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Always read together

grandma reading to two young boys

Yesterday, knee-deep in boxes in my basement and feeling like a mole underground while the beautiful summer sunshine was calling to me, I happened upon old reading/reflection and gratitude journals that I had completely forgotten about. As an avid reader, I make notes about my reading; I jot down titles, feelings, thoughts and questions that I have while reading. To my surprise, I also made notes of books that my children loved. There were many titles that I read to them, they read to me or that we read together. I had written notes about their thoughts and feelings. Did the book make them laugh or cry? There were notes and tally marks on how often I read the same book to them in a day or week. To me, nothing in the world could be more precious and satisfying than to find that after 30 years.

It’s that discovery that inspired me to write this blog post — notes from the past and what I read to my children. Those journals and my log that I keep today are quite similar, yet quite different.

Reading to and with my children was truly one of the most satisfying experiences as a mom. However, reading with them didn’t stop once they were able to read the words on the page or an entire book. Fast forward 30 years and imagine reading to and with your child. No, we don’t cuddle together as we once did (my children live about 1,000 miles away in opposite directions). Instead we all keep our own reading reflection journals and sometimes we’ll share what we’ve written. Reading together now is definitely not the same as in the past, but nonetheless, it is just as satisfying.

In the beginning

As a young mom, I worked hard to create a culture of reading in our home. Books were everywhere! There was a basket in the bathroom, a shelf in their bedrooms, a pile on the mantle, and frequently scattered wherever a child dropped a book, ready to be picked up again soon. We created journals together where my kids often drew their favorite characters or parts of the book. Until they could read, I read everything to them: cereal boxes, financial reports, store names as we drove by and of course, the newspaper.

In looking back, I can’t believe how quickly my kids grew and were able to read on their own. But that didn’t stop us from reading together. Class books that were taken home to read became our precious time together after a busy day at work and then running them to sports. Why not share that time doing what we all enjoyed best in the evening? Together, we took on the dialog of a specific character, practiced reading with expression, and created mental pictures of scenes from the book. But most importantly, it gave us a time to talk deeply with each other about the books. We asked each other questions such as, “Why do you think he did that?” Or, “How would the story be different if this or that happened?” We talked about what the characters were thinking and feeling. We made quick notes or pictures in the journals.

Reading together as adults

The more you read with your child, you learn to know what genres of books they love and gravitate toward. As an adult, you also know what you love. But something magical happens when your children grow and you enjoy the same types of books as they do. My daughter loves to read and we often read the same book together. Last fall, we both read “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. When we shared our journals, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that our thoughts and feelings were similar. The questions that we both wondered about mirrored each other. How fun was that!

My son and I discovered Dan Brown when he wrote “The Da Vinci Code” in 2003. At that time, my son lived in a small, one-room apartment in Miami’s South Beach and was starting his adult life as a photographer. Within the first few minutes my visit, he shared his new book with anticipation. He read his favorite parts of the first chapter and had the excitement in his eyes that a new book can bring. After he left for work the following morning, I did what any avid reader (and mom who still loves to read to and with their child) would do: I went to the local bookstore and purchased the book. That night we read, talked about the book and jotted in our journals until our red eyes could no longer stay open. I believe that for the entire time I was there, we looked forward to reading, questioning and sharing our favorite parts of the book. Together, yet far away, we have read each of the Dan Brown books. There is nothing that makes my heart happier than to share the adventures that we have discovered in a book.

Don’t stop reading together

So parents, please don’t let your child’s age stop that precious time reading together. Whether it’s Esphyr Slobodkina’s “Caps for Sale” in first grade, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s “Shiloh” in fourth grade or “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee in high school, read together. Talk about the books. But most importantly, enjoy every moment with your child, no matter their age. The days go by slowly, but the years go by quickly.

Happy reading!

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

Perspective in reading

bookstore window "The Day the Crayons Quit"

Cropped image. Walter Baxter, CC license.

Close your eyes and imagine a world in which your child can look at the world and problems in multiple ways. One where your child considers other peoples’ perspectives and sees things from a point of view besides their own. Your child would act on the best interest of all and not strictly on their own. Now open your eyes and see the world in reality; a world where many people are inconsiderate, rude or self-centered. But parents can help children understand perspective before they enter school through reading together and developing a child’s language skills.

Teaching children about perspective

Toddler-age children

Research shows that children as young as two or three years old can be taught perspective. At this age, a child might help another child who is upset or crying, by offering a hug or a toy as comfort.

Young children may still confuse their perspective with others’ perspectives. They may believe that how they see things in the world is the way that others do, too. For example, if a child really dislikes something like a chocolate chip cookie, he feels that other people do as well.

Preschool-age children

Each day, a parent deals with many emotions. Maybe you had a disagreement with a friend or family member. Perhaps a family member is old, sick and having difficulty. Or you’re very excited because you won a trip. Good or bad, emotions are part of our daily life.

It is important to talk about the feelings and emotions that you are experiencing.

  • Label the emotion or feeling and talk to your child about it. If it is a negative emotion, talk about what helps you feel better.
  • When you see someone upset, talk with your child about it and problem solve what could help the upset person feel better. If possible, do what you can to help. Label the emotion again.

Lower elementary-age children

Continue to talk about perspective as it aids significantly in reading comprehension and success in school.

Reading as a tool for teaching perspective says, “While reading a fiction or non-fiction book, readers see and experience the events and feelings about the characters through a certain point of view, which is called ‘perspective’. A perspective is a literary tool, which serves as a lens through which readers observe the characters, events and happenings.” In other words, point of view (or perspective) shows the opinions and feelings of those involved in the story. If a parent and child talk about this as part of their reading time together, the child will grasp the concept much more easily in the classroom.

In fiction books, we see four points of view.

  1. First person. The work uses “I” or “we” throughout. For example, “I love it when you cuddle up and read me a book.”
  2. Second person. The work uses the pronoun “you.” An example of this is, “Often you feel angry when the dog won’t stop barking.”
  3. Third person. Authors use pronouns like “he,” “she,” “it,” “they,” or someone’s name. For example, “Miss Linda is a disciplined woman. She always eats her vegetables like her mother told her to do.”
  4. The author uses “he” and “she” but the narrator has full access to the thoughts and feelings of all of the characters in the story. Shel Silverstein used in the book “The Giving Tree” that I wrote about in May.

Putting this into action

When reading with a preschool-age child, talk about the story then discuss the characters in the book and how they feel. Give the feelings a label. This process helps children understand not only the stories read to them, but also their feelings and how a character’s feelings may be different than their own.

With older children (lower-elementary age), read together then stop and talk about the reaction to situations that may be happy or sad. Discuss why the character is feeling that way.

Book recommendations

There are several picture books that consider multiple perspectives. I read most of these books with children of different ages. While reading these books with your child, it’s fun to consider perspective from another character.

Other good books that help children understand perspective are:

Upper elementary-age children can enjoy exploring perspective with these books:

So get a book with multiple points of view (picture book or not) and read it with your child. Talk with your child at their level and consider multiple perspectives of the characters. Over the years, watch your child’s language and reading skills grow. However, I feel the best gift from your reading together is a well-rounded child who can look at the world and view the things that happen in many ways. Happy reading!

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

When I was a kid

1980s nintendo

When I was a kid, I remember driving Up North in a new car that had the cutting edge in luxury: cruise control.

My dad was at the wheel, mom in front, sisters and I in back, driving up I-75. When we got into open space, my dad decided it was time to try it out. We all held our breath as he flipped the switch.

I’m constantly reminded of all the technology my kids have in their lives. Growing up, we had to use needle nose pliers to change the TV from 2, 4 or 7. If we wanted to watch 20 or 50, we had to put the TV on “U.”

Now, my kids ask me to pause the TV. They’ve even tried swiping the screen to get to the Netflix show they want. And, honestly, I’m not sure why they’re being taught to use a keyboard and mouse. Everything in their lives will be touch-screen or track pad.

Gone are the days when you have to program the VCR to the correct channel, then pray that it actually records. They’ll never know how close I had to sit to the TV when I was playing Super Mario Bros. or Paperboy on my Nintendo because there were actual wires running from the console to my controller.

They’ve also never known peace. We’ve been at war since before they were born. They’ve witnessed an African-American man as president and the first woman ever make it to the ballot. And also, love is love.

When school starts in the fall, I’ll have first graders. Every kid in their school will have their own laptop. That amazes me because when I was in grade school, I can still remember the sound made by our five Texas Instruments computers as they rolled down the hall. That and playing the original Oregon Trail.

Seeing your photos is instant, you can shop for just about anything from your couch, and cars drive themselves.

What in the world will we think of next?

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive mom to twins and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.

Celebrate dad this Father’s Day

man and little boy walking on trail

Moms get a lot of attention on Mother’s Day but dads are just as worthy of our love and appreciation. While you can take your dad out for brunch (yes, Father’s Day brunches do exist!), here are some creative and inexpensive ways to celebrate this coming Sunday. Most importantly, spend time together if you can.

  • Have your children sing a special song to their dad. These songs are sung to traditional kid tunes but the lyrics are specifically written for dad.

A Father’s Day I Love You (Sung to “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”)

Daddy, Daddy let me say
I love you for all you do.
You are greater than the rest.
Daddy you are just the best.
Daddy, Daddy let me say
Have a happy Father’s Day!

D-A-D-D-Y (Sung to “B-I-N-G-O”)

I love him and he loves me.
And Daddy is his name-o.
And Daddy is his name-o.

  • Who doesn’t love a good Mad Lib? Older kids can fill out this fun “Dad Lib” and read it aloud to him. No doubt there will be a lot of laughter!
  • Help your child have this coloring sheet questionnaire from The picture below will take you the full-size printable. 
  • Read a book together! Each of these 10 books has a father as the main character.
    • Oh, Daddy!” by Bob Shea. Daddies sure can be funny and silly!
    • I Love My Daddy Because …” by Lauren Porter-Gaylord shows how human and animal daddies help take care of their children.
    • Just Me and My Dad” by Mercer Mayer is a classic about a dad and son going camping together.
    • How to Cheer Up Dad” by Fred Koehler. Little Jumbo is determined to turn his dad’s day around and make it better. It’s a homage to Dads and their little mischief-makers.
    • When Dads Don’t Grow Up” by Marjorie Blain Parker. These dads may be all grown-up but they’re kids at heart.
    • Interrupting Chicken” by David Ezra Stein. Papa Chicken tries to read a bedtime story to Little Chicken who just can’t help but interrupt.
    • Hero Dad” by Melinda Hardin is the perfect book for families with Dad in the military. The boy compares his soldier-dad to a superhero.
    • Daddy is My Hero” by Dawn Richards highlights the dads who help around the house and the kids who see them as heroes in imaginary scenarios.
    • Froggy’s Day with Dad” by Jonathan London. It’s Father’s Day and Froggy can’t wait to celebrate with his dad. But things never go smoothly for poor Froggy. Prepare for some giggles!
    • Darth Vader and Son” by Jeffrey Brown. Are you Star Wars fans in your house? Check out this fun comic-style book.
  • Take a family hike on a local nature trail or a bike ride down a favorite path. There are several county parks and Metroparks around our area.
  • Go strawberry picking together. Find a u-pick farm.
  • Play some board or card games together.
  • If you have older kids, play a game of “How Well Do You Know Dad?” trivia. Write up some questions ahead of time to ask your kids and see how much they actually know about him. You can even include things from before your kids were born for some extra fun.
  • Make a “Following in My Daddy’s Shoes” craft.

footstep prints from


Summer slide: It’s not a dance

boy reading

We’re all excited as the school year ends and summer is upon us. Most children are so happy on the last day of school as it means sleeping in, staying up late, and best of all: no homework! But many parents know that we must keep our children reading, writing and doing math to prevent the “summer slide.”

What is the summer slide?

This is the slide in academic skills that happens over the summer. When our children return to school, they’ve fallen to a level lower than they were at when they left school in June. Typically, students can lose up to two months of learning in the summer and it takes the next grade’s teacher four to six weeks to get students back to the level where they previously were. The most profound thing about summer slide is that it is cumulative.

Over the years, the one- to two-month slide adds up and creates a gap by the time the child reaches high school. However, a parent can help your student avoid the “summer slide,” provide the opportunity to step right into the new grade level, and even learn the new grade level materials.

Summer slide is more common in lower-income levels, although no student is exempt.

Reading over the summer

Research shows that the amount of time that students spend reading outside of school is linked to gains in reading achievement. In fact, it shows that if your child reads just six books during the summer months, the summer slide can be avoided!

However, these books need to be “just right fit” books. Talk with your child’s teacher before the end of the year to find the right reading level. The books can’t be too hard or too easy; they need to be just right. This video can help determine a “just right” book.

A child is most likely to read books that he or she selects. We need to give children the time needed to select books that will motivate them to continue to read all summer.

Summer reading programs

  • Most libraries offer free reading programs that are motivating and fun. Check out your library online or at your next visit, so your child is signed up and ready to participate. Libraries are meant to be a place to read, have fun and learn as a family. When my children were little, I packed a lunch, went to the library, then headed to the park to spend some time both playing and reading.
  • Some bookstores offer summer reading programs and discounts on books. One chain even rewards summer reading with a free book at the end of the summer. Also, purchasing books for your own home library may be fun for your child, especially for high interest books. Many stores have a book list for each age and grade that children love, as well as the top picks for different age groups.

Just keep on reading

One of the most important tips that I can offer to parents is to keep reading! It isn’t meant to be something we do for a half an hour a day. It can be done all day and every day.

In the morning, grab a newspaper and read the comics, the headlines or weather. In the afternoon, provide time for your child to read the “just right” books that they selected. In the evening, find time to read with your child and encourage them to read aloud to you. Talk about the vocabulary that you encounter in your reading. Reading together helps build listening skills, as well.

When your child was an infant, you may have had books all around the house. As children grow, we tend to keep books in a central location. Instead, I suggest keeping high-interest books all around the house because kids are more likely to pick up a book and read if they are conveniently set around the house. You might also keep some books in the car; children spend a lot of time while moms drive them from here to there. It’s the perfect place to keep a few books for them to read.

There are many online reading programs that find a student’s level and provide motivational activities and books for your child. Talk to your school to see if this is available for you to purchase.

Another idea is ordering a magazine that your child enjoys. It gets delivered right to your house each week or month. They can be very motivational and can keep kids reading.

Don’t forget about math

Math is another area where students slide during the summer. Provide level-appropriate workbooks to practice the skills that your children learned during the school year.

Estimation is an important skill that can be practiced whenever you can. It can be how many miles to you think it is to grandma’s house, how long you think it will take to get somewhere, how many M & M’s are in the jar. Whatever you think of to support this skill will benefit to your child.

Write, write, write

Writing over the summer is also important. Provide a fun summer journal. Each day, have your child take time to write. It can be a journal of what they are reading, or maybe a place to write a story or poem. It is often fun to reflect in writing what they have done that day. Of course, a letter to grandma is always loved and appreciated. Just find time to practice writing.

Enjoy your summer!

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

Things I learned outside of the classroom during Study Abroad

young woman in front of a canal in Europe

My mom was asked to write an article about my study abroad preparation. She, in turn, asked me to write a mirror article so that you, dear reader, could see both perspectives and gain understanding from both the parent and the child. Maybe this will help you if your child ever decides to study abroad.

Who I am

I don’t remember exactly when I realized I loved traveling, but I learned the word “wanderlust” in high school and have identified with it ever since. I adore traveling; I like seeing new places and exploring. I like being able to touch history, try new foods, and have fun and unique adventures. I travel with friends and family; sometimes I go alone, much to my mother’s dismay. My dream job would be traveling and blogging about it. I’m currently I’m doing it on my own dime and not getting paid, but it’s still lots of fun. Check me out at

You can meet so many different people while traveling too. I have a talent for making friends so this aspect is always fun for me. I’m also a bit of an adrenaline junkie; I like things that go fast and are a little on the crazy side. In fact, my bucket list includes cliff jumping, sky diving, bungee jumping and more. When I heard about studying abroad, I was instantly drawn to it. It helped that my school offered exchange programs where my scholarships applied and my credits transferred. I could travel and study at the same time, making a great combination.

The planning stage

The planning was mostly on me, with some reminders from my parents about making sure I was checking into things and that I knew what I needed. I’m usually organized but sometimes things fell through the cracks like forgetting an important document and having to figure out where to print it only an hour before my visa appointment in Chicago!

It stresses me out when other people get stressed, so with my parents being stressed and getting on me about me not having somewhere to live along with, “Why haven’t you packed? You leave in two-and-a-half days!” really got me in gear. Though I’m the one who did the preparations, my parents lit a fire under me about doing them in a timely fashion. It would have gotten done no matter what, because once I had my parents on board, there was no way I wasn’t going abroad; I wouldn’t let that happen.

Battling homesickness with technology

In her article, my mom mentioned loving technology. It really is great, and I’m not just saying that because I’ve been exposed to it for a decent chunk of my life. Technology is a life saver! It can help when you get lost, it can help you find places to stay and to eat, it can help you plan all aspects of your trip. Mostly, I use it to keep in touch and battle homesickness. As I said, I love traveling but I’ve rarely ever gotten homesick. Sure, this is probably because I’m usually traveling with family, am not that far from home, and not gone for that long.

That being said, this trip does not meet any of the standards that I am used to. So while I don’t get homesick at school because I’m two hours from home, surrounded by friends, and crazy busy with classes and extracurricular activities, I’m missing a lot of that over here in Europe. I’m usually about six hours ahead of everyone else, which means I don’t hear from anyone until Noon at the earliest. I also only have classes here without any of the extracurricular organizations that I regularly participate in. Being less busy means more time to myself just sitting, thinking and missing home. When I left, I didn’t expect to be homesick, even though the Education Abroad advisers warned us that it would happen. Boy was I in for a rude awakening.

Being homesick is rough. My support system is more than 3,000 miles away and six hours behind time-wise, so they aren’t always available when I need to talk. On top of that, I don’t like talking about it anyway so I usually bottle it up.

I found that FaceTiming the people at home helps a great deal. I talk to my family via FaceTime once or twice a week; yes, I am guilty of FaceTiming my boyfriend more than that (sorry, Mom). I also call some of my friends every couple of weeks. One of these calls was with my two of my fraternity brothers who I hadn’t talked with face-to-face in three months. We were on Skype for five hours until they pretty much kicked me off so I would sleep! FaceTime also means I get to see my dogs which is great because people don’t really pet each other’s dogs in France (and that’s weird to me but that’s a totally different story). Long story short: technology, specifically video calling capabilities, really help you handle the huge distance and homesickness.

Expect the unexpected

Ha. This has been a theme with me since the start of the year when I went to Chicago for my visa. Things like to not go according to plan for me. This can be inconvenient, like having to postpone my Ireland trip three months or sitting on the freezing cold floor in Union Station for hours because my train was delayed because of ice (both of these examples were caused by winter weather … maybe I should avoid that). Sometimes delays can be fun; my extended stay in Edinburgh let me make a bunch of friends with the other people staying in my hostel.

These situations led me to my biggest travel tip that I will be sharing continually until forever because it’s so valid: Pack your patience. This can be hard sometimes, like when I was in Edinburgh freaking out about getting back to Nantes in time for class and my mom was an ocean away telling me to chill out (a bad joke considering the weather at the time, I know). But packing your patience is so essential. It helps you find a solution to your problem faster because you aren’t freaking out. It also makes a more pleasant experience for you and those around you because you’re calm and rolling with the punches. Plus, you never know, these crazy situations might bring about good things like personal growth (I’ll get off my soapbox in a second). Being put in situations that were very stressful made me a better critical thinker, and more patient and understanding because everyone around me was facing the same difficulties and having to find a way out. So now that you’ve read this, the number one thing on your packing list, study abroad or not, should always be your patience.

Stay strong

As for strength, I knew this experience was going to be rough on my mom, partially because she told me a lot that it would be and partially because it was going to be difficult in general.

I didn’t expect to be overwhelmed my first day in France trying to weigh kiwi in the supermarket on a scale in a foreign language, but I was and I got through it. I know having me in Europe and not being able to help as much is stressful for my mom, especially since I’m the first one out of the nest. But we’re doing good! Less than a month left! (She’s been counting down since Christmas!) Communication and detailed preparation I think helped ease this a little for us, and it probably will help you too if your child is hoping to study abroad.

I’m not saying it’s the easiest thing it the world (that’s baseball), but it will be worth it. Your child will grow and learn and you will too.

Katie Capozello, BGSU Analytics major. She is the daughter of Nicole Capozello, Beaumont Parenting Program Staff.

A look at “The Giving Tree”

cover of The Giving Tree book

image credit: wikipedia, by source, fair use.

A half century ago—yes, 50 years ago—Shel Silverstein wrote and illustrated one of my all-time favorite children’s book, “The Giving Tree.” First published in 1964 by Harper & Row, this classic is now printed in several languages with over 10 million copies sold internationally. Scholastic Co., a national publishing company known for educational books and materials, rated this book with an interest level for students in kindergarten through second grade. Personally, however, I feel this book can be read at all ages and can garnish lively conversations of the relationship and various interpretations. It is considered a picture book because the illustrations are as (or even more) important as than the words.

If you don’t know this story, it about the relationship between a boy and a tree. The tree was always there for the boy and gave everything he could to make him happy. As the boy grew into a teenager, a young man then an elderly man, he took what he needed from the tree and the tree continued to give him all he could, until there was no more the tree could give. The illustrations are simple and powerful.

As one of my favorite books, I always thought that it was a story of generosity and self-sacrifice to make someone happy. In a recent conversation with a colleague, I was quite surprised to hear her perspective of this book. Her thoughts of this book are very different than mine. She thinks the story is about greed. She shared why she feels this way, and each of her points were valid and well thought out. I left the conversation pondering and wondering what other people thought of the book.

I began researching and discovered that “The Giving Tree” is “one of the most divisive books in children’s literature.” That one quick conversation I had about a book read and loved by many, lead me to reread this book and look at the relationship between the tree and the boy from different perspectives.

As a teacher and a parent, I carefully choose what I read to children. Seemingly a book of friendship that withstands the test time, I read it often. Never was it read with dry eyes and without a sniffle at the end. In fact, the last time I read it to students, I vowed that I wouldn’t cry. Guess what? Didn’t happen!

So is this a book on selfless giving or a parable of narcissistic greed? The title implies that it is a story of giving, but as you read it you may begin to think differently. Many adults pick it up and read it to their child for the first time in many years. Some of them are disappointed, yet many people love the book just as much.

I asked 25 of my friends their thoughts on the book. Strong opinions and valid points on both were voiced. One friend said that her church recently referenced it in the sermon. My teacher friends all read it to their classes. Some felt it was about the unconditional love as in the parent-child relationship. Another friend thought it’s a parable about life, as our world is full of both the givers and the takers. There are so many ways to interpret this book that go well beyond this post.

Regardless of how you interpret the characters, this story has withstood the test of time. I encourage you to read it with your child and talk about it. Talk about the friendship and the special relationship between the boy and the tree. Take time to look at the simple illustrations and discuss what you see. On another occasion, reread the book together and talk about the boy’s greed and what he did to the tree. What is greed and what it does to others?

One of the questions I continually ask myself is what makes literature good? My answer always comes back that good literature is timeless. Fifty years ago, this book was loved and read by millions, just as it is today.

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.


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