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Attention Parents!

cropped-img_0934.jpgYou can teach your child a tremendous amount of academics, especially with some guidance.

My name is Jennifer Bardsley. Find out more about me here or here.

Where to Start  will give you ideas for toddlers and preschoolers, and Afterschooling is for Kindergarten on up. Every child deserves one-on-one instruction, and that experience can begin in your home.

My son’s review of “The Rat Prince”

Finding books that my ten-year-old hasn’t read yet is a challenge. Have you seen our home library? So this year we are concentrating on brand new books. Luckily, I’m an author and my membership in The Sweet Sixteens means I have access to advanced review copies of books that haven’t come out yet. So far my son … Continue reading

Win a copy of my book: GENESIS GIRL!

 

Fifty years ago cell phones unleashed a Brain Cancer Epidemic.
Terrified by technology, worried parents entrusted their children to a charismatic leader.
Barbelo promised to keep his Vestals safe from the Internet, hidden behind lead-lined walls.
Now, digital purity is valuable and a Vestal named Blanca is auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Blanca is the most obedient eighteen-year-old her purchasers have ever met.
She is a blank slate for the genesis of anything they want.
But too bad for Blanca.
Their new beginning could be her end.

 

Giveaway Details:

1 winner will receive the FIRST eGalley of GENESIS GIRL. International.

Click on a Rafflecopter giveaway to enter!

Or… click on the book icon to preorder GENESIS GIRL which comes out September 27, 2016!

Author: Jennifer Bardsley
Pub. Date: September 27, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Hardcover, Paperback, & eBook
***The eBook will be available for preorder soon***

Read the first chapter here:

Exclusive Excerpt

Chapter One

My boot hits him in the nuts at the same time as the flash goes off, but it’s too late. The Virus has already taken my picture. He was aiming for Fatima, but I pushed her away just in time. I sideswipe his legs and topple the Virus over while he moans in agony from my kick to his groin.

“Nobody takes my picture, you freak!” I stare at his tattooed face. There’s something familiar about the snake inked around his eyebrow, but I can’t quite place it. We’re in the underground parking garage at school, and the fluorescent lights shade everything ugly. I crouch down and flip the Virus onto his stomach, bashing his nose against the pavement.

Ever since I was little, teachers have warned me about Viruses. They’re paparazzi scumbags whose sole purpose in life is to destroy privacy and expose secrets. I’ve never seen one in person until today.

“Hand me your belt,” I tell Fatima. I hold the Virus in place by grinding my knee into his back while Fatima slips off the cinch from her black spandex uniform. I wrestle the man’s arms behind me with both hands. Surprise, surprise—security doesn’t show up until I’m already hog-tying the bastard.

“You’re not so special now, Vestal!” the Virus says as they haul him off.

He’s right.

Until about two minutes ago, I was a Vestal postulant. A blank slate. An Internet virgin. There were no images of my moniker floating around cyberspace. My parents had never blogged about my every poop. It had been planned that way from the beginning. They had castrated my virtual identity for the promise of a better life.

In one week I’m graduating from Tabula Rasa. Today was my chance to shine while I’m interviewed by companies. Only nobody will want me now.

With one flash of his thumb camera, that jerk destroyed my life.

“Don’t worry,” Fatima says, helping me to my feet. “You’ve still got a face that can sell soap. I knew it the first time I saw you. Your skin’s your best feature, and that hasn’t changed.”

The sound of the security gate opening drowns Fatima out. We watch as a white car enters the Tabula Rasa garage. A flash of sunlight taunts me before the gate closes. All my life I’ve lived in this twenty-story fortress of protection. Today was going to be my first day in sunshine, being interviewed by bidders.

But that Virus ruined it all. How the hell he snuck in, I’ll never know.

“You’re the girl next door,” Fatima says, a bit louder. “Couture might not want you, but the average American will.”

I nod because I’ve heard it all before. Not everyone can be the seductress. I’ll never be like Fatima, I don’t begrudge her that. A clear face, green eyes, and brown hair are what I have to work with, and that’s fine. But there’s no fixing a picture of me on the Internet.

“It’ll be okay, Blanca,” Fatima says again.

But we both know that isn’t true.

For a Vestal, a clear Internet history is the most important thing. Without that I’m nothing. Our elusive privacy is what makes us valuable.

I’ve watched our class shrink from two hundred eager postulants to a graduating group of ten. The infractions were usually unavoidable: their memory was spotty, their temperament was bad, or worst of all, they turned out ugly. But once in a while, somebody was thrown out because of an online transgression.

Everyone left is bankable. Ten perfect human specimens who could sell you anything.

Even Ethan, with his poufy hair and scrawny build, is a sure thing. He wears glasses now despite his perfect vision, and goes around in bow ties and suspenders. “Nerdy but in a good way,” the teachers say. “This one’s going high-tech.”

Beau can write his own ticket too. He’s six feet tall and can out bench-press every other guy in the group. America will drool.

And then there’s Fatima standing next to me. With her dark eyes and svelte figure, she’ll have her choice of any fashion house.

I had been hoping to sell cosmetics. That’s prestigious too, and I really had a chance. But nobody will bid on me now. The auction is a week away, and I’m ruined!

“Blanca?” A woman approaches us right as a dark black limousine pulls through the gate. “That car isn’t for you. Good luck with your interviews, Fatima.”

Fatima waves at me sadly and slides into the vehicle.

“Let’s get this disaster under control,” says the woman as the limo drives away. Her billowing skirt makes her look ethereal in the shadows of the parking garage. I have never seen her before. But she’s wearing white like our teachers and has a platinum cuff, so of course, I follow her.

She takes me to a room on the twentieth floor of Tabula Rasa that boasts a wall of windows. “Darkened for privacy,” says the woman when she sees my apprehension.

I approach them hesitantly, unaccustomed to the glass. I see a tiny patch of sky surrounded by glowing billboards. On every rooftop is an advertisement featuring a face I already know. Vestals stare down at me from all vantage point, hawking perfumes, cars, and weight-loss supplements.

“You’ll be up there too, Blanca. There’s still hope.” The woman stands at my elbow.
I peek and study her this time. She’s fortyish with blue eyes and a heart-shaped face. I know she’s a Vestal because of her white outfit, but I don’t recognize her.

Weird. I know all the Vestals. Everyone does.

The hydraulic doors hiss open, and we both turn to look. The Tabula Rasa headmaster enters in a swirl of white cloak.

“Blanca,” he says, “you have a problem.”

“Yes, Headmaster Russell. I’m sorry, Headmaster Russell.”

“I don’t know how you let this happen.” He strides to the enormous windows, holding a manila file folder. None of the Tabula Rasa faculty are permitted computers, including Headmaster Russell.

“You mean you don’t know how you let this happen, Russell.”

I brace for impact. Nobody talks to Headmaster Russell that way and gets away with it. I know that better than anyone. He grits his teeth. “Security is being questioned as we speak. Sit down, Ms. Lydia. Please.”

“I will not sit down.” Ms. Lydia’s stare could cut glass. “Not until you apologize to Blanca. She deserves better, and you know it.”

There is audible silence. Headmaster Russell rubs the golden cuff on his wrist. “Blanca, I’m sorry that this happened to you.” His eyes don’t meet mine.

Ms. Lydia snaps her fingers.

Headmaster Russell clears his throat and tries again, this time meeting my gaze. “I’m sorry that I let this happen to you. I should have protected you better. I will do everything in my power to make sure you are still harvested at the auction.” Then he turns to Ms. Lydia who stands resolute and icy. “Are you satisfied?”

“Perhaps.” She shrugs. “Let’s see what’s in the folder.”

A few moments later we are seated at the table in the center of the room. Headmaster Russell shows us the picture of me that is now plastered all over cyberspace. I fight back tears.

first look at newest vestal, the caption reads. Then there’s me executing a roundhouse kick, my hair flying back, and my face a perfect mask of rage.

“This is what we are dealing with,” says Headmaster Russell.

“It could be worse.” Ms. Lydia presses her lips together. Right then an old-fashioned phone hanging on the wall rings. “Well, Russ? Aren’t you going to answer that?”

Headmaster Russell jumps to answer the phone. I can hear him say “Blanca” and “photograph,” but that’s it. My future is muffled as he whispers into the receiver.

Ms. Lydia extends her hand to me. Her touch is very cold, but her shake is firm. “My name is Lydia. I’m the elected agent of all Vestal graduates. I lead the Tabula Rasa board of directors.”

“What was your company?” I ask. I still don’t recognize her. But I notice her platinum cuff. That means she was top pick.

“I didn’t have a company. I went Geisha.”

I try to keep my face blank. Really, I do. But what she said is so shocking that my eyes widen for an instant. Ms. Lydia notices.

“It’s not as bad as you think,” she says. “Maybe it’s better. There are many ways to be a Vestal, and they all have honor.”

“Of course,” I answer. “It says so right in the Vestal Code of Ethics.”

Most Vestals leave Tabula Rasa with major corporations, but on rare occasions they enter contracts with private individuals as Geishas.

Nobody wants to go Geisha. Giving up privacy for another person’s pleasure is creepy. Selling out to a company is so much better.

Headmaster Russell hangs up the phone with a loud click. He smoothes his cloak over his barrel chest. “Blanca has five bidders,” he says. “That picture has whipped up a frenzy.”

“Good,” says Ms. Lydia. “You’re redeemed.”

I’m not sure who she’s talking to, but I brave a smile anyway.

***

Barbelo Nemo founded the Vestals fifty years ago after the Brain Cancer Epidemic rotted humankind via cell phones. Bluetooth scanned sensitive neurons. Wi-Fi washed over weakened gray matter. Before the medical community realized what was happening, millions of people were dead.

Scientists promised finger-chips were the solution, but Barbelo forged a different path. Why risk another tech-induced health crisis? Barbelo set Vestals apart and kept us safe. Eighteen years of schooling at Tabula Rasa behind lead-lined walls, and then twenty-five years of service to the Brethren. We have a sacred duty to remain digitally pure.

If it weren’t for Tabula Rasa, I’d be tech-addicted like everyone else. I’d expose my private thoughts to total strangers. I’d be too engrossed in my finger-chips to pay attention to my friends. I’d judge people by scanning their profile before I met them in person. I wouldn’t buy anything or go anywhere unless the Internet told me it was a good idea. I would let my finger-chips rob me of forming real relationships with the actual people who matter in my life. What’s worse, I wouldn’t know I was ruined. I’d willingly give up my humanity one byte at a time.

But as a Vestal postulant, I’m sheltered from that. Chaos swirls around us, but Vestals are constant. We are loyal. We keep secrets. We remind the world there is a better way to live. Because we are so trustworthy, the public buys anything we sell.

No wonder corporations lust for us.

It’s been seven days since the Virus stole my picture, and I’ve made it to the auction after all. I’m sitting on stage with the other Tabula Rasa graduates, safe inside the lead-lined walls of school. The Harvest is minutes away. We’re about to auction our purity to the highest bidder. In front of us are Silicon Valley elite. Many of them are flexing their palms, frustrated that their finger-chip connections won’t work.

Fatima’s hand is on my thigh, and my hand covers hers. Sweat trickles down my back, tracing the curve of my spine as I arch my shoulders in perfect posture. I curl my toes inside their black leather boots, trying to release the pressure.

My whole education, my entire existence, has led up to now.

This morning I woke up in the metal bunk bed of my cloister. In a few days I’ll move to my new home, the Vestal quarters of my business sponsor. I’ll represent a company, a product, and a lifestyle. The world will follow my life through carefully released images. Whatever my company chooses to share will become my new identity.

Where I eat, who I date, what I do. It will all be for one purpose— to sell my company’s products.

I’ll never beg my friends to like my pictures. Total strangers will hang on my every word. I’ll be a Vestal, and millions of people will care about who I am.

Even better, I’ll have a family. Older Vestals will be my mentors. I’ll join their manufactured family in print, media, and billboard campaigns across America.

If I’m lucky, the company will have at least one Vestal in their roster close to me in age. Hopefully a guy. Preferably one who looks more like Beau and less like Ethan. I’ve been waiting eighteen years for a boyfriend, and he had better be good.

“Fatima,” the announcer says. My best friend squeezes my hand and winks at me. Then she walks to the stage. She’s gorgeous, like always. Ever since we were little, I always knew Fatima would be the top pick. Fatima has a body that can sell anything. She’s smart too. It will say that in her portfolio.

But when Fatima stands up there at the podium next to Headmaster Russell, there is only a shuffle of papers in the audience. Heads are bent over still placards. Fatima glances back at me with panic.

No one is bidding.

A woman wearing a white suit scrambles on stage and grabs Headmaster Russell’s arm, whispering into his ear. It’s Ms. Corina, from charm and deportment. She doesn’t appear so polished now.

Ms. Corina points to me, and Headmaster Russell looks too. Then he cringes.

“There has been a change of plans,” he announces to the audience. “Bidding on Miss Fatima will wait. Bidding on Miss Blanca will begin.”

Fatima gazes at me from across the stage. I know what she’s thinking without her saying one word. Fatima’s the seductress, and I’m the girl-next-door. She’s the one people drool for, not me.

I try to smile placidly, like Charming Corina taught us. But watching the audience freaks me out. I’m used to the black uniforms of students and the white robes of teachers. Now all I see is the ambiguity of color.

I try to focus as Headmaster Russell says something about my education.

“Poetry, literature, music,” he says. “Blanca is the perfect package. She’s well versed in the seven liberal arts and entirely ignorant about science and technology. A Vestal Virgin for the modern age.”

Headmaster Russell regards me with dark eyes. Then he turns back to the sea of faces. “Blanca’s the perfect image for your company. Born and bred in Nevada and groomed right here at Tabula Rasa. Let’s start the bidding at five million dollars.”

A deep breath. I fight to be calm when I see arms shoot up and numbers wave. But I don’t think about the auction or my impending future. I think about my past.

Until now, I had no idea I came from Nevada.

Were my parents still in Nevada? Were they scanning the news feed on their palms at this very second? Were they trying to guess which name was mine, eagerly anticipating their cut from my sale? My parents were going to make a lot of money off me.

But my so-called parents aren’t important. All that matters is right now: the bidding war. So many people shout that Headmaster Russell appears stressed. He uses the sleeve of his cloak to wipe sweat off his forehead.

“Thirty million? Do I hear thirty-one?” he asks. That’s when I feel the skin on my arms prickle. Companies won’t pay that much for a Vestal. But private individuals do.

“Thirty-one-and-a-half?” Headmaster Russell asks loudly. Another arm goes up. Then another. “Thirty-two? Thirty-two going once? Going twice? Sold,” says Headmaster Russell, banging the gavel. “Sold for the highest price ever paid in Vestal history. Sold to Mr. Calum McNeal for thirty-two million dollars.”

And just like that I’ve gone Geisha.

A middle-aged man stands. His hair is brown but graying and longish around the ears. He’s smiling so hard, it looks like he’s going to burst.

***

I’m finally wearing white, but I don’t feel like I deserve it. Instead I feel dirty inside as I stand with my fellow graduates around the Pool of Purity. My unlit candle weighs heavy in my hand, and I nervously finger its waxy edge. Everyone has been sold to a company but me. Fatima won’t make eye contact.

“On this the most private of nights,” Headmaster Russell says, “we celebrate the blessing of one more class of Tabula Rasa graduates. The brothers and sisters who came before you surround you with their guidance and welcome you to our ranks.”

I feel their presence before I see them. Older, experienced Vestals step from the shadows and flank us in a larger ring. Together we form two concentric circles, our billowing white robes hovering over the pavement, reflected in the water.

“The candle please.” Headmaster Russell turns to look at Ms. Lydia, who stands nearby.

She is beautiful in the moonlight, her heart-shaped face a mask of serenity. When she reaches out her candle to touch his, the sleeve of her gown slips down below her elbow, exposing her platinum cuff against creamy skin. “The beacon of light,” she says. “We are a sacred fire that will not burn out. Those who came before you welcome you into our Brethren.”

Soon the flame is passed from candle to candle. The dark circle of Tabula Rasa graduates illuminates in a warm glow. When Fatima tips her candle to mine, she struggles to smile. She hasn’t spoken one word to me since the auction. My harvest price was double hers. But I know that’s not the real problem between us. It’s because I’ve gone Geisha.

Headmaster Russell’s voice is solemn. “Vestals are a beacon in a dark world. We alone stand together. We are living sacrifices for all that is pure and all that is sacred.”

An older Vestal steps forward with a silver tray. Nine golden cuffs sparkle in the candlelight. The single platinum cuff beckons to me. I am the top pick.

Ms. Lydia selects a golden cuff. “It is time for the vows. Master Ethan, do you solemnly swear to uphold the Vestal order?”

“I do,” says Ethan, stepping forward.

“Will you consecrate your body? Will you promise to never be marked by ink, stain, piercing, or technology? Will you give your highest self to our cause?”

“I promise,” says Ethan, holding out his arm.

Ms. Lydia snaps the golden cuff on his wrist.

“And now, for the sealing,” says Headmaster Russell, who approaches with a small blue flame. There is total and utter silence for this, the most sacred part of the ceremony. Headmaster Russell singes the metal, searing it shut. Ethan’s golden cuff now marks him for life. The whole world will forever know he is a Vestal.

The sealing happens eight more times until finally, I am the only graduate who remains.

Ms. Lydia picks up the platinum cuff and holds it to the light. “There are many paths a Vestal can take, but one thing is constant. The world relies on us. We are the last guardians of private living. When we sell our reputation, it is with purpose and thought. We do not give it away freely like the masses of humanity. To be purchased privately is a holy act within itself.”

My tears start when she says this. They roll down my cheeks, washing away the shame. It’s like a window has opened in my heart, releasing all the pressure. I feel joy again. Joy and pride for being a Vestal, no matter what.

This is my time. This is what I have lived for. When Ms. Lydia snaps the platinum cuff on my wrist, it is the happiest moment of my life.


 

Jennifer Bardsley writes the parenting column “I Brake for Moms” for the Sunday edition of The Everett Daily Herald. She also blogs at Teaching My Baby to Read with the mission of sparking a national debate on the important roll parents play in education. Jennifer is a graduate of Stanford University and a member of SCBWI. She lives with her husband and two children in Edmonds, WA.

GENESIS GIRL will release in 2016 and is about an 18 year-old girl whose lack of a virtual footprint makes her so valuable that she is auctioned off to the highest bidder, the sequel will come out in 2017. Jennifer is represented by Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Literary AgencyLLC.
Follow the Jennifer on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.


Genesis Girl hits the world September 27, 2016!

Sneak Peek at “The Distance to Home”

We’re still in the dead of winter but here’s a book that will make summer feel a little bit closer. It’s called The Distance to Home and it comes out June 28, 2016. I received an early look at an advanced reader’s copy as part of my membership in The Sweet Sixteens debut authors club. This is my ten-year-old’s review:

The Distance to Home by Jenn Bishop is about a girl named Quinnen trying to find herself after her older sister Haley passes away. {THIS HAS BEEN CENSORED FOR SPOILER ALERT REASONS} When Quinnen played baseball last year, her sister Haley was always cheering for her at the top of the stands. Now Quinnen can’t seem to pull herself back up after her sister’s death and has no interest in baseball.

The author uses the juxtaposition between this summer and last summer to tell the story of Haley’s death and Quinnen’s struggle to right herself. The jumping back and forth in time was confusing at first, but then made a lot of sense. It was an engrossing and interesting way to tell the story.

I think third and fourth graders would really enjoy The Distance to Home. But watch out. It also might make people with soft hearts cry.

Before we talk about test scores, let’s discuss poverty

“Maestra, are you rich?” a little girl named Lola asked me. I did not know how to respond. I was a brand new teacher in East Palo Alto at the start of the dot com revolution in the Silicon Valley. All around me my fellow Stanford alumni were garnering stock options and buying Audis. As … Continue reading

Attention Teachers: “Fenway and Hattie” is a fabulous book for teaching POV

In addition to being the most adorable middle grade book I’ve read in a long time, Fenway and Hattie by Victoria J. Coe is an exceptional resource for teaching kids about point of view. “Why?” do you ask. “Woof.” Because the narrator is a dog of course! Fenway is a Jack Russell Terrier big at heart … Continue reading

“The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary” by Laura Shovan


This summer I had the opportunity to sneak a peak at an advanced copy of The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan. This is a delightful book about a classroom of fifth graders fighting to keep the school board from tearing down their alma mater to build a grocery store. What makes the novel unique, is that it is told entirely in poems.

Through poetry we meet Norah Hassan, the only student who wears a hijab. We meet New Mathews who has Asperger’s and an aide to help him out. Spunky Katie McCain steps forward, with a big secret. Gaby Vargas learns to write poems in English as well as Spanish.

When I was a third grade teacher in a Title 1 school I struggled to find books that were content appropriate but easy enough from my English Language Learners to read. The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary perfectly fits the bill. Poems are short. Poems are manageable. Poems are fun! The way poems rest on the page also make them easier for kids who deal with visual processing issues, which makes this book inclusive in that respect too.

I think teachers will definitely appreciate all of the poetry writing prompts Shovan includes at the back of the book too. The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary would work great in the classroom. My own fifth-grader enjoyed reading it as well.

Afterschooling for Dyslexia

textgram_1448053916What do you do if your child has an official diagnosis of dyslexia and yet is not receiving specially designed instruction at school? Perhaps you are fighting for your child’s right to an IEP. Or maybe the IEP team offered to pull your child out of general ed and put him in a resource room with students who have a wide variety of other issues. Possibly your school district offers no dyslexia-specific services to students with dyslexia at all. You hear rumors of other states where dyslexic kids receive sixty minutes of the Wilson Reading Program a day and you weep.

Take a deep breath. Square your shoulders. Concentrate on hope instead of anger.

You can help your child immensely!

Be your child’s advocate, find a dyslexia tutor (if you can afford one), and start afterschooling.

I’m not the best person to talk about special education advocacy or finding a dyslexia tutor (hint: email Susan Barton or contact your local Decoding Dyslexia chapter), but I’ve spent the last sixteen years honing my skills as a K-4 teacher turned afterschooling mom.

Afterschooling is when parents introduce a core academic pursuit that is in support of, or in addition to, what their child is already learning in school, and when the parents organize this instruction in a meaningful way.

Don’t wait for the school district to deliver meaningful dyslexia intervention to your child. Piece-work together a plan that works for your child in the interim. Keep advocating, but also start afterschooling. Something is better than nothing.

I wish I could offer guarantees that what works for my student will work perfectly for your son or daughter, but I cannot. My strategy is to not rely on any one program or method but instead to hedge my bets. You can use the framework of my afterschooling plan to create something that will make a meaningful difference for your child. Think of this as a sample plan for what might work for you.

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Step #1: Buy an iPad or tablet.

A lot of the ideas you will read about in this post could also happen with a computer, but in my experience the tablet makes things easier for kids.

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Step #2: Sign up for subscriptions to Nessy.com, Dreambox Learning, and Learning Ally.

More about Nessy here.

More about Learning Ally here.

I’ve also tried out Reading Eggs, but like Nessy better for kids with dyslexia. If your student prefers Reading Eggs, go with that.

Dreambox Math is an online math program that helps kids understand “the sixteeness of sixteen” instead of relying on rote memory. It’s Common Core aligned, and will mesh well with whatever math curriculum your school uses. Since there’s no writing involved, dysgraphia won’t get in the way. However, Dreambox is not specifically designed for kids with dyslexia. Occasionally it includes games that might frustrate kids with weak working memory. As an afterschooling program though, it is really easy to implement. It’s much better than worksheets, and less involved than a complete homeschooling program like Right Start or Math U See.

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Step #3: Order All About Reading and All About Spelling. (Full disclosure: I am an affiliate.)

AAR and AAS are scripted programs which means all you need to do is read from the teacher’s guide. It involves a giant magnetic board with phoneme tiles, a box of flashcards, decodable readers, fluency practice sheets, and the occasional cut and paste game. Both programs are based on the Orton-Gillingham Approach which has a proven track record for helping kids with dyslexia.

In a homeschooling situation it would be easier to plug away at AAR and AAS in big chunks of time. With afterschooling, you have to be more creative. But it’s definitely doable. Plus, you have the comfort of knowing that your son or daughter is receiving an Orton-Gillingham based intervention with or without the school district’s help.

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Step #4 Buy the Handwriting Without Tears “Wet, Dry, Try” App.

You could also try purchasing the entire Handwriting Without Tears curriculum. But definitely start with the app first because it is cheaper and easier to implement in an afterschooling setting.

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The app has the added benefit of being user friendly. It’s something that small kids can do on their own without adult assistance. The actual HWT curriculum is of course marvelous, but it requires an adult.

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Step #5 Be creative so your child doesn’t hate you.

No kid wants to hear “Guess what, Timmy? You’re going to do an extra seven hours of school every week, after you’ve already gone to school!” That would be horrible. A smart parent is clever about marketing and generous with bribes.

I’ve found a lot of success with rewards charts. I use my computer to make a new game sheet each week. On the sheet are pictures of all of the afterschooling tasks my student will do. For really big things like an All About Reading lesson, I divide it out into the reader, the fluency workbook, and the magnet board. I also throw in fun things like read to the dog.

Remember how I mentioned the importance of marketing? Instead of a boring rewards chart, I call mine “Bingo,” “Candy Land,” or “The Mall.”

Here are what sample Bingo boards look like:

bing

Bing Snip

Here’s a closer look at the top half of the Candy Land board:

candyland

Now for a peek at “The Mall.”

Mall 2

Prizes include everything from stickers, candy, $2 dollar bills, hair ribbons, gum, and erasers, to trips to Chuck E. Cheese’s and the indoor swimming pool. I change the prizes every week to keep things interesting. Yes, buying all of these prizes costs money. But when you ask a child to do an extra seven hours of work each week you need to reward them.

#6 Afterschool between the cracks.

Fitting an extra seven hours of work into an already busy week is intense, but doable. Shoot for two hours on Saturday, two hours on Sunday, and then about 30 minutes a day during the school week. Here’s how you can squeeze that in:

While you drive in the car:

  • The Handwriting Tears App.
  • Listening to a Learning Ally story.

While you wait around at sporting or musical events for other siblings:

  • All About Reading reader.
  • All About Spelling or All About Reading flashcards.
  • Fluency practice from the All About Reading Activity Book.

20 minute intervals at home:

  • Nessy
  • Dreambox
  • The All About Spelling and All About Reading magnet board.

#7 Learn to say “No.”

Afterschooling for dyslexia is a huge time commitment. With my student, we shoot for six hours a week in addition to a one hour session with a private tutor. That means my student is working an additional seven hours a week above and beyond what’s happening at school, and not including traditional homework. Yikes! This schedule is grueling but creates positive results. It also requires sacrifice from everyone involved.

Sacrifice means saying: “No, I cannot volunteer for X, Y, Z,” and “I’m sorry, but we don’t have time for piano lessons right now.” It also means closing your checkbook to school fundraisers because you are already spending so much on your afterschooling program.

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At the beginning of this post I mentioned that I have been honing my afterschooling skills for sixteen years. For the past three years I’ve done process of elimination to find out what strategies do not work for afterschooling and dyslexia. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I’ve stumbled upon perfection. I have developed a deep faith in parents’ abilities to make meaningful impact in their children’s educations.

Not every school district is “helpful.”

Not every family can afford to spend $20,000 for an expensive dyslexia program.

But every child deserves to become a strong reader.

I believe you can make a difference in your child’s education!

“Best Hair Book Ever!” Review


When I was a tween I had a hairstyle book that I memorized cover to cover. Now as an adult I realize that every single model in the book was white. I don’t know why that observation never occured to me when I was younger, but now it annoys me. That’s why I was so excited to read Best Hair Book Ever!: Cute Cuts, Sweet Styles and Tons of Tress Tips by Faithgirlz. It reflects hairstyles for all types of hair and ethnicities.

As soon as my six-year-old daughter saw this book, she was entranced. Unfortunately, her baby-fine hair is too thin for many of the styles. But there are still plenty of options to choose from. Braids, twists, spider ponies and cornrows; this book has something to teach everyone. It’s definitely too hard for a first grader, but perfect for girls ages twelve and up. There’s also a solid section on hair maintenance and choosing the right cut.

The only thing I wish the book included was an education about chemicals such as palates, sulfates and synthetic fragrances. This was a missed opportunity to make girls aware of avoiding unnecessary chemicals. Still, I liked the Best Hair Book Ever! a lot. Thank you to BookLook Bloggers for providing me with a free copy in exchange for my honest opinions and reviews.

I review for BookLook Bloggers

Nessy.com Review

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Over the years I’ve reviewed a lot of computer-based phonics programs for kids, but I’ve never seen one specifically designed for children with dyslexia until now. Nessy comes from England and bills itself as “Everything you need to help children with dyslexia and reading disabilities.” A subscription for one student costs $10 a month or $100 a year. That’s significantly cheaper than a private dyslexia tutor, but slightly more expensive than programs such as Reading Eggs or Starfall.

(My Reading Eggs review)

(My Starfall mini-review)

Three big questions in my mind when I bought a Nessy subscription several weeks ago were 1) How is Nessy different from other computerized phonics programs? 2) Is it worth the time and money? and #3) What should parents know about Nessy?

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#1 How is Nessy different from other computerized phonics program?

If you want to read the official list describing the fundamentals of Nessy, click here to go to the company website. My observations are not nearly as scientific. I’m telling you what I see as former K-4 teacher.

Nessy is slower and more systematic than other programs I’ve reviewed. It introduces sight-words in a way that is more user-friendly for kids with dyslexia. If a kid is learning the “th” sound for example, all the games are about the “th” sound. It doesn’t switch from “th” to sight-words, to review, to “ch,” to something else, and so on. Instead, it’s “th,” “th,” “th,” “th,” until the kids really understands.

My familiarity with the homeschooling program All About Reading which is based on the principles of Orton-Gillingham immediately helped me see that Nessy is also based on the principles of Orton-Gillingham. In fact, the student I am tutoring is working on the same phonemes in both AAR and Nessy. The embedded assessments in Nessy aligned perfectly with AAR. Both programs said she was at the same level of phoneme development. (Full disclaimer, I am an AAR affiliate.)

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#2 Is Nessy worth the time and money?

Yes! A resounding Yes! The child I’m working with loves Nessy. She was hitting the wall with other computer games we tried. Nessy seems to make sense to her, and for that I’m really grateful. We are using Nessy in conjunction with All About Reading and All About Spelling. Nessy is not the only intervention happening, but it is one significant piece.

I also think Nessy would be good for children who do not yet have an official diagnosis of dyslexia. The wait to get assessed can take months if not years. In the meantime, kids could be doing Nessy just in case. Neurytypical kids would probably benefit too.

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#3 What should parents know about Nessy?

When Nessy works, it really, really works well. But sometimes, there will be technical glitches.

It’s important to go into the settings and choose your location and the type of English you want. For me, that meant USA with an American accent. If you don’t do this, the loading time will be way too slow. Plus the accent could confuse your student.

We’ve experienced loading differences on the computer versus the iPad. On the computer, sometimes the videos are blocked by “loading” symbols. On the iPad, the sound occasionally cuts out, and I have to turn the game off and bring it back on again.

The glitches can be frustrating, but not enough to outweigh all of the benefits.

Final thoughts.

My experience with Nessy revolves around a first grader, who seems to be the perfect age for this program. They say it’s suitable for 5-12 years of age, but fourth graders on up might think Nessy is babyish. That’s not to say a nine year old wouldn’t learn a lot from Nessy, just that it doesn’t have a cool “tween” vibe.

As an Afterschooling program, Nessy is an excellent supplement to other dyslexia interventions already in place.

For more information please visit their website at: http://www.nessy.com/us/

What to do if you suspect your child has dyslexia

All children learn at different rates and the developmental range of what “normal” looks like is huge. But what should you do if your child is struggling with learning to read despite everyone’s best efforts? #1 Learn the signs Up to one in five people have dyslexia, so it is important to know the signs. … Continue reading

How to move forward with my blog?

I used to blog every day. I used to dream up posts in the middle of the night that I was dying to share. I still do. The difference between now and four years ago is that my kids are older. At ten and six year olds, I don’t feel comfortable revealing details about their education with … Continue reading

The CEB Student Bible

No matter what your religious persuasion, you will probably agree with me that The Bible deals with some heavy stuff. Rape, war, incest, and genocide are in the same book that promotes grace and forgiveness. The way the text is presented varies wildly from Bible to Bible, especially when you consider the footnotes, annotations, and … Continue reading

“B is for Bear, A Natural Alphabet” by Hannah Viano


B is for Bear: A Natural Alphabet by Hannah Viano is a book that fuses science, nature, and art into one neat package. I thought it was brilliant. Unfortunately, my six-year-old daughter did not like it one bit. Sasquatch Books sent me a free copy in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

Viano takes the traditional format of an alphabet book and includes a word and a sentence for each letter. There’s just enough content that the former K-1 teacher in me thinks it could would be a great supplement for the Common Core State Standards.  Vocabulary words such as “predators,” “scat,” and “investigate,” are sprinkled through the book, and the pictures provide great prompts for discussion.

I can definitely see B is for Bear being very welcome in a classroom environment. At home however, it would depend on the kid. My daughter thought it was boring, which really surprised me because she had previously enjoyed Viano’s book Arrow to Alaska. My daughter also thought it was too babyish, which I argued with her about, because this book isn’t babyish at all. There’s a lot of science!

Can’t please everyone, I guess. Pfffffft!

A Sneak Peek at “Secrets of the Dragon Tomb”

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When I was lent an advanced review copy of the middle grade book Secrets of the Dragon Tomb, by Patrick Samphire, my ten-year-old son was thrilled. Secrets of the Dragon Tomb is Steampunk meets SciFi and sure to keep kids up past their bedtime saying “Just one more page!” I can’t share a full review because this book doesn’t come out until January 12, 2016, but here’s a little teaser curtsey of my son:

Cousins Edward and Fredrick live on 19th century British Mars and must stop the nefarious Sir Titus Dane from obtaining a water abacus that can be used to find an ancient dragon tomb full of powerful technology.

My favorite part was the environment. I really liked how Patrick described the unique wildlife on Mars such as crannybugs and bushbears. I also liked how it wasn’t all “high-techy” because you don’t often see books about Mars that aren’t futuristic. Secrets of the Dragon Tomb was steampunk like The Peculiar, which is one of my favorite genres because it is uncommon in MG reads.

Taking your homekeeping to the next level

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Erica Strauss has the goal of helping men and women everywhere turn their homes into centers of production instead of places of consumption. That’s a big challenge to wrestle with, but her new book The Hands-On Home: A Seasonal Guide to Cooking, Preserving & Natural Homekeeping shows you how.

Instead of dousing our bathrooms in chemicals, Erica gives step-by-step instructions for making “potty powder” and “acidic bathroom cleaner.” Instead of buying sugary jam from the grocery store, she teachers readers to can their own preserves without using pectin.

Well, Erica would have to pry the pectin box away from my cold, dead hands, but I’m willing to give her other ideas a try. So are her legions of fans who adore her well-known site: Northwest Edible Life.

Sasquatch Books in Seattle sent me a free, advanced copy of The Hands-On Home this summer in exchange for my honest opinions and review. For me as a homemaker, it was love at first sight. The construction of the book is everything I expect from Sasquatch: fine quality pages, beautiful illustrations, and a style that walks the fine line between folksy and hip. The Hands-On Home is also enormous. It’s almost 400 pages long and feels like Joy of Cooking’s younger, prettier sister.

But don’t let the girth put you off, because The Hands-On Home is divided into easy-to-manage sections by season. It’s really like five books in one. First comes the part about basic, year-round instructions. Next comes spring, summer, fall and winter. In each of the seasonal sections there are edible recipes as well as ideas for home and personal care.

Northwest Edible Life fans might be asking themselves, “Do I really need to buy this book? Can’t I find these recipes on Erica’s website?” For me the answer is yes, because the blog–wonderful as it is–only offers a fraction of what Erica has crafted in the book. Plus, this book would make a lovely holiday present or engagement gift.

As a gardener, I was a wee bit disappointed that there wasn’t a gardening section to The Hands-On Home. I’ve given up on the idea of ever getting chickens, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like reading plans about coop construction. Erica writing a follow-up book about gardening seems like a no-brainer to me. The Hands-On Garden perhaps?

I began reading The Hands-On Home in summer when tomatoes were abundant. I *might* have made myself sick by overindulging in oven-roasted herb confit one August afternoon. But, I’m pretty darn proud of the multiple mason jars of lacto-fermented pico de gallo in my refrigerator. Now that it’s fall, I’m eager to try the sauerkraut with apples and caraway. I’ve made homemade sauerkraut before, but have totally forgotten how. Now all I have to do is open up the book, and the instructions are right there at my fingertips.

The Hands-On Home is so rich with ideas that it will take me several years to try them all. How lovely it is to have a guidebook to aspire to.

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