It’s been a while, and there’s been some big changes!!

A peek inside my summer ramblings, self-discovery, and commitment to shopping small this holiday season…

Hi everyone!! Reintroducing myself for all of the new friends here over the past few months as I’ve taken a break from writing to enjoy summer with my kiddos.

I’m Katie, and I’m a mom by life, elementary literacy specialist by trade, and an Usborne Books & More book lady, crafter, and creator by choice.

My content ebs and flows with the season and lately I’ve been into crafting and sensory play, but I also always like to share authentic literacy (and sometimes math) tips for preschool and early elementary aged kiddos because it fits with the ages and stages I’m currently in with my own kiddos, and the age range I work with at school.

I hoping to get back on here, this blog, more this fall…just looking for inspiration that I find worth writing about, and that’s been hard lately as life has been on full speed ahead with not much time for reflection or thinking! You may know me on a day to day basis as the face behind @bruisesbowsandbooks on Instagram.

You might know that this summer I spent a bunch of time soul searching and finding my identity amidst the season of motherhood. I wrote a post about my choice to join Usborne Books & More earlier this summer, so I’ll spare the details on that here, and you can just click the link to that post if you want to hear more. But while I was launching a new business, I was also recommitting to exercise, which is something that has been a huge goal of mine post baby number three, but something I could just never actually commit to consistently. I also spent lots of time this summer exploring upcycled craft ideas using cardboard and materials from the yard…mostly as a way to stop annoying my husband with endless boxes of craft supplies being delivered to the house, but also in an effort to use things that created less waste and just made more sense in terms of practicality and ease.

I have big hopes and dreams this year for this space (and I also consider the start of a new school year a time to reflect and reset, a lot like New Year’s resolutions in January). I want to get back on here and write more, and I’m looking to rediscover my mom-life inspiration and my literacy tips and tricks inspiration. I will admit, crafting was a good and mindless distraction for the summer, and I think you’ll still see some of that. Perhaps I’ll even do a summer craft post to put all of the things we did this summer in one place.

Most importantly, I’m on here now to talk a little bit about small business, and why I will plead with you to shop small as we launch head first into the upcoming holiday season. I guess I never really related to or connected with the idea of shopping small intimately – yes I did it here and there with vendors and shops I liked, but Amazon still played a large role in our day to day supplies. I think launching my own small business with UBAM allowed me to see the inside efforts that most (all?) small shop owners go through just to stay afloat. Most of any money I’ve made with UBAM so far has gone back into maintaining the business and helping with content creation on the Instagram side of things. I’m not even close to a place where I’m generating substantial income from my business. And perhaps that’s a long term goal of mine, but I know there are many small shop owners who need to make that happen now, and can’t just aim for it to happen sometime in the future.

SO, holiday shopping starts now for many people (I know some of you probably think that’s crazy!). And I’m taking some time to urge you to take a look around instagram, etsy, and just your local downtown before beelining straight to the ease of corporate America. Amazon, Target (love you!), and other large brands and companies will still be there when you can’t find what you need locally, but I do believe shifting our attention to small shops first could make a huge difference and go a long way for lots of our peers!

Some instagram/etsy/direct sales shops I’ve shopped from recently that would be great to check out for holiday gifts for little ones:

Livethescottcottage (Instagram and Etsy): Hand painted pasta kits and loose parts pieces ideal for sensory play. I love that Morgan comes out with seasonal and holiday sets, and basic sets too. A perfect place for both options, and my kids have enjoyed her sets for sensory play and crafting time and time again.

Littleoctoberhouse (Instagram and Etsy): Similar (but different!) to Morgan, Emily’s shop specializes in resin letters and seasonal resin sets perfect for sensory/small world play, decor and crafting, and homeschool activities. She had the cutest Halloween drop that will go in the kids boo baskets and make the perfect additions to our haunted neighborhood small world we’ll be creating together over the next few weeks And right now she has great sight word bundles for little learners!

Lilyandriver (Instagram, Etsy, etc.): Looking for gross motor equipment for the playroom? Or maybe just high quality and aesthetically pleasing pieces so that the playroom doesn’t look like an explosion of a space? Lily & River is perfect for you! Check out their little playsets, climbers, and activity toys for everything you might need for the perfect playroom. We have the Little Creator Table Set and I’m dying to add the Little Climber and Little Rocker to our space.

Young, Wild & Friedman (Instagram, .com): Cutest small shop by a mama in Texas who has been making themed play doh kits for all to enjoy. She makes jars, mini kits, and full kits. We’ve used the mini kits as party favors, and we consistently bring the boys dinosaur kit and bug kit on vacation with us because it’s packaged in the easiest plastic container for travel. The boys make the greatest small worlds out of bugs and dinos using their kits.

Cardboardfolk (Instagram, new book coming soon!): All my upcycle and cardboard craft-spiration comes from Kathryn and her amazing talents. She helped me brainstorm the dragon wings from this summer, and is always so thoughtful in offering her thoughts, comments, and feedback. The work she does with cardboard is amazing. I’d have entire playroom made of her toys and gadgets if I could, and she’s coming out with a great new book filled with endless ideas. Pre-order it now and show her some support!

Shop LTK: Like To Know It, a popular third party vendor for social media content creators to earn commision off of direct links without paid brand collaborations, is a great fit for helping friends out who share their style, lifestyle, toys, etc. on social media. My caution here is to avoid big influencers with big followings, and aim more to find accounts you know or who are local to you. Those big name influencers are usually past the point of making legitimate connections, and are more into the money-making, scam side of the business. By keeping it to people you know or find locally, you ensure that you’re supporting genuine accounts. Check out @unchartedyears and @living_like_lindsay‘s LTK page if you’re interested and local to the area!

Fox & Kit: A baby, toddler, and children’s boutique in Cape Cod that I adore. The absolute cutest clothes and baby/toddler/children supplies, as well as high quality toy, activity, and loose parts selection. Not local? Great news! She’s on instagram and has her own business site, and ships to you too! I order all the time because of course I’m only local occasionally.

Jen Morrissey Photography and Jennifer Langdon Photography: One is a close friend, and one has shot for us since her first time with us at our wedding. Both are CT-based photographers who are amazing at what they create! If you’re looking for wedding, newborn, lifestyle, family, holiday, or business photos, check them out! They both have such unique and candid style, and will travel to any reasonably local destination of your choice!

Usborne Books & More (me!): A great direct sales company that has allowed me to foray into the world of my own small business while sharing my love of literacy, children’s books, and children’s activities with my world. With a unicorn of a company (ask me what I mean by that!), I’ve been able to get massive amounts of great books, puzzles, games, and activities into the hands of many lucky children, with clients reaping huge benefits and rewards for themselves and the littles in their life just from having a party. I would love to throw you a virtual book party for your family and friends as a way to give you a jump start on your holiday shopping for FREE! September and October is a perfect time, and you know where to find me!

I also have friends, family members, or acquaintances with their hand in their own direct sales small business with Beach Body, Epicure, ColorStreet, Beauty Counter, Monat, Stella and Dot, and Pampered Chef (holy comeback!!) that would be worth checking out too, depending on what you’re in the market for! If you need any recommendations, let me know and I’m happy to help or make referrals!

I did a thing

You can now definitely and officially call me Book Lady.

Soooo I feel like it’s only fitting to come on here and write a post about some big news I’ve been waiting to talk about: Last week I decided to venture into the unknown and become an Usborne Books & More Independent Consultant….fancy title for basically saying I’m going to be a rep. I have to be fully transparent here. When I came on this space about a year ago now, I never envisioned using it as a platform to market or represent a brand (of anything). In fact, if you ever asked me if I’d rep something, I probably would have scoffed. It’s just not my forte….I’ve never been salesy, for lack of a better word.

So, what changed?

For one, I’ve been buying from UBAM for longer than I’ve been ‘blogging’, so I’m not marketing a product that is trending or is all of a sudden presenting itself to me. I’m marketing a brand and product that has, over the course of years, turned my boys into nonfiction lovers, that has shown my baby girl the magic of reading and interacting with texts, that has filled the bins of this teacher’s classroom library, and that has proven its commitment to education and seeing our children as our world’s future. Part of UBAM’s mission states, “The future of our world depends on the education of our children…” Holy heck, if that doesn’t align with everything I believe in and everything I do, everything that I try to be, then I don’t know what does.

For two (is that not a phrase?), it’s my time. I don’t mean that conceitedly or in a way that speaks all high and mighty of myself. Rather, I’ve talked on IG a lot about trying to find myself again this summer – trying to carve out time for self care and commit to things I’ve been running from for a while…consistent exercise, healthy(ier) eating, you know….all those cliche things that disappear during motherhood. And one of those things that I’ve been running from for a while – something that undergirds all the reasons why I haven’t been able to sustain exercise or healthier eating or finding time for myself: fear. It’s paralyzing. And when you add “of commitment” after that word, it’s a whole other ballgame. Half the reason why I’ve struggled so much with exercise and self care is because of the fear of commiting to something that I knew would take work and at times not necessarily be fun or easy. When Courtney, an old college friend who I’ve stayed in touch with via social media, finally reached out to me (after I’d been buying from her for a while) saying, “You know, you really should consider becoming a consultant, it fits right in with your blog and you would have earned half of what you bought from me in free books had you just done it from the start….” (lol), my initial response, which was a few months ago now, was something along the lines of “You’re right I really should, it would make a lot of sense. But I have commitment problems so not yet.” The stars weren’t aligning for me at that moment. Fast forward a few months, into this new space where I’m ready to start taking control of me again, the stars couldn’t be clearer. I was lucky that Courtney’s two year UBAMiversary happened to be right as I was experiencing this awakening, so the rest, they say, was history.

For three (yeah I’m making it a phrase), why the heck not? I literally have nothing to lose. I have no expectations for this, similar to my blog – I have done this because I’ve enjoyed it, found happiness in sharing my life and my passions through my computer screen, and have no pressure on myself to make it for anyone else other than myself. And this is similar. I’m not sitting here saying yeah I want to make money and build clients and rock this MLM like the boss babe that I’m not (power to the real boss babes out there that rock this business and this industry!)…I’m simply sitting here saying how could I not share something that has had me as happy and passionate as my blog has? It just jives. The excitement and the passion overrides the fear and anxiety any day. It may have taken me long enough to realize it, but at least I finally did.

And for four, I felt supported in making the decision. I joke a lot on here and on IG with both self-depricating and spousal humor. I’m pretty open about the fact that Mike mocks me a lot, especially when hopping on to talk on stories. It’s all in good fun, and he realizes that this space has filled a cup for me that neither of us realized even needed to be filled. So when I told him the next day that I pulled the trigger on the consultant kit…fully expecting him to respond in some facetious way about how he knew I’d find a way to spend more money or something…he surprised me and casually said, “About damn time!” And that was the icing on the cake.

So yeah, that’s the story behind this big news, and honestly I have no scheme or plan or goal. Just ready to try something new, and see what I can make of it. You definitely won’t find me pressuring friends or family (you, yes YOU!) to support me by buying these products. I’m not a cold caller or, in this day and age, a cold DMer, but what I WILL do is be there for you when you need gift ideas, when you need your own home library refresh for your kids, when you need some themes or topics for your classroom library, or when you simply want to see and explore the wonder of children’s lit.

([Insert shameless plug here] And also if anyone wants to help me practice learning the business side of things, let me know if you want to join my launch party on facebook on July 15th that Courtney and I will co-host, and I’ll send you the link. In the meantime, you can always head on over to @bruisesbowsandbooks on Instagram and click the link in my bio to shop my UBAM page all on your own time with zero pressure.)

Major shout out to Courtney, who encouraged me to take the leap of faith and who I know will be there to support me along the way. And if you needed the reminder today…to take charge and do it, whatever your ‘it’ may be…do it scared, do it anyway. You got this!

Editor’s Note: I referred to UBAM as an MLM when I first wrote this post, mostly because that’s what I *thought* it was. Obviously I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can about the brand so that I can represent it right, and one of the things I’ve learned lately is that it is not an MLM by definition, rather it is direct sales. It’s neither here nor there for me – if it was an MLM I’d still be on board too – just want to own my mistake/misconception and be as transparent and honest as I can on here! ❤️

School’s out for summer!

As of this upcoming Friday, school’s out for summer and I couldn’t be more ready for it. It’s been a YEAR, that’s for sure, and I’m so excited for a break from it all. You won’t necessarily see us doing major thematic studies or methodically practicing academics. You’ll find us at the beach, by the lake, crafting and creating, and enjoying our yard.

One of the most common questions I get asked by parents, friends, and family is, “What can I do over the summer to make sure my kid is ready for ____ grade next year?” And I think a lot of people outside the field of education are surprised by my answer: Play (and read). The district I work in is often so driven by competitive academics that sometimes it leads us down the road of progress for progress’ sake rather than progress for the actual child. I always have to gently remind parents that child development is rarely just about who can read the best or who can do math the best. In fact, I’d argue that in today’s day and age those other qualities (engaging in discourse and dialogue, empathizing with others who do not hold the same beliefs as your own, problem solving, critical thinking, and questioning…etc.) far outweigh the academics (which remember, our public institutions are historically set up to nourish). So ditch the store bought workbooks and flashcards and worksheets, and get your kids back to playing.

Albert Einstein once said, “Play is the highest form of research.”

Through play, kids practice it all, and they practice it all in meaningful and authentic ways. They question, observe, investigate, research, problem solve, empathize, sympathize, and learn during play. Over the summer, we strive to ensure our kids are having opportunities for both structured and unstructured play, both immediately supervised and distantly supervised play, outdoor and indoor play. I try to let them be bored – to help them navigate what it means to become “unbored”, and how expectations usually dictate boredom. I encourage a balance of busy-ness and quiet time, as both experiences provide different opportunities for different skill development.

And we read. We promote a summer reading experience, rather than solely instituting an independent reading expectation. Even kids in the higher elementary grades benefit and often significantly enjoy being read to. (Remember, once reading becomes an assignment, the joy is often gone.) We tell stories, and keep a family journal with pictures and drawings and photos and notes and memories. And we do it naturally – not on a schedule and not as an assignment – when the motivation is there, we do it. We do have our nightly bedtime story routine, and that is something I rarely ever break. It’s a lot more than a routine, it’s special parent/child time, a sacred place to ensure we are together in the moment enjoying good books. Whenever I’m tired or exhausted and think about maybe skipping our bedtime storytime, I always think about that statistic…

If a child reads 20 minutes per day, they will hear 1,800,000 words per year, and will have read for 851 hours by 8th grade.

So, you probably won’t see me doing a whole ton of academics with the kids over the summer. My blog posts will probably be few and far between. We’ll do it as it comes up authentically, or if the kids ask for it (sometimes they love to play school and in that case we pull it all out!), but other than that we focus on play and exercise, and spending time together, and of course, reading good books. We’ll make more things out of cardboard, explore the world around us, get dirty and messy, and clean ourselves up again just to do it all over again the next day. And that, in my opinion, is all you really need to “get your kid ready for ____ grade”.

Thematic Study

And why it works, especially for this age!

So it’s no secret that kids learn best when they are doing things that peak authentic curiosity and interest. It’s all about motivation, and motivation theory tells us that intrinsic motivation stems from this (but I’ll save the theory for another day). And a while back I wrote a post about interdisciplinary projects. Along those same lines, I’m going to talk about why you see themes come up so often in preschools or daycares, and why you might think about using them at home. And because I’m always all about staying true to your child, I’ll also offer some tips on how you can decide on themes for your own kids, rather than just using the typical seasonal/holiday themes that come with the calendar year.

Why Themes?

For the preschool/early elementary age range…and I’m talking ballpark…like ages 2-6, theme-based studies allow kids to naturally see and make connections across content areas, activities, and play. Learning occurs in our brains when we actively create new schema (the way we organize and remember information). If we don’t find a way to fit a new bit of information into a currently existing schema, or have the motivation to revise a currently existing schema, then we lose that information – this is the way our brain filters short term memory – either decides to take on that new information and consider it ‘learned’ rather than fleeting, or let it go and not remember or retain it (in one ear, out the other). So when we theme our work with these kiddos, we are creating a methodical environment conducive to building schema. Take a typical springtime preschool theme of weather, for example. It rains a lot in the spring, so kids at this age might naturally offer questions or comments about this: “It’s raining AGAIN?! Why is it raining so much lately?” And because they are genuinely curious to understand why, there is authentic opportunity to tap into this motivation to learn. So we begin to read books about weather and springtime and rain and the water cycle. And this leads us to tracking the weather at our own schools or homes, which helps to teach calendar skills and conceptual understanding of days and weeks and months. And this leads to water sensory play and and making our own rain sticks and creating a water cycle science experiment and keeping a science journal or notebook about what we notice happens outside when it rains and reading favorite stories about characters dancing in the rain and jumping in muddy puddles and I could go on and on, but you get the picture. Kids will want to read, and write, and study, and try, and play, and LEARN when they are curious enough to want to figure it all out. So we take all those isolated skills like learning letters and numbers and sight words and language development and we build it all into this so that we DON’T do it in isolation (where it’s most often boring and unmotivating). And voila, our kids surprise us because we never realized they knew how to explain the water cycle in their own words, or recognize the word rain in a book about weather, or write their own story about a mouse in a rainstorm. We see results when we aren’t even looking for them. And that’s magic.

Why Kid-Centered Rather than Calendar/Season-Centered?

I’m not knocking the season, holiday, or calendar-based themes you see a lot. They are all well and good, especially when a particular season or holiday is meaningful or exciting for your kid. But I’m telling you, if you follow your kids’ lead and pick themes based on what you notice their current driving interests are, you’ll be stunned at what they can pick up, and how fast they do it. So how do you do it? Kids probably won’t come out and say “Hey Mom I really want to know more about the solar system!” They may not necessarily have the language to express something like this. But what they will do is ask questions about the world around them, what they’re seeing in books, what others are talking about around them, and what they’re seeing elsewhere – like TV or movies or stores. So, what do you do to figure out a theme? Study them! Observe them closely by…

  • Noticing what types of books they are gravitating to (when Luca started asking for and reading books about space and rocket ships, we learned and read about the solar system and our planets)
  • Noticing what types of things they are asking questions about (when Luca started inquiring about where food goes once you eat it, we learned and read about the human body)
  • Noticing their choice in toys (when Dominic became obsessed with plastic dinos, we learned and read about fossils, dinos, and the Earth)
  • Noticing their conversations, with other adults, but also particularly with other kids (when Dominic started talking to his brother about diggers and excavators and backhoes and was using this specific vocabulary independently, we learned and read about construction vehicles)
  • Noticing their choice in movies, tv shows, or other visual arts (when Luca constantly asked to watch YouTube videos about zoo animals, we learned and read about safari animals)
  • Noticing their free play – what they do with their time when they don’t have toys or other people to play with (when Luca wandered around our yard endlessly hunting in tree bark and peering into the Earth, we knew it was time to read and learn about bugs)

It’s ok to get it wrong.

Yes, there are those times where I think I’ve thought up the greatest thematic study ever and it turns out to be a major flop. Either one, or both kids have no interest. And when that happens, I’ve learned to let it go (or just do it with one of them rather than forcing both). Abandoning it goes a lot better than forcing something that doesn’t want to be done. Because just as much as kids learn best when they are doing something authentic and meaningful and interesting to them, kids don’t learn if they are being forced…it just ends badly for everyone (been there, done that… learned the hard way).

Kid-Centered Thematic Study: Ants (An Example)

If you’ve followed my IG at all, you’ve definitely noticed Luca’s current obsession with bugs. He calls himself an entomologist, and has lured his brother right in with him. The past two months have been filled with worm digging, bug catching, and ant collecting. We even have five painted lady caterpillars right now that we are harvesting into butterflies (not sure harvesting is the right word – somehow that sounds bad). Wait, and I should add, I am NOT a bug person at all. But I suck it up and own it for the sake of the kids, and the good thing is most of the time I supervise while they do the work so I have minimal interaction with the actual bugs (thank goodness). So we’ve been doing thematic studies with all types of bugs, and right now we are in the midst of ants.

We started finding those huge black ants in our house once the weather turned from winter to spring. While Mom was grossed out and Dad was concerned for the infrastructure, the kids were on cloud 9 chasing ants around the house. That got Luca and Dominic asking questions like, “How did they get in here?” and “Why do we keep finding them inside, don’t they live outside?” And then they noticed that a lot of the ants on our walkway outside were the ‘baby ants’ (not really baby ants, just a different species), so that got them wondering, “Why are the baby ants outside and the big ants inside?” After a week of endless questions, I bit the bullet, ordered some ant books to pair with some of the bug books we already had, and began to think about how we could study ants and answer some of these questions.

I had just purchased the Nature Mega Bundle (Vol. 3) from The Hidden Way Learning in honor of Emily, and it had an ant mini unit that gave me tons of ideas and visuals. Usually this is how I get my ideas – I see things on other blogs or from other teachers and it’s a launching pad. I’ll steal a few things from what I see (teachers are the BEST thiefs!), but it’ll also jog my teacher brain and give me a gazillion of my own ideas. I’m pretty good at figuring out how to add literacy and math into any craft or play activity. Our studies end up being other peoples’ ideas with my own spin on it, or a mix of other peoples’ ideas and my own.

So, we read as much as we could about ants. We learned about ant colonies and the types of ants within a colony, we learned about the anatomy of an ant, and we learned about different species of ants – lo and behold those big ones are carpenter ants and are probably making nests in the wood of our house (HALP!) and those ‘baby ants’ are actually called pavement ants. We made an ant colony sensory bin using ground cheerios (dirt), moss from our yard (Earth), dried white beans (eggs), dried lentils (food), and plastic ants from the party store. We made model ants out of cardboard, buttons, and sticks from outside when we studied the anatomy of an ant. And when we learned about ant food – how they will essentially eat anything, we did an experiment to see if we could attract ants like at a picnic. And yes, we caught and collected (and released!) ants, and studied them and made drawings and diagrams and took pictures, applying everything we were learning to the ants we were finding in our house and in our backyard.

So yeah, now I know more about ants than I ever thought I needed to, but my kids do too. And not only that but they naturally practiced old and learned new literacy and math skills in order to do all of the things we did during the study, and got to be scientists while at it. I’ll take this kind of learning over workbooks and flashcards any day, and I’m willing to bet my kids would too!

The Versatility of Plastic Easter Eggs

Usually the activities and play I do with my kids is mix of seasonal/theme-based stuff and just completely random stuff driven by their interests and curiosities. Every time the Easter season comes around, I get so darn pumped because honestly, those cheapo plastic Easter eggs you can find virtually anywhere are the most versatile “themed” play and learning tools you could ever imagine. It’s actually hilarious how much you can do with those things, and I love it because you can buy bulk cheap…so I have no problem writing all over a set and not worrying that I wasted them on just one closed-ended activity. I’m going to outline four general ways we get days and months and hours of use out of our plastic Easter eggs. And the kids NEVER. GET. BORED.

Egg hunts. I will set up egg hunts indoors or outdoors all Easter season long. You can theme an egg hunt around anything and everything. And the boys love the hunt. We’ve done egg hunts to find categories of things, and at the end they have to count how many of each category they have and which category has more, less, the most, the least, etc. I’ve stuffed plastic eggs and scattered them around with anything and everything from rocks, to letters, to numbers, to snacks, to little folded pieces of paper with pictures or drawings on them, to clues to a riddle, treasure hunt, or surprise. The best part is, I never tell them what I stuffed them with – there’s so much fun in the mysteriousness of it at first, and watching them open each egg and look for patterns to try and figure out what we can talk about with all the things inside. When we do these hunts outside, I always have the golden rule too – you have to go and get just ONE egg at a time, bring it to the blanket, empty it, then go back out for another. The rationale? More running burns more energy for them and stretches the activity out to take more time. Genius. A favorite of mine from last Spring is the one I did where we were working on beginning sound discrimination. Inside each egg was an item or picture of something that began with /r/ or /n/. They looked at the picture or item, said what it was, then had to think did, “Did it sound like /r/ rorcket or /n/ narwhal, and sort the pictures and items accordingly. The boys even love being the ones to set up a hunt for mom and dad, and they are the cutest little replicators!

Sensory tools. By this point, if you’ve been following my blog, you already know how big of a fan I am of sensory bins and sensory play. The EASIEST way to spice up an Easter themed sensory bin is throwing a handful of plastic eggs in there and an old empty egg carton. The boys have a blast turning the eggs into scoops, having egg stacking contests, burying them in the rice, hiding other things in them, building rice maracas (and promptly seeing how high they can drop them into the bin and get them to burst), I could go on and on. Seriously, so easy, and they usually get upset when I have to put them away after Easter has come and gone…I’m usually tearing them out of their hands come June because I’m like “Come on now Easter was a few months ago it’s time for them to go!”

Egg matching. There are SO many different egg matching activities you can create, and this is where their cheapness comes in so handy. Because they’re so cheap, I use permanent marker to make lots of activities for the boys to do simply by matching. I have no problem marking up a bunch of plastic eggs with permanent marker because I can just go buy more if I need them without worrying about breaking the bank. And most of the time I’ll do mismatched colors (top half of egg one color, bottom half a different color) so that the visual discrimination is easier AND so they don’t take the easy way out and just find the matches by matching colors. Some of the things we’ve done for egg matching are: upper/lowercase letter match, letter/number/shape formation, shape match, number to quantity correspondence, math facts (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division), onset/rimes, rhyming pairs, color matching, phonograms (word parts/word families), beginning sounds, ending sounds, middle sounds, digraphs, blends, prefixes, suffixes, endings, lines matching (pre-writing), building two-digit numbers, compound words, multisyllabic words/two-syllable words, emotion identification….you get the picture. I’m so curious, too. If you have other ways you’ve designed egg matching activities using plastic Easter eggs, drop them in the comments below!

Hide and seek/memory eggs. When you take the eggs apart, they become a perfect way to play hide and seek or memory games with your littles. You can hide ANYTHING underneath that will fit (and think anything similar to egg matching concepts listed above) as a way to build suspense and create excitement, and nurture a game-like environment when doing activities.

So, in case you needed any incentive…whip out those plastic eggs NOW. I promise you’ll be sick of them by the time you have to put them away!

Executive Functioning and Toddlers

(Photo Credit: Skills on the Hill Pediatric Therapy)

Believe it or not, by the time kids get school in kindergarten, A LOT is expected of them (maybe even earlier if their pre-school is super structured!). Kids go from parents helping them with daily functioning skills like dressing, eating, cleaning to teachers expecting them to do each of these things independently. And for many, it can be overwhelming. That’s because during the preschool years we see the earliest onset of the development of executive functioning skills, which are a set of skills that underlie the ability to plan ahead and meet goals, have self-control, follow multi-step directions, regulate emotions, understand the feelings of others, and stay focused despite environmental distractions. It’s kind of like telling a kid in a candy shop to walk in through the front door and immediately proceed through the store all the way to the back door and walk out without touching or doing anything, or asking a child to pick out a birthday gift for a sibling when they aren’t able to get anything for themselves -normal things that an adult is able to do, but a different story for toddlers altogether. It’s HARD for preschoolers, and each kiddo will develop the appropriate skills on their own time – some developing earlier than others (and that’s ok…it’s not a race!).

The good news is there a lots of things you can do to encourage the development of executive functioning skills with your toddler, and those things include both daily routines and habits as well as play based activities designed to target the brain’s cognitive ability to take information in, hold onto it, and process it to complete a task successfully.

In terms of daily routines and habits, there’s some simple things you can do to get the ball rolling. Use a hierarchical approach to giving directions, and gently transition to more complicated directions over time: start with one direction with minimal language at a time for little toddlers (1 and 2 years old) and include hand gestures or visuals. For example, you might point to your child’s shoes and say “Go get shoes”. As your toddler gets older, make your directions more complex and less scaffolded by adding steps (Go get shoes -> Get your shoes and your jacket -> Get your shoes, jacket, and mask) and language (Go get shoes -> First get your shoes, then get your jacket -> First get your shoes by the door, then get your jacket hanging on the hook, and finally put your hat on your head). Declutter spaces and areas where your child will complete daily functioning skills. If your goal is for your child to get ready to leave in the morning by himself, declutter the space where he would do so. Instead of having a bin of all the child’s shoes, jackets, supplies (etc.), just have the one pair of shoes, jacket, and hat you want him to be wearing. If your goal is for your child to dress himself, lay out the outfit the night before (let him pick!), so that when he wakes up he knows exactly what to do.

At school, early elementary teachers use LOTS of visuals, including pictures of things or directions, and visual schedules or checklists to help kids remember routines. You don’t need to turn your house into a school or a classroom, but you can create visuals through purposeful object placement. Laying your child’s clothes out the night before serves as a visual reminder in itself because your child will know what to do when he wakes up and sees his outfit there. If you want your child to get in the habit of washing their hands after using the bathroom, keep the soap visible, maybe even on the back of the toilet. Visual reminders help cue kids to what comes next, eventually habituating the routine or procedure so that it comes naturally and without much thought. Mnemonics or rhymes can help too, if your child has the sophisticated language capabilities to understand them.

A while back I went to a professional development on how to support the development of executive functioning in preschool, and it was loaded with fun games and activities that kids could do. I weeded through a lot of them and pulled out some fan favorites of Luca’s, which tend to be the ones I present to him as a ‘challenge’. What I love about the challenges we do is that room for differentiation. There’s endless ways of making these ‘challenges’ either easier or harder depending on the needs and capabilities of your child.

Up first is the lego challenge, and it’s simple: grab four different colored lego bricks and make a tower for you and a tower for your kid (both towers should have the same colors). The challenge? Build your tower and have your child try to create the same tower with his bricks – same color order and structure. You can vary the difficulty of this task by using more or less bricks, by changing the way you stack them (one directly on top of the other, or steps-style, or zig-zag style), or by limiting the visual model you show him – try showing him your tower for 30 seconds, then hiding it behind your back and having him recreate it – then have him check his work. This requires him to notice the colors needed, the order of the colors, and how the bricks need to be placed. It’s a lot of information to hold on to at once and requires his brain to manipulate that information successfully to complete the task.

Up next is the popsicle stick challenge. Create shapes or figures or designs or letters or numbers or words with popsicle sticks. Have your child watch you create yours first, then encourage him to create the same. He may attack it differently than the order in which you built, but that’s ok – he’ll work towards efficiency and strategy the more his brain develops (you might see him start with trial and error to recreate your figure but as he gets older and starts to understand you’ll see him go in a certain order, etc.). You can make it even harder by creating the partial figure for him, and then asking him to complete it. There’s a lot of visual-spatial reasoning in this one if you do the partial figure activity, so he’s essentially exercising multiple parts of his brain at once!

Last is the cup stacking challenge. I like to embed a little numeracy in this one by using numbers on my set and dots on his set. We start with 6, and I arrange the cups in any stack or order I choose. He has to mimic my creation, but instead of just matching my stack, he has to make sure the dots on his cups correspond to the numbers on my cups. This is hard for him! Usually I prompt him during this one with things like “Ok, let’s start with the bottom row first. What’s the first cup? Ok now that you have the first cup, which number goes to the right of that cup?” Over time, hopefully I can make trickier combinations and use less prompting, and he’ll start to problem solve the stack on his own!

There are also lots books, crafts, projects, and activities that help to promote the development of executive functioning skills. Basically, anything that requires strategy, multiple steps and limiting distractions is something that’s going to need a child to call on executive functioning: puzzles, ‘Where’s Waldo?’ activities or seek and find books (remember Highlights?!), freeze dance games, kid yoga (lots of executive functioning to figure out how to re-create poses and maintain balance!), board games, creating structures like block castles or marble runs, doing crafts that require multiple steps with multiple materials. The list is endless. And remember, to grow, kids often need to experience challenge, so never be afraid of the challenge!

I am racist. And I am anti-racist, too.

It actually makes me sick to my stomach to write that three word sentence. I am racist. The same way I’ve been sick to my stomach thinking about whether or not I need to “go there” on this platform. But that’s my privilege, and I’m working on it. I recognize that I may lose followers over this, and I also recognize that my definition of racism may be different than yours. And I also haven’t ‘held’ this definition of ‘racism’ and ‘being racist’ all my life. Actually not until recently, and that’s the sickening irony of it. In fact, if you asked me if I was ‘racist’ a year or so ago, I would have replied no, without a doubt. If you called me racist a year or so ago, I would have probably gotten defensive and angry. Because I am white, never have I ever had to truly worry about understanding racism. Because I am white, never have I ever had to truly worry about my own safety doing completely mundane things. Because I am white, never have I ever had to face the fact that my life is opportunistically and systemically different in a lesser sense than those who have skin different than mine. Because I am white, I am sitting here worrying about losing followers or “going there”…small potatoes compared to those who are worried about losing their life simply because of the color of their skin.

I’ve been working on myself over this past year, doing what I can to understand my privilege, doing what I can to understand and reflect on my life experiences thus far, and most importantly doing what I can to empathize with (I could never say “understand” – I am white – I will never understand what it’s like to be a person of color) and become an ally for people of color as they continue to face unfathomable inequities, injustices, and racism – institutional, systemic, covert, and overt, and everything in between.

I’m not here to preach. We all have a responsibility to educate ourselves on this matter and determine where we stand. But I do feel a responsibility to share where I stand, given the public nature of this platform as well as as the public nature of my profession. (Please note, this is not about politics. Groups, people, parties, organizations, and camps aside, this is social justice.)

Here are my most pivotal realizations of the past year — I know there will be more to come.

  1. I have reaped the benefits of being white in our society since my creation. And with that whiteness has come a life full of privilege, most of the time unbeknownst to me or unrecognized by me. While I like to think that my opportunities and successes in life were a result of my own hard work, I also recognize that my peers of color had to work that much harder to achieve the same level of opportunity and success as me simply because they started on a different playing field. I had a head start from birth, simply because of the color of my skin.
  2. I am filled with implicit biases, and I always will be. It is not about being a perfect person, it is about continuously acknowledging and being open to recognizing my own biases, and making decisions accordingly. In fact, some of those implicit biases probably show in this post, without me even realizing it. It is on me to call myself out or in when I have done or said something biased, and it is on you to call me out or in when I have done or said something biased.
  3. I have done, said, witnessed, and engaged in biased/racist things in my past. See the thing is, I can count on one hand the number of times someone has called me out on doing, saying, witnessing, or engaging in something biased or racist. But for each of those times I’ve actually been called out, I’ve probably done, said, witnessed, or engaged in biased/racist things a thousand more times. And more importantly, I am grateful for the times I actually have been called out because it forced me to grow and reflect.
  4. It’s not about intent. In the few instances I mentioned above when someone actually called me out, I cringe thinking about the follow-up conversations I’ve had with the people who called me out. In all cases, I apologized for the offense but unintentionally justified it by trying to explain it away saying it was never my intention to cause offense or harm. Intention doesn’t justify an action, it doesn’t explain it either. I have coached myself to not default to ‘intention’ when someone calls me out. Instead, I now say, “Please tell me more about what you noticed, I need to learn from it.”
  5. Calling in is easier for me right now than calling out. I’ve always been the type to avoid conflict. I don’t like it. So if someone else said or did something that was offensive to me or to others, especially in regards to minority groups (age, class, sex, gender, race, religion, etc.), I would either freeze (not know what to do), ignore it, or remove/avoid it. Now, I realize that doesn’t cut it. Calling in has been my middle ground. Calling in, or when you seek conversation and an opportunity for growth and discussion with an individual who has said something hurtful or oppressive, fits my personality because it can be done in private, has an inquiry approach, with the end result usually being educational and reflective. I find that many people respond well to being called in. Don’t get me wrong – there are lots of times when calling out, or letting someone know their comment was hurtful or oppressive right then and there regardless of setting, are warranted and needed. I hope to get to the point where I feel confident and comfortable doing that when it is needed. But I am honest, and I am not there quite yet.
  6. I am committed to being an ally. An ally is someone who uses their privilege to advocate on behalf of someone else or another group who doesn’t hold that same privilege. I don’t feel confident on all stages and in all walks of life. But my role and my work as an educator and as a mom has been my vehicle to allyship. And it is in this arena I feel like I can currently make the biggest difference, so that’s where my efforts lie.
  7. This is a lifelong journey. I won’t all of a sudden be “not racist”. There is no such thing. So rather than fending off or denying my bias (and more specifically my racism), I will work to recognize it actively each and every day, to educate myself on it, to advocate for others, to do what I believe in, and to share that journey with you, if you’re choosing to be here for it.

If you’re interested in understanding my perspective a bit more, there have been three texts that have been revolutionary in my journey. I encourage you to read them, too:

I’m humbled if you decide to stick around despite my vulnerabilities. I’m ok if you decide I am not for you. I’m even more humbled if you completely disagree with me and everything I said, and still decide to stick around. ❤

Sensory Play, Explained

I do a lot of posts on Instagram or on my Instagram stories about sensory play and sensory-focused activities I do with my kids. And there’s so much all over the internet…it’s a widely used play activity in the developmental realm of babies and toddlers. But over the years I’ve noticed that much of the sensory play I see on the internet really has to do with tactile sensory play, which isn’t the only type. If you’re interested in knowing more about what sensory play is, and what it helps to develop and facilitate with your baby or toddler, then this post is for you.

Sensory Play, Defined

Sensory play is exactly what it sounds like: play-based time designed to stimulate a child’s senses. This means sensory play is loosely descriptive of any activity or experience in which a child explores through touch, smell, taste, sound, and sight. And in the case of many sensory play activities, tables, or centers you might see in a classroom, daycare, or on the gram, the play component refers to a mostly unstructured, open-ended experience driven by the curiosity of the child. Yes, there are many crafts or structured activities with a sensory component or a sensory focus. But sensory play itself is usually child-centered, unstructured, and open-ended, allowing the child to explore given materials in ways that peak their curiosity and makes sense to them.

Even though we tend to see tactile sensory play (touch: water tables, play doh, slime, kinetic sand, foam, shaving cream, ice, etc.), there are actually many other types or characteristics of sensory play as well. If you want to know the fancy terms, sensory play also includes vestibular sensory play (gross motor including balance and movement), proprioception sensory play (coordination actions like pushing and pulling and developing spatial awareness), auditory sensory play (bang those pots and pans all you want, girlfriend!), visual sensory play (using toys or activities with high contrast, visual tracking of objects as they move, etc.), and olfactory and taste sensory play (think exploring flowers through smell or allowing kids to use edible materials for play). If you’re interested in reading more about these lesser known types of sensory play, this website is a great resource.

Sensory Play vs. Sensory-Focused

I alluded to this a bit already, but sensory play is actually quite different from sensory-focused activities. In this sense, we want to be sure we are thinking of sensory play as child-centered…meaning we are thoughtful in the choice of materials we provide for kids to play with, but we do not dictate WHAT the child does with those materials and we do not impose our own ideas for how the child should play with those materials. (And we even let them pick their own materials if they desire.) You might have an idea of what your child might actually do with the materials you provide, but the beauty of it is often they end up doing something entirely different using their imagination and idea of pretend play, as well as initiate their own self-exploration of the materials. An example of sensory play would be putting out kinetic sand with various digging tools and loose parts and allowing children to explore freely and talk about what they are doing either with you, peers, or a sibling. An example of a sensory-focused activity might be having a child practice letter formation in a sand tray or using colored feathers to create a wreath. In our stay-at-home days, we have a dedicated time for sensory play, and we have a separate dedicated time for a craft of the day, which is usually sensory-focused or has a sensory component.

Fostering Independence and Language Development

There are LOTS of benefits to sensory play. Brain development and cognition, fine and gross motor skills, problem-solving skills…I could go on and on. But I want to focus on two that I think are most realistic for parents to be thinking about. First, sensory play time, if it’s a part of your structured daily schedule, can allow you to disengage from direct play/supervision with your child which actually gives you time back and allows them to work on independent play skills. Obviously, it’s important to actively supervise because any time there are small parts involved, from a safety perspective, you want to be there in case something gets eaten that’s not supposed to get eaten (etc.). But, if you are able to set ground rules with older toddlers like 1) no eating and 2) stays on the table/on the tray, then you can work towards giving yourself mama time while the kids are engaging in sensory play. These are our two rules, and my almost 5yo is able to follow this – I can be in a different room and trust that he is safe. My almost 3yo still needs active supervision from a distance – maybe I’m on the couch “reading a book” but I’m still actively listening and watching in order to jump in when I need to. My 1yo needs direct, close-proximity supervision because of her desire to explore with taste. I do believe it is really important to encourage independent play, and this is a great way to do so.

Second, sensory play time is a huge opportunity for language development, whether it’s through pretend play with the materials provided or peer-to-peer interaction if you’re lucky enough to have siblings to engage in sensory play together. If you want to encourage language development during sensory play as an active participant yourself, you’ll want to model and introduce new vocabulary (“Wow, this sand is so rough and bumpy. It feels kind of like sandpaper. It is not smooth and soft like playdoh!”), and model how to have a conversation without giving direct orders (“Wow, I can put my sand in this sand castle mold and fill it up. When I turn it over it comes out of the mold in the shape of a castle! What do you notice happens when you use the starfish mold?”). If you want to encourage social language development through peer-to-peer interaction and pretend play, you’ll want to model and introduce social norms like turn taking (“Hmm, there’s only one large shovel today. Have you talked about who will go first?”), how to solve a problem with words (“Dom, you’ve been using the shovel for a really long time, I think it’s my turn now. Could I please have a turn?”), and how to decide on what you’d like to do together (“Luca, what could we do with our shovel and playdoh today? Do you have any ideas? Maybe we could make a fort for our critters?”).

Don’t Stress the Mess

Here’s the biggie that got me when I started doing sensory play: It. is. messy. And our materials might not look the same at the end of a sensory play session as they did at the beginning of a sensory play session, so we have to be prepared for that and accept it. This can be hard for me, and I’ve worked on letting it go. But, I used to be that type that would put out play doh and literally only allow my kid to open one color at a time so he didn’t mix colors. Or if I put out kinetic sand in two different colors – one tray for each kid – I’d be strict about only playing with the tray that’s theirs and not mixing the colors. Or only allowing them to play with the things I purposely placed out (when they asked me if they could go get their matchbox cars to see if they could create jumps and tracks in the clay…I said no). I realized though, that I was limiting their play in doing this, and also limiting their exploration (how would they ever know what happens when you mix two colors, or learn that if we put all colors together we get brown?). This was a hard pill for me to swallow, being the anal retentive perfectionist I am.

But I also found ways around it! So if you’re anal retentive like me, here’s some tips.

  1. Keep two bins/baskets of sensory materials – the ones you’d like to keep intact, and the ones that are getting older and deemed ok for mixing and messing. I did the rainbow foam in this activity because it was nearing the end of its life – it was getting too dried out to continue to play with, so I didn’t care if they mixed it together (which they did!) because I knew this was the last play before the garbage.
  2. Keep the good bins stored. If you want kids to have access to sensory materials on their own, then give them access to the mixing and messing bins while the good bens are stored somewhere else entirely.
  3. Rotate single items at a time from the good bin to the mixing and messing bin. Notice they’re getting short on rainbow rice? Grab SOME of that good stuff from the new bin and add it to the old bin, rather than tossing all and therefore replacing it all. Do it slowly and in spurts rather than all at once.

Sensory Play, In Conclusion

Social media sites are FILLED with bloggers and experts and individuals sharing their sensory play ideas and experiences and documenting them in a way to be helpful to us as consumers, so that we have ideas to replicate for our own children even if we aren’t considered experts. Pinterest and Instagram have endless ideas, and they come in really handy. I just want to remind you that you can make the ‘prettiest’ sensory play station for your children, but it won’t stay pretty, and that’s how it should be. And heck, you don’t need to put so much pressure on yourself to even make it look pretty in the beginning if you don’t want to. After all, sensory play is messy, sensory play is chaotic, sensory play is unscripted. It’s supposed to be that way. So while it’s fun to set out materials in an engaging and enticing way, we need to let go of the expectations that they will actually stay that way, and also let go of the expectation that they need to be that way from the get-go. Some days I just put the play doh out, other days I make elaborate set-ups. Both ways are equally appropriate, and will yield the same experiences.

The Great Debate: The Science of Reading and Where I Stand

(And what you can do to support your child in their journey of learning to read)

I’ve held off on writing on this topic for a WHILE, because once you get into it, the opinions and criticisms and arguments come fast and furiously, even if it’s unwarranted or unwanted. I’m a pretty rational person, even when it comes to controversial topics, which means if someone’s perspectives, beliefs, values, or philosophies are different from my own…rather than trying to argue and prove my point, I try to listen, learn, empathize, and understand. And when I listen, learn, empathize, and understand, sometimes my opinion stays the same, sometimes my opinion changes, and sometimes my opinion just adapts or evolves. None of these outcomes are bad scenarios, in fact, I’d argue, we learn a heck of a lot more when we fill our circle with those who are DIFFERENT from us than those who are the same.

If you’re in elementary education, then you’ve probably heard of the science of reading by now, and you most definitely have heard of ‘the reading wars’. And if you’re a parent of a child in elementary school, then you may have heard this too. If you’re a parent of a child who is struggling to learn to read, then you most definitely may have heard of this either in your own research or in your meetings with your child’s teachers and school personnel. So let me explain…

The Reading Wars: Defined

There are two ‘camps’ of reading experts out there right now, both backed by lots of studies and lots of research. Both camps also continuously attempt to discredit or disprove the other camp in an effort to promote their own as THE answer to teaching all children to read. So let’s meet the players:

On one side of the reading wars, we have those who support the whole language approach to learning to read. The whole language approach operates under the assumption that we learn to read and write best by engaging in language. In other words, we learn whole words by encountering them in context rather than understanding them in isolation.

On the other side of the reading wars, we have those who support the systematic phonics approach to learning to read. This camp operates under the assumption that direct, explicit, and systematic instruction in letter-to-sound correspondences is the best way to teach children to read. In other words, we learn to read by sounding words out, free from any supplemental information like context or pictures.

As with many debates, there’s also usually a player in the middle, and in this case, there is. Right smack in the middle lies the balanced literacy approach to learning to read. Balanced literacy pulls philosophies both from whole language and systematic phonics. In other words, those who support balanced literacy would agree that YES, it is important to teach kids letter-to-sound correspondences so they can ‘sound out’ words, but YES it is ALSO important to teach kids how context can help one learn to read as well.

Here’s a visual to illustrate these approaches, taken from a McGraw Hill publication, and chosen simply for the sake of simplicity:

My Beliefs, My Perspective, My Philosophy (Criticism Welcome!)

Ok, so, now that you have a basic understanding of the reading wars…which is now in its third decade or so…I’m going to share where my beliefs fall. First, you should know that my undergraduate and post-graduate education, work, and research would probably fall within the balanced literacy approach. Makes sense, because I’m typically a middle-of-the-road person…lines up best with the rational side of me – I’m able to see the strengths of both sides of an argument and come up with a compromise somewhere in the middle. And in most of my career so far, I’ve seen the biggest positive effects on kids with the balanced literacy approach.

BUT, in my work as a literacy specialist, I’ve had a relative re-awakening in the past few years. Maybe I’m late to this party, and there are probably loads of experts out there who have already realized this, and are a lot smarter and more impactful than me. My re-awakening, you ask? All players in the reading wars are right, and all players in the reading wars are wrong.

Let me be clear…

I DO think kids need direct, systematic, and explicit instruction in phonics.

I DO think kids need regular and easy access to trade books.

I DO think kids need to be taught to sound words out AND to use context to help.

I DO think kids need to self-monitor their reading and learn how they, themselves, can determine if they got a word wrong while reading.

I DO think kids need to know what to do to fix a word they realize they got wrong (called self-correcting), and I DO think there are various strategies to do this including BUT NOT LIMITED TO sounding out, looking at the picture, thinking about what sounds right, etc.

In fact, I think learning to read is so specific and individualized to the child who’s in front of you, that you can’t slap on a philosophy that is one size fits all and expect it to reach every single child. Where I disagree with the visual I included above is the part of the visual that says, “best for…”, because I think that statement compartmentalizes kids into labels that attempt to describe how they learn holistically, when learning in general and learning to read is much, MUCH more complicated than that.

In short, the best approach (IN MY OPINION) to teaching a child to read and write is to treat that individual as their own person with strengths and weaknesses, and how their strengths and weaknesses play off of one another (or don’t play off of one another). There are and will be students who need the phonics-based approach, and there are and will be kids who can learn to read and write with the whole language approach. And there are and will be kids who learn to read and write with the balanced literacy approach. But I feel strongly that teaching kids to read and write is more a concoction of different approaches based off of what that student is showing you they already do/know. The way I teach student A to read and write is 1000% different from the way I teach student B to read and write. In fact, I think I’d be hard pressed to find any two students in my career that I have taught to read and write in the exact same way.

So, as a parent, what can you do to support your child?

  1. Read often. Read with them, read to them, and create a general positive atmosphere and mood around reading. Talk to them about what they read. Have conversations about books. Instill a love of reading as best you can, and don’t force it.
  2. Notice how they read. Do they read accurately? Fluently? With expression and intonation? If not, try modeling for them. Show them (without telling them explicitly) how you read when you read accurately/fluently/with expression and intonation.
  3. Encourage and coach them. Don’t tell them a word when they are stuck, but don’t necessarily let it go either. Ask them to try a strategy (you don’t even have to know the strategies!) that might help, and if they aren’t sure what you mean by ‘strategy’, prompt them to think about what their teacher has been teaching them. Sometimes, even just telling them, “Go back and try that again,” is enough to solve the problem. And don’t get mad at them. If your child is frustrated, or you are frustrated, it’s time to put the book away, or change to a different book altogether.
  4. Be the parent, not the teacher. (Harsh, I know, I’m sorry!….and even I struggle with this one, for the record.) It’s easy to hop on Google and start researching and looking for ways you can help – we all want the best for our children and will do whatever we can to help them succeed. I’ve seen many instances of this where a parent has the best intentions, but they end up counteracting what we are trying to teach in school, and the child just ends up very confused. It’s even easier to begin ‘teaching’ your child to read the way you were taught to read (“Just sound it out!” or “Here’s some flashcards, memorize these words!”), but (1) your child isn’t you and (2) best practices in education and instruction have changed light years since we were in school.
  5. Avoid comparisons. Avoid comparisons to siblings, friends, or peers. It’s not that comparing is bad, it’s just that it can get you down a rabbit hole, and most of the time that rabbit hole is negative space. If you find yourself subconsciously comparing often, remind yourself that all children are different, all children learn at different paces, and all children learn in different ways.
  6. Question and advocate. If your child is struggling or begins to struggle, it is ok to question your child’s teacher(s) or advocate when you think you’re not being heard or your child’s needs aren’t being met. Ask what methods your teacher/school is using, ask if there are opportunities to try other methods or strategies out. Ask if your child has received targeted small-group or individual instruction to address his or her challenges and weaknesses. Advocate for assessments to determine your child’s strengths and weaknesses if the teachers haven’t already (hint: all good teachers should be able to tell you your child’s strengths and weaknesses, and have data to prove it). And don’t become complacent – trust your gut, and get second opinions from professionals (not other parents!) if something doesn’t seem right, or you aren’t seeing progress.

Dear Katie: A Letter to Pandemic Me

We’re heading into the one-year anniversary of the shutdown, of COVID-19, of the pandemic – what seems like the end of life as we knew it. I was newly post-partum, heading back to work, and all of a sudden the world shut down and people were dying. The fear was real, and for my newly post-partum self, the emotions were visceral. In the beginning, we laughed it off, not really knowing or understanding the reality of it and the long journey that was just beginning. Some days were great, and I was able to find the silver linings easily – more time at home, more time with the kids, a comfortable house, sweat pants every day, curbside delivery, and Dine In CT. Some days were hell – WFH while caring for 3 under 4, a hubs who at times might not have understood I needed space, and the literal prison of not being able to leave my house or my yard, never mind the moments I CRAVED separation from the very beings who carry my heart outside of my body. And then the weeks turned into months and the humor turned more to normalcy, some days we were sane and some days we were not. Don’t get me wrong – we were fortunate then and we are fortunate now, and there are many others who have had it way worse than us. But if I were to go back and tell my pandemic self all the things I I realize now, this is what I would say:

Dear Katie,

Let. it. go. That load of laundry that sat wet in the washer overnight? Run it again. It’s not worth coming down on yourself for that. One musty load is a heck of a lot better than the MOUNTAINS of clean laundry that now sit in the hamper unfolded for days at a time (mostly till the kids run out of clean clothes to wear and we realize we have to get ‘er done). The fact that your husband can’t seem to find the hamper, and most of his clothes end up on the ground right next to it rather than inside of it? Leave it alone. Who cares, no one’s coming to the house these days anyway. The bruises put the Playmobil away the wrong way? They’re just going to play with it again tomorrow. If you fix it now, it just gets messed up again the next time around. At least they’re playing, and at least they’re attempting to clean up after themselves. One day you’ll realize these things really weren’t the end of the world, and your house was more than liveable, even when you thought you couldn’t go another day living in the mess.

Stop spending. It’s a pandemic and the world is shut down. Instead of buying 34059845098 new sweatshirts and sweat suits so that you can look like a scrub in style, save that money for things that will suit your family more. You aren’t seeing anyone anyway, and the few people you do see could care less what you look like. They just want you to be their wife and their mom. Plus, that temporary happiness you get from rocking a new sweatshirt is a lot less valuable than the long term wealth you gain from having more for your family down the road, even if it means less for you right now.

It’s ok to struggle. You will question your own mental health many days. You will wonder if you need to seek professional help, but never actually take the initiative to get it. You will experience middle of the night wakes with a racing heart and a racing mind, mostly as a result of the work/home stress and anxiety. And it will be an anxiety you aren’t used to, one you haven’t experienced before. One that triggers migraines and forces you to call out of work because you just can’t work up the courage to face the world that day, to do your job that day, to show up for your kids that day. And you know what? It’s ok. This is the hidden side of life. You’ll dig yourself out of it each time, and you’ll figure out a way to keep moving forward. You’ll find yourself again one day, and you’ll find ways to manifest that crippling stress and anxiety into something good.

Take care of yourself. And when you do take care of yourself, it doesn’t mean you’re selfish, or you’re less of a mom, or you’re less of a wife, or you’re less of a professional, or you’re less of a woman. And stop looking to social media or pop culture to figure out what it means to take care of yourself. If taking care of yourself means eating cookies and candy, do it. If taking care of yourself means finding time to exercise again, do it. If taking care of yourself means letting go of the expectations society has set for you or if taking care of yourself means embracing the expectations society has set for you, do it. If taking care of yourself means saying yes more or if taking care of yourself means saying no more, do it. And don’t feel badly about it. And definitely don’t apologize for it. Those littles who need you most will get a better you if you start taking care of yourself. You’ll be better for yourself and you’ll be better for them. It’s a win-win.

Be more present and practice patience. Stop thinking that things will go back to normal tomorrow. Don’t plan any parties or book any vacations. When you look up the definition of pandemic, believe it. But don’t let it consume you. Take things a day at a time, and work on managing the present moment in a way that helps you all survive that moment, or better yet, be happy or content in that moment. Turn off the TV, put your phone away, and do a craft even if your two year old can’t handle it, or play a board game as a family even if turn taking is hard. Live in the moment, stop thinking about the past or the future.

Show your teammate you care. Your number 1, your ride or die…he always shows up. Remember that. He puts up with your moods, your anal retentiveness, your stubbornness, and your princess requests. Go out of your way to make sure he knows how much you appreciate him and how much you value his teamwork. Stop comparing how much you do to how much he does. It’s not a competition, you’re on the same team, and you help each other out.

Play. Play with your kids, play like your kids, play like an adult. Do things that bring you joy, indulge in more wine, be silly, dance like a goofball. Now is a better time than any to literally dance like no one is watching – because literally no one is watching. And stop feeling guilty if you played more than you should have. Who cares if you’re 33 and have a hangover, or who cares if you have work in the morning. Because literally the world is at a stand still and we are living a new normal one moment at a time.

Accept yourself for all of you, and don’t feel guilty, shameful, or worthless because of it. You are you and no one and no thing can take that away from you. Live your life the way you want to live it, and stop putting pressure on yourself in comparison to others. Your hair’s falling out because it’s postpartum 3 and it’s the worst yet? Flaunt it. You have a pouch for a belly because your skin just won’t go back to normal anymore? Be proud of it. You can’t get that extra work done at night or on the weekends because your family needs you more? The world goes on. And don’t judge anyone else who may be doing things differently than you, or worse, don’t feel less adequate by what others are able to do that you can’t.

Enjoy the snuggles. The lazy mornings laying in bed. The pillows being thrown in piles for the world’s biggest “the floor is lava” game. The leftovers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The flat yard with the swingset. The dog who follows you and the kids around all day, just like the 6th family member he is. Pick up the phone calls and facetimes from family and friends. Ask others how they are doing and listen to what they say before moving on to the real reason you called. Be thoughtful. Say I love you. Accept criticism with grace and make an effort to make change. Grow instead of staying status quo.

You got this, I can’t wait to see who you’ve become on the other side, because if it doesn’t seem it now, I know you’ll be someone you’re proud of, someone you’re inspired by, and someone you’re empowered from.

Your same self,

Katie