Post Tagged with: "cool"

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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Advice from a young author: Dare to suck

Do you have a kid you’re trying to encourage to write more?

Is your kid discouraged because she’s worried that her writing isn’t good enough?

Here’s some great advice from a young author, Maureen Johnson, who is currently working on her 10th novel for teens.

She will tell your kid (in her own inimitable way) that in order to write well, first you need to suck. (3:56 but it goes fast.)

Here’s a link to Maureen’s website.

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TDSB writing contest – win a laptop!

TDSB Prize pack for writing contest 2011.It’s time to get writing again – and here’s a wonderful incentive for kids in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).

Write 150 to 250 words about what you’re most looking forward to this school year.

And you could win a Dell Inspiron Duo Laptop (value $550) or a backpack full of back-to-school stuff including a Kobo reader and a digital camera (value: $400).

Here’s the link to the contest where you’ll find all the details.

The contest is open to TDSB students, kindergarten to Grade 12. Four winners will be chosen (two elementary and two secondary). Winners will be judged on originality, style and overall impression.

Email your entry to before Friday, Sept. 16, 2011.
Include your full name, student ID number, grade and school.

So… get writing, and good luck!



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How a pencil can help your child become a writer

Palomino Blackwing pencils in a boxI have a theory that a really great pencil might get your kid to do more writing.

Now, hear me out. (And let me assure you right now this isn’t an ad and I’m not being paid by anyone.)

I’m not just talking about a pretty pencil. It’s not some “normal” pencil with a fancy topper. It’s not sparkly and it doesn’t write in three colours. I’m talking about a pencil that is so special, so outrageously beautiful to use that it makes you want to keep writing and never stop.

To understand the Blackwing Palomino you have to go back a few years, to the 1990s when Eberhard-Faber stopped making them. (Those original Blackwings have sold on eBay for up to $40 each.) The Blackwing came back last year, produced by Cal Cedar. They did extensive research to figure out how to reproduce, as closely as possible, the pencil that Eberhard-Faber used to make.

I purchased a box from after reading this review on

Now here’s my review… and the reason why the Blackwing is the only pencil I will ever use… and the reason I never let my Blackwings out of my sight… and the reason I think that giving one to your kid will actually help his schoolwork.

The first thing you’ll notice is the cool, white, square-topped flat eraser. It is armoured in a shiny golden ferrule. You can pull up the eraser to extend it as you use it – or you can replace it altogether. The pencil itself is matte black, accented with a band of gold just below the eraser.

Then there’s the feel of the pencil in your hand. It’s soft and smooth, almost warm to the touch. You want to caress its perfect octagonal sides. You do.

But the best thing about the Blackwing is the way it writes. As the graphite glides along the surface of your page it lays down a fine, soft, black trail. If you’ve ever written with a stick in hard moist sand on a fine beach, you’ll know something about how this feels. There is a satisfying friction as the lead glides over the page, tracking its lines along your paper.

It is a soft, warm, smooth writing experience. Easy to erase, and to write and to smudge. It is an artist’s experience, but it is just as much a writer’s experience, or a mathematician’s. Or a kid’s.

On you can also buy one of the finest (cheap) pencil sharpeners you will ever use, and this I recommend for the Blackwing. It uses a two-step process; one hole cuts away the wood from the lead and the second one sharpens the lead itself. And there will be a great deal of sharpening with the Blackwing. The smooth, lazy writing experience comes at a price–you will have to sharpen often and well because the graphite is so soft.Two-holed pencil sharpener, called KUM

But it will be worth it.

A non-disclosure: I don’t work for Blackwing, nor did I get anything from other than a box of Blackwing 602 pencils, which are not the ones I have reviewed above. (The 602 is also a superb pencil; it is grey matte with a black eraser. It lays down less graphite and doesn’t need as much sharpening and for that reason some people say that the Blackwing is for artists and the 602 is for writers. But I am a writer, and I heartily disagree. Take back my 602s and replace them with more Blackwings, I say.)

In a media release from Blackwing, I see that they’re coming out with a line of premium notebooks in September. If they’re one iota as satisfying as the Blackwings that are meant to write on them, I’ll be rushing to get one.

Palomino Blackwing 602

Palomino Blackwing 602



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langman: great Internet game that encourages wordpower


Here at GKR we’re always looking for cool literacy games.

Cool + literacy? Not the easiest combo.

Nevertheless, we’ve found you one. This game is retro, so you know it’s cool. (For future reference: if it looks like something we would have played in the 70s, it’s cool. Just so ya know.)

langman is hangman plus… well, something starting with an l. Basically it’s hangman with a platform gaming element.

(Update: Here’s a link to langman on the game-review website, Kongregate.)

Instead of just typing in the letters you want to guess like regular online hangman, you steer a little guy over to the letter using your keypad. If you guess wrong, the letter drops into space and tries to take you with it. As you proceed in the game, it becomes more difficult to reach the letters you want. There’s a lot of hopping and running and leaping. (Maybe the l is for leaping?)

The little man ends up in all sorts of difficulties, like having a big block fall on the letter he wants to select and having to figure out how to move the thing. If you guess wrong too many times you could be left with vast craters which become unjumpable (which is what the R-reset button is for.)

langman was created by Ehren von Lehe , who was nice enough to send us these great screen shots. He wants you to know that you can also customize the words the game uses, adding in some of your own. I think you hit “E” to get into the level editor to do that – but frankly that would require someone more technologically oriented than me… like, say, your kid? (I tried to add Harry Potter and Dr. Seuss but then I got confused and then scared and then I bailed before I saved it properly. I’m sure your kid will do a lot better than me.) * See Update, below.

langman - customize the vocabulary

If you want, you (or your kid) can customize the vocabulary langman uses.

In order to play the game you have to download Unity, which is similar to Flash. At first I balked, but I think Unity is becoming quite popular (von Lehe points out that some big online games like Lego and Star Wars use it). Plus, my Norton program told me it was safe and I always listen to Mr. Norton.

As a literacy tool, it’s not bad. The real draw is that it’s fun and cool enough to keep kids engaged so if they want to play on the computer but you’d like them to do something that challenges their brain, langman may just be that happy medium you’re both looking for.

Thanks to Bart Bonte for pointing us towards langman.

*Update from Ehren von Lehe
To customize the vocabulary:
1. From the main menu, press E.
2. Delete all the text in the “Levels” text box. (This will cause it to just use the default levels.)
3. Enter your custom words and phrases in the Vocabulary text box.
4. Press the “New Game” button.

Viola! You’re now playing the game with your custom vocabulary.
If you want to change something, just press E to get back to the editor.

Thanks, Ehren!

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