Friday, January 30, 2009

Boys and girls are different

They approach literature differently, too.

Boys use different parts of their brains than girls to process emotions and words. They relate to characters in books differently, and enjoy reading different kinds of things.

Here’s what most boys like to read:
*Accounts of real events
*Books with action
*Illustrated accounts showing how things work
*Gross things – the slimier and more disgusting, the better.
*Books that get to the point. Boys don’t want the explanation—they want to get right to the action. Let your boy skip the book’s introduction and any long-winded, explanatory bits.

What most girls like to read:
*Great characters
*Books that let them analyse characters’ motives or emotions
*Books with relationships between two or three people
*Context. Girls want to know why something is happening, and why the characters are acting the way they are. Before opening the book, give your girl an idea what she can expect from it, and what the characters are all about.

Why is Harry Potter so popular with boys and girls? It's got the sports and action boys love, and the great, complex character development girls go for. Accio, Potter!
Our source for this research information:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lunchbox surprise

Put a note in their lunchbox.

I like to put a little note in with my son's lunch. Notes are great for kids who aren't that into reading because they're short, they're fun, and they're from mom. I keep my notes to the point, and very upbeat. Something like: "Hope you had a great morning. I put a treat in the outer pocket. Enjoy! I love you - Mom xoxoxo"

I don't tell him to eat his veggies, or remind him to check the lost-and-found for the mittens he lost. I want him to look forward to my little notes, and that's good "reading reinforcement" behaviour. When what they're reading is fun, they'll look forward to reading.

Check out these Crayola "mini lunchbox messages" I found at a Michaels craft store. They even have a little envelope. But of course, any piece of paper will do - and don't forget the xoxoxos.

I've got a call in to Crayola, to find out if you can purchase these notes online. When I hear from them, I'll let you know. And yes, I did photograph this on top of snow. Tres Canadian, n'est-ce pas?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Happy Family Literacy Day

This is the day.

The day you and your child read together for at least 15 minutes.
The day you buy her a magazine, out of the blue.
The day you help your child write a letter (or an e-mail) to gramma.
The day you listen to your daughter read a book.
The day you subscribe online to ChickaDEE.
The day you set aside some books to donate to the Children's Book Bank.
The day you read the newspaper with your son.

The day you take a few moments to help your child be a better reader.

My son and I will be reading Harry Potter tonight. Last night Snape confiscated Harry's potion because he forgot to put hellebore syrup in his Draught of Peace. Tonight, I think we're going to have to sit through Professor Umbridge's class. She looks like a toad, with a pale complexion, runny eyes, a slit for a mouth and she always dresses in fluffy pink cardigans. Blech.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Family Literacy Day is Jan. 27

Tomorrow is Family Literacy Day

Celebrate and foster literacy in your home by:
*Reading with your kids;
*Creating a story together;
*Explaining some current events to them;
*Giving them a book or a magazine; or
*Letting them read to you.

I read the five Robert Munsch books to my son (see last post) and we entered our names to help Canada beat the US's "reading to children" record. Since more than 190,000 people registered, it's possible we blew that record out of the water. Oooh, literacy can get so competitive!

Even though my son has heard those Munsch books zillions of times, we had a great time reading them together. And in "Mortimer," every time the parents put him to bed, our whole family sang at the top of our lungs, "Clang, clang, rattle bing-bang - gonna make my noise all day!" If you don't know what I'm talking about, then here's your FLD assignment: Read Robert Munsch's Mortimer. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, January 23, 2009

It's Canada vs. US in a literary show-down

Beat the reading-with-your-child world record!

Literacy organization ABC Canada is trying to beat the U.S.'s world record for "Most children reading with an adult, multiple locations." And you can help.

You need to read, with your child, five of Robert Munsch's stories which you can download and print for free here. The stories need to be read, today, and in this order:
*Purple, Green and Yellow
*Murmel, Murmel, Murmel
*Something Good

Then, register your accomplishment here.

This has to happen today, from 2 p.m. until 2 p.m. tomorrow, Jan. 23, 2009, to count towards the world record.

The current record is 78,791 set in the U.S. Currently, more than 184,000 Canadians have signed up for the world record attempt. So, who needs Henderson to score the winning goal against the Americans, anyway? Goooo team Canada!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Does your child know what happened today?

Talk to your child about the significance of the events of January 20, 2009. Talk to him about what it means to have an African-American president in the US. Explain why so many people were waiting and watching on this day. Why it's so important not just to the US but to Canada, to the world.

This is a moment to bring your child into history. Explain the electoral process - teach them how to spell "inauguration." And "Obama." And "hope."

Listen to Obama's inaugural speech together and explain some of the profound things he talked about. The global crises. The ways in which Americans and Canadians and other citizens of the world were asked to come together. The role religion played in his speech. The reason he mentioned his father, 60 years ago, not being served in a restaurant; his son now president.

Literacy is more than words. It is an understanding of world events, and people who are helping to shape our world. Talk with your kids about this, and listen to what they say. Help them understand so they can embrace our history, and our future.

We can't be cynical, or cool about the importance of this day. It's historical, it's important, it's significant. Bring your child into it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Judging the age-level of books

What can your child read alone?

It can be difficult to decide what books are just right for your reader – not too hard or too easy. Here’s a great suggestion, from a book/pamphlet produced by the YMCA, called Raising Kids Who Read.

“To decide which books are right for independent reading, notice if your child can read a few pages of a book with 95 per cent accuracy. That is, does he or she miss only one out of every 20 words?

If a young reader falters on one out of every 10 words, take turns reading the book together. You can supply words too difficult for him or her to read. If your child misses more than one in 10, to reduce frustration, make this book one that you read aloud.”

Great advice.

This book was produced in 2004 by the YMCA, 42 Charles St. E., Toronto, Ontario, Writer: Carolyn Munson-Benson, Design: Holmes & Lee, Photography: Stacey Brandford.
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Motivate with a reading reward chart

Kids love rewards.

If you're having a tough time getting your child to read, try a reading reward chart.

Make a graph with a week's worth of days. Your child puts a sticker on each day you read together. (Fifteen to 30 minutes is ideal.) Or, your chart can be for when your child reads alone, or when she reads a specific book for 15 minutes at a time, or for 15 minutes' worth of writing - whatever you're working on.

Some kids are motivated by the stickers, alone. Others need a reward - for every week that has four or more stickers, the child gets a small toy. It's important to choose and, I think, buy the reward first.

The child will be more motivated when she knows what she's playing for. (May I suggest - a book?) Put the reward on a shelf so she can see it, but not use it, until it's been earned.

And of course, adjust the reward so it fits your child. The length of the reading sessions and the number needed for the reward should be whatever will work for your child. Using fun stickers often helps.

Encourage her to tell her grandparents, friends, teachers and everyone you can think of, that she's doing a reading chart. Research shows that people are more likely to succeed when others know about their project.

Don't go dollar-store on this one. The toys are too cheap and break too easily. Think Silly Putty, a bakugan, hockey cards, doll accessory or comic book. Ironically, dollar stores do have really good books like Caillou or maze/activity books. Pick up a handful and put 'em in your sock drawer until they're earned.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Reading - more fun than making your bed

I often let my son break the rules by reading.

When I tell him, "it's time for bed," he knows that if he grabs a book, it'll buy him an extra half-hour or so. As long as his teeth are brushed and he's in his jammies, I'll extend his bedtime by a couple of chapters.

If he's been sent up to his room to make his bed, and I discover him reading instead... the bed can wait. And as long as I know his homework will eventually get done, he can delay that by reading as well.

In fact, many rules in our house can be "gotten around" by reading. Of course, the chores have to be done eventually - but in the meantime, my son is discovering that reading is more fun than cleaning up his room.

Reading is more fun than cleaning. I break my own rules as well, staying up late reading a good book. And it's a whole lot better than late-night TV.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

"I'm bored!"

We said it to our parents - your kid says it to you.

You've hated hearing it in the past. But the next time he says "I'm bored!" you're going to love it. Here's what to do:

The next time you're in a book store or a corner store, check out the magazines. Think about what your child loves - it may be video games, sports, cars, fashion, music, TV - this isn't about what you want them to like, it's about what they really do like.

Whatever it is, there is a magazine geared to it. And chances are, if they're not used to reading a lot, this will be a revelation to them. The magazine will have the latest information on their favourite subject. Imagine how exciting that will be for your child!

Buy the magazine and hide it in your sock drawer.

So now we come to the good part. It's raining and video-time is spent, and your child says, "I'm bored!" Go up to his room and quietly put the new magazine on his bed. Then come down and casually tell him, "There's something on your bed."

I guarantee you won't see that kid for the next half-hour. Left alone with that magazine, which contains all the latest information on his favourite subject - no matter how much he hates reading, he will read it.

Well done, parent.

After he's read the magazine, "what then?" you ask. How about a monthly subscription? Get him to fill out the subscription card, and take it to the mailbox. Or, next time leave a graphic novel on his bed. Or a comic book, or a novel. Or give him $10 and take him to Chapters to buy a new magazine. Fun! (Not boring.)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

How to foster a "reading culture"

Kids who live in a "reading home" will be readers, it's as simple as that.

What does that mean, and how do you create a reading culture in your home? Here are some key things you can do to create a "reading home":

*Read to your child every day.

*Have lots of books around. Give your child his own books.

*Let your child read things he's interested in.

*Go to the library together every two or three weeks.

*Let your child see you reading.

*Ask your child questions about what he's reading. Be interested in what he's reading.

*Let your child read to you.

*Offer him a variety of reading options. Novels, comic books, picture books, manuals, recipe books, pages printed from the Internet, graphic novels, magazines, even the side of the cereal box at breakfast time - it's all reading.

*Set limits on TV and video-game time ("screen time").

If you can only do one thing, to create a reader, it should be: "read to your child." Every book and website about reading says the same thing. Read to your child, every day. It's the most important thing.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Use words, not pictures, for labels

This is kind of counter-intuitive, so bear with me.

Let's say you're labelling bins in your young child's playroom. This one is for cars, this one is for balls, this is where the action figures go.

It can be really tempting to draw a car, rather than write the word "CAR" on the label. After all, if the child is too young to read, images would more easily show him where the cars go, right?

While that's true, it's the wrong thing to do if you're trying to help him learn to read. Instead of pictures, print the words "CARS" or "BALLS" or even "ACTION FIGURES" on the bins. Your child will memorize them in no time, and now they'll know three or four words they didn't know before.

In fact, you'll discover that they're able to pick out the word "ball" or "car" in their first storybooks right away. Kids are sponges. If they're going to soak up information, give them something worth soaking up.

This happens all the time in companies, too. Often the "stop" button in a manufacturing line will feature an image of a stop sign, rather than the word STOP, for non-English speakers. It's well-meaning, but it doesn't help the person who's learning to read English. Always give the person a bigger challenge than you think they can handle - they'll rise to it.