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Ramona and Ralph the Mouse love DEAR!

Yeah, you can sing that to Aretha’s RESPECT and I won’t tell.

But DEAR and TCH really are not the latest in pop tunes. They are two great websites I discovered and wanted to pass on to you.

DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) has been around a while and is officially celebrated on Beverly Cleary’s birthday, April 12. But this video (1 minutes long) does a great job of showing how it can become a regular part of a school day–and the same can be done at home, of course!

Some of the things I love about this video are:

  • it’s noisy: reading and storytimes do not need to be quiet; reading aloud and the conversation that goes with it is a noisy kind of learning;
  • it’s wiggly: reading and storytimes do not need to be still; some kids like to sit and some like to move around or stand; they are all soaking it up;
  • it’s fairly unstructured: while reading (and more so storytimes) sometimes need planning and care, just as often all it takes is to pick up a book; some kids are read to solo, some are in pairs, some are in groups and these “reading groups” are not assigned or planned;
  • it’s easy: anyone can pick up a book and read to a child (and even if you can’t read, you can talk about the pictures or make up a story to go along with the pictures–it’s still “reading” for young children).

Finally, TCH Teaching Channel is one of the best sites for teaching and education ideas I’ve run across. Quality stuff! It’s worth exploring.

How could you adapt DEAR in your school, home, or library? Share your ideas with others!





Now that all the hoopla has died down–and since you asked–here’s my take on the supposed demise of the children’s picture book (read the NYT article that started it all here).

My take? It’s much ado over nothing (except on two points). Here’s why:

  • The article’s point is a business point. Sales have dropped. The most obvious reason should be the economy. Did anyone check the sales on other goods purchased with disposable income? Are the figures on picture book sales really that much different from those of skateboards or barbies?
  • Second, why does it sound like  consumers are such dumb sheep that they will only buy what is on display right under their noses? If you want to buy a picture book, shop for a picture book, no matter what marketing ploys the seller is utilizing.
  • Third, if we buy them, publishers will print them. If we don’t, they won’t.

So why should adults purchase (or check out of their friendly neighborhood library ;-)) picture books for kids?

The two most important reasons are:

First, for most of the time, for most kids ages birth through six-ish to seven-ish, picture books are developmentally the most appropriate reading format.

What does that mean? It means the child will enjoy the reading experience more. They will not feel pushed, rushed, or bored as they will with a chapter book or beginning reader. (When’s the last time you read one? They are good for practicing reading. They are not highly motivating.) Children who enjoy reading read more.

The second reason involves choice. Children who are allowed to choose their own books read more. Choice means they can choose anything, even if a grown-up deems it “too easy.” Reading increases reading. The type of reading “matter” is not what increases reading. The quantity of reading is what increases reading (as long as it is enjoyable). So if your child enjoyed hearing the phone book read aloud, that would make him or her a better reader!

Whoever you want to point the finger at for “pushing” kids into beginning readers and chapter books, the deciding factor is you, the parent. You hold the wallet–not the publishers, book sellers, school district, or teacher. Listen to and watch your kid. What is he or she truly turned on to in books? What does he or she choose? Buy it, check it out of the library, get more of it until he or she is ready to move onto something else. Read aloud even after he or she has learned to read. Make reading enjoyable. For most young children, that enjoyment will be through picture books.

Off my soapbox now,


I don’t like rap. Never have. Before last week I would have said never will.

My mother always said, “Never say never.”

Take a look and listen here to what Lin-Manuel Miranda has done with what could be a dry as dust history lesson about the US’s first Secretary of the Treasury. A four and a half minute rap about an economist? All we usually remember about him is his death–he was killed by Aaron Burr in a duel.

You’ll remember much more about him after you give Miranda a listen. You may even find yourself (along with your kids) wanting to know more.

So why am I posting this on a literacy blog? Here’s a few reasons:

  • It involves language, lots of it, well chosen and carefully put together. Writing, communication, and creative expression don’t get much finer than this.
  • It’s well done. It’s so well done, it looks easy. But what he has created here is difficult to do. Kids need to see and hear the good stuff.
  • It demonstrates how the brain loves story. You learned most of this in school. How much did you remember before listening to Miranda? And how much do you remember now, now that you’ve heard about Hamilton through a narrative story, told in rhyme and rhythm? Quiz yourself in a few days. You’ll be surprised. Stories help us remember.

It’s an easy, fun history lesson as well. 😉

Watch it more than once. It actually gets better with each viewing.



I did better than average on this quiz concerning Google searches, but I also learned a few things I didn’t know.

It’s quick to take and would be handy for teachers, school librarians, and homeschoolers to use for a lesson on search engines.

Happy Searching,


Big messes are never easy to fix. But they are possible when we have the big picture in mind–and when that picture is accurate. Dr. Susan Engel does a marvelous job of refocusing the big picture in the NY Times today; click here. Take a few minutes to read it; she defines the issues just so, making it well worth the read.

We’ve known for over fifty years, through research and experience, what children need to learn. In many ways most children don’t need much; human beings are designed to learn. It’s like feeding them; basic nutrition is not rocket science or we never would have survived as a species. Learning is the same. Yet slowly and incrementally we have eroded that starting point. We have replaced what truly works with “stuff” that grows out of our attitudes. We, as adults, want to feel good and look good and we’ve used children as our props.

Our educational system is busted. It’s a mess and it needs fixing. Some honesty is needed, though, before any changes will matter. And most of this honesty involves attitudes:

More is not better. A malnourished child and a well nourished child do not need the same things. Neither does a “educationally” nourished child need the same things as the “educationally” malnourished child. Middle and upper class parents need to turn loose of this attitude. It strains resources and it harms children who do not need all that “extra” nourishment.

Earlier is not better. There is no research that supports that the earlier a child does something, the better they are at it later. Is your child better at using the toilet at age ten because he potty-trained 9 months before his cousin? Of course, not, how silly.  The same principle applies to learning to walk, talk, read, or count. Doing it “early,” first off, does not last, and second, does not bear out later in “being better.” And when we push for earlier, we stress children, burn them out, kill the love of learning that’s built into them, and take away time from the learning “stuff” they would be doing–if they weren’t working flashcards, beginning readers, or worksheets. Earlier is better has been the mantra in the schools for over forty years–but in the same space of time, results have fallen and fallen. We need to make the connection. It makes us feel like we are “doing more” for children and that makes us look and feel good, but it is counter-productive.

Giving your child every “educational” advantage does not make you a better parent, give you status, or change how you feel about working full-time–or staying home full-time. We as parents need to separate what we claim we do for our kids “for their good” and what we are really doing because it makes us feel better. This is hard, separating our needs from those of our child, but it is essential to good parenting (and to any good relationship). When these get muddled, we sign up for everything “they” (marketers) tell us is needed and we pressure child cares and schools to “do more.”

I hope more people like Dr. Engel get involved in the conversation as NCLB gets revamped. But parents need to be involved also. Schools and legislators need to hear that this is “all right” with parents, that we will support them as they make these desperately needed changes. If you want further reading on this subject, I highly recommend Dr. David Elkind’s book Miseducation.

Read, think, watch your kids–and be honest! We can do what’s best for kids!


In previous posts (search early childhood education) I’ve been examining cardboard boxthe difference between early education for children from deprived environments vs “good enough” environments.

Middle and upper class families tend to fall into the “too much, too soon” trap, pushed by marketers to sell a product and policy makers desperate for a quick fix to problems with our education system. Educationally “too much, too soon” is detrimental to children. It leads to stress and burn-out by around grade 3 and a lack of interest in learning and the world in general. (Read Dr. David Elkind’s book Miseducation).

Does that mean we can do nothing with our young children, either at home or in day care settings? Absolutely not. It simply means we have to select appropriate, thoughtful, and child-centered activities. We have to be honest with ourselves that we are not doing this to make ourselves feel better about staying at home with our children or sending them to day care, that we are not trying to prove something to the world about ourselves as parents. It really does not take much to raise a happy, healthy, curious preschooler.

So you have a toddler or preschooler who is awake and energetic and curious for about twelve hours a day? What to do? Here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t let this blog title fool you: Early Literacy Counts. I’ve been following it for several weeks and it’s just a splendid example of how we can do things with our kids without overdoing. If my kids were still under the age of five and I wanted some age appropriate ideas, it’s where I would look first..
  • One of the great books for life with preschoolers is The Mother’s Almanac by Marguerite Kelley. It’s been around for decades, has been updated several times, and most importantly, most parents who have owned a copy have worn it out.
  • Some kids are clamoring for intellectual stimulation even at an early age. When you child seems interested, check out Peggy Kaye’s series of books on reading, math, writing, and books (Games for Math, Games for Reading, etc.). These work with ages 5-ish through 3rd grade and are great investment for only $11 each. Every page is a game–and the games do all the teaching! (In fact, if you start using the game to teach, you’ll spoil the learning). Pick and play as long as it’s fun! I used these for years with both my boys and with children I tutored.

Finally, whatever you plan for your child, doublecheck it meets these criteria:

  • It interests them (in other words not you or someone else you’re trying to impress).
  • It’s age appropriate. That means if it frustrates or bores, then it’s too easy or too hard. In other words, it’s not age appropriate.
  • Make it sensory. Does it involve at least one of the six senses (feeling, hearing, seeing, moving, tasting, smelling)?

Other activities that you can always fall back on at a moment’s notice? (Yeah, we all have days like that).

  • Reading-aloud.
  • Singing.
  • Going places & talking about them. Even a walk down the street counts if you have your eyes and ears open and think like a child for whom the world is new.

Finally here’s a list of “toys” that encourage solo play, side by side play, sharing play, imaginative play, age appropriate “learning” play:

  • sand box (add cups, spoons, and other containers for pouring)
  • rice box (ditto the above)
  • blocks
  • pretend play props (kitchen, tools, dress up, etc.); these don’t have to be toys, real ones are great!
  • balls
  • water (indoor, outdoor, in the tub, in the sink, etc.)
  • pots & pans, real ones!
  • nature walks (that walk down the street counts)
  • riding toys (no batteries, the push or pedal with your feet kind)
  • large empty boxes
  • blanket over a table
  • paper, markers, glue or tape, scissors
  • play dough
  • nesting containers
  • toy kitchen (both my boys loved this and when it had finished its “indoor” years, it became an outdoor toy near the sandbox)
  • button jar (yeah, just a jar full of buttons, my grandmother had one and I loved playing with it)

And remember the mantra of all good teachers: “Curriculum” (in other words, anything you “use” to enrich your child’s life) is only a tool. It doesn’t have to “be finished” and if it doesn’t work, you can (and usually should) put it aside. It’s only a tool.

Enjoy having little ones around!


We had fun with “Mouse and Mice” in storytime today!

We read:circle time

  • Mouse Mess by Linnea Riley has nice rhymes and lots of pictures to talk about.
  • A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker develops print awareness and narrative skills plus you can add fun voices and a suspenseful build-up.
  • Mouse Paint by Ellen Walsh is great for playing with colors afterwards.

We played and sang:

  • Hickory, Dickory, Dock stand-up game
  • Little Mousie fingerplay
  • and Buenos Dias and If You’re Happy and You Know It since it was a new group.

Rhymes, games, songs, and fingerplays are all available under Rhymes & Fingerplays; scroll down the left-hand column.

Have fun!


Last week I posted about my concern for children when adults try to do too cribmuch with them and too soon. (Read No Curriculum Needed here.) I also said that I would write more.

Actually I will probably write more about this topic many times. Today, let’s start with a couple points and then some recommendations.

First, these waters are murky because we pour everything about early childhood education into one bucket when there really need to be two buckets. One is early childhood education for children from environments where things are missing. The other is early childhood education for children from “good enough” environments.

Children from deficient environments need all the help we can give them. They are fighting an uphill battle and much of that fight is running against the clock. They do not have the nutrition they need to nourish their bodies and minds. They do not have the human interactions they need to stimulate  attachment and language development. They do not have a safe environment to discover, explore, and experiment with. These children from deprived environments end up with deprived brains and stunted capabilities for human relationships if intervention does not happen at critical times in the years between birth and age 5. They are like the babies in Romania that David Elkind writes about here.

They are also like many, many children here in America who live in poverty, with homelessness, and within families devastated by violence and drug addiction. Don’t kid yourself. We may not have them locked up in orphanages, spending their days and nights in cribs, but their deprivations have the same effects on their brains.

The good news, though, is that in the 60’s with the war on poverty, the beginning of Headstart, and programs like Sesame Street, we discovered something amazing. Early intervention made a difference in the lives of these children! The emphasis, though, was on early. Why? Because that’s when a big chunk of brain development takes place including a full 85% of language development.  (Most recently, numerous brain imagery studies have confirmed what that 60’s experience had found.)

So whence comes all the confusion? Well, middle and upper class families thought their children needed the same things. In a foundational sense, they certainly do. ALL children need proper nutrition, human interaction, and an enriched safe environment (to name just a few).

But in a practical sense these kids don’t need the same things. Why not? Because they are already getting them.

And giving them more doesn’t help. It hurts.

Think about it. We all want the best for all children. But we need to step back and clearly look at what each child and each demographic of children need.

If a child is deprived nutritionally and we intervene and get good food to them in the right quantities and they begin to grow and play and learn again, magnificent! But it does not mean that “good enough” parents, caregivers, and schools then need to give the same meals to kids in “good enough” environments. They are already being fed well. More is not better. It does actual harm, making the kids fat.

The child taken to the park, given blocks to play with, and read to every day simply does not need anything more to develop as he or she should. The child locked in the crib needs far more than he or she is getting. That child needs the trips to the park, the blocks, and the cuddles and books and reading aloud.

Can you see the difference?

I’ll be back with more.


I had a conversation yesterday with a very caring, very well intentioned mother of a three year old.

She wanted to know what curriculum she could use with her.

I’m afraid I got on my soapbox big-time. I’m not going to do that here and now  (I may later :-)) but I do want to declare quite passionately:

Children between the ages of birth and five do not need a curriculum. Period. The end.

There are a few exceptions, but folks, those are exceptions, not the rule.

You didn’t need to teach your child to suck, to pick things up, to roll over, to walk,  or even to talk. You don’t need to teach your child the other things his or her brain is wired to grow into and learn in the ensuing years before school begins either.

I am truly worried about the coming generation of children who are not allowed to be babies and toddlers and preschoolers, following their own interests and curiosities and timetables. What happens when we have children with no childhoods?

I’ll write more soon about why this is not just my opinion. And I’ll write more about what is and is not needed.

Remember, no batteries and no curriculum needed.


Here are some great tips, surprising statistics, and our favorite no-brainer from the editors of the East Oregonian to help your child do better in school. They put it right on the line: Parents, you are the most important factor in your child’s education. Not the teachers, not the schools, but you.

Read more here.

(Did you find the no-brainer? ” At the early stages, the best 20 minutes parents can spend each day is reading to their children.” Make it your homework assignment with your kids each day!)


If you scroll down the left column, you’ll see that the listing of pages for Homeschooling Helps has been cleaned up. I hope you’ll find it clearer and easier to use. (Rhymes & Fingerplays got a makeover too!)

If you have questions or need a suggested resource, drop me an email ( and I’ll do my best to come up with something helpful! And what you have a question about, someone else probably does too!

Here’s to great school years at home!


I know, I know. All the “best ways to make your way blogging” say don’t post apologies.

But here’s mine anyway ’cause it just keeps rolling in. question mark

I went on my first vacation in three years. A good thing–but no blogging while on vacation.

One week home and caught up enough to burn up the keyboard for you–and I get the 8 a.m. phone call that my kid at camp (of sorts) probably has the H1N1 (swine) flu. He did. I left the next morning, driving out to NC from CO, 1700 miles in 2.5 days. And then back again. (And he’s fine. More on the flu later).

Back home, I play catch-up again. I even post a little. I’m ready though to start sending ya’ll some thought-provoking, inspiring, useful posts–and the call comes in from the college kiddo in IL.

No, he doesn’t have the flu.

But he was at the doctor’s office and needs to come home for an outpatient procedure. So I’m scrambling to make that happen with aaaalllll that entails, especially on such short notice (he’s got to be well and clear by Sept. 5 to fly to Rome for his semester abroad).

So long story, not very short, 🙂 hang in there with me please! I’ll try to post some good stuff, but it will be a lot of “borrowing” for a bit until I have time to sit and breathe and think–and even find you a few new fingerplays and such.

I promise!

So here’s really, really good video, Shift Happens (the newest version). It’ll make you wonder and think and gawk with your mouth open–and then watch it again and think about children and the kind of education they need.


PS–Here’s also a wikispace page with more info (and a download link).

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Contact Info for Babette

email babette(dot)reeves(at)gmail(dot)com
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73 State Avenue
Alamosa, CO 81101

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