Creating a Calm Zone

My son, like most kids I guess, sometimes needs a space to calm down. We live in a small, or so I’ve been told, house and we didn’t have a dedicated quiet space. About a week ago we decided what we needed was a calm zone. A simple, calm, uncluttered space, with quiet toys to be used only in that area.

Finding a space was a bit of a challenge. Our dinning room and living room weren’t going to work, so we were left with finding space in my son’s bedroom. He has a half loft bed, and we thought about utilizing some of the space under it, but it is already used as a play space and is cluttered with toys even at the best of times. Then my husband had a great idea. The closet!

Our house is old enough that my son’s closet is only a half closet, the bottom half  is a wooden box hiding the fact that the space has been used to make head room for the stairs underneath. The good news is, that because of that box, his closet makes a great seat. I loved the idea, and set out to make it work. I had the space cleared out (and a big bag to go in the donations box) in one afternoon.

Then, I bought the supplies to make a seat cushion and a throw pillow. One night I put my sewing machine to good use and pillows! I’m pleased with the results since I’ve never made a seat cushion before, and I wasn’t starting with a straight forward rectangle. I made sure to include a zipper, so the cushion cover can be washed when needed. For the throw pillow I used a simple envelope cover pattern. My son chose the fabrics himself. The elephants are flannel because he liked how soft it was against his face, for the seat cushion I used a home decor fabric.

A simple calm zoneIn a little over a week we had a finished calm zone. The red suitcase is from IKEA, and it holds his calm zone toys. We picked quiet toys, books, a stuffed animal, and a notebook from his current toys. The bolster was a leftover from an old couch. I will probably recover it at some point.

The space is simple, but it works. He has added our battery powered camp lantern and enjoys reading in his calm zone before bed, or drawing in the afternoon if he just needs a break.

Do you have a calm (or chill) zone in your house? Where do you go when you need time to yourself?


Raising a Reader

My kid is at that age where he and his peers are learning to read. Most have moved into basic chapter books, some have moved into full chapter books. My kid is struggling through the books just before basic chapter books. In short he is a bit behind. We’ve put in the time, he has put in the work, but my son still doesn’t enjoy reading. Currently I have him reading the Fly Guy books by Tedd Arnold. The best he can say about them is that he doesn’t hate them. I think he almost likes them, but he wishes he was reading something more like an early chapter book about detectives and super spies. He isn’t ready for those yet. I wish he was, but he isn’t.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about him not liking to read is that we have done all the ‘right’ things. We have done all the things the articles say to do if you want to ‘Raise a Reader’. We’ve always read him stories before bed and during the day. My husband and I read books both on our electronic devices and in paper copies. We keep magazines and books by our bed and at the end of his. My couch always has a small pile of books, and the dinning room table usually has to have a book or two removed before we can sit to eat. My kid can’t go to sleep without a bedtime story. He will even make up his own stories if someone else is willing to write them down for him.

We did all the ‘right’ things, but my kid isn’t a reader. He is an “I’ll only read if I absolutely can’t get out of it and you make me read” kind of reader. When other parents brag about ‘raising a reader’ I get a little jealous. They probably didn’t do anything more than I did. In many cases they have done much less! I’ve realized though that the problem isn’t that I did something wrong, it’s that I’m looking at it wrong. I can’t force my kid to love reading. I did all the right things, and while he isn’t a reader he is a lover of books, stories, and knowledge. Maybe it was the article title that was wrong. It shouldn’t be ‘How to raise a reader’, but ‘How to encourage your child to love books’.

My kid loves books. He will sit and listen to us read to him for longer than I am up to reading out loud. He thrives on new facts and knowledge from non-fiction books and magazines. He will retell the story of our latest spy novel over the dinner table. He looks through Dwell magazine and points out the things he likes and the things he doesn’t. We have given him a love of books and learning, and I’ve finally realized that is even more important than a love of reading.

Do you have any young readers in your life? What books did they enjoy when they weren’t quite ready for early chapter readers?

Teaching my Reluctant Reader

Popsicle stick word gameMy son is a reluctant reader. I actually feel like this term isn’t quite right. He is more like a “violently against anything that remotely resembles reading, ESPECIALLY if it has to be done out loud” reader. On a bad day I can spend 2.5 hours getting him to do ten minutes of reading. (these days we are down to 15 minutes of complaining before 15 minutes of work)

His reluctance for reading is particularly hard since we are a family of readers, and we did all the ‘right’ things. My husband and I read both electronic and paper books. We are both big fans of (over) researching new hobbies and skills both online and in library books. When my son was little we went to the library weekly (now it is every two weeks). We have always read him stories before bed. We read to him in the middle of the day when he has had too much TV, but we need to have a calm break. We have succeeded in giving him a love of books … as long as someone else is reading them to him.

Last summer I put in a lot of time teaching my son to read. He made great progress, but he was still behind. Over the course of the school year he made slow gains, but he never caught up. He is still about half a grade level behind. So we are back at our reading lessons this summer.

This year we are focusing on fluency more than getting to a higher reading level. So we are working on sight words, letter recognition, and of course just plain old reading practice. Here are a few things that are making our reading work a little less onerous this year:

  1. Fiddlesticks – He actually LIKES playing this game. We use about 35 words at a time from the dolch list and four red tipped sticks. We usually play for between 2-5 minutes. I write the words on with a black coloured pencil not a marker.
  2. Fly Guy books by Tedd Arnold – These are slightly below my sons reading level. They are perfect for fluency practice and read alone practice. Plus he doesn’t hate them (this is HIGH praise for a book he can read himself).
  3. The Alphabet – we have been practicing his printing (when we can since his dominant hand is currently in a sling). Before we start we always sing the alphabet while looking at our alphabet chart. I think part of his struggle to read is a lack of confidence about the alphabet.
  4. b d mouth formation – my son has a really hard time with b and d. He is fine with p now, and doesn’t struggle with n and m, but b d has been a real struggle. Teaching him about the mouth formation has not completely solved the problem, but when he is willing to use the trick he hasn’t gotten it wrong.

What early readers did/do your kids like? Do you have any other word games that might be a big hit?

Teaching my Son to Read

This summer I set out to teach my son to read. My goal is to have him enter grade 2 with a mid grade 1 reading level. The hope is that he will be caught up by the end of grade 2. I never thought I would have to take on teaching my kid to read. With struggles at school, and a switch from French to English, I find myself as the lead teaching him this important life skill. Don’t get me wrong, I knew I would have to help. But there is a big difference between reading books sent home from school, and designing and maintaining a program to get him reading.

During his last month of school, we started prepping for summer and increasing his work time each day. He and I agreed we would spend twenty minutes five-six days a week doing reading work (spelling, writing, reading, etc), plus he is expected to read one book each evening. We aim to read each book 2-4 times depending on how much practice is needed. He can’t read a book more than 4 times or he reverts to memorization not reading.

We are using the PM Readers because they are used by the school system here, and I can get them out of the library. This means they are easy to access and I know what level they expect him to be at for the end of primary, grade 1, and grade 2. He started in the middle of June at an early primary level. He is now 5 levels higher and about a quarter of the way through grade 1. He has been working hard and I’m thrilled with his progress.

Things I love about these books:

  • The levels have nice small gradation in difficulty.
  • Each book gives a list of important words at the start. I use these to help focus our other spelling and writing work.
  • The books are decently interesting considering the limited words available.
  • The same characters appear again and again. It’s fun to follow Josh through his different adventures.

Some of the games we play to help memorize words:

  • Word searches (I use this tool to make them)
  • A leapfrog game where we use chalk to draw a grid with letters and he hops between letters to spell words.
  • The Dice Game. We set 3 or 6 words and each time the dice is rolled he has to write out the word we set to that number. First one to 6 wins!
  • Sight Word BINGO. This is a big favourite right now.
  • I give him the letter tiles for three words and he has to spell the words using all the tiles.
  • Rewriting a word 2-4 times.

For each game he reads the word, does the activity, and says the word again. I tend to focus on 3-5 words per day (9 in the case of bingo, but I make sure half are ones he knows well). We also cover words multiple times. Overall we have managed to keep his interest in reading, and he has made significant progress. It helps that he already had a good grasp of phonics from all the work we have done previously.

I didn’t expected to be the one teaching my son to read. It has been a lot of work, but it is also very rewarding. A few days ago he read a book to my husband, and my husband couldn’t get over the progress he has made in just the last week.

Have you ever taught someone to read? Do you have any favourite game to learn to spell new words?

What I’m Reading

Most of my reading lately has been either for, or to, my son. I’ve been reading him a lot of early reader Star Wars books, early chapter books, and listening to him read books with titles like “Harry and the Robot”. I love listening to him read and I enjoy reading to him, but even more I’ve been missing reading books to and for myself.

Last night I managed to break away for a few minutes at the library to find myself a few books. I didn’t bother trying to find recommendations, or even look for my favourite authors. I didn’t have time for that! But I did have time to glance through the shelves looking for any sci fi or fantasy titles covers that caught my attention.

Before I went to sleep last night I started reading “Mortal Engines” by Philip Reeve. It’s basic premise is that the we have destroyed the world and the people left are living in large steampunk style moving cities and towns. I’m only a few chapters in, but enjoying it so far. Hopefully it will kick off my reading for the rest of summer.

What are you reading these days?

Jump-starting my Writing

I haven’t been writing much … or at all really. I haven’t been reading much … or at all really either. I have a lot of (good) reasons for not reading and writing. Things were busy and stressful at work and at home, I was sick, I’m just not motivated, and I don’t have time. Some of those excuses have improved, and some I just need to learn to live around.

Since setting a schedule to write hasn’t been working so well, I called in reinforcements. I have a writing afternoon planned with friends later this month. I also sent out a call for a writing get together before that one. I know from experience that once I start writing again that carrying on writing gets easier. Having a few friends around to word war with or talk out ideas and stumbling blocks will get my fingers flying across the keyboard.

As for the reading thing, well I have some books on hold at the library and I’m just waiting for them to show up.

Have you been writing lately? Have any books you’ve loved lately?

The Books that Shaped Me

I wasn’t a reader as a kid. In fact I really struggled learning to read. I hated it because it was hard. It didn’t help that I was behind due to being in another province for several months of my primary year. I spent years being the kid who had to work with the resource teacher a few times a week.

It wasn’t until early university that I discovered a love of reading for fun. I’m very sure it wasn’t a matter of not being exposed to books before that. My father, in particular, was a lover of books. He read fiction, non-fiction, magazines, books, and newspapers. It wasn’t lack of exposure. I watched my Dad read regularly, I knew my Mom read before bed, and I was taken to the library frequently. My parents read to me before bed, and at other times.

I started reading a little bit in Jr. High and High School of my own free will. In Jr. High I started reading all the Nancy Drew books in my school library, but that had more to do with it being something to do that made me look busy over lunch than anything else. In high school I decided to read my way through all the books my parents and others had bought me over the years that I hadn’t been interested in. Books like the entire Narnia series, A few Hardy Boys, The Zucchini Warriors, and Twin Spell. I know there were others, but those are the ones that stand out for me.

The two books that really made me a reader though were Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, and Bitten By Kelley Armstrong. Harry Potter was fun, fast, and light. Bitten was adult urban fantasy. Both made me want to read MORE. It also didn’t hurt that I start dating my husband in early University and he reads at least a hundred books a year. He also loved to introduce me to new authors and genres. Without him, Harry Potter, and Bitten I might not be a reader at all.

Do you read for fun? What first made you want to read all the time?

Why did I Read that Book?

Over the last few weeks I have been re-watching Alias. When I hit the second season and many of my favourite Vaughn and Sydney moments I remembered an old Roswell fic I’d loved with a small crossover into Alias. I couldn’t get it out of my head, so for the last two days I’ve been rereading the fic. It got me thinking about why I read what I read.

Why I read new to me books
Most new books I read because I love the author, they were recommended by a friend, or I’m curious about the source material for a movie or TV show. Sometimes I find a review online through goodreads or amazon, but for the most part I prefer recommendations from people I know in real life.

Why I reread old favourites
I don’t reread a lot of books. Partially I think this is because there is only so much time and there are so many good books to read. It also boils down to if I am going to reread a book I have to really love it.

Very occasionally I will reread a book because the final book in a series is coming out and I want to review everything that happened. A perfect example of this is the year the final Harry Potter came out. I spent almost a month before it was released rereading the entire series. More often than not I will find a summary of the previous books online to refresh my memory before diving into the newest installment.

When I bought my first ebook reader I remember wanting the first book I read on it to be something I loved. I reread “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen because it is a deceptively complex classic love story. I love how after you’ve read it the first time you can see how precisely she sets up the different plot points in advance.

When my father died, a few years ago, I struggled to get back to reading. I pulled out some of my old favourites and skimmed through them only reading the ‘good’ bits. Books like “The Last Dragonlord” by Joanne Bertin, and even the first Rowell book by Melinda Metz. I also binge watched several seasons of “How I met your Mother” including the episode where Marshall’s father dies.

Sometimes I will reread books because something reminds me of them, like the Roswell fic I’m rereading because of the Alias crossover. When this season of Bitten, the TV show is over I will likely go back and reread the book by Kelley Armstrong to get the story straight in my head again. I sometimes pull out Harry Potter because I want something fast, easy, and satisfying. I have books I rely on when I’m sad, and books I rely on when I can’t sleep.

How do you decide what books to read? Do you ever reread books? What makes you pick up a book for a second time?

Book Recs – The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

Book: The Rithmatist
By: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: YA

What it’s about: The main character, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatist’s are this worlds magic users. They use chalk to draw lines and creatures which can protect and attack other people by moving along floors, walls, and ceilings. Joel lives on the campus of the prestigious Armedius Academy where he watches as other students who have passed the test learn to become Rithmatists.

Why I read it, and why you should too: I had heard of Brandon Sanderson before, but I had never read anything by him. I think it was mostly a case of I read a lot of YA and he usually writes adult books. My husband is a big fan of his and recommended this book to me after he finished it. Since my husband is usually right when he says I will love a book I gave it a shot.

I loved this book! The magic system (I know, I know Brandon Sanderson writes amazing magic systems, but this was my first book by him) was interesting and a lot of fun. I enjoyed the characters and their development. The story also wrapped up well, but left me with plenty of questions for the next book in the set.

After reading this book I also started going through the Write about Dragons lectures. I have learned so much from watching those videos and I am still only about halfway through them. I can’t wait to see what else I learn as they continue forward.

Book Recs – Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Book: Leviathan
By: Scott Westerfeld
Genre: Steampunk
Audience: YA

What it’s about: Prince Aleksander is on the run from his own countrymen. He crosses paths with Deryn Sharp (a commoner) who disguises herself as a boy in the British Air Service. This book is the first in a trilogy that covers this pairs round the world adventures.

Why I read it, and why you should too: I read this book because I was desperate for something to read and it was sitting in my study. I had read and loved The Midnighters series by Scott Westerfeld many years ago. It made sense to give this title a go.

It took me a little while to get into this book. Once I got over that initial bump though I was on the hunt for the second and third books so I wouldn’t have to pause between them. The action is fairly constant without a lot of repetition. The differences in technology for the two sides of the war (the British and the Germans) are interesting and well thought out.

Perhaps my favourite part of all the books was the mini history lessons at the end. The author talks about the ways he has changed the world for this series beyond the obvious machine and animal technologies he has invented. Once you get into this book you won’t stop until you have read the entire trilogy.

Have you read Leviathan? Did you read it all in one sitting or over a few days?