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.

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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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Treating books with kindness

This goes along with my last post, about considering books as a “treasure.”

Once you think of books that way, you can’t help but have a certain reverence for them and this in turn reinforces the idea that they contain something valuable. Accordingly, I don’t allow books on the floor, or to be thrown or stepped on. That’s just not cool in our house.

Understandably, books get torn and damaged through everyday use – that’s different. When they do get banged up, they’re repaired as soon as possible. I don’t make anyone feel bad about accidentally damaging a book, because if you feel you have to pussy-foot around books you’ll be afraid to open them.

But really, you don’t step on a treasure chest – you open it. And you savour the treasure.

How did I get my son to treat his books kindly? When I walk in his room and there’s a book on the floor, I gasp. I say, “There’s a book on the floor!” as if I just can’t believe it. (And I kind of can’t.) He got the message early on, and now he doesn’t like to see a book mistreated either.

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A book is a treasure chest

When I see a book, I think of it as a “treasure chest.”

The person who opens the cover will discover infinite possibilities – excitement, emotion, great characters, facts, new ideas! When I leave a book on my son’s bed for him to “find,” it’s like I’m leaving him buried treasure.

Sometimes I’ll sweeten the pot a little. As I put the book down I’ll say, “Hmph, I never knew that was the largest land animal! It’s all in there.” And then I’ll walk out of the room, leaving him alone with this – treasure – to find.

Consider how different “books contain treasure” is from “reading is hard work.” Who wants to open a book if it’s going to mean work? Who doesn’t want to open a treasure chest?!

An attitude shift from the parent is often all that’s needed to elicit a big change in the child. Change the way you think about books, and so will your child.

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So your kid loves superheroes? No problem.

When is a comic not a comic? When it’s a book.

I have nothing against comic books, except that sometimes they can be a bit violent and they’re not always terribly well-written. Fortunately, there is a healthier alternative.

These books have superheroes and illustrations like comic books, but they’re non-violent and the vocabulary is age-appropriate.

Perfect Man – Michael Maxwell McAllum suspects that his teacher is Perfect Man’s alter ego. A heartwarming book with a wonderful ending. My favourite.

Atomic Ace (He’s Just My Dad) – Atomic Ace misses his son’s recital because he’s battling crime. Even superhero dads mess up. The main text is written as a poem; the illustrations are very similar to a comic book.

Max – Born into a legendary family of superheroes, will little Max ever develop superpowers? The illustrations, and the characters, are cute and endearing.

Superhero ABC – From Astro-Man is always alert for an alien attack, to The Zinger zanily zigzags through the zero zone. Author Bob Mcleod illustrated Spiderman and Superman comics before this.

There’s also Atomic Ace and the Robot Rampage, which is also excellent but might be a bit scary for younger readers. If you know of any other superhero books like these, please let me know.

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Why I love the library: Part I

There are so many great ways to enjoy the library.

This post is the first of many, as I share with you a love of libraries. Being enthusiastic about libraries rubs off on children, and the library can become a place where kids feel comfortable and empowered.

When my son was about three years old, I was, like many new mothers, exhausted. I wanted to go to the library, but how? My son didn’t want to go (and I didn’t need a war on my hands), and I knew that it would just end up being work for me, as I reshelved the books he got down – never mind finding time to browse.

Here’s how I solved it. The library has computers! And they have a half-hour time limit. So I would tell my son, “Let’s go to the library.” (Screaming, whining.) “You can use the computer for a little while.” (Zoooom! – coat on, shoes on.)

He always understood that when the computer shut off, that was it, time to go – I never gave him “another” half-hour. During that 30 minutes, I could browse the children’s books to my heart’s content. He would go on the very kid-friendly and educational TVO website. The added bonus was that he got to use a computer – but not mine.

And after the library computer shut off, I would let him pick out some books, and we would check them out together. He got familiar with the people and the layout of the library, and began to understand how it all worked and to feel like it could be his place, too.

We also do a ton of other things at the library, so there’s not much danger of my son seeing the library only as his “computer arcade.” Still, I respect other parents’ views on computers and not allowing their kids to use them until they’re older. I’m just saying this was something that worked for me. I welcome your comments!

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