Max, Ruby and the Art of Perseverance

“How did Max help the grocer understand what he needed from the store?” I asked Mrs. Lamb’s Kindergarten class. Nearly every hand shot up. We had just finished reading the book “Bunny Cakes,” which tells the story of the misadventures Max and his older sister Ruby encounter while trying to bake cakes for their grandmother.

Reading the book "Bunny Cakes" to students in Mrs. Lamb's Kindergarten class.

Reading the book “Bunny Cakes” to students in Mrs. Lamb’s Kindergarten class.

Max is determined to purchase Red-Hot Marshmallow Squirters from the local grocer to top his earthworm cake. However, the grocer cannot understand his handwriting and so Max must find a new way to communicate what he needs. Mrs. Lamb’s students instantly picked up on Max’s determination and answered my question, replying that “Max kept trying until he found something that worked.”

The struggles that Max encounters in the book are similar to the ones our youngest students experience every day as they develop literacy skills. As a former educator and principal, I can tell you that reading and writing fluency are improved through practice and repetition. However, this season of early skill-building can often be challenging for students…and their parents.

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Asking questions about the two main characters in the book “Bunny Cakes.

A student’s early writing projects are often filled with misspellings and missing punctuation marks. But don’t get frustrated; students learn best through practice, both inside and outside of the classroom. Parents can foster their children’s confidence, and ultimately their passion for reading, by focusing on the process and less on the final product.

As winter break nears, there are many activities families can take part in to support and encourage lifelong readers. Here are a few ideas to promote literacy in your home.

  • Create a Reading Hour – Set aside one hour each day during the winter break as a “reading hour.” Make sure each family member, including parents, has plenty of books to choose from and a comfortable and quiet place to curl up and read.
  • Make Grocery Lists – Ask your child to write down the family’s grocery list before heading out to the store. Praise your child during the activity, even if they misspell certain words. For very young children, have them draw pictures of the items on the list.
  • Find Age-Appropriate Books – Ask your librarian about age-appropriate books. Often children become discouraged when they attempt to read a book beyond their reading level. Both the public library and the school’s library have many options available.
  • Play Rhyming Games – Entertain each other during long car rides by rhyming new and challenging words.
  • Write a Book – Encourage your child to write a book about his or her winter break and read it to the whole family.
  • Ask Thought-Provoking Questions – After picking out a book to read aloud, ask your children questions about the story that will develop their critical-thinking skills. For example, I didn’t ask Mrs. Lamb’s students to identify the color of the marshmallow squirters .Instead, I asked them to explain Max’s actions to solve a problem.

For additional ideas, visit the department’s Pinterest page at www.pinterest.com/floridadoe/ and check out our “Winter Break Activities” board.

Commissioner Stewart, Mrs. Lamb and her students.

Visiting with Mrs. Lamb and her students.

At the end of the book “Bunny Cakes,” Grandma Bunny was proud of both Ruby’s perfect bunny angel cake with raspberry-fluff frosting and Max’s messy earthworm cake. What a great example for all of us to see the value of a child’s perseverance.

About the author: Commissioner Pam Stewart leads the Florida Department of Education, which supports Florida’s Pre-K-12 education system, serving more than 2.7 million students and 192,000 educators. She is a former teacher, principal and deputy superintendent.

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