Friday, June 18, 2010

Set up summer reading rewards

Stats show that kids who read throughout the summer have a great kick-start to school in September.

And kids who don't, typically start the school year a bit behind.

With the school year ending, now's the time to plan your child's summer reading and writing projects.

Does your library have a summer reading program? Ours does; it's usually a large poster with about a dozen stickers you can earn over the summer by reading a book and then telling the librarian what you read.

The stickers are motivating because they "add" to the picture on the poster when you stick them on it. It's also nice for kids to have the undivided attention of the librarian while they're telling her about the books they've read.

This would be a pretty simple project to do at home. Instead of a poster, it's a big picture you or your child draws on bristol board - and a flat of stickers that have some kind of theme.

You could also arrange the stickers in a "reading reward chart" configuration. Each sticker represents a book the child has read and when he's read five (or 10) books he gets a reward of some kind.

It's important to put the poster or chart up on the child's wall so it's constantly motivating for him.

I don't know about you, but when my son was small I counted books that we'd read together as well as ones he'd read himself. Both types of reading are equally important and valuable, I think.

Related posts:

Here's a link to the Summer Reading Club. This year's theme is "Destination Jungle" and the image with this post is this year's poster.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Numeracy activities

A few posts ago, I listed some great literacy activities from our school board. Here are some numeracy activities to get kids doing math (same source, TDSB).

Again, I've put in bold the ones I think are particularly interesting.
  • Estimate speed/distance/time relationships while travelling with your family. What was the average speed of the last trip you took?
  • Examine maps with your child. Estimate distances. Find locations.
  • Make a favourite recipe together.
  • Log and graph sports scores over time. Find trends.
  • Log and then graph daily temperatures over a one-week period with your family. (Make sure you take the temperature at the same time each day.)
  • Estimate quantities and volumes during activities like gardening or planning food for a trip.
  • Track three different stocks and see how they do in one month.
  • Do mental calculations such as estimating grocery or restaurant bills.
  • Pay cash for a purchase at the register. Check the correct change.
  • Calculate how long it will take to save for a certain item your family would like to buy using your money from a part-time job or your allowance.
  • Calculate a bat/run average for a specific baseball player.
  • Make a weekly schedule with your family. Make time estimations for different activities.
  • Read signs with your family while driving. Specifically look for advertising that has a math concept embedded in it. Talk about it.
  • Explain how to calculate the tip at a restaurant. Do the calculation together.
  • Open a bank account. Many youth accounts have brochures that explain interest rates. Read the literature together and decide which type of account will earn the best rates, minimize your transaction costs and meet your minimum balance plans.
  • Look at sports statistics. Have a discussion about an interesting trend.
  • Go grocery shopping together. Compare prices. Estimate price per kilogram. Which is the better price?
  • Talk about items on sale. Do some Internet research to find out whether other vendors have similar products costing more or less.
  • Talk about lotteries. Examine the odds.
  • Talk about how a credit card works. Look at a statement together.
  • Look at your electricity, gas or water bill. Which utility costs your family the most?
  • Look at charts and graphs that appear in newspapers or magazines you receive. Find one that has information that interests your family. Talk about the chart or graph.
  • Examine different cell phone packages. Which is the best value for your calling pattern and payment preferences?

Source: Toronto District School Board, TDSB.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Offering a healthy choice

My son doesn't eat enough fruits and vegetables.

And I think that one reason is that I often take the easy route instead of the healthy one.

Let's say he has 10 minutes before his baseball game - he's starving, but he's late. "Mom! I'm hungry!" I will usually make him crackers and cheese or a give him a granola bar.

Because I know that if I offer him a banana or an apple I'm going to get, "I'm not hungry for that!" A big hassle. And while we argue, the clock is ticking and before you know it we're even later.

My husband, on the other hand, can tell him, "Grab a banana" and although he'll whine, my son will eat it. Because he's learned that with daddy, that's a snack. Daddy stands firm.

This can apply to reading.

Like last night, the Stanley Cup Playoffs were on. The Stanley. Cup. Playoffs. (If you're Canadian you know what I'm talking about. If you're not, you can imagine.)

But I could see that my son was tired and needed to get into his bed. So rather than cave into his demand to watch the game, which would have meant he'd be up for another half an hour, I told him that he could read for 10 minutes in bed.

He did whine. I insisted. He whined some more (seriously, the Stanley Cup playoffs!). I stayed the course. Bedtime, and as a treat you can read for 10 minutes. The implied threat was that if there was any more whining I'd take away the reading. (Which I'd never do, but he doesn't read this blog so he doesn't know that.)

So he read for a bit. And because he really was tired, he went to sleep.

And in the morning, I had a kid who was well-rested. (And had to be told that the Blackhawks had won the Stanley Cup in overtime.)

Getting kids reading can be really hard. But it's worth it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Get involved in your child's school

Enrich your child's learning, help your teacher, get involved.

I despair when parents complain that their kids aren’t getting what they need from their school.

I despair, not because the children aren’t getting what they need from their school, but because we parents have been conditioned to accept those terms lying down. And I strongly believe that if your child is not getting what he needs from school, you can change things.

We parents need to recognize our power. We need to ignore the “stop” signs that have been put up around us—Stop! You can’t participate in school. Stop! You we can’t go into the classroom. Stop! You can't change the curriculum.

School is not some sacrosanct chamber. It’s where our children spend the vast majority of their time during the day. School is where our children are living their lives.

And if they’re not getting what they need from school, we can change that. As parents, we need to change that. We need to add stuff, we need to get the teachers to add stuff, we need to change stuff.

We can raise money for great books if that’s what’s needed—or just make a donation to the classroom of appropriate books (with input from the teacher, of course). We can find interesting programs that are being offered and get them incorporated into our school’s curriculum. At our school, for instance, the parent council funded a chess program so now all of our kids, from grades 1 to 6, get instruction in chess once a week.

We can talk to the teacher and the principal to find out how we can help. Taking a look at our own skill set is a good place to start. That’s how I arrived at the idea to do a weekly current events session in my child’s class. I’m a journalist and I love the news, so I simply asked the teacher if he’d be interested in my bringing newspapers to the kids once a week.

How about buying a few sets of Boggle or Scrabble and introducing your child’s class to a weekly game that gets them thinking and spelling? Or researching excellent fun learning websites on the Internet, so that when your child’s computer time comes around, the teacher has some good options to offer the kids.

Or how about introducing chess to your child’s class? Chess is actually extremely easy to play at a beginner level; once you know how each piece is allowed to move, you’ve pretty much got it. (It only gets hard at more advanced levels.) You can teach yourself how to play, buy or borrow a few sets and then – presto – you’re bringing chess to your child’s classroom once a week. And as our chess instructor will readily point out, the game teaches children how to think ahead, which is a valuable life skill.

If you can throw off the shackles of “parents should not interfere in school” and get involved, there are thousands of ways in which you can customize your child’s learning, help the teacher and enrich the school’s curriculum. And that’s a good situation for everyone.

I'm not suggesting some radical, half-cocked approach here. I'm talking about taking your ideas to the teacher or the principal and letting them know what you can offer and why it would benefit the school. Working with them as a partner. And of course, the benefit to you is that your child will then be exposed to new and extended learning. I mean, like, don't just do stuff for other classrooms - do it for your own kid's. It's a win-win.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Newest Twilight book - free

the short second life of bree tanner - by Stephenie Meyer

It's hot off the press and today until July 5 it's available free online here.

The book is a novella, only 178 pages, and its protagonist is one of the minor characters from Meyer's earlier novel, Eclipse.

Bree Tanner is a "newborn vampire," whose life is dangerous and ultimately tragic. The book is told through her voice, giving Twilight fans a chance to look at Eclipse in a completely different light.

As a parent, you should know that your girl will definitely want this book. That Chapters/Indigo is selling it for $9.99 when you purchase another teen book. And that it's available online for free until July 5, 2010.

Even if you're not planning on reading this book, check out the free online version - the technology is pretty interesting. You can increase the size of the print, view it as a one-page or two-page spread, and choose individual pages to read or just go through it all page by page.

If you've got a reluctant reader, this may be just the ticket. It's a short book, full of action, easy to read and it's online. Until July 5.

I bought the book yesterday and it only took me - I tend to be a very slow reader - an hour or so to get halfway through it. It's interesting and it clips right along. And I like that Stephenie Meyer lets her readers into her thought process (in the Introduction) in terms of the way she thinks about her characters. She may get kids writing as well.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Theodore Boone by John Grisham

Does your child want to be a lawyer?

Does he negotiate bedtime like Alan Dershowitz? Does he want to put the bad guys behind bars?

If this is your kid, then you need to buy John Grisham’s new book for young adults, Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer.

Grisham has written 22 books for adults, mostly about the small-town lawyer up against the baddies. His books are legal thrillers, packed with the real-world details that only an author who used to be a lawyer can provide. They’re quick reads with lots of action.

This book is Grisham’s first attempt at a young adult novel, and it’s kind of like his other books – only a lite version.

In trying to write for a younger audience Grisham faces some challenges. There’s a lot of legal stuff he has to explain, which comes off either sounding like a lecture or being condescending. And any exciting tension he builds up between the bad guy and our hero fizzles out because his normal fight/chase scene would be too scary for this audience, so he has to pull all of those punches. It ultimately becomes confusing for the reader, who wonders what all the fuss was about. Also, the main character isn’t very well-rounded; he’s a likeable enough kid but too two-dimensional and perfect to believe.

Having said all that, however, there is a fair bit of action in the book, it's well-paced and it centres on a good moral: that people are innocent until proven guilty.

I’m not going to review the book here, because Kate at Book Aunt has written everything that I would have said about it – the good and the bad. So do read her review.

If you’ve got a child who is interested in the law, or becoming a lawyer, then definitely get this book.

If your kid wants to be a baseball player or a ballerina (or anything else), take a pass on this book and wait for the sequel that is sure to come – there’s an enormous cliffhanger at the end of the book, so presumably there will be a second one. And I’m hoping it will be more firmly edited and more appropriate for its audience.

Overview of Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer
Theo, 13, is a straight-A student whose parents are both lawyers. He loves everything about the law; he’s got a dog named Judge. Kids at school come to him with their troubles (parents getting divorced, pets in the animal pound, etc.) and he hacks into the Lexis-Nexis system at his parents’ office to give his friends legal advice.

One day a murder is being tried in his small town. Theo gets mixed up in it and must decide when to bring in the adults, as what he knows about the case gradually becomes pivotal to the prosecution.

The website for the book,, has a few things for educators and parents including a teaching guide and a three-minute video of Grisham talking about the book.

Is it a good book? I'm not sure. I did enjoy reading it, but so much of it went "klunk" that it was hard to decide if it's a worthwhile read. Certainly for kids who are struggling with reading (unless they love the law) I'd give it a miss. I'm going to keep my eye out for the second Theodore Boone book and I'll keep an open mind. And fingers crossed.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Literacy Lava - excellent (free) resource

Literacy Lava 5

I've got an article in the latest edition of Susan Stephenson's (The Book Chook) great e-newsletter, "Literacy Lava."

"Literacy Lava" is a free .pdf for parents and educators, and is basically a collection of great articles on helping kids to read.

This is the 5th edition of the newsletter and it includes:
*my article, on getting your video-loving kid to read;
*developing spelling skills;
*whether graphic novels are real reading;
*encouraging kids to write poetry;
and much, much more.

It's a tremendous resource, very professionally done, with articles taken from various experts on children's literacy. Stephenson does it as a labour of love, and to help promote her excellent blog, "The Book Chook."

I'm honoured to have been asked to contribute to the e-newsletter; I'm in excellent company.

Click here to download a free copy of the .pdf. While you're on the site, click around and you'll find lots of gems - including back issues of Literacy Lava.