Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Great homework

Our son's teacher created an awesome homework assignment.

And it's something parents could do, too.

I just asked my son and his friend if they've finished their homework (it's just two days into the winter break). They both said yes. Even though there was a lot of reading involved, and some math. Here's why.

It's a detective story. It covers about three pages (yours could be shorter), and leads the reader through several interesting "logic puzzles."

Here's a sample plot:
A detective receives a note.
The note says there's going to be a bank robbery.
The reader (child) has to figure out when the robbery is going to take place, at which bank, and who the culprit is.

The clues, and the steps to solve them, are in the story.

For instance, the note can say, "A robbery is going to take place at 1 2-1-14-11 9-14 20-15-18-15-14-20-15."
Detective Bill thought, "I can figure out the blanks by substituting letters for each number. For instance, "A" is "1"."

So now, the message says: "A robbery is going to take place at A BANK IN TORONTO."

Then the detective had to figure out which bank.
He got a list of banks like this:
Bank of Montreal, 24 Quebec St., 431-1435
Royal Bank, 91 Queen St., 987-1243
TD Bank, 43 Canada St., 332-1322

The note told the detective the robbery would be at bank #428.
The detective decides to use a formula for figuring out which one was #428. (Something like, add all of the numbers in each phone number and multiply them by the street number).

You get the idea.

The last clue was about whodunnit.
The note was signed, "Raymo."
The reader had to rearrange the letters to figure out that the culprit was the city's "Mayor."

Kids will get excited about reading and math when the story is about them, and lets them figure things out. Your story could be about a detective who has to solve a mystery surrounding a baseball team. Or with Hannah Montanna. Or in a dinosaur museum. Or a video game parlour. Or whatever your kid's into.

Use your child's name in the story, the names of siblings, pets, her school - whatever will catch her eye as she's reading. She'll love it!

So right now you're surfing the net. You're reading this blog (way to go, you rock, incidentally). But obviously you've got a few minutes before the boss comes back. So use this time to write a quick story. Steal liberally from my ideas, above (after all, I stole them from my son's teacher, a-hem). Don't even worry about including a "mystery" if you want - just make it a story. Don't worry if it's simple, if it's not as good as Robert Munsch would do. Your kid will love it - and she'll be reading.
Photo: iStock.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Toys for the CHUM Christmas Wish

I had some unopened toys that companies had sent me to review.

Some of them weren't literacy-based, so I hadn't opened them.
And others didn't need to be opened in order to review them.

Anyway, I had quite a stash, so I brought them over to the CHUM Christmas Wish. Apparently, they'll be sent on Wednesday to kids in time for Christmas.

Thanks, companies! (You know who you are.)
Merry Christmas and happy holidays everyone!

Image: Wikipedia Commons, www.commons.wikimedia.org.
I like it, because it's pencils (much like what I dropped off for the kids) but it kinda looks like a Christmas star.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Club Penguin

My son is hanging out in Club Penguin these days.

And, um, so am I.

Club Penguin is a virtual world for kids - each kid is a cartoon penguin.

You take your penguin around the island, into various buildings, down ski hills, onto a pirate ship. (Still with me?)

Theoretically it's free, but all of the fun games are behind the membership wall, and that's $5.99 a month. My son and I are trying it for one month.

I set up my own penguin so I could play with my son online.

He wanted to join up because it's something his friends are doing.
I agreed, because I thought it would get him typing more (the penguins can talk to each other).

The literacy angle
Long-story short, I just found a terrific area on Club Penguin that may provide a good incentive for him to type. It's in the "book room" (natch), in the Coffee Shop. There are several books there that feature stories which you have to type in order to read them. As you type the tale, more story is revealed.

At the end, not only have you read a story but you receive a bunch of Club Penguin coins, the local currency.

And you've done a bunch of typing, which is the whole point, as far as I'm concerned.
Here's a link to Club Penguin.
It's known for being very safe, with excellent parental tools such as the ability to limit the amount of time your little penguin hangs out there, and they're very responsive to people writing them with queries.

I have no idea if this Club Penguin thing is good or not, or has anything to do with literacy. Probably not. But I am enjoying exploring stuff my son's interested in, and we're having fun.
Incidentally, if you think Club Penguin is a little thing, it's not. There are about 50 servers on the site, and at any given time most of them are full, with thousands of little virtual penguins. It's a big club.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wonderful book - Tiny Tyrant

Here's a masterpiece kids will love.
I've never thought of a graphic novel (high-end comic book) as a masterpiece before, but I think the moniker fits Tiny Tyrant.

The hero is a six-year-old king; a kind of likeable spoiled brat. King Ethelbert rules Portocristo - and we have no idea why, or where his parents are, but we don't care.

He has an equally diminuitive and bratty cousin Sigismund, with whom he feuds, and there are some adult handlers who keep the mayhem from getting too out of control.

Even better than the plots - which are silly enough for any kid - are the gorgeous illustrations. They're simple and clean, in the best French tradition (think Asterix), and rendered in beautiful, rich colours.
Good readers will devour the book fairly quickly, but younger readers may be able to get a few more hours out of it. Either way, it's time well spent. The books never condescend to young readers, which is part of their charm.
There are two volumes, but beware that Volume 1 has a chapter featuring Santa Claus, that may shine too fine a light on the legend for young readers.

Ever since First Second Books sent me Tiny Tyrant Volume Two: The Lucky Winner (I subsequently asked to see Volume I as well), I've been a bit obsessed with the books. The covers are beautiful - that soft, deeply saturated paper. And each chapter is printed on a different coloured pastel background. I can't put them down, and neither could my son.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A great "travelling" word game

Here's another great word game.

Our family recently travelled to Ottawa. Early one morning, we broke out a game we'd brought called Scrabble Apple.

We really enjoyed it. What I like about it is that it's portable, all of the pieces go back in the apple when you're done, and there's no board to lug around.

As a literacy tool, it's great because you can play with it any way you want. There are rules, but essentially it's just a bag of letters that stack.

The traditional rules are: You put all the letters out, and each person turns over a letter. You try to make words with your letters; you get points for every word. A red letter doubles the points.

The twist is that the letters stack. So if you had the word BAG and I turn over an E, I can create BEG by putting the E on top of the A.

While gramma may have been better at creating words, our son was faster at re-creating words - so it sort of levelled the playing field and made it really fun. It was a toss-up as to who would win.

I'm going to play this with the six-year-old I'm working with. We'll play "find the vowels." The first person to turn over the vowels and say the sounds they make will win.

Hasbro sent me this game to try (but otherwise I'm in no way connected to them). I've seen another game in toy stores called Bananagrams, by a different company - in a banana rather than an apple. It seems to be the same idea, although they play it so the words connect, like Scrabble. I'm sure you can play that game any way you want as well.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Make a book for Christmas

This is a great time to make your child a book for Christmas or Hannukah.

Children of all ages are motivated to read a book about their favourite subject - themselves.

Here's how
*Buy a small scrapbook with stiff pages. (Craft stores have them. You can also use a photo album.)

*Select five to 20 photos of the child, her favourite activities, family and friends, and events from the year. I usually print them out on one of those machines in Shopper's Drug Store - they're just $.23 per print, or so and I don't have to wait.

*Put them in some kind of logical order.

*Tape them into the book.

It's best to type the text for the book on your computer, print it out, and cut it into lines that you can paste below each photo. Use a simple font like Times New Roman (don't get fancy - the goal is legibility.)

For really young children, print one or two words in a large font under each picture:
"Susie's teddy"

For slightly older children, try one-liners:
"Sebastian turned 4 this year!"
"Sebastian loves to play hockey."
"Daddy and Sebastian at the museum."

For kids who are reading, try writing your own short story.
Each page can have a few lines or a paragraph, with pictures on some pages. Reflect on the year, and write about some of the highlights:
"Our trip to Hawaii was incredible. Dad got seasick on the boat, and Mom lost her wedding ring - but she found it again! I couldn't wait to try Mahi-Mahi - it was delicious."

Another idea is a book that shares some of your insights about your child.
"Daddy and I love you, and we are so proud of you for always trying to do the right thing. Remember when Bradley at school was getting bothered by that boy? We were so proud when you stepped in and stood up for your friend. That took courage!"

Or, help your child keep track of milestones.
"I am a good hockey player. Just two years ago, I was barely skating... now I'm a fast skater and I can do a hockey-stop. I played in goal twice this year; I've scored six goals and gotten a whole bunch of assists. The coach says I'm a good team player. Next year, I want to join the Select team."

Other tips:
In your captions, try to go beyond what's obvious in the picture: "At the beach," could be "This is where we found the big orange conch shell."

Write from the child's perspective, "I, I'm" and the book will be more interesting to them.

Include the names of your child's friends. Wouldn't you love a record of names and photos of your friends from when you were really young? Do it for your child.

Cut some of your photos into shapes if they don't fit on the page.

Pick a great photo for the front of the album, and don't forget to date your book.

A book about your child will be something that fascinates him, and makes him want to read every word. He'll pick it up again and again - and for years to come.

The book in the picture is one that I started for my son this time last Christmas, but never finished. I picked it up, blew off the dust (literally) and flipped through it. I teared up - you forget how fast they grow, and how small they were last year! I'm going add the captions and a photo on the front and give it to him this year.