Happy Read Aloud Day!

That moment when you bite into your bacon, lettuce, tomato, and avocado sandwich – on toasted bread, no less – and that incredible flavor combination assaults your taste buds. For just a flash of a second, your sense of taste consumes your body. And it is heavenly. I know. I had this sandwich for lunch today. It was everything and more, after a morning of cleaning the kitchen and swimming laps at the pool. Plus, I was with a good friend.

But wait, there’s more!

Tomorrow morning, I will wake up as the first light of the morning enters my bedroom window. In my morning fog, I know exactly what will happen: I’ll roll over and start thinking through my day, only to realize that my children don’t have school. Nobody in my house will need the usual early start, and I’ll have that moment. That wonderfully indulgent sensation that I can linger a second, even snooze a little longer, and not rush into the start of my morning. Bliss.

Here’s another one:

Everything. Everything got crossed off on my to-do list today. A compulsive list-maker, there is nothing I like better than a list to keep me on track for the day, except, perhaps, a completely crossed off list before the day’s end. This is serious satisfaction.

What are your moments? Those that leave you fulfilled, take your breath away, and/or make other concerns, troubles, and worries simply vanish, even if only for an instant?

I’m betting that for most children, they feel overwhelmed with love and gratitude and extravagance when they’re read aloud to. A good book and a willing reader can transform an afternoon.

We know, however, reading aloud boosts all kinds of scores. And, of course, this makes tons of sense, doesn’t it? The average 1st grader might not be able to decode and read the word fortunate or enraged or impractical, but in the context of a story, could construe their meanings, broadening their vocabularies.

Children who are exposed to complex sentence structure, richly described settings, and cleverly crafted characters are more likely to write similarly, and, they’re more likely to expect quality literature moving forward.

While learning how to read is crucial, the ability to listen is, as well. Creating a world inside your head from the words you hear makes all kinds of connections in your brain. The luxury of listening to a story being read aloud affords you the ability to really grasp a story, to see the beginning, middle, climax, and conclusion.

Reading is hard work! Children understand literature at a much higher level than they are able to read themselves. Thus, they can accumulate all kinds of world knowledge, empathy, vocabulary, facts, and meaning from texts that are read aloud to them, while they take a break from the decoding and work of reading to themselves.

Yes, yes, we should read aloud to our peeps. It makes them smarter, wiser, more knowledgeable, worldlier, better writers, and better test-takers.

But, for me? It comes down to that bite of my bacon-lettuce-tomato-avocado sandwich. It is that feeling. That moment when you can forget about the birthday party you didn’t get invited to or how much you hate studying for spelling tests. You stop thinking about which one of your friends you’ll invite to a sleepover this weekend and why doesn’t Mrs. Jones call on you as much as you think she should.

Adults who read aloud to their children are giving them so much more than a boost educationally. They are essentially saying: You are important. So important that I’m going to stop what I’m doing and read to you. We will create this memory together – and we can talk about what happens in this book later, if we want to, or just soak in the words quietly together.

Have you ever tried to read aloud and fold the laundry? Or read aloud and text your aunt in Mississippi? Or read aloud and prepare for that meeting at work? Impossible. Reading aloud to a child means you are not multi-tasking. You are giving them your full attention.

And chances are? You’re reading aloud while snuggled on the couch or under that big fuzzy blanket. More than likely, you’re in close proximity, and anyone who believes in the 20-second hug will tell you that this nearness is both intimate and powerful.

Today is National Read Aloud Day. Read aloud to your children, please. These are the bursts, the moments, the instants you’ll never get back but will be loved and remembered.  Sure, you can do it so they further shine and excel in school. So they can someday be a great novelist or explain how the Slinky was invented. Or, so the two of you can laugh about that silly mouse who is just too loud. Or, because the dishes can wait. But, really, read to them because you love ‘em.

Keep Reading (aloud!),

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Delicious Thursday – The Kid from Diamond Street

When I was sitting in that big, swivel chair getting a haircut yesterday, the woman next to me was talking about the movie Hidden Figures. How, she wondered aloud to anyone willing to listen, had she, a well-educated woman who majored in history, never heard of these women before?

The simple answer? History tends to focus on men, not women.

Know what? Same is true for children’s books. Before you get all upset, know that I’m talking in general terms. Yes, I know there are a host of biographies available to me about Clara Barton. And yes, I know that we’re starting to see a shift in what is being written, published, and purchased for children.

A good thing, too. The audiences out there are wildly diverse, and we want them all to be readers, don’t we?

We want them to relate to characters (historical or fictional) and feel known, part of this complex world, and represented. Further, we want our young readers to learn from and empathize with characters the likes of whom they may not have encountered in their own lives.

So, along these lines, today’s Delicious Thursday pick is about a rather unusual (especially for the time) baseball player, Edith Haughton. Detailed in The Kid from Diamond Street by Audrey Vernick, Edith was born in 1912 when Little League – and girls playing baseball – didn’t exist. But by 10 years old, she was playing for the Philadelphia Bobbies, a professional woman’s team that took her around the world.

Can you imagine allowing your child sail to Japan to play baseball against men’s teams in an age before cell phones? But off Edith went in this celebratory story of a little girl who always made the claim that she was born with a baseball in her hand.

Are the odds stacked up against you? Have you ever been the youngest? The “wrong” gender to do something? Ever had a passion that wouldn’t abate? It is easy to relate to and be in awe of Edith’s story. Steven Salerno’s jaunty illustrations fit the story to a T.

Kids really respond to non-fiction that reads like fiction. This is a true story, you can tell them. This really happened. I love that moment! WHAT? REALLY? They love a good incredible against-the-odds story! Give it a try!

Keep Reading,

 

Possible Extensions:

~ Do a mini-research project on the history of baseball! Or create a timeline – when did Little Leagues form? When did women play baseball professionally? When were minorities allowed to play?

~ Find out more about Japan! Locate it on a map. Research that country’s love of baseball!

~ Engage in conversations with your kiddos. Ask them (or have them write about) what it feels like to be an underdog.

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Library Field Trip – Golden Gate Bridge!

While it might still be January, we’re starting to think about Spring Break. I should clarify: it feels like spring in Houston – we’re hitting 80 degrees almost daily. This year, we tolerated exactly two days of winter, and now we’re back to the usual combo: heat and humidity. So, of course our mindset is springtime! That, and, as we all know, we need to think about booking our flight, making hotel reservations sooner rather than later.WP_20150316_011

A couple of spring breaks ago, the family spent a few days out in San Francisco. The hubs had meetings in Seattle for a few days following our spring break, and the kids had never been to San Fran, so off we went! We ate, we walked, we saw plenty of sights: Alcatraz, the Cartoon Art Museum, Twin Peaks, Muir Woods.

And, of course, we admired the Golden Gate Bridge while we were there. What a marvel – things like bridges and giant skyscrapers san franalways fascinate me. That we can construct such massive, sturdy objects onto the ground. . . mind-boggling. So wondrous that Dave Eggers recently penned a conversational non-fiction book, This Bridge Will Not Be Gray, about the construction — and ultimately the color choice — of this most awesome landmark.

I truly dig this different kind of book. For one, it is illustrated. How I love stretching the minds of young children and reminding them that just because a book has pictures (and not photographs) does not mean it is fiction. If the words are true, the book is non-fiction. The narrator is chatty, often addressing the reader, and the pictures are bold yet simple.

If you happen to be heading out to the Bay Area, see if your local library has a copy of this gem, and read up on what you’ll certainly spot on your travels. While you’re at it, pull up a map online or in an atlas so you can see the bay and the reason for the bridge in the first place! Your kiddos likely will get an absolute bang out of seeing the Golden Gate in person after reading about it. Maybe when you’re there, you might spot someone painting it – a fact mentioned in the book that is incredible: the bridge is always being painted. To the tune of 10,000 gallons of paint a year!

No matter what your Spring Break plans may be, see if there are any children’s books about your destination! What the kiddos might sigh and roll their eyes over could become pretty interesting if they have some previous knowledge in form of an interesting book!

Keep Reading,

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Keep ‘Em Reading: Christmas Carols!

Up on the rooftop, reindeer paws.

Wait. Is it “paws” or is it “pause?”

Good tidings to you, and all of your kin.

What are “tidings?” Also? What are “kin?”

Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.

Excuse me, but please explain. A “bough?”

xmas-carols

Funny, isn’t it, the things we can take for granted. We belt out carols every year, but have you ever stopped to really look at the words? Understand the lyrics? Better still – have you tried to do this through the eyes of a young child?xmas-twelve

As I’ve said before, song books can be a pretty wonderful (and sneaky) way for kiddos to practice some reading, as well as learn the proper words for songs they know. Same is true around the holidays! And, lucky us, there are tons and tons of really lovely Christmas carol books just for kids. Brightly illustrated, larger fonts, and ready for a tot to sing along.

Plus, if you’re willing to take the time, some Christmas carols can introduce kids to new vocabulary! It is so much more palatable to learn what “frolic” means when it is embedded in a song you already know (Walking in a Winter Wonderland).xms-winter

If you’re thinking of crafty ways to lure your child (or students) into a little pleasure reading this holiday season, try picking up a book of carols! Make it a station in your classroom! Have books of carols out just as you would magazines and the newspaper at home! xms-snowyEncourage some buddy reading (or singing). Not only will it reinforce some skills, but they might then stretch xms-deck-the-wallsthemselves on second and third (and fourth and fifth) versus they don’t already know!

Or, find some carols that use tried-and-true tunes to new words! Oh, how kiddos love a silly parody song. Pleasure reading – or should I say pleasure singing – is a blast!

  xms-katz  xms-itsy

Keep Reading,

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Two Weeks With the Kids at Home? You Need a Bag of Books!

I know what you’re thinking.

Everyone in your family needs a B R E A K. Some time to rest and relax. Some time to sleep in, play outside, be a family. Some time to enjoy the festive season – watch a holiday movie, sip hot cocoa, ice skate, visit with friends and relatives.

So much fun is to be had.

And then.

I know.

A piece of you is wondering how this will all go down.

While the holidays bring with them a flurry of activity and plenty of to-do’ing, inevitably, you hit a day when you’re starting to, well, get on each other’s nerves. Maybe the kiddos will bicker, maybe the weather will turn nasty, maybe you’ll engage in an epic battle of it is time to get away from a screen.

Of course I’m going to recommend a pile of books to you – certainly you can already see where this is going!

But, more than just any old pile of books, here’s my thought: quick, quick, before school is out, head on over to the school library.

(I’ve always tried to advertise, encourage, practically beg parents to come check out books. Even after flyers, posters, announcements, and emails, I’m stunned when parents ask, “can parents check out, too?” Yes. I’ve never known a school library to only check out to students. Most librarians see their purpose as supporting the entire school community, parents most definitely included.)

So, get yourself on over there. Bring a big bag or two and load up! I’m being perfectly serious. Most librarians I know are thrilled to have their books circulate over the holidays! They’re not being read sitting on the shelf for two weeks while school is out, after all!bag-draw

And while you’re there, see about scooping up some To-Do books. Well, that’s what I call them, anyway. Cookbooks, craft books, how-to-draw. So, in addition to plenty of good titles to bag-origamiread, you can also come home with plenty of good titles to do! Most school libraries have books on all kinds of crafts and activities! From knitting to folding paper airplanes; from crafting with recycled materials to calligraphy; from learning various forms of solitaire to games to play in the car!

See? Looking ahead at your winter break doesn’t seem so dismal now, does it?!bag-alm

And, of course, also check out plenty for your kiddos to read (or for you to read to them). Grab a few graphic novels, a non-fiction title, a seasonal story. Joke books, poetry, some world record books. You never know what this nearly two-week-long break will hold, so a big, fat smattering of interesting titles will do. No, the idea is not for your child to read them all! Instead, find a spot at home, show off all these great books, and let it be. See what happens.

A tale for you. I visited our local public library the other day to do just this: grab some books for my kids (and for myself) for the holidays. <Oh, did I forget to mention? This is something you can do with little bitty tots as well as for teens. Sure, my son can drive. Sure, he and my daughter can use their able bodies to get themselves to the library before school lets out. Will they? I think “maybe” is being generous.>

Well, so… I went to our public library, and it was closed! For renovations! Not opening up again until late January! Somehow I missed that memo.

So, I did it. I waltzed on over to their school library and checked out a big ol’ passel of books for them. And I admit it, it felt kind of weird. Not many moms are checking out books for their high schoolers. And really, I am totally that mom who thinks it better for the parent to let the lunch kit or English homework sit at home, rather than bring it to school to “rescue” the child.

But, I’d argue, having something To Do over the holidays is always wise. And, in our case, reading constitutes as something To Do.bag-trashed

I showed my kids what I checked out for them. My son has his first exam tomorrow, but he has already started one of the books. “This looks good,” he said, “you got this from my library?!” Amazing, I wanted to say, that you’re in your fourth year of high school and just now are figuring out that there is some good stuff there. But I just smiled. I’ll pick my battles.bag-relish

My daughter is heavy into memoirs as well as non-fiction right now, so I picked up a few treasures for her, as well. She, too, has already nosed through the bag. I feel confident that the contents will be examined as soon as her Biology exam is a thing of the past.

I know you’re busy right now. It’s the holidays, I totally get it. But, think of it as a worthy investment of your time. Gather together just a whole mess of books (and by the way? I really mean it! I’ve told parents before to come check out a whole bunch of books, and they’ll leave with 3 or 4, apologizing for taking so many. I mean get yourself a big grocery sack or two and load up. Why not?!) and check ‘em out for the holidays! It’s FREE, a beautiful word this time of year!bag-blets

When the days get long, when the video games have been playing non-stop, when you need a break from the houseguests, when the kids start to push each other’s buttons, see what this big bag of library books can offer. Maybe a sweet story, perfect for reading in bed and maybe 101 games to play with marbles.

One thing is for sure: your upcoming holiday break will be muuuuuuch smoother if you . . .

Keep Reading,

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Teacher Gifts – Everything You Need to Know

 

Did ya happen to watch Saturday Night Live last Saturday? Thanks but no, I’m not diving into our political nightmare . . .

Rather, I’m referencing their commercial for the Peach Candle. You know the one. That your mother-in-law gave to you and now you have as a back-up gift to give to someone else? The Peach Candle that travels around the world and then back to you, re-gifted hundreds of times over? If you can’t relate, then all I’ve got to say is: you’ve never been a school teacher.

 

Bath salts, lotion, socks, and mugs. Collectively, they’re the euphemistic Peach Candle. The school teacher swims in a sea of holiday gifts each year, and truthfully, it always feels wonderful to be recognized and appreciated, even if you wind up with sixteen bags of Lindor truffles. And while no teacher I’ve ever met got into education for the money – be it salary or actual gifts – it still is remarkable when a teacher-gift comes along that is something other than the Peach Candle.gifts-4

First and foremost, the best, the most touching, the most fabulous gift I, as teacher, ever received was a note. One year, a mom wrote me a letter, letting me know that her son talked about me at home, always enjoyed my book recommendations, and told her library was his favorite class in all the years he had been in school. Her note was thoughtful, concise, and incredibly meaningful. Not just that – she sent a copy of this note to my principal, as well. A snippet for my personnel file and a beautiful pick-me-up? Can’t be beat.

Through the years, I’ve received other assorted letters and notes from parents and students. They remain my favorite gifts. I once had a friend ask me if I could recall who had given me gifts through the years. Not really, but I do remember the handwritten notes.gifts-5

It takes time, energy and a certain amount of thought to write something to a teacher, and we teachers know this all too well, which is why it impresses us so. Plus, everyone loves a compliment. (And compliments are free, people! Free!)gifts-note

Most teachers I’ve chatted with agree that notes and letters brighten our day, but beyond that, I’ve not been able to figure out any other consensus as to What Makes A Good Teacher Gift. I’ve asked around, sent out emails, and relied on my memory a bit, here, and as frustrating as this is, it makes perfect sense. Not all teachers are alike; we all have different preferences, bug-a-boos, and lifestyles.gifts-note2

Nonetheless, I’ll give the whole what-to-get-a-teacher-for-Christmas a go, for what it is worth. But I need to say this first: no teacher I’ve ever met – ever—expects holiday gifts. And no teacher I’ve ever met – ever – treats students differently based on gift-giving (for one, they’re just too tired to even remember). Not all families give gifts, and this is a-ok. Not everyone has the time or the money to shop for their teachers, and this is just fine. As I said, nobody ever in the history of education, decided to become a teacher for the holiday loot. Your child will be known and loved, no matter where you land on the whole teacher-gift-giving spectrum.

Get to Know Teacher

No matter what you think you might like to do for your teacher, it will really help if you know a little something about him. Take a look around. Ask your child to pay attention. Ask subtle questions. If she always walks into work with a bagel from a certain bakery, a gift card for that shop would be a safe bet.

One of my guilty pleasures? An ice cold Dr. Pepper after lunch but before the day’s end. One year, a library volunteer popped in with a 12-pack of my heavenly lifesaving sodas with a bow stuck atop. She observed my almost daily habit, and her gift was both memorable and refreshing. (This also reminds me to say that gifts do not have to be expensive to be wonderfully thoughtful.)

Does your teacher love a certain flower? Color? Type of food? These details will help you find something that might be a good fit. Does he always write with a certain pen? Does she mention the Houston Astros all the time? Does he snack on the same kind of candy bar every afternoon? Observe. Your answer as to what to do for your teacher might be right before your eyes.

The reverse is true, as well, in terms of what not to get your teacher. One teacher I spoke with sponsored her school’s environmental club (a big environmentalist herself) and received a tall stack of Christmas’y Styrofoam cups. She wasn’t too thrilled.

But I get it. Sometimes no details are revealed. Sometimes, you don’t have much time, as you hustle around, making the season bright. In lieu of a Peach Candle, here are some other ideas for you –

Generic Gifts a.k.a. Peach Candle

The appeal of the generic gift, of course, is ease. They tend to be inexpensive and can be purchased for all the teachers on your list. It is a beautiful thing, the generic gift, but there are some classic pitfalls – and some ways to get it right, according to my teacher friends.

I’m thankful for my front porch for many reasons, but especially because it has been a marvelous spot to use all candles I’ve received through the years. If I didn’t like the scent, it became a Front Porch Candle. I figure the candle adds ambiance and the smell might drive away some of these Houston mosquitoes (worth a shot, anyway).

Having said that, please be careful when gifting anyone (not just teachers) an item that has a scent (this includes candles, soaps, lotions, etc.) to it. Not everyone hangs outside with stinky candles as much as I do. Smells are just so very personal; you might love pumpkin spice, but it might give your daughter’s basketball coach a headache. Play it safe and just avoid, says me.

Other generic items that are . . . well . . . not always the most original are:

Socks – Even elementary school teachers, no matter how Ms. Frizzle-like they may seem, do not need a drawer full of reindeer socks. They just don’t.

Mugs – Yes, many teachers drink tea and coffee to survive. And no, we do not need any more mugs, even if there is a cute puppy dog on it. (I was surprised to discover that, like me, other teachers find mugs so personal. Yes, what your mug says or looks like is a statement, and so many of us like a certain size, shape, and handle to our mugs. When you take caffeine as seriously as we do, the mug plays a big part.)

Apples – Give your teacher a real apple, if you must, but no, no, no more wooden apples, apple wreathes, apple pins, apple kick-knacks. Enough.

Signs, framed pictures, wreathes, and general knick-knacks – Most of the time, you know whose room you’re in. You honestly don’t need two or three signs saying “Mrs. Smith’s Class.” In fact, most classrooms are pressed for space. Adding more stuff just isn’t necessary. Just as you enjoy decorating your house in a certain way, most teachers have a certain ‘look’ for their rooms. It’s just easier not to guess if your poster/sign/rock fits in.

Some non-stinky, more original generic gifts that might work for you and your teacher are as follows . . .

A family whose children I taught gave me a bag with cute ribbon, tape, and gift tags every year to help with all the wrapping I needed to accomplish. I’ve seen on Pinterest the same idea: a roll of wrapping paper, ribbon, tape. Most teachers I know are just as busy as you are – such items can be helpful.

Another year, I received some paper plates adorned with snowflakes. The tag attached suggested I give myself a night off of dish duty. I kinda shrugged, but sure enough, a few days later when the countdown was ON and I thought I just might not make it, I saw that package of paper plates on my countertop and did, in fact, treat myself to a dishless night. Bliss.

One very practical mom gifted me with a book of stamps, with a darling note that encouraged me NOT to write her a thank-you note. STOP EVERYTHING. HOLD THE PRESS. BEST GIFT FOR A TEACHER, EVER??? The suggestion that he NOT script a thank-you note! No matter what you gift, for the love of all that is good and sensible, write a little sentence saying please, go relax over the vacation, and do not even think about sending us a thank-you note. OKAY, BACK TO THE LIST…

Festive – or even solid colored – dish towels or hand towels for the bathroom can be handy and hopefully carry no odor.

If you walk in and hand me some flowers, my heart will melt before your eyes. They beautify a desk, classroom, or kitchen table and often are passed up when we shop for ourselves. A small little posey of flowers is full of charm.

And while it does have a smell to it, some teachers forgive the no-scent rule when it comes to dish and hand soap – both very useable, practical, appreciated.

Take a look around your own home! Anything consumable and useful has potential!

 

Teachery Things

I received some mixed feedback in this area. While many teachers I visited with like several of these items, a few suggested that, similar to (but not quite as bad) the coffee mug situation, they don’t need any more of these. Generally speaking, however, the following teachery items got a thumbs-up from most educators I polled:

Tote Bags – Teachers haul lots of papers, books, supplies to and fro. Quality totes (especially with monograms) received high marks for being useful. Same idea with lunch totes.

Note Pads – Most teachers write lots of little notes. A note to remind, a note to thank, a note asking the librarian for a book . . . Several teachers with whom I’ve chatted like the personalized small pad of paper for all this quick communication we do.

Cups/Water Bottles – I don’t get it, either. We don’t like mugs but we do like a nice insulated drinking cup (such as Tervis or Yeti)? Now, remember, I’m just reporting my (very unscientific) findings. When you teach, you talk, and you drink lots of water. Sipping a cup that keeps your beverage of choice cold while not spreading condensation everywhere is pretty handy.

Supplies – while some schools (and some teachers) have larger budgets than others, many teachers still enjoy extra supplies in form of quality pens to stickers to fun books or games for the classroom. I would, however, ask what is needed. Teachers often know how to hide and hoard. There may be plenty of glue sticks hiding in a top shelf, but she might love some new leftie scissors for her classroom (or herself)!

 

Homemade Gifts

There are homemade gifts and then there are homemade gifts. Some teachers adore them, some politely accept them. I’ve been gifted homemade ornaments, magnets, jewelry, greeting cards, and much, much more. I’m an arsty-craftsy sort of girl, and I always advocate children being involved with gift-giving as well as activities that require their fine motor skills and creativity. I’ve even worn a macaroni necklace (although if I’m being honest, I wore it the one time).

As thoughtful as homemade gifts are intended to be, I think it is wise to ponder what the receiving end looks like. Many teachers I know have been teaching for years. Add it up and we’re talking hundreds of classes, students, and parents, which potentially means hundreds of homemade items.

My grandmother was a school teacher for years and years, spending most of her career in a 3rd grade classroom. She kept every single homemade Christmas ornament she ever received. My favorite was the ornament made from those little white creamers for coffee that looked like a dog. The Christmas tree in my grandparent’s living room was covered in ornaments, as a result, and she was delighted.

I’m more of an ornament snob. I appreciate the work that goes into a child’s creation – I honestly don’t think anyone would say that I don’t – but it probably won’t get onto my Christmas tree. My grandmother became a teacher later in life, once her own children were past elementary school. For me, any homemade ornaments that go on my tree are the ones my own children make.

I’m telling you all of this just to say that I’m guessing no matter if a teacher wears, uses, or employs a homemade gift, she will  appreciate the thought, time, and care that went into making it. If you’d like to gift your teacher something he will likely wear, use, or employ, however, you might want to really examine the item being created.

As for class or group gifts that are homemade, the same is true. Realistically, teachers only have need for so many class quilts, framed art, or painted pottery from all of their students. This is such a delicate thing, is it not? I know that both of my children have experienced a handful of teachers in a handful of classes that are simply top-notch. Their experience has been so excellent, I want to dream up the best, most meaningful gift imaginable for this teacher. In truth, that is what letters and notes are for. My child’s teacher does not need a leather-bound book with artwork and essays from all 20 of her students. She’s seen it all year. The woman needs a massage. And a drink.

 

Treats & Baked Goods

This is entering tricky territory. A big box of Godiva chocolates might be perfect for a giant chocolate lover, but maybe less so for the teacher attempting to shed some pounds.

I guess my best advice here is for you to put on your thinking cap. A single woman, living alone might not need (or want) a couple loaves of pumpkin bread, grandma’s secret recipe or not. Me? With a hubs, two teens, and several teen friends and nephews who hang out here all weekend? I’ll take all the extra food I can get! Know your audience.

Some teachers I talked to really enjoy homemade cut-out sugar cookies and freshly baked brownies (one teacher told me that she always hosts her December book club and offers all her gifted treats and everyone looks forward to it); others were less enthused to test their already weakened self-control at a time of year when goodies are around every corner. I guess there is no Right Answer to the Should We Gift Teacher A Bundt Cake Or Not conundrum (but if it has rum in it, the answer is yes).

I always appreciate food that freezes well, too, which – fortunately – includes most holiday treats. Peppermint bark, cakes and cookies, a box of chocolates . . .  It can all be thrown into the freezer and pulled out when one of my kiddos has six friends over to watch a movie in January. Gifting food items that cannot be frozen and might spoil quickly is a little less practical for the recipient.

 

Clothing, Accessories, & Other Such Items

I can barely predict which jeans my daughter will like or what size sweater my own son wears, and these humans live with me all the time. I do their laundry, look at them daily, and hug their precious bodies – and still I can’t always figure out their size, their distaste for a certain shade of purple, or their preference for V-necks.

In other words, good luck. Clothing can be tough. Even items such as scarves and bracelets that, you figure, will fit any teacher might not hit the mark. Because some people can’t stand wool on their skin or dislike certain colors and textures or never even wear pins . . .

And yet. One of my favorite gifts is a necklace I received from a young student made of upcycled beads and (as the cord) T-shirts. I’m not much of a necklace person, either, but I wear this one fairly often because, quite simply, I like it. Isn’t that the nearly perfect gift? Something you didn’t even know you wanted – that you probably wouldn’t purchase for yourself – that you like?

So, I guess what I’m saying here is such personal items like shirts and gloves and purses and whatnot are generally to be avoided. But, sometimes you risk it. Sometimes you spy a funky pair of earrings that you just think your son’s reading tutor will love, and you go for it.

One teacher friend of mine says her favorite baseball cap reads Peace on it with small yellow embroidered flowers – it was a teacher gift. She adored the student who gave it to her, this cap fits just right, and it is her go-to when running out the door and there is no time to deal with bed head. She confessed she never would have picked it out for herself.

 

Gift Cards

The Good: Generally speaking, lots of teachers like the gift card. Coffee, restaurants, movie theaters, stores, you name it. Even small amounts can be nice, as oftentimes, if a teacher receives several gift cards from the same spot, it adds up a bit.

The Bad: You might be shaking your head and wondering who wouldn’t want a gift card?! Well, some people don’t actually drink coffee (not me, I assure you) or coffee at Starbucks, in which case such a gift card isn’t too exciting. I’ve received countless iTunes gift cards, but I own a Windows phone. Gift cards for shops that do not have an on-line option or for restaurants that only have one location can be challenging for teachers who might live in the opposite direction. And? Sometimes small amounts (say, a $10 gift card) to a spot that has higher prices (say at a restaurant where entrees are close to $20) are only helpful if a teacher might shop there anyway.

Once again, knowing the teacher you wish to honor helps a bit. Your son’s English teacher is also a triathlete? Sure, get a gift card to the sporting goods store! Your daughter’s music teacher seemingly drinks smoothies every time you spot her? Yep, gift card to the smoothie shop, coming right up.

One of my favorite gift cards I received was for a local grocery store – the note said something along the lines of I know you find yourself at the grocery store a lot this time of year – while you’re there, I hope you pick up something wonderful, just for you. And you know what? I did. I remember grabbing a small bouquet of flowers and thinking how thoughtful.

 

Cash

Some people think cash is impersonal, maybe even a little tacky. I think most teachers, however, will tell you that Cash is King. Especially during the holidays, who couldn’t use a little extra spending money? And might I remind you, teachers this time of year are exhausted. Little kids are usually off schedule and on a maaaaajor I-can’t-wait-till-Christmas-high; their teachers barely have the energy to drive home, much less think about dinner. Big kids are completing final projects and taking exams; these teachers are grading until their eyeballs ache, frantically completing report cards and comments, and want nothing more than to fall into bed at a reasonable hour.

If said teachers have an extra $20 (or more!) passed their way, it means a tank of gas is covered or maybe an easy pizza dinner provided for them at a time of year when they could really use some TLC. If gifting cash makes you feel weird, write a note, suggesting, lunch is on me! Or You deserve a drink – my treat! But, just trust me on this, you can never go wrong with a cash gift.

 

Don’t Bother with the Holidays

It can be all so overwhelming, can’t it? It’s not like you’re sitting at home, twiddling your thumbs, yourself. So, if the holidays become too much, and you’re simply running low on energy (and money) think about showing your gratitude some other time of year!

Back-To-School Night (which ends up being a really long day for most teachers), Parent-Teacher Conference Day, and Valentine’s Day are all awesome alternative opportunities to do a little something special for your teacher.

Or, deliver a colorful bouquet with a wish for a Happy Spring sometime in April or May! There really is nothing quite like an unexpected mood booster! One year, a parent brought me a menu for a nearby (and tasty) restaurant. She asked me to select my lunch, and she brought it in the next day. No reason, she just wanted to do something nice for her daughter’s teachers. It doesn’t have to be Christmastime to show thanks in form of a gift, so don’t sweat it if it’s just not happening for you this year. In fact, a little box of chocolates or a gift card for a manicure might really hit the spot in the middle of February.

So, how’d I do, teachers? Feel free to add more ideas, words of caution, and thoughts in the comments! And, as always,

Keep Reading,

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Dear Parents, The secret to get through the holidays? Read.

Dear Parents,

Can you feel it in the air?

It’s that time of year. When life gets a little hectic, unpredictable, off-schedule. One night, you’re in sweat pants, enjoying a simple home cooked meal with your family and the next you’re headed off to a holiday party, which means you’re home late and dragging to work the next morning.

Or maybe you’re a teensy bit anxious about an upcoming family gathering, filled with talk of politics, some drinking, and a handful of folk whom you love but intentionally see just once a year, ifyouknowwhatimean.

I grew up in a 3-bedroom 2-bathroom ranch-style home, perfect for a family of 4. When the grandparents visited from New Jersey, it meant moving into my sister’s bedroom and sharing our bathroom with our grandparents for the duration of their stay. While I generally enjoyed their visits, I did not love the sense of feeling displaced in my own home, especially during an already busy time of year.

End-of-semester projects and exams, shopping, cooking, preparing, cleaning, entertaining . . . it can be oh so very exhausting.

And so as I sip my morning coffee (yes, on my front porch), I’m being bold – a little crazy, even — and adding something to your list.

And you already know what it is.

Reading.

It’s the time of year when your kids get a little squirrely. Things can feel off-kilter. You might require a little flexibility out of your peeps. You might be out late or preoccupied with pulling off an epic holiday party. Maybe you have houseguests. Maybe you are the houseguests, sleeping in unfamiliar beds in homes with their unfamiliar noises. Whatever the circumstances are, it’s pretty dang rare to hear of families this time of year yawning and saying how ordinary their days are.

And while – it’s true – there is so much going on and so much you don’t have perfect control over during these holidays, one consistent thing you can do for your kiddos is read.

Busy days, full houses, long drives, new faces, irregular meals, time changes, it can all throw a tot for a loop. And while you may not be able to slow the holiday train, you can take a little time out of every day (before bedtime, perhaps?) and read.

It’ll slow things down.

It’ll give you time to check in with your child – and she with you.

It’ll show him that you still, in the midst of all the caroling and eating and decorating, are still connected.tappleton

It’ll provide some much-needed consistency.

brobinsonWhat to read? A picture book! (Maybe a seasonal one?)

Or, read a chapter in a chapter book every night!

Grab some Douglas Florian or Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky and savor a few poems together before bedtime!shel

Your child won’t notice the dust bunnies that didn’t get vacuumed up, but she will perceive your care if you . . .

Keep Reading,

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Delicious Thursday: I Will Not Eat You

Hungry?eatyou

Neither is Theodore, at least not when a bird, a wolf, and a tiger pass near his cave. But when the boy shows up, Theodore thinks he just might be hungry, after all. A chase ensues, as does much laughter and hilarity.

This book makes for a perfect read aloud: not too long (not too short), fun voices, a little repetition, and a funny twist at the end that will have children abuzz. Plus, the pictures are bold and colorful.

So apropos: I Will Not Eat You is simply delicious.

Keep Reading,

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Possible Extensions:

~ Act this book out! Read it aloud and have children assume the role of Theodore, the animals, the boy. Have more kiddos than there are characters in the book? Add some new animals to the story! What would Theodore say if a penguin or mouse or giraffe passed by his cave? And then, of course, end with a boy (or girl). This is a story, if acted out, that I predict children would continue to perform on the playground! Too much fun.

 

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Which Book is Next??

One of the best things in the world?

When your child (or student) cannot wait to read the next book in a series.

One of the worst things in the world?

Trying to figure out which book comes next.

spine

Hallelujah! The books are labeled!

If you’re nodding your head vigorously right know, you know exactly what I mean.

To be sure, some publishers are so kind as to print the number someplace on the cover or spine of the book. Thank you, oh wise one. Inexplicably, some publishers do no such thing, so you are left to wonder is this book #3 . . . or this one?

Sometimes, you’ll hunt down a librarian or bookseller in hopes you’ll get your answer. And you know what? Sometimes you will! Aaaaannnnnnnnnnd, sometimes you won’t. I happen to know the order of several series by heart (so much for learning a second language; my brain is full already), but sometimes I’m just as clueless as you are.spinesman

People. I have a solution. Yes, you can check the copy write date – a fine place to start. However, sometimes books are reissued, which can occasionally muck up this process.

My solution? Hit the Mid-Continent Public Library web site. A public library system out of Kansas City, they have the best searchable list of series and sequels I’ve (so far) stumbled across.

Check it out. If you can’t remember the series title, you can search also by author, subject, or individual book title. In all my years on the job, they’ve never disappointed.

Mom! Mom, Moooooooooom. I NEED the next book. Can you get it for me? Pleeeaaaaase? No problem.

Keep Reading,

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A Journal and a Pen. Free Therapy.

Among other treats and delights, my daughter received this for her birthday a few weeks ago:jnl1page

It is just as the title suggests – a little creative companion whose pages beckon list-making, doodling, dreams, and thoughts.jnlwreck

A few years ago, she and many of her friends went through a Keri Smith jnlfinifhphase. Haven’t heard of her? Then you likely don’t have a tween girl in your home. I can’t say how many copies of Wreck This Journal we gifted her friends for their birthdays, but the feedback was always overwhelmingly I love this! My own daughter went through several of Smith’s creations; a perfect way to record ideas, wonderings, opinions, sketches, frustrations, and successes. In other words: excellent therapy.

Remembering further back, the two of us once shared stories in Just Between Us: Mother & Daughter by Meredith and Sofie Jacobs.jnljust

Gone are the days when journaling means a notebook full of blank pages. These days, you can find a host of books that ask questions, draw out memories, solicit knowledge, and encourage doodles.jnlmeyou

Yes! You absolutely can scribble all your fears, joys, frustrations, and triumphs in an inexpensive notebook, but sometimes an interesting cover and beautiful, think paper might be savored and therefore more likely to stick around and be used. (And, if you’re like me, throw in a nice set of ink pens…)jnl52

Journaling can be a healthy way for anyone – teen girl or otherwise – to make sense of feelings, record dreams and goals, and chronicle day-to-day life.

It can also act as a warm-up for your brain. Don’t know what to write? Having a difficult time with any kind of creative project you’re working on? Need to think things through before you embark on a tricky conversation? Try journaling!

They say that people who write down their goals are more likely to achieve them. Of course they do! If you take the time to write something down, you’re taking the time to think about it. I’d guess that sometimes our specific goals are unknown to us, really. The act of writing likely makes them real and therefore achievable.jnlwimp

I don’t know about you, but we’re in the time of year when I tend to be a bit more reflective. Is it the recent election? The fact that it gets dark earlier? Or maybe because the holidays are approaching (and with it, the New Year and those pesky “resolutions”)? But perhaps I can attempt to make sense of my thoughts and the world with some form of journal. Perhaps you – or someone you know – could, too.

Keep Reading,

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