Choosing Books for your Children to Read

Li

For about 7 years, I have taken my preschool child(ren) to story time at the public library. As I do not do any formal pre-school for my kids, it has allowed them an opportunity to listen to another adult besides mom and dad. It helps them with attention span and sitting still-ish.

Today was no exception to this rule. I usually pick out books for all 4 of the big kids who are in school, then some for the pre-schooler and then we play. This is the first year that during the 30 minute story time, I am not responsible for another child! It is lovely to chat with friends, browse the adult section alone (!) or, like today, get in some sweet, tiny baby snuggles with a friend’s precious son.

As I was looking for books for the big kids, I ran into a friend. She had her recommended reading list in hand from her child’s teacher and was becoming frustrated with finding a book for her choosy fourth grade daughter. As my oldest daughter is in 5th grade, I showed my friend some of the books she enjoyed last year. I was browsing myself and showed her the publisher’s page in the front of some fiction books. She did not know about this page, so I thought I’d share it with you. This wonderful page has a very short summary and a list of themes. I use this, among other things, to determine which books I will and will not check out for my kids.

Here is an example from a book my daughter just got at the book store. I am using the picture and publisher’s page as an example, I am not necessarily recommending the book because I have not personally read it. I believe she is enjoying it though.

When you open the book, you find the front matter (the parts before the story actually begins). The copyright page, title page, dedication page, preface, etc. If a book has the summary and list of themes/literary elements, it is usually found on the page with the publisher and copyright information. In this book, it is opposite the dedication page.

 

What we are looking for is just below half way down the page:

 

Here we find the summary: “Several students…” and the list of themes: “1. Classrooms—Juvenile fiction. 2. Moving, Household…” Nothing too alarming here. Often you will find themes like: orphans, single-parent home, death, funeral, stealing, mystery and detective stories, the age of the main character and more. After each, it says “Fiction” so you know there aren’t any elements of non-fiction in the book.

When choosing books, I start with the title and go from there. Using the inside cover, the back cover and this copyright page helps me determine if it is something I will check out/buy for my child. Many, many times, I have put a book back on the shelf without even reading a page, both for reasons of interests and questionable content.

I would encourage you to discuss and develop your family’s standards for reading with your kids. My kids know that if they run across an element or theme that we have determined questionable, they are to talk through it with my husband or myself and determine whether or not they will finish the book. It has gone both ways, but I have to trust them to come to us.

I used to try to read everything they were reading, but I can not keep up with my voracious readers. Often, when a class assignment is to read a book, I try to read it also. In fact, I just bought a book on amazon that my son needed a signed permission slip in order to read it and do a related research project. It is a nonfiction book about the Holocaust. I also bought the first novel read as a class during fifth grade and read it before they finished in order to be able to discuss it with my son (and daughter this year), help guide the research project, and, frankly, to help determine if I trust the teacher(s) in the book selection. So far, I have not had much of a problem with what is being read or recommended in class.

Did you know about this information?

Parent-Teacher Conference Worksheet

As promised on Facebook, here is a worksheet you can download, print out and take with you to your parent-teacher conference.

Remember to think through the following questions beforehand. Jot any down that you know you want to ask specifically in the “Questions to ask teacher” section. These are the same ones from the previous post, Parent-Teacher Conferences.

Ask questions. I like to know how my child is doing in 4 different areas: academics, social, emotional and behavior. Here are some questions to ask about each one:
Academics:

  • Often, the teacher will have standardized test scores to share with you. Be sure to ask for clarification for what they mean. You should also be sure to understand what the teacher uses this data for. Does he use it to determine academic placement or intervention strategies? Is it only for the district and has no bearing on the classroom?
  • What is my child’s reading level? How can I find books within that level online, at the bookstore, at the library? How do you give credit/grade their outside reading?
  • How do you assess reading levels? Where can I find an explanation of those tests?
  • Do you find that the test results reflect what my child is displaying in class? Why or why not?
  • My child is particularly challenged by __________ class. Do you know of any online resources or tutoring tips that can help us help him?

Social:

  • Who does my child choose to spend her time with?
  • Do his social interactions line up with maturity and expectations for his grade/age?
  • Is there anything you have noticed that we should be talking to her about at home?
  • My child seems to be struggling to get along well with __________. Have you noticed anything between them? I realize it is usually both kids involved, so are there any suggestions you have for us as parents so that we can come up with reasonable solutions to the problem? (realize that the teacher cannot give much information about the other child and can only speak to you about your child.)

Emotional:

  • What kinds of emotions do you notice my child experiencing during school?
  • Does he deal with them in an age appropriate manner?
  • At home, my child struggles with expressing _____________ appropriately. Have you noticed this? We deal with it by ______ and it really seems to help.

Behavioral:

  • How often does my child show frustration? How can you tell when he is frustrated?
  • Are the behaviors he exhibits during these moments acceptable? If not, what can we do to help him express frustration in an appropriate manner?

What kinds of strategies have you tried to help him overcome these behaviors? Have you tried _____? It worked well last year or at home.

Let me know how your conferences go!!

Parent-Teacher Conferences

Squawk box in the corner of the classroom: “Mrs. Teacher, please send Kim to the principal’s office.” “Oooooh…you’re in trou-ble!” “What did you do?!”

Each step toward the office feels like my feet are gaining mass and it is harder and harder to work against gravity to lift up my legs and walk forward. My stomach feels like I’ve swallowed a butterfly garden and my mind is racing to every wrong thing I’ve done in my life to figure out why I would have to go see Mr. Principal. It takes about three years to walk from my classroom to the office. I am nearly in tears and am a mess of anxiety and fear.

This may have been when I was nine, but I can still remember the feelings and emotions like they were yesterday. Not. So. Fun.

Have you ever had those same feelings when waiting outside the door of a teacher’s classroom while waiting for the conference to begin? All sorts of thoughts can run through your mind…
What if my kid isn’t doing as well as I thought in class?
What if my kid is the smelly one?
What if I don’t like her?
What if she doesn’t like me, or worse, my kid?
What if she is Mrs. Viola Swamp? (remember this book?)

 

Or, perhaps you find yourself in the opposite situation. You have found a trusted ally in your child’s teacher and cannot wait to spend more time with him. You may have worked with her with the PTO or perhaps had her for a previous child. I have had it both ways. I cannot say enough about my kids’ kindergarten teacher! I mean, look at these sweet notes she sent in the mail last year:

If you are “waiting for the principal”, I find going in with plan can help calm your nerves and lessen some of the sense of helplessness. If you are meeting with a dear friend, a plan can help you stay focused on the task at hand during those few precious moments you have to spend together. Here are my tips on planning ahead:

Ask questions. I like to know how my child is doing in 4 different areas: academics, social, emotional and behavior. Here are some questions to ask about each one:
Academics:

  • Often, the teacher will have standardized test scores to share with you. Be sure to ask for clarification for what they mean. You should also be sure to understand what the teacher uses this data for. Does he use it to determine academic placement or intervention strategies? Is it only for the district and has no bearing on the classroom?
  • What is my child’s reading level? How can I find books within that level online, at the bookstore, at the library? How do you give credit/grade their outside reading?
  • How do you assess reading levels? Where can I find an explanation of those tests?
  • Do you find that the test results reflect what my child is displaying in class? Why or why not?
  • My child is particularly challenged by __________ class. Do you know of any online resources or tutoring tips that can help us help him?

Social:

  • Who does my child choose to spend her time with?
  • Do his social interactions line up with maturity and expectations for his grade/age?
  • Is there anything you have noticed that we should be talking to her about at home?
  • My child seems to be struggling to get along well with __________. Have you noticed anything between them? I realize it is usually both kids involved, so are there any suggestions you have for us as parents so that we can come up with reasonable solutions to the problem? (realize that the teacher cannot give much information about the other child and can only speak to you about your child.)

Emotional:

  • What kinds of emotions do you notice my child experiencing during school?
  • Does he deal with them in an age appropriate manner?
  • At home, my child struggles with expressing _____________ appropriately. Have you noticed this? We deal with it by ______ and it really seems to help.

Behavioral:

  • How often does my child show frustration? How can you tell when he is frustrated?
  • Are the behaviors he exhibits during these moments acceptable? If not, what can we do to help him express frustration in an appropriate manner?
  • What kinds of strategies have you tried to help him overcome these behaviors? Have you tried _____? It worked well last year or at home.

A few other things to keep in mind:

  • Teachers, barring the rare exception, want to see each and every child be successful. She has your child’s best interests at heart and in mind when she is planning lessons and troubleshooting how to teach the class. Think the best of her and her intentions. He will usually be on your side if you are kind and seek to work together.
  • Start off positive. Find something you like about this school year and compliment the teacher on what he is doing.
  • The class size is likely too large. Budget cuts and like nonsense are filling teacher’s classrooms with more students every year. 28-32 elementary students in one class is taxing. She is working her hardest and giving her best to the kids. One-on-one interactions are few and far between. Give grace for that fact.
  • If the teacher doesn’t like you, it will be hard for her to like your student. So, don’t go in with guns ablazin’ accusing and indicting straight away. If you disagree, be sure to ask for clarification and explanation of why he chooses to do certain things. Honest, yet gentle communication will go a long way to make this school year one of the best.

P.S. When I was 9, I was called to the office because I had a phone call. My mom was on the other end to tell me that I had become an aunt again. Although I wasn’t in trouble, it sure felt bad. Now, in HS, when I was called in…well, that’s a different story all together.