Summer Survival

Is summer over yet?

Oh, yeah, I don’t have a break. And my children do! So here’s what I want–or rather don’t want–for me (and everyone around me) to be sane:

No unfinished chores. No whining about housework–and not from Young Son either. No fussing about when allowance is due, and how much is owed. No rethinking every day what needs to be done. No raised voices. No conflict. Sound impossible?

It’s happening! It’s My Job Chart!

My Job Chart screen shotIt’s free. (It’s supported by Amazon purchases; many families choose retail rewards as part of their planning. That’s it!)

The evening we set it up, eleven-year-old Young Son rushed around to do all of his chores rather than wait a whole day to begin earning. Naturally. I had to watch my computer because he sneaked into my side to add additional jobs, like “Make Mom’s bed.” He awarded it 15 points. (Hmmm. Would you pay 15 cents to have your bed made daily?) The child who would rather scrub toilets than sweep floors is suddenly doing both.

My favorite part is the messaging between the site and the parent’s cell or e-mail (or both). Here are a few messages I’ve received:

“I love this. I think that the way that they do this is absolutely amazing.”

“You are the most awesome mom a kid could have. Thank you for raising me to be nice, kind, n civilized.”

“I love you so blinking much, that i’m jolly well tearing up,wot wot!”

“You’re a blinkin’ genius, wot wot!”

(Yes, I am, thank you, but in this case, credit goes to Gregg Murset, My Job Chart founder, financial planner, and father of six.)

And Young Son enjoys my notes as well:

“I always knew you were a hard worker, but this is inspiring. I appreciate all you’re doing.”

So I’ll return to my teaching prep now as a delightful child practices musical theater solos while scrubbing his bathtub.


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Rhyme Time

Children’s book editors conventionally whine about rhyme. It’s so hard to write tight in rhythm and rhyme, they’d rather not brave it. Then they have children of their own, and discover how much fun great rhyming can be. And any elementary school teacher could tell you how important rhyme is for reading readiness.

Editor Allyn Johnston said, “My feelings about rhyming picture books really did change after our son was born. I used to be a complete pill about how much I disliked them, and then my husband and I spent endless hours reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Dr. Seuss books and The Seven Silly Eaters and Time for Bed and Hattie and the Fox (and other young Mem Fox books), and I saw how much fun it was to laugh and cuddle and repeat goofy stanzas with Eamon–and I became a convert. We still have rhymes we say to each other in silly moments from those early years. So now I feel that when rhyme is great, there’s nothing like it to engage very young children with books. (Mem’s adult book Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children will Change Their Lives Forever includes lots of great info on this topic.)” (More with Barb Odanaka’s interview.)

So there are times to rhyme. The summer between high school and college, I hadn’t received an acceptance from my university’s honor’s program so I could register for classes. To nag politely and humorously, I inquired about it in several stanzas of verse. And as soon as I mailed it, I about died. What a stupid freshman thing to do. Now they’d change their minds and reject me for sure.

The reply must have been sent by return mail. It was an apology, acceptance, and welcome, all in verse, saying that even if I hadn’t already deserved a place in the program, my verse would have won the appeal. Better yet, when I arrived on campus, I was interviewed by the author of that reply, the president of the honors students and a handsome, single, senior guy majoring in economics. If I hadn’t felt so young by comparison, I’d have had a crush.

I do side with the editors who cringe when the rhythm or rhyme is forced and overthrows all sense. It’s usually a hard-won skill to do it well, but anyone can play with it. So try rhyme sometime. There are plenty of rhyming dictionaries to aid and abet you, but I love Mathew Healy’s simple and elegant rhyme sublime tool at

WriteRhymes screenshot


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

New Messages on Texting

Students texting copyright PixDeluxe iStockPhoto #000014390567 cropped
Photo copyright PixDeluxe, iStockPhoto #000014390567 (cropped)

Could texting be good for literacy? Some early and brief studies are suggesting that it might not hurt as much as you fear. Students who spell well in general can still spell after texting. And anything that gets kids reading, writing, and playing with language might work.

In a report by Ki Mae Heussner for ABC News, Kathleen Blake Yancey of Florida State University summarizes, “Basically what you have is a small line of research showing that texting helps people read and helps them write, both, and then you have a lot of anecdotes and anxiety. That’s basically it.” Heussner continues that Yancey “has heard of textspeak slipping into students’ formal written work. But, while she doesn’t doubt that it’s there, she said the research doesn’t support it and at the college level, they don’t see it at all. A recent study from the Pew Research Center found that students perceive a ‘firewall’ between their texting and their formal writing.”

Well, I certainly do see it. I could share anecdotes, and I do have to teach most students that a firewall should exist, but I can confirm that these are usually students who didn’t spell well to begin with. And texting does give us wonderful openings to teach about audience, tone, purpose, and levels of formality. (See my post on Txt Translation.)

Connine Varnhagen of the University of Alberta observes that “just as kids know to speak to their grandparents differently than they speak to their peers, they know when to use so-called textspeak and when to use conventional language.” (Let’s hope so.)

I wonder how these studies will play out over time and in varying populations. Here’s the news report: Can Txt Msgs Really Help Kidz 2 Spell?

At one point, it appeared that letter-writing would be replaced by long-distance phone calling. Now we have people with unlimited cell phone minutes who prefer writing–e-mail or texting instead of calling. It’s literacy’s new stand.

However, I’ve now acquired a different fear. Whenever I see kids standing side-by-side texting each other instead of opening their mouths, I worry they’ll take that into marriage, texting across the living room. I take comfort in knowing that it sounds more like a slippery slope logical fallacy than the truth. And I’m trusting that the human drive to communicate–by whatever methods become possible, necessary, and ubiquitous–will see us through every communication revolution.