Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dogs help kids read

It makes sense, when you think about it.

Dogs enjoy any story you read to them, they don't judge when you get a word wrong, and they have an enormous attention span.

A non-profit organization in Chicago, Sit Stay Read!, uses trained dogs to help children read. The kids read to the dogs, and the dogs make reading more fun and relaxing for the children.

If your child has a pet, why not suggest she read to it?

Just don't read it one of those PETA brochures - it might get funny ideas and petition for equal rights. Woof!

Update: MaryEllen, of Sit Stay Read! suggests these tips for reading with your dog.

Monday, December 29, 2008

How will we read our Christmas books?

Let me count the ways.

It's important that children discover that books can be used many different ways. Here's how we're using the books we got for Christmas.

*My husband and our son had a great time going through his new Guiness Book of Records, giggling over the disgusting records (biggest earthworm) and discussing the sports ones;

*We'll be using his new cookbook in the new year to bake some treats (and learn measurements);

*Our son loved his new, personalized book and was thrilled to see his picture on the back cover;

*Our son has already started reading his new Bailie School Kids series;

*He loved the Sports Illustrated for Kids Santa gave him in his stocking;

*His new joke books are going to keep us groaning well into the new year;

*Not to mention his puzzle book, Owl magazine, Space book with tons of facts about meteorites and planets, and Build It Bigger - a book about the world's largest building projects.

So he's got lots of reading options - to read alone, with mom and dad, to read to us aloud, or just flip through and look at the pictures. It was definitely a reading Christmas.

Hope you had a great holiday. We'll be taking a new bag of books (thanks, Julie!) to the Children's Book Bank in the new year so please do drop your donations off with me.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Scrabble time!

The holidays are perfect for Scrabble.

Turn off the TV, get out the board, pour the adults some red wine. Crack open a bag of Doritos. And create a new holiday tradition.

Here's the Scrabble board from our game last night. Because our son's seven, he gets to double his score at the end of the game. He won, handily.
We helped him by showing him how to find an "open" letter on the board and build on it. We asked him what vowels he had, and suggested words like "cake" or "hope." It was exciting for him to get triple letter scores and double words.
It was a nice, quiet, family evening. All three of us had some laughs and most important, we shared some quality time together. The great bonus is, playing Scrabble will increase your child's ability to work (and play) with words.
You're looking at RIF, aren't you? That was mine. About 30 points - not bad. I don't know what it means, but it was in the Scrabble dictionary, so it counts. Thirty points.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Thank you for the Children's Book Bank donations

Thank you to John Rahme and the CBC for the generous donation to the Children's Book Bank.

After hearing about our book drive, the CBC donated a huge box of brand-new Mr. Dressup books, including school workbooks.

By that afternoon, the Book Bank had already sent the books along to neighbourhood schools that will put them to good use. The rest of the books will stay in the Book Bank and be handed out to local children.

Thanks also to L.B., who donated a big bag of beautiful hardcover books that will be much loved by their new owners.

I'll be going back to the Book Bank near the end of next week, so it's not too late to donate your excellent used or new books. For more information see the post, below.

I took a tour through the Book Bank and it really is fantastic. The books are lovingly displayed and I was very impressed by the excellent titles - these are not "cast-off" books. They're popular current titles and series. After I got home, Kim at the Book Bank sent me an e-mail thanking everyone for their generosity. Ditto from me!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Donate your gently used children's books

Give the gift of reading.

Your child is surrounded by books, but just doesn't want to read. (Don't worry - we're working on that.) In Toronto, there are thousands of kids who love to read, but can't afford books of their own.

Fortunately, the Children's Book Bank gives free books to children who otherwise wouldn't have their own.

If you've been reading this blog regularly, you know about the correlation between children who are surrounded by books, and children who excel at school. It's very important for children to have books they can take home, read in bed, and enjoy at their leisure. Books they never have to give back to the library.

The Children's Book Bank is a non-profit organization that gives low-income kids a great space in which to browse for nice books, free story readings, and a book they can keep.

*Drop off gently used or new books at The Children's Book Bank at 350 Berkeley St. at Gerrard, just west of Parliament (10-6 Tuesdays to Thursdays; Saturdays 10-2).
*Ask your friends to donate books as well.
*Donate money to the Children's Book Bank.
*If you happen to know me personally (lucky you!), give me your gently used children's books and I'll take them down to the Book Bank.

It breaks my heart to think about children in this we-have-so-much city not being able to afford a book.
Breaks. My. Heart.
So I am organizing a book drive. You can give me your used children's books and I"ll take them down to the Book Bank. Post here and I'll contact you, or e-mail me.
For more information about the Book Bank, read this excellent article that appeared in The Toronto Star.

Monday, December 1, 2008

What are kids into these days?

I spent last week helping to staff a fundraising book fair for my son's school.
It was a great way to get a sense of what the kids are interested in these days. By far, the book that flew off the shelves the fastest was Diary of a Wimpy Kid (grade 5-6). We literally could not keep it in stock.

For the grade 5-6 girls, it was Twilight, of course. The books seem to be invoking a better response than the recently released movie.

The grade 2-5 boys were interested in books about, or featuring, Pokemon and Bakugon. Any books to do with video games, especially the Wii, were hits (although not necessarily with the parents). Also popular with grades 2-5 were books about science and history, archeology and dinosaurs. Books with "facts."
Many of the grade 2-3 girls gravitated to books featuring pets, ponies and Hannah Montana.

A big surprise for me was how popular the Canadian section was. The book Passchendaele, and books about Canadians at war were really popular (grades 4-6). Those kids also liked the Bone series and a book called Schooled by Gordon Korman (he was my favourite author when I was a kid).

And of course, Knuffle Bunny and Scaredy Squirrel were big hits with little brothers and sisters (pre-school and kindergarten).

The book fair was all Scholastic books, which meant that some of the money we raised went to buy books for the school, which is great. However, it means that this list is specific to Scholastic books - that's still a pretty wide range. But still.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

More superheroes

Eliot Jones, Midnight Superhero.

Awhile ago, I posted about four great books that have the best of comics (superheroes, action) and the best of books (age appropriate, no violence). Here's another one that looks really good.

Eliot Jones, Midnight Superhero is about a boy who is just a normal kid during the day, but at night turns into a superhero, taming lions and chasing meteors. It's got a great cover - why don't more books use metallics?

I found another book with a superhero - Max The Mighty Superhero. I don't know much about it, but if you click the link for it you can read some very positive parent reviews. I read the first couple of pages and it's delightfully written.
In another book, Max is a movie director. I love it when authors produce books in a series, because when your kids get attached to a character, it's nice for them to be able to keep reading about that character.
Sorry if you tried to "Click to LOOK INSIDE!" - I borrowed this image from the website. Can I help it if they like to discourage borrowing by covering their books with writing? Also, I realize you can't tell from this picture, but on the cover of the Eliot Jones book all the stars are metallic. Cool.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Singin' in the Brain

Singing helps children learn to read

When my son was little, our life was a musical. If I could sing something rather than say it, I would. "We're... puttin' our shoes now, tying up the laces, goin' to the park!" (to the tune of Top Hat, White Tie and Tails). "Let's cross... to the sunny side of the street!"

I also frequently sang another ditty: "A says ah, A says ah. Every letter makes a sound; A says ah!" And I'd get him to join in. "B says... what?" "Buh!" "Right! B says buh. B says buh. Every letter makes a sound. B says buh!"

I'm not a spokesperson for LeapFrog, just a fan. It was their fridge magnet toy (which we didn't even own - another friend had one) that taught me this catchy tune. It helped my son to learn the sounds the letters make. And that's a huge step towards reading.

Singing has major teaching benefits. For one thing, you're happy while you're singing, and fun and passion always aid understanding. And facts that are sung are much more easily memorized. Singing also creates synapses in the brain, so you're really doing two things at once - learning and increasing the capacity to learn.

I'm going to ask the LeapFrog people if they can send me a music file so you can hear the fridge magnet song. I don't know how to post a music file, so I'm a bit scared of that. But I'll do it for literacy.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Attention grandparents

Here's a great gift idea.

It's a personalized book from Kids Shared You visit the website and choose a book; there are a lot of great classics. I chose "The Prince and the Pauper."

Then you type in a message for the first page. I wrote: This is a book about two boys from different backgrounds, who learn to see things from the other person's point of view. We hope you enjoy it. Love, Mommy and Daddy.

You can then add a picture (of you and your grandchild, perhaps) that will be in black-and-white on the first page, and you can add a colour photo for the back cover.

Kids Shared let me try out their site, and it was fast, easy (you don't have to be a computer genius) and the book is lovely. My thinking is that having photos of your child right in the book will be added incentive for him to read it.

The books start at $19.95 plus about $10 each for shipping within Canada (shipping is free in the domestic US). The range of books is good, including many classics.

I'm hoping this post is in time for the holidays, but check the website or call and ask whether your book will arrive in time. There is a customer service number you can call if you don't have a computer. But if you don't have a computer, how are you reading this blog, eh? Ha! Got you again.

Monday, November 17, 2008

For kinesthetic learners

Reading doesn't have to be on a page.

If your child is a kinesthetic learner - he learns by touching and doing rather than by seeing or hearing - here are some great ideas.

Use letters made from blocks, cards, fridge magnets or Scrabble tiles.

Toss seven large letters (blocks, or wooden cut-outs) in the pool. Have him dive for them and make a word when he surfaces. Don't worry about how many dives it takes - let him just have fun.

In the bath, toss in a handful of foam letters. It probably won't be long before he starts making words that float around him!

Toss a handful of Scrabble tiles into a large bowl of rice. As he digs for the letters, he has to try and make words with them.

Play word games like Scrabble, "scramble" (online), or Word Thief (board game). Simplify the rules so it's more about making words and less about beating the other person.

If you're giving your child letters to make a word, look at them first. Make sure there are Es and As, and simple consonants like Ms, Ss and Ts. Consider adding in a "wildcard" that can be used for any letter.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Avoiding library fines

Libraries don't have to cost a lot of money.

Here are some tips:
1) Renew your books online. When your deadline is approaching, go online using your library card, and hit "renew" for all your books. It buys you some time.

2) If your books are overdue, renew them online anyway. It stops the bleeding until you can get to the library.

3) Use your child's card. Library fines are a lot cheaper for children than adults. So take out materials on a child's card whenever possible.

4) Have a separate basket for library books. Our son's is at the foot of his bed. Library books automatically go in there, so we're never scrambling to find them amongst his other books.

5) Post the due-date tape near the front door. The library gives you a printout with your due dates. Hang it where you'll see it often.

You did get your child a library card, didn't you? If not, take him to the library and help him get his own card. When he checks out his first book, I guarantee you a parenting moment you'll never forget.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

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.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

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.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

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.

Friday, October 31, 2008

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,

Monday, October 27, 2008

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.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

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.

Friday, October 24, 2008

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.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

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.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

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.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

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!

Friday, October 10, 2008

What you say he is, he will become

How many times have you said, "My child's not a reader."

If you've said it, he's heard it.

The way we define our children goes a long way towards making them that way. So if we tell people our child's not interested in reading, he'll live up to that expectation.

Fortunately, when we speak positively about our child's reading, he'll internalize that message, too.

So instead of, "My daughter's not a reader," how about, "My son loves those Magic Treehouse books." Or, "Last week, Martina read Amelia Bedelia at school." Or, "I love it when I see Sam reading."

Let those "big ears" of your child hear that you think he's a reader - and that's what he'll become.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Election literacy

Elections provide great opportunities for reading.

Not just the words themselves, but what everything on an election sign means. My son and I discussed the concept of the "incumbent," sparked by the word "re-elect" on a sign we saw. Check out an election sign, and talk to your child about the various elements including the slogan, logo and other messages, verbal and pictoral.

Three-minute discussion topics:
*Each party uses a different colour.
*There are five people who want to be PM.
*Who is the Prime Minister right now?
*Where our family will vote, and when.

Slightly longer discussions:
*The differences between the parties (left-wing, right-wing).
*Federal vs. municipal elections.
*Each party has a set of ideals.
*The election in the States (who is President now, and who wants to be President).

I'm not pushing any specific political party - I tried to get a generic sign but it's harder than you think. In the end, I just downloaded this one from the Liberals.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Mom got her son reading!

Great news. Remember the mom from the Oct. 1 post?

Well, she has done an amazing job and in just one short week, her son is now picking up books and reading more.

She says she went right home and got out a selection of books in subjects that interested her son. She put some on the coffee table, one or two on her son's bed, and scattered others throughout the house. Her husband saw the books in the living room, and started flipping through them. Before she knew it, her son had joined him and they were both sitting there reading.

Not only that, but the other day she was wondering why it was taking her son so long to get ready for his bath. She thought, "What the heck's taking him so long?" And then she realized - he was up there reading. Something he wouldn't have done before.

She also tried out the Hide-a-Kiss idea, and said it was really fun, and it worked.

Congratulations to another super reading-friendly family - way to go!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Great make: plasticine books

This great comment from Cathy was too good to leave in the comments section.

Hi Joyce:

You've got me thinking about what sorts of things encouraged my boys to enjoy reading when they were small. One idea that really worked and was a lot of fun:

When my son was about seven or eight years old, he spent several snowy afternoons writing a simple story and illustrating it with playdough art. He was inspired by the Barbara Reid books, particularly "Two by Two," which is a wonderful depiction of "Noah's Ark."

Ryan worked for hours and hours on his "illustrations." I covered a flat surface for him with plastic and he produced eight different pictures. Then I took photos of each illustration and he dictated while I typed out the words for each page.

We put words and pictures together and created a book. Ryan was really proud of it. I think his grandpa was as well because he took Ryan's book to church where Barbara Reid was also a member. She was kind enough to respond with a letter to my son.

A nice memory!


The image on this page is a plasticine picture by Barbara Reid, from her new book, Fun With Modeling Clay. Here are the step-by-step instructions for this project.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Books wherever they are

I was talking to a mom at baseball practice on the weekend.

She said her son wasn't reading at grade-level, and she's just signed him up for an expensive course to teach him phonics. (Or read this blog - for free. Plus it's more fun. But I digress.)

Another mom had a great idea. She said, "I put books in the bathroom!"

She said she always has to "hold it," because her kid's in there reading. (The things we do for our children.)

But it is a good idea, sprinkling books all over the house, wherever the kids tend to lurk. And the bathroom's the perfect place for a little Robert Munsch or, well, Capt. Underpants.

When kids are surrounded by books, they'll eventually pick one up and flip through it - and that's the first step to creating a ravenous reader.

No photo on this post because, I figured, who needs pictures of the bathroom? Not us. Gack.
Oh, and by the way, if you haven't put your phone on the Do Not Call list yet to get rid of those pesky telemarketers, here's the website (Canada only). Nothing to do with literacy; I just hate getting calls during dinner.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Word on the Street - over for another year

It was a crush, but I got a lot of great books.

Here's the Scholastic booth, which is where I spend most of my time - and money - at Word on the Street.

It looks crowded, and it is, but you get to the front pretty quickly.

The Scholastic people offer these great "book bundles" - five or six books from a series for one low price. I got a set of Geronimo Stilton for 10 bucks, for instance. (That's going to be a Christmas gift.)

Half the Scholastic booth is French, which is perfect for me, because I've just started teaching my son some French. For some reason, though, every book I bought in French is about a dog.

This year I bought more than a dozen books for what I would normally spend on one or two books. A pretty great deal.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nancy's Book of Poems

You may remember Nancy, from our Sept. 18 post. She's the little girl who wasn't terribly keen on reading.

Her mom and I discussed getting her to write about something she's interested in.

Well, Nancy and her mom took the idea and ran with it! We're pleased to present her first-ever book of poetry.

Here's a sample of one of her wonderful poems:

The leaves are falling
It's almost winter
And I see you
In the trees

I look outside
And all I can see
is flying leaves

So rest your head
On the pillow
It's time to go to bed
Throw the blanket
Over your head

She wrote four other poems as well, and illustrated them. And, she's been reading them out loud to her mom.

Her mom plans on getting the book cerlox bound (after first taking a colour photocopy). Nancy's school has an incredibly supportive librarian, who lets children put their books into the school's circulation system, with a bar code and everything, so other kids can check it out.

Way to go Nancy, and her incredible mother!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Word on the Street - Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

This Sunday, a tribute to the written word arrives in Toronto.

We're so fortunate to have Word on the Street each year.

Children can play games (and win books), meet some of their favourite TVO personalities, and generally see how many people are excited about books and reading.

It's a celebration of reading, in a fun atmosphere.

My favourite booth each year is the Scholastic booth, where you can buy very inexpensive children's books, often packaged together for, say, 5 books for $3. I regularly come home with 50 or 60 children's books, not only for my son but for future birthday and Christmas gifts.

Here's what to expect:
*258 book and magazine exhibits;
*248 authors, poets and presenters;
*198 readings, presentations and workshops.

Word on the Street also comes to Calgary, Halifax, Kitchener and Vancouver. Check their website for details.

Photo: Word on the Street, Jen Cooper.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Share your favourite book

What was your favourite book as a child?

What were the books that soothed you, that made you laugh, that were your friends?

One great idea that will help your child (and you), is to revisit them at the library, and then share them with your child.

Your child will experience your emotional response to the book, and you'll not only share a special moment, but it may help him to see what an amazing thing a book is.

Thanks to Michele for this great idea.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Great Read: Winnie the Witch

What is it about Winnie?

I don't know for sure, but she captivates her audience, and she'll capture your heart. From the first time I met her, she had me scrambling to find more. Fortunately, there is a whole series of Winnie books. Winnie is not your typical witch. She doesn’t cackle, or wear black, or cast spells. Except sometimes, when she does. But then she does something un-witch-ey… like accidentally toss her wand in the washing machine.

And when that happens, the colours just explode! They’re practically running all over the page! What will happen next!?

If you're looking for something to entertain your reluctant reader - boy or girl - try Winnie and see if she doesn't light a spark.

The Winnie series is written by Valerie Thomas and illustrated by Korky Paul.
There's more Winnie at her website.
You can buy the 6 in 1 Winnie collection from Amazon for $18.87 Cdn.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hannah Montana to the rescue!

I just had a playground conversation with a mom who said that her daughter just isn’t motivated to read. Her sons are avid readers, but her seven-year-old daughter, not so much.

The first thing to think about is, “What will motivate her to read?”

So we talked about what she likes. She’s a bit of a girly-girl, the mom said, and the only “reading material” she’s been interested in lately are those celebrity magazines with Hannah Montana in them. She doesn't read the articles, but she does look at the pictures. The mom wasn’t too thrilled that her daughter was getting into them, but we all know that with kids, you’ve just gotta go with the flow.

But this sparked a great idea. How about making up a small book, entitled, “The day Hannah Montana met Nancy”? How motivated would that little girl be, to read about the day she met her hero?

The mom said she could see her daughter getting excited about a book like that.

Two 8.5” x 11” sheets of paper or cardboard, sideways, and folded down the middle makes a cheap and simple book. The mom’s going to stick with simple sentences, and the whole story can be told in the six pages (not including the front and back covers).

“One day, Hannah Montana visited Sunnyvale School. While she was backstage, she realized her hair clip was missing. “Oh no,” she said, “I can’t sing with hair flying all over my face!” A little girl with curly hair came forward from the audience. “Why don’t you use mine?” she said, taking a clip from her hair. “Thanks so much!” said Hannah Montana. “What’s your name?” “Nancy,” she said. “Nancy – stick around after the concert and I’ll sign a special autograph just for you!”

We discussed illustrations, and came up with a great idea—her daughter can illustrate it herself. She can cut out pictures from her magazines, and draw pictures. Illustrating the book will not only give her a sense of ownership, but it will ensure greater understanding of the words by providing a context for them.

We’ll let you know how the project goes, and whether it does encourage Nancy to see reading in a new light.

(Photo source:

Monday, September 15, 2008


Would your child read a sentence if he knew he'd be rewarded with a Hershey's Kiss?

For kids who are really resisting reading, here's an idea that makes reading instantly fun and rewarding.

Hide a Hershey's Kiss in the child's room. Then, put a note on his pillow that says something like: There is a Kiss for you under your bed. Or, even more simply: Look under your bed.

Using words to find a Kiss gives your child an immediate reward for reading, and for kids who have never known that "reading pays off," it's a really visceral way to give them that feeling.

They may need you to help them sound out your notes the first couple of times, and that's fine - you've gotten over the hurdle of them not wanting to read at all. Try this whenever you feel like it - don't lock yourself into a weekly thing or it won't be fun for you any more.

If you don't like the idea of using chocolate, you can hide a non-food treat like stickers, Play-Doh or a Hot Wheels car. Or even just another note that says, "Congratulations!"

Of course, eventually reading will be its own reward.

But in the meantime - there are Kisses.
Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 12, 2008

Learning to read the signs.

One of the first words my son learned to read was "Stop."

He didn't learn it from a book, but from the neighbourhood stop signs.

When I was an ESL tutor, I learned that one of the biggest motivators for new readers is relevance. People are more apt to want to read something when it is relevant to them.

Signs are great because they're relevant, they're usually fairly simple, and they provide a context that helps the beginning reader. For instance, the word Stop is at the end of a road.

Literacy isn't all about words, however. It's important - and kind of fun - to teach kids the non-verbal signs as well. I ask, "What do you think that sign means?" Usually, the ideas kids come up with are more interesting than what the sign is really all about. And children are generally interested in knowing what the sign really does mean.

As they get a little older, we talk about how signs can be miscontrued. These two signs are across from each other on the same road. The one on the left implies "no parking on Thursdays" but the other sign clarifies "no parking except on Thursdays." My son and I had a laugh trying to figure them out.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A book about Me.

For a child, the most exciting thing to read about is - himself.

One of the best ways to get a child excited about reading is to give him a book that he opens to discover it's all about him. What could be better?

And it's really simple to do. (This isn't one of those "scrapbooking, super-mom" projects.) I found this mini-scrapbook at a Goodwill for about a dollar, but you can get them at Chapters/Indigo as well.

Then, I picked out 10 of my favourite photos and taped them onto every other page. The pictures were mostly about my son's favourite activities, his friends and relatives, or places we'd been.

I made captions in Word - using a large font - cut them out and pasted them in place. I didn't complete the whole book at once. I did as much as I felt like doing, and then I gave it to him for his birthday. For his next birthday, I added another chapter to the book.

I used age-appropriate language and words, keeping it very simple at first ("I am two years old.") and using slightly longer words as he got a bit older (" is my favourite.").

When he was very young, we read the book together. Eventually, he memorized it and could "read" it himself. Later, he was able to read new entries all by himself. Being very familiar with the content of the photos helped him figure out what the captions said, and made his guesses about the words much more accurate. (Beginning readers make guesses about some words at first, and later begin sounding them out.)

The book has an added bonus - it's a time capsule for him, and for me. Plus, I can add to it - or not - or start a new one any time.

It's been about four years since I worked on this one, but I'm planning on doing a new one for next Christmas. It will have more complicated captions and words, commensurate with the way he's reading now.

But the most important thing won't change - it will be all about him.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Surround your child with books.

Children feel excited about reading when they feel entitled to books.
Our lives are full of cliques. There are the athletes. The computer geeks. The artists. When someone who is athletic walks into a sporting situation, he feels at home. That's because he's regularly surrounded by sports - he watches it on TV, plays sports, goes to sporting events, reads the sports section of the newspaper, talks to his friends about sports.

Reading is like that. The child who is surrounded by books, who is read to every night, is encouraged to take books out of the library, reads in bed, and sees books as things to be touched, looked at, enjoyed - becomes comfortable in reading situations.

In the wonderful best-seller Freakonomics, they note that there is a correlation between kids who have lots of books in their homes and kids who get good grades. Not "kids who read books," but "kids who have books in their homes." That's because kids who are surrounded by books feel entitled to books and reading.

So whenever they see books outside the home, they feel comfortable picking them up and flipping through them. When the teacher opens a book to read to the class, their eyes light up because they know what's coming (something exciting).

Children who feel entitled to books will read more and enjoy it more. So one simple way to encourage a life-long reading habit is to fill your child's bookshelves so he always has lots of choices, and develops a sense of entitlement about reading.

Monday, September 8, 2008


Welcome to the Getting Kids Reading blog!

I'm passionate about reading, and believe that kids can feel passionate about it, too - with a little help from their parents. My son has been reading since he was very young, and now, at age 7, it's almost as natural for him to pick up as book as it is to play a video game. Almost.

For him, books are an escape - a source of excitement - a place to go to relax - a way to find out about stuff - a conduit to unlocking the secrets of life.

My husband and I have helped encourage this excitement about reading from an early age. We used a wide variety of really simple techniques. I strongly believe there isn't one "right way" to teach reading. There are a whole bunch of things you can do, depending on your child and how much energy and time you have to invest on any particular day.

The purpose of this blog is to encourage other parents, caregivers and teachers - especially those whose kids may be resisting reading as a fun activity - to help their children feel great about reading and writing.