Singin’ in the Brain

Singing helps children learn to read

When my son was little, our life was a musical. If I could sing something rather than say it, I would. “We’re… puttin’ our shoes now, tying up the laces, goin’ to the park!” (to the tune of Top Hat, White Tie and Tails). “Let’s cross… to the sunny side of the street!”

I also frequently sang another ditty: “A says ah, A says ah. Every letter makes a sound; A says ah!” And I’d get him to join in. “B says… what?” “Buh!” “Right! B says buh. B says buh. Every letter makes a sound. B says buh!”

I’m not a spokesperson for LeapFrog, just a fan. It was their fridge magnet toy (which we didn’t even own – another friend had one) that taught me this catchy tune. It helped my son to learn the sounds the letters make. And that’s a huge step towards reading.

Singing has major teaching benefits. For one thing, you’re happy while you’re singing, and fun and passion always aid understanding. And facts that are sung are much more easily memorized. Singing also creates synapses in the brain, so you’re really doing two things at once – learning and increasing the capacity to learn.

I’m going to ask the LeapFrog people if they can send me a music file so you can hear the fridge magnet song. I don’t know how to post a music file, so I’m a bit scared of that. But I’ll do it for literacy.

+Continue Reading

Attention grandparents

Here’s a great gift idea.

It’s a personalized book from Kids Shared Book.com. You visit the website and choose a book; there are a lot of great classics. I chose “The Prince and the Pauper.”

Then you type in a message for the first page. I wrote: This is a book about two boys from different backgrounds, who learn to see things from the other person’s point of view. We hope you enjoy it. Love, Mommy and Daddy.

You can then add a picture (of you and your grandchild, perhaps) that will be in black-and-white on the first page, and you can add a colour photo for the back cover.

Kids Shared Book.com let me try out their site, and it was fast, easy (you don’t have to be a computer genius) and the book is lovely. My thinking is that having photos of your child right in the book will be added incentive for him to read it.

The books start at $19.95 plus about $10 each for shipping within Canada (shipping is free in the domestic US). The range of books is good, including many classics.

I’m hoping this post is in time for the holidays, but check the website or call and ask whether your book will arrive in time. There is a customer service number you can call if you don’t have a computer. But if you don’t have a computer, how are you reading this blog, eh? Ha! Got you again.
+Continue Reading

For kinesthetic learners

Reading doesn’t have to be on a page.

If your child is a kinesthetic learner – he learns by touching and doing rather than by seeing or hearing – here are some great ideas.

Use letters made from blocks, cards, fridge magnets or Scrabble tiles.

Toss seven large letters (blocks, or wooden cut-outs) in the pool. Have him dive for them and make a word when he surfaces. Don’t worry about how many dives it takes – let him just have fun.

In the bath, toss in a handful of foam letters. It probably won’t be long before he starts making words that float around him!

Toss a handful of Scrabble tiles into a large bowl of rice. As he digs for the letters, he has to try and make words with them.

Play word games like Scrabble, “scramble” (online), or Word Thief (board game). Simplify the rules so it’s more about making words and less about beating the other person.

If you’re giving your child letters to make a word, look at them first. Make sure there are Es and As, and simple consonants like Ms, Ss and Ts. Consider adding in a “wildcard” that can be used for any letter.

+Continue Reading

Avoiding library fines

Libraries don’t have to cost a lot of money.

Here are some tips:
1) Renew your books online. When your deadline is approaching, go online using your library card, and hit “renew” for all your books. It buys you some time.

2) If your books are overdue, renew them online anyway. It stops the bleeding until you can get to the library.

3) Use your child’s card. Library fines are a lot cheaper for children than adults. So take out materials on a child’s card whenever possible.

4) Have a separate basket for library books. Our son’s is at the foot of his bed. Library books automatically go in there, so we’re never scrambling to find them amongst his other books.

5) Post the due-date tape near the front door. The library gives you a printout with your due dates. Hang it where you’ll see it often.

You did get your child a library card, didn’t you? If not, take him to the library and help him get his own card. When he checks out his first book, I guarantee you a parenting moment you’ll never forget.

+Continue Reading

Literacy is more than reading

Have you taught your child how to read a newspaper?

I don’t mean the words themselves. I mean how a newspaper works. What a headline is. Where the author’s name is, and how to tell what’s happening in the pictures. Where does the rest of the article go off the front page? Why are there sections? And how to use the index to find the comics (very important).

This kind of information is crucial to a newspaper reader, because it helps you understand what to read, what you should skip, and what you can skim. It helps put the images in context. For instance, the same photo on the front of the Style section, and the front of the News section would have very different meanings.

Beginning readers need to know that they don’t have to (and shouldn’t) read every word of the newspaper. They need to understand what advertisements are vs. articles, what headlines and subheads are for, and how to tell which article goes with which picture.

You wouldn’t do this all at once, of course. Even a thirty-second explanation could have a huge impact. Let’s say you’re reading the paper in the morning and your child is eating her breakfast. Why not take the section that would be most interesting to her, and point out an article. Show her the headline, and the photo, and tell her what’s happening in the article.

Thirty seconds. That may be all she needs to get started – and curious. And curiosity creates amazing readers.

Newspapers are great because there’s something for everyone. You child might enjoy the sports section, the comics, the main news, or fashion. Just keep them away from any articles that could be too scary – like in the business section.

+Continue Reading

Will your child be a reader?

I’m reading Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, by Maryanne Wolf, a researcher who explains, among other things, how the brain learns to read.

She underscores how essential it is that children be read to often:

“Learning to read begins the first time an infant is held and read a story. How often this happens, or fails to happen, in the first five years of childhood turns out to be one of the best predictors of later reading.”

In other words, reading to your child (and don’t worry about the “first five years” stuff – the later years are just as important) gives him a huge leg up in terms of becoming a great reader.

This is a wonderful book with great insight on the subject. And you can thank me for reading it so you don’t have to, because frankly it can be a bit of a slog. But don’t worry, I’ll bring you the highlights. Yer welcome. Also, I borrowed this image from the Chapters/Indigo site, which is why it says it’s 24% off. But why 24 and not 25? A marketing enigma.
+Continue Reading

Read to your child every night

Every night? Every night.

Reading to your child could be the single most important thing you do to turn your child into a great reader. And if for some reason you “can’t” read to your child every night, forthwith are my reasons why, in fact, you can.

*He’s too tired.
(Make it a short book. Or a poem. Here’s “Hoppity,” a beautiful, lyrical poem by A. A. Milne that’s fun to read and won’t take up any time.)

*I’m too tired.
(Keep your eye on the prize – you’re creating a reader.)

*It’s boring.
(Get a book you’ll both enjoy. He may want the same book every night, and that’s fine for him but adults get bored with the same thing every night. So get Mary Poppins. There’s something interesting on every page. Plus, you can burst into song – or English accents – if you want.)

*My child won’t.
(Either you haven’t found the right book, or he’s somehow gotten the impression that it’s optional. Stay your ground. Make the book fun by using silly voices. For inspiration, check out how Robert Munsch reads to kids.)

*I can’t read.
(Get a book on CD. And by the way, how are you reading this blog? You can too read!)

*My husband puts him to bed, and he won’t read to her.
(Then read to your child during her bath. Or during snacktime. Or colouring-time.)

Read to your child every night. It’s really, really important.
+Continue Reading

Hoppity, by A. A. Milne

Hoppity by A. A. Milne

Christopher Robin goes
Hoppity, hoppity,
Hoppity, hoppity, hop.

Whenever I tell him
Politely to stop it, he
Says he can’t possibly stop.

If he stopped hopping,
He couldn’t go anywhere,
Poor little Christopher
Couldn’t go anywhere…

That’s why he always goes
Hoppity, hoppity,
Hoppity,
Hoppity,
Hop.

+Continue Reading

Tag helps kids read, learn

“Tag” could be a great learning device for your not-big-on-reading child.

It’s essentially a wireless, electronic pen. When you poke a special “Tag” book with it, the book talks. Kids can hear the story, listen to the characters speak, play games and identify words.

You have to use the Tag books, and currently there are about 20 of them including Click Clack Moo – Cows that Type, The Little Engine that Could, Diego, Spongebob Square Pants, The Little Mermaid, Cars, and my favourite – Olivia.

The system is a lot like LeapPad, which is being phased out. My son grew up on LeapPad, and to this day says things like, “Ginko leaves have been around since the dinosaurs.” He learned that from LeapPad. Tag is like LeapPad except it’s wireless.

Tag is also intuitive. Kids just poke the pen anywhere on the book to get the information they want. And, if this system is developed like LeapPad, there will soon be many more titles and games to choose from.

Tag is $59.99 (Canadian) at Toys R Us online.

It’s also great because it works for a wide range of ages, from very little children (parents just have to make sure they don’t rip the book), up to about grade 1. LeapPad also had books for older kids, and I’m hoping the Tag line will extend to higher grades as well.

+Continue Reading

Hallowe’en is for learning

No, not really – it’s for candy and for zombies.

But in the midst of our Hallowe’en party today, I managed to sneak in some learning. We had hidden “eyeballs” (bouncy balls with corneas printed on them) in the backyard. Each child had to find five with their initials on them.

As I was telling them about it, I realized that not every child knew what “initials” were, or what their personal initials were. So I told them about how initials could be just for the first name, or for the first and last names.

And then we went through each person’s name and shouted out their initials. So not only did they have treats, but we taught them a new trick.

This is a picture of the punch we had at the party. It had a hand in it. Fun.

+Continue Reading