Judging the age-level of books

What can your child read alone?

It can be difficult to decide what books are just right for your reader – not too hard or too easy. Here’s a great suggestion, from a book/pamphlet produced by the YMCA, called Raising Kids Who Read.

“To decide which books are right for independent reading, notice if your child can read a few pages of a book with 95 per cent accuracy. That is, does he or she miss only one out of every 20 words?

If a young reader falters on one out of every 10 words, take turns reading the book together. You can supply words too difficult for him or her to read. If your child misses more than one in 10, to reduce frustration, make this book one that you read aloud.”

Great advice.

This book was produced in 2004 by the YMCA, 42 Charles St. E., Toronto, Ontario, www.ymca.ca. Writer: Carolyn Munson-Benson, Design: Holmes & Lee, Photography: Stacey Brandford.

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Motivate with a reading reward chart

Kids love rewards.

If you’re having a tough time getting your child to read, try a reading reward chart.

Make a graph with a week’s worth of days. Your child puts a sticker on each day you read together. (Fifteen to 30 minutes is ideal.) Or, your chart can be for when your child reads alone, or when she reads a specific book for 15 minutes at a time, or for 15 minutes’ worth of writing – whatever you’re working on.

Some kids are motivated by the stickers, alone. Others need a reward – for every week that has four or more stickers, the child gets a small toy. It’s important to choose and, I think, buy the reward first.

The child will be more motivated when she knows what she’s playing for. (May I suggest – a book?) Put the reward on a shelf so she can see it, but not use it, until it’s been earned.

And of course, adjust the reward so it fits your child. The length of the reading sessions and the number needed for the reward should be whatever will work for your child. Using fun stickers often helps.

Encourage her to tell her grandparents, friends, teachers and everyone you can think of, that she’s doing a reading chart. Research shows that people are more likely to succeed when others know about their project.

Don’t go dollar-store on this one. The toys are too cheap and break too easily. Think Silly Putty, a bakugan, hockey cards, doll accessory or comic book. Ironically, dollar stores do have really good books like Caillou or maze/activity books. Pick up a handful and put ’em in your sock drawer until they’re earned.

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Reading – more fun than making your bed

I often let my son break the rules by reading.

When I tell him, “it’s time for bed,” he knows that if he grabs a book, it’ll buy him an extra half-hour or so. As long as his teeth are brushed and he’s in his jammies, I’ll extend his bedtime by a couple of chapters.

If he’s been sent up to his room to make his bed, and I discover him reading instead… the bed can wait. And as long as I know his homework will eventually get done, he can delay that by reading as well.

In fact, many rules in our house can be “gotten around” by reading. Of course, the chores have to be done eventually – but in the meantime, my son is discovering that reading is more fun than cleaning up his room.

Reading is more fun than cleaning. I break my own rules as well, staying up late reading a good book. And it’s a whole lot better than late-night TV.

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"I’m bored!"

We said it to our parents – your kid says it to you.

You’ve hated hearing it in the past. But the next time he says “I’m bored!” you’re going to love it. Here’s what to do:

The next time you’re in a book store or a corner store, check out the magazines. Think about what your child loves – it may be video games, sports, cars, fashion, music, TV – this isn’t about what you want them to like, it’s about what they really do like.

Whatever it is, there is a magazine geared to it. And chances are, if they’re not used to reading a lot, this will be a revelation to them. The magazine will have the latest information on their favourite subject. Imagine how exciting that will be for your child!

Buy the magazine and hide it in your sock drawer.

So now we come to the good part. It’s raining and video-time is spent, and your child says, “I’m bored!” Go up to his room and quietly put the new magazine on his bed. Then come down and casually tell him, “There’s something on your bed.”

I guarantee you won’t see that kid for the next half-hour. Left alone with that magazine, which contains all the latest information on his favourite subject – no matter how much he hates reading, he will read it.

Well done, parent.

After he’s read the magazine, “what then?” you ask. How about a monthly subscription? Get him to fill out the subscription card, and take it to the mailbox. Or, next time leave a graphic novel on his bed. Or a comic book, or a novel. Or give him $10 and take him to Chapters to buy a new magazine. Fun! (Not boring.)

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How to foster a "reading culture"

Kids who live in a “reading home” will be readers, it’s as simple as that.

What does that mean, and how do you create a reading culture in your home? Here are some key things you can do to create a “reading home”:

*Read to your child every day.

*Have lots of books around. Give your child his own books.

*Let your child read things he’s interested in.

*Go to the library together every two or three weeks.

*Let your child see you reading.

*Ask your child questions about what he’s reading. Be interested in what he’s reading.

*Let your child read to you.

*Offer him a variety of reading options. Novels, comic books, picture books, manuals, recipe books, pages printed from the Internet, graphic novels, magazines, even the side of the cereal box at breakfast time – it’s all reading.

*Set limits on TV and video-game time (“screen time”).

If you can only do one thing, to create a reader, it should be: “read to your child.” Every book and website about reading says the same thing. Read to your child, every day. It’s the most important thing.

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Use words, not pictures, for labels

This is kind of counter-intuitive, so bear with me.

Let’s say you’re labelling bins in your young child’s playroom. This one is for cars, this one is for balls, this is where the action figures go.

It can be really tempting to draw a car, rather than write the word “CAR” on the label. After all, if the child is too young to read, images would more easily show him where the cars go, right?

While that’s true, it’s the wrong thing to do if you’re trying to help him learn to read. Instead of pictures, print the words “CARS” or “BALLS” or even “ACTION FIGURES” on the bins. Your child will memorize them in no time, and now they’ll know three or four words they didn’t know before.

In fact, you’ll discover that they’re able to pick out the word “ball” or “car” in their first storybooks right away. Kids are sponges. If they’re going to soak up information, give them something worth soaking up.

This happens all the time in companies, too. Often the “stop” button in a manufacturing line will feature an image of a stop sign, rather than the word STOP, for non-English speakers. It’s well-meaning, but it doesn’t help the person who’s learning to read English. Always give the person a bigger challenge than you think they can handle – they’ll rise to it.

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Dogs help kids read

It makes sense, when you think about it.

Dogs enjoy any story you read to them, they don’t judge when you get a word wrong, and they have an enormous attention span.

A non-profit organization in Chicago, Sit Stay Read!, uses trained dogs to help children read. The kids read to the dogs, and the dogs make reading more fun and relaxing for the children.

If your child has a pet, why not suggest she read to it?

Just don’t read it one of those PETA brochures – it might get funny ideas and petition for equal rights. Woof!

Update: MaryEllen, of Sit Stay Read! suggests these tips for reading with your dog.

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How will we read our Christmas books?

Let me count the ways.

It’s important that children discover that books can be used many different ways. Here’s how we’re using the books we got for Christmas.

*My husband and our son had a great time going through his new Guiness Book of Records, giggling over the disgusting records (biggest earthworm) and discussing the sports ones;

*We’ll be using his new cookbook in the new year to bake some treats (and learn measurements);

*Our son loved his new, personalized book and was thrilled to see his picture on the back cover;

*Our son has already started reading his new Bailie School Kids series;

*He loved the Sports Illustrated for Kids Santa gave him in his stocking;

*His new joke books are going to keep us groaning well into the new year;

*Not to mention his puzzle book, Owl magazine, Space book with tons of facts about meteorites and planets, and Build It Bigger – a book about the world’s largest building projects.

So he’s got lots of reading options – to read alone, with mom and dad, to read to us aloud, or just flip through and look at the pictures. It was definitely a reading Christmas.

Hope you had a great holiday. We’ll be taking a new bag of books (thanks, Julie!) to the Children’s Book Bank in the new year so please do drop your donations off with me.

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Scrabble time!

The holidays are perfect for Scrabble.

Turn off the TV, get out the board, pour the adults some red wine. Crack open a bag of Doritos. And create a new holiday tradition.

Here’s the Scrabble board from our game last night. Because our son’s seven, he gets to double his score at the end of the game. He won, handily.
We helped him by showing him how to find an “open” letter on the board and build on it. We asked him what vowels he had, and suggested words like “cake” or “hope.” It was exciting for him to get triple letter scores and double words.
It was a nice, quiet, family evening. All three of us had some laughs and most important, we shared some quality time together. The great bonus is, playing Scrabble will increase your child’s ability to work (and play) with words.
You’re looking at RIF, aren’t you? That was mine. About 30 points – not bad. I don’t know what it means, but it was in the Scrabble dictionary, so it counts. Thirty points.
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Thank you for the Children’s Book Bank donations

Thank you to John Rahme and the CBC for the generous donation to the Children’s Book Bank.

After hearing about our book drive, the CBC donated a huge box of brand-new Mr. Dressup books, including school workbooks.

By that afternoon, the Book Bank had already sent the books along to neighbourhood schools that will put them to good use. The rest of the books will stay in the Book Bank and be handed out to local children.

Thanks also to L.B., who donated a big bag of beautiful hardcover books that will be much loved by their new owners.

I’ll be going back to the Book Bank near the end of next week, so it’s not too late to donate your excellent used or new books. For more information see the post, below.

I took a tour through the Book Bank and it really is fantastic. The books are lovingly displayed and I was very impressed by the excellent titles – these are not “cast-off” books. They’re popular current titles and series. After I got home, Kim at the Book Bank sent me an e-mail thanking everyone for their generosity. Ditto from me!
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