My experiences as a creative person, tutor of children, and teacher of creative writing

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Reading Together

I have found that one of the most effective and least stressful ways to improve a child's reading ability is to read together. Reading with the child helps the child learn words in context, increases sight words and vocabulary, helps them learn the patterns of language and stories, and is fun!

Once I tutored a girl who was not up to her third grade reading level. After reading together for several months, she was reading at a sixth grade level! Reading with a child is one of the most effective ways I know to not only help children learn to read, but to love reading.

Reading Together
  • Make sure you have a book the child will enjoy. 
  • Change to a new story if it isn't working.
  • The child and I sit beside each other, so the child can read along while I read.
  • The child gets to hold the book when they read, if they want. (helps them feel more in control)
  • If the child is just a beginning reader, then choose a short book with fairly large print and allow the child to read "their words".  You can have their words on a card in front of them such as "run" or "no" to remind them.  Start with just one or two words and build up until they are reading the story to you. Make sure you read something that has lots of "their words".
  • For older children, I choose some part of the story for the child to read. 
  • I increase the amount the child reads as they become able to read more without becoming frustrated or discouraged.
  • They might read one character's part, then increase to reading two or three parts, and maybe the narration, so that eventually I'm just reading a small part of the story. If there isn't dialog, then I have them read the first paragraph, or every third paragraph or more. 
  • I don't have them just read to me because they get nervous and overwhelmed by the size of the story.
  • Having the child read parts helps them focus on the story instead of feeling nervous as they read out loud. Use different voices. Have fun!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Choosing the Right Book - Lists and Guides

Here are some great resources to help you find just the right book for your child. Remember that one of your greatest resources is your librarian. They can be a great help in directing you books your child will love.
  • Know your child's interests and how they read*
  • Bring your child with you and allow them to help choose the books
  • Allow plenty of time to choose books
  • Choose several books so that if he doesn't like one, he can try another. 
  • Remember pictures books read quickly; get several
  • Even older children can enjoy good picture books
  • Try a mix - stories and non-fiction books on that topic
  • Allow time to read their new books to them soon.
  • If you can't stand a story, try a substitute. Your child will sense when you don't like something, so be honest and work it out. I never could get into "Captain Underpants", but "Commander Toad" books were fun. Find something you can enjoy together.
  • Have Fun!
Gives Grade Level
Find and level books by searching the Book Wizard database of more than 50,000 children’s books. Instantly get a book's Guided Reading, Lexile® Measure, DRA, or Grade Level reading level.

Book Lists
gives grade level, guided reading level, genre, and summary of plot
click on "Expand Product Details" for more information  Notable Children's Books; grouped by age

Parents Helps
help in setting up a library with the right books for that child; learning style; book recommendations; parent guides

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Choosing Books for Your Child

After raising four children and being a professional tutor for 40 years, I've learned that if a child is forced to read books he doesn't like, then he will hate reading and do as little of it as possible. So how do you help your child find the right book for him and become a lover of reading?

In school, most children are placed in reading groups with other children at their reading instructional level.

Instructional reading level is the highest level at which a reader is not independent, but has adequate background knowledge for a topic, and can access text quickly and with no or few errors. Think of independent level as the highest level you would ask a child to read with only a small amount of assistance.

The teacher usually chooses the book for each group to read, and then all the children in that group read and discuss the choosen book together. As a teacher, I can appreciate the practically of such an approach.  Here are some Reading Charts:

Some children do not do well with this standardized orderly approach. Some children test ok, but hate reading. What went wrong? I think a problem is that reading is not a task to practice, but a love to develop. You simply cannot force a child to read and enjoy it.  The more reading is broken down into tiny pieces, with sentences endlessly reread and letters laboriously sounded out, the more reading will be viewed as a distasteful chore.

Just as a love of playing baseball cannot be taught by merely practicing holding the bat, putting on your mitt, and throwing the ball, neither can a love of reading be taught just by endless skill practicing. Sure, some instruction and practice can help the child, but they have to be allowed to play the game to truly learn to love playing.

My point is that you can't endlessly drill a child on reading, making them read books they don't like, then expect them to enjoy reading. It just doesn't work.  I know.  I was the person who had to help get the child reading again. Here are some of the things I think of in choosing books for a child.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Helping Children Learn to Read the Right Way

Lets face it, we live in a culture where left brain skills are valued in our schools, even though the right brained skills of creativity and problem solving are most needed by adults. Most of elementary school is spent in memorizing details and practicing processes. Since most young children learn in a more right brain way through action, pictures, music, and the whole picture, teaching in a left brained manner requires hours of ineffective, boring drill work such as filling in workbook pages. Some children naturally prefer to use their left brain (memorization, numbers, sequencing, listening to lectures). These children are the ones who do well in elementary school. The more gifted a child is physically (athletic), or visually (visual-spacial, creative), the further they will be from the prevalent teaching style of most elementary school teachers. These are the children who will have trouble learning to read. It is not that they are "defective" or "slow", but simply that they are not being taught in the way that they learn. Just as an orange is not a defective apple, these right brained children are not defective left-brained children. The solution is to teach right brained children to read in their natural right brain way.*

This isn't hard, in fact it is fun. It doesn't require special training, just a love for the child and an understanding of the types of learning styles that fit a right brained person.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Update - Terms for Learning Disabilities

I just thought I would update my Learning Disabilities information. January 2017

This is the current legal definition. 

Legal Definition

Definition: A 'learning disability' is a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding and using language spoken or written which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, spell, or do mathematical calculations.

LD (Learning Disability), and SLD (Specific Learning Disability) are the current terms for people who learn differently.

Dyslexia (reading disability), Dysgraphic (writing disability), and Dyscalculia (math disability) along with a lot of other "disabilities" are all considered a 'learning disability".

ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is not considered a learning disability.
This condition is also referred to as ADD and AD/HD. It is defined as inattention and heightened activity level. When learning is affected, they may also be said to have a learning disability.

Here are some sites with information on "learning Disabilities". As a person who had difficulty learning to read, with spelling, with math, with following verbal instructions, and remembering data, I strongly disagree with the negative attitude of most of these sites. This is because of my experience. I am myself a person with "learning disabilities", have raised a child with "learning disabilities", and successfully tutored children with "learning disabilities" for 40 years. 

In high school, I was counseled that since I was incapable of handling college material, I should instead become a decorator. I flunked the ACT test in math and was told that I couldn't go to college. Since I had straight A's at my junior college, they decided to give me a try. Two years later, I graduated with honors from a prestigious private college with an Elementary Teaching Credential.

Since then, I have become a newspaper editor, business manager, magazine writer, technical writer, blog writer, creative writing teacher, and a very successful tutor for children who are struggling in school. 

Have I been cured? Of course not! I am still me. I am still a very strong global learner (right-brained). I still have trouble with all the detailed left-brained activities such math, spelling, verbal instructions, phonetic reading, and reading out loud. I can help children with "learning disabilities" because most of them are also global learners (also called visual spatial learners).

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Update Resources - Autism and Asperger's Now Called ASD

Every few years the terminology changes for putting people into categories. Now Autism and it's milder form, Asperger's Syndrome (later called Asperger's Disorder) are labeled as ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). I am not changing the labels in the articles I wrote, but it is still the same topic. Here are some current 2016 articles on the subject.
(I like these practical suggestions. I have tried them and they work. They match my experience as a teacher, tutor, and mother. Just help them to get the whole picture which will help them better cope with change and improve relationships. They are gifted in left brain areas such as math and memorization. Encourage their gifts.)

(Good video by an autistic person.)

This mother of an autistic genius allowed her son to pursue his interests. He has developed incredible abilities in physics. This is the approach I have used and I know it works.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Autistic Babies and Children

Here are some comments by different parents of mildly Autistic children. These children are said to have Asenberger Syndrome.  By "syndrome", they mean a characteristic group of behavior. An example is that most Asenberger children have difficulty dealing with change. It does not mean that they have an illness or anything is "wrong" with them. They are who they are. We each have different strengths and weaknesses. These people often are exceptional on left brain skills such as structure, linear logic, memory for details, math, and spelling. Recognizing behavioral patterns and predicting behavior often is very difficult for these logical, literal people. Their particular personality results in some common behaviors.

I am grouping the comments. Since there are five times more boys than girls that are autistic, most quotes will refer to "he".

"My son is not a diagnosed autistic.  He is odd but only diagnosed with depression.  Also though he is married with children now he doesn't ever seem to get too much fun out of life.  He always sees the negative in everything and rarely the positive."

"Our son would become extremely frustrated when people did not do what he expected them to do. He would go to his room and begin tearing all his pictures off the wall."

From an autistic girl, " I take drugs because that is the only time that I feel 'normal'."

"His older brother, a strong football player, has to pin him down when he becomes violently upset. "

"He does not realize that he pressures and criticizes those around him. He insists that all must be done HIS way and can become violent when it doesn't."

"Our son is often baffled by others 'illogical' behavior. He doesn't understand the social rules and emotions that are involved."

From a confused eight year old autistic boy, "I told them that I would be the quarter back . . . they didn't let me play!"

 "He was an unaffectionate child and didn't like to be hugged or kissed.  I guess he basically didn't much like being touched. "

"He hated to be touched. It took two adults to pin our baby down and change his clothes."

By an autistic young man, "I felt confined and felt I had to be free when someone held me."

"Our daughter did not ever want to be touched. I felt very unloved."

"Our daughter was a premie. She never wanted to be touched."

"Our five year old son informed the family that he had the best memory in the family, therefore he should control everyone in the family and all the family resources."

"All the family were treated as if we were inferior, didn't think right, and mere things made to serve him. He treated everyone else that way too."

"The kids in the neighborhood would not play with our son. I could not blame them. Whenever they didn't do what he wanted, we could try to beat them into submission by hitting them with anything he could find such as a large shovel or a baseball bat. (no one was hurt)"

"He seemed to have no awareness of others feelings. Consequently, he was often surprised by others reactions to his statements. When he insulted us by letting us know that we were dumb, senile, retarded, maladjusted, deaf, slow, or crazy, he couldn't understand why we were upset. After all, he was just stating facts."

"Our son considered that we were made to make him happy. As he stated, "Why shouldn't I have it! He felt entitled to whatever he wanted."

"Our son saw his parents as selfish if we not give him what he wanted."

"When a toddler, he was not comfortable being around strangers. He would cry when he was taken to the nursery."

"Though he was unable to express feeling verbally, he was always eager to help anyone do something. He has a big heart and is a good person."

"She send me lots of notes of appreciation. Often this was after she had done something wrong. "

" When he would be odd as a child and I knew something was wrong because by then I had other children who were different, my ex husband would not accept that anything was wrong with his child and would not give me money to take him to doctors for testing.  I was not working at the time and had no money of my own. "

"It was a long time ago and they didn't so much testing then. I had never heard of Asenberger Syndrome and just thought boys sure were touch to raise. We didn't find out until he was grown."

" His teachers at school kept asking me what was wrong with him, but the only oddity they came up with was that he wasn't paying attention and would stare out the window.  However, when the tried to catch him up by calling on him to answer a question he consistently answered correctly. "

"He was bored and quickly did all the school work-- correctly. His teacher refused to allow him to read saying he needed to remain with his class.  He would just have to sit there until they were finished. We didn't move him to another class because she was the only teacher with strong enough structure and discipline to handle him."

"When the librarian asked if our large for his age four year old son could read, I replied, 'No', then stopped. Who knows what he could do? I turned to him and asked him if he could read. He said, 'I don't know', then picked up an adult book from off the library counter and began to fluently read. We signed him up for the library summer reading program."

"His teacher asked if we were aware that he kept hitting the other children when they didn't do what he wanted. I replied that we were well aware, were working with him constantly, and had even kept him home a year, starting him a year later in Kindergarten."

"Our son cried when there was any change at school."

"He has a nearly photographic memory."

He is " very witty now that he is an adult, but though he may be witty and make you laugh he doesn't ever seem to be able to laugh himself. "

"He learned from his experience and gradually came to understand other people some. He is a good husband and father."

"I never remember ever seeing him laugh."

"He does not really relate, but has useful (to him) connections."

"He stays alone in our bedroom and refuses to speak with our seven children."

"He has trouble following company rules and relating to people, therefore he often loses jobs. Now he works for himself and does well."

"He believed that his college teachers didn't know how to teach."

"He got a scholarship to a good college based mainly on his high test score, but quit because he couldn't handle the work and got migraines."

Tangents– "He drew every picture in one color; red. He drew red cars and fire trucks over and over."

"He did not want anyone to look at him when he was a toddler. He said "Uho" and pointed another direction."

"He had trouble eating, was picky, and would often throw up. He hated any greasy texture like mayonnaise and refused to eat it."

"Our son cried when he was held as a baby. He was ok when he could hold his own bottle."

"He did whatever he determined to do. When he decided that he wanted to ride a bike, he kept trying hour after hour. Even though his legs were all bruised, he kept running into the fence and falling until he mastered riding a two wheel bike. He never gave up."

"He always had to be moving. He was always crawling as a baby and loved to jump in his jumper. He would jump up and down in his stroller until he broke out the bottom of the seat."

"I had to snap my fingers, or clap to get his attention. He had tremendous concentration."

"She incessantly washed her hands and was always worried that things were not clean. She would not take a shower and was afraid of the water."

"He threw the game controls across the room when he couldn't achieve the level he wanted."

"Our son kicked in the side of a metal cabinet when he became frustrated."

"He liked his food extra spicy, his music blaring, and the lights dimmed."

"He pushed away when I tried to carry him as a baby."

"He seemed to be unaware of pain and would jump up, landing on the cement on his knees."

"He had to do things over and over to learn. He put things in the electrical plug (and lived), his finger in the crack behind a door and shut it, and his hand on the stove repeatedly until he was sure it would be the same each time."

"He was exceptional adept with things. He had great small coordination and could build great lego creations."

"He was very one-sided. When he washed his hair, his left arm hung limply by his side. He mainly used just his right hand when he was young."

"He was happiest when we enforced simple rules. It was like the world was now logical and dependable and he could function."

"He liked to understand how things worked and would often take things apart. Once he found my wind-up wristwatch and asked me what it was. Before I could stop him, he had twisted it so hard that the spring broke. I said it used to be a wristwatch."

"When summer came, he would not give up wearing his snow boots and winter coat with the hood up. He put on his summer shorts, but he always put on his coat and boots to go outside. Fearing heat stroke and seeing the sweat pouring down his face, we finally hid his winter coat and boots in the attic. (about age 4)"

"Our son wanted to wear his winter coat even though it was 113 degrees!"

"There was an assembly that day, so classes needed to be changed. The new schedule was clearly written on the board, but the third grade boy burst into tears."

"Once we felt impressed to come home immediately. We arrived to see our four year old son sobbing on top of our house roof! Our son had put his younger brother there and was trying to convince him to jump off roof, and he (a large teenager) would catch him. He stated that it would be fun!"

"He often felt we were unfair. He thought that he should do what ever he wanted, when he wanted without even telling us where he was going. He could not understand why we would not allow him to come and go as he wanted, so he climbed out his window."

"Our son lived in the moment. He disregarded the past and ignored the future."

"She pushed past me causing me to fall and knock the lamp off the table and break it. She wouldn't help clean up the broken pieces, because I had broken it."

"When our son was around five, I had my hair cut. He was disturbed and asked, 'Mom is that still you?'"

"Our daughter blamed me for everything",  says one mother. "She claimed that everything she forgets, doesn't follow through on, or mistakes she has made, didn't happen. She flatly states that she didn't do it even if she is caught doing it. She even denied that she was pregnant until her seventh month."

"He claims that everyone else is inferior to him and lets them know it. He alone is perfect."

"If he doesn't do well in school, he says that his teachers are dumb. They don't know how to teach. It is their fault that he didn't learn."

"Said to his mother when he was unable to understand my careful explanations, "You don’t think right! You don’t make sense!"

"She would lie and say whatever she wanted things to be. She believed that she couldn't do anything wrong- ever!"

"Our son would not accept that he had debts. They were ours, and we should pay them."

"Our daughter claimed that she did not need to pay us back the the money we had loaned her. She claimed that she had earned her money. It was hers, and she did not owe us anything."

"Holding his crying younger brother up to ceiling, he claimed that brother was 'Having fun!'"

"He could not tell when other people were getting upset and would just keep going until he got yelled at."

'Our daughter stole things to get money, pawned it, was identified, and either denied having stolen it, or she said that we weren't using it, so why not."

"When asked why he used my brand new kitchen hand towel to polish the wax on his car, he pointed out that it was soft and worked well."

"He used whatever he found no matter who it belonged to. As he patiently and logically explained, it belonged to the family, I am the family, therefore it is mine."

"Our son felt that if he had it in his hand, then it was his."