Learning from silence


My name is Erika and I am a compulsive and loud talker. It feels weird to write that since I haven’t spoken in 10 days. You read that right. I’m even a little afraid I’ll sound different or nothing will come out when I can talk again this coming Friday. I had a polyp removed from my vocal cords. I know you’re thinking, “How did she know something was wrong to even get that diagnosis?” It has been months since I have been able to sing. I know that sounds like no big deal. But, if you know me, I love to sing with my kids and others too, in the shower, car and karaoke- forget about it! I was also getting to the point where I couldn’t talk without vocal strain past mid-day. To give you an idea of exactly how it felt, imagine a knife scraping away at one side of your throat. This prompted me to finally go in for a consultation which was nerve wrecking and about as comfortable of a procedure to check for vocal trauma as you would expect. I felt overwhelmed, but relieved to be okay, after hearing the diagnosis.  I was in complete shock and overwhelmed with anxiety that I would not be able to complete the required recovery treatment. It was inconceivable to me that I could NOT talk or scream at my kids for 10 whole days! In all seriousness, how was I going to do what I do without a voice?

People say sometimes things happen for a reason. Although cliché, this statement resonates with me right now. We have the ability to communicate with non-verbal expressions but we don’t. We live in a loud world people! I considered myself a good listener before this all began. On this silent path I became a great listener and quick writer too. Although my penmanship has been described kindly as terrible and the faults of a lefty.

Lessons learned? Definitely, you can get by with a notepad and a smile! But…

Kids will still fight

My kids have still been fighting but I've noticed they are solving their own problems…ok sometimes with my husband yelling at them and telling me “No wonder you got a polyp on your vocal cords.” But, most of their fights have not been intervention worthy on my part. With a voice I get involved because I don’t like hearing my kids fight. I can see how this has enabled terrible problem solving skills between them. Something I hope I don't do as much once I can talk.

Kids can wait to have questions answered

My kids have shown me I don’t need to address all their questions immediately for them to feel I’m acknowledging them. I can’t write that fast! Before I could answer all questions these last 10 days many were already forgotten.

Communication Problems

Kids talking to adults- I’ve realized through this experience my kids need more opportunities to ask adults questions when prompted  and answer adults questions in more than 2-3 words. Getting shy in emergency situations is something they need to overcome. I've been in several situations running into people where I've asked my 7 or 10 year old to explain to the kind acquaintance looking concerned at me why I could not speak where they have either ignored my request out of shyness or said my mom can't talk. Well duh they could figure that one out on their own! I've also been lost on a soccer field with no idea where to go and asked my kids to ask the person who looks like they know where they are going which way to the field of 5 in a 2 mile radius. These are questions that I want my kids to feel confident asking adults when they need help god for bid!

Multi-tasking- Most problems can be solved if we only communicated better with each other but most of the time we lack the focus to communicate face to face. Think about all the time we spend texting, emailing, watching tv, multi-tasking. There are a little over 334 billion emails sent and 3 million cellular phones sold according to the Worldometers- in a day! We are so overstimulated by our environment looking down at technology that we don’t look up and listen to the people right in front of us very well. I’ve been communicating in writing to friends, family (kids), and others directly in front of them and they’ve had pity on me as a mute person with a writing tablet.  On a side note, I have been using this great Eco friendly writing tablet called a Boogie Board which included a stylus. It looks like the old Etch a Sketch boards. There were comments made the last 10 days. Anyway, everyone who read the board responded to each thought/request/comment the first time- immediately looking into my eyes- usually with a smile. How many times have you said things over and over without a response from a child or your spouse? This part of the journey has been terrific!

Non-verbal communication- Don’t underestimate the power of a smile, hug, or listen or I will self-destruct face. Hand signals really do carry power if you own them. Kids will impress you with their understanding of what you need when you can’t say it. They know your habits. People around you are amazing and there is a community of caring adults all around you when you need them that you don't even realize. I am amazed at those offering to help who barely know me and those who don't offering to help me communicate to others out of pure kindness.

Kids frustration- This experience has helped me deeply understand the frustration kids feel with that which is beyond their control. Daily they learn new skills, ineffectively communicating something to someone which is misunderstood, or just don’t like what they have to do. Life throws punches and we need to fight through them. Perseverance in the face of adversity is a good lesson for everyone to go through now and again.

Thankfulness- You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. I took my voice for granted. I am so very thankful and grateful for the ability to speak in the future when there are many that cannot and will not. I will forever be in awe of those who don't have the functionality to do but find a way with grace to do it in their own way. I've also felt like the man who went to the rabbi saying his house was too small and the rabbi told him to add all his animals in one by one each week and then remove them. He had a ton of room once he changed his perspective on what his house could be like and he should be thankful for the house. I've learned to appreciate what I have.

Lastly, my dog has been spoiled these last 10 days by walks instead of taking her out on my front lawn to go to the bathroom on demand. Yes, she does. It’s hard to say, “Sandy go potty,” without a voice. She might not let this new arrangement go. I don’t know how I will sound when I speak on Friday. But, I do know that I have never silently laughed more than last night when my son age 5 sat down and popped back up from the tub as we both saw something floating in the bath. The expression on his face was priceless. He said, “I didn’t wipe well did I?” No, he did not.

Kids make you feel the spectrum of emotions on a daily basis with or without a voice.

I'd love to hear any lessons you've learned the hard way or from you kids?

Thanks for listening.

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Learning to read through games

Games lead to learning

Children learn best through play.  Learning to read should always incorporate this principle. The Stepping Stones Together games are designed to help children connect the importance of learning to read with everything they do including playing games!

This week my son who is using the Stepping Stones Together program wanted to play a new game with all of his current flashcards. We developed a game called Slap It which he absolutely loved.

Ask siblings, friends, or relatives to play this game. This game requires an adult caller, 1 or more children learning the flashcard words, and at least 1 other child/adult player to compete against the child learning to read.

1. Have your child lay out as many flashcards, word side up, as he/she can handle without frustration.

2. State the rules.

  • The caller will call out a word for example "they".
  • The child(ren) and competitors will attempt to scan the sea of words to find the word called.
  • If you have a child or adult reader playing against a new reader have them wait 5 seconds before searching for the word called to give the new reader an even playing field.
  • The first one to correctly slap the word called by the caller wins that round.
  • The one with the most flashcards after all words have been slapped wins the game.

This is a great game to reinforce sight and high frequency words with your child!

Let us know how it went with your kiddos! We'd love to hear from you here, through email at info@steppingstonestogether.com or visit us on FB.

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Parent Involvement: You are their first teacher. What will you teach?

Parent Involvement

There is no magic pill or one stop method. Parent involvement takes a lifetime of dedication. We have committed educators thankfully on our sides. By trade and passion they bring us motivational techniques, inspiration and perseverance in our quest to help our children succeed both academically, physically and spiritually. Those I have met over the years all share one common theme- parents are the heart, the center to the well rounded development of a child. One wonderful partner Brod Bagert has generously shared his take on the importance of parent involvement as only he can so eloquently share through a poem. Take his words to heart. You make the difference in what your child will value as important in your daily actions.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you’re involved and how parents can and have make and made a difference in the lives of the children they love.
Until You Read to Me
by Brod Bagert

It began with the morning newspaper —
I read aloud
As you smeared peaches on your cheeks
And delighted at the sound of words
You did not yet understand.

And then your name —
With a magic marker I drew the letters
And, placing my finger first on the paper
And then on your nose,
Made the sound of your name
Until you understood.

And the stories at bedtime —
The rustle of pages,
The purr of my voice,
And the deep rhythm of your breathing
As you fell asleep in my arms.

I was your first teacher,
And now you’re off to school,
But your teacher I will continue to be.
I’ll hear your spelling
I’ll check your math
We’ll visit the halls of history.
We’ll search the sky for distant stars
And wonder at their mystery.
We’ll learn how other people live
In far-off distant lands,
And the joyful path of learning
We will journey hand in hand.

Yes I was your first teacher
And your teacher I will always be,
Until I am the child
Asleep in your arms
And then you will read to me
© Brod Bagert 2012

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Stepping Stones Together in the news!

Edutopia article on early literacy best practices

Triblocal Glencoe News- 5/2010/

What's Happening 06-08-2010

Yahoo! Finance
Sun Herald

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Adding Books to the New Book System

Adding new books now works a lot like adding posts.  In the admin area you'll see a new menu item called "Books".  This is where you can add and edit the books just like you do with posts.

The new "Books" menu.

Click "Add New" to add a brand new book.

Adding Pages

The best thing to do when creating a new book is to add the page breaks first.  So in the main editor window select the "HTML" tab.  Whenever you enter the code "<!--nextpage-->", a page-break will be added.

(You can click on these images to make them full-size)

The HTML editor with one page break added

When you switch to the "Visual" tab you can see how page breaks show up in the visual editor.

How the visual editor display page breaks.

It's quicker to  add as many page breaks as you think you'll need right at the beginning.  Otherwise you'll have to keep switching back and forth between the visual editor and the HTML editor.  So while you are in the HTML editor add several more page breaks.

Some more page breaks.

Now switch to the "Visual" tab and you'll see all of your new page breaks.

The Visual Editor display

To add the cover page, switch to the "Visual" tab so that you are in the Visual Editor.  Make sure your cursor is above that first page break and click the "Add An Image" button.

Adding the Cover Page in the Visual editor. "Add An Image" button is top left.

Choose the image for your cover.  Don't give it any caption and click the "Insert" button.

Inserting the Cover Page. Remember to leave the "Caption" field blank.

Now your cover page will appear in the visual editor.

To insert the next page, make sure your cursor is under the first page break then click the "Add an Image" button.

1. Make sure your cursor is under the first page break. 2. Click the "Add an Image" button.

This time the image's caption will be the text for that particular page.  So enter that page's text into that "Caption" field.

To help keep the formatting consistent, I have it set up so that any Question-marks in the caption field will automatically cause a line break.  So the text "Is he on the bed?  No he is not on the bed." will automatically show up like this:

Is he on the bed?
No he is not on the bed

Enter the page's text in the "Caption" field.

Now you can repeat the same process for the rest of your story pages.  Don't include the Story Writing Prompt questions just yet.

When you've entered your last page, make sure to delete any leftover page-breaks.  Leftover page-breaks will cause empty pages to show up in your book.  You can just click on the page break graphic and hit "Enter" or "Backspace" on your keyboard.

Delete Leftover page breaks.

Story Writing Prompt

You enter the Story Writing Prompt questions in the box that is directly below the main editor.  It will be labeled "Multiple Content Blocks" and will say "Questions" under that.

The story Prompt Box. Notice the formatting.

Notice the formatting.  The Titles should be formatted as "Heading 2" and the questions should be lists.  It's easiest to write all of the questions then select them all and click the List button (You can see the red arrow pointing from the questions to the list button).

Choose Series and Category

On the right hand side of the screen are menus to choose the Series and Category for your book.  You can add new Series and Category from this menu, too.

Choose one of each

Once you have chosen the Series and Category you can click the "Publish" button.

The button will say "Publish" or "Update"

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Parent and teacher conferences: Are you prepared

Parent/teacher conferences are right around the corner. These 15-30 minutes conferences are designed to give parents/caregivers/teachers the opportunity to discuss every child’s academic, social/emotional and physical development. Do you know what to expect during your meeting(s)? What questions may help you with home/school connections?

1.       It is always helpful to go to your school’s website and search for the curriculum used in the various subjects. Conferences provide the perfect opportunity for your child’s teacher to share examples of how your child is progressing in their understanding of concepts within a given math, reading, science, social studies, or SEL (social/emotional learning) curriculum.

2.       Asking teachers ways you can help your child at home to support what they are doing in class is a GREAT way to maintain home/school partnerships. Your child’s teacher has tons of ideas on how to support their efforts at home. Most schools have a list of approved websites and/or resources including parent/child programs to extend your child’s learning at home.

3.       If you have concerns about anything share them with your teacher during conferences. Your 15-30 minute conference time is your time to confidentially discuss with your teacher(s) all concerns related to your child’s academic, social/emotional or physical success in a given school year. Anything you feel might help your child’s teacher understand your child better is ALWAYS appreciated by a teacher.

4.       Conferences are the perfect time to alert your teacher(s) of any changes in family dynamics which could influence your child such as new additions, separations or losses. Children manifest family changes in different ways inside the classroom than they might at home. Teachers who have the necessary family history can better support a child during the school day. Open parent/teacher communication is always kept confidential by school staff.

5.       Thank your teachers for all that they do and let them know you are there to help them in any way that you can. Our children are with their teachers  varying amount of hours depending on their school dynamics. However, the role they play is extremely significant in shaping how our children feel as a learner.

6.       Let your child’s teacher know you appreciate all their efforts. Teachers need your praise and acknowledgment of support as much as our children need it from them.

We’d love to hear how your conferences went. Send us a line either responding to our blog post or to info@steppingstonestogether.com with CONFERENCES as a subject heading.

Happy Conferencing!

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Parent Involvement: Where are you on the spectrum?

The parent involvement balance is something most parents struggles with when raising their children.  Expert opinions on parent involvement are often hard to take if not aligned with our core beliefs about child rearing.  Quality time differs from family to family.

The question on everyone’s mind is when do you get involved and when do you stand back?

I love the line from Ferris Bueller’s day off and I quote, “Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once and a while you could miss it.” I usually wonder what happened to the summer and can’t believe my kids are closer to the middle of their school year than not around this time of year.

Does anyone else feel life with children is like running a relay race, passing off one baton only to wait for the next one? I love the roller coaster and wouldn’t change it for anything but thank goodness for pictures! They capture the moments of triumph, milestones, and the passing of time.

Children vividly remember each experience from their first memories to present. Adults have a much broader memory file to account for, and for better or worse, may condense less important memories. Is this a good excuse for not remembering every detail of our past?

What memories of your own parents’ involvement are most vivid and important to you as an adult?

Personally, my parents’ involvement in academics was more impressionable on me than anything else. It wasn’t easy as a teenager having my mom wear a visor to my school graduation party. However, knowing that she was the PTO president made a lasting impression on me of the importance of parent involvement in schools. Watching my mom read on a daily basis to this day is something that has made me value the joy of reading. Having my mom check over my homework, leaving comments on my papers such as, ‘This did not make sense,’ or circling errors for me to correct might have enraged me at the time, but it showed me she cared about the quality of work I turned into teachers.

What are your most impressionable and vivid memories of your parents’ involvement throughout childhood?

Do you remember specific dinner table conversations?

Did your family prioritize homework over extracurricular commitments and play dates? How did this have an effect on your parenting choices?

Parent involvement is never easy. Making meaningful parent involvement choices is something we all have to do.

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Reading a picture book has become obsolete

Technology has its advantages in motivating us to learn more, think differently, and reach new heights in understanding and experiencing all the world has to offer. However, should we forgo the gift to our senses that a newspaper, magazine, favorite book provides to our fingers, our nose, or our feelings?

Stepping Stones Together sat down with president of Little One Books and we share a similar sentiment about the power of literacy and reading books.

We are happy to share her recent thoughts on the power of picture books.

When was the last time you spent $15 for a children’s product that was used over and over again? For parents and grandparents of children five and under, the answer would likely be the last time they purchased a picture book. A quality picture book has the potential to stimulate a child’s imagination and create a foundation for future learning.

It appears that we are not buying nearly enough children’s picture books. Bookstores are cutting back on their inventory, publishers are not signing new authors and everyone seems to be discounting.

Perhaps the problem is not the picture book itself, but the vast amount of products available in today’s market. A Google search for ‘children’s picture books’ brings up more than 48 million results. Do we really need all those choices? When it comes to exposing young children to top rate picture books, it’s about the quality of the experience – not the number of choices available. Picture books with compelling stories that children can relate to, and creative illustrations that enhance them, will be a staple with children through the formative years and beyond.

However, with so few children’s bookstores left, it’s become increasingly difficult to locate experts who can steer us towards the best picture books available, and harder still to find all those great titles we remember from our own childhood.

Today, libraries are a great laboratory for assessing the popularity of children’s picture books. Children’s librarians strive to carry the best of the best in children’s literature. If you go to the children’s section of any library, you’ll find a limited selection of great books. You’ll see lots of children sitting at small tables or on the floor flipping through the pages of books as they study the pictures. You’ll also see parents asking their children questions as they read aloud to them.

Are picture books the next casualty of the digital age?

Reading is not about recognizing words, but becoming immersed in the nuances of the story. Picture books foster young children’s creativity and imagination and allow them to develop their own stories over and over again.

What are your favorite books? Does reading them online really satisfy your reading senses? We'd love to hear from you!

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Learning to read should be affordable for all children

We have an educational achievement gap in the United States that occurs before children enter the Kindergarten classroom. Adults today according to research are not reading. How do we expect our children to want to read?

Research continues to share the number one predictor of a child's academic achievement is parental involvement. All parents want what is best for their child and early literacy is part of that process.

How do parents take the first steps?

1.Start the early literacy process today! Once you begin working with your child on early literacy the key to advancement is daily practice.

2. Children thrive off of beginning literacy program consistency in as little as 15 minutes a day. This will not become a daunting task. Parents and caregivers can do this with an an easy to use program.

3. It should not cost a fortune - Most programs require parents/caregivers to invest considerable amounts of money to help their child learn to love the beginning literacy process. This should not be the case.

  • You need to obtain basic beginning literacy tools and use them daily with your child.
  • Materials should consist of a choice of reading material for your child at their level and daily opportunities to write, discuss and interact through games with literacy.

4. Parents should NOT be taken out of beginning literacy programs.

  • Parents, the number one predictor of academic success, are often taken out of the beginning literacy process for expensive one on one tutoring which ends with each tutoring session.
  • Weekly tutoring instruction will not help a child make significant literacy gains unless daily practice is a part of this regiment.

5. Online programs cannot replace the necessary human interaction necessary for beginning literacy.

  • Online reading games and programs serve as a great way to practice skills.
  • Reading comprehension and higher order critical thinking skills that beginning literacy learners  need to develop are often missed with online beginning reading program.
  • The goal of reading is to understand. Beginning literacy skills requires human interaction to assist with application, analysis, and reformulation of content understanding in a meaningful way.

What frustrations, successes or experiences have you had with your child and beginning literacy? Do you have beginning literacy questions? We got answers!

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Top 5 back to school routines: 2011 secrets to school success!

The long days of summer have been replaced by the cool morning winds of Fall way before the official end of summer! Most children have begun their school year routine whether it be Pre-school, elementary, Junior high or beyond! It is never easy to establish new routines but you save countless hours of frustration by sticking to one your family can establish.

1. Make  a schedule for: daily lunches, clothing choices, activities which your children can review each day either in their rooms or in a common area such as your kitchen or mud room. If you have younger kids replace words with pictures. For more tips on beginning learning check out our blog.

This is also a great way to incorporate early literacy skills into your daily routine!

2. Get to bed early!- I am guilty of burning the midnight oil too, but starting the school year out by getting your kids and yourself into bed early will help you keep healthy and alert especially at the beginning of flu season!

3. Have children do their homework when they get home from school if possible. - Schedules rule our lives but establishing a routine for homework is the best way to help children complete homework diligently daily. They do crave routine even with the hemming and hawing!

4. Read daily- Everyone should be reading daily. Have a drop everything and read time in your schedule for the entire family. Even young children can pretend to read during this time with pride. Daily reading practice is the number one predictor of academic success and lifelong commitment to learning.

5. Eat dinner together whenever possible. - Asking my children their favorite part of their day around the dinner table is my favorite 5 minutes of the day. I secretly think they feel the same way :).

Is routine your secret to success with getting the school year off to a great start? I'd love to hear your routines. Sharing is caring. Please let us know what you do to get the school year off to a great start.

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