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! ❤️

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.

For the Love of Reading

If you’ve read my introduction you know I’m a K-4 literacy specialist by trade. I love all things books, but one of my favorite things in the world is seeing little kids get lost in a book, jump up and down on library day, or laugh out loud and follow along as you read to them. Reading is magic, at least to me (and many others I think!), because it’s both therapeutic and informative, it’s both entertaining and educational (for life…not just when you’re little).

One of the single most important things when it comes to developing literacy skills in young children is encouraging and helping kiddos develop a love of reading. And this post will PREACH that. I mean legit PREACH it, because I’m about to offer 20 tips for encouraging the love of reading in your own kids. And if you even do some of these 20 things, you’ll be well on your way to creating an authentic reading environment for your kids to grow up in. And that environment is what will mold them and shape them into literate adults.

I’m not going to go into detail on all 20 things, because, well, you can read. but I will elaborate on a few that I believe are some of the most important.

  1. Reading aloud to your kids as much as possible and surrounding them with books is single-handedly the most important thing you can do. Not only will this help them develop a love of reading, but it will result in leaps and bounds in terms of language development. Not to mention it will establish sacred family time detached from screens and technology. And it’s NEVER too young to start!
  2. Don’t force it. This is especially hard for me with the boys. Because I want so badly for them to occupy their days pouring through books, transporting themselves to make-believe land or learning new facts to answer their wonderings. But the more you force it, the more you’ll create a combative culture around reading. And once you have a combative culture around reading, that can be one of the most challenging things to break. It’s also one of the things that can impede them from making normal progress in learning to read conventionally in school. Reading engagement is key.
  3. Choice. Kids need the freedom to choose what they want to read so they can wonder and explore and learn on their own time. But giving them choices also means you have a responsibility of showing them what all the choices can be. Expose them to different genres, different authors. Nobody wants to be pigeonholed, but sometimes it’s easy to get pigeonholed if you don’t know what else is out there.
  4. And it’s NEVER too young to start. I’ll say it again. It’s never too young to start! I know this isn’t in the top 20, but just a reminder that there’s lots of research that suggests that even babies in the womb benefit from hearing mom or dad read to them. Starting early (a) helps you create a habit and (b) let’s a baby experience allllll the sensory aspects of reading, like touching and feeling and hearing and seeing (your facial expressions as you read).

Here’s what my kids are currently reading. Bruises on the left, when I asked them to pick their favorites from our current display in the playroom. Bow on the right – her current nightstand pile – the ones we read to her at bedtime.

I’m going to press pause for a second and give you some real honesty, because I can preach all I want but you also need to know reality. I did everything right with the bruises. We started reading to them straight out of the womb. And as babies and even in the early stages of toddlers, they ate it up. Loved reading. I would catch them knee deep in book baskets that I keep scattered around the house, all on their own.

As both boys have gotten older, they are starting to take more after their dad than me when it comes to reading. My husband’s facetious claim to fame is that he made it through high school with Spark Notes. “I’ve never finished a book in my life,” he brags. (Really something to brag about, huh?) Nowadays, they’d rather wrestle or run or play with PlayMobil over reading a book, and I’m lucky if they wander over to the book shelves and baskets on their own once a day. Now, who knows. It could be just a phase and they’ll come around again – I’m still doing all of the things I’m preaching in the most authentic way possible (without putting pressure on them). Or maybe they won’t, and that’s ok. Not everyone grows up to be a book lover. My husband’s doing just fine personally and professionally, even if he is a self-proclaimed anti-reader. I’ll never tell him this for the sake of his ego (albeit facetious), but he actually IS a reader. He just doesn’t realize he’s a reader – it’s just that he doesn’t read traditional things like books or magazines. But you can find him on his phone or iPad for hours, reading blogs or sports stories, or googling biographical information on Lin Manuel Miranda after watching Hamilton.