Tag Archives: parenting

can't sit still

If they’re squirming, they’re learning



From kindergarten to second grade, Budlong’s teachers required him to read aloud to us for 20-30 minutes each night.  Here’s what a typical reading session sounded like in our house:

Stop bending the pages! Set the book down so I can see what you’re reading.

Put your toy down and focus on the book.

Get your hands out of your mouth.

Stop tapping the pencil while you read. It’s distracting.

Do you have to pee? No? Then stop writhing in that chair!

Are you sick? No? Then sit up straight!

You can get a drink of water when you’re done.

Can you just not. touch. anything. within 5 feet of us???

For the love of god, SIT STILL AND READ!!!

Kids can’t sit still, but should they have to?

Do you have squirmy bookworms, too?  Please humor me and tell me you’ve been there. I was pretty sure I had every right to lose my patience over this until I read Michael Sullivan’s book Raising Boy Readers. And then I realized that my gender has a lot to do with what I think reading should look like. Citing brain research, Sullivan explains that the corpus callosum, the part of the brain that controls communication between both hemispheres, is less developed in a male than in a female. Consequently, girls have an advantage when it comes to language because it’s a task that requires both halves of the brain. To overcome this disadvantage, boys seek out stimuli to “wake up the brain” to prepare it for reading. These stimuli can be in the form of sound, color, motion, or physical activity. Translation? Budlong’s constant fidgeting and wiggling is not an attempt to avoid reading but an attempt to get better at it. It’s not a distraction to him; it’s a learning strategy.

Shortly after this epiphany, I came across an NEA article that corroborates this idea:

“A 2008 study found that children actually need to move to focus during a complicated mental task. The children in the study—especially those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—fidgeted more when a task required them to store and process information rather than just hold it. This is why students are often restless while doing math or reading, but not while watching a movie, explained Dr. Mark Rapport, the supervisor of the study and professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

Not only do boys need to move during a learning activity such as reading or math, they can also benefit from increased physical activity throughout their day. An article recently published in Time magazine reports the results of a 2016 Finnish study:

“Boys whose days were more sedentary when they were in first grade (a crucial year for learning to read) made fewer gains in reading in second and third grade. They also did worse at math for that year.”  

BTW, Budlong just cited this article in his third-grade persuasive paper about needing more gym time!

Get them moving!

If you think your child could benefit from auditory or physical stimuli while reading, consider these ideas the next time you need to rally for reading homework. He could read while

  • standing or pacing
  • listening to music
  • holding a fidget toy (squish ball, soft piece of fabric)
  • riding a stationary bike

Acting out a book after reading can also improve comprehension. What other ideas do you have for incorporating movement into your child’s reading/learning? I’d love to hear about them!


Relax. 7 Signs Your Kindergartner Will Learn to Read and Write


I am not what you’d call a laid-back mother. Being a firstborn, Budlong has reaped both the benefits and the drawbacks of my control-freakishness. I wanted to do everything “right”—I breastfed for nine months; I made my own baby food; we used cloth diapers; we kept him away from TV for almost two years. Mediocrity was not an option; I wanted him to be exceptional. That included learning to read at an early age. I was pretty confident that we were on the right track.

We surrounded him with print…

surround your child with print

…encouraged his book-handling skills…

book handling skills

…read aloud to him every day…

reading aloud to him

And then one day I took him in for kindergarten pre-assessments. His teacher brought him back to me and reported, “He knows 5 sight words.” And I had a quiet panic attack. What’s a sight word?  How many should he know by now? How many do the other kids know? The rest of kindergarten was an angry blur, me pushing Budlong to read by himself and him resisting because he was not ready to read.

With Ashman’s literacy development, I’ve decided to take a different approach.  There’s no doubt he will learn to read.  But I want him to enjoy the process. In his book Raising Boy Readers, Michael Sullivan says, “The best thing any parent can do to help a boy become a reader is relax.” I think as parents we’re so focused on that magical moment when our children begin to read or write that we discount the steps needed to get there and stay there. Sometimes we get frustrated and even see them as acts of cheating or regression. On the contrary, the following seven habits should be celebrated just as much as the acts of reading and writing themselves: Continue reading


Co-viewing: Making Your Child’s Screen Time More Like a Read Aloud


Confession: I sometimes get my news by just skimming headlines.  So last month when “American Academy of Pediatrics Lifts ‘No Screens Under 2’ Rule” popped up on my newsfeed, I was devastated.  For the first 23 months and 3 weeks of Budlong’s life, we diligently kept him away from digital media. (In the week before he turned two I was working in France, my husband was an exhausted single parent, and Budlong got pink eye.  At that point, TV was just what the doctor ordered.) But now after all our efforts to be “good” parents, is the AAP throwing in the towel?  I clicked on the headline and upon further inspection understood that this was not a “can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” act of surrender.  More helpful to parents than a complete ban, the AAP’s new recommendations clearly explain what media young children should be viewing and how they should view it.  In a nutshell, the how can be answered with one word: co-viewing. This means watching TV, using an app, or playing a video game should look and sound a lot like reading aloud to your child. Continue reading


Harry Potter and the Misguided Mother


Budlong dressed as Harry Potter for Halloween In the next few months, the Switch Witch, St. Nick, and Santa Claus will all visit our house. Ashman’s wiggly incisor means the tooth fairy might also have to make an appearance. Some of you will even take on the nightly responsibility of elf relocation. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be all these people for our kids. The only thing we want in return is to see their faces light up. But what happens when your plan is foiled? What if your kid is smart enough to look in the closet where you hide the gifts, wake up in the middle of the night to catch you in the act, or go out and acquire the gift for himself? Take a few deep breaths, and learn from my mistake last Halloween… Continue reading


Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Be Critical Consumers of Text


To celebrate Banned Books Week, Budlong , Ashman and I participated in a Virtual Read-Out. We read the frequently challenged (and sometimes stolen off the shelves!) And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. This is the true story of Roy and Silo, two male penguins in the New York City zoo who became a couple, adopted an egg, and raised a baby penguin named Tango. Check out our YouTube video:

After reading, I explained to the boys that some adults don’t want us to read this book. They don’t like the idea of two boy penguins in love or that the baby penguin has two daddies. These adults are trying to get the book taken out of schools and public libraries. Their reactions were pretty precious.  Ashman is thankful we own it and nobody can take our copy. (Thanks Great Grandma for the awesome gift!)  Budlong suggested they use their karate on anyone who tries to tell them they can’t read this book.  Don’t you love how kids’ brains simplify issues for us?  You must be a bad guy if you want to take books away from people.

With freedom comes responsibility

Here is a list of frequently challenged children’s books to help you celebrate Banned Books Week and our freedom to seek out and express ideas.  I think it’s important to remember, however, that we have the responsibility to teach our children that just because ideas are printed in a book doesn’t mean we have to agree with them. Put in kid language: disliking a book doesn’t make you a bad guy. But not giving others the freedom to decide for themselves does. For example, Tintin in the Congo is on this list. I would never let my children read this book without a conversation about how the African people are depicted and the historical context from which it came.  In fact, I used this comic book when I taught high school French solely to make the point that the racist attitude reflected in the illustrations was used to justify imperialism and colonization in Africa.

Sometimes starting these conversations with young children is as easy as saying “I don’t like this…” and explaining how a part of the book/illustration makes you feel.  When Budlong and I got to book four in the Harry Potter series (also on the challenged list), I said, “Whoa, this is starting to get pretty dark and violent. I don’t like this.” Budlong agreed and is now on a self-imposed Harry Potter hiatus until he’s older.  And hopefully I’ve given him the tools to spot violence himself and decide if he wants to continue reading/viewing something.  But imagine if I had just said, “No. You can’t read Harry Potter because it’s too violent.”

Banned Books Week is a time to celebrate our freedom not only to read, but to think for ourselves and to teach our children to do the same. Taking books off the shelves only deprives us of teachable moments and critical conversations, and that makes me want to karate chop someone.


When We Let Books Do the Talking: tricky parenting moments navigated with reading


Recently Ashman and Budlong  had the honor of walking in our town parade to represent their martial arts school. My little ninjas had to show up an hour before the parade started to line up in teams and practice their moves. It was hot. Too hot to be in a belted uniform. Ashman’s student leader was an over-zealous drill sergeant in a twelve-year-old body, bless his heart.  During practice Ashman’s tongue wagged with such concentration I thought he was going to bite it off.  After the twentieth rehearsal of “front kick combo, bow and wave to the crowd,” Ashman got cold feet.  I should not have been surprised.  Asking a five-year-old to perform in front of his whole town is kind of a big, over-stimulating deal. I realized that I didn’t do a good job of mentally preparing him for this moment. If I could rewind, I would’ve read Donald Crews’s Parade with him. Or anything about parades. Because that’s what I do. When I don’t know how to talk to my kids about a scary, first-time situation, I let books do the talking for me. I think it works for three reasons:

  1. Books make an abstract topic concrete.

    Kids live in theParade by Donald Crews here and now. Asking a child to imagine being in a parade when he’s only seen a parade a few times is expecting a lot. But read him a book on parades, and suddenly you’ve got actual scenarios to compare to your upcoming event.

  2. It’s easier to talk about someone else’s problems.

    Doesn’t it feel so much safer to talk about a made-up character who feels scared and anxious on the first day of kindergarten than it does to talk about how sad you are that your best friend is in another class?  Seeing a problem from another perspective can also help us think more creatively about solutions.

  3. Boys talk more freely when they’re doing something.

    Boys aren’t known for opening up about their feelings…or even their school days.  However, I’ve noticed that Budlong’s responses tend to go from mono-syllabic to actual sentences when he’s engaged in a task and the focus is not completely on him. William S. Pollack, author of Real Boys’ Voices, calls this “action talk”—talking and relating to a boy while you are participating in an activity with him.  Reading a book is a great shared activity to promote conversation because the focus is on the book, and it has a definite beginning and end.

    Here are some of the tricky topics I’ve been able to better navigate by reading books.  If you’re looking for titles that deal with these topics, the links will take you to book lists compiled by other wonderful bloggers I read:

Are there other situations you’ve read your way through as a parent?  We would love to hear about them in the comments below!

And in case you’re wondering, Ashman did indeed participate in the parade.  I convinced him to try it just until he saw his dad (who was waiting a few blocks away), and then he could duck out if he wanted to. But he had so much fun he made it all the way to the end!Ashman performs karate in parade



Jedi Mind Tricks: How to get kids to read and think it was their idea all along


I don’t know how it is at your house, but for us, summer sometimes creates a disturbance in the force. Perhaps it’s the heat, the lack of routine, or the 24/7 sibling contact, but by mid-July it starts to feel like a “me against them” situation. Among the battles I have lost this summer are

  • The no black socks with Crocs and shorts battle
  • The clean up your damn Legos battle
  • The eat this dinner I harvested, prepared, and served you battle
  • The go outside, it’s good for you battle

The temptation to slip on over to the dark side is great, but in the parent vs. children battle of wills, I’m winning in one area and they don’t even know it:

It’s July and they’re still choosing to read.

Luck? “In my experience there is no such thing as luck,” says Obi-wan Kenobi. I use the force. Here are six Jedi mind tricks my husband and I employ regularly to get our kids to read and think it was their idea all along.   Continue reading