Monday, March 31, 2008

One and a half days old

Yesterday as I walked down the halls of the hospital labor and delivery unit to meet our friends Carey and Brant and their new baby girl, I was retracing the steps I’d taken as Rob and I walked laps back in July as we tried to get labor going the night before Owen’s birth (we were eventually sent home before real labor set in for good). And I was remembering those incredible morning moments when both Owen and Will came into the world.

And then I got to lay eyes on sweet sleeping Curran, who was born, all 8 pounds, 7 ounces of her, just before midnight on Friday.

And that’s when I began to cry. She’s beautiful, isn’t she?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Road trips -- big and small

Yesterday we made a simple car trip from Columbus up to Marietta to have dinner with Rob’s grandparents before heading up to Rob’s parents house in Toccoa while the boys caught the first hours of their nighttime sleep. The first leg of the trip up to Marietta took over three hours instead of the expected two because as we encountered delays in domino-effect.

First after about five minutes on the road I made the mistake of mentioning to Will to remember to give us some forewarning if he needed to pee so we’d have time to find a proper place for him to relieve himself.

“I need to pee!” he announced immediately after I’d issued the reminder.

So we pulled off at the next exit, which featured no gas stations or restrooms, and let him pee in the grass beside the off ramp. All he could produce was a one-second-long trickle. Rob and I rolled our eyes at each other as the cars whizzed by.

About a minute later, back on the interstate, Will made a new proclamation: “I need to poop!”

“Are you sure?” Rob asked, having just enjoyed a father-son hotdog lunch featuring chili-smothered hot dogs at Will’s pre-school. “Maybe it’s just gas.”

Will was sure. So we pulled off at the next exit, which thankfully did feature a gas station. Rob pumped gas while Will and I ran in hand in hand. The women’s restroom was locked. I didn’t even hesitate before trying the men’s. Locked.
So Will jumped around while we waited for an open restroom. Then as I held him on that toilet-paper covered public toilet, Will made some chili-dog inspired bodily noises, produced nothing to flush, and announced with a shrug: "I guess it was just gas." And it was up with the underwear and back to road.

Then we trudged through construction traffic around Newnan, Georgia. And by the time we’d hit Atlanta traffic our scheme to beat the rush hour had been thwarted so we sat in more stalled traffic after first pulling off to nurse crying Owen beside some mega parking deck.

Which brought us to a looming question. We’ll be heading out to Colorado in June for my cousin’s wedding and for some general fun in the mountains. And we’re considering skipping the plane tickets and rental cars and making a road trip of it instead.

“Are you sure we want to do 48 hours of this?” I asked Rob yesterday as we waded through the rush-hour traffic and I fought off some minor nausea I’d given my car-sick prone self by turning around too often to hand toys or cheerios to Owen.

But really Will was a trooper and Owen was semi-easy to keep content with a parade of toys and sufficient nursing. So we’re still considering it. And I’m still wondering if we’re insane.

So it’s time for another poll:

Would you drive with an 11-month old and a nearly 4-year-old from Columbus, Georgia to Eagle, Colorado?
Not for a million dollars.
Why not -- road trips make for great adventures and it'll be character building.
Have you lost your mind? Absolutely not for MY family. But I think you should do it so we can laugh as you recount the agony of it all.
Free polls from

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Catching babies

With every advancement Owen makes in mobility and agility, Will regresses a bit in his ability to resist pestering the little guy. His favorite trick lately is to “catch” Owen, cradling the back of his head after pushing him down so that he descends softly to the floor. This is all fine and good when laid-back Owen is in a happy mood, but if he’s already borderline fussy he hates to be put to his back like a flailing turtle. And I have to swoop down and bring crying Owen back to sitting.

I’ll remind Will not to push Owen down, and he’ll say “I wasn’t pushing him; I was CATCHING him.”

He also enjoys laying himself immediately in Owen's path, like some insurmountable obstacle for the just-trying-to-crawl kid.

We are every day sinking deeper and deeper into that strange brotherly love-antagonism that seems to characterize so many male sibling relationships – or maybe it’s just sibling relationships in general. And I find myself talking with Will daily about strategies for keeping Owen happy and our responsibilities as big people living with a little person who can’t quite fend for himself. Sometimes Will looks me in the eyes and agrees and proves himself to be quite the little helper – other times he shuts his eyes and laughs. And then I know we're headed for battle.

Any strategies for instilling peace in a house with big mobile, grabby babies and young children who can run, push and pester? I imagine I’ll be needing them more and more.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sharing a long book

Will and I just finished our first chapter book together the other night. We read "Charlotte’s Web" and loved it together. (Actually Will’s reading it twice, because he wanted to read it with Rob too. So we just managed a couple bookmarks and now he and Rob plan are continuing from where they left off before Rob went away for a good piece of the week.)

This double reading thing is not our idea. We’re just trying to follow Will’s lead in terms of his reading interests at the same time that we steer him, without being pushy, toward books that look interesting to us. Sometimes he wants a very simple picture book like “Digger Man” (for obvious reasons, and because the two brothers in it remind him of himself and Owen); sometimes he wants to fall back into the story of Charlotte and Wilbur.

I have to admit though, that I was enjoying "Charlotte's Web" so much that I sometimes worked a bit to lure him back. Occasionally when he’d say he wanted to read something else I’d counter with: “But remember, Wilbur was just about to go to the fair…… I wonder what will happen next.” And he’d be eager to read every time – and always asking for another chapter once we’d tackled one. When we finished the book, he looked at me and said, "Let's read it again." (I’m sure it also helped that Will had seen the movie “Charlotte’s Web” a while back.)

Rob and I had both tried reading "The Mouse and the Motorcycle" by Beverly Cleary with Will about a month ago. Will lost interest after a bit – and I did too, although I remember loving the story when I was in elementary school. E.B. White is a notch above Beverly Cleary in his storytelling capabilities -- even a children’s author can lure me in with a bit of humor or a turn of a phrase.

Now Will and I are just getting started on "Little House in the Big Woods," one of those books from my childhood that I’ve been excited to revisit (so I had the Easter Bunny plant the book in Will’s basket). It didn’t matter a bit to Will that the protagonist featured on the cover is a girl. He is enthralled by the idea of a gun-toting Pa and all the wolves and bears lurking outside the house. And for all of those reasons I think we’ll keep this a daytime book. Hopefully that way it won’t become fodder for nightmares (which still disturb Will semi-regularly and almost always feature animals coming into his room).

What are some chapter books or longer stories that you’ve enjoyed reading to your kids -- or that you're looking forward to reading to them once they're ready?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter in photos

Will enjoyed his third egg hunt of the week in our backyard Easter morning. And this one was particularly fun because he got to “win” the hunt. He’d told me with some measure of disappointment in his voice that another girl in his class at preschool had found the most eggs in a playground hunt they did on Thursday. Then Friday we had enjoyed an egg hunt play date at a friend’s house – but I was so caught up in a conversation, with Will sitting by my side, that I failed to realize the egg hunt had been launched and with our 30-second handicap many of the eggs had already been found.

“Give Will an egg,” all the nice, attentive moms around me started telling their children when they saw his measly collection. So he wound up with a boatload, but that was just charity. He hadn’t quite earned them.

So yesterday, he announced to Rob, Owen and me as we were heading out the back door: “I’m going to find the MOST eggs!”

It seemed like a good bet, since we gave him no competition. In fact Will found every egg -- save for the one that we’re pretty sure a raccoon beat him too. (We did a hard-boiled/plastic egg combo hunt and I hid the plastic eggs Saturday night. But one that contained a bag of yogurt-covered-raisins was removed from its hiding spot on our hammock, split open and all the contents consumed by some night scavenger.)

Throughout the hunt Will speculated about where the Easter bunny must have hopped to situate the eggs in their various locations. He was particularly mystified as to how the bunny managed to jump this high:

When we’d completed the morning hunt, Will walked inside singing “I got the most, I got the most. Mommy and Daddy, I got the most.”

“Did anyone else get any?” I asked him.

“Ally and Puff just got a little bit, but I got the most.” (So convenient to have imaginary friends who you can triumph over in competitions like this.)

We also enjoyed a small Easter birthday party yesterday with Simon, who turned 5. If, like Simon, you’re lucky enough to have a mother for an artist, you can get a dinosaur cake that looks like this...

and a dinosaur piñata that looks like this:
This piñata was a real fighter. It endured blow after brutal blow from the kids who weren’t too scared to fight him with a bat (Will was NOT in their brave company). Finally, the adults had to finish the deal.

In a sort of cathartic release of what appeared to be joyous rage, first a mom, Courtney, wailed away ruthlessly at the dino, shouting "This is wonderful!" as she attacked the pinata. Then a dad, Dan, who happens to be a psychologist by profession, went nuts on the dinosaur until the battered thing finally busted.

All of it was great fun to witness.

And here’s a final photo of Owen, in the arms of Aubry, his number one fan. My favorite Easter moment of all.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A romantic evening at Kohl’s

It’s been eons since we left Will and Owen with a babysitter so we decided to do a little late-afternoon, early-evening stint in part because I still don’t feel comfortable making a babysitter put both boys to bed and in part because our babysitter had somewhere to be by 7 p.m. We weren’t in the mood for a really early dinner so we took some Kohl’s gifts certificates we hadn’t spent since Christmas, split up and went on a little shopping spree in our respective gender departments for half an hour then teamed up for our final selections (Rob is actually a wonderful shopping partner, which is pretty ironic since I go shopping less than just about any woman I know; he’s actually interested in my fashion – probably because I need real help on that front).

Then we enjoyed a happy hour beer at a sports bar of all places, because it was the only place we had time to go that also had outdoor seating. When Rob started to talk about Tiger Woods and how Georgia got put out in the first round of the "tourney," I headed off for a bathroom break and told him to keep talking sports while I was gone. By the time I got back we had a great sports-free discussion about just about everything. And I realized that that Kohl’s/sports bar date, although it sounds so decidedly unromantic, was actually a lovely way to spend an evening. Sometimes it’s just fun to do the things you can’t ever make time for with kids in tow.

Will had a good time too. When we got home, and found he and Owen assembling a tinker-toy airplane with the babysitter, he asked if we could leave again. Then we got our big hugs.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Snakey baby

Will and Owen and I were all really happy to get Rob back after his three-day workshop in Augusta. I’d been vaguely dreading that little stint of solo parenting but it actually proved pretty painless. It made me more aware of how much Owen’s grown up since the last time Rob left us alone for a conference – in his own not-quite-crawling way, he’s getting more independent by the day. And I welcome that. It may be more work chasing a crawling baby who’s eager to get into everything and put it all into his mouth too, but I find it freeing as a mom to know that I no longer have total control over the location and play things of my little ones. I’m ready for Owen to become an explorer.

And it’s really interesting to watch how a not-quite-crawling kid can maneuver around an entire room, propelling himself backward, paddling to the right, then the left, even getting up on his hands and knees, only to sink right back down again. Will and I think Owen looks kind of like a snake, and on occasion we’ll get down on our bellies and snake around with him for a moment too. I imagine it won’t be too much longer before Owen sorts out the forward motion thing, but all the backwards-sideways stuff is really kind of elegant and amusing in the meantime.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Easter egg prep

We did some Easter egg decorating today during Owen’s morning nap. Will loves to watch dye tablets dissolve in the water and experiment with dipping eggs in the various colors. But we also wanted to try painting the eggs this year. So we did both – a base level dye followed by painting with liquid tempera paint.

Will was satisfied with the results. “Mom, the Easter Bunny is going to think these eggs are so beautiful,” he said.

This year we kept things simple. Rob’s out of town for a few days and I’m reluctant to get overly involved in messy projects with Will while Owen fusses on the sidelines. But one of these Easters I think it would be fun to set up a little kitchen laboratory and experiment with natural dyes – so Will and Owen can see how things like spinach and turmeric and coffee and cranberries can color water. Go here for some hints for natural dyes and other decorating techniques if you’re feeling ambitious.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Grinnin’ in green on a swing in spring

Two things evoke sheer AND sustained joy in Owen: Bathtime and swinging at the park. Here are several variations on sheer joy starring Owen.

Any primary sources for sheer and sustained joy for your kids? (I wish you could post photos with comments. If you happen to have a blog, include a link to an old or current post of your joyful kid(s), and I'll come visit.)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Weekend spectator

We had a busy weekend of playing and spectating (and I forgot the camera for all of it, so no pictures this time). It included a Saturday outing to Sprewell Bluff State Park -- where we threw rocks in the river, played Frisbee, listened to bluegrass music and watched (from the car because Will was frightened by the noise) as DNR officials fired a flare gun over water to start a prescribed fire on the bluff across the river -- and a Sunday low-key, budget version of the Thunder in the Valley Air Show. The boys napped until late afternoon so we caught the tail end of the show from our free and not-quite-so-close-up seats in front of CSU’s Cunningham Conference Center. It was a nice lazy-afternoon way to watch an air show.

But the highlight of the weekend for me was the few minutes I spent as spectator on Saturday night, when on the tail of a delicious dinner we shared with some friends in rural Harris County, I watched as four dads and six children engaged in a whirlwind game of chase – kids laughing and squealing in delight; fathers throwing kids up in the air; everyone running at a sort of exuberant circular pace; Will roaring like a tiger and clawing the air; and Owen, tucked under Rob’s arm, joining in the chase too. I cannot think of a time when I’ve witnessed a small crowd of people caught up in such unfettered joy.

It was the kind of moment I think you’d only see between fathers and their children. And maybe because I missed the beginning of the game, and saw it only when it had reached a sort of breathtakingly happy pace, the whole scene looked sort of magical there in the dusk.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Fire on the Mountain

We’re planning to head over to this Fire on the Mountain festival near Thomaston tomorrow. It’s about an hour’s drive from Columbus, so I thought I’d mention it for any local readers who are still making plans for the weekend. We went last year and it was a great way to celebrate the spring weather. The scenic venue is in the middle of Sprewell Bluff State Park -- right next to a bluff-bordered river that’s shallow and gentle enough for wading. There will be bluegrass music, animal demonstrations for the kids, a little playground on one end of the site and towards the latter part of the afternoon, land management officials do a small-scale prescribed fire (which Will was fascinated by last year) followed by a larger fire a bit further from the site. The event's free but it's $3 to park.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dress up

Here is Will as Rob – except that the real Rob just about never wears this camo hat. Will insisted that he needed to take off his own underwear before donning Rob’s boxers. So that’s what he did. And he even managed to walk around a bit in the ensemble.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The clapping boy

One of the most endearing things about Owen of late is his newfound ability to clap. He claps here and there throughout the day, and he's learned that if he claps on the changing table it will remind me to start a pat-a-cake game with him. During the pat-a-cake he does some random clapping and then when I’ve finished the ditty, he claps for an encore.

One of the most frustrating things about Owen of late is his newfound inability to go right back to sleep after a night waking. This is a combination of cold congestion and teething (two teeth busted through a few days ago and another one’s on the verge of breaking the surface) and perhaps his own growing awareness that we can’t help responding to his cries. (I’ll let him go a couple minutes but never much more than that with all these maladies he’s suffering through all at once.)

So a couple nights ago, Owen put both of these new developments to work. He cried for a few minutes after I laid him down for the night, but the second I opened the door to the room he shares with Will, the crying stopped. By the time I was looking down at my sweet little manipulator (by the dim light of a corner nightlight) he stopped the crying, looked up at me with a big grin and began to clap.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Art in the car port

Rob’s begun a little tradition of embarking on outdoor art projects with Will each weekend. They set up under our carport with wood, saws, hammers, nails, paints – whatever they need – and make an afternoon of creating something. Will has his own hammer and scrap wood that he goes to work on, and when he tires of that he runs around in the back yard. Come painting time, he sometimes gets to help too.

Here they are this past Sunday piecing together a wooden butterfly, which they painted and presented to our friends Brant and Carey, who are due to have a baby in just a couple weeks, at a surprise luncheon we had for them yesterday at Rob’s office.

The week before they made this frame (the dragonfly at the center is a sketch Brant did).

And before that they launched this spring’s outdoor art initiative with this flower painting on wood, which now hangs in the boys’ bathroom. Will was primary painter on the big flower in the corner; Rob followed with some major touch-ups.

Post script: Indoors this weekend, Will and I embarked on another piece of artwork that is Neanderthalishly crude by comparison. Here I did only the lettering (minus the Y – the one letter besides W, which Will offered to paint on the sign and the only one that we also needed to incorporate). The rainbow of colors is all Will. (Although I must admit that I am mostly sneaking this photo into the mix so that you can sneak a peek at what is in my mind one of the most beautiful of all sights – a full-term, stock-full-of-ready-to-be-born-baby belly.)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Watching The Business of Being Born

I finally got a chance to watch The Business of Being Born after writing this preview to a Columbus screening of the film (which I wasn’t able to attend). If you haven’t seen it, it’s available on Netflix now. I recommend it to anyone who’s ever had a baby, anyone who’s contemplating having a baby and anyone who’s ever known anyone who had or is contemplating having a baby. I guess that should cover everyone. It’s a really important look at how the United States leads the world in high-intervention, high-risk births that actually do more to endanger both mother and child – largely because convenience and profit are driving decisions about maternity care. (One jaw-dropping statistic cited in the movie and confirmed by this CDC Web site: Cesarean births in the United States have risen by 46 percent between 1996 and 2005.)

But it’s also just a beautiful journey through the whole process of bringing a baby into the world. Rob and I both got teary-eyed during moments of it as we relived our own birth experiences with Will and Owen in our minds.

There is nothing I have ever experienced that is at once as painful and difficult and as exhilarating and empowering as being fully in touch with your senses as you give birth to a baby. The women in this documentary are a testament to that. And I hope the film gives a few mothers out there the courage to believe that their bodies can handle natural childbirth and that the rewards are more than worth it.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Out with the old, in with the old

I remember a time, long before I had children, when I actually enjoyed shopping for clothes. Now, with my free time whittled to a fraction of what it once was, it’s about the last thing on my priority list. And when I’m shopping for kid’s clothes I’m acutely aware of just how quickly they’ll be outgrowing anything I buy. So I do almost all my shopping for the boys at consignment sales and thrift stores.

Luckily, I have friends who give us wonderful hand-me-downs and relatives who give Will and Owen the gift of nice new clothes here and there. But mostly when it comes to clothing Will and Owen, we get things second-hand. It’s a combination of my thriftiness, my laziness and my desire to recycle materials beyond soda cans and newspaper.

This year Will’s about to bust out of his springtime pajamas as we await next week’s Just 4 Kidz Consignments sale. (Why buy new ones when I can probably scrounge up something there?) I go to the bi-annual event every fall and spring with a list of Will’s dire needs and I usually get enough stuff to make it worth the trip. So if you live near Columbus and aren’t averse to getting stuff used, check out the details on this year’s sale here.

Post script: I only wish I could be as non-consumptive as my friends Brad and Jenn – who made a pact to buy nothing new (with the exception of perishable items and certain essentials like underwear and socks) for a year. In fact they stuck to the pact, and then decided it was so easy that they’re doing it again this year. Read about the pact on this June post from Brad’s blog (which is worth reading regularly).

And speaking of non-consumption, I kind of like the message behind this Simple Living Network web site, which (under the headline “Wake Up and Smell the Rebate) criticizes the recent economic stimulus package as the silliest sort of remedy for an ailing economy and suggests we'd all be better off if people focused more on saving and less on consuming.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Plant nurturing 101 -- Or: How to stop killing everything in your yard

Today’s Ledger-Enquirer includes my article about common plant diseases likely to plague your home landscape. So if you happen to be a person who likes to nurture plants alongside kids, you might want to check it out. If you’re not feeling very horticultural, you can just skip this post.

The Columbus Master Gardener’s will host a plant clinic from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Columbus Botanical Garden where you can get help with ailing plants from your yard or just learn the names of any mystery species that have somehow landed in your landscape. Details are below.

To see images of some of the diseases discussed but not pictured in the article and to learn more management tips go here.

And below are three common landscape diseases that didn’t quite make the print edition list:

Disease: Leaf Gall
Commonly affects:Azalea, rhododendron, mountain laurel and camellia in the spring during wet, humid, cool weather.
Symptoms: Leaves are deformed, swollen and pitted and eventually white spores burst out of the leaf. The disease does not cause significant damage to affected plants.
Prevention/Tips: Before they release the spores, cut problem leaves out and remove them, along with any contaminated mulch from under the plant.

Disease: Botrytis Blight
Commonly affects: herbaceous plants likes pansies and geraniums
Symptoms: Masses of fuzzy, grayish-brown spores on thin black stalks develop on infected plant tissues under cool, moist, humid, cloudy conditions. The fungus commonly invades wounded or senescent tissue, such as fallen flower petals or other fresh plant residues. It can also invade healthy tissue in contact with infected residues.
Prevention/Tips: Deadhead plant material before fungus develops. Don’t over-water and don’t water at night.

Disease: Melting out caused by Curvularia
Commonly affects: Bermuda, Zoysia and Centipede grass
Symptoms: There are purple and brown lesions on the leaf blade and the turf generally thins. The fungus Curvularia is the causal agent of "melting out" disease.
Prevention: Water in the early morning and don’t over water. Increase air circulation by cutting tree branches back. Don’t apply high rates of water-soluble nitrogen in the spring. Irrigate turf deeply and as infrequently as possible

Plant Clinic Info:
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday (March 8)
Where: Columbus Botanical Garden, 3603Weems Road
Who: Hosted by the Columbus Master Gardeners
Cost: Free
Details: Bring plant specimens for identification or for help diagnosing or managing a sick plant. If you need a plant identified, bring a branch or division of the plant, not just one leaf. If your plant is sick, bring samples of affected areas enclosed in a plastic bag.
More information: Call 706-653-4200.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Will ponders childbirth

These sorts of conversations, where Will wonders about the various mysteries of the universe, always pop out of nowhere. One minute he’s eating a bite of cereal, the next he’s asking:

Why are boys born in women’s bellies too?

Do you mean you think boys should come from men’s bellies and girls should come from women’s bellies?


Hmmm. Well all babies come from women’s bellies. Only women’s bodies can have babies.

But my dad!

Nope. Daddy can’t have babies. I had you and Owen in my belly.

Well, I’m Ally’s dad and Ally’s dad had to grow a little baby in his tummy. And I have to nurse my baby too.

And so we find a way to compromise. Sure, most of the time it’s women who do the childbearing in my world. But if Will wants to mother his imaginary Ally, I’m happy to watch him defy the laws of nature and play the nurturer too.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Baby braves cold, mom gets whiney

I’m a little exhausted. We are now on day three of watching Owen fight a little cold with all his feverish might. Will picked up the cold and has been barely bothered by it, and passed it on to me and Owen, whose actual cold symptoms are mild but whose body yesterday turned up to about 103.5 degrees come mid-afternoon after the last round of Tylenol had worn off.

One of the disadvantages for the poor second kid is that he gets to inherit all the illnesses from big brother’s preschool that Will never got exposed to. We stayed almost completely healthy with Will for the first year of his life.

Owen’s trying to be a trooper, but he’s really only content when he’s sleeping or being held. And all weekend – whether it was daytime or night – he could only seem to catch 20-minute stretches of sleep before waking up with some form of discomfort (he also cut his top two teeth yesterday when his fever was at its peak). And I can't help but worry a bit, even over a little cold, when a baby gets feverish. At one point Saturday night I was so miserably tired that I started crying onto Owen as I sat up nursing him in bed (he wasn’t willing to lie down). I try not to complain too much when I’m sick, but when my kids get sick I become such a weepy whiner. (My dad asked me about Owen over the phone yesterday and I told him about our sleepless night. “It was AWFUL,” I said. So melodramatic.)

Rob, who spent a good bit of time rocking Owen back to sleep in the rocking chair, said it reminded him of those first few months with Will when we were pulling our hair out trying to figure out how to get him to sleep, rocking him, dancing him, patting him, lying with him.

So in the end, this little bout of illness is a reminder to me that I’m incredibly lucky that healthy Owen is such a laid-back, easy guy. If I’d had another stretch of sleepless months with infant Owen while trying to keep up with Will too, I’d probably be in therapy right now.

Last night Owen got some much more solid sleep and he’s cooled off a bit today so I’m wishing him back to health as he takes a nap that’s already stretched over half an hour.

Sweet restorative sleep.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Instilling a love of reading

My very fondest, clearest memories of reading as a child are housed within three books that I read with my mom: Little House in the Big Woods, The Diary of Anne Frank and Little Women. We’d sit together on the couch, taking turns reading to each other and it was just a wonderful experience diving into those books right alongside my own mother. I remember watching her cry at some moment in one of those books and being struck by how reading could move you to tears. I have no idea how old I was – probably somewhere in elementary school. (My dad read to me plenty too, by the way, but I think by the time I was getting into these chapter books it had become his role to read with my younger brother.)

Now as I think about how to cultivate a lifelong love of reading with Will and Owen I’m certain that I want to include those kind of extended shared reading sessions – long after they’ve graduated from picture books. As they head into grade school in a few years I’ll want to think more deliberately about how to keep reading something that each of them loves to do. (As a former English teacher, I know that many kids lose their zest for reading somewhere between toddlerhood and high school – whether their parents are readers or not.) So, for this article in today’s Ledger-Enquirer, I asked some local librarians and reading specialists for advice about how to foster a lifelong reading in children as they grow older. I also checked in with a national reading expert who warns that incentive reading programs, which are in widespread use in many elementary schools and middle schools today, may not be the best answer. (If your child is involved in Accelerated Reader or similar incentive-based reading programs, it's a reminder to keep the emphasis on reading for reading's sake, to discuss books rather than focusing on whether your child passes the test or gets points, and to avoid letting your child develop the attitude that if it's not an AR book that can earn him/her points, then it's not worth wasting time reading.) If you have an opinion about incentive reading programs and their value, please leave a comment below.

And, as you search for good books for your kids here are some resources:
Go to the American Library Association for lists of award-winning books. Click on Best Books for Young Adults, Caldecott Medal, Children’s Notables Lists, Newberry Medal, Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, and more…

Go to for help, including high-interest fiction book recommendations, inspiring reluctant male readers to start reading. The target age group here is 7th to 12 grade.

Go to this Reading is Fundamental web site for a “Top 25” list of books for infants through 9-year-olds. from lisa stephens best books infant to 9

Go to this Reading is Fundamental web site for a “Top 25” list of books for kids ages 10 and up.

And be sure to link to the Ledger article above for book recommendations for kids from pre-K through high school from Richards Middle School librarian Lisa Stephens and Columbus Public Library teen librarian Bridgin Boddy.

Below are Stephen Krashen’s comments on Accelerated Reader in full:

"Briefly:Accelerated Reader contains four components: lots of books, time to read, tests of what is read, and prizes for points earned on the tests. There is a great deal of research showing that providing access to books and time to read has a strong positive effect of literacydevelopment. What we don’t know is whether adding tests and prizes helps. Accelerated Reader doesn’t help us, unfortunately. In articles published in 2003 in the Journal of Children’s Literature and in 2005 in Knowledge Quest, I reviewed every study I could find on Accelerated Reader. I found that the studies compare doing Accelerated Reader to doing nothing. There has been no properly designed study comparing all four parts of Accelerated Reader to simply providing lots of books and time to read.

Here is an analogy: I have just developed a new drug called CALMDOWN, containing Zoloft and sugar. I have given it to a lot of people and they say they feel better. Can I claim I have found something new? There is another problem with programs such asAccelerated Reader: As Alfie

Kohn has pointed out, they give children a reward for doing something that is already intrinsically pleasant. This sends the message that reading must be unpleasant, that nobody would do it without being bribed. In the words ofStanford University psychologists Mark Lepper and David Greene, rewards can “turn play into work.” There have been no long-term studies of accelerated reader.

We have lots of evidence on encouraging reading: Most powerful is access to interesting and comprehensible books. Contrary to popular opinion, when children have access to good books, they read them. Children of poverty have very little access to books at home, at school (inferior classroom and school libraries) and in their communities (fewer bookstores, inferior public libraries). It’s no wonder they have lower reading scores. Also: Read-alouds (here is an interesting title of a paper that says it all: “Sixteen books went home tonight: Fifteen were introduced by the teacher,” by Danny Brassell, published in the California Reader in 2003). The champion of read-alouds is Jim Trelease, the author of the Read-Aloud Handbook, now in its sixth edition ( Contrary to popular opinion, when children haveaccess to good books, they read them. The money spent on Accelerated Reader should be spent on classroom libraries and school libraries."