Post Tagged with: "successes"

Baseball books for a baseball kid

Baseball books for a baseball kidMy son had run out of books. Already read the new Rick Riordan. Finished his school-assigned books. Bored of reading.

I needed to rekindle his interest in reading, but how?

I looked to his main hobby–nay, obsession–baseball.

I’d already done something I thought was pretty darned clever. I found a couple of novels written by former baseball player Cal Ripken Jr. (Super-sized Slugger and Hothead). My son loved them because not only were the protagonists his age and baseball players, but the novel was written by a baseball player so it was authentic. It spoke his language.

He read them and loved them. But after that, I was tapped out.

So I went to the library and asked the librarian if she knew any baseball novels.

She did. In fact, one of her favourite books as a young girl was E. L. Konigsburg’s About The B’nai Bagels. It’s the story of a kid whose mother ends up being his baseball team’s manager. (Awwwkward.)

She put that one one hold for me and while it was working its way toward my library branch, she ferretted out a couple more: Haunting at Home Plate by David Patneaude and Throwing Smoke by Bruce Brooks.

My son loved them!

So there’s the idea for you. Think about your kid’s hobbies and then talk to a librarian. It can be kind of hard to Google these things, because you’ll get all manner of how-to books, instructionals… but those librarians, man, they know stuff. Tell them what your kid’s into and before you know it she’ll find you something amazing.

That’s what happened for me.


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Fun, active (and profitable!) literacy game

Dollar_sign_(reflective_metallic); from Wikimedia CommonsMy niece told me about a game that her friend’s mom used to set up to get her kids more interested in reading.

She would scatter letters around the room. Each letter had a price on it.

“Easier” letters like E might be worth a penny or five cents, whereas “harder” letters like Q or Z might be worth a quarter.

(Are you seeing where this is going?)

The kids would run around the room, collecting the letters; they would then put them together into words or phrases.

Then they’d add up the “money” they’d earned and… cash them in, using their parents as the bankers.

My niece said the game succeeded in making her friend much more interested in words and in reading.

And, presumably, in banking.

Here’s another case in which a mom successfully bribed her daughter into reading.

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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 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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How to build reading success

Could this be Snappy the mouse?
Well, no, I made him up.
But if there was a mouse named Snappy,
this would be him. In a bi-plane.
Image: by Dvortygirl.

Here’s a great way to help your child succeed at reading and at the same time develop a love of books… and it starts with one word.

When you’re reading with your child, point out a word or two and help him to memorize it. Every time the child reads that word—and can read that word—he’ll feel successful. And that’s when you praise the heck out of him.

Here’s how it would look
ME: This is a book about a mouse named Snappy. Look at that name, “Snappy.” See the big S at the front? It’s like a snake, isn’t it? How many letters does Snappy’s name have—let’s count them. Six! What else does Snappy’s name have?

KID: Two of these letters. (pointing).

ME: That’s right! Snappy’s name has two ps! And do you know this letter? (Pointing to the y.)

OK, so now the child will recognize that if there’s a word with two ps and a capital S and a y, it’s likely to be “Snappy.”

You’ve shifted his focus from all of the grey text in the book, to looking for just one little word. And you’ve chosen a word that will come up a lot in the book, so there will be lots of successes.

And now as you’re reading out loud, pause whenever the word “Snappy” is in the text. And you know who’s going to read that word? (Right!) The kid.

The first couple of times you’ll pause and point to the word, and maybe point out the capital S and the ps with your finger. And then look pointedly at the child, as if waiting… for… him… to… say…

KID: Snappy!

ME: Good one! That’s right! There’s that word: Snappy! Nice job. I wonder if it’s in here again…

And sure enough, the second time you pause, he’ll notice the capital S and call out, “Snappy!” And you’ll both be delighted. And the next time it will happen faster, and the next time you won’t even have to pause at all.

It will become seamless, like this:

ME: One day when (child: Snappy!) was in his bedroom, his mother called to him. (child: Snappy!) she called. Oh, (child: Snappy!). Come down and eat your dinner!

And then later in the week, the child will see the word in some other context, in another book or in an ad (Snapple) and he’ll be so proud that he knows that word.
Is he sounding out the word using phonics? No, he’s memorizing it by its shape and a couple of cues. And memorizing is an important part of learning to read, especially in the beginning.
But more than that, your child has taken ownership of a word. He’s taken ownership of a book with “his” word in it. He has learned that he can read something, and he’s been successful.

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Teen says reading helped save him

Haille Bailey-Harris is an amazing teenager.
His mom helped him get on the right path,
in part by nurturing his love of reading.

An incredible success story

In the Globe and Mail‘s coverage of “boys and education” this week, a very moving column by a boy named Haille Bailey-Harris caught my attention.

He’s a 16-year-old high school student, and he’s determined not to become one of the statistics the Globe has been writing about – boys who don’t do well in school and don’t go on to university.

He’s an amazing kid. Just Googling him for this article uncovers a whole series of articles he’s had published in major newspapers. Clearly, he has brains, initiative and goals (including arguing a case before the Supreme Court and publishing a book). I have no doubt he will achieve his goals.

However, it wasn’t always like that. The deck was stacked against him from day one. He hasn’t seen his father in 10 years – he’s being raised by his mother alone; he’s an avid video gamer; and he’s dark-skinned. He was bullied in school, full of anger and got into lots of trouble.

As he says in his column, “according to the research, I should be failing in school, a non-reader and basically a loser… hell, I should just throw in the towel!”

Instead, his mother intervened. She developed a plan with his school’s principal, and it worked.

I’ll direct you to his beautifully written Globe column for the whole story, but basically, here’s the plan that worked for him:

1) Find other role models. Teachers, relatives – both male and female.

2) Create a community family. For instance, Big Brothers and Big Sisters provided him with a mentor.

3) Nurture a love of reading. “Instead of banning me from video games, my mom got me games that also required me to read (like Pokemon) and encouraged me to get books (even comics) that interested me. Gradually, I wanted to read books and, eventually, I wanted to read everything, all the time.”

4) Do community service. He and his mom volunteer at the public library and a homeless shelter.

His “battle plan,” as he calls it, helped him realize that he had potential, “as do all children, no matter what the circumstances.” He tried harder in school, found better friends and, “suddenly, before I realized it, my life was right-side up.”

Now that’s a great success story.

The column Haille wrote touches on a couple of themes that I’ve been espousing for a long time. First, that parents can offset poor schooling, bad teachers, lack of resources and just about any obstacle that stands between a kid and the love of reading. Parents can accomplish just about anything. And second, that no matter what a boy wants to read – embrace it! Haille was reading Pokemon video games, for crying out loud. He says he’s now “a happy, well-adjusted 16-year-old who really loves to read.” Lots of people say that boys need to choose their literature carefully and shouldn’t read “just anything.” Haille and I disagree.

I couldn’t find a copyright-free picture of Haille Bailey-Harris and I wanted to show you what he looks like, because this is his story. Haille, if you object to me using this photo (which I found on then let me know and I’ll take it down. But I hope you don’t – because people need to know you.

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Keeping kids reading

My son reads a lot.

Erm… well, he used to.

It appears that I’ve been resting on some laurels that have deserted me while I was looking the other way. (To use an overly complicated metaphor.)

Over the summer, I started to notice that my son has been playing more video games and going to bed later and reading less and less.

What got me thinking about it was a book I picked up recently that had a chapter entitled, “Good readers: How to keep your child reading.”

I realized that I have been assuming that once he became a good reader, my son would always turn to books. And now I think that isn’t necessarily the case. The bond between a boy and his books might actually be more tenuous than I thought.

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that lately video games, baseball and TV have been winning – and books are going unread. Like, for weeks.

So here’s what I did. First of all, I started reinforcing a more normal bedtime. I told my son when he has to be “in bed,” and when he has to be “asleep.” There’s a half-hour difference in those times – and that’s for reading. So he goes to bed before he’s completely exhausted and then he gets half an hour to read.

Next, I asked him why he’s not enjoying reading. It turns out he been waiting for the next book in the series he’s working on (Macdonald Hall by Gordon Korman). It was sold out at our local bookstore and no one had gotten it for him for his birthday. So he’s been waiting.

We could have ordered it online, but when you only buy one book you have to pay shipping, so we tracked it down and then went really, really far to a bookstore that had it. And we bought it for him. All of that seemed a bit crazy at the time, but it paid off: he started reading the book in the car on the way home. Sha-zam!

The third thing I did was start reading to him at bedtime again. As he’d begun reading more and more by himself, I realized I’d been reading to him less and less frequently. My husband bought another book by Gordon Korman (Who is Bugs Potter?), and I started reading that to my son out loud – while he was in the bath. I took advantage of a captive audience, I admit it – but again, it worked. Who is Bugs Potter? is a pretty awesome book. (I’ll blog about it soon.)

It piqued his interest and now I’m happy to report that my son is reading again. A lot.

I figure we’re good until he runs out of the Macdonald Hall books and finishes Bugs Potter. So Rick Riordan, if you’re reading this, could you please hurry up and finish the next book in the Kane Series? Type, darn you! Type!

I’ve got tons of stuff I want to blog about in the upcoming weeks… great books. A few products I’ve ordered from Hasbro that look like they’d be great at promoting literacy. Some research I’ve been reading up on. The results from that study we all took part in. And I’m hoping for a few more articles by Julia. So stay tuned!

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Reading as a part-time job

  • January 28, 2010 at 9:55 am
  • Uncategorized

One mom found an interesting way to get her daughter reading.

She paid her.

I think that’s really interesting.

Now, as this mom told us about what she’d done, she cringed a little—she knew full well that bribery is not the best way to hook a kid on reading. She knew it was a short-term solution… a Hail Mary pass, if you will, when you’re really desperate.

But the intriguing thing is, it worked. Her daughter started reading. (I’m not sure if she’s still being paid to read or if she’s now reading on her own—I’ll find out and update you.)
Update: Yep, she’s become a reader! The mom said she originally paid her daughter $20 once to read a specific book. That incentive got her over the hump; the girl got through that book and carried on, reading the rest of the books in that series… and now she reads for her own enjoyment.

Another mom said that her kids are always clamouring for books when they visit a bookstore. Her solution? The kids buy the books out of their allowance, but she reimburses them for the book once they’ve read it.

Now, obviously she’s in a pretty positive situation; her kids already love books. But her idea about reimbursing them ensures that the books actually get read, rather than just sit on a shelf.

I’d like to know what you think about paying kids to read. Could it be a positive way to get kids into reading, when combined with other more sustainable activities—like reading to your child, letting them see you reading, and generally reinforcing the value of reading?

Or is bribery just out of the question, even if you’re super desperate? Should we take it out the equation altogether?

And lastly, if we say that paying a child to read might be OK… how much are we talkin’ about, here?

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Teaching long and short vowel sounds

  • October 23, 2009 at 7:34 am
  • Uncategorized

I’m going to be working with an eight-year-old to teach him long and short vowel sounds.

I know him fairly well, so I know he’s into Lego, and computers and art.

So I’ve come up with some activities that take advantage of those interests. I’m going to start by asking him (ahead of time) to make a big S and L from Lego. That will give us our categories – long and short vowels.

Then I’m going to bring some drawing materials and get him to draw, very quickly, the things I shout out – like, “Tree!” “Ball!” “Table!” “Snake!”

After every drawing, I’m going to have him put it under the Lego L or the Lego S, depending on whether its vowel is short or long. We’ll discuss each one as we go.

And at the end of it all, I’m going to teach him a “trick” about the silent “e” (how it makes vowels long) – and I’m hoping I’ll be able to bring a silent e made out of clear plastic.

Oh, and before we start, I’m going to talk to him about nicknames (he loves nicknames). I’m going to discuss how every vowel has a “name” and a “nickname.” In other words, the long sound that is the vowel’s name, and its short sound, that is its nickname.

I think that should be a good 20-minute first lesson, don’t you?

Update: The lesson went really well. He caught on really quickly. At first he didn’t want to do the lesson at all, but his parents persuaded him. After we chatted for about two minutes (mostly about Star Wars), he was fine with it, and even enthusiastic.

Used the walk over to my house to talk about “nicknames” for letters – boys learn best when they’re able to move their bodies at the same time. He got the concept immediately. Afterwards, instead of cookies, we played checkers. We’re both looking forward to next week.

I have to think of a reward, after the lesson’s done. Maybe we’ll play with the Lego. Yeah, who am I kidding – more likely I’ll bring cookies!
Oh, and that picture is Einstein built out of Lego (from Wikimedia Commons). Rather fitting, I thought, don’t you?

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GKR strategies at work

  • October 13, 2009 at 6:49 am
  • Uncategorized
  • 1 comment

Last month, I talked to a mom whose son wasn’t reading.

She was really distraught about it, and was searching for ways to get him interested in picking up a book.

I gave her some suggestions:
*Since her son is active, go for a walk and the read signs and ads outside.
*Let him play with a ball as you read to him.
*Scatter books around the house.
*Make reading its own reward – show him how he can find facts and interesting stuff in books.
*Offer him fact-filled books like the Guinness World Records.

And an e-mail I sent her:
I think the most important thing is to make reading have a pay-off for him – the act of reading will give him information he didn’t have. I used to give my son a book, and I’d say, “Oh, there’s something really cool in here about sharks’ teeth. You’ll see it – it’s on page 19.”
Then he reads it, and then comes down and tells me all about it. Pay-off.

That makes reading really sustainable for him.
It’s what will make him find solace in books, and intrigue, and excitement.
It’s what will make him a great reader.

I also told her that it thought her son was at about the norm for reading, for his age and grade level, and that she didn’t have to worry.

Here’s what she wrote me the other day:
“I wanted to tell you all of your advice has paid off.
Even just setting my mind at ease has really helped to let the tension go, and encourage O. to read at his leisure.
He’s really getting it now.”

Now that’s exciting.

Read other success stories here.

Until I talked with this mom, I hadn’t realized how much pressure we put on ourselves to get our kids reading. And when that pressure is relieved, how easy the whole thing becomes. So like life.

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Willy Wonka to the rescue

Willy Wonka has been a huge success.

As you may remember from a previous post, my son and I were looking for a book to read aloud, and I stumbled upon Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Raold Dahl.

We read it in the course of about five nights and it was great fun, from beginning to end.

That led to us finding the soundtrack at the library, and after my son had listened to that a few million times (and we were both stuck with the “Augustus Gloop” song in our heads), we rented the films. Both of them.

The original version stars Gene Wilder, who plays Willy Wonka basically as written – slightly dark, but mostly whimsical. And then we watched the one with Johnny Depp as Wonka, who was a bit more disturbed. And, director Tim Burton added a whole back-story about Wonka’s father, which wasn’t in the book.

After that, we watched the behind-the-scenes stuff, including a look at what the characters from the original movie are doing now (they’re mostly accountants), and a documentary about the technology behind the Johnny Depp version.

We found out that the film was originally created to launch a Willy Wonka candy bar by Quaker Oats. Unfortunately for Quaker, the candy bar tended to melt on the shelves, so it had to be recalled. The movie, however, went on to become a great success.

It gave my son and I a good chance to talk about how both films interpreted the book, and what they’d added or left out. And it really added to our enjoyment of the book.
So that’s that. All we have to do now… is find a new book to read.

“Augustus Gloop, Augustus Gloop, you great big greedy nincompoop.” Watch the video here.
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