their families from time to time; most of the kids kept smiles on their faces and were a great joy to be around.  When studying happiness in children- these kids had little to be happy about- or did they? 

After some deep reflection, I’ve determined a child’s happiness is crucial to overall development and the good news is it’s not that hard to facilitate as a parent.  I really believe almost all children want to be happy.  They may get upset with something you did.  They may show sadness over something that happened at school.  They may even act out of control when they are mad.  But deep down, children want to be happy.  With the diverse population I have worked with, here are four common themes to happiness.  I am sure you will be able to think of more things that make children happy in your home; but these things really stand out to me over the test of time.  They are not written in any particular order.

1.  Consistency- Kids didn’t always like what I did and some would get mad at me;  but I was consistent.  When other kids messed up, I didn’t show favoritism or excuse behaviors.  Therefore, when “Joe” saw me consequence “Bob” in a similar way, Joe felt better in the long run.  The opposite was true as well.  When Joe saw me give praise to Bob, he knew if he repeated those actions, he would get praise as well.  Though I am using boys names, girls were treated the same way. When kids of mine knew what to “give” to receive the reaction they were looking for; it really helped their overall happiness.

2.  Routines- Kids I have worked with loved their routines.  This could mean the bedtime routine of me reading a story or even the after school routine with homework.  Occasionally, when I broke a routine, it was special but it didn’t last long.  I believe the lack of consistent routines causes confusion which can lead to a degree of unhappiness.  Have you ever noticed in your child’s school how “routine” everything is?  This is generally by design.  How you implement any given routine is up to you; but they are crucial, in my mind, for overall happiness.   

3.  Advocacy- Children I worked with knew I was on their side.  When kids had problems at St. Joseph’s, in school, or with other kids or teachers, they knew they could turn to me for a fair shake. I didn’t always give them what they wanted but they always had my ear and knew I would go to bat for them.  This created a form of stability which all kids are desperate to have.  I wrote about this in more detail in my book and recently had an episode with Cameron at his school I may write about in a future blog.  For now, know that you can not advocate enough for your child. 

4.  Expressed Love- This may be the last point but it is certainly not the least.  I told kids at St. Joseph’s, in my classrooms, and in my home that I loved them and I meant it every time.  When kids feel genuinely loved, they will move mountains.  No matter what was going on when I wasn’t around, things changed when I walked in a room.  I can’t tell you how many times certain kids at St. Joseph’s would look mad as hell- a shift change would occur- I would walk in and their demeanor turned completely around.  There were others in my classrooms who would be happy all day; then their mood would turn when it was time to go home.  It’s not that I walked on water; but I tried to give them the core thing all of us long for.  That’s how powerful this point is.  Expressed love is like the warmth of a blanket, a roaring fire, and a mug of hot chocolate after coming in from playing in the snow.  If you remember none of the other points I have made, you had better remember this one for your child to experience true happiness.

This Friday- the free for all blog will be a question from a parent whose child was having trouble in school with a teacher.  I’ll let you know some details and the course of action laid out.  I hope it will help anyone who is having similar problems.  There will also be some tips those of you who do not currently have problems should store away. You never know when a problem will occur.

All the best to you and your family!