Archive for category: Reluctant readers

uKloo: Riddle Edition — another great uKloo literacy game

Microsoft Word - Riddle Edition Sales Oct29.docx

uKloo is a terrific literacy game. Incredibly–wonderfully–they somehow managed to top it.

Toronto game-maker Doreen Dotto recently launched uKloo, Riddle Edition.

The premise of uKloo is simple—it’s a treasure hunt. You (the parent) hide cards around the house that kids find and which lead them to the next clue.

For instance, the first clue is “look in your shoes.” The child goes to her shoes and finds the next card, which says “look on the kitchen table,” and so on.

It’s a brilliant strategy to get kids reading because it gives the child a fun reason to read (they want to find the next clue) as well as an instant reward (they find out where the next clue is hidden, and ultimately a grand prize). Fun + reason to read = reading.

Dotto has taken this simple equation and made it even more fun. And she’s added problem-solving to the skills the child will acquire without even knowing they’re learning.

With the Riddle Edition, kids find a card and have to solve a fun riddle to figure out where the next card is hidden.

Depending on the age of the child, the riddles are very easy or quite challenging.

For instance, a level one riddle: “When your hair is full of dirt, get it clean with just a squirt.”uKloo Riddle-cards

A level three riddle: “Not of shell, of turtle or snail, but made of cloth to hike a trail.”

Did you get those? The answers are at the bottom of this post if you want to double-check.

The wonderful thing about uKloo is the way Dotto has adapted it for various reading levels. If the child can’t figure out a clue, she can get a hint: “Lather up for shiny locks!”

If she still can’t quite get it, she can hold a special booklet (in which the answers are written backwards) up to a mirror and find the answer reflected there.

Three levels of clues, a hint and a fun solution give kids the success that is so important for new or struggling readers.

And with different levels, brothers and sisters of different ages or reading abilities can play together. It’s also great for playdates.

As with the original uKloo game, the Riddle Edition ends with a surprise that the parent provides. It could be a chocolate or small toy, or—as Dotto found out from one parent—it could be the announcement that the child is going to have a new baby sister.

uKloo creator Doreen Dotto

uKloo creator Doreen Dotto

uKloo Riddle Edition includes blank cards so parents can write their own riddles (Dotto provides tips on writing riddles) and it includes Surprise cards so that instead of a toy or candy the grand prize could be “a trip to the ice cream store” or “pillow fight with daddy.”

If uKloo is one of the most perfect literacy games, uKloo Riddle Edition takes it one step further. Both are must-get games for any parent who wants to get their kids reading.

uKloo retails for $15.95 and uKloo Riddle Edition for $18.95. Both are available at independent toy stores. You can also purchase them from the uKloo website, here.

You can also check out the new uKloo Early Reader App, currently free (that may change) in the iTunes App Store.

Read my review of uKloo here.

Oh, and I’m sure you figured out that answers are: Shampoo and Backpack.

Lastly, Doreen was on Dragon’s Den. Guess what happened? Check it out:

 

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Baseball books for a baseball kid

Baseball books for a baseball kidMy son had run out of books. Already read the new Rick Riordan. Finished his school-assigned books. Bored of reading.

I needed to rekindle his interest in reading, but how?

I looked to his main hobby–nay, obsession–baseball.

I’d already done something I thought was pretty darned clever. I found a couple of novels written by former baseball player Cal Ripken Jr. (Super-sized Slugger and Hothead). My son loved them because not only were the protagonists his age and baseball players, but the novel was written by a baseball player so it was authentic. It spoke his language.

He read them and loved them. But after that, I was tapped out.

So I went to the library and asked the librarian if she knew any baseball novels.

She did. In fact, one of her favourite books as a young girl was E. L. Konigsburg’s About The B’nai Bagels. It’s the story of a kid whose mother ends up being his baseball team’s manager. (Awwwkward.)

She put that one one hold for me and while it was working its way toward my library branch, she ferretted out a couple more: Haunting at Home Plate by David Patneaude and Throwing Smoke by Bruce Brooks.

My son loved them!

So there’s the idea for you. Think about your kid’s hobbies and then talk to a librarian. It can be kind of hard to Google these things, because you’ll get all manner of how-to books, instructionals… but those librarians, man, they know stuff. Tell them what your kid’s into and before you know it she’ll find you something amazing.

That’s what happened for me.

 

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Keeping kids reading all summer

dock sepia; Image: kiwiowner, Wikimedia Commons

Image: kiwiowner, Wikimedia Commons

Studies show that kids who read during the summer jump back into school with a head-start.

Kids who take the summer off (reading, that is), often tend to find September a bit of a struggle.

So for all kinds of reasons, it’s good to keep your kid reading during the summer.

Some of my best memories are of going to the tiny library near our cottage and loading up with a week’s worth of books.

But what if your kid isn’t a super-voracious reader?

Here are some tips:

* See if your library has a summer reading program. Here’s an example. They typically bundle reading incentives into the program – it works! And if you live in Canada, here’s a link to TD’s summer reading club.

* Plan on a quick trip to the library at least once a week. Even if your kid takes out one book, it’s worth it.

* Use books on CD (or MP3) to replace TV time.

* An ebook by the dock? Why not? (Just don’t drop the Kindle in the water…)

* Outdoor time can be reading time. Check out this outdoor literacy suggestion for active kids.

* Alternative reading material counts! Comic books, magazines, ebooks, books on CD… all better than mind-numbing video games.

* Buy your child a book, wrap it up, and hide in in their bed as a bedtime surprise. It’s not a school night, so sure you can stay up and read for a while longer!

* If you’re really serious about breaking some rules for a good cause, include a flashlight with the book you give your child. They’ll figure out pretty quickly that it’s fun to “fool your parents” into thinking you’re sleeping, when you’re really reading in bed with a flashlight. (Of course, you’re one step ahead of them.)

 

 

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The Hunger Games – not for me

mockingjay pinI think I now have a better understanding of kids who don’t enjoy reading.

Sometimes, it’s the subject matter that puts them off.

Take me and The Hunger Games, for instance.

I have tried to read it several times. But every time I picked up the book… yep, still about children killing each other.

It’s not for me.

I don’t get the whole dystopian thing. I find it creepy, depressing and scary.

But I also get that The Hunger Games, and the whole dystopian genre, is hugely popular with kids. They love it.

The Hunger Games is well-written and compelling. The characters are well-rounded, the world itself intricate and thoroughly thought-out.

But… it’s about children killing each other.

I saw the movie on the weekend.

When the lights went down, it felt like I was on a rollercoaster to a scary destination, from which I couldn’t disembark. And essentially that’s what happened.

From the first moment, when we see how the people in District 12 are living – and all throughout the movie – it’s my version of hell. Watching children living in horrible distress, being set up by adults, and ultimately watching some of them die.

It’s the reason I walked out of Slumdog Millionaire. (Which was billed as “uplifting” – a marketing lie I still haven’t forgiven.)

I didn’t want to see the The Hunger Games, but as a children’s literacy blogger and writer I could no longer avoid this literary juggernaut. I had to get into that rollercoaster and buckle up. (With my 10-year-old, who thoroughly enjoyed every second, wasn’t very disturbed by it, and helped me through the scary bits. “Remember, it’s just a movie, mom!”)

All of this has given me insight into kids who are forced to read material they haven’t chosen for themselves.

No matter how well-written or popular it is, sometimes you’re just not into certain books.

If I were a kid and The Hunger Games was on the curriculum, I can imagine the teacher saying, “it’s a great book! Millions of kids love it!” But it wouldn’t be my choice and all those other kids loving it still wouldn’t make me want to read it.

I’m glad I saw the movie. I’m not sure if I will ever be able to get through the books – although now that I’ve met Katniss Everdeen I do kind of want to know her better.

In the meantime, where did I put my copy of Scott Pilgrim? I need a chaser.

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Help your child understand what he’s reading

Chocolate_chip_cookies; photo by Dan Smith, Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Dan Smith, Wikimedia Commons

I was talking to a mom today about a child who is having some trouble with reading comprehension. In other words, he reads a paragraph and has trouble understanding and summarizing what he’s just read.

He also isn’t reading a lot—possibly he doesn’t enjoy reading because of his difficulties with comprehension.

There are lots of fun activities to help with that and here are a few that I suggested.

1) Take a newspaper and turn to an interesting story. Reading just the headline and looking at the pictures, ask him what he thinks the news story will be about. If he’s having trouble, get him to identify and circle the verbs in the headline and/or the nouns. Use those key words as “hints” as to what the article will be about.

Make sure you pick a headline that’s not too convoluted, and that’s about something interesting for him. If he likes sports, turn to a sports story. (Our sister website, TeachingKidsNews has hundreds of kid-friendly news articles and headlines.)

2) Ask your child to tell you about a video game he likes to play or movie he just saw. Ask him a specific question about it, that encourages him to explain it—for instance, “what scene in the movie made you laugh out loud?” or, “what powers does the main character in the video game have?”

This is part of a process known as “retelling.” Gradually, you can build the activity to the point where he’s retelling the whole movie or video game.

Incidentally, if you’ve got a super active kid, walk around outside with him while having this conversation. Sometimes a kid thinks better when his body is moving. (You’re not his teacher—you don’t have to confine your interactions to a classroom or a desk!)

3) Do a simple recipe together. Bake some chocolate chip cookies (after you’ve simplified the recipe and made it easy to read). While the cookies are in the oven, get him to describe what you did to make the cookies. “First, we melted the butter…” Don’t worry if he misses steps or goes into too much, or too little, detail.

Just have him hit the highlights: We mixed the ingredients together, put it in the oven and baked the cookies. That gives you something to work with; you can fine-tune his retelling skills with questions like, “wasn’t there something before we put them in the oven? Didn’t we have to scoop something?”

Of course, watch for his cues to make sure he isn’t getting frustrated. If he’s done with the whole exercise, then just go and have a cookie together. He’ll get better at it over time.

4) Try a story-building game like GROSS-ABULARY (we just did a review on this terrific game) or Rory’s Story Cubes (we’re about to review it in the next week or so, but if you’re interested now, here’s a link to their website).

5) Write a three-sentence story on a long piece of paper. Make sure it has a beginning, a middle and an end. For instance:

We went to the zoo. We saw some monkeys. The monkey tried to steal my ice cream cone.

This activity can work for older kids as well:

Obi-Wan was driving past a Stormtrooper with C3PO and R2D2. He used a Jedi mind-trick to convince the Stormtrooper, “these are not the droids you’re looking for.” The Stormtrooper let them pass.

Cut the sentences apart and mix them up; have him put the sentences back in the right order. If that’s too easy, take two stories and mix all six sentences up. Have him sort them into individual stories and then put them in the right ordeuKloo scavenger hunt gamer.

6) Reading comprehension can bring instant rewards. Play a game in which reading and understanding what you’ve read brings a quick and fun reward. For instance, give him a paragraph that says something like, “If you look in your shoe by the front door, you will find a clue.” Then, in his shoe hide a second instruction, “Look under the sink for your next instructions.” And of course under the sink there’s another clue. Do as many or as few as you think he’ll enjoy… the last one is accompanied by a treat like a small present or a Hershey’s Kiss.

If you’d rather not create your own scavenger hunt, UKloo is a wonderful scavenger hunt that’s all ready to go. Here’s my review of this excellent game.

Two more things you need to know: First, I’m baking cookies as I write this post, so my whole house smells like literacy. Yum. And second, you know that I don’t get paid by any companies to endorse products, right? I’m just always on the lookout for excellent literacy games and toys. And I find ‘em, oh yes, I find ‘em!

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QR codes – reading fun for the whole (nerdy) family

QR code GKreadingOK, this is a great tip but it might be a bit… er… nerdy. But then, so am I. And so is my kid, who wears it like a badge of honour.

You’ve seen these QR codes, right? They’re on ads, posters, marketing material. Maybe you never knew what they were.

They’re like bar codes, but readable by anyone with a cellphone. You take an app like RedLaser (iPhone or Android) and scan the QR code, which reveals a hidden message, website, phone number, URL, etc.

So I was thinking it would make an excellent scavenger hunt to get kids reading.

You create some goofy, fun, positive or even utterly meaningless messages and print them out. Then you hide them around the house and give your kid your phone. Hilarity ensues. Well, maybe not hilarity – but certainly reading.

One scavenger hunt game could include messages like, “Look under the couch” and then the QR code hidden under the couch would read, “Look in your left shoe by the door,” and so on until the kid finds a new book on his pillow or something.

Or you could print one up and stick it in your kid’s lunchbox (his friend has a phone, you know he does). Now your kids kind of cool and you’re the cool mom who know about technology.

If you’ve never tried reading a QR code before, download the app and try this one I just made up:

qrcode

You can make up your own QR codes at Kaywa. Or even better, have your kid make some up.

The idea for this post came from this smart and funny blog I’ve been following for years, Ironic Sans (if you know your typography, the title is funny).

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“Got caught reading, I did!”

Yoda gets caught readingIf you’re trying to encourage your child to read more, surround her with good examples. Read, yourself, especially when she’s around to see you setting a good example.

And here’s another good thing to do. Go to Get Caught Reading and print off one of their celebrity posters. You can download it for free and print it on your colour printer. Or, I just email my colour printing to a quick-printer and pick it up later. Costs about a buck or so to have them print something in colour on larger-sized paper.

Then you’ve got a great poster for your kid’s room.

When your child’s hero is seen reading, your child will get the message that reading is a worthwhile activity.

Get Caught Reading has sports heros like NBA players Jerryd Bayless and Grant Hill; fictional characters like Dora the Explorer, Clifford and The Rugrats; singers like Alicia Keys and Gloria Estefan; and celebrities like Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen.

Frankly, I don’t know half of them – but your kid will. (What is “Friday Night Lights,” anyway? No idea.)

And you’re not going to find the ones you really want – Justin Bieber or Hannah Montana. But it’s a collection that grows, so you can check back with them and maybe even post a note asking for your favourite celebrity to be included.

Postering your child’s wall with a celebrity reading. “Mmm! A good idea it is!” Yoda out.

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uKloo: the perfect literacy game for early readers

uKloo - fun literacy game for early readersThis could be the perfect literacy game.

So simple and so brilliant.

It has all the elements you could want in a game that encourages reading: it’s fun, it offers an immediate reward for reading, it’s easy for parents to quickly learn and set up and it has lots of “reading helpers” to make sure kids are successful.

uKloo will get your kids reading. It’s as simple as that.

uKloo (“you-clue”) is essentially a treasure-hunt game. You may even have done this yourself with your kids (I’ve recommended the idea – #6) but there’s no work for you to do, other than hiding the clues.

How to play

You hide cards around the house. The child picks the first card and reads, for instance, “look in your mom’s sock drawer.” When he gets there, he’ll find another card: “Look under the mat beside the bathtub.” Under the mat will be another card… and so on, until he gets to the “reward” card.

There are lots of wonderful things about UKLOO:

The “reward” is left up to you. If you believe in offering treats you can make the reward a Hershey’s kiss or some other candy. If your kid loves Lego, maybe he’ll find a Lego character at the end of his journey. Or a book. Or a loonie. Or a card that says, “good for one trip to gramma’s.” You can use whatever you feel will motivate your child, and whatever fits with your family’s values.

Children are set up for success. The game comes with a poster (which you stick up on the fridge or a nearby wall) that helps the child work through the words on the cards. Nouns, verbs and prepositions are listed with a picture to show the child, for instance, what “under” and “behind” mean. If the child can’t figure out a word, he can check the poster for help.

The game has three levels, depending on your child’s reading level. For instance:
Level 1: Look in your shoe.
Level 2: Check in the bathtub.
Level 3: Search behind the pillow on the couch.

As your child becomes a better reader, the game grows with him. Or, siblings can play alongside each other, using different levels.

uKloo was invented by Doreen Dotto, who was having trouble getting her kid to read. That was when he was in grade two. Today, the kid is an English major in university. Just sayin’.

uKloo sells in independent toy stores for $14.99 or on the company’s imperfect website, here. Now, Doreen, how about creating a version for older kids who are reading but still love to play fun reading games and find rewards in their shoes?

Here’s a video (1:18) of the game in action. (Spoiler alert: the kid finds the reward card.)

 

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Teen says reading helped save him

Haille Bailey-Harris is an amazing teenager.
His mom helped him get on the right path,
in part by nurturing his love of reading.

An incredible success story

In the Globe and Mail‘s coverage of “boys and education” this week, a very moving column by a boy named Haille Bailey-Harris caught my attention.

He’s a 16-year-old high school student, and he’s determined not to become one of the statistics the Globe has been writing about – boys who don’t do well in school and don’t go on to university.

He’s an amazing kid. Just Googling him for this article uncovers a whole series of articles he’s had published in major newspapers. Clearly, he has brains, initiative and goals (including arguing a case before the Supreme Court and publishing a book). I have no doubt he will achieve his goals.

However, it wasn’t always like that. The deck was stacked against him from day one. He hasn’t seen his father in 10 years – he’s being raised by his mother alone; he’s an avid video gamer; and he’s dark-skinned. He was bullied in school, full of anger and got into lots of trouble.

As he says in his column, “according to the research, I should be failing in school, a non-reader and basically a loser… hell, I should just throw in the towel!”

Instead, his mother intervened. She developed a plan with his school’s principal, and it worked.

I’ll direct you to his beautifully written Globe column for the whole story, but basically, here’s the plan that worked for him:

1) Find other role models. Teachers, relatives – both male and female.

2) Create a community family. For instance, Big Brothers and Big Sisters provided him with a mentor.

3) Nurture a love of reading. “Instead of banning me from video games, my mom got me games that also required me to read (like Pokemon) and encouraged me to get books (even comics) that interested me. Gradually, I wanted to read books and, eventually, I wanted to read everything, all the time.”

4) Do community service. He and his mom volunteer at the public library and a homeless shelter.

His “battle plan,” as he calls it, helped him realize that he had potential, “as do all children, no matter what the circumstances.” He tried harder in school, found better friends and, “suddenly, before I realized it, my life was right-side up.”

Now that’s a great success story.

The column Haille wrote touches on a couple of themes that I’ve been espousing for a long time. First, that parents can offset poor schooling, bad teachers, lack of resources and just about any obstacle that stands between a kid and the love of reading. Parents can accomplish just about anything. And second, that no matter what a boy wants to read – embrace it! Haille was reading Pokemon video games, for crying out loud. He says he’s now “a happy, well-adjusted 16-year-old who really loves to read.” Lots of people say that boys need to choose their literature carefully and shouldn’t read “just anything.” Haille and I disagree.

I couldn’t find a copyright-free picture of Haille Bailey-Harris and I wanted to show you what he looks like, because this is his story. Haille, if you object to me using this photo (which I found on Globe.com) then let me know and I’ll take it down. But I hope you don’t – because people need to know you.

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Literacy Lava 6 – e-newsletter

Please check out the 6th edition of Literacy Lava e-newsletter.

I have an article in it (“Newspapers Build Literacy Skills”) that I hope you enjoy.

Click here to access the free .pdf, Literacy Lava 6. Scroll down on the page and click on the image of LL6.

You’ll find lots of other great literacy articles in this edition of LL, including:
* How to create a father/son book club;
* Telling tales with “story stones”;
* Using poetry to support literacy; and
* Revving up reluctant readers.

Our thanks to Susan Stephenson, of The Book Chook, who produces Literacy Lava.

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