Are You a Reader?

are you a reader

I recently read Breaking Night by Liz Murray, and her story compelled me to write this post. If anyone should have become a high school drop out statistic, it is she. Murray’s family lived in New York City in the 1980’s. Her parents became cocaine addicts while she was still a preschooler; their addiction caused them to neglect her and her sister by spending their income on drugs instead of food. They did not bathe the girls, nor did they get them ready for school in the mornings. After a night of shooting up, they could not even wake themselves. As a result, Murray skipped school more often than she went, and by using her wits, she successfully evaded truant officers. Despite the excessive absences, she managed to pass her year end exams and proceed to the next grade level until she went to high school. At that point, she quit and became homeless to avoid social service workers who would send her to a group home.

At seventeen, while still homeless, Murray made the incredible decision to return to school and get her high school diploma. How was she able to do this? In my opinion, Murray succeeded despite having scant formal education because she could read fluently and had educated herself. In her memoir, she described how her dad kept a book with him at all times. He acquired the books, which he kept, from the New York City public libraries. He managed to do this by acquiring library cards under different  names. Murray, who wanted to impress her dad, began reading his books even before she could comprehend the contents.

The internet is filled with plenty of advice to get your child to read, including this post, How Can I Motivate My Child to Read? which I wrote last year. While I have nothing new to add, I want to reiterate how important it is for children to observe their parents reading and to have readily available reading sources – notice, I didn’t say books.  Growing up, my mom belonged to the Double Day book club and read the latest novels. We were always excited to see which book she would get each month. My dad read Progress Farmer magazine as well as other farming publications. When I stayed overnight with my grandparents, I recall their morning routine of poring over the daily newspaper.

Many parents will say to me they don’t have time to read. My response is to decide how important reading is for your child. If it is important enough, then you should make it a priority to spend at least fifteen minutes reading each day, and encourage your child to do the same. You could read from a devotional book, a collection of short stories, or any publication which adds knowledge needed for job or career. The material doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you are reading. If you want to read for pleasure, but you think it’s an indulgence considering your many responsibilities, then I’m giving you permission to indulge – you’re doing this for your child(ren)’s sake. Secondly, provide material for your child. It can be magazines or books. While there are plentiful sites providing e-books for free, I prefer hard copies which are easier on the eyes.

So now you’re convinced to make reading a part of your daily routine, but you’re at a loss as to where to start. Let me recommend Breaking Night; I believe it will inspire you as much as it did me.


Christmas Break Activities


Now that all the presents have been unwrapped and the fervor of Christmas activities are over, your child may feel a little meh. However there are still plenty of fun projects to do. The children here in west Georgia have another week of break left before heading back to school in January. Here’s a list of my favorite things to do.

Take a winter nature walk: Jim and I actually did this yesterday. After attending church, we took a walk on the Greenbelt which runs behind it. This is a great time for getting outdoors. We feel better with the exercise. We’re breathing in clean fresh air. Also our vision is not hampered by  spring and summer foliage. Look for beautiful or unusual patterns in the barks of trees. Notice seed pods clinging to trees and bushes which serve as food for a variety of wildlife. Feel the moss growing on trees or on the ground. See how many bird’s or squirrel’s nests you can spot. Even on a cold day, you’ll warm quickly and can look forward to a cup of cocoa when you return.

Decorate a tree for the birds: The birds don’t know Christmas is over, plus it is only the second day of Christmas. String popcorn  and cranberries and slice some oranges. to put on a tree which can be viewed from inside. For my tree, I plan to attach some sumac berries with floral wire. And I discovered a recipe for  cute birdseed ornaments here which can be made with gelatin using cookie cutters. Have fun decorating, then enjoy the show put on by your feathered friends.

Visit a nursing home. This is such a lonely time of year for residents. As a girl, this was an activity I participated in with my church, but it’s not necessary to be part of an organized group. You may want to call ahead and let the staff know you would like to visit. They can direct you to the people who would most enjoy your company. You might even have your children bring along a short book to read. This can be a great opportunity to discuss the different ways of giving.

How will you and your children spend the remainder of break?

Fall Break and Mummies


Many schools in West Georgia are enjoying an extra long weekend for fall break. Although there are plenty of pumpkin patches and corn mazes to explore, consider a different type of outing. I recently discovered that the Micheal C. Carlos Museum at Emory University has partnered with Georgia Public Libraries to offer a family pass which allows free general admission for up to six people. You have a week to make your visit after checking out the pass from your local library. The pass can be used during regular operating hours but does not include events, programs, and audio tours (those are $2).

In an earlier post, I wrote about how these trips can really spark children’s interest in history. Whether your child attends a traditional school or homeschools, this is a great opportunity to educate them about world civilizations. To further enhance your visit, you can engage in interactive online activities here before and after your visit.

Be sure to check out the other wonderful offerings at your library.


Museum Day 2016


While some women eagerly await Black Friday to get a great deal, I look forward scoring free museum admission during Museum Day Live! National Museum Day 2016 is happening this Saturday September 24. Smithsonian Magazine sponsors this event in which participating museums around the country offer free admission. If you want to increase your knowledge of just about anything -Native Americans, art, trains, textiles,etc. -and make lasting family memories, then go here to search for participating sites in your area. You can print a ticket good for two people, and some sites are accepting the ticket image on your smartphone. Even if you have a conflict on that date, you should check out the website anyway because you’re certain to find a jewel to visit another day.

Let me know in the comments where you would like to go.

Going for the Gold(or Goal)


I’ve never been a good athlete, nor am I good at putting long term goals down on paper and then meeting the benchmarks which will ultimately get me to my destination. But when the desire is there, I will subconsciously search out my objective like an internal GPS. My six year dream to complete a college level math course may seem prosaic to most. However, I need that knowledge to confidently tutor higher level math students whom I have had to turn away. Although I got an A in college algebra years ago, high school math has changed. The courses are accelerated, and more advanced content has been introduced to the high school curriculum. By taking pre-calculus, I can fill those gaps. So four weeks ago, I began an online pre-university calculus course. So please excuse me for my absence on thelearningtutor; the exercises have consumed my brain power.

I’m still pursuing this goal – the course ends in September – but I’ve already overcome many obstacles- mainly financial. When I first considered returning to school, I thought I could do it inexpensively by auditing. I didn’t need another degree, but I quickly learned that the local university charged the same amount because an auditor takes up space. Then I checked into the online version and discovered that even though seating capacity was not an issue, the technological fees actually increased the cost over taking it in the classroom. So I set my dream aside.

But as dreams tend to do, it recurred. Maybe it was because I turned 50, or maybe it was because I had to turn away even more students this past year. In March, I once again explored options for taking a summer course, and I met more dead ends. The local technical college, a more economical choice, could not assure me that the class I needed would be offered. However, they wanted me to complete the application process, which would include transcripts from two different colleges, with its attendant fees. That didn’t make sense. I again considered the local university knowing the cost would be higher. In fact, about $1,100; fees like parking, activity, etc were nearly as much as tuition. Since I only needed one course, I was not eligible for any financial aid.

However, I decided to get creative and raise the funds. The cornerstone of my plan was to sell my diamond engagement ring (gasp!).  I assure my readers that I thought it over carefully and discussed it with Jim. I never wear my ring. In fact, it’s become loose on me so I’m afraid of it slipping off without my noticing. Finally, as a good friend pointed out, I don’t have a daughter to leave it to, so I would get more use out of liquidating it than letting it sit in a jewelry box. But when I researched this option, I learned that the diamond market was flooded, and my devalued ring, at most, would bring $600 if I could find a buyer. I still believed I could get the funds, and I completed the admission process, having faith that God would come through in a miraculous way.  As the date for summer session drew nearer, I had trouble registering for the class, and then I learned that the course was four hours, instead of three, increasing the cost $200.

Deciding God was telling me, “Not now,” I let go again. At this point, I got discouraged and began to think this would never happen. But I couldn’t stop talking about it, and I ended up telling the right person-a divine appointment? He informed me that I could take a free online course called a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). I thought this was too good to be true, but after googling, I found a pre-university calculus course starting the next week!  Now for someone who wants a degree this will not help, but it is the perfect fit for me since I only need the knowledge.

Now, I spend my evenings doing math and rewatching lectures between students.  Just like the athletes preparing in Brazil, I have wondered many times if the effort and sacrifice of time is worth it. But I’m enjoying the challenge, and I’ll keep my eyes on the prize.


Writing During Summer Break


Most children consider anything associated with school – especially writing- off limits this time of year. When I was young, you couldn’t even find a sheet of notebook paper in our home from Memorial Day to Labor Day. You may be satisfied because your child is participating in the summer reading program, and you may be tempted to leave well enough alone. However, you realize how important writing is for communication. Plus, you know that the more your child practices, the less anxious he/she will be when the time comes to produce five or more page papers in high school and college. As one of my professors liked to say, “If you can write a good sentence, you can write a good paragraph. If you can write a good paragraph, you can write a good chapter.” You see where this is going? I’ve borrowed heavily  from the Bob Jones University ELA curriculum which I found to be logical and easy to use when I taught elementary level students. Use these ideas to get started and to make the process more palatable for your child.

  • Keep a journal – Your child can simply use it for keeping a daily record, or you can give him writing prompts. Be sure and check for complete sentences. When I taught history, I was appalled at the number of fragments in college level essays.
  • Send thank you notes – After an outing to a museum, park, historic home, etc. have your children write their own thank you notes to the staff. Be sure to give them some direction, such as describe three items or activities which interested you most. I used this activity many times with my fifth and sixth graders. After one field trip, my students were writing their notes, and one girl piped up, “This is fun and educational,” which was music to this teacher’s ear.
  • Draw pictures and caption them. In fact, have them draw pictures to add to thank yous and journals. If your child is at the preschool level, she can simply label the image for handwriting practice. For those just beginning to read and write, have them write a one or two sentence description.
  • Summarize books. As your child finishes each book, have them write a paragraph summary (increase paragraphs for advanced students). If they need help organizing their thoughts, use this graphic organizer created by This Reading Mama. In fact, their journal can consist entirely of book summaries. The process I use for my students is write a draft, skipping lines. Next day, revise the draft. By skipping lines, one can easily add in more details without cramping his/her writing. On the third day, proof for spelling and punctuation errors. Using a colored pencil for revisions and corrections will make them easier to see. Finally use neat handwriting to produce a final draft.
  • Get a pen pal. You may have to give your child a history lesson in pre- Facetime days. If they’re resistant to writing letters, suggest a correspondent, maybe a relative or someone they met on vacation. In fact, they may have to make more than one attempt to find someone to reciprocate. But the reward will be worth it. They will get their writing practice, expand their horizons, and look forward to mail call.
  • Collaborate on a project. This can be a fun way to include yourself and all your children, no matter their writing level. Here are some of the projects, my fifth and sixth graders enjoyed when I taught in a classroom. Compose a sense poem, a limerick, or even riddles. After visiting a historic site, work together on a fictional narrative, using the historic site as the setting. Create the characters together. Have each person add at least one historical detail. After discussing, each child can write the story in his/her own style.

Whichever suggestion you use, my final advice is to participate with them. If you want them to journal, then journal with them. While they write their thank you notes or letters, you write one also. You will be engaging your children and improving your own communication skills.

Which suggestions would you like to add?




Free (and nearly free) Children’s Books

Baby and books

I’m assuming that if you’re reading this post, you agree with introducing children to books when they’re babies to instill a lifelong love of learning. I know many parents who fill their homes with books, but buying books at retail can be expensive. Of course, my favorite resource for books is the public library. While I’m always thrilled at the crowds of children attending preschool story time or summer reading events, I realize much more are absent. While visiting the library is not a priority for some families, others want to and will actually go and check out numerous books. But in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, the books become overdue, or they are lost. In these cases, a person can spend more on fines and book replacement than actually buying discounted books. And children like having their own books that they can peruse and reread whenever they like.

Fortunately, I know of two great programs which will send infants and preschoolers a book a month- absolutely free – until their fifth birthday. Sixty books is enough reading material for a child to have his/her own library. And what child doesn’t love getting mail! One well-known program is Dolly Parton’s Imagination Station. In order for this program to work, local sponsors are needed, so you will need to check the website to see if it’s available in your area. If not, you’ll find information for starting a local program. The same goes for another great reading program which operates here in Georgia, the Ferst Foundation For Childhood Literacy. You simply go to their website, enter your county’s name to see if your child is eligible to receive books.

Now if you don’t have access to these programs, there are still numerous other resources for providing low cost books.

  1. Helping others move. My husband and I find ourselves once or twice a year helping friends or neighbors move. I’m amazed at the books I’ve collected over the years from these moves. There is always an offer to go through a donation pile. If the family has older or adult children, you have a great chance of finding children’s books.
  2. Yard sales and thrift stores. I don’t spend over a dollar, even for nice, board books. In these cases, people want to get rid of stuff. If they want more, I know I can find other sales for the price I’m willing to pay. The local Salvation Army store will many times offer paperbacks @ 10/$1 and hardbacks @ 4/$1.
  3. Library sales. Many of the local libraries in my area have friend’s groups which maintain a bookstore. Prices are rarely more than a dollar, and they even have sales. My favorite is to fill a bag for a set amount. Since I try to keep my book collection to a manageable amount; these stores become a revolving door as I make donations whenever I acquire “new” books.
  4. Rewards programs . Although I no longer participate, I’ve collected several nice, new books in the past five years from the Kellogg’s Reward Program. They partner with Scholastic books and offer children’s books as an incentive to buy their products. So if you buy a lot of Kellogg’s products, this is something you’ll want to sign up for.

What other resources are you aware of for free or cheap books? Please share in the comments.