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October 5, 2017

It’s not Valentine’s Day. We’re almost half a year away from our anniversary, and birthdays have passed. But it’s ALWAYS a good time to send little love notes to the special people in my life! I actually think about sending notes of encouragement to others pretty frequently, but I usually think of it when I’m in the middle of doing something else like driving or showering. By the time I get to my desk, I’ve forgotten all about it. One of the best ways to make it happen is to just buy a nice set of greeting cards to send! It not only sits there on your desk as a reminder to write up the cards, but also compels you to write something very meaningful and thoughtful, since you actually spent good money on the adorable cards.

When I bought a bunch of these gorgeous cards from my friend Dakota Midnyght a few years ago, I started writing down all these thoughtful notes to people with affirmations and encouragement that I had been meaning to say for years. After only thinking kind words for a long time, they finally all got written down and sent out. And it was GREAT! I’ve been meaning to do it again ever since, but again… it’s hard to remember and carve out that time.

So when Julissa sent me these adorable food pun cards, I felt like we were a matcha made in heaven. HEHE.

Ok, ok, that was their line, not mine. My artwork is never that good. But it’s so cute, isn’t it??

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September 20, 2017

Okay, you bought the book, you tried the program, and you did, indeed, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. YAY!!!! HIGH FIVE!! WASN’T THAT FUN?!

But… that doesn’t mean they’re fluent readers just yet. Now what? How do I help my child build fluency, improve comprehension, and continue to nurture a confidence in and love of reading from here?

As I told Ben giddily the other day, “This is MY domain. I didn’t really know how to start teaching reading from scratch, but now that she’s got her foundation down, it’s time for guided reading. I know alllll about this!”

Okay maybe that was a little over-confident, but I definitely felt more comfortable moving forward with this than I initially did with teaching the basics.

Guided reading is a core component of the Reader’s Workshop model that I was trained in and used in my years teaching third and fourth grade. During guided reading, you basically have a running conversation with a child as you read through text together. Usually, the child reads the text out loud and you pause him along the way and coach him through his thinking by posing questions and practicing various reading strategies. Learn more about it here!

At the end of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessonsthere is a suggested list of books for moving forward. The idea is that you can continue in the style of the last few lessons using these books as the reading text. Cool, I thought, they already found the perfect next-step books. So I logged into my library account to put them on hold. (By the way, did you know that you can go online, put books on hold, and SOMEBODY ELSE FINDS THEM AND PUTS THEM ALL IN A STACK AT THE FRONT OF THE LIBRARY FOR YOU TO PICK UP?! I discovered this a couple years ago and my mind was blown!!! Best. Service. EVER!!).

Of course some of the first books listed were not available at the library. Well, surely these must be just-right books since they only listed about twenty books, so… I will just spend the money and buy them on Amazon. And then Amazon only had a few “buy it used” options. What?? If these books were so perfect, then why were so few available? Where was my Prime, 2-day shipping option? I pushed away the voice of doubt and forged ahead.

So, for the first time in longer than I remember, I bought it used through Amazon. The last time I remember doing that was in college. And that was a long, long time ago. I even had to pay shipping. These books had better be GREAT.

They were not. Here is the COMPLETE TEXT of one of these books:

Let’s play. We hide and you seek.

We’ll play too.

Ready or not, here I come!

<9 pages of only illustrations>

Now I want my turn to hide.

Where are you? 

…WHAT?! I went through ALL THAT TROUBLE and waited SO MANY DAYS (okay, eleven days- please excuse the impatient millennial in me) for THAT?!

Here is the other one I purchased used and paid shipping for (!!) on Amazon:

Look what I can do!

I can do it too!

<lots of illustrations>

Look what I can do!

That was it.

Three sentences. Or two, if you’re looking for unique sentences.

-_-

I’m fine with books that focus on pictures, but when the entire point of buying the book is to practice reading, then I’m not so pleased when there are only SEVEN unique words in the entire book. The other book suggestions were slightly more helpful, but not by a lot. One book even has a theme of two kids trying to out-do each other with their beach toy, to the point where one is pulling down the other’s pants and they are both completely not noticing a boy who falls into the water and needs help getting back up. Even worse, the story concludes when they see a girl who has a cooler beach toy that sticks her tongue out at them, and one shouts, “I hate her!” and the boys bond over their shared dislike of this girl.

This is really not the kind of stuff I want my daughter to be reading.

So I decided it was time for me to figure out the best “just right” books myself. After a couple of library trips, I have now compiled a great list of books that are just right for the child who has completed this reading program. They are books that my daughter can mostly read independently. I found two series so far that are just right for her, and each day,

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September 12, 2017

There’s nothing like getting a present when you’re a kid. I still remember the anticipation as my birthday or Christmas approached. For the most part, I was never really hoping for any one item in particular. I was just excited that I was going to get SOMETHING. I couldn’t wait to tear apart the paper and discover what gift awaited me!

In all those years, it never occurred to me how challenging it would be to think of a cool gift to get kids someday when I became an old grown up. But here I’ve been, futzing around the last ten years trying to think of what my little cousins, goddaughter, and friends’ kids would enjoy as gifts. I feel like it’s been easier the last couple years for people with kids around the same age as my kids. I use my own experience and my own children’s interest as reference, but I’m always a loss for kids who are a bit older than my own. So when Sierra from Gifts.com shared this fantastic guide to age appropriate toys with me, I knew I had to share it with you! Not only are there great, gender neutral gift ideas, but they promote growth and are developmentally appropriate!

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July 28, 2017

I have a confession to make. Despite teaching for over eight years, I had actually never taught a kid to read from the very beginning. I would always get a handful of kids, even in fourth grade (and in sixth grade…) who were still hovering around the first grade reading level, but they already knew their ABC’s and the general idea of piecing sounds together. I usually focused more on building fluency and developing comprehension. So when my daughter started asking me to teach her to read, I would smile and assure her that someday, yes, someday, I’d teach her.

Let me be clear, I was NOT planning to tiger-mom this, and I was never planning to teach her to read at age three. But I do try to be supportive of her interests, and I do love teaching. So when she kept on asking me to teach her and she seemed ready to learn, it wasn’t in me to say no.

But I definitely tried to put it off. As her love for books grew, her persistence in asking grew, and soon I started wondering when was too soon, and I began the rabbit hole of research that is when and how to teach your child to read. I was hesitant to introduce the alphabet to her, because I had read somewhere that the names of the letters will just confuse a learning child who should first learn the sounds they make. I read up on different philosophies, which left me feeling paralyzed and even less confident about starting anywhere. I asked my teacher friends who taught younger grades, and got a lot of great ideas, but still felt like I needed a program to guide me. I thought about buying a home-school kit or something, which is how I stumbled upon How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.

Honestly, it sounded like an unrealistic stretch, and I got the same feeling I have when I watch TV infomercials: If it sounds too good to be true…

If it weren’t for Amazon and the 2,000+ glowing reviews of this, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. But it piqued my interest enough for me to read several reviews and I even took a “Look inside!” the book. I saw strangely scripted words and antiquated cartoons. I wasn’t sure about this.

A few weeks later, my friend put up a video of his young daughter writing and he mentioned this very book. HMMM. I asked him what he thought, and he also had glowing reviews! Still, there was a lot I was skeptical of. The “100 days” part. The “easy lessons” part. The “just 20 minutes a day” part. The “love, care, and joy only a parent and child can share” part, because if this were so effective, wouldn’t teachers have adopted this into their programs long ago? Well, I thought, I guess for $13, I can just buy it and see what it’s all about. 

When it arrived, I did the nerdy thing I do and I read the entire Introduction and Parents’ Guide from start to finish. It was no small feat, with its 20 small-fonted textbook sized pages. It didn’t take long for me to get totally absorbed in it, nodding my head and learning new things the way I did in teaching school. I appreciated the introduction. Their methodology was clearly laid out, thorough, and thoughtful. I appreciated the strategies they offered for teaching, including how to keep kids on track, pacing, and the hurdles they predicted would happen (and what to do about it). These guys knew what they were talking about, and it was clear they had a lot of successful experiences with this program. I was sold.

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July 5, 2017

I was standing near the shipwreck, angling myself so I could keep one eye on my daughter digging in the gravel pit and one eye on my son as he climbed up and down the mini bridge. Minutes passed, and for the most part, I stayed where I was, willing myself not to interrupt my children’s play and holding back even as I watched a boy treat my daughter unkindly. To a stranger, it might have appeared that I was disengaged and not really watching any kids, but really, I had my eye on both while I tried to give them space to be immersed in their play and explore and learn independently.

As I stood there, I listened as a dad excitedly showed his child something neat about the water area. They remained for a few moments, and then just as quickly, the dad said, “Okay, let’s go, let’s see what else there is.”

“Wait I just want to try-”

“No, c’mon, we have to see the other exhibits!” the dad insisted.

After a moment, his child reluctantly left the water area and trekked after his father. As I stood there, unhurried as my daughter continued to scoop gravel and my son continued to climb up and down, it occurred to me that just a year ago, I had been just like this father.

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June 16, 2017

I’ve shared some thoughts on submitting to husbands before, but today, I want to share an image of what it can look like for husbands to love their wives in a Christlike way:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
Ephesians 5:25-27

This passage is talking about how Jesus Christ loved the church (all the believers of the world) and gave himself up for her (to the point of dying on the cross) to make her holy and blameless so we could have a relationship with God.

On first glance, there is one key idea that stands out to me: husbands love wives the way Jesus loves the church. And what did Jesus do for the church? He did everything he could to make it possible for the church to be one with God, even to the point of dying. So, husbands, you’re supposed to do everything you possibly can to bring your wife closer to God, even to the point of dying. It’s a big job.

But what does it really look like today? There are very few instances where men have to sacrifice their lives to save their wives, and even if they did, that doesn’t necessarily make her holy and blameless. So what does it mean for a husband to give himself up for his wife, for the sake of allowing her to be more holy and blameless before God? What does that kind of love even look like in today’s world?

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May 31, 2017

6/4/2017 UPDATE: Congrats to Natalie, the winner of our giveaway! Thank you all for participating!

I’m a big fan of letting kids have space to be bored, so when EQtainment sent me this article to share, it seemed like a perfect fit! It’s a more succinct version of what I would say, and I am happy to share it here with you today!

Scroll to the bottom to see the great giveaway we have for you today, too!

5 Reasons “I’m Bored” Should Be Music to Your Ears

Guest post from EQtainment

What should you do next time your kid says “I’m bored”? Hint: Nothing! In fact, here are five reasons to do yourself and your kid a favor, and let boredom be.

Boredom is the key to unlocking your child’s creativity.

Complaining about being bored gets pretty boring pretty fast. Finding ways to fill unstructured time is how your child finds their muse. Whether they use that time to build a fort out of couch pillows, make a mud pie, or pull pots out of the cabinet and bang on them with a spoon, boredom breeds inspiration.

 

Being bored encourages kids to learn to amuse themselves without digital distractions.

If you automatically hand your kid your phone every time you sit down at a restaurant or get in the car, you’re robbing them of the chance to learn to talk with their own family, or even just look out the window. Enjoying the company of others — and yourself — is fundamental to well-being. Want to take it to the next level? Declare every Saturday or Sunday as Digital Day Off for the whole family.

 

Boredom gives children a reason to challenge themselves.

When a kid is constantly busy, they may not get the time to perfect a drawing, or finish a puzzle, or practice shooting baskets in the driveway. Boredom is the chance to work at something hard and build a skill — and in turn, self-confidence.

 

Free time is time to be free.

When a kid has nothing to do, they learn to just be. Slowing down means time to recharge. Even kids get stressed when they don’t get that opportunity.

 

Being bored motivates kids to explore their world — and themselves.

Between soccer and piano lessons (never mind school), kids spend a lot of time learning what we want them to learn. But without free time with nothing to do, they don’t get the chance to try things on their own and figure out what they like to spend time doing. That’s why it’s so important to schedule some unscheduled time into your weekly routine. Maybe they’ll catch caterpillars in the backyard, or make up a new recipe, or grab their crayons and Q’s Coloring Book. Whatever they decide to do, they’ll love the chance to be in control and discover who they are.


A note from JoEllen: 

EQtainment also sent me some products including a game called Q’s Race to the Top. I wasn’t expecting to be wowed, but the reviews don’t lie- this game is a winner! It is unlike any other kids game I have played with my children. The first time I played it with my daughter, my husband saw the fun we were having and exclaimed, “This game is awesome! I want to play!” I could tell he genuinely did. 

Before I had played it, I was planning to just do a quick mention of the game, but I can’t help myself- it’s easily our family’s favorite game now, and a must-have if you want to laugh, be silly and active, and have really interesting conversation with your kids. I’ve learned fascinating things about my daughter, like what she thinks about at night before going to sleep, and which rules at home she thinks are good (and not good haha). It offers opportunity for thinking through various social and behavioral scenarios without feeling like a lesson or chore.

I’m always curious to know what my kids are thinking, but don’t always know how to tap into their brains- this game gives a really unique perspective while helping us coach them toward better behavior and emotional health. LOVE. 

GIVEAWAY:

I am so eager for you all to try this game that I asked EQtainment if they’d be up for a giveaway, and they said yes! Enter below for a chance to win a Q’s Race to the Top board game and a year’s subscription to the Q Wunder app (including access to premium content). You can enter daily through Saturday, 6/03, and I’ll announce the winner here on Sunday! Thanks, EQtainment!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

May 10, 2017

We’re going to visit a more heavy topic for today: Child loss.

I don’t go here often. It’s a hard topic- both for you and for me. Yet this is a very real part of my life- something that hits me every time someone asks how many kids I have (I hesitate, still, and then usually say “two” with a forced smile while thinking three in my head). It pops up whenever I fill out forms for my kids that ask about their siblings, and crosses my mind often whenever I see four year olds running around and laughing and playing and growing. I miss mine.

I can usually brush away any heavy thoughts within moments. Usually. I was once told that I’m very good at compartmentalizing- I guess this is a strength that has served me well. But there is one situation when I cannot simply push away the thoughts and realities of my experience, and this is when I come across another mother who is freshly experiencing the nightmare of losing a child.

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April 26, 2017

Okay, you’ve got an idea about what kind of preschool you’d like to send your child to (read more here). Great! Now what? Warning: reading this next section might just make this decision feel even more complicated than it needs to be, so proceed with caution ;). Here are a few more things you might consider as you decide on a preschool.

Physical environment

People environment

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April 19, 2017

I am NO EXPERT on early childhood education.

Which is why I would have really appreciated an overview guide like this a year ago, when I was neck-deep in preschool research. It can be a daunting task. There is still so much I don’t know, but my goal is to give new parents an idea of what kind of things to consider when getting started on preschool research. I want to help you narrow down your goals and organize your thinking. I’ll talk about the different factors you might consider as well as some of our thinking as we worked through our decision for our preschooler.

Ultimately, I don’t think there’s any one best philosophy or type of preschool for all kids. I think they all offer different and wonderful ways for your child to grow, and you should find something that works best for you and your child!

Where do I start my research?

Your preschool decision can be as simple as finding the closest preschool to your house, or finding one on the way to work. You visit and it’s warm, welcoming, and the kids are thriving. GREAT. Done. You are so efficient!

Others go with the recommendations of friends, which is a great place to start. Your friend raves about her child’s class and school. You visit, it’s just lovely, and you see her child thriving there. Sure, why not? Easy peasy, you are done!

If you’re like me, though, you take about 100 factors into consideration, weigh each one (using an Excel spreadsheet), agonize over how important each one is (both now and in nine months, when she would actually be enrolled), and flit back and forth as you get input from friends, the Internet, reviews, and your “gut feeling” after you’ve toured the school (not to mention the pressure of waiting lists!).

Sometimes, I really wish I were not that parent, because the first two scenarios seems so simple and everyone I know is still very happy with it. The best advice I got from a friend was, “Jo, don’t overthink it.”

So maybe you should do yourself a favor and stop reading right now ;). But if you must, then press on. Good luck. And really, try not to overthink it.

Different Types of Preschools

In my research, I came across five main different types of preschools: traditional, play-based, Montessori, co-ops, and home-based. While most preschools have elements from more than one category (i.e. “play-based co-op”), these are teaching philosophies and styles you might want to grow more familiar with.

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