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I turned on the TV at 2 in the morning to discover the infamous commercial that I have been asked about: “Your Baby Can Read”, a revolutionary new product that guarantees children of all ages will be able to read through some phenomenal brain/eye stimulation process.  I thought it certainly looks amazing, so I began to do some research.

What did I discover…what I already knew.  You can teach association to children of all ages.  Pavlov did the same thing with a dog…remember from Psych 101?  Pavlov teaches a dog that when it hears the bell, it gets food.  Eventually, after only a few sessions, the dog begins to salivate at just the ding of a bell.  This is called, in fancy child development language, association.  So, with this program, a baby sees the word, sees the object or action and associates this set of letters with the object or action.  Is that reading?  Not hardly.  That is merely a teaching tool that relies on the child’s memory to produce results.

I taught 4th grade for about 4 years at the beginning of my teaching life and I used to see this all the time – children who new the words when I asked, but when I asked a question about the story itself or what might happen next, the children gave me blank looks.  They knew the words, understood that this combination of letters equals this object/action, but they missed the concept.  There was no comprehension or ability to make meaning of the written print.  Most of these children were taught the words by flash cards alone.

So what is reading and how can my little one read?  Reading begins with foundational communication.

An infant begins to learn communication on the day of his birth.  He cries and is comforted.  He learns right away that his actions, even instinctual result in an action.

When an infant first learns language, they are actually building on their understanding of this basic communication.  He hears the parent say “cat” and sees this fur ball that meows.  He says “cat” (or at least his variation of the word) and the parent produces this same fur ball.  He begins to learn that these two things go together.  He also learns that when he says “cat”, he, in return, receives the cat.  Eventually he will use the word to communicate what he wants.

Yet, a child with little exposure to the world will think anything furry is a cat if this is his first experience.  Why is that?  Because he associates what he has heard with what he was shown and since his experience is limited, a cat to him looks like anything furry.  It is the child’s experience that leads to the understanding that there are categories, like animals, a group of things that look the same, but are fundamentally different in nature.

So, how do we get to reading from there?  Well, reading is communication.  It is the relaying of ideas through written word and sometimes pictures that leads others to understand the world from someone’s perspective.  It is more than just matching a picture with an index card.

I see it everyday.  I have this book…I read it every night and have done so since my son was 2.  It is Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss.  Normally, I wouldn’t suggest a parent read a Dr. Seuss book to a two year old.  They are LONG and attention spans are short and Nathan has been fascinated by books his whole life and so I encouraged that and started to read it.  That was 18 months ago.  Today, I can tell you the story without the book and I inwardly groan when he discovers it buried behind his toy chest (my feeble attempt to move on from it!).

Recently, Nathan has taken to “reading” on his own.  He turns the pages and tells the story, almost verbatim!  And, God forbid, I try to skip a page.  He will again recite word for word what I missed.  So, is he reading?  Absolutely!  He is not recognizing the printed words, but he comprehends that a tale is being woven through an intricate mixture of words and pictures.  He makes up things about what the characters are doing at really weird times (he is associating this character with some other event in his life) and he even asks questions about the things that happen in the book.   That’s the key to true reading…building an understanding that the author is relating a message and that the message is meant to incite other ideas.

When we think that reading means knowing all your letters and matching a picture or an object to print, we devalue the human reason for needing to write in the first place.  How do we communicate with others?  We text, we email, some author books.  Reading is about the fiber of communication…someone has something to say…they want to share with others their thoughts, their ideas, and their worldview.

Teaching a child to read starts with teaching a child to know that the story is more than just words.  Eventually, my son will learn the words, too.  I mean, already, when I read a title and point out each word….he can go back and point to the word that I ask for.  But that’s not what will truly help him gain knowledge.
No, true reading doesn’t start with memorizing words and regurgitating facts.  Reading is about connecting with another person’s perception of the world and indulging that ideas are born from our interaction with others.

So…your little one can read!  Just read to them and continually encourage their ability to think about what others have written.  Ask them questions about their reading and encourage them to ask questions as well.

Who knows, maybe you are growing the next Dr. Seuss.

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One of our parents forwarded me a link to a blog entry titled, “What a 4 Year Old Should Know?” by Alicia Bayer.  (Click on title to read the blog.)

My favorite line is the following: “That the single biggest predictor of high academic achievement and high ACT scores is reading to children. “

Years ago I started a small campaign in a small community geared toward reading to children.  It was in 1999 and I called it R2K (yes, a knock-off to the Y2K bug hype).  The R2K stood for Read to Kids.  I tried to shared statistics about the cons of television versus the pros of reading to children.  Since you probably have never heard of it, you can infer how successful my initiative was!

I hope you enjoy the blog as much as I and the parent who sent it to me did.

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My son, Oliver, hasn’t even started at the Grove School yet, but I’d count myself among the school’s biggest fans. For anyone who knew me a few weeks ago and heard me talk about how wonderful our current preschool is, this would come as a huge surprise. And we still believe it’s a great place … there are just a few things that bug me that I’ve set aside/ignored/forgotten about, and they’ve recently pushed their way back to the surface and forced me to deal with them.

Let me start at the beginning. When Oliver was born, my husband, Josh, and I both underwent somewhat of a transformation, recognizing the importance of organic, natural products in general, and food in particular. We felt strongly that it was important to our bodies and the planet that we make the best decisions possible when it came to our food purchases. Oliver was so little and … untainted. We wanted to give him the best, healthiest possible start. So, I made all of his baby food from only fresh, organic fruits and veggies, and I bought plain organic yogurt and generally became a little bit crunchy. We started a garden so we could have even fresher, very local vegetables. We switched to cleaning pretty much everything in our house with some combination of water, vinegar and baking soda. I made my own laundry detergent and started shampooing with a combination of baking soda and apple cider vinegar. I obsessed for WEEKS over which sunscreen to buy for him to take to school so as not to poison him with chemicals. Really, every decision about what to eat or put on him was weighed very carefully.

Then, Oliver got older. I got lazier. We got less militant about all of that stuff. He seemed less … breakable. And, importantly, he started eating school food. It bugged me that the school’s food wasn’t up to my standards, but I didn’t really think there was anything I could do about it. I knew we weren’t allowed to bring our own food, and I really liked the school otherwise. I didn’t really think I had a choice, so I just shoved my concerns to the back of my mind. I suppressed a cringe when they served him Fruit Loops full of sugar and artificial colors topped with milk full of antibiotics and hormones. (I just looked online, and did you know that SUGAR is the first ingredient in a box of Froot Loops? Also, did you know they spell it Froot Loops? I mean, they probably shouldn’t legally be allowed to use the word “fruit,” but still.) I knew I’d never buy him that stuff myself, but I tried to “lighten up” about it.

And lighten up I did. Gradually, I stopped buying organic food, trying to “maximize” our rather small grocery budget. We started eating … well, crappy quality food. But it was cheap! We lightened up on other things too, like composting and even the type of diapers we used. We generally fell back into complacency. We cruised along like that for a while, then, on my way to work one day, I noticed that there was a new sign outside a daycare that was only a few steps from our house — the Grove School. I wondered to myself if it was another daycare or if it was a small private school or what. When I got home, I looked it up online — and I was immediately fascinated by and excited about their three-pronged philosophy — healthy body, healthy mind, healthy planet. It seemed like such a cool place for kids.

But, I brushed it aside – surely a place like that was far too expensive for our budget, and even if we could afford it, surely everyone there would be stuck up and perfect and would be off-putting to those of us still trying to figure out our eco-comfort zone, if you will. Or, they would be so focused on environmental awareness and preaching the organic gospel that they wouldn’t provide a well-rounded education. I didn’t really think about it for weeks.

Then I happened to mention it to a friend and co-worker of mine (who’s also a mom) as a possible advertising contact for one of the magazines we work for. She checked it out and then mentioned it again later. Her son attends the same preschool Oliver does right now, and we commiserated about the tater tot casserole and cheese danishes that they’re served on a regular basis. The canned fruit and the processed snacks that “balance out” their meals — totally typical school food, but totally not what I wanted him to be eating. And so I decided to contact the Grove School, just to see.

They invited me to bring Oliver by for a tour, and we went last week. We were both completely blown away, not only by the “eco-friendly” component, but also by the incredible educators, commitment to technology and clearly exceptional learning environment they had created. Even though I may have gone in mainly interested in the organic snacks and ability to bring his own lunch, I came away completely sold on the quality of education and FUN provided there. We were only there for about 30 minutes, but I haven’t stopped telling everyone about what an incredible place it is, unlike any preschool I’ve ever seen, and Oliver has been talking about it almost nonstop too.

So, long story still incredibly long, Oliver starts in the three-year-old room at the Grove School on June 21. He’s been telling everyone about his new school, and while I’m sad to be leaving all of the great people at our current preschool, I feel like this is a really good move for us and for Oliver. He’s getting ready to move up to the three-year-old room at his current preschool anyway, so it’s good timing for us to switch. And I haven’t even begun to talk about the one-on-one attention that he’ll get at the new school or the technology — they have a SmartBoard and two touch-screen computers in his room. Plus, the teachers are clearly lifelong educators, people who really seem to have a passion for education.

Of course, transitions are tough. Oliver is excited about his new school, but I don’t think he quite understands why he’s not going there yet, and I know he doesn’t really understand that his friends won’t be there, although he has mentioned that he’s excited to make new friends. He’s been having a LOT of trouble with drop-offs at daycare this week and with Josh leaving for work in the mornings, and I can only assume that has something to do with his confusion about what’s going on with his preschool situation. So, I think it’s going to be a tough month of transition for him, but I also think that when all is said and done, he will (and we will) be very happy with the new school. Now we just have to make it to June 21.

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I can remember being so disappointed by rainy days as a child.  I loved being outside so much that when it rained, I was devastated.  The worst of all was when a scheduled baseball game was cancelled due to the rain.  I would look forward to the game all day long only to have it cancelled by that dang-blasted rain!

I actually enjoy the rain now.  In fact, Sunday I spent some time in the rain…at the pool of all places.

One of our parents sent me these two pictures that were taken after school.  She loves photography and took advantage of our soggy weather to make two nice images.  Of course, she obviously had some willing model participants in her sons!  I can only imagine how much they loved

splashing around in the water…without getting in trouble!  What a nice mom!  Where was she when I was growing up!  (Just kidding of course.  I love my mom.) (I had to add the last disclaimer just in case my mom reads this blog entry!)

Thanks to our parent for sharing these photos with us!

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In Latin, the prefix ‘trans’ literally means ‘across’, ‘beyond’, or ‘on the other side.’   As a medievalist, I’m honor-bound to start this posting off with a bit of Latin.

My four-year old twins, Tyler and Henry, started the Grove School about three weeks ago.  My children had been through transitions before and had always come through with flying colors.  After having a nanny for the first two years of their lives, they transitioned to full-time school relatively quickly after being carefully introduced to the culture – as one would lower a bagged fish into an aquarium slowly before releasing it.   At the end of two years in this school, Tyler and Henry were perfectly at home in a room teeming with children and didn’t even blink much of an eye when a favorite teacher moved on to another location.  Although I regretted the teacher’s departure, my husband and I had sought to bring up resilient children and it seemed as if we’d accomplish our goal.

The Grove School had not even opened in Cary, NC, when we decided that we were going to move the children there.  Our four-year old twins were in danger of getting lost in the classroom of 16 students where they received little personal attention and learning seemed divorced from the real world.  Although the twins loved their school (once I left the room, at least), I didn’t think that we would have any trouble leaving it.  In fact, I planned to immediately blog about their success to both herald the Grove School’s charms and my own exceptional decision-making.

It didn’t happen like that.

What I had forgotten was that four-year olds are very different from younger children.  My kids loved the Grove School’s structure, not having to fight for a tricycle, and the experience of creating pet rocks after getting a pet fish for the classroom.  However, I soon realized that I was in a very different place from my children.  On the ride home after their third day, Tyler asked when his friend Sarish was coming to his new school.  Henry said that he wanted Tom Conroy.  When I told them that these boys were staying at the old school, both twins fell silent.  “Don’t you like your new school?” I said.

Both boys nodded.

Tyler said, “All my friends are gone, mommy.”

I tried telling them that they would make new friends, that we would see the old friends, and that everything would be just fine.   My words were true, but they just felt hollow.

Among so many other things, I am used to being the historian.  I take the photos and record the things that the boys might not remember later.  Our transition to the Grove School made me realize that, for the first time, I was not the sole keeper of the past.  Tyler and Henry had their own memories and had already put down roots with people who I only knew by name.  The twins had gone to school for forty hours a week for two years and, quite simply, missed those special little boys who had shared that time with them.

I know that my boys will make important friends at the Grove School; however, these friends will not appear overnight.  It will take time for my boys to find people with whom they resonate and to form a foundation of shared experiences.  In the meantime, I have arranged two weekend playdates – one with Jack and one with Carson.

Tyler and Henry will enjoy this, just as much as they will enjoy running into the Grove School Monday morning to tell Ms. Sue all about it.

And I will remember to keep in mind that my babies are growing up

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It is great to have friends that aren’t afraid to speak the truth in love! One year ago, my two girlfriends sat me down and surprised me with an “Augie” intervention. As a mother of three, a student in early childhood studies, and an in-home childcare giver, I think I had begun to feel immune to any problems my “sweet little boy,” Augie, might be causing.

One would think that after I found blueberries all over his bedroom carpet and toothpaste in my hairbrush, that I might have been clued in to the fact that he needed an outlet. However it took a couple embarrassing incidents of him “using the potty” in the front yard in front of the neighbors to help me see that maybe he did need some other activities!

The real problem was that I was not willing to trust anyone else in his care. I knew that he was acting out, but wasn’t ready to give him up! That was when my good friends hit me with the hard truth, “Oh, so you’re not staying home for his sake… you’re staying at home for yourself.” Ouch!

Well, much to my sweet satisfaction, the search for a preschool has ended in a commendable school for Augie and an amazing job for me at the Grove School. My fears of Augie being unloved or misunderstood have been laid to rest as I have been witness to great love for him from his teachers and his new “best buddies” at school. In one month, he has learned to write his name, count to twenty without saying “thirteen, fifteen, fifteen,” and he actually participates in art! He rolls around on the eco-turf hills and is constantly hugging on his friends at school.

His little mind is busy all day and he gets quality time outdoors. This has ended our blueberry and toothpaste episodes! We have been so pleased to have the chance to soar with the Grove School. I am pretty sure the neighbors are pleased too!

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I used to watch Sesame Street as a child. I loved that show. I loved the muppets. I loved the humans. I loved the animations of letters and numbers. And I loved the songs. One of my favorites was “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” Bob would sing the song.

Hearing this song today made me thing about the families that are coming to The Grove School of Cary. We have a pediatrician, a dermatologist, an HVAC installer, a work-at-home mom, 2 moms that are educators, a wireless technologies specialist, a mental health field worker, a nurse, an HR specialist, an artist, a pastor and a pathologist. These are just of few of the many people in our “Grove Neighborhood.”

As we continue the admissions process, it is so interesting to see that our school community is a reflection of our greater community. It is going to be exciting to watch how our parents interact with one another and with the community at large. Many of our parents have already volunteered to work on our advisory board or to provide service and advice to our school community. This is exactly one of the outcomes we were hoping for when we developed The Grove School.

Who’s next?

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1. I know that the staff at the school–from the Head of School to the Education Manager to the teachers–will all be of a caliber that is unparalleled in the preschool industry. Not only will they be exemplary at teaching kids, but they’ll have such a unique culture. We’re going for staff that aren’t just great at teaching, but are forward thinkers as well.

2. I’m attracted to the overall emphasis on health. I know that The Grove Schools will be clean, healthy places.

I honestly can’t wait for a school near me so I can enroll my daughter!!!

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