Archive for category: Tips

Get your kid excited about the news

newspapersEvery week, I do a half-hour presentation at my son’s school on “the news.”

It’s often the best half-hour of my week. And a lot of the kids – and the parents – tell me they look forward to the class.

What I do is pretty simple; you can do it, too. Either at your kids’ school (especially if they’ve got an open-minded teacher like ours) or just at home.

What it will do for your kid is to get him interested in reading the newspaper, following news stories and learning about what’s going on in the world. You’ll be helping him develop a life-long habit of curiosity and general knowledge.

Here’s what I do
I read the newspapers for a week. Simple – most of us do it anyway. So at the end of the week I know stuff, like that Kim Jong-Il died, and that there’s a problem in Syria, and that Sidney Crosby’s out of the game again, and that Justin Bieber’s in Toronto doing a charity concert. In other words – the news.

Then, once a week, I tell the kids about it.

And although it’s a class of grade fours and fives, when I’m talking about the news you can hear a pin drop. That’s because kids are very interested in knowing what’s happening.

In half an hour I might do six or seven stories. The most important thing I do is to use my “adult” knowledge of the world and put events in context. For instance, when an adult reads “Kim Jong-Il has died,” we think “uh-oh – what will that mean for South Korea?” Whereas kids think, “What is a Kim Jong-Il?”

So I open by explaining that there’s a country in Asia called North Korea, and for 17 years it’s been run by guy named Kim Jong-Il… and I explain. I don’t get too graphic and I certainly avoid scary stuff – and I try to point out the positives. For instance, in this case to illustrate his eccentric nature I tell them about how Kim Jong-Il used to dress up as Elvis and sing Blue Suede Shoes. The kids laugh but then they quickly jump to the understanding that if the leader of your country is doing that stuff, it may be amusing but it’s probably not good.

One of the kids in the class is now working on a news website himself. He wants to become a journalist. My son is thinking about a career as a sports journalist. Other kids in the class go home and talk about the news with their parents. One time, I had a parent come up to me and say, “my son explained to me what the G8 is!” So that’s pretty fun.

More than that, the kids are reading. Reading. Seeing newspapers as relevant to them, and not just boring adult stuff.

Since newspapers are not specifically kid-friendly, I point kids to our website,, which offers daily kid-friendly news articles. You certainly don’t have to use this website, but if you need kid-friendly news articles, it’s always appropriate. Plus, it’s free.

However you do it, introduce your kids to the news. You’ll quickly find out that they want to know what’s happening in the world, and not just what the toy companies tell them is important. And it’ll get them reading.


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Literacy Lava newsletter has great tips

Literacy Lava 8, coverThe new edition of Literacy Lava, a free e-zine for parents with great literacy articles and ideas, is now available.

You can download the .pdf from The Book Chook, here.

I’ve got an article in it, and there are lots of other great articles including:
* Writing tips for kids;
* Story-telling;
* Literacy tips – what works (that’s my article);
* Tips for reading aloud;
* A book club for preschoolers:
* Creativity tips; and
* much more.

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No time for literacy activities? Harness the power of two

Literacy game - "crumple"

What kid can resist a game of "Crumple"? Crumpled up pages reveal silly riddles.

If you aren’t able to find time to read to your child or offer him literacy activities—use the power of two—you and another parent.

You know that kids who are read to every day are more likely to develop a love of reading. But that’s 15 minutes that tends to slip right by and before you know it, your child is asleep and you haven’t managed to read together like you’d hoped.

Here’s what you can do—team up with another parent and schedule time to do some literacy activities with your child and their child.

If you’ve got a toddler or an infant, chances are you regularly get together for coffee with another parent. Next time, plan to build a five-minute literacy component into something you’d be doing anyway. Use the first five minutes you’re in that café to prop your friend’s child on your lap and read her a couple of books. At the same time, she’ll be doing the same for your child. (Or each read to your own children—whatever works.)

Then, the rest of the coffee break can be about other things. But the point is, you’ve read with your child and she has read with hers. And better still, the kids saw each other reading, which will reinforce that this is a nice thing to do.

If your child is older, use the power of two to motivate you and remind you to do some literacy activities. Schedule regular weekly playdates—one at your house and the next week, one at their house. Talk to the other parent and brainstorm a simple literacy game, craft, activity that the kids can do—if only for 15 minutes—right at the beginning of the playdate. When they come to your house, the kids will find a craft or a game set out on a table. Let them find it themselves and it’s pretty likely they’ll start doing it. (I don’t know many kids who can resist stuff set out on a table, especially if the parent is just leaving them to it.)

Here are some suggestions:

* Put some crayons and blank paper on the table. Pre-make a paper airplane with a message inside it, “Hi Scott!” and explain that these are “message planes” that fly back and forth across the room with messages to the other person.

* Put a sentence on the table that is all mixed up. When they piece the words together, they’ll discover a secret message: “Your playdate snack is under your bed!”

* Play “Crumple.” Put a bunch of crumpled-up pieces of paper on the table. As they unravel each one, they’ll find a joke—on the back of the paper is the answer. (“What kind of hair do oceans have? Wavy!”) Here are lots more silly kids’ jokes.

It takes a bit of planning, but with the power of two, you’ll have a day off the next week as the other parent puts together a fun activity for the kids at her house.

For other fun literacy crafts or activities, search this blog or click on the tags for five-minute ideas or 15-minute ideas. There’s lots of stuff you can do that is fun, quick and easy and costs nothing to put together.

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Getting your kid reading: What doesn’t work

Reading is Fundamental logoFrom the RIF (Reading is Fundamental) website: What doesn’t work.

Nagging. Avoid lecturing about the value of reading and hounding a child who is not reading. Your child will only resent it.

Bribing. While there’s nothing wrong with rewarding your child’s reading efforts, you don’t want your youngster to expect a prize after finishing every book. Whenever possible, offer another book or magazine (your child’s choice) along with words of praise. You can give other meaningful rewards on occasion, but offer them less and less frequently. In time, your child will experience reading as its own reward.

Judging your child’s performance. Separate school performance from reading for pleasure. Helping your child enjoy reading is a worthwhile goal in itself.

Criticizing your child’s choices. Reading almost anything is better than reading nothing. Although you may feel your child is choosing books that are too easy or that treat subjects too lightly, hide your disappointment. Reading at any level is valuable practice, and successful reading helps build confidence as well as reading skills. If your differences are simply a matter of personal taste, respect your child’s right to his or her own preferences.

Setting unrealistic goals. Look for small signs of progress rather than dramatic changes in your child’s reading habits. Don’t expect a reluctant reader to finish a book overnight. Maybe over the next week, with your gentle encouragement.

Making a big deal about reading. Don’t turn reading into a campaign. Under pressure, children may read only to please their parents rather than themselves, or they may turn around and refuse to read altogether.

Hmmm. So here’s an interesting conundrum. I liked this article, which I found on a month or two ago. Sometimes when I see a good article, I stash it or its URL in my “edit” file until I can use it. Unfortunately, in this case I don’t know whether I parsed/rewrote it before stashing it (to prevent plagiarism) or just stashed the whole article from RIF, intending to rewrite it later (crediting RIF, of course). And now I can’t find it on RIF’s website. Can’t find it anywhere. Searched and searched. So: apologies to RIF if I ripped (or riffed) you off. Just to be safe I’ll put a nice big link to RIF right in the headline. There. Good article, though, eh? On second thought, maybe it’s RIF’s original article after all. I don’t think I’d say “youngster.” “Kid” is more my style. UPDATE: Oh geez, it’s like a week later and I just remembered. I actually contacted RIF and asked them if I could reproduce their article! (They said yes.) Oh phew! Know what made me think of it? I was writing the companion article, “What does work,” and I was thinking, “I wonder if RIF would be interested in reading this?” And then I recalled e-mailing them and hearing back from them. Oh geez. Sorry to make you read all of this fine print – but thanks for hanging in there. Wasn’t the ending worth it? Well, it was for me. You’re awesome, reader.

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Access to printed materials does help

What impact, if any, does access to print materials have on our children’s reading?

A lot, according to extensive research by RIF, Reading Is Fundamental, a non-profit children’s literacy organization based in Washington, DC.

Owning and borrowing books from the library causes, “positive behavioural, educational and psychological outcomes.”

In other words, kids who have access to books do better socially and at school.
(Does this sound familiar to regular GKR readers? But I digress.)

RIF found that having access to printed materials:

…improves children’s reading performance. Children, and kindergarten students in particular, read better when they’re often surrounded by books.

…is instrumental in helping children learn the basics of reading. Kids who have lots of different books become better at identifying words, being able to sound out words, and read sentences.

…causes children to read more and for longer lengths of time. There is more shared reading between parents and children. Kids read more often and for longer stretches.

…produces improved attitudes toward reading and learning among children. Kids who own, borrow or who are given books say they like reading and schoolwork more than kids who don’t have access to books.

So there you have it. It’s what this blog has been advocating for more than a year, and I’m thrilled to see another significant study that backs it up: kids who have access to books are much more likely to become great readers, and to love reading.

Scatter books around the house
Please check out these ideas for surrounding your kid with books.
Mom got her son reading!
Percy Jackson and the Olympians (let him find books on his bed)
Get your six-year-old reading
More books = more education

How the RIF study was done
Researchers searched 11,000 reports and analyzed 108 of the most relevant studies. They then chose “the most thorough and carefully conducted 44” of the 108 and did further analysis in order to draw their conclusions. That’s a lot of stuff.

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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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Set up summer reading rewards

Stats show that kids who read throughout the summer have a great kick-start to school in September.

And kids who don’t, typically start the school year a bit behind.

With the school year ending, now’s the time to plan your child’s summer reading and writing projects.

Does your library have a summer reading program? Ours does; it’s usually a large poster with about a dozen stickers you can earn over the summer by reading a book and then telling the librarian what you read.

The stickers are motivating because they “add” to the picture on the poster when you stick them on it. It’s also nice for kids to have the undivided attention of the librarian while they’re telling her about the books they’ve read.

This would be a pretty simple project to do at home. Instead of a poster, it’s a big picture you or your child draws on bristol board – and a flat of stickers that have some kind of theme.

You could also arrange the stickers in a “reading reward chart” configuration. Each sticker represents a book the child has read and when he’s read five (or 10) books he gets a reward of some kind.

It’s important to put the poster or chart up on the child’s wall so it’s constantly motivating for him.

I don’t know about you, but when my son was small I counted books that we’d read together as well as ones he’d read himself. Both types of reading are equally important and valuable, I think.

Related posts:

Here’s a link to the Summer Reading Club. This year’s theme is “Destination Jungle” and the image with this post is this year’s poster.

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Offering a healthy choice

My son doesn’t eat enough fruits and vegetables.

And I think that one reason is that I often take the easy route instead of the healthy one.

Let’s say he has 10 minutes before his baseball game – he’s starving, but he’s late. “Mom! I’m hungry!” I will usually make him crackers and cheese or a give him a granola bar.

Because I know that if I offer him a banana or an apple I’m going to get, “I’m not hungry for that!” A big hassle. And while we argue, the clock is ticking and before you know it we’re even later.

My husband, on the other hand, can tell him, “Grab a banana” and although he’ll whine, my son will eat it. Because he’s learned that with daddy, that’s a snack. Daddy stands firm.

This can apply to reading.

Like last night, the Stanley Cup Playoffs were on. The Stanley. Cup. Playoffs. (If you’re Canadian you know what I’m talking about. If you’re not, you can imagine.)

But I could see that my son was tired and needed to get into his bed. So rather than cave into his demand to watch the game, which would have meant he’d be up for another half an hour, I told him that he could read for 10 minutes in bed.

He did whine. I insisted. He whined some more (seriously, the Stanley Cup playoffs!). I stayed the course. Bedtime, and as a treat you can read for 10 minutes. The implied threat was that if there was any more whining I’d take away the reading. (Which I’d never do, but he doesn’t read this blog so he doesn’t know that.)

So he read for a bit. And because he really was tired, he went to sleep.

And in the morning, I had a kid who was well-rested. (And had to be told that the Blackhawks had won the Stanley Cup in overtime.)

Getting kids reading can be really hard. But it’s worth it.
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Get involved in your child’s school

Enrich your child’s learning, help your teacher, get involved.

I despair when parents complain that their kids aren’t getting what they need from their school.

I despair, not because the children aren’t getting what they need from their school, but because we parents have been conditioned to accept those terms lying down. And I strongly believe that if your child is not getting what he needs from school, you can change things.

We parents need to recognize our power. We need to ignore the “stop” signs that have been put up around us—Stop! You can’t participate in school. Stop! You we can’t go into the classroom. Stop! You can’t change the curriculum.

School is not some sacrosanct chamber. It’s where our children spend the vast majority of their time during the day. School is where our children are living their lives.

And if they’re not getting what they need from school, we can change that. As parents, we need to change that. We need to add stuff, we need to get the teachers to add stuff, we need to change stuff.

We can raise money for great books if that’s what’s needed—or just make a donation to the classroom of appropriate books (with input from the teacher, of course). We can find interesting programs that are being offered and get them incorporated into our school’s curriculum. At our school, for instance, the parent council funded a chess program so now all of our kids, from grades 1 to 6, get instruction in chess once a week.

We can talk to the teacher and the principal to find out how we can help. Taking a look at our own skill set is a good place to start. That’s how I arrived at the idea to do a weekly current events session in my child’s class. I’m a journalist and I love the news, so I simply asked the teacher if he’d be interested in my bringing newspapers to the kids once a week.

How about buying a few sets of Boggle or Scrabble and introducing your child’s class to a weekly game that gets them thinking and spelling? Or researching excellent fun learning websites on the Internet, so that when your child’s computer time comes around, the teacher has some good options to offer the kids.

Or how about introducing chess to your child’s class? Chess is actually extremely easy to play at a beginner level; once you know how each piece is allowed to move, you’ve pretty much got it. (It only gets hard at more advanced levels.) You can teach yourself how to play, buy or borrow a few sets and then – presto – you’re bringing chess to your child’s classroom once a week. And as our chess instructor will readily point out, the game teaches children how to think ahead, which is a valuable life skill.

If you can throw off the shackles of “parents should not interfere in school” and get involved, there are thousands of ways in which you can customize your child’s learning, help the teacher and enrich the school’s curriculum. And that’s a good situation for everyone.

I’m not suggesting some radical, half-cocked approach here. I’m talking about taking your ideas to the teacher or the principal and letting them know what you can offer and why it would benefit the school. Working with them as a partner. And of course, the benefit to you is that your child will then be exposed to new and extended learning. I mean, like, don’t just do stuff for other classrooms – do it for your own kid’s. It’s a win-win.

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Summer reading program

Is your child collecting library stickers?

The other day, my son and I went to the library to report four books and get stickers for his poster. (The stickers are the rewards in the library’s summer reading program.)

Unfortunately, the librarian would only give my son one sticker. He said we’d have to come in each day for the rest, one at a time.

I understand why he said that, but I think it can be a deterrent to reading. If a kid knows that he’s going to have to work that hard for a sticker, he’s going to stop reading after one book. Why read more than one a day?

Today, though, a different librarian gave me a whole sheet of stickers, and my son can report the books to me at home. I’m thrilled, because he was really balking at going in to report to the librarian – and yet he wanted his reward.

I really love this summer reading program, especially now that there was a bit of flexibility to it. Every kid is different, and I’m all for tailoring reading plans to suit the child.

While I was at the library, I picked up the Walt Disney soundtrack to Alice in Wonderland (which we just finished reading) and I’m going to rent the Disney video as well.

Now we’re reading The Phantom Tollbooth. I started out reading it to him, but he’s taken over the job and is reading it to himself every night. I will try to track down the video to that, as well.

The library’s program also lets kids write out their book report, or just draw a picture about it. If you haven’t yet signed up for a summer reading program in your area, go online and see what there is. It’s not too late – and anyway, you could just turn it into a summer-slash-fall reading program.

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