Post Tagged with: "reading 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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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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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, TeachingKidsNews.com, 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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Picture is worth 1,000 words to a toddler

The Crown On Your Head, by Nancy Tillman

A beautiful illustration from The Crown On Your Head, by Nancy Tillman

To a pre-reader, words aren’t the main attraction.

As a parent, you can read the words to your child sometimes… and then other times, don’t be afraid to ignore the words.

You can go through an entire picture book with your toddler, pointing to the pictures and talking about them.

Identify the colours. Name some of the items in the picture. Ask her, “what do you see?” or “what’s that?” Let her point something out. (Make a big deal out of it when she does.)

Going through a picture book this way can also help to prevent some of the parent burnout that can come with reading the same picture book over and over with your child.

I recently came across a picture book whose pictures I absolutely adore… but I wasn’t that taken with the words.

It’s called The Crown On Your Head, by Nancy Tillman. It’s got a great premise, too – it talks about a “crown” each of us is born with, that we wear all our lives. The “crown” signifies that we are important and special.

The book’s message about self-esteem and equality is lovely, and the illustrations are rich and luscious.

It’s a book parents could look at with a baby or a toddler and they wouldn’t necessarily even have to read the words. You could use the premise, point to the crowns on each page, and talk about how your child is special, too. And how we all have a crown, how each person is wearing one and it means that everyone can shine. So nice.

Thank you to Maile Carpenter for inspiring this blog post.

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Literacy opportunities are everywhere

Mandarin oranges signYou don’t always need books to help your kid read better.

When my son and I go for a walk, there’s always something weird, funny or unintelligible to read, correct or figure out.

Example. We went on vacation and on the buffet we saw this sign. (Click on the picture for a larger image.) I called my son over and showed it to him – I didn’t say anything. He said, “hey,  that should be Mandarin!” And together, we showed the buffet lady and we all laughed about it.*

It was a great opportunity to get a bit playful with words, while at the same time showing my son the way to approach typos (and the people who make ‘em) - while it can be helpful to point out someone’s typo,  it’s not cool to be judgmental or become some kind of self-appointed “grammar cop.”

Another time we were playing some miniature golf. As you go around the course, sometimes you have to wait for others to finish their hole. Rather than just wait, I would point to a sign and ask my son to rearrange the letters in the sign to form new words.

OK, it sounds nerdy, but it’s actually a pretty funny game because you wouldn’t believe some of the stuff kids come up with! There are no “rules” to the game – you can use all the letters, or just some of the letters – you can even add some letters if you see a phrase you’d like to create.Mini golf sign

The idea is just to take signs that you otherwise might not pay any attention to, and create new meaning from them

The next time you’re out with your kid, even if it’s just walking to school, take a look around you at all the reading possibilities. Every little bit helps.

*If you have a kid like mine, you’ll know immediately why a sign that says “mandrain” is hilarious. Even the buffet lady thought that one was funny – and then she immediately removed the sign.

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Five minutes to bridge the racial achievement gap

Choke by Sian BeilockI’ve been reading this book – Choke. (Because I tend to choke at tennis, that’s why.)

But it’s got some really interesting things to say that will help your kid with test anxiety.

Researchers were studying what happens to African-Americans, for instance, who experience racism throughout their life. These students can have something called “stereotype threat,” which is where students “underperform relative to their potential merely because these students feel discouraged about their ability to succeed.”

They may underperform simply because they are aware of stereotypes about their sex, race or ethnic group that pertain to intelligence.

Researchers wanted to see if they could intervene to subvert the “racial achievement gap” in a school in the Northeastern U.S.

What they did was simple, and brilliant – and it could be done with your child, whether or not he underperforms currently, whether or not he is a minority.

They had half the students respond to a question asking them what their most important value was, and write a brief paragraph explaining why it was important. In the second group – a control group – they had students write about their least important value.

At the end of the school year, they compared the kids. The ones who had – just once in the year, remember – taken the time to consider and think about, and write about, their most important value did better than the other students. The researchers later repeated the experiment, with the same results.

What happened? The students had written about qualities that were important to them. This enhanced their self-worth, even in the face of negative racial stereotypes. It created a “buffer against negative expectations and their consequences,” says the author of Choke, Sean Beilock.

Students who thought about their own good qualities, the things they value, did better at school because they reminded themselves that they could.

It seems that writing is key here. The kids have to take five minutes or so and write down their thoughts about their most important value. And not only did they perform better on that one test, in that one semester, but the research suggests there has been a life-long benefit for many of them.

If your kid says “I can’t do it,” help him remember that in fact, he can.

And by the way, just this afternoon I tried it before I got on the tennis court… 6-2, thank you very much!

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Literacy Lava newsletter has great tips

Literacy Lava 8, coverThe new edition of Literacy Lava, a free e-zine for parents with great literacy articles and ideas, is now available.

You can download the .pdf from The Book Chook, here.

I’ve got an article in it, and there are lots of other great articles including:
* Writing tips for kids;
* Story-telling;
* Literacy tips – what works (that’s my article);
* Tips for reading aloud;
* A book club for preschoolers:
* Creativity tips; and
* much more.

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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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