Monday, December 9, 2013

our sermon, gender equality, and plagiarism

You may be wondering how in the world our sermon, gender equality, and plagiarism are related. Well, I'll explain. About a month ago, Brian and I preached a sermon at our church here in Czech. I love to preach/teach, but honestly, this was one of the hardest teachings I have ever prepared for. The passage we preached on was Ephesians 5.

One interesting thing is that Brian and I didn't have a lot of conversations about the theology of marriage before we became missionaries. It's not to say that we didn't talk about it or that we didn't live out what we believed, but these past few years have sparked many a late-night conversation on the subject. (Always, completely peacefully, NOT!:))

I'm not sure how things go at your house, but what will start out as a seemingly innocent conversation or question (usually after I've read some blog and want to talk about it) can very quickly become very personal. So, for the past few years, Brian and I have been wrestling with the theology of marriage.

Funny enough, we were asked to preach at our church and the assigned passage was Ephesians 5. So for several weeks before hand, we wrestled some more, read the whole book of Ephesians (more than once), read some books, and stared at our computer screens wondering what in the world we should say. We really prayed about what to share, and I believe that the Holy Spirit gave us some great direction. We do not have this all figured out, but here's the sermon if you're interested. It's translated into Czech. Someday, I hope to able to do something like this without a translator, but that's a few years away.

A few days after we preached, I came across this blog post written by Bill and Lynne Hybels. Bill Hybels is the pastor of Willow Creek in the Chicago area. The post is about a whole lot more than Ephesians 5, hence the gender equality part in my title. I was so touched by this post that I cried. I cried because of their honesty about their struggle to figure out their theology and also the realities of life and how to actually live out what you believe. It's hard. This is an expert from the blog, written by Bill:

"Starting a church proved to be far harder than I had anticipated, so I was insanely busy, and the level of responsibility I carried at a young age produced continual and extreme stress. Anytime Lynne asked me to do even a small thing to help her, I felt burdened and impatient. The fact that I was earning an income to support our family, while her efforts at home as well as in ministry were always unpaid, contributed to devaluing her work. And, of course, because of my visible ministry, I was applauded and honored. Lynne heard again and again how powerfully God was using me. “It’s a good thing Bill has you serving him behind the scenes,” was a comment that repeatedly made her ask, What’s wrong with me? Why am I not content?"

And then, yesterday, I read this post written by Neil Cole, author of Organic Church (and other books) and last year's Josiah Venture Advance conference speaker. The post is part of a five-part series of blog postings in response to a recent plagiarism accusation against Mark Driscoll. (I think Cole references this very respectfully in his initial post.) The fourth post is the one that really convicted me. He talks about how important it is to ask questions and challenge each other's thinking and even question theology. And, this was the most convicting part for me:

"What would Christendom look like if we all agreed, all the time, and no one ever raised a different point of view? Some may say that would be heaven, I think it would be hell. All learning and growing would stop. We'd be monochromatic robots with little beauty or diversity, and we would lack all creativity and surprise. Heaven will be like our Creator who made 10,000's of varieties of flowers and birds, and gave each person a one-of-a-kind DNA so that each one is unique in all of history. Personally, I am grateful for the diversity of opinion. I love people that disagree with me, and those who agree as well. We all can learn from each other. We can discover the rich depth each part of the body brings to the round table if we only humble ourselves and accept one another. Perhaps combinations of thought can produce entirely new realms of understanding."

I like it when people agree with me! I especially like it when Brian agrees with me. However, this whole process of preparing for the sermon we gave a month ago has taught me a lot. And, it's made me appreciate Brian, and I hope to handle it better when we don't agree on theology in the future (hard to imagine that even being possible:)). In the meantime, I am celebrating the conclusions that we came to about marriage, and I was honored to stand next to Brian as we preached.

Friday, October 25, 2013

mission accomplished and an awkward moment at the doctor

Despite the fact that I gave birth to twins here in Czech, had a laser ablation procedure in Belgium, and have lived here in Czech for almost four years, I sadly must admit that I don't like going to the doctor here. This has much more to do with the language barrier than anything else; however it also has to do with these awkward moments, that are usually just cultural differences, nothing wrong on anyone's part, but I'll get to that. I realized this past year that I avoid going to the doctor, a bit too much. So, I made it my goal this summer to get over my fears (and the language barrier, which I'm still working on with Czech lessons four times a week).

One of my goals was to make sure that all five of us got the flu shot. (If you're one that's opposed, please know that I still love you, so still love me too.) For the kids, it meant communicating with our pediatrician early enough, so that she could order it, which is something that I didn't do last year. For me, it meant actually finding a regular doctor. I know, right?! Four years, and I had yet to get a regular doctor. It's just that when I was pregnant with the twins, I was going to a doctor up to two times a week. Finding a regular doctor at that time seemed like a little too much.

So, yesterday, I went to a doctor who speaks English, right in my town, and I was able to get a flu shot (they even had them in stock).

My kids went to their pediatrician yesterday as well to get their flu shots, and Brian got his in the states. I didn't make all the phone calls myself, and I did have a translator with me at the kids' appointment, but still--mission accomplished. So, yes, it's getting easier, but there are still these awkward moments.

First, what you need to know (if you've never been to the doctor here) is that you sort of have to throw modesty out the window. The nurse isn't going to tell you to get undressed and put the rob on, walk out of the room and wait for you to change. In fact, the undressing is going to happen in the doctor's office while the doctor is in there. But, the thing is that I'm never sure when it's supposed to happen. You also won't always get specific directions about what articles of clothing you should take off or keep on, and I certainly don't want to over do it.

So, yesterday, when I was at this new doctor, he was doing a very routine check up, and it all felt very familiar. He checked my throat, asked me to look up and look down, and then, he said he wanted to listen to my heart. Okay, so I'm thinking, this is where the undressing part is probably going to happen. However, I don't want to just assume that, so I wait. He asks me to do something to my shirt (I honestly can't remember, but someone who is not a native English speak doesn't always say those instructions in a clear way), so as to not over do it, I just lifted up my shirt in the back. Then, I thought to myself, he probably wants me to take my shirt off, but I didn't want to just whip it off, so I said, "Is that good?" The hesitation in his answer told me no, so I took it off. That certainly is what he needed me to do because then he said, "There, now I can work!" I'm so glad he was standing behind me so he didn't see my face when he said it. He of course, didn't mean anything by it other than just that--he just wanted to have a good listen to my heart. But oh my goodness, it's those awkward moments that I just have to laugh off!

Friday, October 4, 2013

my ridiculous teacher faces

When Brian and I were first dating, he used to sometimes say, "you're talking to me in your teach voice." It wasn't a compliment. I've gotten better at saving my teacher voice for appropriate times. Sometimes, I whip it out at the dinner table. Wish I had a picture of Alex as he's looking me in the eyes. Well, in addition to my teacher voice, I recently discovered my teacher faces.

This week, I went to H2O, Fala's (Josiah Venture's partner organization in Poland) training facility. I had the opportunity to train some Bethel college students on how to teach English to Polish students. These 20 some college students are communication majors traveling Europe, and they spent three days this week in Polish schools teaching English. This group from Bethel is partnering with four Polish churches who have or are trying to build relationships in their communities with the hope of inviting more students to their youth groups.

Greg Carlson was at H2O, and he snapped some photos from my training. I laughed out loud at myself; you can laugh too!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

cece's first day of kindergarten, well kind of

A year and a half ago, I wrote a post about Cece's first day of preschool. Cece has been going to a Czech preschool called Happy Day for a year and a half. I cannot tell you what an answer to prayer this preschool is for us. Not only does Cece speak Czech now, she loves her preschool, her friends, her teachers, and she's learning more than just Czech.

I would wager to say that this is the best preschool in all the Czech Republic. (Have I been to other ones? No, but nonetheless.) A very nice Czech woman in our community had a vision to start a preschool that was student-centered, bilingual, and Montessori. And, while the building is not much to look at on the outside, yet (they are renovating it), inside, students are learning Czech and English, playing with Montessori manipulatives, and learning early literacy skills. Once a week, I teach a lesson there, and I have had a chance to meet with the teachers several times to talk lesson plans, unit outcomes, and what's best for students at this age.

Cece is still four, but this will likely be what they call here her year before school. Then, she'll start first class next year. Czech schools have 13 grades, and students usually start first class when they are six, so that's why it's hard to compare to the idea of Kindergarten. She's attending the same preschool as before, but this is her year before school.

(A little blurry, but Cece with her teacher Oli.)

We love Happy Day!

the best surprise, EVER!

About a month ago, I received this text message from my sister-in-law, Cait. Her and my brother Joel's wife, Crista, were scheming about his upcoming 30th birthday.

Well a few days later, I talked with Crista and she said that some friends and family were willing to chip in to buy a plane ticket for me to come "home" to Minnesota as a gift to Joel for his 30th birthday (happy birthday to me too, right?!). And then, a few days later, Crista asked if she got a few more people to chip in if I could bring Cece too. How could I say no? So, we purchased our plane tickets, and then, I didn't talk to my brother for two weeks as not to ruin the surprise. For those of you that don't know Joel, he's very intuitive. If I had talked to him on the phone, all I would have had to do was say, "hi, Joel", and he would have sensed something strange in my voice and likely would have asked, "Are you coming to Minnesota?" Thankfully, we didn't talk, and thankfully, Joel had no idea what his wife was planning for him!

On Thursday, August 29th, Cece and I began the flight across the ocean. We had a long layover in Chicago, and Cece was a trooper.

Cece and I arrived in Minnesota late Thursday night, the 29th of August. Rollie, Cait, and my mom picked us up at the airport. We had less than 24 hours to hide from Joel and keep our being there a secret. Joel's surprise party was planned for Friday night (his actual birthday is September 3rd). About 30 friends and family were planning to come to Rollie and Cait's house unbeknownst to Joel. His plan for that Friday night was to work on remodeling his kitchen, and we all knew he'd be annoyed about stopping that to "come to dinner" at Rollie and Cait's (a normal Friday night activity). Crista played it like a champ, and she acted annoyed at the invitation for dinner. So Joel and Crista begrudgingly headed to Rollie and Cait's for a very normal Friday night dinner, so Joel thought.

He never dreamed of what was waiting for him in a big box. Check out this video:

Joel's Birthday Surprise from Aleisha Stephens on Vimeo.

What a great present, huh? Cece said later that when it's her birthday, Joel needs to be wrapped in a box waiting to surprise her . . . we'll see.

Cece and I had the time of our lives for those few days in Minnesota.

And what about the boys? They stayed home with Daddy and ate ice cream!

I'm so glad Cece and I got to be at my brother's 30th birthday party.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

a very green day

Yesterday, we had errands to run. We took all three kids to Hornbach, very similar to Home Depot, to get a few things, so we could finish some house projects. Though I can laugh now, I still cannot believe it happened.

Into Hornbach we go. Brian and I split up to maximize time. Brian asks me to work on getting paint, and he goes in search of caulk and possibly grout. Our plan is to paint our kitchen chairs and stools. I make a few rounds through the paint section. Brian has the cart and Cece, and I have the boys in the stroller. I run into Brian and Cece. We're discussing my findings. Then, Brian takes Alex in the stroller, and I take the cart which now has Gabe. Since Brian had the cart previously, I'm not sure what all is in there.

The paint department worker comes to me and asks me what I need, in Czech of course. Here goes! Thanks to my dad, I know that I need a good primer (he recommends Kilz, but I'm going to have a hard time translating that). I proceed to explain with some hand motions that I plan to paint chairs. He walks me around the paint section and shows me some options. I'm understanding most of what he's saying, and I'm feeling pretty good. I show him a color option that I'm interested in, and he tells me that he can mix it using a paint that would work well on wood (and says it's safe for kids). Great. I just need to pick the color. So, I push Gabe to the paint counter and park the cart. Cece is standing by Gabe. I'm working hard to understand more of what the guy is telling me while I'm trying to choose the right color.

Out of the corner of my eye, I can see that Gabe is holding some kind of bucket. I assume he's pulled it out of the cart and that it's something that Brian needs (possibly some kind of grout). I look back at my paint colors. Then, suddenly, the bucket slips out of Gabe's hand. Now, everything happens in slow motion. At the very same time that the bucket is falling, Brian is pushing Alex around the corner toward the cart. I see green paint splatter all over the floor! After the green paint hits the floor, it splatters all over Alex, the stroller, and Brian! I freeze. My brain cannot quite comprehend what has just happened. The paint department worker says a Czech phrase that unfortunately I understand completely!

Then, Alex starts crying. I go over to him to try to comfort him as Brian is asking me a lot of questions. "How did he get this paint?" I go from trying to tell Alex everything is going to be okay, to telling Brian that I have no idea where Gabe got the paint. A kind Czech women hands me five tissues. I say thank you (in Czech) and kind of look at the tissues and then at all the paint.

Brian says he's going to take Alex to the bathroom. I start saying I'm sorry in every possible way I know how (in Czech there are a few ways, and I still don't always know the best one to use when). I am trying to be helpful so I move the cart to try to block other customers from stepping in the paint. The paint guy has called for others to come clean up the mess; when they all arrive, I apologize again. They are very nice. One worker asks Cece what happened. Cece very clearly says in Czech, "my brother did it!"

Now, the painter man is asking me which color I want and how much. I have no idea. I'm standing next to a puddle of green paint, and I haven't had time to look very closely at the paint swatches, but I need to decide and get out of there. So, I choose a color and an amount. He mixes the paint. I apologize again, but then I remember that I still need varnish. The paint guy keeps helping me until I have everything I need. Seriously, he was so nice (he didn't smile, mind you, but he was nice).

Finally, I'm out of the paint department, and I go to find Brian and Alex. As Cece, Gabe, and I approach the Hornbach restrooms, we can hear crying. Oh, dear! Cece tells Brian that we are here to help. After a few minutes, he opens up the door, and there's Alex shirtless and dripping wet. His hair is slightly green. I ask him what happened, and he starts showing me all the paint. We clean him up as best we can and put his shirt back on.

On the way out of the store, Gabe, Alex, and I have a conversation. We like to verbally process things in our family.

Unfortunately, I think these clothes will always be green. What a day!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

a frightening Czech lesson

I'm spending some dedicated time this summer learning Czech. We've lived here for three years, and as I wrote a few weeks ago, I've got to learn this language. I often describe myself as a turtle when it comes to learning Czech. I'm going slowly, but I keep moving forward. Since we moved here, I've been pretty faithful about going to Czech lessons once a week. However, this summer, for several weeks, I'm going four times a week. I'm not expecting to be speaking Czech fluently by the end of the summer, but hopefully, I'll get over a hump. That is if I don't get scared half-to-death before then.

Today, during my lesson, I had to use the bathroom. I even know how to say that in Czech (Musim jit na zachod). So, I went downstairs and went into this little bathroom. One interesting thing about most Czech houses is that they don't have screens on the window. As you can see this bathroom window is wide open.

Well . . . I'm sitting there on the zachod, and all the sudden, I see something out of the corner of my eye. You know how your brain doesn't always catch up to your reaction. An animal is crawling through the window. It turns out to be my tutor's cat, but it scares me so much, I scream. (Here's where I could insert a lot of great jokes about bodily functions and being scared; I was in the right place at the right time, I guess.)

When I got back upstairs, I had to then explain myself. The good thing is that learned the phrase, lekla jsem se, which means, I was frightened! Talk about experiential learning!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

happy birthday America

The 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays. I have fond memories of Minnesota lakes, strawberries, family, friends, and the Brainerd High School hill where we used to watch the fireworks. Not being in Minnesota on the 4th of July, let alone not being in America, makes me a little sad. However, I was determined that we would celebrate anyway in our backyard here in Czech. I had a little help from some dear friends. Connie wrote about it. Check out her post. I've mentioned Connie before; she blogs regularly about life here as a missionary in the Czech Republic. I highly recommend her blog!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

logical parenting #fail number 2

Awhile ago, I watched my cousin ask her toddler son if he wanted to leave now or in two minutes. I was a bit skeptical because I doubted he really understood how long two minutes was. He said, "two minutes." And, then a few minutes later she told him it was time to go, and there was relatively little drama about leaving. I now use this strategy with my toddler twins, and it works like a charm. "Gabe, do you want to get out of the shower now or in two minutes?" He sticks his thumb and finger up (the European two) and mumbles something that only Brian, Cece, and I would recognize as two minutes. Then, when it's time to get out, there's relatively little drama about it.

I found out that my cousin got her brilliant technique from a Love and Logic Parenting seminar. Let me qualify this by saying that I have not attended such a seminar, and I've never read a Love and Logic parenting book. I have only looked over their website and gleaned a few ideas from my cousin. I'm not a good test-case! However, what I liked about what I heard is that you are trying to instill responsibility in your child and teach them how to make choices. Learning that good choices reap good consequences and bad choices reap bad consequences.

Well, the first time I attempted to be a logical parent, the twins were six months old, and Cece was almost three. Let me qualify this next part by saying that my brain had not fully recovered from the delivery of twins. (I'm sure there is solid scientific research out there about loosing brain cells while pregnant with twins, delivering them, and keeping them alive the first year of their lives!) Cece had been cutting and gluing on the table and her craft basket was still on top of the table with papers strewn about. I said so brilliantly, "Cece, you have a problem. I need to feed the boys, and your stuff is all over the table. What are you going to do about it?" Cece responded, "I'll clean it up later." I tried again, "Cece, you have a problem. Your stuff is all over the table, and I need to feed the boys RIGHT NOW. What are you going to do about it?" Cece shrugged, "I'll clean it up in a little bit; I'm busy right now." My next response, "Cece, if you don't clean this up right now, I will . . . ." She got up right away and cleaned off the table. Brian later explained to me so brilliantly that it was my problem not hers! (logical parenting #fail number 1)

Flash forward a few years, and I am still trying to be a logical parent. Cece has been potty trained for quite some time, but she still wets the bed at night and during her naps sometimes. I am beyond tired of a cry that comes in the middle of the night, "Mommy, I peed". I stumble out of bed, pull wet clothes off of a groggy child, push her in the direction of the bathroom, whip off her sheets, open her closet, get some blankets out, throw them on the bed, help the groggy child put on clean pjs, maybe give her a kiss, and stumble back to bed. I'm not a fan.

We have tried a lot of incentives to prevent the middle of the night peeing of the bed, even chocolate milk for breakfast. Well. I don't feel good about that--chocolate milk for breakfast?! I mean, really! And, it's not a logical consequence. And, it wasn't working very consistently.

So, I came up with a brilliant plan. Brian and I sat Cece down and said, "Okay, Cece, you are a big girl, so if you do wet the bed, then you need to handle it like a big girl. That means, you don't yell for Mommy. Just get up, take your wet pjs off, pull your wet sheets off your bed, get the blankets out of your closet, go to the bathroom, and go back to bed. Then, the next day, you'll need to wash your sheets and put them back on your bed." He response was, "I don't know how to put the sheets on my bed." I so logically responded with, "I'll teach you." And, we did; Brian and I showed her twice how to put her sheets on.

About a week ago, I heard some stirring in her room. I heard the tugging of linen, and then, I saw her putting the wet sheets outside her door. A few minutes later, I saw her with clean pjs on dragging her wet sheets to laundry room. She tip-towed into my room and said quietly, "Mommy, just so you know, I wet the bed; the sheets are in the laundry room." I was SHOCKED! She handled it so well. I was so proud--of her and of myself. Well, pride cometh before the fall.

A few nights ago, Brian was tucking her into bed, and he said, "Now remember, if you wet the bed, you are going to have to take your sheets off all by yourself, put the blankets on your bed, wash your sheets, and put them back on your bed. It will be such a pain." Cece goes, "But, Daddy, I like doing all that stuff!" (logical parenting #fail number 2)

The truth is though, she's wetting the bed less, and we don't have to deal with it. I guess it's not a complete #fail! Look at her waving at me, it's like she's saying, "Momma, you're going to have to get your game on because I'm a smart girl!" And, I love her for that!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

just like me

For whatever reason, I used to have this fantasy that I would want a child/children who were just like me. Moreover, I had this idea that my kids would need to experience life just like me. Then, I adopted a black girl, and I realized just how silly and not possible this fantasy was. Don't most of us spend our adult life overcoming our childhoods anyway (this is a joke, kind of)?! 

Well, becoming a missionary has made me a little sad at times that my kids are not living a childhood like mine, at all. In my head I know that is not what matters most, but sometimes, it's a healthy aspect of parenting in that you want to relate to your child.

When I was little, I used to spend a lot of time at my dad's uncle's farm. We called it the farm (as in the only farm because it's the only one we ever went to). I have fond memories of the farm--uncles showing me baby pigs, cousins, coffee time that included chocolate chip cookies, Grandma G who taught me some of life's most important lessons, tractor rides, and a lot of room to run and hide and make up games. On rare days, probably when it was too cold to be outside, we would play inside. In a tall wooden cabinet, there were games, toys, and books for kids. My favorite toy was a marble run. 

Last fall when my Uncle Neal was here on a work trip, I mentioned this marble run to him. I don't even remember what made me think of it. But, I told him it was my favorite toy at the farm. Well, when Neal came back this Spring (on another work trip), he pulled this out of his suitcase. 

From wood that Neal got from my dad, Neal made this marble run for my kids (or for me) and brought it all the way from Minnesota to the Czech Republic. Now, as I'm working on my computer or cleaning the kitchen, I often hear the sound of the marbles rolling down the marble run, and I smile because my kids are doing something just like me!

Friday, June 21, 2013

i've got to learn this language

Yesterday, in a I can do anything moment, I took a four-year old, two two-year-olds, and a dog to the river that's just behind our house. I don't have any pictures because one cannot take a photo while holding a leash and the hands of two two-year-olds as they make their way along a rocky bank. We had a great time there splashing in the water, throwing rocks, and keeping everyone alive. When it came time to get all of us up the bank back to the trail, I picked up Alex and had him on my left hip, I was holding the dog's leash in my left hand, and grabbed Gabe's hand with my right hand.

A very nice woman who I have seen around Frydlant said something to me in Czech. Okay, here's where my awesome skills left the building. I can often understand the gist of what someone is saying, if I can really focus, and if I have a tiny bit of context. In situations where I am not able to focus or I don't have context, my brain is often about three minutes behind. Three minutes doesn't seem like a long time, but it's long enough for someone to ask me a question and for me to answer, and then realize later why the poor person was looking at me funny.

Now that my brain has been able to process, here's what I think happened.

I'm standing near the river with Alex on my hip, the dog leash in one hand, and Gabe's hand in the other, the women kindly says something like this in Czech, "Are you able to make it up the hill by yourself or do you need help?"

I answer (in CZ) smiling, "yes!"

She repeats her either-or question, "Are you able to make it up the hill by yourself or do you need help?"

Again smiling I answer (in CZ), "maybe, yes!"

She says to her husband, "Go help that crazy American woman up the hill!" (Okay, I don't think she said that).

The Czech man holds his hands out to Gabe so sweetly (as not to scare him), and I explain to Gabe that he's going to help him up the hill.

I say thank you in Czech at least three times, and I say good-bye. All of which are said with precise pronunciation.

Then, I'm walking away, with my three kids and the dog, and I realize she was asking me an either-or question. Dang it!

This summer, I'm increasing my language lessons to at least three times a week, so . . . watch out Czech, I'll be able to answer your questions . . . soon!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

nine years of marriage in pics

It's our ninth wedding anniversary. It's cliche, but it gets sweeter and sweeter, and my hair gets better and better; Brian's stays the same. These nine years were better than I asked for or imagined!











Wednesday, June 12, 2013

my preschool recommendations

Last week was epic for me. One of my former students whom I taught when I worked at Charlotte Christian School came to visit us. She was part of the class that I taught two years in row for 7th and 8th grade Language Arts. This entire class holds a special place in my heart, and I was thrilled to have Abby here for a week.

Abby is majoring in Early Childhood Education at Clemson, so her and I teamed-up and ran an Early Literacy Summer Camp mostly for missionary kids in our town (and a Czech family from Cece's preschool whose dad is Scottish). We focused on early reading and writing skills in English because this is a an area that us missionary parents must teach our kids ourselves. Because Cece is in CZ preschool fulltime, it can be challenging for me to keep up with her early literacy skills (in English) at home. Having Abby here for a week was a perfect opportunity to focus on this and to invite some of our friends, so their kids could benefit too.

For those of you who are also shouldering the responsibility of early literacy in English, I wanted to share some of my favorite resources, activities, and ideas with you.

Curriculum and Curriculum Authors:

Literacy Beginnings is my go-to for all things preschool. Half of the book is how to set-up a preschool classroom (methodology) and the other half is full of ideas and activities to do with this age group. Written by two of my favorite curriculum authors Fountas and Pinnell, it includes a list of picture books organized by themes and separated into books for age 3 and books for age 4. It also has a list of poems and songs to use with younger kids in Shared Reading.

Lucy Calkins is my favorite curriculum author. I have read several of her books (cover-to-cover). My favorite being The Art of Teaching Writing. What I love about Lucy (yes I've met her, so I'm calling her Lucy) is her high expectations for kids. Even preschoolers and kindergarteners can write (you have them think, draw, and then "write"). Students at this age learn the art of story telling in their drawing and attempt to label where they are in their story. Lucy also has a brilliant way of talking to students--"Boys and Girls, today, you are going to be authors!" She just published a kindergarten writing curriculum that is fabulous, but expensive. I didn't buy it, but I downloaded every sample I could find online. I could go on and on about Writer's Workshop, but maybe that should be another blog post. Lucy also has a curriculum for grades 3-5 for teaching reading that is fabulous. Here is a sample of a curricular plan for grades K-8 reading workshop, which I highly recommend!

In addition to this curriculum, I wanted to mention some children's books that we used during our Early Literacy Summer Camp, all of which I highly recommend too.

Children's Books: 

We're Going on a Bear Hunt, by Michael Rosen, is a great book to use in Shared Reading. My boys, especially, love this book. After you read it several times, write a portion of it on chart paper and have your child read it along with you. Also, teach your child that good readers go on adventures when they read. They read as if they are in the story. 

The Lion and the Mouse, by Jerry Pinkey, is a fabulous book to teach children that "the pictures tell the story" and that good readers make predictions as they read. "What do you think is going to happen to the mouse?" (said in a very dramatic voice).

Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Williems, is another great book to use to teach predictions. "Do you think Trixie is going to get her Knuffle Bunny back?" It's also one to use to show that pictures tell the story, and you can go on an adventure with Trixie as she zooms past the school and into the laundromat!

Ira Sleeps Over, by Bernard Waber, is a mentor text (good example) from Lucy Calkins' Narrative Writing Unit. Read it to your child and talk about how good writers tell stories from their own lives; they write about what actually happened to them. 

And finally, I often get things from Teachers Pay Teachers (a website that is true to its title). It's a little daunting to navigate--many great things, but a lot of not so great things, but here are two gems that we used for our Early Literacy Camp last week.

used in Reading Workshop:

used in Writer's Workshop: