How To Raise a Well-Rounded Child (Or Not)

I’ll be the first to admit; my children are not well-rounded individuals.

My daughter is a reading maniac and can rock your socks with the amount of author knowledge she knows. My middle son gives me a run for my money when it comes to a game of chess and recently my 2 year old drew a stick person that has catapulted him into the ranks of Picasso.

This is usually how you will find my daughter

This is usually how you will find my daughter

Why can they do these things?

I can only attribute it to the fact that these are the things that I like to do. These are the things they see me do.

When it comes to sports though; that’s a whole other story.

I spent a lot of time in my youth at hospitals after my forays with sledding, tree climbing, tennis, softball and general lack of grace.

Therefore, as I entered adulthood I pretty much shied away from anything physical. My husband is really no different. He spent his short-lived baseball career as a child picking grass in the outfield. I think my children were kind of doomed from the get-go with the make-up of our DNA.

This has not stopped us from signing our children up for sporting activities. I do want them to be well-rounded. I want them to try new things. I want them to understand about sportsmanship, the importance of exercise, and the difference between a basketball and tennis ball.

Our adventures into this arena have been comical at best. It’s clear we do not have the next athletic phenom on our hands after sightings of my son scoring goals for the other team in soccer, my daughter dancing like Elaine from Seinfeld or just general wincing from all of them when a ball gets thrown their way.

Part of this is due to their young age and I’m sure their hereditary genes but a large part of it falls on me. They do not see me do anything remotely athletic.

This summer I am trying to change that. We are utilizing our pool pass to the fullest. I dusted off my old baseball glove and I have been giving lessons on jump roping without trying to injure myself in the process.

It pains me to do these things both figuratively and literally because in my head I am thinking about all the great art projects I want to do and all of the wonderful books I want to read with them as I am sweating my hiney off.

Will it pay off in the end? I don’t know but we’ll give it a shot this summer.

I do know that after this summer I am going to sit down with the 2 year old and work on his artistic skills more. A talent like his can not be wasted! Maybe Tiger Woods could make a hole-in-one in golf at the age of 3 but he could draw a stick man like this?

This is my 2 year old's picture. I drew the guy on the right and asked him if he could do that. This was his first try!

This is my 2 year old’s picture. I drew the guy on the right and asked him if he could do that. This was his first try!

Eyes and Mind Wide Open

Children see the world in a different light. Their eyes and mind are more open than adults.

Yet, even though I am aware of this, my 5 year old son, Bency never ceases to amaze me with his observations.

It all started when he was a toddler and able to communicate. He would point out simple things like the canisters on the kitchen cupboard were slightly askew. He has always been enamored with color and by the time he was 2 years old he knew the difference between purple and indigo. His speed at doing jigsaw puzzles has always astounded me. He barely glances at a piece and immediately knows where it goes. As he has grown older the number and depth of his observations has grown.

Bency loves doing science experiments

Bency loves doing science experiments

Bency does not have a huge interest in reading books and yet night after night I sit down with him and we work on his reading skills. He will be reading out loud and then come to an abrupt stop. I will be sitting there thinking he is stumped on a word and waiting for him to figure it out. Instead, out of his mouth comes, “Mom, did you ever notice how the little “i” looks like a lit candle? Look at the page Mom; it looks like hundreds of candles shining in the story.” He often studies the pictures and sometimes disagrees with the illustrators. He feels that the right smile wasn’t captured, “Mom, don’t you think Betsy’s smile should be bigger since she just received an ice cream cone?”

It was no surprise to me when the neighbor lady came over this Fall after Bency had just been to her house for a visit and said, “I painted my living room 2 weeks ago. It was Off-White before and I painted it Eggshell White. Bency marched in, put his hands on his hips, looked around and said “I like what you’ve done with the place. The new color looks great.” I nodded my head and said, “Yes, that’s how Bency is.”

This past Valentine’s Day, my Mom brought Bency a card she made herself. She hid words all over the card for him to find. As I was reading off the hidden words to him, he said, “I see the Letter “I.” I looked around the card and didn’t see it. He pointed it out to me. I had to hold the card 2 inches from my face and look at it for a long time until I finally saw it. My Mom had to bring it over to the lamp and hold it under the bright light until she finally found it. It was merely how the brush stroke of the marker was colored on the paper. She did not intentionally make the letter “I.”

Can you see the I?

Can you see the I?

It comes as no shock that Bency received the comment “Great little observer!” on his report card or 4 different comments about “Too much talking.” This is how Bency is made up. There is so much in this world that he sees and he wants to share it with everyone!

Report Card

How wonderful it would be to be a kid again and really see the world with your eyes and mind wide open.

Don’t Judge a Book By It’s Cover Or It’s Smell

As I was sitting and reading books to the kids tonight, I smelled a funny odor. I couldn’t quite place my finger on it, but it wasn’t a delightful smell.

I finally stopped mid-sentence in the middle of the book and asked, “Did someone puke?”

The kids all shook their heads no and wanted to know why I would ask such a preposterous question. I told them about the not so great odor I kept getting whiffs of.

Bency, my 5 year old, then piped up, “Oh, maybe it’s my library book. Sometimes I check out books that smell like puke.”

I brought the book to my nose and sure enough…it smelled like puke.

Then both kids asked to get a whiff as well.

Both kids agreed that the smell was coming from the book.

If this wasn’t enough to cause me a tremendous amount of bewilderment, my 7 year old daughter, Iris chimed in with, “I am really used to that smell. I read a lot and most of my books smell like this.”

Dick and Jane To The Rescue

He asked if he could read another story.

It was huge to me. It was a mind blowing, earth shattering, birds chirping around the world kind of statement.

My 5 year old son, Bency is in Kindergarten and is learning to read.

Unlike his older sister, who emerged from the womb and began her love of books and desire to learn to read Bency was indifferent about books.

He likes when I read him stories but he rarely picks up books during the day and tries to read them by himself. My daughter, by 2 years old had memorized the majority of her books and could fool anyone that she was a reader. She read from sunup until sundown and still does.

In Kindergarten they began by teaching the kids the easy words such as the, it, is, can, see, etc. Bency does have these memorized and so now they are moving on to simple books that contain these words.

Last week I brought out an old Dick and Jane book and told Bency I was going to have him read it for me. He made a noise indicating that this would be painful and threw his hands up to his head. I kind of tilted my head and gave him a look and he said, “Fine, but you know I can’t read yet.”

Fun With Dick and Jane from 1940

Lo and behold, Bency CAN read. He actually did quite well and only stumbled over a few words. The words he didn’t know he would only look at for a second and then throw his body back and whine, “I don’t know that word. I can’t read.”

He is seriously dramatic and stubborn.

I kept pushing on night after night. I was patient and amazed watching him get better and better.

Night after night Bency grumbled, moaned and threw his hands to his head like my suggestion for him to read Dick and Jane with me was on par with getting seared with a hot branding iron.

Last night something happened though. We got through the same two chapters we have been rereading for the past couple of days and I began to close the book.

Bency said, “Hey, wait…I want to read the next chapter. I think I know how to read now.”

A half hour earlier when I told Bency that it was time for us to go up and read he said, “Do I have to?” and proceeded to do a rolling flip off of the chair that I can only assume indicated that he would rather knock himself unconscious or end up in the hospital then have to go read what Dick and Jane were up to.

I’m hoping the future holds the constant request for one more story!

It’s Kind of My Thing

Last year I volunteered at my children’s school to present an author kit to each of the first grade classes once a month. This basically just entailed being supplied an author that you had to give the class a brief presentation about and then read one of the author’s books of your choice to the kids.

This year I am not volunteering.

I may have mentioned before that I absolutely LOVE reading children’s books. It’s kind of my thing! I love doing the different voices, making large swooping motions with my hands to make a point and I love putting the mystery in mystery books!!

I thought this volunteer job had my name written ALL over it. It didn’t.

I kind of swept the whole “presentation” part under the rug. I’m not great at talking in front of large groups of people but these were 1st graders. I had nothing to fear…. Right?!

My first clue that I was making a huge mistake came at the meeting and handout of our author kits. I was given the author Audrey Wood. I wasn’t familiar with Mrs. Wood but I didn’t care; the big tote of books they gave me was filled with brightly covered front pages and amazing titles. I knew I was going to love Audrey! However, as we made introductions with our fellow volunteer counterparts I realized everyone else who was volunteering was a retired school teacher. I gulped. I have NO experience with kids besides my own. I have never been to college. I certainly do NOT have a degree in child psychology or have any idea what makes a kid’s mind tick. And then the lady in charge of the volunteer program asked if there were any questions. I raised my hand. WHY DID I RAISE MY HAND??? It makes me want to kick myself all over again today just thinking about it. I asked, “How do you hold a book when you’re reading to a group of children?” You see, when I read at home my kids sit next to me on the couch so while I’m reading they can see the pictures at the same time. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do this with a large group so I wanted to know if I held the book in my lap and then showed the pictures after each page or if I held it up the whole time and tried to read at an angle. The head of the volunteer group was very nice and said she preferred to hold it up the whole time but I was almost certain I saw a look of panic in her eyes. How had they let someone like me slip through the cracks. I clearly wasn’t qualified to be reading to small children. She probably wanted to give me a reading test to see if I could in fact actually READ. I saw her kind of eyeing up my tote box full of books and I think she was mentally trying to figure out how she grab it away from me and run. I actually thought about just handing it back over but knew I was made to do this volunteer job….I LOVE TO READ CHILDREN’S BOOKS!

My first reading assignment was to be in two weeks so I began to feverishly pour over all of Audrey’s books. I read every article I could find about Mrs. Wood, perused her website and even went to the library to check out the rest of her books that were not included in the author kit. Night and day I read about Audrey and read her books from flap to flap. I KNEW Audrey Wood backward and forward. My children had to endure long sessions of me explaining about Audrey and sitting on the floor while I held my books up and practiced reading from an angle.

I owned this assignment, took it super serious and when I was done EVERY 1st grader was going to know who Audrey Wood was, fall in love with her as much as had and WANT TO BECOME AUTHORS THEMSELVES!!


I began with my daughter’s class. All 18 children looked so innocent and sweet. They sat nicely with their hands in their laps and stared silently at me, ready for me to begin. Or were they scrutinizing me? I couldn’t tell. I started to talk about Mrs. Audrey Wood and suddenly everything disappeared from my head. I couldn’t remember anything. I started stumbling with my words. The more I stumbled the more I thought the kids were judging me. Behind their sweet faces there was probably raucous laughter waiting to burst out. The more I began to wonder what they were thinking the more lost my words got and the hives started to break out all over my neck and face. I quickly moved on to the book. I picked Tickleoctopus. This book is about cave people who discover an animal called the Tickleoctopus. This book is amazing. It gives kids a glimpse into prehistoric life plus has a huge opportunity to do CAVEMAN VOICES!!! I was in my element reading the book and the horror that had happened a few minutes prior melted away as I gave the performance of my life! After I was done the kids clapped, cheered and asked me to read it again!

I went home and told my husband about my utter disaster. My husband does this sort of thing for a living. He gets up in front of people and talks and teaches them almost every day. He told me just to talk from my heart and not to worry about it so much. These were 1st graders after all. They clearly are NOT judging me.

The next time I went to school to a different classroom, the words flowed out of my mouth with ease. I gave the kids a lot of information about Audrey. I put it in terms I thought they could understand. I gave them reasons to want to become authors themselves. I shared with them the fact that when Audrey was in elementary school she wanted to be an author so bad that she actually scribbled out the name of her favorite author, Dr. Suess, on a book and wrote her own name over it (immediately after I told them this, I regretted it. What if I had just caused a rash of book graffiti artists because they all wanted to be like Audrey). I told them that Audrey met Don Wood in college; they fell in love, got married and began working on children’s books together. (A child asked what Audrey’s maiden name was because if Don’s last name was Wood, Audrey’s last name couldn’t have always been Wood. I had no idea what the answer was. I felt like a complete Audrey Wood fraud.). I told them that Audrey began writing books when she was a new mom and was now in her mid-60’s…probably the same age as some of their grandparents. (A child raised their hand and said that was the same age as their dad. I felt horrible. Of course there are older parents. Why did I make this statement? What if I gave that child a complex for the rest of their life?) Again, I moved onto the book and got another round of applause and pleas for me to read it again.

I did this for the rest of the year, each time causing hives and creating questions in my head wondering if I had just scarred these poor 1st graders for life. The only thing I nailed was reading the book. Every time I was at the school for some reason or another a child would approach me and say, “Hey, you’re the lady that came and read us Tickleoctopus! I LOVED THAT BOOK!!!”

I loved that book too and I love a million more children’s books but I will leave the teaching to the experts. Hopefully someone new will volunteer this year and be able to portray Audrey Wood the way she deserves to be portrayed and I will stick to reading to my kids, the neighbor kids and any friends that pop on over because it’s kind of my thing!

A picture of me reading to my kids last year!



For more information about Audrey Wood please click here for her site!

If you have a child who is struggling with reading please click here for Dr. Connie Hebert’s blog. She is a literary specialist who has a lot of ideas on how to guide those children who need a little extra help. She has a published book and another due out soon. Check it out!!!

Reading to the Ladies

The summer is coming to an end and school will start on Tuesday. Along with this will come an end to the daily “reading to the ladies.”

In our neighborhood there are two elderly ladies who have houses side by side. One of them is 89 and the other is 96. They are sisters. The 96 year old has lived here for 70 years. She was widowed in her 40’s and has lived alone since then. The 89 year old has never been married and spent her adult life living in Chicago until 20 years ago when her sister with whom she always lived with died and she came back to the area to be near family.

When we moved here 8 years ago both of the ladies were in fine shape. They mowed their own lawns, tended to their gardens and canned large amounts of vegetables. Through the years their health has deteriorated and we have had to wait patiently for them to return home several times from extended hospital stays. Today they both still live at home but have caretakers who live with them and tend to their care and the housework.

These are two of the sweetest ladies I know. They have watched our family grow and have become a part of our family. We visit with each other and help each other out. My kids think of them as extra grandmas.

This past March, when visiting with the 96 year old, she told me how lonely she had been. All she can do at this point is really just sit and watch television.

That’s when I got an idea. My 7 year old daughter, Iris, loves to read. Being in 1st grade at the time, she didn’t have any homework after school. My kids loved visiting the neighbors but didn’t go every day so I established “reading to the ladies.” Once the 89 year old got wind of the kids reading to her sister she wanted in on it too!

Iris and my 5 year old son, Bency would go to the ladies’ houses every day after school and read to them a few short stories, visit with them and then come home. This has continued throughout the summer almost every day. Iris enjoys doing this because she LOVES reading to people and the ladies enjoy the company of the kids. The caretaker for the 89 year old is a Polish immigrant, speaks broken English, loves to cook and loves my kids too. She is always making up homemade cookies for the kids and fresh popped popcorn on the stove to send home with them after they are done reading!

Once school starts, I’m sure there will be homework so they will only be able to go on the weekends. I’m going to try to keep this going as long as I can because the summer of “reading to the ladies” will always be a wonderful memory!

The Polish caretaker, the 89 year old, the 96 year old, and my husband Alex at one of my kid’s birthday parties