Reading

Summer Learning

As schools have made the transition to virtual schooling, many parents have told me how overwhelmed they’ve felt. You may be feeling the same way. Whereas your child had previously been responsible for following directions and bringing homework home to complete, they are now responsible for maintaining a schedule, checking for their assignments, completing the work (often on their own), submitting assignments, participating in online classes, and troubleshooting tech issues. At school, children are told when to sit, stand, do work, play, talk to each other, etc. Everything is dictated for them. No wonder families are feeling stressed! I do believe that students would have adjusted better to this new level of independence had it been given in smaller doses; a gradual release of responsibility. But, I have seen great progress in some of the students I work with in taking ownership and accountability for their new responsibilities.

I’ve also talked to many parents who’ve felt their children have been less stressed by school since being home. There is no longer someone constantly watching their every move. They don’t have to ask permission to use the bathroom. The pressures of competition, socially and academically, are no longer there. Family time is not just the few hours after school arguing over homework and eating a meal. 

But this model is not necessarily sustainable. Parents have to work and children require guidance. That’s not to say they need to be told what to do every second of the day, but learning new skills begs encouragement and support from an experienced mentor. It’s yet to be seen how parents will choose to move forward with their children’s education. But one thing is certain, ongoing learning is a must. Schooling and learning are two separate things. Learning can happen anywhere, while schooling happens within the confines of a teacher-lead structure in a designated space. I am hopeful that this summer will provide children with the opportunity to explore. Scheduled activities and socializing will be at a minimum. What a wonderful time to dive deep into your passions and interests! In the same way a routine can benefit children by giving them a sense of structure, harmony, and responsibility, discovery and exploration are equally important in promoting growth, thoughtfulness, and enthusiasm for life and all it has to offer. 

This summer will be a chance for your child to go outside and do some adventuring. There is so much to learn in nature. Falling in love with stories and pouring over books is the perfect activity for a lazy summer day. Math may not be the first thing that comes to mind, but there are loads of examples of math in nature and plenty of fun games to play to practice math skills. As a working parent, you may not have the time and space to support your child in these endeavors. Hiring a professional may be a good option for you. Even meeting once a week can work wonders for your child’s learning progress. Project-based learning is a great way to build new skills in a hands-on, relevant way. Either way, as I said before, guidance from an experienced mentor will be the key to helping your child grow. If you are able to be that mentor, I encourage you! Helping another person learn is very rewarding, as any parent knows. Check out the resources below that will help you in your journey!

Infographics

Kids Discover offers a range of “infographics”. These beautiful images complete with detailed explanations cover topics from history to biology and everything in between! They are a great jumping off point for deeper exploration into an area. When you click on the link, the site may ask if you want to start a free 30 day trial, and if you click “maybe later” you should be taken to the infographics page. Below is an example of what they offer.

Skillshare

Skillshare is a very popular website amongst my middle school and high school students. You can take a workshop on almost anything and a professional will instruct you on the best methods and strategies. You can start a 30 day free trial and there’s plenty to learn! 

Examples of some of the most recent topics are:

Learn Embroidery: Painting with Thread

iPhone Photography: How To Take Photos On Your iPhone

Make Your Voice Heard: Writing For Impact

Real Productivity: How To Build Habits That Last

This Reading Mama

You may recall this website from previous posts, but it is truly great. If you have an early elementary reader, or struggling reader, this website is for you. Becky Spence not only provides fabulous resources, games, and activities, but she explains how to use them and why they are helpful. Many of the printables are free and if you sign up for the newsletter you will be notified when various free resources are available for download. From letter formation, to phonics, to reading fluency, this site has it all! 

I hope you find these resources helpful. If you are looking for support for your child, please reach out to me to learn more about how I can help. I work with struggling learners, but also learners who are just looking for some guidance and support as they go along. I can also help your child stay organized and put a plan in place that is easy for you as a parent to follow.

May 27th, 2020|

Teaching At Home

As an educator, I subscribe to a lot of teacher sites and blogs. Over the past week, my inbox has steadily been filling up with email after email directed at parents who are now staying home. These emails are typically offering to instruct parents how to teach. While that is helpful for some, that content may not be realistic for all parents, and may even be overwhelming. A lot of parents are working from home, dealing with the transition to their new setup, and do not have time to learn how to become teachers. But here’s where parents have a leg up: every parent is their child’s first teacher. Any parent can do the basics, and going back to basics is not a bad thing. Children need review and continued practice to maintain skills. Below you’ll find my three tips for homeschool success.

Have a Routine

With the days stretching on and each hour blending into the next, it is so easy to get off track with a routine. But children crave routine (even though they may not realize it, or vocally crave it the way they do snacks). It gives them structure and also a sense of responsibility. That’s not to say you can’t have days of spontaneous fun or unstructured time. But to get the best results from at home learning, you should set up a daily routine and STICK TO IT! If your child knows they can get out of their 30 minute reading time at 10 am, your routine will fall apart. You should have designated time set aside for academics each day. Be sure to factor breaks in between subjects and don’t ask your child to sit and work for more than 45 minutes at a time. Keeping a schedule each day will help your child know what to expect and provide predictability and structure during a time when circumstances feel like they’re anything but. Other aspects of a daily schedule you may consider are time for house chores and going outside for some fresh air. Getting outside is just as important as academics. It is beneficial for your mental and physical health. If you don’t live in an area where you can easily access the outdoors, you may want to drive to a state forest or hiking area. It’s a great reset and your family will feel refreshed. 

Keep it simple

The basics of learning are important to review. These include mental math facts like numbers that add to make ten, doubles facts, and multiplication/division facts. They also include sight words and reading fluency for young readers. And don’t forget the basics of writing, such as paragraph form and checking your work. These are all fairly simple to teach and can be done with games too!

If your child is a more advanced student or in the upper grades, they probably have assignments from school. But reading, writing, and math can be done at home without internet access. Summarizing an article, writing an opinion or persuasive essay, or doing a mini research project on a topic of choice does not require anything but paper, a pencil, and some books. If your child has a sense of humor, ask them to write a 5 paragraph persuasive essay (intro and conclusion included) on something completely ridiculous like why they should be allowed to have a pet porcupine. They could also write up a broadcast on something completely made up and record it. Get creative and have fun! 

Make it fun

Practicing basic facts does not have to be boring! There are so many resources online and games for the basics that I mentioned above, but even if you don’t have internet access, there are so many simple games you can put together at home. 

  1. Go Fish
  2. The Memory Game

For both of these games, you can use the same set of cards. For sight word practice, write each sight word on two index cards. For math facts, have one index card with the math fact, such as 6×5, and the matching card with the answer, 30. 

  1. Bingo

Your child should create the bingo cards for the players. The bingo cards will feature the math fact answer, or the sight word. They can also make the calling cards. The calling cards will also be sight words, or for math, they will be the math fact. This activity in and of itself is good practice. 

  1. Black Jack (without the gambling)

This is a super fun game for mental math. My students love it! You have to get to the number 21 (or any number you choose) without going over. Your child will have to add mentally and not use counting up or their fingers! 

Reading Fluency

For reading fluency, you can find free reader’s theater scripts online or if you have a children’s book of plays at home, you can use that. These are so fun and help build fluency because you have to read the same lines over and over. You can practice reading in silly, different voices and reading with expression. You can switch parts too. Get the whole family involved! It’s even more fun once your child develops fluency with their part. They can then find household props and act it out. Record it to play back and have a laugh!

Writing

The first thing that comes to mind for most people is journaling, but for some kids, that’s not very fun or they don’t know what to write about. After all, there’s not much to say about your day inside the house. You and your child can answer a “would you rather” question and write three reasons for your choice. Then compare! You can assign your child a writing prompt a day. You can also use story starters if your child likes to do creative writing. For example, give your child an index card that reads, “As I was walking through the woods on a bright, crisp morning, I suddenly stumbled. When I looked down to see what had caught my foot, I saw a brass handle attached to what looked like a small square door…” They’ll be so excited to tell their version of the story! You can set a timer and write for 20 minutes. Then check in. Your child might be ready to write for longer!

I hope these tips are helpful, but if you are not able to sit and work with your child, which is completely understandable, I offer virtual tutoring that’s structured to fit your child’s needs. Contact me to learn more about how I can support you child.

March 19th, 2020|

I “Literally” Don’t Get It

Words are not always used with the literal meaning intended. Strong readers are able to understand the figurative meaning that often eludes readers who struggle with comprehension. In fact, you can have a large vocabulary, strong decoding/word attack skills, and good fluency, yet still misunderstand an author’s meaning.

The dictionary definition of a word is know as the “denotation”. I teach my students to remember that both start with the letter ‘d’. But that is only a piece of the puzzle to understanding the deeper meaning a word can possess, depending on how it is used and the context. The “connotation” tells us a word’s intended or suggested meaning based on the ideas and feelings it evokes. For example, the adjective “young” literally means: having lived or existed for only a short time. However, depending on how the word is used, “young” can have positive or negative connotations. “Young” could be used to show inexperience, immaturity, weakness, or unpreparedness. But “young” could also be used to show liveliness, energy, fresh beauty, or newness. This is a little bit trickier, especially for children who are very literal in their thinking.

The connotation of a word is just as important as the denotation in unlocking the meaning of a text. Particularly as students move from lower elementary into the upper elementary grades, texts feature more of this kind of abstract word usage and it can be challenging for many students as they learn to “read between the lines”. This can be especially difficult for students on the autism spectrum who tend to be very literal in their thinking. Below are some resources and strategies to help your child or student navigate these comprehension conundrums.

Start Small

I like to introduce the concept of denotation and connotation to my students and explain what it is. Often times, students are aware that words can mean more than just what the dictionary says, but they’re not sure how to crack the code. I start with a simple word that’s easy, such as “hot”. I then ask the student what the word means. After that, we generate negative and positive ideas about the word. For example, your child might explain that when it’s very hot outside, it’s sweaty and difficult to do work. Or they might point out that a hot cocoa is really tasty and special on a cold day. Practicing with single words like this is an easy and fun stepping stone to understanding a word’s meaning in a sentence or paragraph. This FREE Teachers Pay Teachers resource is one of my favorites. It has coloring and fun activities.

Positive and Negative

Similar to the activity linked above, giving your child two words and asking them which has the more negative connotation is helpful. For example, “debate” or “argument”, “pushy” or “assertive”. Super Teachers has some great practice sheets for this skill and can be found here.

Choose the Right Word

Two words can share the same dictionary meaning, but one may be more appropriate or fitting depending on the sentence. Give your child a sentence with two choices of similar words and ask them to pick the one that sounds right (be sure to pick words your child knows the dictionary definitions of). Ask your child to explain why they made their choice. For example: The father (smiled, smirked) tenderly at his newborn baby. The word “smiled” is more fitting here because is connotes happiness and joy whereas “smirked” is often used as a term for mockery or smiling when you’re not supposed to. This resource is a great tool, especially for upper elementary and middle school students. There are activities to choose the more suitable word as well as come up with negative and positive connotations for words.

Reading

Reading out loud is important for fluency and practicing decoding, but it is also important for comprehension. During your child’s 10-15 minute daily read aloud time, sit with them and listen as they read. If you notice a word that has been used to connote a certain idea or feeling, pause and draw your child’s attention to that. Ask them to explain what they think the word means in that sentence. If your child is struggling, you can go back to basics and talk about the positive and negative ideas surrounding the word. Ask your child which ideas and feelings the author was trying to convey to the reader. Putting the skills into practice by reading real text is the most effective way to solidify the skill.

December 11th, 2019|

Tips for Reluctant Writers

  1. Make a List

For some writers, starting with sentences is too overwhelming. Making a list of words associated with a topic may be an easier place to start. Begin with a basic writing prompt such as, “What should someone pack for a day at the beach?” or anything you know your child/student has solid knowledge of. Then, support your learner with making a list of items that are related to a day at the beach. For example: towel, swimsuit, sunscreen, sunglasses, hat. From there, you can move on to a new topic and continue practice with list making, or if your learner feels ready, choose an item on the list and see if they can generate a sentence about that item. Give them a target too, such as asking, “Why is it important to bring this to the beach?” Then your student can answer that as a sentence: “It’s important to bring sunscreen to the beach so you don’t get a sunburn.” Here are a few websites that offer more information on using lists as a writing tool and have some great prompts: Smekens Education Solutions & Write Shop.

2. Sentence Starters

Sentence starters are short phrases that a writer can use to begin their sentences. Knowing how to start is sometimes the biggest hurdle for reluctant writers. They may have a great idea, but don’t know how to turn it into a sentence. Phrases like, “one difference is” or “similarly” are great sentence starters for comparing and contrasting two things. For sequencing events, some good phrases include: “to begin with”, “the next step”, “finally”. Owlcation is a useful resource for expository writing. If your learner wants to write a story and doesn’t know how to get started, Donna Young has some wonderful starters that get the creative juices flowing!

3. Free Write

Last, but not least, is the classic free write. Free writing is when your child/student sits down to write whatever they want. I like to offer writing prompts and giving them a set time. For more advanced writers, I will challenge them to never let their pencil stop. If they don’t know what to write, they can just write a word or their name over and over again until the next thought comes. The idea is to not think too hard about what you are writing and just let it flow. I love Daily Teaching Tools’ list of writing prompts.

October 3rd, 2019|

Pictures Support Comprehension

Pictures can help children engage with reading and writing in ways that support comprehension and creativity. As an adult, you may not realize how much you rely on pictures, images, and visualizations to help you understand the world around you. When you read a news article, there’s usually an image to accompany it. When you run through your mental to-do list, you may imagine yourself doing those tasks. Road signs, advertisements, and some of our favorite apps rely on pictures to help us understand. Teaching young learners to visualize is more than just a fun activity that should be reserved for Kindergarten and art class and has its place in elementary grades as well.

When good educators teach reading, they teach children to make a picture in their minds. But this skill is not just a stepping stone to successful reading, but rather a necessary component. Even adults use this method while they read. When a good reader is engaging with a text, they often describe their experience as a movie playing in their mind. Have you ever read a book and then seen the movie version and thought, that’s not how I imagined the characters? That’s because while you read, you were making mental pictures. You imagined those characters in a unique way that fit your reading experience. You probably also had a vision of what the setting looked like, too. Some students struggle with this more than others. This often manifests as reading comprehension challenges. If you cannot imagine what is happening in a book, it’s very hard to understand the story. You can’t see the setting, you can’t see the characters, and so you are just reading words. Some students may depend on books with pictures or graphic novels for longer than others as they mature through their reading development. If you believe your child is having reading comprehension issues, seeking out a professional is advised. There are helpful programs available as well, such as Nanci Bell’s Visualizing and Verbalizing.

Incorporating pictures also works well for developing writers. Of course we want children to become strong writers and be able to convey their meaning in detail through words so that the reader can imagine what they are describing. But to accomplish this skill, children can use drawing as a helpful tool. Has your child ever complained that they don’t know what to write or where to start? Begin with a picture. Drawing a picture allows your child to put the scene or image they see in their mind onto paper so that it is concrete. When they begin to write, they don’t have to come up with the words as they are trying to see a picture in their mind, because they’ve already put it on paper. They can use their picture as a reference. If your child is still struggling to self-start or gets stuck, ask them questions about specific parts of the picture they’ve created. Once they can verbally explain to you what is going on, direct them to put what they’ve said into writing. If your child is new to using pictures to guide their writing, prompt them and help them along by asking follow-up questions about the picture. Once they become successful with verbalizing and then writing, you can guide them to do what you have modeled on their own. Encourage your child to use the five senses to add details and use lots of strong adjectives! Your child will be excited about her newfound ability to write! 

Below are some examples of how I incorporate pictures into the work I do with my students. One of my soon-to-be 5th graders was struggling to understand word problems in math. Creating a character with details about her life allowed this student to visualize and then see the word problems.

    

Another soon-to-be 5th grader wrote an opinion essay about caring for the earth. The pictures she created helped her understand the problems she was reading about in her research articles and acted as a springboard for her writing.

       

August 8th, 2019|

Student Writing: Max vs. Trash

This summer, I worked with a small group of homeschool kids in a weekly writing class. We explored fiction writing including story elements and the hero’s journey. The goal was to develop a protagonist and antagonist, outline a story line including setting, characters, plot, and problem and resolution. The students then learned about the “hero’s journey”, a narrative that dominates most fiction, and structured their tale around that format. Each student chose one part of their story to stretch out using sensory details to make it more interesting. The writers were of all different abilities and had varying experience with fiction writing. Each student was immensely proud of his story! The following is written by Mason.

Max vs. Trash

by Mason

Max’s dog Rufus wakes up before Max and looks outside. At first it’s looking really nice. Then he blinks and he sees trash. He gets really mad. He wakes up Max. Max looks outside and he gets mad too. When Max wakes up, he sees his dog Rufus, trash, toy cars, trucks, and his lamp and table. He smells trash, dead fish, and hot dogs. He picks up his bedside water and takes a sip. He hears cars honking, footsteps, and sirens. He is touching his bed, dog, and his FLAME THROWER and he feels really frightened and determined. He uses that Flame Thrower to burn all the trash. It does not work that well and he got burned a little bit. He sees his old enemy Trash-O-Lanch launching trash. Max tries to light him on fire but he got launched. Max asks Rufus and his friend Hulk to throw most of the trash into a volcano then it erupts and all goes back. Max starts to recycle and it stops it a little bit so Max builds a giant recycled robot named RUMAX. He sees Garbodor, an evil piece of trash, and they fight. Max WINS. After that he sees his friend DOGGON at the dog park and they see Trash-O-Lanch but he is a cat. It is KAT, Doggon’s arch enemy.

July 25th, 2019|

Three Strategies For Completing Summer Assignments

When I was in middle school, I was assigned a summer reading list, from which I had to choose a few books, and a summer math packet. First of all, I did not like reading (not until Harry Potter). Secondly, I hated math. School was not easy for me. My ADHD had a way of manifesting itself in ways that didn’t help my academic success or my social life. I was often distracted during instruction time, missing directions and important content. Then I would rush to get my work done, leaving obvious mistakes. I also was distracted during social situations and often missed important social cues. Not to mention, I went to a strict Catholic school where perfect behavior was the expectation (I usually failed). You can imagine by the time summer rolled around, I was thoroughly exhausted. I wanted nothing more than to get outside and run around in the sun and play in the waves. I wanted to give my brain a rest. I did not want to take my medication and I certainly did not want to do school work. NO THANK YOU! But I was probably the child who needed it most. I specifically remember the summer before 5th grade when we had a math packet that was perfectly planned so that if we did a little each day, we would be done before the start of the school year. My parents left that task up to me and so I pretended to do it and then ultimately had to face completing the entire thing in the last week of summer. It was a very tear-filled week. I also would pretend to read, only for my parents to find I couldn’t for the life of me tell them what I’d supposedly read about (I’m a terrible liar). For some children, like myself, being organized and responsible doesn’t come easy. But as a parent, you can help make the challenge much easier!

I understand summer work can be hard. That is why I offer fun mental math fluency lessons and classes as well as reading and writing support. However, between summer camp and work schedules and finding time to relax with family, this may not be an option for everyone. If tutoring is not an option for you, there are a few simple strategies to help your kiddo minimize the frustration of summer work. 

Establish a routine.

Avoidance is the biggest issue with summer work. Kids just want to enjoy summer and have a break from school. Pretty soon that first week of summer turns into a month and nothing has been done to get started on the work. At that point, since your child is not used to doing school work, the idea of getting back into it is even more daunting. They may have already regressed and forgotten some of the content in the math packet. Not only that, but there is less time to do it. The best thing you can do is help your child establish a consistent routine. It’s perfectly fine to take a couple days of the week off from work, but doing the work consistently and incrementally is much better than waiting until the last minute. Figure out how much there is to do and divide it up by the number of days your child has to work on it. I advise keeping weekends work-free. You may also have a family vacation planned. Factor that in as “no work” time. And lastly, don’t make excuses! If you’ve got a fun day trip to the city planned and you’re starting first thing in the morning, know that, and make sure you plan time for work or pack it in the car. 

Timing is everything!

Most kids do their best work first thing in the morning when they are fresh. Make your child’s summer work part of the morning routine. It’s tempting to just let it all go in the summer, but inevitably, the work just piles up. Unfortunately, if there is work assigned by your child’s teacher, it will have to be done at some point and it’s better to form a habit than to do it haphazardly. If you do it in the morning, then your child has the rest of the day to be free without the work looming ahead. Not to mention, after a full day of sun and play, your child will not be at their sharpest and will likely be too tired.  Choosing a time and space when your child is least likely to argue about work or when there will be few interruptions is best. Set up a weekday routine. It might be: wake up, tidy your work space, eat breakfast, do 10 minutes of math, take a 2 minute break, do 10 minutes of reading.

Support your child.

If your child feels like the only one who has to do work, they may end up feeling resentful and be more likely to create distractions and excuses. While your child works, choose to do an activity that helps you take care of your responsibilities while also remaining available if your child needs help. Working on a project, fixing something, folding laundry, doing food prep, weeding the garden, and cleaning are all great tasks to choose from. An alternative is doing your own reading. You are modeling the activity you want your child to do and they can see that it is important. Showing your child that everyone has responsibilities makes them feel like they’re not on their own. 

For some children with learning disabilities, summer work is especially challenging. The content may be at grade level, but above your child’s ability. If your child needs remedial support, it is best to use summer time getting help. Struggling through a math packet or book that is beyond your child’s ability is stressful and not a good use of time that could be well-spent building foundation skills. If your child has a learning disability, contact me to set up a consultation.

July 9th, 2019|

Two Easy Summer Learning Activities Every Child Should Do

For most children, summertime is a break from school. Other children learn year-round and beat learning regression by homeschooling or doing summer tutoring. The rigors of a typical school year can leave children feeling worn out and desperate for some much needed time off to run and play and be outside. However, for struggling and even average learners, taking a complete break from education can be detrimental to their overall progress and can widen the gap between low and high achievers. This isn’t to say your child needs to be doing 6 hours of schooling every day throughout the summer. But a little can go a long way if applied properly. If you are not able to enroll your child in weekly tutoring, here are two things you can do for just 15-20 minutes a day to help your child diminish learning regression and keep their minds sharp.

  1. Reading OUT LOUD

-Oral reading fluency (how quickly and accurately you read) is contingent upon reading out loud. If you read in your head, it’s easy to skip words you don’t know, misread words, and you have no auditory feedback. You also have no sense of your reading pace. Not only should your child read out loud for 15-20 minutes a day, but it’s important to do repeated readings. Reading the same thing over a few times a week is what builds and maintains reading fluency. Have a kiddo who hates speaking in front of the class or giving presentations? Reading out loud builds confidence. Check out my blog post on becoming a better reader for more information.

  1. Mental math

-Mental math fluency needs to be maintained in order to stay strong. The old saying “if you don’t use it, you lose it” rings true. Students who practice mental math daily spend less time on math problems in general and have a higher percentage of correct answers. Practicing “make 10 facts” (numbers that add up to make ten) can be transferred to multi-digit addition and subtraction such as 67+3=70 or 70-3=67. Students can practice multiplication facts and division facts for increased speed. See my blog post on building mental math fluency for more information about mental math fluency.

June 5th, 2019|

Oaxaca

I’ve just returned from an absolutely magical month away in Oaxaca, Mexico. Strangely enough, I don’t feel the typical depression that many folks feel when they return home from a long vacation, especially when home is a windy, snowy/rainy tundra (I’m minorly exaggerating; I live in the Northeast). Maybe it’s because I have such amazing friends and family here, or maybe it’s because I love my job. It’s definitely not because I love snow.

I went to Mexico for a few reasons other than just wanting a vacation. I detailed my reasons in the blog post I wrote before I left. For one, I did learn Spanish. I’m not fluent, but my restaurant Spanish is pretty solid, and I can at least sort of joke around (mostly in a self-deprecating way regarding my poor Spanish). Having had zero Spanish before I left other than what Duolingo provided me, I feel like I made progress.

I did step out of my comfort zone. Living in Oaxaca was very different from my usual day to day. I spent two weeks on the coast in a hippie beach town called Mazunte. Then I spent four days in the absolutely stunning mountains of San Jose before moving on to the city of Oaxaca. The cultures of the places I spent time in are very different from the culture of western Massachusetts, and really the Northeast in general. I had to learn to do things a little differently. For one, I constantly needed to call upon my patience. Things are just done more slowly. Restaurant service was painfully slow, but once you become accustomed, you just plan ahead. It’s not uncommon for your server to completely forget to bring a drink or some other item you’ve asked for. I also learned very quickly that the check is not brought to you unless you ask for it (that first time was a long wait). It’s not just service that takes longer. In Oaxaca, many of the beautiful things that I experienced were created by hand. Food is made from scratch, textiles are woven by hand, ceramics are made by generations of women working under one roof carefully adding the right amount of water to the clay they had just dug out of the ground, and care is put into these things. Yes, they take time. But the finished product is something to marvel at.

 

I also had to dig deep and find an inner calmness that I didn’t know was there. It can be very challenging trying to travel from place to place, order food when you have food sensitivities, fulfill basic needs, and get medical care when you aren’t fluent in a language. This was all definitely out of my comfort zone. I had to trust in my ability to convey that I cannot eat a certain kind of food, only to find out that’s exactly what I’d been served. I was sick on more than one occasion. At one point, due to a communication blunder, we had to stop a bus driver and get off the bus because we realized that once we left town, we would be 3 hours from the nearest ATM and we had no cash. We certainly dodged a bullet there, although the driver was less than pleased! I also didn’t have drinking water at my fingertips. I had to go out and buy it and remember to make sure I had stocked up before the end of the night for drinking and brushing my teeth. We had to be so vigilant about bug spray and making sure the mosquito netting was closed over our bed at night for fear of being eaten alive or worse, contracting Dengue Fever, a mosquito-borne illness (which my boyfriend ended up getting by the way). All of these things required me to be alert, plan ahead, and remain calm. But I managed to travel safely and enjoy myself, just like so many other travelers do every day. I met so many people who were doing the same thing, and some for even longer. I met people who had been traveling South and Central America for three months already and this was their day to day. It encouraged me to look at these mishaps as just part of traveling and learning.

   

I can say for sure that I had an adventure. To me adventuring means there’s a large part of your trip that is left unplanned. The only thing we knew is that we would be on the coast, in the mountains, and in the city for some amount of time. The details were yet to be seen. During our time on the coast, we met up with a friend from Massachusetts who lives in Oaxaca nine months of the year. The remaining three months she is a chef on Martha’s Vineyard. So as you might have guessed, we had some pretty amazing food endeavors with her! She was super helpful in pointing us in the right direction for not-to-be-missed experiences, one of which was a boat tour where we got to see turtles and dolphins as well as snorkel in a cove. Because of that simple connection with the tour guide who also owns a local restaurant in San Agustinillo, Restaurante Alejandra, we were one of the first people called when the turtles were coming ashore to lay their eggs, a once-a-year event. We showed up to the secluded beach to see thousands of turtles coming ashore and bobbing in the waves. These were the kinds of escapades that characterized our entire trip. We would meet someone who was really interesting, and they would tip us off to the next amazing experience we never expected to have.

   

Our adventure unfolded in this way, leading us to a beautiful mountain top yoga retreat three hours into the San Jose Mountains where all the food served was grown right there and the layers of purple misty mountains lead me down trails that were clinging to the sides of cliffs.  

     

From there we caught a ride with a New Yorker heading eastward into Oaxaca City to seek medical care for my boyfriend Josh who contracted Dengue Fever. Once in the city and after getting the help we needed, Josh rested up while I set off exploring. An artist from Mexico City I met at our hostel pointed me towards Mercado 20 de Noviembre, lush and full of smells, sounds, and sights I’ve never encountered. It offered the most beautiful textiles I’ve ever seen, fresh food, and more.

    

The colonial architecture of the city was equally interesting. We saw Zapotec, Mixteca, and Aztec ruins that had been overtaken by conquistadors lusting after gold and land. It was not uncommon for the conquistadors to steal gold from these indigenous cities as well as stones to build their churches atop temples and indigenous architecture. I saw a church plopped right on top of an Aztec “pyramid”.

    

I had the opportunity to visit some villages surrounding the city and watch ceramics being made by hand. The women who graciously welcomed us into their compound showed us how they mold the clay. One woman was digging lines into the pottery with a special stone her mother had given her which had been passed down over generations. One of the ceramicists offered to take us to her home down the road and introduce us to her parents and sister who were sitting outside and sifting corn. It was very humbling. We visited Hierve el Agua, a natural calcium buildup that lead to the formation of beautiful mineral water pools on the side of a mountain as well as one of the two petrified waterfalls in the world. The views were stunning and the town we drove through to get there is a self-governing town, given permission to run themselves from the government of Mexico. They build and repair their own roads, have businesses, and make decisions as a community. The natural tourist attraction that is Hierve el Agua allows the town to profit and use the money to build their community.

   

I even went to a lucha libre wrestling match where the main event was Japan vs. Mexico. Don’t be fooled. This wasn’t a major show in a stadium of any sort. It was a wrestling ring thrown together in an abandoned lot in a neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. It was awesome. The costumes and masks were a sight on their own. There were tiny men flipping and throwing gigantic opponents across the ring and even into the crowd. There were female wrestlers, which I hadn’t expected, and three men who came in from Japan to be a part of this event. The trash talking was plentiful, as were the laughs.

   

Throughout all of this, I ate very well. The food in Oaxaca is delicious. I went to so many restaurants and street vendors, tasting my way around the city. One of my favorite classic Oaxacan dishes is Alambres, a fry up of ham, onions, peppers, and another meat of your choice, served with fresh, warm tortillas. The moles I tasted were thick, warmly spiced, and intensely flavorful. I brought some back home to make on my own! Then there was the market food. You could walk into the market, choose your cut(s) of meat, and they would grill it up right there and serve it with your choice of sides. 

       

I took so much away from this trip and I know I’ve grown personally. I feel so much more appreciative of every moment of each day and am teaching myself to focus on the present, instead of planning everything ahead, or thinking about what I’m doing for the weekend while there’s a beautiful day I could be experiencing right now. I feel so grateful for the life I have that includes family, friends, clean water, shelter, food at the ready, and the opportunity to earn money to support myself, all the while doing something I love. There are some things I learned about the Oaxacan people that are important to share. I never once felt in danger, uncomfortable, or in fear for my safety. I am a pretty safe traveler, but regardless, I never met anyone who made me feel this way. Most people were incredibly gracious and willing to help. The people of Oaxaca are humble, but proud. They are quick to joke and in general are easy to talk to, even if your Spanish is as cringe-worthy as mine. They are hardworking. There were women who would walk up and down the beach all day long selling homemade tamales, dressed head to toe in 85 degree weather, sweating. I would go to a restaurant early for breakfast and see the same server at the restaurant I would go to for a late dinner. All of the vendors, business owners, and servers whom I encountered were honest about money. If I didn’t understand the price, they wouldn’t take advantage of that. Instead they would punch the numbers on a calculator and show it to me. I never received incorrect change, and the prices didn’t change on items from day to day. I’ve heard stories of this happening to tourists in foreign countries, but that was not my experience in Oaxaca.

   

There are a lot of places on my list that I would love to visit. Many people asked me why I wasn’t traveling all around Mexico and into Central America with a month at my disposal. I felt it was important to stay in one general area and really get the feel of the place. I wanted to get to know the culture. I’m really glad I did this. For me, there’s no rush. I hope to do a similar trip next winter to a Spanish speaking country and sharpen my Spanish skills, meet some interesting people, make some new friends, and have another adventure. Until then, I’ll be adventuring here in Massachusetts!

February 28th, 2019|

What Is Guided Reading?

“Guided reading” is a phrase you may be familiar with. Maybe you have heard your child’s teacher use it. Maybe your child has even told you about her “guided reading” group at school. It may sound like some fancy way to read, but it’s actually quite simple. Not only is it pretty straight forward, but it’s something that parents can do at home with their children. Most parents I work with read with their children every night. Sometimes the parent does the reading, sometimes the child, or a combination of both. Guided reading is just taking this one step further and encouraging your child to engage with the text to gain deeper meaning. This may be something you are already doing when you read with your child and don’t realize that there is a special “teacher” word for it.

Guided reading for a first grader could mean you are simply drawing your child’s attention to how pictures help us understand the text we are reading, or that when we can’t figure a word out, maybe that picture can provide some clues. For your second grader, you might be encouraging her to share what she thinks is going to happen next in the book, or make a prediction. Perhaps with your third grader, you are asking him to think about what kind of person the main character is. Are they a brave person? Maybe this character is very intelligent. These are all parts of guided reading.

Talking about the text and stopping to share predictions, questions, feelings, and connections are all very important. Some children figure out how to do this on their own, but others need it to be modeled. Engaging with your child in this way helps to deepen her understanding, or comprehension, and become a better reader. Another helpful strategy is to simply ask your child to recount what happened in the story once your reading time is done. This helps with memory, comprehension, and can even alert you if the text may not be appropriate for your child’s reading ability.

Below is a picture of a thinkmark. This is a great tool I have my young readers use while they read. It serves as a bookmark but also as a way to guide their reading. You can even use the items on the thinkmark as verbal cues and you don’t have to write at all.

November 7th, 2018|