Post Tagged with: "learning theory"

Stuffed letters are great for literacy

Letters for GabbyMy picture book, Gabby, is coming out this September.

I’m excited! The illustrations are by Jan Dolby and it’s published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside.

I’ll be doing some readings in schools, book stores and at Word On The Street to publicize the book.

I sewed and stuffed some fabric letters to use during the readings. It occurred to me that letters like this are also great for new readers, since they can hold them and make words out of them. Making letters and words tactile for kids is a terrific way to get them reading.

There are lots of ways you can do this without making your own fabric letters (trust me, it’s a lot of work). You can use Scrabble tiles, foam letters from the dollar store, letter dice from a game like Jr. Boggle or Alphabet Scoop, or you can cut out letters or words from magazines.

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Keeping kids reading all summer

dock sepia; Image: kiwiowner, Wikimedia Commons

Image: kiwiowner, Wikimedia Commons

Studies show that kids who read during the summer jump back into school with a head-start.

Kids who take the summer off (reading, that is), often tend to find September a bit of a struggle.

So for all kinds of reasons, it’s good to keep your kid reading during the summer.

Some of my best memories are of going to the tiny library near our cottage and loading up with a week’s worth of books.

But what if your kid isn’t a super-voracious reader?

Here are some tips:

* See if your library has a summer reading program. Here’s an example. They typically bundle reading incentives into the program – it works! And if you live in Canada, here’s a link to TD’s summer reading club.

* Plan on a quick trip to the library at least once a week. Even if your kid takes out one book, it’s worth it.

* Use books on CD (or MP3) to replace TV time.

* An ebook by the dock? Why not? (Just don’t drop the Kindle in the water…)

* Outdoor time can be reading time. Check out this outdoor literacy suggestion for active kids.

* Alternative reading material counts! Comic books, magazines, ebooks, books on CD… all better than mind-numbing video games.

* Buy your child a book, wrap it up, and hide in in their bed as a bedtime surprise. It’s not a school night, so sure you can stay up and read for a while longer!

* If you’re really serious about breaking some rules for a good cause, include a flashlight with the book you give your child. They’ll figure out pretty quickly that it’s fun to “fool your parents” into thinking you’re sleeping, when you’re really reading in bed with a flashlight. (Of course, you’re one step ahead of them.)

 

 

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Why you should “do philosophy” with your kids

Metaphysics Amy Leask booksAmy Leask believes that the best and most interesting philosophers are kids.

They tend to ask the “big questions” like: Where did I come from? Why is this good and that’s bad? And, “Why can’t I have another piece of cake?”

What is philosophy?

The word “Philosophy” comes from the Greek words Philos (love) and Sophia (wisdom).  In other words, philosophy is the love of wisdom.  It’s the practice of asking very big questions, ones that often have more than one possible answer, or no clear answers at all.

Leask has written a series of books that help kids learn philosophy in a fun, simple and understandable way.

Her series of books covers: Metaphysics (“What is all this stuff?”); Aesthetics (“Gee, that’s pretty!”); Epistemology (“How do you know what you know?”) and other big-question topics. There’s also an introductory book to get you and your kids started.

Amy says it better than I ever could, so click on the video below to listen to her explain why kids should “do philosophy” —

Check out the website for the books, which includes activities for kids.

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World Read-Aloud Day is Wed., March 7

wrad2012badgeIt’s very important to read to your child.

In fact, we consider it one of the top three most important things you can do to help your kid develop a love of reading.

Every day – but especially on Wed., March 7 – take the time to read to your child.

Or even someone else’s. Or a bunch of kids. There’s no downside – and a huge upside.

More information on WRAD here.

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Help your child understand what he’s reading

Chocolate_chip_cookies; photo by Dan Smith, Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Dan Smith, Wikimedia Commons

I was talking to a mom today about a child who is having some trouble with reading comprehension. In other words, he reads a paragraph and has trouble understanding and summarizing what he’s just read.

He also isn’t reading a lot—possibly he doesn’t enjoy reading because of his difficulties with comprehension.

There are lots of fun activities to help with that and here are a few that I suggested.

1) Take a newspaper and turn to an interesting story. Reading just the headline and looking at the pictures, ask him what he thinks the news story will be about. If he’s having trouble, get him to identify and circle the verbs in the headline and/or the nouns. Use those key words as “hints” as to what the article will be about.

Make sure you pick a headline that’s not too convoluted, and that’s about something interesting for him. If he likes sports, turn to a sports story. (Our sister website, TeachingKidsNews has hundreds of kid-friendly news articles and headlines.)

2) Ask your child to tell you about a video game he likes to play or movie he just saw. Ask him a specific question about it, that encourages him to explain it—for instance, “what scene in the movie made you laugh out loud?” or, “what powers does the main character in the video game have?”

This is part of a process known as “retelling.” Gradually, you can build the activity to the point where he’s retelling the whole movie or video game.

Incidentally, if you’ve got a super active kid, walk around outside with him while having this conversation. Sometimes a kid thinks better when his body is moving. (You’re not his teacher—you don’t have to confine your interactions to a classroom or a desk!)

3) Do a simple recipe together. Bake some chocolate chip cookies (after you’ve simplified the recipe and made it easy to read). While the cookies are in the oven, get him to describe what you did to make the cookies. “First, we melted the butter…” Don’t worry if he misses steps or goes into too much, or too little, detail.

Just have him hit the highlights: We mixed the ingredients together, put it in the oven and baked the cookies. That gives you something to work with; you can fine-tune his retelling skills with questions like, “wasn’t there something before we put them in the oven? Didn’t we have to scoop something?”

Of course, watch for his cues to make sure he isn’t getting frustrated. If he’s done with the whole exercise, then just go and have a cookie together. He’ll get better at it over time.

4) Try a story-building game like GROSS-ABULARY (we just did a review on this terrific game) or Rory’s Story Cubes (we’re about to review it in the next week or so, but if you’re interested now, here’s a link to their website).

5) Write a three-sentence story on a long piece of paper. Make sure it has a beginning, a middle and an end. For instance:

We went to the zoo. We saw some monkeys. The monkey tried to steal my ice cream cone.

This activity can work for older kids as well:

Obi-Wan was driving past a Stormtrooper with C3PO and R2D2. He used a Jedi mind-trick to convince the Stormtrooper, “these are not the droids you’re looking for.” The Stormtrooper let them pass.

Cut the sentences apart and mix them up; have him put the sentences back in the right order. If that’s too easy, take two stories and mix all six sentences up. Have him sort them into individual stories and then put them in the right ordeuKloo scavenger hunt gamer.

6) Reading comprehension can bring instant rewards. Play a game in which reading and understanding what you’ve read brings a quick and fun reward. For instance, give him a paragraph that says something like, “If you look in your shoe by the front door, you will find a clue.” Then, in his shoe hide a second instruction, “Look under the sink for your next instructions.” And of course under the sink there’s another clue. Do as many or as few as you think he’ll enjoy… the last one is accompanied by a treat like a small present or a Hershey’s Kiss.

If you’d rather not create your own scavenger hunt, UKloo is a wonderful scavenger hunt that’s all ready to go. Here’s my review of this excellent game.

Two more things you need to know: First, I’m baking cookies as I write this post, so my whole house smells like literacy. Yum. And second, you know that I don’t get paid by any companies to endorse products, right? I’m just always on the lookout for excellent literacy games and toys. And I find ‘em, oh yes, I find ‘em!

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Bubbles are fragile things

bubble-pin; image at http://techcrunch.com/2011/03/01/angel-turned-vc-mike-maples-yes-theres-a-bubble/I resolve not to burst my kid’s bubble.

I’ve been noticing lately that kids are subjected to a lot of scolding.

The problem with scolding is that it can so easily be the cold bucket of water that douses the flames of creativity.

Here’s what I mean.

Kid: “Hey mom, flies spit stuff on their food that makes it dissolve!”
(This kid is excited, he’s sparkling, he’s on fire, beautiful bubbles are rising from his brain.)

Mom: “Wow, that’s cool!”
(The mom is kind of grossed out, but wants to share her kid’s excitement.)

She continues:
Mom: “Where did you learn that?

Kid: “This really cool comic book called Zombies And Things That Kill. It’s so cool—”

Mom: “Where did you get that comic book? You know you’re not allowed to have comics with violence in them!”

Pop!

The mom just wants to be a good mom. She wants to uphold the rules she’s laid down for her family. She doesn’t mean to burst anyone’s bubble. But there it is.

The kid’s excitement is gone. Now he’s a “bad kid” because he broke a rule. Now, instead of going back to reading—or reading something else—reading has pretty much been ruined for him today. Hopefully only for today.

And the moment he was about to share with his mom, that fragile beautiful thing, has been ruined as well.

I scold, of course I do. We all scold from time to time. But from now on before I scold, or even get the urge to scold, I’m going to look for the bubble and make sure I’m not the one to burst it before it can even be enjoyed.

By the way, this bubble isn’t the “reading bubble.” That’s another beautiful bubble that we don’t want to shred. Apparently I’m a bit light on new metaphors. Read about the reading bubble here.

And while you’re at it, check out this thoughtful blog post on a similar subject, over at Storytiming.

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Remarkable research on kids’ ability to self-instruct

Sugata Mitra's hole-in-the-wall experiment; some children using a computer embedded into a wall.

Image: D.Salhundi, Karnatak, India

Here’s why we say you should “scatter books around the house.”

I want you to watch this exciting speech by Sugata Mitra on TED.com that illustrates the extent to which kids can teach themselves.

Through his “Hole in the Wall” project he conducted a series of experiments in 1999. He went to a slum in New Delhi, India and secured computers, hooked up to the Internet, into a wall so they could be used. And then he left.

The kids there had never used a computer before. And, the computer was completely in English—a language the kids didn’t speak or understand.

Within eight hours, an eight-year-old boy was not only surfing the Internet, but he was teaching a six-year-old friend how to browse.

The kids taught themselves how to use the PC, and the Internet—in English—and they began teaching each other.

He conducted the many more experiments which supported his theory that when they’re left alone, with the right resources, children are able to self-instruct to an incredible degree.

So how does this apply to literacy? It’s simple: Scatter books around your house. Put a book on his bed. Put a book in the bathroom. Leave a book poking out from under his dresser. Leave a book on the kitchen table.

If you leave a kid alone with a good book, he will pick up the book and start flipping through it. Soon, he will become interested in it. He will read.

Here is the speech (it gets really interesting at about 7:33).

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Give your kid more – he can handle it

A boy, thinking about something in front of him.

Every new mom knows that her baby understands more than he can say. You say to a baby, “milk!” and that baby brightens right up. Long before he can speak, he understands.

That amazing, ahead-of-the-curve process never stops, as long as kids are constantly challenged with new ideas and offered the chance to learn new skills.

I’m not advocating French flash cards for infants or War and Peace for a toddler. But I am saying that our kids can handle more than we think.

Last year I brought newspapers into a grade three classroom – so the kids were eight years old. Every week we discussed a couple of ongoing stories. What were the kids most interested and engaged in? The G20 summit. The G8, and how it differed from the G20. How the oil spill off the coast of Mexico was going to be capped. New species of animals that were being discovered.

Those were their favourite topics. And we didn’t just skim the surface, we talked about real stuff. Like how the CEO of British Petroleum wasn’t being honest. And then later how he got fired… well, reassigned.

They were interested in the nuances. They made connections between the “adult” world and their own world. They thought of solutions. They rejected some of their solutions and thought of new ones. And they went home and discussed the G20 and the oil spill with their parents. Some parents told me they’d even taught them some things about the issues. The kids also learned the importance – and reward – of knowing what’s happening in the world through news and discussion.

Kids can handle more than we think.

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