Monday, July 2, 2018

Book Recs: Emergent/Beginning/Transitional Reader Edition

Forest is pretty darn close to fluently reading. His phonics skills are coming along and have catapulted him into literacy. I'm pretty proud of him but I can't take much credit. I have no idea how to teach a preschooler how to read and have just followed his lead mostly. Sometimes I'm still stunned when I see him come across a word like 'nocturnal' or 'allergic' and not even stumble in the sentence. It's like magic. I thought a good idea for a blog post would be to mention our favorite Early Readers that got us to this point, with the caveat that Forest did not follow the normal order for learning to read. 

He's 90% self-taught via a more 'whole language' versus 'phonics' approach. I've tried to fill in the phonics gaps with slightly more formal instruction. Research will show time and time again that phonics is the better method but when your 3 year old is teaching themselves, whatcha gonna do? Teaching him to read kind of feels like jumping onto a moving train because he's learning at such a fast pace. By the time I research what to teach next, he's already moved beyond that. I promise I'm not bragging nor do I think he's exceptional in any way. It's just my psychologist side is truly fascinated by how we learn such a complicated skill. I felt the same way when he was a toddler learning to talk. Exciting times!

The first books Forest read were BOB books, level 1. These are simple phonics based readers with a short sentence per page. There is a bit of a storyline but nothing too interesting. 

Then we moved on to 'I Can Read' Readers at the 'My First Shared Reading' level. Our favorite were definitely the Biscuit series and we also got a little Biscuit phonics set to go hand in hand with these. 

One criticism of these readers is that they are based on a whole language approach and so the lower levels are not that great for truly beginning readers who need a phonics foundation. We found the Biscuit books to be less offensive in this than the major character lines. We have a Pete the Cat book at this same level that is actually considered to be at the 1st-2nd grade reading level. So yea, that would be a little discouraging for an emerging reader! 

The 'Now I'm Reading' phonics readers are also a great tool in building on phonics skills. 
 The Now I'm Reading Series
I found these a little late in the game but it actually worked out. We went straight to level 2/3 and started to close some knowledge gaps in terms of long vowel sounds and letter blends. 

The Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems were the first 'non-reader' books that Forest read. 
 We are in a book
These are seriously great. Such fun to read. Simple, clever, and silly (i.e. perfect for preschoolers). We Are in a Book is the best! 

National Geographic Kids, Level 1 Co-readers. 
 Plants (National Geographic Kids Readers, Level 1/Co-reader) 
I include these because they were pivotal in getting Forest excited about reading, which is probably the biggest piece of the puzzle. He's a smart kid, but definitely a perfectionist so getting him to challenge himself is a struggle. Asking him to read a full book on his own cold turkey was just was too intimidating. With these books they have a page for a parent to read and then a page for them. He loved the taking turns format of these books and I think it helped to take some pressure off that he wasn't expected to read the whole book himself. He's since moved on to reading level 2 of these (again, says level 2 but is actually rated 3rd grade reading level) and is super proud of himself. He definitely loves science and non-fiction books so these have been a big helper in getting him excited to learn more and push himself. He really wants to read 'Robots' which is a level 3 so he's been practicing to get to that level. 

The Fire Cat. Level 1 'I Can Read' reader . 
This one is such a confidence builder! The text is beginner level but the paragraphs are lengthy and the story is actually broken into 3 chapters. Forest feels so accomplished after reading this 'chapter book' all by himself. 

Berenstain Bears- Cat in the Hat 'I Can Read it All By Myself' series. 
 The Big Honey Hunt, 50th Anniversary Edition (The Berenstain Bears)The Bike Lesson
These classic, old school originals are hilariously silly. Forest actually peed his pants the first time he read The Bike Lesson because he was laughing so hard. 
True story. 

Lots of rhyming, phonics, repetition, and slapstick comedy make these a super fun read. We own The Bike Lesson and The Honey Hunt and they are two of F's favorite books in our entire library. 
The Cat in the Hat 'I Can Read it All By Myself' series also contains popular favorites such as 'Go Dog Go', 'Are you My Mother?' and  'The Cat in the Hat (duh!)', but Forest has heard those titles so many times, it can be hard to tell if he's reading them or has them memorized. It's probably a combo! 

Three Tales of My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. 
 Three Tales of My Father's Dragon
Forest is not *quite* reading Chapter books on his own. I think that's the final step in fluency. BUT if your preschooler loves books, these are great for reading aloud or shared reading. We've read a few other chapter books with Forest, but none have captured his heart and imagination like this trilogy. 

Honestly, I think the most important factor in raising readers is captivating them and creating warm memories of curling up with a book. 

My Mom asked me the other day what I remember most about my Grandma Fern. It wasn't her sugar cookies or Mississippi mud ice cream. I still have vivid memories of curling up in her lap on her recliner, resting my head on her chest and reading together. It was a magical time that sparked a lifelong love affair. I still give her credit anytime anyone asks me where my love of reading comes from, and I just hope I can pass that spark along to my son.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Happy 1/2 Birthday, Forest!

Forest turned 4.5 this week! The Fours didn't start out so fabulous but now that he's hit 4.5 I have to say, this is probably the most fun phase yet (knock on wood). He's super independent and doing so many things on his own, yet still a total momma's boy and generous with the cuddles. His energy continues to be above and beyond kids his age but we've been able to channel it into swimming, bike riding, soccer, gymnastics and other activities. I can even sit on a chair and throw a tennis ball into the pool for him to retrieve, so it's just like playing fetch. Minimal energy output from momma, maximum energy output from child. That's the dream, folks. 

Here's a little snapshot at life and developmental at this stage. 
Favorite Book: Forest continues to be a total book worm. He especially loves Mr. Popper's Penguins, Classic Berenstain Bears and his Octonaut adventure books. He also loves non-fiction books, especially about sea animals and outer space.

Favorite TV show/Movie: His current favorite TV show is Octonauts for sure. But this tends to change every few weeks. Before Octonauts was Rescue Bots and before that was Daniel Tiger. His favorite movie tends to be more consistent, and Wall-E is still reigning supreme. 

Favorite Toy: Forest is a very creative little chap and doesn't need many toys to keep him occupied. He does have a few Octonaut toys that he plays with the most, and he loves his Wall-E and Eve robots that my mom got him. 
He also loves his 'Stinker Toys' (Tinker Toys) and is an amazing builder. He can look at a picture without any instructions and recreate it easily. 

I'm hoping this means he got his Dad's/Pop's/Aunt Jamie's engineering mindset. He's already better than me. He'll ask me for help sometimes and I'll say 'hmmm, I think that goes like this' and he'll usually say 'hmmmm, no I don't think that's right. I think it's like this.' 

Favorite foods: He's a good eater but is picky about what he eats. Luckily he likes lots of healthy foods so it's easy to manage, but don't you dare swap his vanilla yogurt with dried fruit for honey yogurt with granola. Lesson learned. His favorite dinner is 'chicken with mac and cheese and steamed vegetables'. Same, dude. Same. 

Language Development: Not a lot of language development but lots of social development recently. He's started to tell me made-up stories and we'll often just take turns making up stories to tell each other. At school, he and his friends have very complex pretend play scenarios where they all have different roles to play (very much 'good guys vs bad guys' pretend play going on at this age). He's always been quite verbal but he's just now gaining some confidence socially.
F and his best bro.

 Cutest Sayings: Literally everything he says is adorable. "True Story" and "Let's google it." are funny ones. He also says 'Oh, sure, sure." which cracks me up.

New Skills: It might not look like it, but starting to swim better freestyle and backstroke (Though he swims much more efficiently under the water!). 

Pretty darn close to fluently reading. I'd say he's at 2nd grade reading level. 
Starting to write more letters/words without any prompting and using appropriate upper/lower case letters in names. 

Drawing much more detailed pictures (Mostly of Wall-E). 

Stats: 44.5 inches (95%), 43 lbs (81%), size 12 shoe. Moving solidly into big kid sizes. Waaaaaaaaaah!!! 

Schedule: We don't adhere to a strict schedule anymore but Forest has a light in his room that doesn't come on until 7 AM. He has to stay quietly in his room until then, though sometimes he is up much MUCH earlier. We put him down for a rest time at around 1:30 and he has to lay down for 30 minutes. He rarely ever falls asleep anymore but a break still helps him to regroup. He goes to bed around 7 pm and sleeps anywhere from 10-12 hours. 

Activities: Summer is coming, so lots of things are ending but for now he is in soccer at the Y, Gymnastics, AWANA, Bible Study Fellowship, and 3 days of preschool. 
He says AWANA is his favorite extra-curricular. This summer we plan on doing soccer and gymnastics along with several VBS and science camps. We joke that currently Forest goes to church 4 days a week. He's such a Baptist kid and asks some theological hum-dingers. He loves him some Jesus.
The Gospel According to BSF:)

The struggles: Forest's shyness continues to be extreme and worrisome. But yet everytime I make up my mind that it's time to seek intervention, he'll have some breakthrough that makes me want to give it more time. He would certainly meet the criteria for selective mutism if we wanted him diagnosed, but so would I have at his age and it was something I got through on my own by the time I was 6. I'm definitely a little gun-shy in terms of labels, especially when his social inhibition gets worse the more we shine a spotlight on it. 

Basically, he will talk your ear off if you're someone he's comfortable with, but after 8 months he barely talks to his preschool teachers at all. He never initiates conversation with them and will only sheepishly answer any questions with  gestures or one word whispered answers. One time he needed help with a craft and instead of asking for more paint, he just went and put the paint can in his teacher's hand and then grabbed her other hand and lead her to the craft table. 

While the other kids in his class seem to be desperate for the teachers' attention, he actively avoids it. He has made some great buddies at school and seems to talk to them freely at school but if we run into them in another setting, it will take him a few minutes to warm up and sometimes he will even run away or hide behind me if they tell him hello. 

But on the other hand, he's not bashful about ordering food at a restaurant, reciting his memory verses at AWANA or answering questions about easy topics. It's just spontaneous, off-script, or face-to-face conversations that seems to totally whig him out. But he's made HUGE strides in the past 6 weeks or so and all of his coaches and teachers have made comments about him talking more recently. 

For him, he's doing amazing, but compared to his peers he's definitely still drastically more inhibited. I'm nervous about a break from school for a few months, but he's scheduled for soccer, gymnastics, and lots of fun camps so hopefully he'll continue to get social exposure and gain confidence and start Pre-K on a high note. Thankfully he has a whole 18 months to develop and mature before Kindergarten. He's academically ready now, but even as far as academics go, I think he'll be more successful in Kindergarten if he feels like it's a review versus learning a lot of new concepts in addition to adjusting to the social demands of full-day public school. 

 There is a class clown hiding under that shy exterior. :)

With all the growth and development that's happened in the past 6 months, I can't even imagine what 5 year old Forest will be doing! I wouldn't be surprised if he's both taller AND smarter than me by the time he gets to Kindergarten.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Happy Only Child Day (a day late)!

So apparently yesterday was National Only Child Day. I know every day is some made up holiday nowadays, and I don't pay much mind. But with everyone's sweet National Sibling Day posts earlier this week, I figured I'd give a shout out to my most favorite only child. 

Future astronaut? Of the first 23 Americans in space, 21 were either first-born or only children.

A couple of myths about only children is that they are spoiled, socially maladjusted, and selfish. Studies have repeatedly shown that only children actually have better pro-social skills than their sibling-household peers. They are generally high achieving, intellectual, independent, creative and a whole slew of other positive traits. Plus, having an only child is environmentally friendly. In addition to benefiting the Earth, only children are also better for familial resources of time, energy, and money. I know not everyone who has an only child does so by choice, but I'd personally like the world to know that it IS a valid and respectable choice for some people and shouldn't be looked down upon as some sort of pathology. 

Anyhoos, I could go on and on but my only child has been up since 4:30 AM so I better go clock in for the day. Happy belated only child day to Forest and to some other favorite only children of mine like my niece, my cousin, and of course, Ben Higgins. 
Image result for ben higgins image

Monday, April 2, 2018

Spring in Texas: Bluebonnets!

Spring in Texas is like this one glorious two week stretch where we enjoy the best weather in the country. Blue skies, low humidity and wildflowers abound. It's pretty compulsory that every year you trudge your kiddos out to a patch of bluebonnets to snap some photos. This years crop of pictures faced me with the undeniable evidence that Forest is growing up. Not only did he eagerly cooperate for pictures (though mostly with his fake smile he reserved for these occasions) but he just looks so stinkin big. I don't know he can keep up with this staggering rate of growth but I can tell he's about to have another growth spurt because he's cheeks always get a little extra chubby (and kissable) right before he sprouts another inch. He also was super sweet with the bluebonnets and was very careful not to step on them.

 He did need to work some sillies out still.


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Candy Alternatives for a Preschooler's Easter Basket

Forest has plenty of energy without refined sugar in his diet, so we dole out candy pretty sparingly. By the time Valentine's Day rolled around, we still had candy left from Halloween, and now the Valentine's candy is bleeding into Easter. With a whopping 3 scheduled Easter Egg hunts, Forest is all set for sugary sweets (probably until Halloween rolls around again). So what's a mom to do for an Easter Basket? Well, I'm glad you asked! 
1) Activity Books.  
Y'all might have noticed that we travel A LOT. And just like we limit candy, we also limit screen time. Activity books are a must for plane rides, restaurants, and on-the-go hotel room entertainment.  Our favorites are the dry-erase sort since they can be used over and over. Usborne has great options, as well as awesome sticker books. 

2) Games. Forest loves card games, so this is a great option for preschoolers. Uno, Skip-bo junior and spot it are great ones for this age. He also loves Bingo so when I saw this magnetic travel Bingo set I knew it'd be a great item for his Easter Basket. Again, great travel or restaurant activity. 

3) Art Supplies. I like to keep our art bench well stocked so I use Easter as a time to add or replace things we are running low on. This year its watercolors and sidewalk chalk. 

4) Movies. Forest is OBSESSED with movies. I can literally get him to do anything if the reward will be a movie. We use holidays to add to his movie collection (his favorite Christmas gifts were Wall-E and Cars 3). Disney-Pixar is always a safe bet so this year he is getting Ratatouille. 

5) Fun T-shirt. 
Forest loves any and all characters and also loves robots. Even though he's yet to see Star Wars, he loves R2D2, so I picked up this shirt at Baby Gap. (sidebar- my baby is almost too big for Baby Gap, and the other day I had to buy him pants from the big boy section because the 5Ts weren't long enough.   Waaaaaaaaah!) 

6) Books.  
Y'all know me. I always think books are a great idea. Forest LOVES anything National Geographic Kids, especially their reader series. He's super proud of himself that he's ready to graduate from Level 1, so I figured Easter would be a good chance to get him a Level 2. And of course, he loves sharks.

6) Lego! 

If you have a 3-5 year old, these little classic sets are perfection! They include all the pieces and instructions for 3 creations. Forest can do them all on his own and they've been such a great bridge from Duplo to the more advanced Lego sets. It's built his confidence so much to tackle more challenging directions. They come in 4 color sets, and he's bought 3 with his own money. I figure I'd get him the final set for his Easter basket to complete the collection. I also got him one of the bases to build on. An upcoming project is to change his train table into a Lego table, since the train phase seems to have unceremoniously ended about 2 months ago.

7) Band-aids. 
Because you can never have enough, and they have so many fun characters and designs to choose from. 

8) Plants, seeds, gardening tools. Forest is loving strawberries lately so I got him a little strawberry kit from the Target dollar spot. We'll see how well it does!  

9) Bonus goodies depending on their interests. Forest is all about robots right now and is already into everything Transformers. His grandparents took him to Toys R Us (RIP) and let him pick out anything and he picked a Rescue Bot (transformer series for preschoolers). He plays with that toy night and day so we got him another for Easter. We also just started swim season here in Houston so I got him some new swim toys. That's about it, which I think is plenty, considering I already had to buy him a bigger basket this year (and there was still some overflow)! 
I can't wait to see his face on Easter morning. My prediction is he will go straight for Ratatouille and the Rescue Bot and toss the rest aside;)
(Forest with his Easter Basket at age 2. Not much has changed.)