The light in autumn

The light here is different than it was at home.  The summer days are longer, the winter days are shorter.  The angle of the light changes more noticeably throughout the year — in the winter here, even at noon, the sun is not overhead and we get, at best, a kind of weak sunlight that is neither very cheering nor very warming, even on the brightest of days.  In the autumn, the light is beautiful.  It is mostly golden, and has that wonderful “late afternoon” look all day long.  Everything touched by the sunlight looks like it’s glowing, and the trees, already golden, look like they’re on fire when the light catches them.  Sometime in the fall, the sun stops coming in directly through our kitchen window in the afternoons, and in the mornings, it no longer comes through our living room windows.  We have to wait again until spring comes around again to see it streaming across the floor.  As the autumn moves towards winter, we lose the “afternoon” effect of the light and move into a state where it seems to be perpetually early evening — a state which persists throughout the winter.

Just now, it is spring again, and we’ve begun to get our sunlight back.  Sitting in the living room in the mornings, the sun shines directly on our couch now — something it hasn’t done since the fall.  Just a few days ago, I was suddenly blinded by a ray of sunlight coming through the window, and I had a moment of confusion until I remembered that yes, that is normal — we just haven’t seen it for a while.  Spring is here, and we’re finally getting our sunlight back.

Running shoe shopping

On and off, I’ve been a runner for over a decade.  It started with the bizarre idea that I would train to run a marathon, which I did (and hated, and swore I would never do again).  But though I was done with marathoning, for some reason running stuck with me.  I’ve never quite enjoyed the running — not in the way I enjoy many of the other things I do — but I came to love the feelings I have afterwards:  accomplishment, exertion, challenge, and the satisfaction of having put in real effort and finishing what I set out to do.

I don’t look like a runner.  I can neither run very fast not very great distances.  My accomplishments are accrued slowly, through persistence.  But I do get out there and put the miles in.  After a bit of a hiatus, I came back to running last year.  I started in March, and by the end of the year I’d put in over 600 miles (counting both runs and athletic, fast walks).  I was feeling pretty proud, and increasingly fit.

I also, though, was feeling the pain of incredibly overworn running shoes.  I’ve lost track exactly, but I know for certain that I had not replaced my running shoes more than once since running the marathon … in 2001.  I was in dire need of new shoes, and endlessly putting it off.  I did not want to try to buy running shoes here, where I would most likely have to complete the transaction in German.  I wanted to try and wait until my next visit home, where I know a good place, and where I could make my purchase in English.

But I couldn’t hold out long enough.  By late October, my feet and knees were starting to feel sore, and I regularly had to pause during my runs to try and tighten my shoes — and I never could quite get them tight enough.  I had to admit that I couldn’t wait any longer — I needed new shoes.  I debated getting online and trying to choose some, but my previous experiences of being fitted by knowledgable professionals left me all too aware that choosing the “right” shoes out of a catalog was pretty unlikely.  I was left with only one daunting option — to shop for running shoes in person here in Vienna … in German.

After doing a little research, I was happy to discover that I at least wouldn’t have to go far — there is a good running shop right around the corner, on my block (and technically in my building).  One Saturday afternoon, I went for it.  I went to the shop and looked around, disheartened by the expense (and not daring to mentally convert to dollars).  I chose a few that I liked the look of (though I know that’s not the way to choose running shoes — choosing running shoes can’t be done by look, color or brand, you try them, then you know), and found someone to help me (who, thankfully, spoke a little English).

I discovered a few things.

First, I still have an inclination to choose marathon shoes.  Of all the running shoes in the shop, the three pairs I had selected were all more appropriate for long-distance running than for the short distances I do now. I also discovered that shopping for running shoes here is very much like shopping for running shoes at home. And runners don’t judge other runners the way that non-runners do — just like at home.  When I tell a non-runner that I run, they (always) take a look at my physique before uttering a (sometimes surprised, sometimes impressed) “Really?” (often) followed by, “Just jogging, though, right?”  When I tell another runner that I run, they usually don’t react.  No surprise, no nothing.  Just on to the next thing.  When I explained to the young guy at the shop that I was looking for running shoes, he had not a flicker of surprise or doubt, just immediately jumped into questions about distance, schedule and running surfaces … which was pretty great.

From there, he chose several pairs of shoes for me to try (none of which were ones I had selected), and then I tried them on in turn and ran around the shop — which is exactly the process I was familiar with from home.  (I like it — it’s like when Harry Potter goes to Ollivander’s to choose his wand!)

I finally selected a pair — not at all like the ones I thought I would have wanted — and went home very happy (but also a good bit poorer — running shoes are EXPENSIVE here).  But now my feet and knees feel better.

Saving Sweet Briar

It’s been a rough week.  Last Tuesday, within a single hour, I said goodbye to my wonderful canine friend (which I’m not quite ready to write about yet) and got some shocking and heartbreaking news — my alma mater, Sweet Briar College, would be closing this summer.

“Shocking and heartbreaking” might seem like a bit of an overstatement when describing the closing of a school, especially one I haven’t attended in nearly 20 years and haven’t visited in almost 7.  But Sweet Briar is not merely an educational institution, and its closing is not just the routine or inevitable result of gradual shifts in educational trends.  It is my second home (or, perhaps, now that I live in Vienna, my third).  Dan & I met and were married there.  Dan’s father taught there for many years.  I made many dear friends while I was there.  I learned more about the world and about myself there than I had any idea I needed to learn.  And I received one hell of an academic education, too.

Sweet Briar is a special place.  It is one of a dwindling number of women’s colleges.  Besides being a single-sex college, it is southern, rural and extremely small.  It carries with it an old reputation of debutantes and snobbery — once probably valid but long since left behind.  Those with only a passing notion of Sweet Briar may dismiss it as a “finishing school”, but in doing so only reveal how outdated their information is.

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Sweet Briar is so much more than those labels.  Like so many of my fellow alumnae, I never thought that I would end up at Sweet Briar, or at any women’s college.  I wasn’t “girly”.  I liked boys.  I was a liberal and distanced myself from anything with the label of “southern”.  I was a bright, hardworking kid, and I wanted to put an impressive (possibly Ivy League) name on my CV.  I also didn’t have a lot to spend on college.  When I first heard of Sweet Briar, I dismissed it completely, even though my best friend had fallen in love with it.  I was not interested.  It was not what I wanted.

And yet … the more I learned, the more it was.  The photos of the campus in the brochures were stunning.  There was a thriving equestrian program where I would be able to get actual college credit for my passion.  The class sizes were small.  And, they really seemed to want me there.  From there, more than anywhere else, I was contacted — by alumnae, current students, admissions staff.  I was courted.  I went to visit, and (like so many of my fellow alumnae) THAT was the moment when everything changed.  The campus was stunning — like something from a movie.  The students were friendly — not just to me, but to each other.  The students and the staff chatted together like friends in the cafeteria.  The classes were small … and intimidating, but for all of the right reasons.  The professors asked questions AND THERE WAS NOWHERE TO HIDE.  I saw girls — women — step up and speak out in a way I had never seen before, confidently, respectfully and passionately.  I was impressed and a little awed.  And, suddenly, I was seriously considering a women’s college.

I applied to Sweet Briar, but I was never one for half-measures — I also applied (and was accepted to) 10 other schools.  To most, I got significant scholarships.  There was at least one school on that list that I was sure I was going to attend.  It had everything I wanted.  But then I went to visit, and no matter what my head told me, my heart compared every bit of it to Sweet Briar, and it came up lacking in every way except for its name recognition.  As for Sweet Briar, the financial aid and scholarships they offered were impressive, but not enough.  I was surprised to feel so sad when I called my admissions counsellor to tell her that I couldn’t even consider coming because of finances.  And I was beyond amazed when she called me back with a better offer.   In the end, I narrowed my choices down to 2 — both women’s colleges — and no one was more surprised than I was.  I let my heart decide, and it chose Sweet Briar.  It was one of the best choices I ever made.

It’s not that every moment was perfection.  I had times when I questioned my decision (including a big part of my sophomore year when I seriously considered transferring elsewhere), but the good parts were so worth the struggles.  The students really were kind and welcoming.  The classes really were tiny and rigorous.  The professors really did get to know you — I saw them in the cafeteria, out on walks around campus, and went to dinner at their homes (and if you missed a class they’d call to see how you were doing).  The campus really was picture-postcard perfect all the time.  I really did get to ride for course credit.  The traditions, which seemed odd and a bit antiquated at first, became precious to me, and included me in a long line of brave, intelligent women who had come before me.  I made some amazing friends, and I became one of those thoughtful, confident, educated women who didn’t hesitate to open her mouth and speak her mind.  I loved my college years and I value my Sweet Briar education tremendously.  I have no doubt that I made the right choice, and given the opportunity, I would go back and do it all over again.

But that was almost 20 years ago.

Last Tuesday, seemingly out of the blue, the President of the college announced that the Board of Directors had voted unanimously to close the school, effective late August of this year.  Just like that, this place I hold so dear was dying.  I’d had no clue this was even up for consideration.  The powerful and passionate alumnae network had not been told that there were dire straits.  We were all taken completely by surprise by the announcement, which was put to us as a done deal.  Apparently the college’s enrollment and financials had been on a downward trajectory for years, and, according to the president (sorry — interim president, who has been on the job only 6 months), there was no way to recover.  The school was doomed and the decision had been made to bow out gracefully while the going was still good, leaving students to find another place to finish their education (or even to start it, as acceptance letters for next fall had already gone out), and leaving faculty and staff facing impending unemployment (and in some cases with losing their homes).  I felt as if I were losing a close friend, someone I didn’t even know was ailing.  It was like a bomb went off in my brain.  I was devastated, shocked, confused and angry.

But, here’s the thing.  Remember those confident, intelligent, outspoken women who knocked my socks off when I came to visit the school?  Sweet Briar has been turning us out for DECADES.  And within a day, the shock and tears had made way for outrage and determination.  We’re not ready to say goodbye.  There are thousands of strong, capable women out there who love Sweet Briar, and we’re willing to fight to keep her alive.  There is work to be done, there are questions to be asked, and there are sisters to be helped.  This is what we DO.  This is who Sweet Briar trained us to BE.  This is not where this story ends.

www.savingsweetbriar.com

#saveSweetBriar

Boo!

118As they say, sometimes it’s the little differences that are the most surprising when you’re living abroad.  Not that the big stuff doesn’t throw you for a loop (it does) but the biggest differences are ones you adjust to, or at least come to accept, pretty quickly (because you really have to).

This past Halloween (yep, still writing about last October) was our most successful trick-or-treat experience yet.  There were no tears during the dressing up process (though we did have a last minute costume change), we arrived at a reasonable (early) hour (before the slightly rowdy Austrian teens arrived and coated everything with silly string), we found our way on the first try, we had some very fun and friendly stops at a couple of super festive houses, we met a lovely Corgi named Wellington, and we met up with some friends … which gave us a good excuse to wander back through the neighborhood a second time.  Both boys had an excellent time and kept up their manners and enthusiasm for the whole event (which was a first).  It was a great evening, and the most I’ve been reminded of a true US Halloween since we’ve been here.

With one little exception.

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On average, the costumes here are very much like what you’d see in the US, but skewed slightly less scary — more princesses and fewer witches, more Spider-Men and fewer mummies — I think at least partly owing to the fact that Halloween is just becoming a thing here, while Faschings (aka Carnival), is very popular and has children dressing up in fun but non-scary costumes, and many kids just wear their Faschings costumes for Halloween.

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My spooky family

And, as often happens, kids’ costumes sometimes require props — wands, swords, lightsabers, broomsticks, etc.  Several of the kids (mostly boys) were carrying realistic looking guns and weapons with their costumes.  And that was the difference.  Some kids, dressed as cowboys, police officers, or bandits, were carrying realistic looking toy guns.  And I, with my American cultural background, was absolutely shocked.  Actually a bit horrified.  Here were young kids and teenagers carrying realistic looking weapons.  Didn’t their parents know how dangerous that could be???  Weren’t they worried that someone might think the guns were real and, just maybe, hurt their kids?!?

And, in that horrified contemplation, I truly looked at my own perspective and realized what I was thinking.  No, the parents here don’t “know” that those toys might be dangerous, and, no, they weren’t worried.  Because they don’t imagine that anyone would mistake the weapons as real in a child’s hand, and that, even if they did, no one here is going to shoot their kid.  There actually isn’t anything dangerous about those kids carrying toy guns with their Halloween costumes.  NO ONE HERE IS GOING TO SHOOT A CHILD FOR PLAYING WITH A TOY.  And sadly, that’s just not true where I am from.

Vienna by night

In Vienna, in the winter, so much of our time is spent in the dark, and in the summer, so little of it is.  From sometime in November until early February, Dan and Benjamin are almost never home during daylight hours.  From early in May until mid-August, my kids hardly ever experience darkness — they wake up and go to bed completely in daylight, for months on end.

The transitions to Daylight Saving Time and back happen at a different time here than at home, too.  Not only does that give me two weeks in the spring and one week in the fall where I have no idea what time it is anywhere, but it means we have 3 weeks more of dark evenings than we had at home.  This year, the Monday after the time change in October was a holiday (Austrian National Day) and we celebrated the fact that the whole family had a day off together by spending it at the swimming pool.

We were out most of the afternoon, and when we started to head home, it was already dark, thanks to the time change the day before.  I found it particularly odd and a little disconcerting, in large part because, strange as it may seem, I am pretty much never out in Vienna at nighttime between April and October.  Stepping out of the brightly lit swimming facility into the dusky evening was like suddenly stepping out into an unfamiliar city.  It happens every year, but it always takes me a little time to get used to experiencing Vienna in the dark … and then once I get used to it, I get to spend months getting REALLY used to it.

Just last week, I picked B up from school and we arrived home with enough daylight that we didn’t immediately have to turn on all the lights — for the first time in nearly 3 months.  It’s the first sign that we’re on our way back to seeing Vienna only by day and likely forgetting, once again, what it’s like here in the dark.

Kürbisfest for the fourth time

It is our longest running tradition here in Vienna, and we look forward to it every year.  The annual pumpkin festival is one of the few nearly Halloween-like celebrations here, and it reminds me so much of the decades of pumpkin picking and carving I’ve done back in the US.

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545Over the years, we’ve gotten better at the whole thing.  The first few times, it took us hours longer to get ready and get ourselves there than it should have, and we always ended up out there either very much over or under dressed.  But now, we’re getting it.  We know how to get there, we come prepared with warm clothes and big bags with which to carry home our pumpkins.  We made it out there in the foggy morning (with the help of B, who acted as our navigator since he was learning about maps at school).  We had faces painted, enjoyed our favorite Lángos and pumpkin soup, chose and carved our pumpkins, and played on the recently renovated playground (still daring, even by Austrian standards).  And this year, we brought friends.

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Elaine and Phil had been here nearly two years at the time (more than 2 years now), but this was their first pumpkin festival.  They were amazingly good sports in enduring the speed (or lack thereof) and attention spans (or lack thereof) of the kids while we shopped, enjoyed and explored.  We introduced them to Lángos, shopped together for pumpkin seed pesto and chose pumpkins.  Then we all sat down to carve them together — it was Elaine’s first time!  We finished out the day with some playground time (for us) and a warm drink around the fire (for Phil and Elaine).  It was a great day.

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667The Kürbisfest remains one of my favorite annual Vienna traditions.  It reminds me of home, yet is also distinctly Austrian.  It celebrates autumn and helps us prepare for Halloween.  It is a wonderful day spent in the countryside with a marvelous view of Vienna.  And, getting to introduce friends to our much-loved tradition made it even more special this year.

 

Action

There are 10 principles of learning at B’s school, attributes said to be sought after and valued in the International Baccalaureate program.  When the kids demonstrate one of these attributes during their school day, B’s teacher gives out armbands.  B had gotten armbands for being a risk-taker (for trying something at lunch that he’d never had before), for being caring (for looking after a classmate who was having a rough day), for being a thinker (for making connections between a lesson in class and his life at home) and many other things.  It’s a great bit of positive reinforcement, and I’m impressed at how well these paper bands motivate the kids.  B is so proud when he brings one home, and I’ve seen the kids clamoring to get credit for one when I go into B’s class.  To B, at least, the most coveted of all the bands is the “action” band, awarded for demonstrating learning at home, specifically learning related to the unit of study.  The kids can get an “action” band for bringing in a book related to a subject of study, for doing an art project related to what they’re learning at school, or bringing in a related item that they found at home.  (It’s basically an “extra credit” assignment, and it’s very open ended.)

002Back in October, B had been very envious of the “action” bands the other kids had gotten and so he decided, entirely on his own, to make a glitter-glue drawing of the circulatory and respiratory systems, because that’s what they’d been studying in class.  The first few days after he’d decided, he forgot to actually do it, but he eventually sat down with his glitter glue and paper and made a lovely picture of the heart, lungs, veins and arteries.  He was so proud, and I knew his teacher was going to like it.  I was so proud of him.  He had conceived of and executed the entire thing on his own.  It was a perfect choice of an activity to get an “action” band.

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He had his heart set on taking it to school the next morning.  After he’d gone to bed, I checked on it, and it was still quite wet, so, wanting to help him out, I moved his artwork to another spot, close to the fan, hoping to help it dry by morning.  And, in so doing, I smeared the whole thing.  I was horrified.  I tried to fix it with a toothpick, attempting to push the globs of pink, gold, red and blue glitter back to their original spots, but it was no use.  It was ruined.  I cried.

When B got up the next morning, I explained it to him, and he was disappointed, but surprisingly understanding.  I felt terrible.  I suggested that he could take it in anyway, 037and explain to his teacher what had happened, or that I could go in with him and explain it, but he didn’t want to.  He wanted it to be right.  So, instead, he came home that day and started over.  He took just as much time and care making it for the second time.  And I left it completely alone while it dried.

He took it to school the day after, and got an action band for his work.  He was absolutely proud of it, and I was profoundly impressed by his work and determination … and by his ability to forgive my well-intentioned mistake.

Glasses

I don’t remember the process of being told I needed glasses, so I have no idea how I reacted to it.  I know that since then, I’ve been frustrated by it — often.  I’m not lucky enough to only need them when I read, or just when I’m tired.  In theory, I ought to have worn them every waking moment since I was 4.  (I haven’t though — I never wore them while riding or dancing, and I took a nearly complete hiatus from them in middle school, high school and college.)  I don’t like wearing my glasses, but I do like being able to see.  Since becoming a mom, I’ve succumbed to the practicality and worn them daily, pretty much all the time.  I’m used to them now, but I’ve never enjoyed them.

Needless to say, I’d been holding out hope that my kids might escape that particular curse.  So far, I hadn’t seen anything to indicate any vision trouble in either of the boys — ever since they could talk, I’ve been asking them if they can see things at long distances away, with no trouble.  But a routine vision screening this fall turned up something I never expected — Benjamin is a little bit farsighted.  (I never thought to check for that, and it was unlikely to show up before he started reading, which also happened this fall.)

The process of having his eye exam done was absolutely horrible.  The first part was ok, when he just had to look through lenses to get a sense of what helped, but having his eyes dilated, followed by having a light shone into them, has to have been one of his least favorite experiences — EVER.  But, we got it done, got his prescription, and went to investigate purchasing glasses.

That was a bit of a challenge.  When I was a kid, and tried to pick out glasses, I vaguely remember having a tough time making a choice.  I couldn’t ever find something I really liked.  B was the opposite.  He knew EXACTLY what he wanted (maybe a positive by-product of having so many glasses-wearing family members), but most of the options they had in the style he wanted were too big for him, and the sales guy was really pushing for a different style altogether.  Finally, the sales guy walked off to help someone else, and B and I were left with some time to experiment on our own (again, I’m a little grateful for my decades of relevant experience).  Finally, he reached a decision, and I think it was a great choice.

475Even though he acknowledges that they’re cool (and I agree), he’s a lot like me — he doesn’t like his glasses, and it’s been tough getting him to wear them with any consistency.  He only needs them for “up close work”, but that’s a lot of what they do in elementary school — reading, writing, computer work, art.  He avoids using them, though — and because he doesn’t have to wear them all the time, he gets away with “forgetting” to put them on.  Given my history, I’m entirely sympathetic, and therefore I don’t push it as much as I probably should. He also says that they don’t really help him. It’s possible that’s really true — his farsightedness is minor, and it has to be tough to get a kid’s prescription right — but it’s also possible that he just doesn’t want to wear them, just like me.IMG_2741.JPG

Celebrating at school

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029Though it can be a bit hard to tell now (most days he hovers between being vaguely lukewarm and basically unenthusiastic about going to school), there were a lot of things Liam really looked forward to about starting school and getting to be just like Benjamin — field trips, Lanternenfest, playing in the garden.  But none was so eagerly anticipated as celebrating his birthday at school (and yes, I’m still writing about stuff that happened back in September — I’ll catch up eventually).

Last year, which was his first year at school, he had a great time at his school birthday party, but having a September birthday, and being one of the first to celebrate, I think it was a bit overwhelming for him.  I think he was a little uncomfortable with having the attention of his entire class focused on him.  This year, though, he was ready.  He knew it was coming, and he was really looking forward to it.

031The way things work at the school (with parent involvement being limited to a few particular events each year), I don’t get to be there.  (Since not every parent would be able to come to celebrate their child’s birthday, no parents are allowed to come.  “It wouldn’t be fair.”  Which is a bummer for me — getting to help out at the boys’ schools was one of the parts of being a stay at home mom that I most looked forward to).  But, based on his stories, and on the pictures, he really enjoyed himself.  He got to blow out the candles, have cake, be sung to by his whole class, and open up a few gifts.  One, a stuffed dolphin, was a gift from his teachers, while a few others, containing puzzles, were from us and destined to remain at school, rather than come home with him.  (So he didn’t get to KEEP those, just OPEN them, which he wasn’t 100% on board with.)

643Generally, though he was so happy.  He was so excited that morning that it was his big day to celebrate at school, and he was so pleased when I picked him up.  As with the key chain his teacher made for him last year, he absolutely treasures his new dolphin.  He spent days afterwards cuddling with it and singing to it.  He was a very happy birthday boy, and he loved getting to celebrate at school.  Nothing really says, “I’m so big” like celebrating a birthday at school.  My little guy is getting to be so grown up.

Teaching My Monster to Read

We’ve read to the boys since they were tiny, since before they had any idea what we were doing, back when we felt silly to be doing it — we did it anyway.  Story time has been a part of our evening routine since before the boys could walk.  They love it, they look forward to it.  “Brush your teeth or we won’t have story time” has been an incredibly effective evening motivator.  But though they love to be read TO, and both boys have memorized, and love to recite, parts or all of some favorite books, we’d made almost no progress in getting them to actually read themselves.  B could read his name, Liam’s name, “red”, and “toy” before school started this year.  That was it.

I was a little worried.  I know he’s only 6, and he’s been spending a lot of his mental energy over the past few years learning a new language (and probably teaching himself differential equations in his sleep), but still, I felt like maybe he ought to really be reading.  After all, reading IS fundamental.  All of the kids of my friends at home have learned to read in kindergarten (or earlier), and they don’t really do that here (the focus was on correct speech, rather than reading, which helped immensely with his conversational German, but not so much with reading English) so I was a bit concerned.  Plus, I had no idea how to get it to happen.

When B started school this year, among many other things, I was worried he’d be the only kid in his class not reading.  I shouldn’t have been.  Very nearly half the class had a similar reading level to B, so he was certainly not the only non-reader.  (Of course, there are also kids in his class who could read and write in more than one language — in more than one ALPHABET — so there was quite a spread of skill levels.)

Early on in the school year, we weren’t making much progress, and I was strongly resisting my urge to push, knowing that me adding pressure to the situation wasn’t going to help.  I attended a morning training seminar at B’s school, geared at helping parents help their kids with reading . . . which did help a lot, and which strongly reinforced the fact that I shouldn’t be pressuring him.  Around the same time, B came home with a website recommendation from his teacher.  They’d been using “Teach Your Monster to Read” at school, and apparently, B loved it.

Over that weekend, we got B set up with it on the computer, and the results were amazing.  Not only was he able to run the game almost entirely on his own, but he was READING.  It started off with associating letters and sounds in a variety of short games where B could collect items to decorate his “monster” with whom he was playing the game.  Over the course of the next few weeks, he moved through the levels and had a whole set of letter/sound combinations that he knew well.  The game then began connecting the sounds into short words, and before I knew it, he was really reading and sounding out short sentences.  Seriously, watching him actually read something on his own has to be one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.  (The website is free.  I totally recommend it.)

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We’re 3+ months into the school year, and B’s progress has been AMAZING.  He’s moved on to reading longer stories, to conquering more complex words, adding new punctuation and concepts (contractions have been a challenge).  He finished the monster game a good while ago, and there’s no doubt in my mind that it was a useful tool for him (and remarkable for me because it was the first time I really witnessed him reading), but I also know that the real magic came from the work that he and his teacher put in together.  It’s been an amazing transformation, and I can’t believe it was only 3 months ago that I was fretting about whether or not he could read.  He’s reading real books now. It is just the most amazing thing to see.  He’s still working very hard, and learning more all the time, but he is definitely reading!