Starting Early to Create Lifelong Readers

Reading to my children.  It was honestly one of the things I couldn’t wait most for.  I’ve always envisioned us snuggled up in the corner of the couch, soft fleece blanket pulled up to our chins, talking about the choices our favorite characters were making, coming up with our silliest voices to read in, and admiring the intricate artwork that splashed across the pages.  I envisioned us rocking slowly in her room, reading, “just one more!” book before eyes got heavy and it was time for sweet dreams.  I envisioned myself panicking at the realization it had been all too quiet in the house for a tad too long (because we know that’s never a good thing), only to find her curled up with a book in her little chair.

Maybe a little grandiose, but my dream nonetheless.  We’ll get there one day.

For now, however, we’re still in the early stages.  She’s young, we’re in no rush, and we’re just beginning to lay the groundwork for what I hope to be a beautiful relationship with getting lost in books of all kinds.  After teaching elementary school and specializing in working with young at-risk readers, I know how vital the early years are for her success later.  Start small, start early, and have fun!

There’s no such thing as “too early”.  Nope, start right from when you bring them home from the hospital if you want! Reason enough could be the simple fact that your voice is the most soothing sound to a baby’s ears and being close to you is all they want to do.  After all, your sweet voice is what they listened to for those 40 weeks, right? Bust out those nursery rhymes and lullabies – they don’t judge our vocal abilities (yet).  Whether it be a playful children’s book, an article out of the sports section, or the latest gossip out of your US Weekly, read aloud sometimes – your baby will thank you for it.  Even if its reading a bed time book as they sleep snugly on your chest –  read.  🙂

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Don’t sweat it if they aren’t interested.  At 15 months old sometimes Tayler still doesn’t have interest.  And that’s OK.  Chewing, holding, and using books for just about anything but reading is sometimes part of the deal.  I don’t know if we’ve ever actually finished a full book! Sometimes just getting them to grab at and hold books is the first step. Don’t sweat it, their interests will continue to change.  Just keep exposing them and making it fun! If you want to get some reading in without the constant grabbing, some of my moms suggest sitting with baby and have dad do the reading to the both of you!

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The many language benefits.  Listening skills.  Memory.  Vocabulary.  Speech patterns.  Intonation and inflection.  And the rhythm and rhyme of our language.  Just to name a few! The more we read aloud and expose our kids to words, the richer the network we build in their brain.  While they may not be able to use everything they’re learning yet, there’s certainly a lot going on! As they grow older, there is no shortage of research that demonstrates the profound effect reading and books will have on their later academic success.

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The earliest of skills.  A lot of times we don’t recognize or we forget that some of the earliest skills don’t actually involve what we consider to be reading. Myself included! Things as simple as recognizing books, being able to hold them correctly, learning how to properly turn pages, knowing that we read the words on the page left to right, pointing to the covers, and knowing that a book tells a story or gives us information are all necessary and important skills! So when you see your little one sitting on the floor, holding a book open, and babbling and pointing – pat yourself on the back! You’re doing great!

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Let them lead.  Maybe they just feel like opening and closing.  Maybe they feel like simply listening to the first page over and over.  Or if your little one is like my daughter, maybe they just want books with pictures of animals to point to and see how long you’ll make all the animal noises for.  By letting them lead and using books how they want in the early stages will send the message that books can be and will continue to be a positive part of their day.

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Dont forget about pictures! Sometimes I get anxious to jump right into the words, but paying attention to the pictures is such an important part of developing early readers (probably more so than the words at first!).  You’ll notice many books geared for infants are filled with bright and vivid colors, varied shapes, and patterns.  These are all great for early brain and eye development.  Another infant favorite are books filled pictures of close family and friends.  Who wouldn’t want to see the faces of the people they love and trust most! As they get a little older pictures are critical in building vocabulary, sparking imagination, and learning that books can tell a story.  Pictures are also a great tool for teaching concepts such as colors, counting objects, and recognizing shapes! Once they begin to learn to read they’ll be taught to use pictures in relation to the text, so its never too early to start talking about them now!

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Vary your home library.  Touch and feel books with different textures.  Peek-a-boo books.  Nursery rhymes.  Counting, shapes, and ABC’s.  Picture books of first words.  Favorite characters.  Board books.  Vinyl books.  Cloth books.  Bathtub books.  Non-fiction books about weather, animals, potty training, gaining a new brother or sister, sports, etc.  Poetry.  Award winning illustrators.  Books with repeating patterns. Children’s classics.  The list goes on and on.  Having a varied library can better accommodate changing interests and developmental stages, as well as keeping things fun and interesting for mom and dad!

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Make books accessible.  If we want our children to take a genuine interest books, we need to have them out and available.  Some will get chewed, some will get ripped, and in our house some went swimming in the bath tub.  This part of it always make me cringe, but it’s a part of the process and needs to be accepted as so.  My suggestion is to have a little tub or two available in the common play areas with some books that match their current developmental stage or interest area.  Switch them out every so often to keep it exciting, but keep the beautiful copy of The Giving Tree up on the shelf for mom to get down when appropriate.  Making books accessible sends the message that books aren’t just designated for before bedtime, but can be explored whenever their heart desires.

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Commit to it.  Congratulations! You just received the job of Character Voice Extraordinaire! Rise to the occasion, my friend.  Committing to characters in books, getting silly reading rhymes or songs, and changing your pitch and tone are not only amusing for your blossoming little reader, but its just another way to teach them about how our language works and encourages their social and emotional development.  When your face, tone, and voice show sadness when a character’s dog gets lost, you’re teaching your child about their emotions and the effect certain events can have on humans.

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The Big Picture.  If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed at this point, shake it off.  While all of this information is beneficial to have in regards to reading to our children, there is only one, big important concept to take away and keep in mind.  Reading to our children, especially in these early stages, is all about the relationship we create with books. If anything, make reading books an enjoyable time bonding with mom and dad.  Create a time where you and your child can explore, learn, laugh, and get silly together.  Work hard to show them that books are a source of joy, calm, and a catalyst for quality time resting in mom’s lap. And better yet, be a role model by showing your children that you read too!

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A few ways to build your library:

  • Utilize the public library! Use that library card till its so worn they give you a new one.  Endless books are at your fingertips! Sometimes libraries also run free book programs!
  • Garage sales & Mom to Mom sales.  Gently used books for pennies? Yes please! No one should be above buying books that have already been loved.
  • Your local Goodwill or Salvation Army.  Same idea, different place.  I’ve found some real classics for my classroom library.  You never know what treasures you’ll find!
  • Set up book swaps with other moms.  Change up your library by borrowing someone else’s!
  • Check out Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.  It’s isn’t available yet everywhere, but its worth visiting and finding out.  If its available in your area, expect a free book sent to your home from birth to 5 years of age! (If your address doesn’t work, try grandma’s!).

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(And on a side note, don’t all these pictures demonstrate the fact that it’s mom that is always behind the camera!? 🙂 )

There Will Be Boredom.

If you’ve ever had a little toddler, you can imagine the scene.

We begin our walk on the trail that wraps behind the houses on our quiet little court.  A walk that any functioning adult can make in under five minutes.  At a leisurely pace.  I follow Tayler’s lead, embracing the sunshine on my face and the opportunity to get out of the house on this picturesque spring day.  A walk sounds perfect. Three feet onto the trail, she stops and sits to pick up some pebbles on the edge of a neighbor’s landscaping.  After picking them up and dropping them seventeen times, she’s back on her feet and sprinting.  Ten feet later she veers off the trail into a neighbor’s yard to pet their dog we’ve never met.  I swoop her up.  Back on the trail, and she sits on the pavement.  For no apparent reason. The sit turns into a full lay down.  Eventually back on her feet. Squirrel! Two more feet.  She turns and begins to run back the other way.  After some chasing and redirection, I’m given false hope we might just make it around the court.  Twenty feet later.  Bird! She’s off into a brush I’m convinced contains poison ivy.  Five more feet.  Moss is picked at and rubbed in her fingers. Wispy dandelion seeds are in her mouth.  Fifteen more feet.  Back the other way.  Redirected.  Cat! She found a pile of sticks.  Three more feet, and the sticks turn to weapons annihilating all within a two foot radius. Dropped them, and sprinting. Cars in the street!

Thirty seven minutes later, we make it around the court. Every ounce of my being is spent.

I feel so guilty for not enjoying it more. “So many moms would kill to be home out walking with their children!”.  I know.  And most days I do enjoy our walks.  Most days I’m sitting down with her, poking at moss with sticks right next to her.  Faking insane levels of excitement over the sight of every bird.  And bringing things to her attention to feel the different textures in her surroundings.  Today is not that day.  Today I am mind-numbingly bored.  But surely I don’t tell anyone that, because that would make me a horrible mom, right?

Later that day I’m watching my husband hold my daughter at the kitchen table as she plays with magnets on a cookie sheet.  His efforts at pointing out any letters or numbers out are fruitless.  She’d rather just see how quickly she can mess them all up.  I mean, that is more fun.  He sits there for several minutes, until finally he’s wide eyed and laughing with a look of exasperation smeared on his face.  “Oh my goddd this is so boring!”.  He had no shame in it.  He owned it.  And he had no idea that he had just given me a great gift.  Unknowingly, he let me know it was OK to be bored at times. To not always be “on”.  To not always feign excitement and think every little thing we do together is the most fun we’ve ever had.  He’d been there for just a few minutes, but he was bored, and that was OK.

Now mind you, I’m not complaining. I will take every bit of boredom if it means I get to stay home with her everyday.  And most of the time I think we both do a pretty darn good job of engaging her, being present with her, and genuinely playing at her level.  But MAN, there are just some times when I’m certain time has stood still and I’d rather watch another episode of Sofia the First than stack up the cups one. more. time.

And that’s OK.

I’m not a horrible mom.  I’m an adult.  With a brain. That likes to be exercised.  Sometimes I just like to finish a task in its entirety. And every now and then, by the seventy third time I am told to eat fake cereal off a plastic spoon – I’m spent.  Out of my mind spent.

Thank you, sweet husband, for making it OK to be bored sometimes.  I will tell anyone wholly and emphatically how much I genuinely love being home every day with our sweet girl, and how she’s managed to fill every crevice and nook inside my heart.  But some days, at some times, there will be boredom.  The, “I HAVE to go pretend to use the upstairs bathroom for a long period of time so I can text a friend and play Sudoku or I might DIIIIE right here on the playroom floor” boredom.  And that’s OK.  🙂

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Carrying With a Grateful Heart

When I was little girl I used to dream of being a mom.  I was the girl who played house and always had to play mom so I could fuss over the baby dolls.  I grew up taking great pride in babysitting others’ children, and eventually continued my passion for children by studying elementary education in college.  I’ve always loved children, and always envisioned myself as a mother. It’s just something in my heart and soul.  After 8 years of dating, a year of an engagement, and a year of marriage – I had finally gotten to the point in my life where we were able to make that dream become a reality and welcome children of our own into the world.  It was finally here.  I could finally become a mother.

I still remember that dark fear that used to lurk in the background of this dream of mine.  I somehow felt that because I wanted children so very badly, I wouldn’t be able to carry my own.  That I would never be able to experience a growing belly with a thriving and bumbling baby we created inside me.  I’ve never been one for fears that aren’t based in any sort of fact or evidence, but this was mine.

You can imagine my all-consuming joy and elation when after the first month of trying, we saw two little pink lines.  We were blessed with a healthy baby girl that carried to 40 weeks, and she’s been the light of our family since.  Around her first birthday we were ready start trying again, only to be blessed with two more pink lines one month later.  And here we are today at 19 weeks, plugging along with what has so far been another healthy pregnancy.  You can also imagine how thankful I feel.

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Recently I’ve received several messages from women who have either miscarried or have had considerable troubles trying to conceive a child of their own. One in particular really struck a chord in my heart, and I’ve thought of her frequently.  She shared that she was happy to see I was sharing my current pregnancy in a positive way because it can be hard seeing women complain about their pregnancy when others would kill to be in their shoes.  While I’ve always had a full and grateful heart for what my husband and I have been blessed with thus far, this message helped refocus my perspective and reshape my attitude as I approach the second half of this pregnancy.

While I may not share it publicly, I’ve had my moments of whining and complaining here at home.  At the end of my first pregnancy my friends were checking up on me to see how I was feeling, and I’m pretty sure my response legitimately scared them into waiting another 10 years before having kids.  It was hard to sleep with my arms constantly falling asleep all night and my hips aching.  It was a struggle to walk as my sciatic was fired up most of the day, and my swollen feet and hands were icing on the cake. While it seemed like an eternity then, I barely remember that stage now.  It goes by in a flash, and I was back to myself in no time.  With this pregnancy I find myself too busy with a 15 month old to really find time to complain.  Yes, I’m tired.  You can find me face down somewhere in the house about 20 minutes after Tayler goes to bed at night.  And all the activity is less than ideal for my sciatic that refuses to shut up during pregnancy. But overall, we’re doing just great.

What that message reminded me of and helped clarify, however, was that these inconveniences and aches are in fact a blessing too.  It may not always feel that way, but I’m grateful I’m tired.  It means I get to play hard with my daughter every day, and my body is busy at work growing another precious child.  My sciatic may be challenging and literally a pain in the butt sometimes, but it means my body is readjusting and reshaping to accommodate and make a perfect home for our little one.  I might gain a few extra pounds that I’ll have to work for later, but it means that I nourished and fed our baby so he or she could grow and thrive. I remember several nights Tayler was busy kicking and elbowing, while all I wanted to do was sleep. But I’d be sleepless every night if it meant I’d get to experience that indescribable feeling of a child moving in your belly (and chest cavity, and on your bladder).  It may be exhausting during that last stretch to 40 weeks (or for some, more than 40!), but it means I was blessed with carrying a baby to term and and that was healthy enough to take home from the hospital just a few days later.

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There are far too many women that would do just about anything to be in my shoes.  Far too many women who have tried too many times to count, only to be met with disappointment every month.  Far too many women who have been told that having kids of their own just isn’t in the cards for them. Too many women who have gotten so far and fostered such a deep love for their growing baby, only to be met with a life-crushing blow of loss.  Far too many women who have delivered prematurely, to see their tiny newborn struggle in the hospital for weeks and months.  I can’t imagine the pain. These women are brave. They are strong.  They are courageous. They have my utmost respect and love.

I don’t know what the future holds for our family.  I’m not sure how big it will grow, and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to grow it.  I don’t know.  But for right now, at this moment, I am going to take the aches and pains of pregnancy and try and find the beauty in them.  I am going to remember that every single thing I am going through is a blessing not to be taken for granted. I am going to hold these women in my heart, and be inspired to find joy in every single day that I’m pregnant.  How can I complain when the alternative could be so much worse?

I’m not saying pregnancy is always a breezy walk in the park, as many women can have serious complications during pregnancy and childbirth that are not to be taken lightly.

But today, for me, I promise to carry with a full and grateful heart.  

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Finding Your Momtourage & A Peek At Mine!

Mom-tou-rage [mahm-too-rahzh]

Noun.

1. The group of women that preserves your sanity.  And when they can’t, they offer wine.

2. Your personal group of warriors in yoga pants that are out on the front lines with you.

3. The fellow moms you laugh with, share with, cry with, socialize with, celebrate with, and adore.

4. A sisterhood you can rely on to help you figure out and support you through the insanely challenging and rewarding endeavor that is parenthood.

Origins: a playful take on Marky Mark’s show “Entourage”.  When combined with the word “mom”, it creates the perfect noun to name your mom peeps.

Example: “My Momtourage rolls 55 deep and is composed of strong, brave, smart, compassionate, and supportive women that share a likeness of general badass-ery”.

 

Find your Momtourage.  Whatever your situation as you brave into motherhood and however big of a support system you may have, find your Momtourage.  Whether you get put into a Momtourage, make your own, or seek one out.  Find your Momtourage.

Its been 14.5 months since I gave birth to our beautiful daughter, and I’m currently 18 weeks pregnant with minion #2.  One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned along our journey so far is that motherhood is meant to be shared.  There are too many emotions on the spectrum, too many hardships and speed bumps along the way, and too many lessons to be learned to bare it all yourself.

I was the first of my friends to get pregnant.  I went through my pregnancy and the first two months of motherhood feeling pretty alone and unsure about all the changes that were coming my way.  No amount reading can prepare you for it.  Once I was fed up feeling this way, I started my Momtourage.  I created a Facebook group and began adding first time moms in my social network that I knew were the kind of women I needed to surround myself with.  All of our kids were very close in age, and we were all going through the same things together. Over the course of the past year, our group evolved into my safe place. My haven.  Our group grew to 55 moms until we finally decided to keep it at that number.  Not for the purpose of exclusion (trust me, there are more we could add!), but to preserve this sacred community of trust and kinship we created.  Eventually our group began meeting up for play dates (with and without our children), and out of it I’ve been blessed with not only other moms to lean on, but friendships I’ve grown to cherish.

Our few rules were set from the beginning, and while they are simple, they’ve never been broken.  

There is no room from judgment.  Motherhood is hard enough, and you don’t need others judging the decisions you make that are best for your family along the way.  We all make different decisions, and we all respect and support each other in those decisions.  Bottom line.  No two ways about it.  No exceptions.

There are no stupid concerns or questions.  We all come from different backgrounds, experiences, and knowledge bases.  What may be simple to some, may not be to others.  There are no stupid concerns or questions.  Someone’s always wondering the same thing!

Always remember you have someone to lean on.  Whenever you feel alone, most likely someone else has gone through it too. Be open, share, and at the very least… sometimes its just nice to hear a, “I haven’t experienced this, but I’m here to listen and I’m sending you hugs”.  This one usually applies to all 24 hours in a day, too.  There is always someone up in the middle of the night breastfeeding! 🙂

We’ve shared it all.  

Teething remedies, teething nightmares, nighttime routine ideas, activities for rainy days.

We celebrate birthdays, milestones, new pregnancies, and those mom moments that melt our hearts.

We’ve shared the utter devastation of miscarriages.  Only to find that its an experience many have endured.

Those, “No one else will really get it and I just need to vent!” moments.

Products and places we love and can’t live without.

Parenting philosophies we hope to adopt, and the type of parents we strive to be.

Our biggest mom wins, and our biggest mom fails.

The million, “Is this normal?!”s.

How to communicate and stay a team with our significant others throughout parenthood.

Every week we share pictures of our babes and growing bellies, watching them learn and grow.

We’ve shared it all.

A big part of the mom I am today is because of my Momtourage, and a million thank yous wouldn’t cut it.  Being surrounded by different ways of parenting, different choices, and different experiences has deepened my compassion and empathy and reminded me that this journey is so incredibly unique and individual.  They’ve taught my inner monologue to go from, “I cannot believe that mom is doing that!”, to, “I bet she’s got several reasons for that choice.  Hats off to her for doing her best” (aside from potentially harmful behaviors, of course). They’ve taught me to be open to new ways of thinking and ideas I never before considered. And they’ve calmed my nerves and fears on those days that just go all sorts of wrong. No matter how naturally motherhood comes, you won’t know it all – whether you’re a first time mom or a third time mom. Leaning on others and reaching out isn’t a sign of weakness, it means you care enough to do it well and do it right.  As a teacher, its common knowledge that the best teachers are often the best borrowers of ideas.  They aren’t scared to seek out and incorporate others’ ideas that might make their day and the days of their students a little easier and more effective.  Same goes for motherhood.  Use your Momtourage to learn and find inspiration. Surround yourself, through whatever means, with moms you can lean on.  Send messages.  Reach out. Ask to join a group.  Create your own.  Talk to moms at the playground in your neighborhood.  Talk to moms at your grocery store. Sign up for support groups in your area. Surround yourself.  

Now, I’d be acting a little reckless if I just left my advice to “surround yourself with moms”.  It’d be a little too cavalier to imply that any moms will do.  Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. There are far too many out there that are quick on the trigger to judge and offer the, “well this worked for my child, so it will obviously work for yours” kind of advice (or better yet, the barrage of unsolicited advice). There are too many out there that have “done all the research” and just know that their way is the only right way. So be picky.  Be choosy.  Look for those qualities such as compassion, empathy, dependability, and genuine kindness and care.  Seek out those women that do the best they can for their family while letting you do the same for yours.  Surround yourself with the problem-solvers, the ‘think outside-the-box’ers, and the “I may not fully understand, but I’m still here for you” kind of women.  You’ll be happy you did.  I promise.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be that mom you’re looking to surround yourself with.  Extend the kindness and thoughtfulness you hope to receive from others.  Lend an ear, lend a hand, and lend a shoulder.  Be empathetic, be sympathetic, and remind them that we all have those days.  Build other moms up, and help them find their stride.  Celebrate their successes, and point out and acknowledge their strengths.  Offer your honest experiences and opinions when asked, but remember that not everyone may choose to share them.  And that’s OK.  Let them know they aren’t alone.  Help brainstorm solutions.  Help bring out the best in each other. Share resources.  Share laughs.  Be a source of positivity and understanding to help change the brash mom culture we see all too often.  Even if it’s one mom at a time.

To celebrate the gratitude we have for knowing we have these kinds of women to lean on, my Momtourage was inspired by the “End The Mommy Wars” campaign and put together our own version of their picture project to show our support for not only each other, but for all you wonderful moms out there. There is no one way to be a perfect parent, but a million ways to be a great one.  Meet a few of the women in my Momtourage, their BEAUTIFUL babes and bellies, and enjoy! 🙂 

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Different choices. Different beliefs.  Different children.  Different situations.  The same goal.  To raise happy and healthy children, together through love and support.