loquacious family

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Times Change, People Change

grew up in a fairly homogeneous community of Caucasian people, where you could literally count on three fingers the number of Asian and First Nations kids in each classroom. Until high school, our student body didn't even have black or Latino students. It isn't hard to imagine the kind of breeding ground this northern town was for unsolicited racist jokes and commentary, including the highly-offensive "Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees..." ditty and other ignorant slurs.

Given the small population of visible minorities, people of the same ethnic group tended to stick together. Our Chinese community was not surprisingly quite insular, despite the fact that most of us kids attended different schools across the city. We all met at Saturday Chinese language school, or whenever a person from the community was holding a wedding banquet or major birthday feast. We also congregated for Chinese new year celebrations and other such festive occasions. Sometimes, it was simply a massive mah-jong fete that brought the many families together.

You'd think that, with such blatant racism to deal with from the "outside world," our little Chinese population would have each other's back, right? Wrong. While we all met fairly regularly, thanks to the unspoken Chinese "saving face" rules of etiquette that required representation from each family at the host's event, there was no love lost between the various factions of our little Asian community. Gossip was rampant, as were back-handed compliments and passive-aggressive slights for perceived insults. While my dad was a fairly popular guy in the community, even he was not immune to this sort of back-stabbing and rumour-mongering. Heck, he was an active, willing participant too!

As kids, this was what we witnessed growing up, and what we heard about at the kitchen table when the adults didn't shoo us away for eavesdropping on their gossipy conversations. If you caught anyone in a particularly feisty mood, they would even entertain our questions and elaborate on the gossip with their personal commentaries. The result of being an impressionable audience member is that we as kids began to form preconceived notions about these other Chinese kids in our community. If our parents didn't like their parents, or felt we had been insulted somehow by their words or deeds, then we as kids were fiercely loyal and hated the children of said offending family. If our parents perceived certain members of the community as being snobby or braggarts, we would in turn perceive their children in the same way. If our parents felt like these other families were "copying" us or trying to one-up our achievements, then we would also work hard to excel beyond the accomplishments of that other family's children so that we could maintain our bragging rights. That's just how impressionable little kids operate, and it was our "normal."

But here's the thing (and I'm a little embarrassed that it took me so many decades to realize this): those kids aren't their parents, and we are not ours either. The strange perceptions we formed of these other Chinese kids in our hometown community are no more true than whatever weird ideas they may hold about us. And that bizarre, inexplicable sense of competition and resentment that I have for some of these folks? Irrational. Unfounded. Ridiculous. I blame the gossip of yesteryear and the generations before us using us as their fodder for braggadocio (disclaimer: I'm not saying my parents did this, and I never saw them do so, but I've seen other parents in the community doing this exact thing, right down to piano lesson bragging rights or who bought the biggest condominium/home in the city).

I recently came across the FB profile for the one of the kids of one of these Chinese families. She actually lives in my neck of the woods, and had we not moved last year, I probably would have run into her at the local Urban Fare. It appears that her child is around Little L's age. She is an accomplished professional in her field. I know little more about her given the privacy features of FB, but I suspect that in a different world we would have been friends. And my silly "grudges" and preconceived biases against her? As reliable as something that comes out of Donald Trump's mouth.

So here's my take-away: times change. People change. And little kids are unbelievably impressionable. Therefore, if ever Hubbs or I should have any biases against anyone we know, we would be best served holding our tongues and egos in check. It's a good reminder.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Our Purges and Splurges

Varage Sale and FB buy/sell/swap groups are ingenious creations. Prior to these very convenient online services, we used to have to host or attend garage sales that sucked away our weekends, or go thrifting in dank and smelly stores, or list and buy our items on Craigslist and risk crossing paths with a shady person. Now? We can buy and sell our crap used goods from the comfort of anywhere (including the potty), provided we have a good WiFi signal and our smartphone handy.

God bless technology.

Lately, I've been watching my kid play, and what I've discovered is that she would far prefer reading her books or playing with stickers to actually playing with most of her toys. Sure, her stuffies, Calico Critters and Lalaloopsy dolls still see some action, but not her musical toys from two years ago, or her Duplo. Her iPad also been a main source of entertainment, especially now that she has discovered the Party with PlayKids app.

Anyway, I've seen what hoarding looks like. I am genetically-predisposed to this horrible condition. Therefore, I am very intentional about purging whenever something has outlived its usefulness. In this case, it is Little L's old toys, which we have been culling for the past couple of weeks. What I've been doing is pulling the items out, asking Little L whether we should keep or "toss" them, and then letting her decide. In a few cases, I had to do a bit of coaxing, but for the most part she and I saw eye-to-eye on the things she still valued and the ones she never touched. The "toss" pile then became either a donation pile or a sell pile.

As each item was added to the sell pile (this process took a few days), I took pics and uploaded my items to either VS or FB or both. I did the listings one at a time, so that I didn't overwhelm myself or let it eat up too much of my day. Often, an interested buyer would comment within the hour of my listing. Amazing. Then, within just a couple of days, said buyer would show up at the location of my choice to pick up the item. Every transaction lasted all of a minute each, and yielded cash in our pocket, to be used to fund Little L's next purchases (which we suspect to either be Lego sets or American Girl gear). Easy peasy.

Now, I wasn't selling $1 items. If something had so little value, I usually just donated it. However, at $5 or $10 or $15 a piece, the sales quickly added up. We have sold over $100 now, and I anticipate that once I can convince her to part with her Step 2 kitchen, we will have just about enough to buy that stinking' American Girl doll (seriously, you'd think those girls were made out of gold, considering how much they charge for them)!

And the best part? Space. Glorious space in my home. Take that, hoarder genes!

That's not to say I haven't been doing some retail therapy on my phone, either. Recently we scored some beautiful mirrors to decorate our front entryway ($5!) and I've also been buying my kid her Tea and Beans. Nothing that adds to clutter, though; only stuff that will help organize our space and declutter.

I'm so very thankful for these apps and the ways in which they are contributing to our purging and purchasing, and I love that this kind of economy doesn't add more to the landfill. Good for my conscience and my wallet! :)

Have you used Varage Sale or Facebook buy/sell groups to purchase or sell your crap stuff? Let me know what your experiences have been like! 
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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

And Then I Remember

As a family, we have recently undergone yet another transition in our faith life. We had joined a new church last year when we moved to our new location, preferring the small, intimate setting of this body of believers (all seemingly at our age/stage of life) to the big congregations we had belonged to before.  We also loved its relatively close proximity to our home.

However, we felt compelled to return to our downtown church a few weeks ago, partly because we knew it would better meet our spiritual needs and goals as a family, and partly because we missed that church and its leadership. With sadness, we bid adieu to the new friends we had made, and traded the 10-minute car ride for a 40-minute one. 

For those in the know, this is not the first downtown church in our lives. When we initially moved into the city, we had attended and served in an up-and-coming church to which we had really given our all. We were bought in 110% and coasting the fast-track to deaconship (well, Hubbs was, at any rate). That church was like a really hot start-up with a dynamic CEO and exec, and we were witness to all the various exciting rounds of growth that propelled it from start-up to Top 5 Hottest in the City. We were psyched to grow our family in that space, and anticipated many more years of service and leadership under their CEO and exec. 

Unfortunately, things happened. People, sin, life, and insight happened. Little L happened. And our eyes were opened. 

As well, growth has a way of changing a church, just as adding another student to a class might alter classroom dynamics. In this case, the little start-up with a big heart that we had loved so much was gone, replaced by a behemoth company run by a large team of execs hand-picked by the CEO, and  ready for IPO. They were entering the big leagues of church plants, but we no longer wanted to be a part of their brand.

Sometimes I still think about that church, four years after we walked away. Their influence on our lives and our faith were not insignificant. Sometimes I wonder if their leadership is still working there, and I think about how alike or different they are from Mars Hill under the Driscoll regime. Sometimes I wistfully remember the powerful worship and expository preaching, and I wonder if maybe we could ever return to the church we called home for over 4 years. Sometimes I even miss it enough to load up the church website.

And then I remember. 

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Tea and Beans

I had no idea I would shop for clothes on Facebook, but here we are. I belong to two childrens' clothing groups in order to source two of our newest favourite brands: Tea Collection and Peekaboo Beans.

The former is a San Fran-based clothing line that draws inspiration from different countries each year; their clothing is distributed through boutique shops and certain large department stores that I rarely frequent, and are much easier to buy south of the border than in Canuckland. 

The latter is the reverse; PBB is a Western Canadian children's clothing line that specializes in ethically-sourced and manufactured, tag-free, cotton clothing that is play-friendly and able to grow with your littles. Their collection, which changes style and colour palettes seasonally, is sold through direct sales consultants like my friend Laura (http://www.peekaboobeans.com/LauraWebb)

Both of these clothing lines are fairly pricey when purchased new, at least in comparison to the cheap stuff you can score at Joe Fresh or Old Navy or even the Gymborees of the world. However, they do have some great resale value, plus they don't fall apart easily (unlike our costly Gap winter coat, that snagged and tore inside the hood after just two washes). In fact, fanatical moms who love these brands will sometimes pay more for the used, vintage pieces! No lie, I've seen cotton dresses start auctioning at 3-digit prices.

That said, there are also some wonderful and generous mamas out there who price their used Tea and Beans at affordable price points for cheapo mommies like me. This supports the whole idea of not filling our landfills with clothing that was stitched on the backs of sweat-factory slaves, and it also allows me to avoid thrifting in dingy stores that make me itch (sorry Sharon, but you know it's true)! 

I've recently begun buying from both brands for Little L (either on sale or used), and she *loves* her fancy Tea dresses and her comfy PBB shirts (especially the long-sleeved ones with thumb holes). Since I'm still new to this crazy world (and it is kind of like joining cults with their own lingo and established best practices), we only have a few pieces for now. I have also resold the ones that Little L has already outgrown, so it's not like they stay in our closets for too long. My end game is to replace a lot of her Old Navy and Joe Fresh (but not the Walmart stuff, because those are always gifted from my mom and not something I've purchased) with fewer, but better quality, pieces. I'm finding that like her dad, she prefers only a certain style and selection from her closet anyway.

And I will keep scouring FB for the best deals (usually purge sales), since apparently this is the new way to source kid clothes! 

What are your favourite children's clothing brands? What extremes do you go to in order to source your kids' wardrobe? 

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Monday, May 30, 2016

An Exceptional Girl

One of her favourite interactive books - The Boo Boo Book
I haven't written anything about this until now, and I probably won't be writing much further about this in the future. The thing about blogging is that it is simultaneously public and personal. There is therefore a tremendous need to balance privacy and respect issues with being authentic as a writer. It is a hard balance to find, and a tricky space to navigate.

Since Little L's birth, I have found being a parent to be incredibly difficult and intense. Often, I attributed this to my age (I was of "advanced maternal age" when Little L was conceived, according to my doctors) and physical conditioning (read: out of shape). I figured that, since everyone talks about how difficult the parenting journey is, my experiences were very similar to those of other moms and dads with young kids. Parenting is hard for everyone, right?

However, over time, I began to realize that our experiences as a mom and dad were not quite like those of other parents. There were certain idiosyncrasies in our kid's behaviour and preferences that we had to navigate that seemed distinctly different and atypical to that of others her age. In fact, a lot of these other kids didn't seem to have quite as many little "quirks" to be worked around, period, and it was in navigating and accommodating for these needs that had Hubbs and I exhausted by the end of each day. Because Little L was still young, however, we could never really differentiate between what was still considered developmentally-appropriate from that which was highly unusual; she was just a needier kid, as far as we could tell. Our choice to parent with attachment in mind simply it was a harder road, we reasoned.

When we started preschool this year, having other age cohorts to compare Little L with created a stark comparison for us, and what we once considered little quirks now grew into bigger concerns. Some were the direct result of her attending school in a new environment with new little people; others the product of age and increased awareness and ability. Regardless, Little L was having a hard time. We didn't quite understand what it all meant, and we still don't, but we have since begun the process of enlisting the support of child development experts and health professionals to provide us with some clarity, and Little L with some extra tools, to help manage her big behaviours and even bigger feelings about her world.

We once thought that Little L was just a highly sensitive child. We now think that she may be neurologically-wired to be hyper-sensitive and hypo-sensitive to certain sounds and sights and sensations, and that the influx of stimuli from the world around her overwhelms her brain and body to the point of causing her anxiety; one possible explanation is a "sensory-processing disorder," although we're still trying to determine if this is definitely the case.

Little L is also very bright, and while we haven't yet begun the process of having her tested for giftedness (a costly procedure that requires a psycho-educational assessment), we are inclined to believe that she is at the very least, above-average in her ability to grasp concepts and ideas and patterns. Both Hubbs and I were assigned gifted labels in our early years, and at 4 years and 3 months, Little L is no wayward apple from our roots either; she is already reading nearly all of the high-frequency sight words out there, and can decode new/unfamiliar books mostly independently, with understanding. She can be quite logical in her comprehension, if not a bit literal. We suspect that if she is indeed gifted, that her social anxieties may also be rooted in the discrepancies between her intellectual development and her emotional/social development. There is also a significant correlation between the diagnoses of SPD and giftedness, which inclines us to believe that these are the things we're facing. Again, it's yet to be determined, but that's the direction we are leaning at the moment.

Regardless of the labels or diagnoses, however, what we do know is this: my daughter is an exceptional girl with an exceptional experience of her world. School (and life) for her feels very different than it does for most other typical-functioning kids. She is probably never going to have a "normal" experience at school; she may very well require certain adaptations and modifications, including an individualized educational program, to help her succeed in a traditional classroom environment. We are coming to terms with the likelihood that Little L will probably have to work harder than everyone else in order to survive and thrive at school, because these types of exceptional traits are considered a "hidden disability;' while she may look like everyone else her age, she will need to work through physical/mental/neurological challenges that aren't apparent to the naked eye. For this reason, I am so grateful that she is enrolled in a school that is willing to work with alternative learners and has a capable and loving staff of educational support team members. I know that the teachers and staff are willing to work collaboratively with parents and other care professionals to ensure that my girl has a positive learning experience, which is every parent's dream.

I share this with you because I seek understanding and tolerance and the willingness of my audience, and my friends and family, to be patient with us and with Little L. While she may receive some formal diagnoses in the future, she is certainly not defined by them. She is still the same sassy, funny, thoughtful and happy little girl that I've been blogging about for the past four years, and I hope and pray that the spunk and sparkle in her eyes is not snuffed out by a difficult experience in school or in our world. Our job as parents will be to help her find the best ways to cope, to manage, and to thrive in a world that might just be too much or not enough for her biological wiring. As a society, we are also stronger when we learn to find ways to include exceptional, atypical people into the mainstream, and to see them not for what they struggle with, but what they are capable of.  May we as humankind keep aspiring to that noble goal, and find the exceptional in all of us.

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Discipline Without Damage - A Review

There aren't a ton of books on my "must-read" parenting book library, but Dr. Vanessa LaPointe's book Discipline Without Damage is one of those seminal books. I had already submitted my review of this on everyone's favourite online bookstore site, but I thought I'd share it here as well. The book was so valuable to me that I even recommended it to my in-laws, who promptly purchased a copy. :)

While I am also a mommy to a fairly spirited and anxious child, I tend to review parenting books with my teacher lenses on (BA - Psychology, BEd). This makes me quite critical of what I read, particularly when recommendations don't have a lot of clinical support. As a fan of the writings of Daniel Siegal, Gordon Neufeld, John Medina and Jenn Berman, my bias is in favour of parenting approaches that take into account the neurological development of children, and factor in the limitations of brain maturation when it comes to dealing with difficult behaviours.

Dr. Lapointe's book balances the science with the heart. While she keeps in mind (and references) the ways in which brain development affects behaviour, her approaches are decidedly compassionate; she provides her readers with relatable anecdotes that are at times humourous and at times heavy. She is prescriptive about disciplinary strategies without coming across as condescending, and her approach is both gentle and firm. I really love that Dr. Lapointe challenges her readers to redefine "discipline," which is so often associated with practices like time-outs, the removal of privileges, and other punitive strategies; she gives parents permission to respond respectfully and intuitively to their children and buck the social mores that seem to demand penance for every misdeed. The goal of Dr. Lapointe's kind of discipline is to correct undesirable behaviour while preserving the connection and relationships between children and parents, and this is a kind of parenting philosophy that I am very much in favour of.

Using language that is easy to understand, Dr. Lapointe encourages parents to deal with their own emotional baggage and "hulk up" so that they can be strong, in-control grown-ups for their children. The onus is on the adult to maintain perspective (keeping in mind the child's limitations because of immature neurological function) and be intentional in their words and actions when correcting (or preventing) misbehaviour; the responsibility is not up to the child to behave well, lest their grown-ups be forced to respond punitively to their acting out. She challenges her readers to look at their current disciplinary practices from the perspective of a child, and offers a compelling argument for all of us to reconsider how we will approach discipline going forward.

Dr. Lapointe's chapter on dealing with exceptional children stands out most to me, and moved me to tears; her attitude and the way that she regards "difficult" children is so soaked with compassion and gentleness that it mirrors my own heart as a mother to a spirited child. The book doesn't condemn parents for having reacted poorly to "bad" behaviour in the past, but invites us all to start anew and rebuild any broken bridges between our children and ourselves.

Without a doubt, this book is one of the top 5 parenting books I would recommend to anyone who is a teacher, a parent, a grandparent, or anyone who plays an important role in the life of a child. My litmus for considering parenting advice is often, "Would I trust my child to someone who advocates this kind of approach to dealing with kids?" In the case of Dr. Lapointe, the answer is a resounding yes.

The disclaimer is that I did in fact receive a copy of this gratis in exchange for writing an honest review of the book. I don't normally partner with causes or companies wanting to solicit my endorsement, but because I had already attended Dr. LaPointe's speaking engagements in the past and was planning to buy the book anyway, this was one of those "can't pass up" win-wins for everyone. I take my integrity seriously, so I would never recommend something that I don't personally love.

And I really, truly love this book. Like, stand behind it 100% and will-tell-strangers-on-the-street-about-it love. It has revolutionized how Hubbs and I approach the discipline of our little one, and while it isn't always our first instinct to be compassionate and self-controlled when faced with tense, escalating tantrum situations, it has given us new eyes to see Little L for who she is: a child who needs a safe grown-up to help her regulate her emotions when her as-yet-underdeveloped brain finds itself so overwhelmed that she becomes dysregulated and unable to cope or operate rationally. In light of where she is developmentally, we are then able to set appropriate expectations for her behaviour (instead of applying adult standards to a 4 year-old), and parent her with love and grace.

Truth is, I can't imagine anyone *not* liking the book, although I suspect that those who bristle at the ideas presented may be doing so because they don't feel comfortable or confident that their choices to employ the traditional methods of discipline (e.g. spanking, time-outs, reward/punishment paradigms, etc) are actually effective, yet they're simultaneously fearful because we have somehow become a society where the expectation is that children ought to behave like small adults, and be independent and self-regulated from a young age. The rejection of these values in favour of a child-centered, developmental, attachment-based approach might seem scandalous and raise the ire or scrutiny of our peers and social circles. It definitely takes more courage to raise your child intuitively and compassionately than to do so with brute force and power-dominance paradigms.

Anyway, the book is solid. Five stars solid. Please consider checking it out.
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Thursday, May 12, 2016

And... We're Reading!

That's right, my kid is learning how to read. She has pretty much nailed the C-V-C three-letter words, plus a number of the high-frequency sight words that one might find in every piece of writing (e.g. the, you, and, day, etc.). She can sound most printed words out if they follow phonetic rules, and when they don't, she has been asking us about them. She can do a bit of spelling too (the CVC words for sure, but the other ones I'm not so certain), and if we spell words out in conversation these days, she can pretty much figure them out. S. H. !. T. LOL

Some might think I've totally been Tiger Mom'ing her, drilling her or sending her to Kumon or some kind of preschooler's tutoring service, but I assure you, I've kept my teacher tendencies in check and have not in any way influenced her reading interests beyond actually just reading with her. In fact, I've been quite content to follow her cues and let her show readiness in her own time. And she has; she will quite often point at words and attempt to "sound them out" even when we're not paying attention. She reads words on walls and words from the signs in the mall. She asks questions about what words and symbols (like the % sign) mean, and she has (as of the last two weeks) been insatiable in her desire to read with us.

Obviously, every kid develops at a different rate, and by the time she's in second grade, nobody will give a rip which kid started reading first. So, to put it in perspective, it's not a race and if your kid isn't reading yet, it's not an issue to start sweating about. My kid has yet to ride a bike or even pedal with any proficiency; everyone has strengths and weaknesses, so I'm not here to gloat.

I do, however, want to share with you a few of the things we've been doing to help cultivate her literacy, since for Little L it seems to be effective. Take it or leave it as you wish :)

1. Phonics Apps
Since age 2ish, Little L has been playing on her iPad. Some of the games we've loaded up for her are spelling games that help emphasize the sounds that correspond with each letter. The apps we've used have included:

Teach Your Monster to Read (Usborne app)

Words that Go (by Learning Touch)

Word World Interactive Episodes for iPad

Endless Alphabet / Reader / Wordplay (by Originator, Inc.)

She has played these for a long time, so I'm sure that half the words are memorized simply because she has been repeatedly exposed to them. The end goal for me, though, was that she correspond the various sounds with their symbolic representations (upper/lowercase letters).

2. Reading, Especially Rhyming Books
The single most important thing that we could do to help Little L become a good reader has been to read to her, and cultivate a love of books. The actual acts of sitting together and turning the pages of a book teach a ton about the direction of text, the structure of books (title pages, table of contents, page numbers), the format of sentences (how words strung together should sound), not to mention the emotional connections that are formed when a loved one sits with a little and invests time and attention into sharing a story together. Even at age 4, my kid loves to curl up on my lap when we read a book.

While rhyming books aren't always interesting to us grown-ups, they've been particularly useful for Little L because they provide her with a rhythmic pattern that makes nursery rhymes easier to memorize, and rhyming words easier to identify.

3. Fill In the Blank
As we have become more familiar with these rhyming books, I have begun to read the text and leave out the last rhyming words of the phrase/sentence. Usually, Little L will then pipe up and tell me what that excluded word was. This has helped her gain confidence in her "reading" skills as well as help her figure out rhyming words.

4. Magnetic letters
We picked up some foam upper/lowercase magnetic letters from Zulily and have had them on display on her easel for quite some time. As she has become more familiar with words, we sometimes will build a word on there (or even a small message) for her to read. She also plays with the letters and will put together random strings of consonants and vowels and ask me what they say. Great teaching moments, plus the letters we purchased were intentional about making all the vowels yellow and the consonants blue and red. Little L quickly learned which letters were vowels, and I quickly learned that she is not a fan of vowels :)

5. Word Family Activities
Most recently, as Little L has begun to show a greater interest and desire to read, I've been putting together little flip books and sliders to show all/most of the words that belong to a single "word family" ("Word families are groups of words that have a common feature or pattern - they have some of the same combinations of letters in them and a similar sound. For example, at, cat, hat, and fat are a family of words with the "at" sound and letter combination in common" - thanks, Google, for the concise explanation!). While we're sitting at the dinner table, sometimes I will do a couple of books with her. It gives her great joy to be nailing it when it comes to "reading" these words, which are made easier to read once she figures out the pattern (e.g. all '-in' words have the same ending sound, so you just have to add the first consonant sounds to decode all the words in that "in" family). 

6. Simple Word Magnetic Poetry
Only in the past couple of weeks have I dug out my kids' version magnetic poetry set. The words contained in those magnets are fairly high-frequency words (e.g. girl, boy, happy, monkey), so Little L is able to identify a good number of them. We have been playing with those words on a cookie sheet (since the easel is all filled up with letters), and she has really gotten a kick out of reading the little phrases I put together. 

7. Back to the Board Books
Rather than donate/sell all of Little L's board books or "easy books" from when she was little, we keep them in her library and still revisit them often. The great thing about this is that as she becomes more familiar with decoding simple words, the better able she is to read these books independently. It has been so neat to see her read (not just memorize/recite) books somewhat on her own. 

These are just some of the things we've been doing to cultivate our kid's growing interest in reading. It's by no means an exhaustive list, nor is it prescriptive so much as it is a little peek into what we've been doing. I'm already running out of ideas, since she still has another year of preschool before she even starts kindergarten, and if she's anything like Hubbs, she will be full-blown reading by the time she's five. Yikes. 

What have you been doing to help nurture your littles' reading (and writing) skills? Please share!!   

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