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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Donate your gently used children’s books

Give the gift of reading.

Your child is surrounded by books, but just doesn’t want to read. (Don’t worry – we’re working on that.) In Toronto, there are thousands of kids who love to read, but can’t afford books of their own.

Fortunately, the Children’s Book Bank gives free books to children who otherwise wouldn’t have their own.

If you’ve been reading this blog regularly, you know about the correlation between children who are surrounded by books, and children who excel at school. It’s very important for children to have books they can take home, read in bed, and enjoy at their leisure. Books they never have to give back to the library.

The Children’s Book Bank is a non-profit organization that gives low-income kids a great space in which to browse for nice books, free story readings, and a book they can keep.

*Drop off gently used or new books at The Children’s Book Bank at 350 Berkeley St. at Gerrard, just west of Parliament (10-6 Tuesdays to Thursdays; Saturdays 10-2).
*Ask your friends to donate books as well.
*Donate money to the Children’s Book Bank.
*If you happen to know me personally (lucky you!), give me your gently used children’s books and I’ll take them down to the Book Bank.

It breaks my heart to think about children in this we-have-so-much city not being able to afford a book.
Breaks. My. Heart.
So I am organizing a book drive. You can give me your used children’s books and I”ll take them down to the Book Bank. Post here and I’ll contact you, or e-mail me.
For more information about the Book Bank, read this excellent article that appeared in The Toronto Star.
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What are kids into these days?

I spent last week helping to staff a fundraising book fair for my son’s school.

It was a great way to get a sense of what the kids are interested in these days. By far, the book that flew off the shelves the fastest was Diary of a Wimpy Kid (grade 5-6). We literally could not keep it in stock.

For the grade 5-6 girls, it was Twilight, of course. The books seem to be invoking a better response than the recently released movie.

The grade 2-5 boys were interested in books about, or featuring, Pokemon and Bakugon. Any books to do with video games, especially the Wii, were hits (although not necessarily with the parents). Also popular with grades 2-5 were books about science and history, archeology and dinosaurs. Books with “facts.”
Many of the grade 2-3 girls gravitated to books featuring pets, ponies and Hannah Montana.

A big surprise for me was how popular the Canadian section was. The book Passchendaele, and books about Canadians at war were really popular (grades 4-6). Those kids also liked the Bone series and a book called Schooled by Gordon Korman (he was my favourite author when I was a kid).

And of course, Knuffle Bunny and Scaredy Squirrel were big hits with little brothers and sisters (pre-school and kindergarten).

The book fair was all Scholastic books, which meant that some of the money we raised went to buy books for the school, which is great. However, it means that this list is specific to Scholastic books – that’s still a pretty wide range. But still.

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More superheroes

Eliot Jones, Midnight Superhero.

Awhile ago, I posted about four great books that have the best of comics (superheroes, action) and the best of books (age appropriate, no violence). Here’s another one that looks really good.
Eliot Jones, Midnight Superhero is about a boy who is just a normal kid during the day, but at night turns into a superhero, taming lions and chasing meteors. It’s got a great cover – why don’t more books use metallics?

I found another book with a superhero – Max The Mighty Superhero. I don’t know much about it, but if you click the link for it you can read some very positive parent reviews. I read the first couple of pages and it’s delightfully written.
In another book, Max is a movie director. I love it when authors produce books in a series, because when your kids get attached to a character, it’s nice for them to be able to keep reading about that character.
Sorry if you tried to “Click to LOOK INSIDE!” – I borrowed this image from the website. Can I help it if they like to discourage borrowing by covering their books with writing? Also, I realize you can’t tell from this picture, but on the cover of the Eliot Jones book all the stars are metallic. Cool.
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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.

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