Thursday, August 27, 2009

Brain-training exercise

Brains - especially young brains - benefit from exercise.

Here’s an exercise that Bernadette Tynen (the brain researcher) does with her students. She says that if you do it with your child once a week, it will help to make his thinking more flexible and creative.

She gives the child an object. It could be a stuffed animal, like a snake or a gorilla, or it could be a hat or a scarf – any kind of object. Then she asks the child to tell her what could be done with the object.

At first, the child may say, “you can sit on it,” or “you can put it on your head,” and his thinking may stall there.

You can prompt him by saying, “what else could it be used for?” and he may start to come up with less conventional uses: “You could wear it as a bracelet,” or “you could use it as a frying pan,” or “it could be a garden decoration.”

In Tynen's documentaries (“Make Your Child Brilliant”), it’s astounding to see how quickly children change their thinking from the usual, normal ways of looking at an object, to finding truly creative and out-of-the-box ideas for things.

We know that brain-training exercises like this help the young brain become more agile, which helps with future learning. Plus, it's fun!

I tried this with my son - I gave him my glasses case. Within a few seconds it became a hat, something you could balance or float, a toy... I was laughing my head off at the crazy and wonderful things he came up with. Playing with your kid like that is better than TV, I tell ya.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Respecting the reading bubble

I can tell when my son is reading - and I leave him to it.

There's a certain hush that falls over the house, over his room.

A certain intermittent squeak to his armchair. A kind of quiet that I can't explain, but which I know means that he's upstairs in his room reading.

That's when I leave him alone.

The other day I was heading up to his room to ask him if he'd brushed his teeth... and I heard that silence that meant he was reading. I stopped in my tracks on the stairs. I didn't stick my head in his door. I didn't call out and ask if he was reading. I just went quietly back downstairs.

When kids are actively reading, they create a quiet bubble around themselves.

It's a bubble they fill with the fantasy creations they imagine as they read.

It's a bubble so necessary for a reader, and yet so easily burst.

If you catch your child reading, remember that bubble. Remember that your child needs that special quiet fantasy world where he can dissolve into the words on the page.

Let him go there, give him some time to himself within that bubble, and you'll be helping to create a reader.

Last weekend I was watching a child, on the edge of a baseball diamond during a tournament, who was in a Harry Potter bubble. Last fall I remember seeing - in the midst of a noisy kids' marathon - a boy sitting on his heels, reading, in his quiet bubble. I remember my own reading bubbles from my childhood, and how precious that book-time was to me. Sigh.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Kids' writing contest (note: Americans only)

Here's a little gift for our friends to the south.

Unfortunately, only Americans can enter this contest. (I've got an e-mail in to one of the contest judges to ask why-oh-why they've limited it. But I digress.)

It's such a great-looking contest, that I want to point it out to GKR's American readers (you know who you are).

Remember Mimi, that large, clown-faced woman from the Drew Carey show? The actress' name is Kathy Kinney, and post-Carey she started a kids' reading website called Mrs. P.

Her site is hosting a writing contest for American kids, aged 4 to 13.

The two winning entries will be made into books complete with illustrations. (Let's hope they won't be drawn by the same person who did Mimi's make-up! Paf!)

The site is accepting entries starting Sept. 1, so it would be a great end-of-summer writing assigment for the kids. Uh, unless your kids have already started school? Ours don't start until Sept. 8 - but maybe Americans have already started.

Oh, someone, please inform me about what's going on south of Canada these days, because clearly I'm out of touch!
Here's a link to the contest. Good luck!

Additional info: I received a very thoughtful response from a contest judge and from one of the Mrs. P. website creators explaining why the contest is limited to Americans only.

It's a legal thing apparently. With gift certificates involved, it would be too difficult to administer internationally (according to their lawyers. Yeah, that's what I said too. A-heh.).

Anyway, they said that if they get a lot of response from non-Americans, they'll consider holding another contest that's not US-exclusive. So there's your homework, everyone!

Canadians (and Brits and everyone else - again, you know who you are)... do check out the Mrs. P. site. It's quite a major site and clearly they've got a lot invested in it. I found it a bit cumbersome to download, and everything had rather lengthy introductions before the "good stuff" so you should check it out before sending your kids there. However, there is quite a lot of content on the site, from games to Mrs. P. reading aloud.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Reading extensions work

You may be wondering why I've been pushing the Disney movies.

It's because extending reading beyond books -- into movies, soundtracks, games and toys -- gets kids reading.

Of course, it all has to start and end with the book. Which is where parents come in. You make sure the child doesn't become sidetracked and, like, skip the book.

Let the movie draw them into the book. But then you have to show them how much more exciting the book is than the movie.

And it will be, because only the book can engage the child's imagination fully. The reader can add detail and let the adventure fly. The book can become whatever the child wants it to be. The movie, on the other hand, gives it all to them on a plate - so of course it's limited.

It's like... my son would rather have cookies and pizza than vegetables or fruit. But it's my job to make sure he eats right. And afterwards, he always feels better. And as an adult, I know he's going to be a vegetable-eater.

OK, enough of that metaphor.

My point is, that however you get your child interested in a good book is fine. Movies and other book extensions (Potter Puppet Pals on the Internet, for example) that get them interested in the book, are fine. And they work.

We're turnin' kids into readers, here.

Yeah, the metaphor definitely couldn't go on much longer or you'd find out that I'm actually pretty terrible at getting my son to eat his veggies. Some days I am forced to count ketchup, pizza sauce and relish as "veggies."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Summer reading program

Is your child collecting library stickers?

The other day, my son and I went to the library to report four books and get stickers for his poster. (The stickers are the rewards in the library's summer reading program.)

Unfortunately, the librarian would only give my son one sticker. He said we'd have to come in each day for the rest, one at a time.

I understand why he said that, but I think it can be a deterrent to reading. If a kid knows that he's going to have to work that hard for a sticker, he's going to stop reading after one book. Why read more than one a day?

Today, though, a different librarian gave me a whole sheet of stickers, and my son can report the books to me at home. I'm thrilled, because he was really balking at going in to report to the librarian - and yet he wanted his reward.

I really love this summer reading program, especially now that there was a bit of flexibility to it. Every kid is different, and I'm all for tailoring reading plans to suit the child.

While I was at the library, I picked up the Walt Disney soundtrack to Alice in Wonderland (which we just finished reading) and I'm going to rent the Disney video as well.

Now we're reading The Phantom Tollbooth. I started out reading it to him, but he's taken over the job and is reading it to himself every night. I will try to track down the video to that, as well.

The library's program also lets kids write out their book report, or just draw a picture about it. If you haven't yet signed up for a summer reading program in your area, go online and see what there is. It's not too late - and anyway, you could just turn it into a summer-slash-fall reading program.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Internet word game

Once again, I'm going to help you be a cool parent.

You want your kid to read. Your kid wants to play computer games.

The website promises, "64 levels of mind-numbing word action."

Mind-numbing - well, kids love that in a computer game (did you know that when kids play Nintendo they don't blink? It's true. Watch your kid sometime. It's eerie.)

And word action - well, you love that.

Which makes BWLO the perfect game to entice kids to work with words.
In a nutshell, the game gives you some blocks (with letters on), which you move around to make words. Since the blocks only move certain ways, you've got to figure out which block to move first, which to move second, etc., to create the desired word. So there's a logic element to it.

Plus, the words aren't given to you. You have to figure out from the scrambled letters, what the word should be. So there's a literacy element.
The reason this game will make you a cool parent, is that the game's not a pushover. It's not like those academic sites that claim to have "fun" games. This really is a legitimate game in its own right - it just happens to be a fairly healthy one.
You should definitely try these games yourself. More Blocks With Letters On is, as one reviewer put it, "freakishly difficult." Some of the letters change before you can place them, so of course it's even harder to figure out the words. Try the first one first, before the sequel. And then let your kid show you how to play the second one.

I know I haven't been blogging as much lately - that's summer for ya. But I have tons of ideas, tips and resources up my sleeve. I'll post more often, I promise. In the meantime, thanks for visiting the site. I appreciate everyone who finds this blog, and enjoys it. Thanks for coming.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Books for boys

One of our recent posts listed stuff boys like.

Here's another look at those categories, with some reading choices for each one. I also encourage you to post your own suggestions in the Comments.

Gross stuff
Here are some suitably gross books boys love.
Walter the Farting Dog, by William Kotzwinkle, Glenn Murray, and Audrey Colman;

Capt. Underpants, by Dav Pilkey (not my favourite - but boys love them);

Grossology, by Sylvia Branzei (there's a whole series including Animal Grossology and Virtual Grossology);

The Gas We Pass (The Story of Farts), by Shinta Cho; and

Oh, Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty.

Lots of boys like to read about wars, especially WWII.

Paschendaele: Canada's Triumph and Tragedy on the Fields of Flanders, by Norman Leach - This book flew off the shelves during our school book fair. (There's also a movie starring Paul Gross.)

Also, see "Superheroes" below. (Superheros spend their days fighting. Punching. Being punched. It's a living.)

Boys love joke books. Joke books are best purchased rather than borrowed from the library, because kids will refer to them again and again. Ask the staff at your local bookstore for a popular one, and then for pete's sake read a few of the jokes before you buy it to make sure that they're age-appropriate but even more importantly, that they're funny - because you'll be hearing them. Again. And again. And again.

Boys also like funny or silly stories. For instance, Chester by Melanie Watt, is a picture book in which the author's cat, Chester, scratches out and rewrites the story to his advantage.

Books that my son confirms are "hilarious," are The Weird School series by Dan Gutman (Miss Daisy is Crazy is the first one) and the extremely popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney.

We've talked before about the Encyclopedia of Immaturity, a Klutz book. It's very funny, and kids will read it over and over.

To help them quench their thirst for all things factual, consider the Guinness Book of World Records, joke books, biographies and magazines.

There's a great "-ology" series (Spyology, Monsterology, Egyptology, Dragonology, Wizardology, Pirateology, by various authors). They can be a bit pricey because they have pop-outs and special features, but boys really love them. They also have factoids and lots of images, which also attracts boys.

You can also buy (or take out of the library) non-fiction books on the topics that most interest your child. Think about what he likes, and Google the topic to find non-fiction books on those subjects. Your librarian can be a great asset here, steering you towards age-appropriate books.

We've talked on this blog before about how important magazines are. Visit any large bookstore, and you'll see tons of kid-friendly magazines on every topic imaginable. For instance, there's a kids' Sports Illustrated, a kids' National Geographic, car magazines, video gaming magazines, etc.

Many of the books in this list are very visual, with bite-sized chunks of text and lots of images, illustrations and photos, including: the -ology series, the Guinness books, the Encylopedia of Immaturity, and Reader's Digest.

Think Superman, Batman and Spiderman - comics and books. But for older boys also consider classics like Beowulf, and Homer’s The Odyssey.

There is a whole list of great superhero books that aren't comics here and here.

The Internet
Here's a "cool-parent" tip. Get the name of one of the video games your son's playing a lot right now. Then Google it, with "cheats" or "walkthrough" like this: "Mario Super Smash Bros. cheats" or "Zelda walkthrough".

You'll get a big long page of tips that will make your son's gameplaying experiencing more fun and more enriched. (Don't worry - they're not "cheating" - they're called cheats, but it really means hidden extras. On the other hand, the walkthroughs are actually cheating, but games are so complicated these days, everyone uses them.)

Your son will love you and think you're uber-cool, because you're showing him something new about his game. And you'll be happy because boy, there is a ton of reading to those cheats and walkthroughs!

All of the above
Reader’s Digest - It has many of the elements boys love: pictures, short articles, games, jokes, non-fiction, competition and it’s compact so it's portable.

The Sports section of your newspaper.

The Guinness Book of World Records and the Guinness Book of World Records, Gamer's Edition.

Please share with us your favourite gross, factual, humorous, visual or non-fiction books boys love.

Please also check out the "Great books" category on this blog for more suggestions, and for more information about many of the books listed here.

For more gross books for boys, check out the blog, Getting Boys to Read.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Reading the paper on the floor

Life imitates blog.

Having recently reminded myself what boys like (in terms of their reading material), I’ve been on the lookout for something to encourage my son to read during these busy summer days.

This afternoon, I found it. The Toronto Star newspaper ran a great story on what Toronto was like in the pioneer days.

The article had everything boys like:
1) Short info-bites
2) Pictures corresponding to each info-bite.
3) It was about history.
4) It was factual.
5) Gross stuff – “Diapering: Women used moss, which could be discarded, tucked inside a swaddling cloth.”
6) Violence (sort of) – and this was my son’s favourite part – “Cooking: Women tested the temperature of the oven by rolling up a sleeve, inserting an arm all the way in and counting. If they had to withdraw their arm by the count of 10, the oven was the right temperature…”
7) Physicality. I put the paper on the floor, and he read it there. Plus, he got to wrestle the cat, who was trying to lie on the paper.

After he read the article, we talked a bit about it. And then I tossed the comics page down to him to encourage him to keep reading (which he did). And then he even did the Word Search.


You can do this, too. Keep your child's preferences in mind, and when an opportunity presents itself, toss him some reading material. For boys, think: car manual; a videogame user’s guide; a map; the sports section… it’s all reading.

I'm going to be doing girls' preferences, in upcoming posts. I've done some in the past, but I'm going to do more. If you have any comments about boys' or girls' reading preferences, please post a comment. Thanks!