This is a hard post to write without sounding like a Tiger Mom. My daughter “Jenna” is 5-and-a-half years-old and reads at Guided Reading level D, which is roughly 1st grade. She is witty, articulate, cheerful and loves to draw. Jenna has been immersed in language since she was a baby and learned her letters and sounds by 20 months.
The thing is, my son “Bruce” was reading Harry Potter when he was five-years-old. With both kids I followed the same reading plan.
These past few months I found myself wide awake at 1 a.m. and wondering: “Am I doing something wrong? What is happening? Is this just a case of two kids being developmentally different?”
I understand about developmental difference. I taught K-4 for six years and saw it every day. Some kids learn at different rates and that’s okay.
But my “mom radar” kept telling me that something was odd and I couldn’t figure out what. Jenna has an abundance of natural intelligence and profound reading comprehension. With Bob Books however, she was hitting a wall. Even so, she was technically reading above grade level. For me to be worried about her progress made me feel like a scary Tiger Mom. I kept pushing my worry down and it stressed me out.
Then in piano Jenna hit another wall too. Her teacher was concerned because she couldn’t tell the difference between line and space notes. She’d keep Jenna on the same boring song for three weeks in a row and not let her move on. I knew that if I wrote the letters in clear handwriting next to each note, Jenna could play the entire primer book on sight. However, her teacher was not onboard with this accommodation.
So I did three things: #1 I canceled piano lessons, #2 I started teaching Jenna piano myself, and #3 I took Jenna for a complete vision examination.
To be clear, we don’t have vision insurance and that appointment cost $250. Basically, I scheduled it on a hunch. Something is wrong … I think.
As the appointment loomed on the calendar I had a lot of self-doubt. So many mothers would be thrilled if their kindergartener was reading slightly ahead of grade level. I on the other hand, was bothered that she wasn’t extremely ahead of grade level. What type of sick person was I?
Yet I had this nagging worry that wouldn’t go away and I was willing to spend $250 to put it to rest.
As it turns out, the eye exam revealed that Jenna is farsighted, both eyes see differently, and she has extreme difficulty tracking. The verdict? She needed prescription reading glasses ASAP.
When we got the glasses the change in piano was immediate. Jenna now loves to play.
Reading has been a bit slower but Jenna’s eyes are growing stronger each day. I purchased reading focus cards to help her track. We also use the cards and glasses when we do read aloud. I want Jenna to be able to focus on the words as I read them to her. She’s probably been missing out on this important learning opportunity for years because she couldn’t properly see the print.
No wonder her auditory reading comprehension is so high!
Another thing we are doing with renewed vigor is All About Spelling. We are on Level one Step 13. (Full disclosure, I am an AAS affiliate.)
The beauty of All About Spelling is that it is based on the Orton-Gillingham approach. If you were to Google how best to help kids with dyslexia, the Orton-Gillingham approach is mentioned over and over again. I don’t think Jenna has dyslexia, but it’s interesting to note that if she did have some sort of processing disorder, we’re already using one of the best methods to help.
I’ve ordered the Level 1 readers that go with All About Spelling so that we can try something different than Bob Books. I love Bob Books, but Jenna is tired of them. I can see how Jenna might have developed an aversion to them since she has struggled to see the print this whole past year.
Which brings me to guilt. I have a lot of guilt that I didn’t recognize Jenna needed glasses earlier. I have guilt that I have been asking her to read each day and her eyes were hurting. When I look through her glasses I get an instant headache. I have guilt that my child was silently struggling and I didn’t understand why.
It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few months. My primary focus is making “mom school” fun and doing a little bit each day in a systematic sequential way. Right now on February 25, 2015 Jenna is reading a Guided Reading Level D. Check back with me in June and let’s see what happens!
Chalk this down as one of the most unusual YA books I’ve read this year. “You Have a Brain: A Teen’s Guide to T.H.I.N.K. B.I.G.” is the memoir of pediatric neurosurgeon and presidential hopeful Ben Carson, co-written by Gregg Lewis and Deborah Shaw Lewis. It tells Ben Carson’s personal story of growing up on the streets of Detroit, being labeled a “dummy” by his peers, working hard at school and eventually attending Yale and the University of Michigan. He went on to become a famous neurosurgeon who performed ground breaking surgeries on conjoined twins.
What particularly interested me about this book was Ben Carson’s mother’s approach to “Afterschooling,” which is nearly identical to my own. For starters, Sonya Carson required her sons to read two books a week of their own choosing, and then write book reports that they read aloud. This push to read more, write more and think more, directly led to Ben and Curtis’ success.
I’m not sure what teen readers will think of “You Have a Brain: A Teen’s Guide to T.H.I.N.K. B.I.G.” It’s marketed to young adult readers, but is probably also serving as a tool to further Ben Carson’s political aspirations.
I gave aspirations too, primarily to spark a national conversation about how massive parental involvement is the key to high quality education. That’s the mission of my blog, “Teaching My Baby to Read.” For me the take home message of Ben Carson’s book was that without his mother Sonya overseeing her boys’ Afterschooling, their story might have been very different.
P.S. I received a free copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for my honest opinions and review.
A month ago I purchased Reading Focus Cards to help support my daughter’s ability to track words. In the past, I’ve made homemade versions of the same idea for free (see how here), but I felt we were ready for an upgrade.
The benefit of reading focus cards is that they come with different colored films and your child gets to choose which color window is the best fit for his or her brain. After a lot of experimentation, Jenna chose yellow.
This is what the reading focus cards look like in action:
The big question: do they help?
Since I’m a fast reader–technically a “speed reader”, the cards slow me down considerably, although they do improve my comprehension. But I wasn’t purchasing the card for me; they are meant for my daughter.
Jenna is very neutral about them. Sometimes she wants to use the cards, sometimes she doesn’t. But as her mom, I’m glad I bought them and have the cards as an available resource.
Here’s a great idea from my daughter’s Kindergarten teacher: a lesson on informational writing. First she read the kids several “how-to” books and discussed the difference between fiction and nonfiction. Then she launched writer’s workshop.
Give the kids three choices to write about.
- How to brush your teeth.
- How to plant a seed.
- How to make a sandwich.
Offer rectangular pieces of paper already divided into four sections.
Let the children use words or pictures to create their how-to writing.
In a classroom setting, there will be kids at every ability level. Some will be able to write sentences, some will express their ideas in pictures. In an Afterschooling setting, this lesson works well too. A four year old could draw pictures while an eight year old writes paragraphs.
See why I was impressed? My daughter’s Kindergarten teacher rocks!
How Many Days Until Tomorrow? by Caroline Janover tells the story of two brothers who spend a rough summer living with their grandparents on an isolated island near Maine. Their grandmother is nice, but their grandfather is a real grump.
Simon is able to find escape in books, but Josh has dyslexia, and finds solace in nature instead. Luckily, Seal Island offers a myriad of creatures to examine. There’s everything from bald eagles, to a dead Minke whale that must be destroyed.
I really enjoyed reading How Many Days Until Tomorrow? a lot. The pace, plot, and character development were excellent. I also appreciated that it featured a main character with dyslexia. I would definitely read more from Janover in the future.
Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip, by Jordan Sonnenblick, is one of the funniest, sweetest books I’ve read all year. Yeah, it’s only February, but I bet if you ask me again in December I’ll say the same thing. If you know and love anyone with Alzheimer’s Disease, you’ve got to read this book!
The hook is that fourteen-year-old Peter is reinventing himself after a devastating baseball injury. His freshman year seems to hold promise after he teams up with a pretty girl named Angelika in photography. But at home, Peter watches his grandpa lose his memory bit by bit, and feels powerless to help.
I don’t know anything about photography so I can’t tell if those parts of the book were accurate or not, but the way the author portrayed Alzheimer’s Disease was spot on. It was perfect, absolutely perfect.
Thank you, Jordan, for writing this book, and thank you to Scholastic for publishing it.