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Nature is My Curriculum

What curriculum should I buy?

How can I get my kids to do their work when they won’t sit for more than ten minutes?

Just step outside into nature and the learning possibilities are infinite. Being in nature stimulates the brain and naturally engages kids so the learning happens effortlessly. Just being in nature has cognitive and physical benefits for children. Not convinced? Check out the research https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3162362/

Nature is free, abundant and accessible to all. What other place can intuitively teach you about the interconnectedness of all life on Earth as well as the life cycles of all living things?

How can you incorporate glorious nature as a learning tool?

The options are endless from visiting a local park and noticing the flora and fauna to full on immersion in the woods. Just walking in the woods opens up dialogue and lights a fire to scientific curiosity.

This year, my 10 year old has developed a deep appreciation for the role of fungus not just as food but as a life transforming powerhouse as well as a strong interest in birding as conservation. He fell in love with science just by being in the woods. We incorporate literacy, math, history and science in the forest. For example, we do literature studies by authors such as Jean Craighead George, author of the My Side of the Mountain trilogy. For history, we are learning about the Lenape Indians who were the first to live on my local land as well visiting parks and fields that George Washington and his men fought many battles on. For math, we may be look at patterns in nature like the Fibonacci pattern and both find it in nature as well as draw our own examples. We may take home found objects to later sketch and research and write and draw about it.

Most towns or counties have environmental centers that provide free to low cost classes and events that are super family friendly.

There is technology to help you get out there. Cornell has a free birding app that teaches kids about birds and how to use data. Kids can be an active part of tracking birds as well as the health of the environment. Birding populations are direct indicators of the health of the environment. You can check out Cornell’s app here: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/merlin-bird-id-by-cornell-lab/id773457673

I keep apps like iNaturalist and iSeek on my phone to help me quickly ID new discoveries. Many times, my kids will use the photos from the day to later use as a research guide on the apps. You can access iNaturalist here: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/inaturalist/id421397028

I would love to hear about your adventures in nature! Please share!

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September is Latinx history month and it’s a great time to stock up on the best of Latinx authors, illustrators and children’s stories to read throughout the year.

Representation matters! There are so many beautifully illustrated and written children’s books featuring Latinx characters, stories and authors. My only dilemma is overspending on books.

Mighty Girl has a great list of recommendations which you can find here: https://www.amightygirl.com/blog/?p=13062

Hip Latina provides their top 20 books for young children as well as must have suggestions for filling your book shelves. You can find their suggestions here: https://hiplatina.com/20-latinx-childrens-books-that-should-be-on-your-shelf/

Looking for books about Latinx/Latin American history and/or social justice? Social Justice’s site provides information, reviews and links to purchase books from independent and unionized book sellers. You can find their recommendations here: https://socialjusticebooks.org/booklists/latinx/

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Dyslexia/aixelsyD

Are you concerned about your child’s reading ability?

Is your child struggling with decoding basic words?

Difficulty with rhyming?

Struggling with spelling?

A resistant reader?

When you think of dyslexia do you think letter reversals and reading backwards?

Dyslexia is NOT a visual disorder.

Dyslexics see the same as non dyslexics. The difficulty lies in the processing of phonological sounds. Dyslexia is a speech and language disorder rooted in natural neurobiological variation. It is not a sign of more or less intelligence. It has nothing to do with intelligence.

Every child wants to learn to read. It is a major milestone that affects every aspect of a person’s life. Yet for up to every one in five children it is a struggle to learn to read.

Why can some kids just pick up reading with seemingly little to no effort while others struggle day in and day out?

Reading is a man made invention for the human brain. Our brains have natural neurobiological variations. Reading is not a natural human act. Therefore, not everyone’s brain processes textual information the same way. The human brain is divided into two hemispheres and decoding occurs on the left side of the brain for those without dyslexia. Brain scans have found that for those with dyslexia, reading is happening in the right hemisphere. With reading and speech interventions the dyslexic brain can be rewired to utilize the left side of the brain. Children can learn the magic of rewiring their brains to break down words phonologically to decode with fluency and learn the rules of spelling.

What are the early signs of dyslexia?

The signs of dyslexia may be apparent by age 4 or 5. Here are some of the signs:

Difficulty with rhyming. Nursery rhymes and producing rhyming patterns such as: at, cat, fat, mat

Difficulty pronouncing familiar words, multisyllabic words and may drop the middle or endings of words.

Family history of dyslexia or other learning disabilities

K/1st (6/7) Signs in early elementary grades:

Inability or difficulty with rhyming, does not recognize word families, has little to no knowledge of sound/letter correspondence

Difficulty with spelling and deconstructing words

Older children with untreated dyslexia most often avoid reading or complain about it being too hard or too boring in addition to the previously mentioned signs.

Difficulty distinguishing between left and right. Often ambidextrous.

What can you do if you suspect a reading disability?

Begin with a vision and hearing checkup. An audiologist may find other similar presenting issues such as auditory processing disorder as well.

If your child is 8 or older and has had a year or more of reading instruction and not reading fluently then there is often an underlying cause. You can write a letter requesting your child be evaluated for a learning disability at your child’s school. Other options are getting an evaluation done by an educational psychologist, neurologist or speech and language pathologist.

What works for dyslexia?

Children with dyslexia need to be taught discreet language skills using a multi sensory approach. Programs like Great Leaps, Wilson and Orton Gillingham are proven to work and utilize multiple senses when learning. You may find these programs virtually, in public schools, a speech and language pathologist or with a trained specialist. You may also learn to use and implement the program yourself.

You can learn more about Orton Gillingham here: https://www.ortonacademy.org/resources/what-is-the-orton-gillingham-approach/

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A Few things I learned about Homeschooling While Sick with Covid

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

At the end of January, my family became sick with Covid-19. All of us were symptomatic with various versions of extreme fatigue, high fevers, GI issues, nausea, chest pain and coughing. It has been about five weeks at this point and my daughter and husband are fully recovered, my son and I are still have days with lingering fatigue, headaches and intermittent fevers mixed in among very good days. Needless to say, it was challenging to do any “learning” when getting out of bed for a few minutes felt like a major accomplishment so I needed to prioritize and did so instinctively. Following my intuition on what to do, what to keep up with and what to drop, we managed to find a daily rhythm. Granted the daily rhythm involved a lot of naps but in-between it was a lot of cuddling and read alouds in bed, reading through entire series and rereading favorites, listening to audible for hours on end, and creating art (mostly drawing) from bed. It was a time of respecting what our bodies and minds were capable of at that time (not easy to do).

I had a fantasy when I had first gotten sick, that as soon as I had a little more energy, I was going to start painting and creating art in bed and was trying to channel Frida Kahlo (didn’t exactly pan out for myself but did so for my son). This went on for at least two weeks where I’d wake up with a great art plan that quickly turned into a nap, followed by another nap, cooking a meal, and bedtime. The art managed to slip away. Then, my son started to get his energy back and began to draw while listening to audible for hours a day until he was once again exhausted. He inspired me to scale back on the fantasy that was wearing me out and be ok with keeping a sketch bad in bed and on the couch to just draw whatever came to mind without there needing to be a “finished product.” I learned to not put so much pressure on myself that it’s ok to spend time in bed not doing much or just doing what feels good when you’re sick and even sometimes when you’re not.

I learned that good books are still my best friends and my kid’s as well. When you’re sick, and feeling alone, it’s a good book that can talk to you and keep you company while distracting you just the right amount. I think I’m going to continue with the long stretches of just laying in bed reading well after the sun comes up at least a day or two a week.

My son’s drawings really flourished and he developed a confidence in his drawing as he drew so much more in a day than he had drawn in combined time over months previously. Being home, sick, under a foot or two of snow helped to reestablish a time of creativity and a time to just think. I’m so thankful that we are recovering and realize how lucky we are.

Finally, I also learned, I NEVER want COVID again 🙂

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Do you love Amanda Gorman?


“I can hear change humming
In its loudest, proudest song.
I don’t fear change coming,
And so I sing along.”

Amanda Gorman

“I’m the daughter of Black writers. We’re descended from freedom fighters who broke through chains and change the world. They call me”

Of course you do! How can you not love strength, courage, political activism for equality and lyrical brilliance?

Amanda Gorman is America’s youth poet laureate who recently stole the show at Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ Presidential inauguration. She is the embodiment of progress and hope.

Gorman is an inspiration on multiple levels ranging from the political to the personal. She is able to use her powerful voice as a call to unite and create political change. She’s brought back poetry and has helped the genre to once again rise to the level of a vehicle for social and political change. The NYT put together several great lessons on this for your kids that you can find here. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/20/learning/lesson-of-the-day-amanda-gorman-and-the-hill-we-climb.amp.html

Amanda Gorman

“While democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith, we trust.”

Want to rewatch Amanda’s powerful poem at the inauguration? Who doesn’t? You can watch her here. https://www.ted.com/talks/amanda_gorman_the_hill_we_climb/up-next

Amanda Gorman is not just brilliant but incredibly perseverant. At 5, Gorman was diagnosed with an auditory processing disorder and a speech impediment. She learned to use that as as a strength. She found and honed her voice to craft her very personal poem, “The Hill We Climb.”Her poem is an inspiration for all of us to unite, be resilient and continue to have hope.

You can access a free lesson plan from PBS here: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/lessons-plans/lesson-plan-discuss-22-year-old-amanda-gormans-inaugural-poem-the-miracle-morning/?fbclid=IwAR3v6sB_tMh0SadeWEU7gZljA9CBXLNVWM-PZhPeX7xcJDE6JjR1syFN-AA

Amanda wants you to use your voice as a political choice. You can hear her Ted Talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/amanda_gorman_using_your_voice_is_a_political_choice/transcript?language=en

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The First Step: A Blog for Kids & Created by Kids

You can find The First Step Blog here: https://candicenarvaez.wordpress.com/2021/03/17/how-to-zig-zag-on-a-skateboard-by-aria/

Like most kids, my nine year old loves stories. He loves to tell stories to his friends when he’s building a home in Minecraft or while building a fort. Like many nine year olds, he has a constant dialogue going. He loves listening to stories read by adults, other kids, on audible or other devices. He loves reading independently and he will beg to stay up late just to read. Yet, none of this translated into a desire to write. Not only was there little desire, there was flat out resistance and refusal to even consider writing down his stories.

For a long time, my son seemed to think crayons were for throwing. As I wrote about in a previous post, creating a blog changed his relationship with writing. It changed all of the kid’s that I work with feelings about writing. Having a blog, a voice in the world is empowering, especially during a time when staying connected can be a Herculean task.

I ran the idea of creating a blog “by kids and for kids” with my son and a few kids I’m working with and they ran with it. Then, I told them that if they wanted something on the blog they would also have to write out all of the instructions and magically there was agreement. The kids were excited.

The kids worked like anyone starting a blog. They needed to generate ideas and content, they needed to start thinking about such as, “Does the photo or pics match the text? Can you give that step with a clearer voice?” and the kids learned to think about formatting and editing. These kids who aren’t yet two digits were actively joining the world as writers, creators and collaborators.

As only kids can, the kid’s ideas for the blog came quickly and there was an endless list. Learning to focus on a single idea and focus in on the language needed to teach another kid something is enormous. The kids never complained about the many times, I asked them to break something down into smaller, more specific steps for a how-to lesson. When I had asked the kids to work on the same type of writing without the purpose the blog provides I would be met with groans and whines. The kids chose their topics for their target audience in a way adults never could. There are posts on how to zig zag on a skateboard, perfecting your cartwheel and how to do the coffee grinder. These 9 and 10 year olds really know the interests and hearts of their fellow kids since adults no longer hold that all access pass.

Collaboration happened quickly and naturally. The kids wanted to discuss what they were doing with their friends and they welcomed feedback. Soon, the kids began to ask me questions about what was most popular on the blog to help them gauge what direction to go in and to think about their audience. They were thinking like writers, creators and entrepreneurs. Walks in the woods became opportunities to find new places to blog about and to connect what they were doing in their everyday lives to the world around them. They decided, independent of me, to start a comic book making club and a running club! We started looking at other kid reporters in places like Time for Kids and getting inspired by other kid scientists, artists and explorers. They have started to generate ideas about fundraising for a cause that they believe in. They want to use the blog as a vehicle to help that cause. I’m excited to see the kids engaged with creating and writing. I’m excited to see how this project continues to evolve and how the kids evolve along with it. I will keep you posted on how this goes and any fundraising for charity that decide to go with.

I hope you enjoy the kid’s blog but more importantly, I hope your kids do.

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My kid hates to write!

Sound familiar?

A little too familiar?

I’ve been there as well, on the battleground with pencil in hand, trying to convince my then seven year old that writing can be freeing and fun. I’d tell my kid things like,writing is important because you want to be able to express yourself and have your ideas written down and he would look at me like all he was hearing was blah, blah, blah.

This is how my kid heard me when I talked about the importance of writing

Nothing I said or did provided much to convince my son of the joys of writing or to the fact that it is a necessary life skill.

There are two types of kids: those who love to write and those who would rather endure water torture than to sit down and write a few sentences. For the parents of kids who love to write, we see you. We know you are awesome but please leave for the sake of parental morale and come back for the next topic. For the rest of you, I feel you. I spent years handing my son crayons that he mistakenly confused as Nerf bullets and would throw them around the room.

Learning his letters with Handwriting Without Tears manipulatives

I did a few things to ensure my son was able to write when he was developmentally ready. I made sure he knew the basic mechanics of writing. I used Handwriting Without Tears to teach my kid to quickly be able to write letters and words and eventually moving onto sentences. I love HWT and recommend the program however, there are many great workbooks out there if this program isn ‘t for you. I also had him spend ten minutes a day on spelling and word study from a word study book so that when he wanted to begin writing he would have the basics in place. Next, I needed to give him a reason to write.

What’s your kid’s motivation to write? We aren’t donkeys but a shiny carrot really does work for kicking writing into gear. My kid loves to dance and nature. I built a blog for him and a few of the kids I’m working with to have a reason to write. They’re making “how to”videos and “all about” videos on things that are important to them like doing the coffee grinder, skateboarding and their pet hamsters. The kids are writing ‘how to’ and “all about” pieces in order to make the website accessible to all kids and they’re excited about it. They want to write because they have a purpose and an audience. Once my son and the kids had their website going, my son started writing all the time because he now LOVES to write. He’s currently working on a comic book.

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Part 2 : A Tale of Two Escapes: Curious George, the Nazis and My Grandfather

My grandfather, Rudy Meyer
BLUE DEVILS
When D-Day comes for another push,
And fighting strength is in need, 
They call upon in urgent need
One outfit for the rush.
The always toiling Infantry
With Engineers and Artillery,
With Medics, Tanks, and Air support
They make their way through every Fort.
Round for Round they won decision
The soldiers of the Blue Division.
From 316—
To Berlin—
That’s the way they will go
And will show 
All the Nation
Their famous reputation.
Be prepared,
You never heard
A record
Of this sort.
Minturne
With its inferno—
Volterra was another goal,
They drove the Germans from their hole—
In Summer’s burning sun,
They kept them on the run.
Battaglia was soaked with blood—
The men were fighting deep in mud—
With all their strength and energy
They won their greatest victory.
The Germans hate
The 88th
And gave her a new name—
By God it’s no shame 
And strictly on the level
To be called “Blue Devil.”
The final round has to be fought-
For victory we pray to God.

By Rudolph Meyer

PFC 32944109

In December of 1943, my grandfather arrived in Casablanca, in Northern Africa with 14,000 other men on an overcrowded Liberty ship as a part of the 88th Infantry Division. This would eventually become known as the “Blue Devils.” After spending a short time recovering from the trans-Atlantic trip they were off again by train to Oran and then trained in the Atlas Mountains to prepare for their arrival in Italy on the 21st of February. The 88th was there to secretly relieve the British 5th Infantry Division and by that March took control of the British sector. The American soldiers wore British helmets while the switch took place and it worked. The army was attempting to obtain control of a central Italian highway to Rome that would force a German retreat on both sides. By mid April the Germans and the Allies each had twenty-two divisions in Italy. My father was born a the end of April while my grandfather and the Allies went on to attack enemy lines at Mount Diamano and the Austene Valley. While the Germans put up a brutal fight, Mount Diamano was captured within an hour and the Gustav line had opened and Mount Rotondo had been captured as well as Santa Maria Infante. They were such a ferocious and fierce troop that the 88th became known as the Blue Devils by German prisoners who had supposedly stated, “the troops of the 88th fought like devils” and eventually the 88th division took on the nickname “Blue Devils” which was also a nod to their blue shoulder patches.

In May of 1944, the 88th had made it through heavy German fire and out of the mountains to head to the Eternal City. There was a brutal battle on the outskirts of the city by German resistance but by June 4th the Eternal City was taken by the Allies and they became the first division to enter Rome.Two days later they captured Rome. The Normandy invasion happened two days later and from there the 88th followed the Germans battling tanks and Nazi soldiers for one hundred straight days and by July they had captured the fortress town of Volterra where there was a large German garrison. By this point the Blue Devils had already lost over 6,000 men who had been killed, wounded or were missing. That April the offensive against the Nazis began. The Germans had spent months literally digging themselves into wrecked buildings, cliffs and into caves with machines guns and artillery hidden everywhere and the Germans were caught and the troops were  the first Allied militia to enter Verona. Vicenza fell three days later and on May 2nd German forces surrendered and the war in Italy was over. On May 7th, the Germans surrendered and World War II was over. My grandfather and the thousands of other allies continued on through May and June guarding over three hundred thousand prisoners of war. My grandfather came home to meet his son for the first time when my dad was 16 months old.

When my grandfather and my father met for the first time at sixteen months my father cried and he was afraid of this complete stranger. My grandfather was so upset by this and could not understand how his son could completely reject him that he left for a couple of days before returning home again. My grandfather was soon working as an accountant at Columbia pictures while my grandmother taught second grade in the Bronx and my dad played stickball and with his dog Smokey. My grandparents had one child, my dad. I know my dad had always wanted siblings or cousins but the war made that difficult for those who were already of child bearing age when her spouse was fighting in a war for multiple years. My grandmother had written a short essay about feeling like a failure as a mother after attending an event at my dad’s school when we was maybe six or severn. She had been brought over to a bulletin board to see his family drawing of 6 stick figures labeled as made up siblings. Initially she was angry that my father had lied and then decided that she was the failure -obviously not true. My father went on to have four kids. I have other writing by her about the summer trips to Prince Edward Island and their time hiking. My grandparents had a great love for each other however like all of life it was complicated and how does one account for all the pain that came from my grandfather’s past. For those who survived there was tremendous guilt. How did I survive but not this one? One of my family members that had arrived after fleeing from Germany about a year after my grandfather eventually committed suicide. I’m going to share writing by my grandmother about that experience at the end if there’s time because I think it’s important to get back to the big question of how did this happen? How did Hitler manage to convince an entire country to murder six million Jews and five million gays, Romas and others?

My grandparents

How did Hitler create his master plan? 

Adolph Hitler studied and modeled the final solution from United States racism and institutionalized policies. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States had led the world in race based law making in order to “safeguard” a white country.The United States codified their laws with the intention of keeping non-whites from immigrating into the US. These types of codified laws is the definition of white nationalism. Congress had passed laws to guarantee the vast majority of immigrants would be white Christians from Northern Europe and there was Jim Crow segregation. Nazis lawyers recognized that the US featured a quota system that was designed to maintain the dominance of “Nordic” blood within the United States.  Jews who had a grandparent who was Jewish were considered Jewish. This is so reminiscent of the American “one drop rule” that the American government had used with African Americans to relegate them to second class citizenship and take away their basic human rights and civil liberties. In Mein Kampf, Hitler described America as the “one state” making the kind of racial purity progress and race based order that he had wanted to achieve.  The 1935 National Socialist Handbook on Law and Legislation was a guidebook for the Nazis as they moved toward their goal of total eradication of Jews from the planet. Hitler recognized the United States as achieving “fundamental recognition of the need for a race based state.” Germany also had the complicity and support of many of the financial and politically elite of the United States. American companies like Standard Oil offered to supply all of Germany’s oil needs and profited significantly off of the Holocaust while major manufacturing companies like Ford and IBM supplied Germany with the means to murder millions of people. Those iconic American companies helped to rearm Hitler’s Nazis while profiting. Ford who was a notorious anti-semite was given the Grand Cross of the German Eagle by Hitler himself. That award was the highest honor a foreigner could receive from the Nazi party. Senator Harry Truman stated that “If the Germans are winning we support the Russians, and if the Russians are winning we support the Germans” maintaining a neutrality that would lead to millions of deaths. When Franklin D.Roosevelt (FDR) got the United States involved in the war as he described it, to” have a hand in shaping the post-war world otherwise he will be forced to sit outside the door and try to shout through a crack under the door.” FDR wanted to end the repression  after WWII yet after his death Truman let Britain and France re-establish colonialism post-WWII. FDR had promised to keep the United States out of any foreign wars however after Japan had attacked Hawaii in the infamous Pearl Harbor attack on December 7th, 1941 he was now free to declare war. Prior to that point the overall American population did not want any involvement in the war. In order for the Nazi Party to be successful they would need to convince the German people that Jews were subhuman and Hitler and the Nazi Party did just that through the implementation of The Nuremberg Race Laws in 1935. This was anti- Jewish legislation implemented by Nazi lawyers who had used  American laws as the model for a legal framework for the systematic persecution and murder of Jews in Germany. The laws were announced and celebrated during a Nazi Party rally at Nuremberg on September 15th, 1935. It was this legislation that led to the dehumanization and ultimately extermination, the murder of six million Jews and eleven million people in total who were murdered based on hate based race, sexuality laws and ideologies.. My grandfather would remain in Germany for two more years after the Nuremberg race laws had been implemented. These laws were the result of the racial theories and ideologies of the Nazi Party. 

Pages from my grandmother’s journals

The Nuremberg Law defined “Jew” as anyone with three of four Jewish grandparents regardless of how that person self identified like the one drop rule of American racism. Jews were no longer allowed in public areas and signs read ‘Jews Unwelcome’ were erected in public spaces. My family and the families of every other German Jew were stripped of their Reich citizenship. Interfaith marriages and sexual relations between faiths were criminalized and so was homosexuality. Jews were banned from public places like swimming pools, playgrounds, parks, schools and hospitals. Jews had to register their property and businesses that  were taken over by Aryans who would fire them. There was a sharp rise in suicide during this time as well as attempts to flee but the United States would only allow 200,000 Jews to enter the United States because there was a quota on Jews being allowed to enter. There were multiple ships that arrived in New York City that were forbidden from entering and forced to return to Europe. The thousands of Jews aboard those ships would be murdered like the nine hundred passengers on the MS St. Louis ship that carried Jewish refugees fleeing the night of broken glass and after being refused admittance first to Cuba and then to the United State and Canada ultimately being forced to sail back to Europe where  several hundred were murdered with many of them being children. Those failed attempts to escape were known as the Voyages of the Damned. This was immediately prior to the mass killings and was really a propaganda tool to show the world that no-one wanted the Jews.  All Jews including children were required to wear identity cards at all times and for those without “Jewish enough” names the government added a red “J” stamped onto them. 

On November 9th, 1938 severe violence against Jews broke out across the Third Reich. German propaganda minister Joseph Goebells along with other Nazi government officials had carefully organized the burning and destruction of over 7,000 Jewish business schools, cemeteries, hospitals and homes along with dozens of murdered Jews while police, fire and government officials stood by and watched. The violent destruction continued over two days and became known as the “Night of Broken Glass” for all of the shattered glass that lay in the streets reflecting all of the hate and oppression of Jews. Two days prior a 17 year old Polish Jewish boy living in Paris had shot Ernst corn Rath a German diplomat in desperation after his parents had been deported to a no mans land between Germany and Poland. The Nazis used the incident as an excuse to claim the single shooting had been part of a larger Jewish conspiracy. Nazi propaganda was powerful and used to dehumanize jews who could then be seen as “other” or outsiders who did not belong and were sick and sub-human.

Before my grandfather’s death he was invited back to Bonn, Germany with my grandmother to find closure and for him to be welcomed and celebrated. He did not hold anger towards all Germans nor see each of them individually as guilty. He did believe that this could happen again in the United States and we had many glimpses of that as our current president has denied others basic human rights, seeks to take away other’s rights such as gay marriage and he refused to concede the election he lost and creating doubt and upheaval in the democratic process. While the war may have ended decades ago, it leaves us with pressing questions to consider now in the United States,

Where do we go from here? 

What is the point of remembering? 

What is happening in our world, our country at present?

Hitler was voted into his role through a democratic process which he then destroyed.

Looking to learn more about the Holocaust?

You can find middle school Holocaust reading suggestions here: https://www.jewishbookcouncil.org/books/reading-lists/holocaust-books-for-middle-grade-readers

You can find high school reading suggestions here: https://www.jewishbookcouncil.org/books/reading-lists/holocaust-books-for-young-adults

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FREE National Park Passes for ALL FOURTH and FIFTH GRADERS

White Mountain National Forest

Do you know about the incredible free national park program available to all fourth graders and their families for the entire school year?

Admiring the beauty of the Pacifiic Ocean in a state park

For the first time the national park program has extended their program to include all fifth graders and their families. You can get your free pass and find out more by clicking the link below:

https://www.nps.gov/kids/fifthgrade.htm

Photo by Pixabay
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Outdoor Education is for Everyone

What if you could give your child a magical pill that significantly reduces stress, improves cognition AND improves memory AND has ZERO negative side effects?

Exploring a field in New Jersey

Would you break the bank to give it to them?

Of course you would!

Because you are awesome!

That magical pill is all around us. We just have to leave our front doors in order to access all of nature’s wondrous medicinal, emotional and cognitive benefits.

Enjoying a local hike in Northern NJ

It’s not a secret that American schools have been lagging well behind the world academically at 27th place in the global rankings. The majority of top ranking schools are primarily located in Nordic regions such as Finland and Denmark. Those same countries rank well above the United States in happiness and quality of living with very low rates of poverty or unemployment. In some of the coldest regions of the world children are learning outside for part or all of the day well before covid. Researchers have found that learning outside and spending time in nature improves not just cognition but overall working memory, improved fine and gross motor development as well as provides better emotional stability.

You can learn more about Finland’s forest schools here https://healingforest.org/tag/forest-schools-of-finland/

My son found a fossil in Long Beach, CA

Children have been learning outside since the beginning of time. Humans evolved to be living as a part of the environment and not completely separate from it. Sometimes, moving to sit outside to read a story can transform a child who is having trouble concentrating to one who is engaged and engrossed in a good book.

Looking beyond

If a peer reviewed study by the NIH showing the cognitive benefits floats your boat in order to get onboard with with getting outside then here is one for you. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6616085/

Have you noticed the dramatic increase in the need for occupational therapy for children to learn to tie their shoes, write somewhat legibly, or button their clothing? Spending increasing levels of time indoors and apart of the natural environment prevents children from developing necessary physical skills.

Finding salamanders on a rainy day

How can you learn outdoors? How can you not? Opportunities to learn are everywhere from studying fractals and Fibonacci sequences in milk weed plants while learning about monarchs and migration and then watching hawks fly to learning about angles and trigonometry by studying suspension bridges or bicycles and perhaps build one-you can take it as far as you can imagine it and it’s infinite not finite like within a static room.

Personally, my younger kid and I are watching for hawks migrating and when we go to these local parks to see this happening we are also stepping into American history since if you have a cliff on the northern New Jersey coastline then there’s a good chance Washington and his troops also set up camp there. Most of the parks and their accompanying websites are filled with information to make the visits that much more interesting.

Watching for hawks

Simply taking a walk around the block is enough to increase your heart rate, take in more oxygen and get your kids ready to learn.

Stroll in a local park before math
Every unturned rock is an opportunity to learn

When you choose to go outside and let your kids observe what’s going on they start generating questions which create more questions….(which YES it can be as annoying as F) but it is also beautiful letting your kids innate curiosity shine through. When they’re curious they learn more. For example, a girl I’m working with loves hawks and she asked when hawks would be migrating from northern NJ. During our search we learned that hawks are the indicators of the health of the ecosystem since they don’t have any natural predators which led to the follow up question, how does the ecosystem look? Why? What is significant that is happening right now (this wouldn’t be in a text book yet). The questions are able to expand because of the topic just like learning should.

How does this look for a child who is working hard at virtual school? Every 40-45 minutes send them outside for fifteen minutes for free time and let them do whatever they want out there. After school get outside even if just for a short walk around the block.

New York City class outside Photo from NY mag
Taking a lunch break at Paterson Falls to learn a little history with our rice dishes.

Interesting tidbit: Did you know that low levels of Vitamin D contribute to how severely someone is afflicted with COVID and causes depression?

Why are you dealing with your kid asking you the same question 13 times and having a meltdown over a math equation or a zoom fail while you’re trying to work when the panacea is just outside that door?

The woods aren’t just for kids. This is me in my happy place where I can have space to think. This is minutes from a major urban area. There are pockets of wilderness everywhere.

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A Tale of Two Escapes: Curious George, the Nazis and My Grandfather

How do you hook your kids into history? Make it personal. If you are here now that means you are a survivor. Your bloodline is rich with stories of hardship, perseverance and resilience that can be woven within the context of history.

Recently, I gave a presentation about my grandfather at the Rey Cultural Center in New Hampshire. This is the former summer home of the authors H.A. and Margret Rey of the iconic Curious George books. The following is a somewhat slightly modified version of what I had shared..

In order to prepare for this event, I needed to revisit both personal and world history to create a bigger picture and have a better understanding myself. I am very lucky to have poetry from my grandparents where they wrote about the holocaust, the war, suicide and death as well as family, love and hope.

Poem titled, Blue Devils by Rudy Meyer aka grandparents

Six years ago, my almost three year old son was in love with Curious George and I read the books so often that I had them memorized. One night I googled the authors and I learned the story of the Rey’s was similar to my grandfathers. They were also German Jews who escaped the Nazis and I knew I had to drive the six hours to visit their summer home with my children.

Nazi records of the murder of a cousin

Everyone is familiar with the iconic Curious George and the man with the yellow hat but what most people are not familiar with is the story of hope that George and his curiosity represents. In June of 1940, the German Jewish couple Hans and Margaret Rey had been on an extended honeymoon in France when the Nazis had occupied Paris and northern France. They fled with their manuscripts in their front basket along with a little food and the clothes on their backs. They fled with millions of other refugees fleeing south while Nazi aircraft flew overhead. Like many Jews, they hid in farmhouses and stables until they were able to board a train in Spain and eventually reach the neutral country of Portugal. In 1935, they had left Germany for Brazil in order to escape the increase in antisemitism and the Nazi Party so they had received dual Brazilian citizenship while living and working there. This made them lucky and it enabled them to get a Visa to travel by boat from Portugal back to Brazil where they waited for a month until they sailed to New York in October of 1940.

A letter from father to son direct from the front lines of WW II

The Rey’s were artists and writers. My grandfather was passionate about photography and hiking, especially on Prince Edward Island. I’ve often wondered how many of those six million Jews and an additional five million people who were gay, or gypsies or disabled, or too young or too old were also artists or writers or doctors or gardeners or teachers or someone’s sister or best friend since they were all just regular people like my grandfather and the Reys who had their own gifts to contribute to the world but they were wiped out. Six million people murdered because they were Jewish.

My family is Jewish. My grandparents were Jewish yet noone in the last two or three generations has actively practiced Judaism. My father had gone to temple as a kid but when I was growing up I had never stepped foot in a temple or done anything religious. My father had been very clear that he was raising us atheist but always maintained his Jewish identity. I don’t remember my grandparents ever attending temple or doing anything “Jewish” outside of the holidays yet they always identified as Jewish. I think being Jewish is much more than a religion, it’s a culture and a language, there’s Hebrew and Yiddish and there’s also a shared history that continues to shape lives.

My son’s third birthday in Waterville Valley to see the Rey Center

Last year, I had thought it would be great to find out what my DNA said about me. I was hoping for something I would never have imagined like I’m secretly a descendent of a princess from South Africa. According to those results, I am 99% European Jewish and one percent Israeli. The places that the DNA tests were referring to was Russia, Belarus and Lithuania and was the home of many Ashkenazi Jews who would eventually settle in Poland, Germany, Austria, Romania and the United States as a result of organized violence against Jews first in the form of pogroms and then the Shoah which is also known as the Holocaust. Anti-semitism and hating Jews is known as the world’s oldest hatred and unfortunately this hatred is once again on the rise.

My family is typical of many Ashkenazi Jewish families who came here in the first large waves of Jewish immigration during the 1880s through the turn of the century mostly through Russia because of Pogroms. Everyone with the exception of my paternal grandfather immigrated to the United States during that time.

What were the Pogroms?

The pogroms that began in 1881 were years of organized attacks sometimes with government and police encouragement against Jews that included raping and killing tens of thousands of Jews. The pogroms of Tsarist Russia was much like Nazi Germany with economic, religious, social and educational restrictions against Jewish citizens. Jews were being blamed for killing Jesus, in addition to the blood-libel myth that Jews killed Christian babies and baked their blood into matzah, the false rumor that Jews were somehow connected to the 1881 assassination of Czar Alexander II, the cause of economic difficulties and problems of the country and Russians used this as a justification to murder tens of thousands of citizens. After the craziness of the pogroms my great great grandparents had been thrilled to be given the opportunity to move to Bonn, Germany. My grandfather’s father had fought in World War I like a 100,000 other German Jews for Germany. He thought his service with the military would protect him but instead the Nazis shot him in the head and killed him. His wife, Rebecca arrived in the US two years after my grandfather. Afterwards, he became a professor at the University of Bonn. They lived a secular middle class life intertwined with Jews and Christians and they had two children, my grandfather and his sister. While they were teaching their kids to walk and talk Adolph Hitler was plotting his revenge against Jews who he blamed for the loss of WW1. The German government later proved that false. Hitler had blamed the jews for all of Germany’s economic problems and he used anti semitic propaganda to convince the German people to support his ultimate goal of the Jewish solution. His Jewish solution meant the complete eradication of Jews from all of Europe and the world where Germans could rule as a “pure” race. Hitler believed he was part of a “pure blooded master race” known as the Aryan Race that was at the top of the human “racial” hierarchy while Hitler placed Jews at the bottom and the lowest form of “humans” and classified them as “non-Germans” even with most Ashkenazi Jews having German surnames like my grandfathers. My grandfather’s family name Meyer is the equivalent of the surname Smith in the United States. It is still the third most common surname among German citizens. 

Russia was not the beginning of anti-semitism and persecution of Jews which has been around at least since the Middle Ages. Initially, it had been about religion or Jews were blamed as the cause of the plague epidemic but then in the 19th centuries that was often replaced by a hatred based on erroneous race theories and the idea that the Jews were a separate race. Even Jews who had converted were still considered Jewish and different because of their blood line. Hitler blamed the Jews for losing World War I. There was a German myth at play stating that Germany did not lose the war on the battlefield, but through betrayal on the home front and Jews and Social Democrats were to be blamed. This was so far from the truth especially considering that at the start of the war there were only a half a million Jews living in Germany and 100,000 of them fought for Germany in the war is a significant number. Hitler’s “Final Solution” of the annihilation of all Jews was unique within antisemitism since it was the first time a country that was considered the pinnacle of culture and the arts and education decided as a nation to not just murder Jewish citizens in Germany but to completely obliterate them from the planet.

How does one plan for the murder of millions of people within their own country? How do you convince a population to turn against itself? You make your target population an “other”, an outsider and a repository for all of the woes and fears of a nation.

My grandfather’s story is his story alone. Yet his story is simultaneously the story of millions of Jews who did not have a voice because they were murdered too soon. 

Ny daughter is ready for a nature walk at the Rey Center

My grandfather was a very lucky man who was born on St. Patrick’s Day and he seemed to have the luck of the Irish in him when he survived not once but twice. First, he survived living in Nazi Germany and all of the hardships that it had entailed for a Jewish person all those years Hitler and the Nazi Party were in power. He survived and he escaped. My grandfather’s second round of luck was when he escaped to the United States and went on to fight in the United States Army in some of World War HIs largest and most significant battles as a heavy artillery gunman. He was one of only two hundred thousand other very lucky Jews who were allowed to enter the United States and therefore survive during that time period. Every person who survived was also very lucky, since lucky, was what made the difference between life and death.

Now my grandfather was not the type to say he was lucky or the type to tell his story or bring any attention to himself. When he wanted to convince my grandmother to marry him he didn’t just propose he offered to take her surname which was unheard of at that time. I found writing by my grandmother who described the political group that met at the YMCA as “young intellectuals” and something that she had joined because it was one of the only social or cultural activities  available at the time to her. She described the time as extremely lucky since she “nabbed an eligible bachelor.”

My grandfather, Rudolph Raphael Meyer was born on March 17th 1908 in Bonn, Germany to Albert and Rebecca Meyer less than a mile from Beethoven’s family home. I don’t know much about his childhood since I never heard him talk about it or much in the past. My grandfather was the type who didn’t show a range of emotion outside of focused or angry and I think that was a big part of German culture-not showing emotions and not being very touchy feely. Many of the stories that I’ve heard about my grandfather or heard from my grandparents were stories overheard or pieced together by listening to snatches of hidden conversations among adults in other rooms when I was supposed to be sleeping. My father had told me that my grandfather had thought his family would be ok because his father had fought for the German army in WWI but he quickly realized he needed to get out after Hitler had taken power in 1933. My grandfather had been working as an insurance agent and my brother thinks it was family owned when Hitler took power. In 1935 the Nuremberg Laws which I will get more into later were established and put into effect revoking my family’s citizenship and their ability to attend school, have a business, or be in public locations and then there was the Night of Broken Glass Jews were being murdered by the tens of thousands and Jews were brought to the first camp in Dachau.

After four years of Nazi rule my grandfather fled first to England and then to New York City by ship with a friend and family member Alfred Gartner. His sister Ilse and her mother would arrive the following year. Alfred was married to Rudy and Ilse’s first cousin. My brother also found paperwork from the SS of the murder of another cousin from that family group. I didn’t know anything about Alfred before I had started looking into this and my brother found paperwork and records that looks like Alfred had left Germany the year before my grandfather and had established residency with his family in the US and then returned to get my grandfather and travel back with him from Germany and then Liverpool, England. I didn’t know about Alfred until recently and I’m going to try and find out more about him and his experience in the future. Once my grandfather and Alfred arrived in New York they stayed with Alfred’s family on the upper east side of Manhattan until my grandfather had moved into a YMCA. He had taken a ship to England and I am not sure if they traveled anywhere else before traveling to the United States. I am not positive but I think Alfred had returned a third time for Ilse but regardless of how she arrived here with her mother and future husband they all stayed with Alfred’s family on the upper east side. They also had other family who lived there who fought in WW II.

My grandfather and Alfred Gartner took the SS Samaria ship from Liverpool, England to New York City. His sister Ilse would take the same transatlantic ship the following year but she would meet her future husband on that trip. I find it amazing and incredibly lucky that they were among the only two hundred thousand Jews who had been allowed to enter the United States under the American immigration quota system that severely limited non-Nordic populations. It was common for men to move first to try and establish housing and work before bringing over their family and while Jews had been the victims of pogroms for decades no-one could have predicted the horrors of the holocaust.

My grandfather and I in the park having quality time.
My grandfather and I getting a little quality time

In 1940 the ship Samaria that my grandfather had sailed the transatlantic on just a couple of years prior was now shuttling out British and Jewish children to family, friends and profitable schemes in the US, Canada and South America saving the lives of 14,000 British children and several hundred Jewish children. I have friends who are the grandchildren of survivors who thanks to DNA testing have found family members who had been given up for adoption to save their lives in the United States. DNA testing is really a game changer in furthering our understanding of the past. For example a friend of mine recently got his DNA results back and learned that he isn’t Italian at all and over thirty percent Jewish so it makes you wonder if his grandparents had been one of those children and what happened to those children and their legacies.

My grandparents had met that year in the basement of a YMCA where political discussions were being held. My grandmother had been the only woman in that group and she was also a college graduate and working as a second grade teacher. My grandfather was still a German citizen at the time and he told my grandmother that if she would agree to marry him he would even take her name which was pretty significant at that time. My grandmother, Ruth Cohn had been living with her parents, her sister Erna and her husband Manny as well as a German Jewish refugee they had taken in. My grandmother’s family were Polish/Russian Jews that had settled in Poland and then in Amsterdam New York in a factory town. My grandmother’s family had been very poor and she had worked in a factory to help support her family until her uncle and aunt became very wealthy and paid for her to attend college. My grandmother’s uncle had dropped out of school at 14 and made his way from a vaudeville performer to creating and running Columbia Pictures with his brother for over forty years.this had been a source of deep contention between my grandmother and her sister Erna for decades since only my grandmother had that opportunity. My grandparents had stayed close with this part of the family right up until my grandfather’s death and while her uncle had passed other family had paid for his funeral and hospital expenses when he had been very ill the last several years of his life. My great uncle was a product of his time and not the best kind of person. He had been known as a Harvey Weinstein. When I was a kid my family would pile into the car on Staten Island and drive to Long Island on Sundays to have dinner with my grandparents. I remember a dinner time family story was included in the Godfather two film of the horses head being cut off. While I know the director of the film claims that scene was based in fiction, it wasn’t. It had been my great uncles favorite horse and someone in the mafia had decapitated it and placed it in his bed over an issue with Frank Sinatra and someone they were both sleeping with a contract. 

In December of 1943 my grandfather arrived in Casablanca, NorthernAfrica with 14,000 other men on an overcrowded Liberty ship as a part of the 88th Infantry Division. This would eventually become known as the “Blue Devils.” in Italy. My father was born a the end of April while my grandfather and the Allies went on to attack enemy lines at  Mount Diamano and the Austene Valley.

To Be Continued… next week!

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Jump for Joy! Recess and Free Play are as important as Literacy (that goes for tweens and teens too)!

What do our kids need to ensure a great education and to optimize health and learning? What is often forgotten in that push to improve cognition and learning?

Recess!

Did you know that recess and free unstructured play is not just GOOD for developing brains, it’s ESSENTIAL?

Did you know that the NEED for free unstructured time is a crucial element of developing physical and health benefits and provides significant emotional and academic benefits such as learning to be independent, solve conflicts and initiate play or activities and generate new ideas?

Imagine adults weren’t allowed to take breaks? No more lunches laughing with friends or early morning runs in the dark before the world is awake or all of your actives or all of your daily choices were pre-determined for you? I’d hate to see what I’d end up doing.

It is so tempting when creating a schedule for your family to fill it with lots of structured activities and learning experiences because you are awesome and love your kids so much. You want them to have diverse experiences and abilities. However, our kids need autonomy and independence that can only come from learning to find one’s way without us.

Winter is quickly approaching and with it all of the challenges of the elements. Winter is another fabulous opportunity for our kids (teens too) to have new experiences, create new synapses and neural connections within the brain while getting their heart rates up and improving their cardiovascular fitness. Each season has its own discoveries to be found. Proper clothing designed for the elements is often the biggest factor to enjoying the outdoors in cooler temperatures. Get your kids a pair of great boots and then send them outside WITHOUT a plan.

You can check out what Harvard University has to say about the proven benefits of free play on brain development and cognition here:

https://hms.harvard.edu/magazine/play/flights-fancy

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Where is your Tar Beach? Where is your mental break?

Where does your imagination fly to escape?

Where is your child’s magical place?

Everyone, children included need a place to call their own and to mentally recharge especially now during a pandemic.

My son admiring Faith Ringgold’s Tar Beach quilt at the Montclair Art Museum

Everyone needs a place to mentally escape even if it is just for a few minutes at a time. Lately, my place to mentally unwind has been watching the sunrise by the George Washington Bridge. NYC artist and author Faith Ringgold’s childhood escape was also the GWB. In her beautifully crafted first children’s book Tar Beach, African American Cassie Lightfoot dreams she can fly on top of her black tar roof as it transforms into a beach and she claims the George Washington Bridge next to her Harlem home as her own. This is the story of Cassie’s hopes and dreams as well as her way of overcoming obstacles that all children can relate to.

You can see the Guggenheim’s photos of the quilt here: https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/3719

Faith Ringgold is an African American artist, NYC teacher, and civil rights advocate who first created her story using a quilt to tell her story the same way that African American slaves had used quilts as guides to freedom during the Civil War. Her great, great, great grandmother had been a slave on a southern plantation who made quilts for plantation owners. Ringgold was born in 1930 and grew up in Harlem dreaming about claiming the George Washington Bridge as her own. Her father wasn’t allowed to join the union to work on the bridge because he was African American. Tar Beach was Ringgold’s childhood escape. Great children’s books are a bridge into our kid’s worlds to help them navigate this difficult time.

You can see an interview with Faith Ringgold here: https://youtu.be/794M-mcOJY4

What helps you to get out of your own head?

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Being a teen has always been a complicated, highly intense time. Throw a pandemic into the mix and it only amplifies the intensity and the reason why coming-of-age stories are a perfect anecdote.

Growing up can be challenging, add a pandemic to the mix and you have a true challenge. Our kids are facing uncertain times and coming of age stories teach kids how to face difficult times and persevere. This genre is like gifting your kid a best friend who they can continuously circle back to reread. Coming of age novels are a great anecdote to those deep growing pains as your teen transitions towards adulthood on top of managing the day to day life in a pandemic.

A dog and a coming of age story are soothing for the teen soul

The beauty of coming of age novels is that they maintain their relevance and importance regardless of the time period. I’ve compiled a list of a few of my favorites beginning with the book my daughter is currently reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. What books would you add to the list?

My daughter reading a book that spoke to me at her age.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is a semi-autobiographical novel set during the first two decade of the 20th century in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The story follows the life of Francie Nolan and her Irish immigrant family as they navigate extreme poverty, alcoholism, death, relationships and where she learns to be strong as nails like her mother.

Graphic novel that weaves three stories into one.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang is a graphic novel that weaves three separate tales into one. It begins with the legendary folk tale of Sun Wukong (The Monkey King) from a classic Chinese folktale. The second tale is the story of a first generation immigrant family who moves from Chinatown to an all white suburb and the protagonist has trouble fitting in. It is here that the first two stories come into play creating a ethnic coming of age story that also looks at cultural and ethnic identity.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

“I know what I want, I have a goal, an opinion, I have a religion and love. Let me be myself, and then I am satisfied. I know that I’m a woman, a woman with inward strength and courage” Anne Frank

Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is her journal that was found by her father after she died in a concentration camp at age fifteen in Nazi Germany. Her journal covers the period of her family’s hiding in an attic with another family for two years beginning when Anne was 13.

Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall was first published in 1959. It tells the story of a Barbadian immigrant family in Brooklyn.

Crossing the Wire by Will Hobbs tells the story of a Mexican teen desperate to support his family as they struggle in abject poverty after his father’s death. He decides to travel to the United States to work like his father had from Mexico.

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of Frannie and how she navigates race, religion, disability, and friendship in this story set in an urban all black school with a new white boy in the early 1970s.

Fifteen by Beverly Cleary is Cleary’s 1950s story about falling in love for the first time.

Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumes is the story of a young girl who immigrates from Iran to California. The story is narrated through her very funny eyes.

Go Tell It To the Mountain by James Baldwin is based off of an old Black spiritual. It tells the story of the fourteenth birthday of John Grimes set in 1935 Harlem. The story uses flashbacks to include the characters grandparent’s experiences as slaves in the south.

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson is a story that celebrates the healing and help a group of six middle schoolers are able to provide one another during a weekly meeting without adults through the act of sharing their stories.

Locomtion & Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of 12 year old Lonnie who is in foster care apart from his younger sister. He decides his job is “rememberer” and sets about to chronicle their lives.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding tells the story of a group of British prep school boys who are stranded on an uninhabited island and they attempt to govern themselves. Conch tales are in abundance.

Night by Elie Wiesel is Wiesel’s account of his time with his father in Nazi Germany concentrations camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper was gifted to my daughter by her friend who has cerebral palsy. This is the story of Melody who has CP and is treated as less than intelligent or equal by her classmates, teachers and doctors but she decides to make sure they understand she isn’t defined or cognitively limited by cerebral palsy.

Red Scarf Girl by Ji-li Jiang is a historical memoir about the cultural revolution of China in the late 1960s. In 1966, 12 year old Ji-li is a popular kid in Communist China until the revolution begins. People she had thought were friends turned on her family and her father was imprisoned.

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead is set in the mid 1980s in Sag Harbor, an exclusive and very wealthy area of the Hamptons. The story’s main character Benji is an African American teen spending the summer within a black enclave of a predominately white and close knit town and reaches issues of race, class, and commercialism.

Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai tells the story of 12 year old Fadi’s family illegally fleeing Taliban controlled Afghanistan on an underground transport for the United States in the summer of 2001.

The Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac tells the story of Navajo code breakers who played a critical role in the success of the US military during WW2. The story is told through a 16 year old Navajo boy’s journey as a code talker.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas tells the story of a young girl who witnesses her best friend get shot by the police. Her best friend was an unarmed kid.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins tells the story of sixteen year old Katniss as she battles twelve other children from various regions to the death on live TV.

The Outsiders by SE Hinton tells the story of Ponyboy and his brothers about their lives as greasers versus rival gangs that are based on socio-economic status.

The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963 by Paul Curtis is the fictionalized story of an African American family that travels from Flint, Michigan to Birmingham to bring the oldest brother to stay with their grandmother after he gets in a little trouble.

When I Was Puerto Rican is Esmeralda Santiago’s memoir of growing up between rural Puerto Rico and Brooklyn, NY.

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Does your child fight you like Muhammad Ali about sitting down to read, write or work on math? Allowing for a small physical and mental shift in setting often creates significant change.

Reading a great find from a little library.

You can learn anywhere. Physical space creates a mood and having physical control over one’s space is as important as self regulation when it comes to learning. Let your kid decide where to read or write even if it’s the floor or the driveway. Create an atmosphere of “I can learn anywhere.” Why not read on a bench or the lawn? Kids learn best when stress levels are low and when they’re comfortable. Allowing your child to find the spaces that work best for them will also help to develop the ability to self regulate.

My daughter studying Korean on the dining room floor.

Homeschooling is more than an educational philosophy. It’s a lifestyle. My kids have desks yet most of their “work” happens elsewhere. Let go of the need to limit learning to one area of the house. When there is space to learn, children will fill it. My job as a parent is both educational facilitator and to step back and get out of the way so they can take the reins of their education.

Reading about the brain during breakfast. Science never waits.

My daughter is obsessed with K-Pop like a gazillion other American tweens. I wanted her to study another language and she chose Korean to better understand her idols while I get to check off the foreign language box for the year in my head. Since we are in a small house with kids, a dog, working parents and a pandemic we need to be flexible about shared spaces. As you can see in the photo, she is sitting on the floor of the dining room while studying Korean so that she can be physically near others while studying. Shared learning spaces and shared self directed learning isn’t in abundance right now due to the virus. However, kids are finding ways to address it if we let them. My daughter decided to stay in close proximity to her brother while he read a book. Connection has been lost due to COVID for so many of our kids and with the absence of coops and playdates, sports teams, libraries, schools and other connections knowing someone else is close by can be a great source of comfort. Another favorite reading place is an old tent I had gotten as a wedding gift from REI 15 years ago. It has withstood snow and rain and my kids reading and playing for hours in their own little bubble. They have pillows, secret envelopes and notes and books inside. Math for my son is often at the kitchen table while my daughter prefers working on math at her desk in her room.

My kids often read for hours in a tent in the yard. Best REI purchase over a decade ago.

Reading can happen on a park bench.

Reading a book in a favorite local park.

I don’t set boundaries on reading therefore I encourage my kids to always carry a book just in case they have a spare second. It’s like having a best friend close by so independent reading can happen on the sidewalk at random places or on a park bench with a lot less resistance than if I had decided my kids had to sit in spot x for 30 minutes.

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Do you feel yourself glaze over and needing an adult beverage whenever you hear whispers (and shouts) of virtual, virtual-hybrid and homeschooling? What does that even look like? Here’s a quick cheat sheet on the terms along with a few tips for making whatever you choose work. So grab a beverage and read on.

To begin with there is homeschooling, the once fringe movement that suddenly has a spotlight shining on it. Homeschooling is a legal option in all fifty states. I’m a former public school teacher and a homeschool mom of two children ages 9 and 12, one of whom has special needs since 2013 in New Jersey. I was also a teacher at the school closest to the twin towers on 9/11 (there’s a blog post all about it) and I’ve learned that the most important factor for a child’s future is you. For a child to learn they need to feel secure. They need us more than anything else and they will get through this challenging time and you can help your child to see that they can persevere through difficult times and still be ok. I hope to provide you with a clearer picture of virtual, virtual-hybrid and homeschool education.

Homeschooling options are as varied as there are families. Some families choose to take classes in museums and farms and arrange coops for everything from competitive math teams and science fairs to civics clubs and beach and hiking groups. Homeschool families are often not home because they’re out in the world engaging with it and learning. Homeschool families come from every socioeconomic background and many families have two working parents or single parent families and make arrangements with other families to help each other. Laws vary according to state but in my home state of New Jersey caregivers/parents are free to choose how and when to educate their child and may decide to teach math with a meal or after work. You may choose a variety of educational options from traditional curriculums, to online classes and programs to coops and classes at local forests (even in urban areas) to someone’s house or backyard to a science center or nature reserve.

Tips for making this work: 1. Be brave. You got this. 2.You know your child and you are an experienced teacher working and educating your children every day of their lives. 3. Don’t try to recreate school at home. A daily rhythm can be created around your child’s needs as well as around your work schedule and home life. Math may happen after dinner. 4. Reignite a passion you long stopped doing, stock up on your favorite beach reads and model a love for learning and a love for reading. Nothing teaches a child to read like seeing a parent or loved adult cuddled up with a good book. 5. Set up reading nooks and places for art and building. Small house? Apartment? No problem. I have a three bedroom house with one bathroom and an unfinished basement about 20 minutes from midtown Manhattan so I’m always looking for space. My kitchen table doubles as a work table with writing supplies, art tools and math manipulative kept in rolling carts under the table and learning happens throughout the house and throughout the day. 6. Let your children work alongside you as you’re working if possible or doing other activities at home. 7 Join a few local and state on-line homeschooling organizations and familiarize yourself with all of the local in-person and online activities in your community. Many homeschool groups will share curriculum reviews and allow others to look through programs before you decide to commit to anything. 8. Remember that you have the gift of time to work with your children where they are. Right now.

Virtual Education and virtual hybrid programs are created and provided by your child’s school. Students continue with IEP and 504 accommodations/ mandated services. Children are expected to complete their work online and have a regular school year schedule. A hybrid program allows time for students to be online at home working virtually with their school’s lesson as well to physically attend school part of the time.

Tips for making this work: 1. Give your child a sense of control by letting them independently set up and decorate their workspace or do it together. Let them own this space. 2. Spend a few minutes each morning reviewing your child’s daily schedule with them to provide a sense of predictability, consistency and most importantly guidance and a moment of connection. This can also be done the night before as well. 3. Provide lots of space (both time and physical) for movement and free play breaks. Children need to move. A lot. Even six feet tall children. In between classes send children outside, even if for only ten minutes to take a walk while talking to a friend on the phone (arrange breaks with friends) or perhaps a few kids can arrange to meet a couple of days a week between classes as well as free play outside. 4. Consider using a ball or standing for parts of virtual instruction. Frequent movement breaks should be worked into time on-line. 5. Everyone is in the same position so find another child locally or from the school to meet with outside of class when possible. 6. If something isn’t working reach out to the school. Teachers want to help and they need your feedback to provide the best possible learning environment for your child. 7. For children with executive functioning difficulties creating an online LMS (learning management system) in digital portals like Google Classroom and Moodle can help students with organization and planning.

Every family is different therefore what will work best for your family may not be someone else’s first choice. Embrace being flexible. You will get through this and have the opportunity to model empathy, perseverance, patience and flexible thinking for your children.

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I was a teacher in the school closest to the towers on 9/11. Here is what I learned from that tragedy that helps me as an educator and as a parent during COVID.

I was a teacher in NYC in one of the five schools that were local to the twin towers. 9/11 had been my second day teaching ESL at PS 89 in Battery Park City. Due to the nature of my type of position, my time was split between that location and another elementary school located in Hells Kitchen.

9/11 Memorial at Sunrise Photo by Candice Narvaez

That Tuesday morning was a gorgeous day just right for boots with a nice heel. The plan was to take the subway back and forth between the two schools returning to midtown for happy hour with my home base school friends to celebrate the kickoff of a new school year. I had started at my school in midtown where I was preparing testing paperwork when the security guard whose office was directly across from mine called over.

Hey Candy? You hear an airplane just flew into the twin towers?

Her words didn’t register. I grabbed my bag.

Where you think you’re going?

I said something about having a bunch of kids I needed to test and that I was sorry but I was in a rush.

The second time, her words registered. My dad was in the towers. PS 89 was blocks from there. I called my dad’s office. No answer. I called the school. No answer. Another security guard came over and they started to talk. A second plane crashed into the towers. I called both again. No answer. I walked upstairs into the main office and whispered the news to the principal, Mrs. T and from there went from classroom to classroom interrupting literacy groups and morning meetings to summon teachers over so that I could whisper the news.

The Midtown West School is a public school on W48th Street. It shares it’s space with PPAS, a performing arts middle and high school. I started to hear high schoolers in the hallways. Some were crying, everyone was moving quickly. The principal set up a sign out table in the main hallway to expedite the process while speciality teachers ran back and forth to classrooms to bring kids out for pickup. We waited for every single child to be picked up. Some children were picked up within minutes while others were waiting for parents to walk back from the outer boroughs. Some parents were covered in ash. Luckily, none of the students had lost a parent. The subways stopped. Cell service went down. Once all of the children had been picked up, I walked from midtown to uptown with a couple of other teachers to sleep at a co-worker/friend’s apartment. Her on again/off again boyfriend worked at Cantor Fitzgerald. She stayed up and cried all night. I stayed up with her but I couldn’t cry. I was numb watching the images of the planes on tv crashing into the towers. I hadn’t seen any of this during the day. She knew, without being told, he had been killed. Yet, she took his toothbrush downtown anyway to search in the days and weeks that followed. The next morning, cell service had returned and I learned my father was ok. I walked across the George Washington Bridge back to NJ with thousands of others. It smelled like the world was on fire.

Liberty State Park’s view of Manhattan Photo by Candice Narvaez

I later learned my other school had to be evacuated. The teachers and staff had to run with their crying students who were as young as four to safety while the world around them was on fire. Teachers sang and made jokes to keep the kids distracted while staying on autopilot in order to hold themselves together. There were five local schools closest to the towers. Not a single teacher left their students and they took every one of those kids through hell to safety. My father had been in the towers eating pizza on the first floor when the first plane had hit. He had initially thought there had been a bomb and knew to tell his coworkers once he was back in his office when the second plane hit to run. He made it out.

Lesson #1: Make sure your kids have their basic contact information, medical conditions, etc memorized and for children who need extra support with this should have a form of medical alert jewelry. Make sure you’re able to walk comfortably from wherever you are if need be. If you’re traveling into work, keep an extra pair of flats or sneakers at work or keep extra sneakers and change of clothes, wipes, water and a towel in your car at all times. Teach your children not to rely on their phones but their memories because in an emergency one of those things may not work. Review basic fire safety and first aid with your children every few months and at minimum annually. Get yourself certified for first aid.

Geese marching towards the 9/11 Memorial at Liberty State Park. Photo by Candice Narvaez
Geese walking towards the 9/11 memorial in Liberty Park. Photo by Candice Narvaez

Since my school was one of the five local schools to the twin towers, the staff and students were temporarily relocated to two different locations within a four month period. When I showed up for work on September 13th, more than half of the school was absent. Many kids lost their homes at least temporarily. The press was there and it was very chaotic outside of the building but inside small groups of children were sitting cross legged on the floor in small groups throughout the library and various parts of the building we were temporarily housed in. We didn’t have supplies but eventually that came. The teachers were making mini booklets with their students teaching word families, making up stories and adding illustrations. The teachers focused on what resources they had and not what they were lacking.

9/11 Memorial at Liberty State Park. Photo by Candice Narvaez

Lesson #2 You and your child are their most important educational resource. All of the books in the world won’t do anything if a child is stressed about their basic well being. Children need to feel safe in order to learn. September 11th was catastrophic on multiple levels. There is no way to eliminate the significant damage that occurred that day. During a crisis like 9/11 it’s pretty difficult to feel safe but it is easy to show a child that you are there for them. The most important educational tool that you have available for your child is your love. I notice people are placing a lot of importance on what curriculums or methods of instruction they’ll be using for next year but none of that is as important as showing your children that they will be ok regardless. They can learn regardless of what happens. We can’t control covid but we can control our responses to it. The staff at PS 89 used songs, art and stories to keep their student’s spirits high and to created a sense of community in the weeks and months that followed. When I am stressed and I feel like I don’t have control, I focus on a word or a phrase or my breathing. I’ve taught my kids to do the same.

September 2021 will most likely look much different than this September. However, it won’t look like it did a year ago because nothing ever does. Sentimentalism can become a trap of complacency and fear. We can use COVID as a lesson in flexibility, compassion, civic duty, and as an opportunity for growth for ourselves and for our children. Your children will always remember this time but how they will remember it will be largely impacted by our responses. Model the responses of resiliency and creativity you want to see in your children.

The students that I had in 2001 are adults now. Some are parents, some are in graduate school, living in the US and abroad. The students I had who came from mid to high socioeconomic backgrounds are highly successful adults. Several of those students did not speak more than a few words in English on 9/11 and yet still graduated from top universities. Many of my students from the poorest socioeconomic backgrounds are still struggling today. Those students were equally motivated and intelligent but school is only one factor in societal change that needs to occur. The need for educational equity and parity in this country is real as is the need for societal safety nets for our children like universal healthcare and meals for school aged children year round so that when there is a national or global challenge we can ensure that even our poorest members are taken care of.

At one point, our school was moved to alphabet city and we were told that we would be returning to our original Warren Street location in February just four months after 9/11. We were told it was safe to return by Christine Todd Whitman, head of the EPA and former Governor of NJ. I knew in my gut it couldn’t be safe and the principal of my school in midtown arranged for me to work ft there starting that February instead of returning downtown. My dad, a life long runner and non smoker has had chronic health issues ever since. He’s had part of a lung removed, cancer and heart issues. Many people died in the months and years following 9/11 from various cancers and lung conditions. Whitman has publicly acknowledged the EPAs failure. Whether you decide homeschool, virtual school or in-person school always put your child’s health first based on the information that you have and not necessarily someone else’s interpretation. Everyone is in a tough situation right now and it is important to take care of yourself and your children first just like in an airplane situation so that you are then able to help others. I do not believe putting our children at risk is somehow creating a more equitable system when it is those children who are put at even greater risk if there are more children in school. If a child needs to be there then that is ok, too. We need to be open to alternative ways of educating our youth and moving within the moment we are living in and not in reaction to it. The system is broken and it hasn’t been helping those most in need who require a true systemic change. If you are looking to help, ask those who are in need what they need and see how it may be provided.

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Author Study

Are you looking to create an engaging, awesome literary study for different ages? Are you looking to build a deep attachment and love of literature for your child/ren? Are you looking to teach your child critical thinking, literary analysis and improve your child’s writing skills by using mentor texts? Are you looking for an adventure?

Great! Welcome to “The Author Study.”

What is an author study and what makes it so awesome?

An author study is a way to learn about and engage with the author of a text. You can compare and contrast books by an author. You can research an author’s life and use it to make connections between the author and the text as well as to other texts and to oneself. To begin, choose an author. Look at the books your child is currently reading or books you’re hoping to read together in the future and choose an author. Now you can decide your goals for the study. Are you interested in comparing features of text or how a story evolves throughout books or are you interested in researching the time period the author grew in and how their personal experiences may have influenced various parts of their writing? You can decide before you begin or after you’ve done some research and have a feel for which might be a better direction.

One of the first studies I did with my children was on Margaret and H.A. Rey, aka the authors of Curious George. It was an easy choice since my kids were 3 and 6 at the time. I found myself up late at night unable to sleep googling the Reys since I was spending so much time reading the series to my son. My daughter had been a fan but by 7 was more interested in The American Girl Historical series so I chose this since I could easily engage both of my children and my son couldn’t get enough of George. Initially, I found a hook and that hook was the author’s biographies. Their story was more than the story of a couple who had a knack for writing highly profitable children’s stories. Their story was one of bravery and perseverance in the face of the worst of human evil and prejudice. The Rey’s were German Jews who had been living in France when the Nazis rode in and occupied Paris in 1940. The only transportation the Rey’s could find was spare parts to make two bicycles that they fixed and rode to the Spanish border and boarded a train. There was a basket on the front of the bike that held the manuscript for Curious George except at that time it was called Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys along with 4 other manuscripts and a small amount of food. They stayed in Portugal eventually heading to Brazil and then New York publishing Curious George in 1941. The more I read about the author’s lives, the more I began to see connections like in their 1944 book Spotty. This book is the tale of two bunnies and race that is way before it’s time yet makes sense once you know the context of the author’s personal lives. Just so you know, I don’t possess super sleuth skills and you don’t need to either. I just googled their name and read for one minute on the PhD site, Wikipedia and I knew I needed to read more. So then, I googled and read on. Eventually, once I was truly hooked, I bought actual books with real pages made of paper in them and had therefore committed myself heart and mind to the author study. However, you don’t need to purchase anything to be wholeheartedly committed.

An author study can be as fancy as a toddler in a tiara (aka difficult) or as laid back as a beach towel, it’s up to you. Sometimes I’ve kept journals for myself and one for the kids where I’d read a chapter or two to them a day and then they’d journal a response or we would talk about something we had connected with or noticed in the story and then come up with our own questions that we could answer and have each other answer in our journals. I like to get all of the books that I can by a particular author. This can easily be done at the library. I think it’s nice if you have independent readers or even emergent readers to let them read or skim through some of the books or just glance through them. This helps to establish prior knowledge and build a stronger base to learn from just as reading multiple books by the same author. If you really enjoy the style or tone of an author, that can be used as a mentor text to teach writing. For example, when my daughter had first started writing, I used the book, No, David by David Shannon to create her own book titled, No, Catalina. This taught her basic features of a text, had her writing several sight words and reinforced other writing habits and most importantly enabled her to see herself as a writer. I showed her how to write the text and she copied it onto big strips that she then added beneath her drawings and suddenly she had written her first book. She was very proud to be five and calling herself an author. How you see yourself is what you will become so she still loves to write seven years later.

Listening to an explanation at Almanzo Wilder’s homestead during a Little House on the Prairie author study.

One of the great things about an author study is that you can take it as far as you can imagine. For my son’s third birthday, I booked a room in the town where the Reys had lived and now had a conservation center in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We drove 6 hours to discover an incredible year round hiking, biking and skiing area that we head to whenever possible. My kids learned to catch a worm and bait a hook, fish there and cook what they caught, swim in a lake, and to ski. They also learned about constellations and developed a love of outer space and geology thanks to the Reys. I can’t wait to read about what you do with your family.

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Homeschooling with Dyslexia

Reading is a gift that is available to every child with the right support.

Are you homeschooling a child who has dyslexia or other reading challenge? Are you looking for effective scaffolding resources and remediation methodologies that will assist your child across subject matter as well as build a strong reading base? Great, let’s begin.

You can learn anything and you can teach your children the same attitude.
They will learn how to read and they will learn to be resourceful and innovative in the process.

Reading is a human made invention that is arbitrary and challenging on multiple levels. If one of those areas isn’t functioning fluidly, it can throw off the entire system. In order to comprehend text, an emergent aka a beginner reader needs to be able to read it (decode) quickly and accurately without having to think about it. When a child is first beginning to sound out words and then sentences, the amount of time and effort to read it does not equate to comprehension. When a child has to use all of their mental energy decoding there isn’t a lot of energy left for comprehending. Having the time to help a child with dyslexia is a gift. They need that 1:1 or small group instruction in order to learn to break down a word by phoneme, mastering phonemes while learning to connect them to letters while developing decoding and fluency skills.. Programs like Wilson, Orton Gillingham, Great Leaps, Fundamentals, and Explode the Code can help children with dyslexia learn to read fluently by improving their decoding skills so that they can switch to reading to learn. These multi sensory programs are available virtually and in book-teacher/parent form.

My son learning the sounds and shapes of the English alphabet using Handwriting Without Tears multi-sensory approach.

I love Handwriting without Tears for teaching print, cursive and keyboarding. It’s multi-sensory and includes grammar naturally into the lessons while reinforcing phoneme and letter connections. I think learning cursive is especially important for children with dyslexia because it will help them read cursive as well. For language arts curriculums WriteShop Junior or All Things Fun and Fascinating are a good fit for children with dyslexia and an intro to IEW writing in higher grades. Barton Reading is also good. It’s a scripted program which makes it easy to use and very parent or teacher friendly and it is Orton Gillingham based.

Did you know that listening to a book is as cognitively beneficial as reading it with your eyes? Here’s a good read about this. https://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/listening-to-audiobooks-is-just-as-good-as-reading-if-not-better-so-back-the-hell-off

Audible, Epic, and your local library are great resources for listening to books. Audible is free for kids during Covid. It’s also incredibly beneficial for kids who have a high level of comprehension but their reading level doesnt match it to have access to a huge number of high quality fiction and nonfiction titles..

My daughter listening to Harry Potter. She’s read and listened to the series. One input reinforces the other.

Listening to books read-aloud by an adult or choose your favorite listening method, provides access to content knowledge while your child works on the mechanics of reading. My son loves Epic, which has a read to me option, books on audio and access to an incredible range of high quality kid’s books. There are also nonfiction songs and videos related to academics that he loves on there. Learning Ally is another excellent resource for listening to books while on a tablet or device.

Reading to another is an act of love

WriteShop Junior, All Things Fun and Fascinating, Barton Reading and Reading Horizons are great fits for language arts instruction in grades K-3 and it is uses the same methodology as Orton, a proven dyslexia intervention.

I used Singapore Math with my kids but I supplemented a lot because math opportunities are literally everywhere. I like it because it teaches multiple strategies and focuses initially on concrete hands on learning. It progresses to visual then mental math. While, I don’t use the following, I’ve looked through them and think Teaching Textbooks, Math-U-See and Right Start Math and Singapore or similar multi sensory hands on programs are good for children with dyslexia and for typical readers. Right start uses an abacus and is very hands on. I also use Khan Academy, a free and fantastic online educational program, as a supplement and math board games.

For history, I used the Story of the World Series with my kids by Susan Bauer. Each book has a CD or mp3 download. I read the books with them initially and then had them listen and follow along to the cd and sometimes they just listen in the car. I also included a lot of additional content and resources.

Reading creates bonds

I also recommend getting graphic novels for science and history since there is a lot of visual support to get meaning and it helps with decoding and overall comprehension. Educational field trips benefit all children and reinforce what is being learned. Trips can be as simply noticing a local trail name and it’s connection to a Native American tribe to traveling to spend a few days at Almanzo’s homestead in Malone, NY after reading The Little House on the Prairie series.

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How Do I Teach My Child to Read?

Learning to read is a monumental milestone in a child’s life. Reading opens the doors to learn just about anything. How a child goes from looking at pictures to reading independently is a developmental and progressive process. So while all children need to learn how to read in order to thrive and survive in modern society, it isn’t a natural or necessarily linear process. Human beings are hard wired for speech while books and reading is a human invention. From the moment a child is born they are looking to their parents and those around them for linguistic input. Children quickly acquire speech over the next few years. Often, parents and caregivers assist children with this process by speaking directly to them with slower or more dramatic speech called parentese. This same type of speech will also assist a child in learning to read as they learn to distinguish various phonemes and break words down by syllable. The ability to do this is important and very often children who have difficulty learning to read and those with a diagnosis such as dyslexia often have difficulty distinguishing similar phonemes or other speech issues. Understanding the connection between early speech and reading may help parents and educators target potential reading difficulties earlier in the future.

My son learning the shapes and sounds of letters in English.

By the age of five or six, most children are able to begin a formal introduction into the world of reading. For some children this process may begin at four or seven and that’s ok. Most children have already been engaged with books and environmental print for years and have acquired a lot of background knowledge about books.

Reading is an arbitrary and complex activity. Children need to learn to distinguish seemingly random marks on a page to represent various sounds. That sound correspondence develops into letter recognition and the ability to learn the alphabet, and environmental print. Pointing out the sounds that go with letters is an important launching point. Having a child’s name on a wall, on their books and supplies and taking apart their name to talk about the letters and the sounds they make is a great beginning. Once your child is familiar with the letters in their name you can branch out to others in the family, mom begins with the /m/ sounds like mmm, “mmm”. Can you say that? Relatively quickly, your child will know the entire alphabet. Hang up environmental print in your home in the form of alphabet banners, labels and art with your child’s name on it to reinforce what they are learning. Point out street signs and billboards etc and the sounds those words begin with. Say things like,, “Oh look a stop sign. Stop sign begins with an sss sound.”

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Once a child knows the alphabet or even while they are beginning to recognize most of it, children can begin to sound out short CVC (consonant vowel consonant) words like the word “bat”. Tell your child to think of a stretchy snake while pulling apart the word to hear all of it’s parts. Say the word slowly, enunciating each sound. /B/ is the initial sound and then we look at the middle sound and say /a/ now let’s look at the ending sound /t/ and make that sound together. Now, the snake comes back together and say the word, “bat”. Once a child has the individual sounds they can move onto chunky monkey and look for chunks and blends in words to help them decode. Looking for word families within words is another strategy to get kids reading. I used Dog Man as a teaching tool with my son since every page is endless /an/ and /og/ word family lessons combined with tons of sight words. Once a child can recognize letters and environmental print they will begin to recognize sight words quickly and easily. Books like the Bob series, First Little Readers, and familiar series like Pete the Cat can help children quickly develop phonemic awareness and sight words.

Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

While phonemic awareness is a crucial part of learning to read the ultimate goal is for your child to be reading to learn and for pleasure. Comprehension plays a very important role. Comprehension has two types, literal and inferential. Literal understanding means exactly that. Inferential comprehension requires the child to use clues and prior knowledge to understand what is not explicitly stated. One way to establish prior knowledge is with a picture walk. Look through the book and talk about the cover, the illustrations and pictures to help the child develop familiarity and content knowledge within the story. To improve comprehension, discuss your child’s favorite part, the problem/conflict/resolution and retell the beginning, middle and end of the story (not all at the same time). However, the most important thing you can do to teach your child to read is to model this for them. Does your child see you reading books for pleasure as well as for information? Grab a cheesy thriller for the beach or keep a book or magazine in your bag at all times for those free moments where you can show your child that reading is important, fun and one day they will be a reader too.

I am available for literacy coaching for parents and private instruction for children learning to read.

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Benefits of Raising Bilingual Children

My husband is from Chile and a native Spanish speaker. I can speak some Spanish but I’m definitely not comfortable using it on a daily basis. We want to raise our kids to be bilingual. How do we go about doing that?

There are significant cognitive advantages as well as social benefits to raising and fostering bilingualism. Bilingual children naturally learn to decontextualize language earlier because it is part of the process of acquiring two languages simultaneously. The ability to deconstruct language is an important skill when learning to read. Children need to be able critically look at language in order to be able to pick up various features such as phonemes and letter shapes in order to learn to read well. Bilingualism literally translates into children who are better readers. A child with native like fluency can be a part of their native culture to a degree that someone who has lost their native language cannot. Bilingual children understand their own culture better and can better understand someone else’s. They can literally communicate with millions more people in a way that is much deeper and easier than using translation devices. Children who are raised in bilingual homes do not confuse the languages (a common myth) and it only improves cognitive development.

Father reading to his son in French. Both parents are only using French in the home because they know their daughter will learn English growing up in the U.S.
Photo by nappy on Pexels.com

The most effective way to learn a language is to be immersed in it. If your husband’s native language is Spanish then all of his communication with your child would be in Spanish while you would communicate in English. If you have a nanny or family members the child could engage with in Spanish that would be a huge support. For children with both parents or in single parent homes where the primary language is one other than English, parents should keep the home in the native language only. Get books and music in your native language and fully immerse your children in your language and culture as well as with your well developed linguistic prowess that you already possess as a native speaker. Your children will learn English growing up in an English dominant country and they will be submersed in English for most of their lives. The only threat to bilingualism is losing the family’s native language which is always a true loss linguistically and culturally. If you are concerned about your child not understanding a relative or teacher, you can let that go. Think about how your child learned English from you. Babies and children do not initially understand what we are saying, it takes time, engagement, repetition and practice.

A homeschool teenager who is using his bilingual skills to travel throughout South America.
Photo by Alex Azabache on Pexels.com

For monolingual families there are many options to becoming a bilingual family or raising bilingual children. Here is a list of suggestions: Travel, nannies and childcare in target language, travel, preschools and classes in target language, books, music, tv shows and films in the target language, travel, and find a family who would like help with English and trade your skill sets. There are many language schools that normally cater to native speakers from that country but welcome other families as well. On-line programs like Rosetta Stone can be very useful but nothing takes the place of in-person dialogue and learning or in person or on-line programs where your child can converse 1:1 or in a small group with a native speaking volunteer, student or instructor.

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How do I know what curriculum to buy? I want to start planning but I don’t want to buy the wrong one and screw up my child forever. Help!

Thinking about buying a curriculum and you’re new to homeschooling? Stop right there and put down the curriculum. Remember the first rule of homeschooling. Homeschooling is not a recreation of school at home. Not that there’s anything wrong with using a curriculum, (some of my best friend’s use them) but why jump into one without a clear vision of what your child wants to learn and where they are right now developmentally?

Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels.com

Homeschooling is a gift. Homeschooling is an opportunity to take risks and try things differently. Your kid hated multiplication in school after doing endless worksheets for months? How about giving direct instruction for ten minutes once a week and then reviewing multiples naturally while playing Pokemon Go or writing out multiples for a hopscotch game?

Photo by Vinu00edcius Vieira ft on Pexels.com

Recently, I had spoken with a mom with a very common issue. She has a daughter who loves to read and she’s reading years above grade level yet she hates school. She hates school so much that her natural flame for learning has started to dim. Tragic! Put the curriculum back down! What does this girl need? She needs to reconnect with that love of learning by taking time to follow her passion and have room to take that study deeper. Take where your child is and go from there. Don’t worry about all of the checklists you think you need right now. You don’t need them right now and they’re all online on your state’s education website and easily accessible for a later date if you still want them. Take a moment to think of the bigger picture. What are your long and short term goals for your child? Do you want your child to be a flexible thinker? To be able to figure out solutions, to be brave learners? No-one ever wishes for their child to lose their love of learning. You have an opportunity to build on your child’s natural inclinations and passions as well as to discover new ones.

Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com

The girl I have been telling you about loves to read Harry Potter. She’s eight so the checklists and curriculums out there that are targeted towards a third grader aren’t going to be just right for her. This is so common. Take Harry Potter and think about the endless possibilities. There’s a chance to dive deep into origin studies and their purpose and a deep dive into the Greek mythology that inspired the series, latin spells are a natural lead into studying Latin and learning about the science in the spells. The list of what you can do is as long as your imagination (or Pinterest.) What does your child love to do? What are your child’s goals for the new academic year?

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Math is All Around You

My son is calculating the number of kilometers he needs to walk in order to hatch a pokemon egg as well as converting the distance to miles mentally.

Math is all around you. The ability to teach and include math into your daily life with your children is surprisingly easy.

From the age of ten I was a competitive runner and a natural consequence was comprehending distance and spatial awareness, rate and speed per mile or quarter mile. I learned to quickly convert miles to kilometers or in the reverse, height and angle from watching and studying pole vaulters. I no longer struggled with fractions since I could think about how a mile was divided up and quickly figure it out. As an adult, I was easily able to travel and use kilometers and those skills translated to ease with converting money and understanding various linguistics features of various languages that helped me immensely while having students from all around the world and during my time teaching in China.

My nine year old’s current obsession is Pokemon Go. In order to evolve eggs a player has to walk a certain number of kilometers for each. Often, multiple eggs are hatching so he has to constantly convert to miles to know how much more he needs to walk or bike. He needs to understand place value and decimal points in order to make these calculations quickly and easily. Initially, it took awhile to do the conversions but he didn’t balk at continuing to practice his skill since it was necessary for the success of his game.

A couple of months ago, when we were quarantined at home, we would set up ramps and obstacles like our recycling bins that came in various heights. We would discuss the angles of the ramps, his speed, what would increase or decrease his speed or height and the physics of gravity and force. Physics and geometry are naturally embedded into children’s lives and we just need to give them the vocabulary and language of math to apply to what they are learning through play.

You are already teaching and supporting your child’s math development unintentionally when you teach them to use their legs to swing higher, playing legos, planning a garden, teach them to use proportion when drawing, running at a track or up a hill and sprinting down or cooking just to name a few.

What part of your child’s life seems just right for a math study?

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How am I going to homeschool my kid when homework is a daily reenactment of WWII?

Did you enjoy homework when you were in elementary school? I didn’t have homework in the early grades when I had attended school because educators were free to follow best practices back then. Kids were free to learn while they were at school and continue to learn after school with one of the best learning vehicles, play. Kids played and ran and walked and did things like discovering important facts about the world around them by interacting with it. It wasn’t that tough to make it through a school day because when you weren’t in school there was lots of running around and independent play. That’s homeschool. Lots of time for children to use their physicality in order to learn about themselves and the world around them. Homeschooling means NOT sitting for six hours a day followed by sitting in the car or on a bus then sitting at home for dinner, homework and bed. My butt is numb just thinking about all that sitting. When learning isn’t confined to school walls children are free to move their bodies and give their brains the energy it needs. Parents can find the natural rhythm to their family’s day and naturally incorporate lessons during times when their child isn’t exhausted and overstimulated. A six hour school day followed by play for 30 minutes or a structured activity followed by dinner and homework when a kid is six and goes to bed by eight would make anyone rebel. A significant amount of the school day is spent transitioning to and from classes, teachers setting up and providing instruction to various groups, cleaning up, forming lines and that’s a nonissue for homeschooling. You get time back. It’s a secret hidden gift. My 9 year old is finished with all of his academic work within a two hour time period spread out throughout the day. However, he is constantly learning whether through play, sports or the arts and because he has the time to just freely read, he does. When a child that has more free time during the day, it results in more time to learn.

Homeschooling is not a re-creation of school at home. Homeschooling is whatever you make it. It should resemble what is true and important to your child and your family. My daughter loves wolves. When I first began working on writing non-fiction books with her, I told her we were going to do this awesome wolf study. We were going to do a ton of research on wolves including going to a few wolf sanctuaries and rescues and use everything she learned to write her very own non fiction book. She didn’t fight me on it. She jumped up and down with excitement. The focus isn’t on the drudgery of forcing a six year old to learn to talk about text and the features non-fiction books share but on the OMG insert your favorite emoji, I’m going to go see wolves, like for real, in person! When you look at the big picture versus the little details of what needs to be taught even the most resisted subjects can transform into passions.

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Are you feeling overwhelmed about homeschooling?

Are you thinking about homeschooling or have you decided to take that leap but are completely overwhelmed about what to do next? I was terrified when I first decided to try homeschooling with my oldest when she was in kindergarten. There was something in me telling me I could figure it out and I know that you can too. Here are a couple of things that helped me manage those initial doubts.

To begin, I needed to identify what my fears were in order to address them. The idea of homeschooling my children was initially so overwhelming that I would wake up in the middle of the night wondering if I was making a terrible mistake . How will they get into college? What if I miss a crucial skill area? I decided to step back and reframe my thoughts based on what was true. Could my children return to public school at any time? Yes, my children could enter public school at any time. How will I keep myself from becoming burnt out? I quickly learned to stop thinking about the next twelve years and focus on one year at a time. So now, I take each year as a single unit and reevaluate each spring with my children about what they would like to do the following year and only then commit to a plan for the following academic year.

My second large fear was my children not having ample opportunities to be around other children during the “school” day. Have you ever not noticed something until you needed it and then you start noticing it everywhere? Once I had started homeschooling, I quickly discovered that there is a large local homeschooling community and there are homeschoolers everywhere. I found homeschool co-ops and classes, meet ups and playdates in the local museums, science centers, martial arts centers, ice skating, music programs, math team, robotics club, forest school, on farms, in parks and in people’s homes and yards. There was a large community just waiting for us with open arms and now I welcome you. Big hugs, you got this.

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About me

Welcome,

I’m Candice and I am so happy and honored to have you visit my site.

I’m a homeschooling mom and home education consultant, instructor, tutor and mother. I have an MS in Education and 15 years of teaching experience as well as 7 years of homeschooling both of my children. I would love to share what I have learned over the years to help your children thrive academically and create an environment that is conducive to non-stop learning based on your child and your family.

Do you know a child who is learning English as their second or even third language?

Do you know a child who is learning English as their second or even third language?

https://homeschooleducationalconsultanttutor.services/2021/10/14/do-you-know-a-child-who-is-learning-english-as-their-second-or-even-third-language-2/
— Read on homeschooleducationalconsultanttutor.services/2021/10/14/do-you-know-a-child-who-is-learning-english-as-their-second-or-even-third-language-2/

Do you know a child who is learning English as their second or even third language?

Do you know a child who is learning English as their second or even third language?

https://homeschooleducationalconsultanttutor.services/2021/10/14/do-you-know-a-child-who-is-learning-english-as-their-second-or-even-third-language/
— Read on homeschooleducationalconsultanttutor.services/2021/10/14/do-you-know-a-child-who-is-learning-english-as-their-second-or-even-third-language/

Do you know a child who is learning English as their second or even third language?

Learning a new language is exciting and literally opens the door to a new world of possibilities. While there is no substitute for human interaction when learning a language there are lots of apps available to help create stories, translate or just work on idioms for home and/or classroom use.

Looking for language learning apps?

Here are some of my favorites for kids learning both social and academic English. Many are great for learning multiple languages as well as learning academic content in English.

I was a teacher in the school closest to the towers on 9/11. Here is what I learned from that tragedy that helps me as an educator and as a parent …

I was a teacher in the school closest to the towers on 9/11. Here is what I learned from that tragedy that helps me as an educator and as a parent …

https://homeschooleducationalconsultanttutor.services/2021/09/07/i-was-a-teacher-in-the-school-closest-to-the-towers-on-9-11-here-is-what-i-learned-from-that-tragedy-that-helps-me-as-an-educator-and-as-a-parent-2/
— Read on homeschooleducationalconsultanttutor.services/2021/09/07/i-was-a-teacher-in-the-school-closest-to-the-towers-on-9-11-here-is-what-i-learned-from-that-tragedy-that-helps-me-as-an-educator-and-as-a-parent-2/

I was a teacher in the school closest to the towers on 9/11. Here is what I learned from that tragedy that helps me as an educator and as a parent …

I was a teacher in the school closest to the towers on 9/11. Here is what I learned from that tragedy that helps me as an educator and as a parent …

https://homeschooleducationalconsultanttutor.services/2020/08/24/i-was-a-teacher-in-the-school-closest-to-the-towers-on-9-11-here-is-what-i-learned-from-that-tragedy-that-helps-me-as-an-educator-and-as-a-parent/
— Read on homeschooleducationalconsultanttutor.services/2020/08/24/i-was-a-teacher-in-the-school-closest-to-the-towers-on-9-11-here-is-what-i-learned-from-that-tragedy-that-helps-me-as-an-educator-and-as-a-parent/

How do I help my young kid not to be math phobic like me?

Math phobic?

Don’t be. It’s a learned behavior.

Math resistant?

I hear you. I was once the same way.

I had once believed I wasn’t a “math person.” That belief started early and was reinforced by an educational system that reinforced this belief. Then I went to China. I saw kids that embraced math young because the mindset is math is for everyone. Math is supposed to sometimes be difficult and struggling over an equation is part of its beauty. I needed to change my mindset. So I did. From that point on, I created a environment in both my classroom and my home that fostered and encouraged early math and math fluency.

There’s a good chance you already have the beginnings of a math ready home.

Lego’s everywhere?

Dinosaurs and dolls of every size?

Fill your house and engage your kids with math with board games, card games (games like war for teaching greater than/less than), cooking for learning time and fractions, puzzles and sewing. Games that require looking at patterns and making predictions are math brain builders.

Exposure and regular play with legos and building blocks during the toddler/preschool years develops spatial skills and visual literacy that is the foundation for algebra and higher level math. You’re already fluent in the language of space. Use words and have discussions about where something is using prepositions and other mathematical language such as: the tree is next to the house; The book is under the table; this piece has four sides and four corners.

Teach your children to recognize and create patterns. Start out with two and three step patterns. You can begin with physical games like clap, stomp, clap, stomp…what comes next and add a third then fourth step. Use art to teach geometry.

If you have the prerequisite of LEGO’s and toys on the floor then you’re ready.

Activities and discussion points:

Compare animal sizes-put them in order from tallest to smallest and other variations. Count animals and dolls. Learn to count on. Have three dolls to the size add more counting on…make up word problems: I have five dinosaurs and gave you two. How many am I left with?

How do you like to engage your young child in math?

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