Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Review -- Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices on Netflix

REVIEW -- Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices on Netflix

As I write this, Marley Dias is 15 years old. When she was 10, she launched a book drive called #1000BlackGirlBooks in order to collect and donate books featuring Black girls as the protagonists. Her campaign aimed to raise 1,000 books, but it became hugely successful and garnered international attention and support, raising well over 12,000 at last count. She has continued to be an activist for literacy and racial justice, particularly promoting diversity and justice through literature. She's also written a book of her own: Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You! 

Marley Dias Gets It Done -- And So Can You!
Now, Marley the host of a sweet new series on Netflix called "Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices." If you grew up watching "Reading Rainbow" featuring host LeVar Burton, I suspect you'll like this series! 

While "Bookmarks" is focused on children's books by Black authors and about Black characters, I think it has something to offer for all children. The stories all speak to experiences common among children that, although portrayed through Black voices and characters, most likely will apply to non-Black children too. As a white woman, I saw and heard experiences in these books that were absolutely relevant to my childhood -- concerns about belonging, experiences with my hair and appearance, feelings of worry and hope and joy, and much more. 

Each episode features one book read by the author or by a celebrity, and each is short -- just right for children who might not have long attention spans. The episodes also end with the readers asking questions and speaking directly to viewers. A few of the readers also share stories from their own lives and ask questions during their readings.

While the series is focused on books with Black characters and written by Black authors, several of the books address children of other races and diverse experiences. In particular, I am thinking of The Day You Begin written and read by Jacqueline Woodson. Woodson's book covers having a different name, different skin, different food, and much more. Woodson also talks, after reading the book, about why the illustrations include rulers throughout the story (you'll have to watch the episode to find out what the rulers mean!).

As a child, I would have loved to draw while watching and listening to a show like this. 

I hope that you will watch the series with your children and take some time at the end of every episode to answer and discuss the questions posed by the readers. If you are homeschooling, you could also use the questions as prompts for writing assignments or art projects -- it would be fun to answer some of the questions by doing a drawing or painting, even for younger kids.

All of the books and the questions the readers ask at the end of the episodes are about celebrating and loving oneself and those around us, despite our uniqueness and differences. 

You can learn more about the show HERE, and if you have Netflix, you can watch the show HERE.

We're linking the books below as well, just in case you want to order any of them BEFORE watching the show -- that way you and your kids could read along with each episode! So far, there are 13 books across 12 episodes. 

I Love My Hair by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley
I Am Enough by Grace Byers

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong'o

ABCs for Girls Like Me by Melanie Goolsby

 Pretty Brown Face by Andrea and Brian Pinkney

 Brown Boy Joy by Thomishia Booker

 Firebird by Misty Copeland 

 Let's Talk About Race by Julius Lester

 The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

 I Am Perfectly Designed by Karamo Brown

 Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi

  We March by Shane Evans

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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Moms Who Read: How to get back into reading after a slump

Moms Who Read: How to get back into reading after a slump

A version of this is cross-posted at my reading blog, Caffeinated While Reading. 

I've heard from many friends, acquaintances, and even complete strangers that the global pandemic, social injustice sparking protests and riots across the country, concerns about school at home AND working from home, and many more concerns have caused them to feel lost, confused, unfocused, and generally unable to engage with their usual interests and habits.

And, I'm right there with all of you.

For a few months, I struggled to keep reading and engaging in my other interests and hobbies -- of which, reading is my favorite -- and the further I got from those things, the worse I felt about myself and life in general. 

I spent hours and hours scrolling on my phone, watching television without paying attention, picking up and setting down books and hobbies, and just not enjoying anything. I am already predisposed to depression and I felt like I was slipping pretty quickly into a massive depressive episode. Without making some changes quickly, I knew it was going to just get worse and worse.

So, I decided to be proactive and set up some rules around my needs, interests, and the way I was living life in order to create new habits and re-ignite old ones. I'm still struggling on some days and sometimes during moments of pretty good days, but I feel like the changes I've made have helped me to not sink too far down, and I've reinvigorated my reading habit.

While they aren't perfect and life isn't happy rainbows and unicorns every day, these three tips have helped me to ramp up my reading again -- I hope they'll help you too. 

1. Read first thing in the morning

Like making your bed, going for a run, or any other good habit, if you read first thing in the morning, you'll be able to tick it off your list of accomplishments for the day. And, if you love reading as much as I do, it will start your day on a positive note. 

I've been finding that if I start my day with 20 minutes of reading -- my personal minimum amount of time -- then I usually come back to reading later in the day. And, because I love reading so much, I don't mind getting up earlier just to read.

2. Have a designated reading spot

I don't just read anywhere in my home. Instead, I consciously cultivated a corner as my reading nook. Is it special and fancy with grand bookcases and luscious furnishings? Nope. Not at all. But, it is comfortable with a stack of books at the side of my reading chair and ottoman, a few blankets, and a table for a cup of coffee or glass of water, and it has great natural light during the day with a lamp for darker days or the evening. I don't do much else sitting there. That spot is reserved just for reading. And, because it's cozy, I love to sit there, so I read a lot by cultivating a special, comfortable reading experience. 

Chances are, you can get your kids reading more too if you just make it a given for everyone in the house that in order to use this comfy space, they need to be engaged with a book.

3. Read something easy or familiar

My TBR (to be read) pile is quite large with some pretty heavy reading material -- I like complex topics, but also what my mom once called "depressing" genres. Right now, I just can't handle that type of material when the world feels darker, heavier, and more depressing than at any other time in my life.

I've given myself a break and instead picked up lighter and easier books. I've been reading some chick lit, young adult, and humor. I've also been reading some very short books and children's books, as well as re-reading books I love and am already overly familiar with. 

A friend and I planned to read Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and to have a virtual dinner date to discuss the book, but I found it so heavy and sad (it's about the effects of slavery through several generations and from Africa to the US) that I had to put it down. By following the three habits above, I've managed to go back to the book in small chunks, interspersed with some of my favorite chick lit novels.

It's OK to put in some focused work at renewing your reading habit. It's OK to set up a comfy spot that you use just for reading. It's OK to read books that you normally wouldn't pick up simply because the genre or reading level is easy. 

Drop a comment and let us know what tips and tricks you've used to get back into reading or other habits and hobbies that have gone by the wayside due to the state of the world.
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Monday, August 31, 2020

31 Days of Back to School Prep Tips and Ideas

31 Days of Back to School Prep Tips and Ideas
We hope summer treated your family well, despite how crazy the world is and has been. We've compiled (almost -- we missed a couple due 31 tips and suggestions for back to school prep and hope they serve you well! We initially shared these on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, and now we're wrapping up August by compiling all of our tips and ideas in this post.

Biggest take away?

Be kind to yourself. Mistakes happen. Oversights occur. Life gets busy and important things get missed, but most of the time they aren't that important if they were missed. And, hug your kids.

Oops....that's not day 7, that's day 8!
As noted, sometimes mistakes happen!
 Forgive yourself if you sometimes need a break or things don't always go to plan!
Your kids will be OK, even if you aren't always perfect!

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Teaching Tips: How to Survive Distance Teaching

Teaching Tips: How to Survive Distance Teaching
Whew! We made it through distance learning this past spring, and then we sailed right into summer break.
Now we're staring down the road at distance learning for the fall, and for most of us there is no end in sight. There's no summer break in just a few weeks to look forward to and no date when we can be certain we can return to our classrooms and teaching normally.
At the moment, it feels like we're pretty much doing this indefinitely.
I did what every other teacher in America did in the spring:  I came home, got busy trying to put together resources for my students, cried, recorded videos, met with my class and individual students on Zoom, and I did my best with the resources I had available to me.
Like many teachers, I'm getting ready to start distance teaching again in just a few short days, and thus I've been reflecting on what went well last time and what I really struggled with.
Teacher friends, here are some of my takeaways that may help you going into the fall:
1. It's OK to say, "I don't know."
I really tried hard to hold it together and be the strong leader for my families last year. Luckily, I have a strong community as it is, but I really made sure to be honest when I didn't know something. We were all navigating this new system together, and I think it helped parents to know I didn't have it all figured out either. Plus, being that honest builds trust.
2. Ask for help when you need it.
As my husband can attest, I am not tech savvy. Like at all. I avoid using technology unless it is absolutely necessary. Distance Learning was my worst nightmare. I called in my troops and utilized my resources. I had a few parents that were very tech savvy and also very willing to help me. It was also a great way for them to contribute and utilize their strengths during this weird and crazy time. As a teacher, if you need help, ask others -- other teachers, parents of your students, friends, and so on.
3. Call on your teacher tribe.
My team was a life saver. We divided and conquered, shared resources, provided a shoulder, and just helped keep each other afloat during this crazy time. I also collaborated with teachers in other grade levels and we tag teamed on resources as well. I soaked up every tip and trick I could get from my colleagues!
4. Give yourself some grace.
This one I really struggled with. I had my own kids at home, like many working parents, and had to juggle my own teaching with their studies. Yes, I was teaching my own students while having to help my own kids with their classes. I really couldn't find a good balance between the two during the entire distance learning time. Do what you can, but realize that you cannot truly replicate online a traditional classroom that was never meant to be online. There are many online teachers who do an amazing job at this. But, they were already online teachers working in environments that were designed for online instruction, and they have it dialed in.
Classroom teachers that teach in physical, brick and mortar schools and never planned nor trained to teach online do not. Do not compare yourself to professional online teachers.
Your google classroom will work even if it doesn't have a fancy Bitmoji set-up (I love them, but they are purely an extra and not at all necessary). You don't need to have a fancy, high tech, decked out virtual classroom that makes everyone go "Ohhhhh, ahhhh!" You're going to do just fine once you take the pressure off and just stay true to yourself and do what you can with what you have!
5. Keep it simple.
Kids (especially young ones) cannot sit on the computer all day. The beautiful, elaborate lessons you can produce in the classroom are going to need to be adjusted for the virtual world. Quick, simple, and to the point lessons work best.
Teach a quick and simple lesson, give some structure and context, and then your students can complete a follow up activity either online or offline. They can come back later to submit their work. I made myself available for questions, but I really tried to keep the assignments at a manageable and age appropriate level -- for my class, that's first, second, and third grade students.
6. Partner with the parents.
I know that as teachers we want to do it all and have a hard time handing teaching over to others. It's so hard -- I get it! The fact is, parents are our other half right now. We need them as much as they need us. It's OK if they showed their child a different way to accomplish a task or gave you feedback on the level of work their child was doing. For many parents, this is the first time they've been able to be this involved in their child's education. They are learning too. Give them grace and set up ongoing meetings with them both large group and individually. It's important that we work together for the success of the children!
I am so nervous to start this week. I'm required to be in my classroom during distance learning and teach from there, although I know many of you will be teaching from home. It's so hard to go set up your classroom knowing that no students will be there to sit at the tables, find their cubbies or to excitedly look for their name on the Person of the Week Chart. 
I know I'm going to have many fails and successes this year, and I'm going to try to be OK with both. This is still new, despite our teaching experiences from last spring. I am hopeful that this doesn't last very long, but for now, it's our reality and we've got this!
Remember, all your students really want to see is a happy teacher, someone who is excited to see them and can throw some fun into their weird, uncomfortable distance learning situation!
What's your best tip for surviving distance learning as a traditional classroom teacher? Let's help each other out! Drop a comment and let us know what's worked well for you and how you are managing distance teaching.


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Learning through play ~*~ Summer engagement series, Part IV

Learning through play ~*~ Summer engagement series, Part IV
I'm so excited for today's post! While I've enjoyed writing the previous posts in this series, I hope this one will truly be fun for me, for you, and for your family!

Today, we are talking about learning through play!

Given how the last few months of the 2019-2020 school year ended, I firmly believe your kids (and you) deserve to have some time to decompress and just enjoy life instead of trying to force a new method of learning and a new teaching model. But, as I explained earlier in the week, many families and teachers worry about "summer brain drain" or the loss of academic gains due to the lengthy period of time between the end of one school year and the start of the next. You may be worried that your student will have gaps in their education or skills or that they aren't learning enough this summer -- I also noted in our previous posts that your children's teachers are preparing for this. They know that the school year did not end ideally for most families and that many students merely maintained rather than making academic gains. Teachers and schools are already thinking about how to address this as the next school year begins this fall.

So, today, let's get back to focusing on FUN and PLAY! 

And, your kids, I promise, are learning as they play. In fact, for younger children, play -- not academics -- is one of the most important things that can happen on any given day. This is supported by quite a bit of research, and if you read our series reviewing the book The Trouble with Boys by Peg Tyre, you'll already be familiar with the fact that pushing academics too soon or under overly stressful situations generally backfires. Even if gains are made in those situations, they even out later in a child's academic career.

So, again -- FUN and PLAY are your prescriptions for this summer!

First, there are a few loose rules to ensure that your kids actually learn through play -- I know, counter-intuitive right? It actually makes a lot of sense. 

In order to truly learn from play, children need to:

  • be free to engage in activities THEY choose, even if you aren't into it 
  • find their activity enjoyable
  • be allowed to be spontaneous, imaginative, and creative 
  • be directed by their own internal compass
  • risk and judgment free so they can express themselves without worry 

In other words, your kids need to be the drivers of their playtime activities and experiences. Your child may absolutely love an activity that you cannot stand. As the adult, it is your job to suck it up and let the kid indulge in the activity anyhow. They need you to be able to sit back and accept the silliest, wackiest, weirdest things they may come up with through creative play and imagination without criticism.

Now, of course, you need to make sure they are safe and not at risk of harm, but otherwise, leave the play session up to your kids. 

By freely playing and exploring their toys, found objects (cardboard boxes, empty toilet paper tubes, art supplies, rocks, etc.), your kids intuitively soak up lessons about how the world works. It is upon these intuitive understandings of the world around them that the foundation is built for more structured, formal lessons later in their academic careers. 

For many kids, true play is both a physical and mental activity. They move around and change positions. They use gross and fine motor skills. They examine and inquire. They form questions (all those "whys", am I right?). They touch, listen, look at, taste, smell the world around them. Even older kids do this, although older kids have typically developed better gross and fine motor control and better self-regulation so play for older kids generally looks and sounds significantly different than for younger kids. 

Be sure that your kids have access to plenty of games, toys, or supplies that are open ended and require your kids to formulate their own ways of interacting with the materials. For example, a large cardboard box affords hours and hours of creativity and play for most kids. So do blocks, Legos, paints or pens or crayons and paper, and so on. 

Be sure to check out the rest of our series on summer engagement:

  • Preview: Summer engagement -- how to keep your kids learning all summer (Read it HERE)
  • Part I: Is summer "brain drain" real and where do we go from here? (Read it HERE)
  • Part II: Keep those kids reading this summer (Read it HERE)
  • Part III: Bolstering math skills over summer (Read it HERE)