Saturday, February 27, 2010

Alice now and then

Do cheer up, Alice dear!

This is the first Alice in Wonderland - the namesake.

It's Alice Liddell, one of three girls to whom Lewis Carroll told the original story of Alice Through the Looking Glass. They urged him to write it down, and the rest is history.

The Globe and Mail has a wonderful slide show of Alice through the ages, including an Annie Lebowitz portrait, one by the Hunter S. Thomson illustrator and this one, from the movie.

Please do encourage your child to read the book, or read it out loud to them. It's so worth it.

It's also a good idea to show them the Globe's slide show. Reading extensions like seeing the movie or getting a taste for the background of a book can really help to get kids reading.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Dry-Erase Crayons

Things that make you go "d'uh!"

This is one of those inventions that you wish you'd thought of.

Dry-erase crayons
. How good is that?

No mess, no smell, no drying out. But do they work? This is the best part - they really, really do work well.

The colours are deep and rich, and they write smoothly. Kind of like a cross between crayons and lipstick. Even on paper, which I don't advise because they smudge, they are vibrant and smooth-writing.

Combine this product with the idea about using a plastic plate as a mini-whiteboard, and you've got yourself a fun literacy-building activity. That wipes right off.

The dry-erase crayons come in packs of eight, with an "E-Z Erase Mitt" (in Canada it's an E-Zed Erase Mitt, which makes no sense but still wipes off just fine) and a built-in crayon sharpener.

I bet it won't take long before you're seeing them in classrooms and boardrooms. Fun! Crayola's selling them here for $5.48 a pack. Incidentally, I just Googled "dry-erase crayons" and found out that Sargent also makes them.

Sorry if this article sounds like a commercial for Crayola. I'm not affiliated with them, I don't get money from them - heck, I didn't even get a free box of crayons, just two sample crayons (which everyone at the For the Love of Reading conference also got). I just happen to like this product. Still, the article is a bit gushy. I will try to curb my enthusiasm just a titch in future.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bubblegum writing

Another tip from Lori Jamison, speaking at the recent Reading for the Love of It conference.

When she's trying to get young children to sound out words, she calls it "bubblegum writing."

She tells them to pretend the word they want to write--let's say, "camping"--is a piece of bubblegum.

With one hand, you s-t-r-e-t-c-h the bubble gum from your mouth out into the air.

You're stretching the word.

With the other hand, you write down each letter as you say it. Like this:

The child writes: k m p n

It's not "book writing" yet, of course, but they've learned how to manipulate a word to figure out the sounds within it. And that's a pretty great start!

A related tip - every day she teaches one new word, spelled properly. And then she says, "now, whenever we want to write that word, that's how we'll write it." She always starts with "I" because it's easy and it's about the child. So in a very short time, a child will be able to write:

"I wnt kmpn." Not bad.

Sorry about this photo. Lip gloss - not good. But it was all I could find. As with all of my blog photos, one must use one's imagination!
Wanna hear something cool? Two days ago, CBC radio picked my account of teaching literacy to a young adult, to win a small prize. The bigger prize was that Rita Celli read my article on the air. Thanks, CBC!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Early writers - adding detail

Yes, Lori Jamison's workshop was packed.

And for good reason. Here's another excellent tip she shared.

When her kindergarteners were starting to write sentences (towards the end of JK or in SK), they would write this way: "I like my cat."

And that would be it. I'm finished, teacher!

How to encourage them to add detail? To add another sentence or two?

Jamison would go around the room, reading the kids' sentences, and give each child a dot sticker on the back of their hand.

If you had a dot on the back of your hand, that meant to add another sentence. The period was the dot.

As she was handing out the stickers, she would say something like this: "I like my cat. That's very good. Do you think you could add another detail about your cat?" The child would nod. And she would put a dot on the back of the child's hand. ("Here's a detail dot.")

The child would write: "I like my cat. He is funny."

For some students, Jamison would apply two dots to the back of their hand. Two dots! Two details. Go, kid, go.

She says she has never had a child refuse a dot. In fact, children come up to her asking for more dots. That's pretty good - kids asking to write more.

As kids are given dots, it's a good idea to offer a prompt that helps them come up with the next sentence. Like "How did that make you feel?" or "What do you like about it?"

The kids' sentences weren't always "book English" - in other words, written perfectly, the way you'd see sentences in a book. Sometimes they were pictures with scribbles. And sometimes they were jumbled letters meant to represent words. Doesn't matter - it's all part of the continuum of learning to write. They're all forms of "sentences" to which the kids can add more "sentences" and greater detail. Those kids still get dots, and the dots help them progress along that continuum. And it's fun.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Why Percy Jackson is awesome

Now this is a goood book.

How do I know that Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief is a good book? Here's how:

The other day my son was home sick with an ear infection (he's fine now). Even when he's sick, he normally never stops moving around, playing sports, doing his usual stuff.

However, on this day he sat in his bed for four and a half hours reading Percy Jackson. All of it. More than 200 pages.

He didn't even stop for lunch - I had to give him a sandwich in bed.

OK, so the ear infection played a part. But I think it was mostly this book that stopped my son in his tracks and kept him reading for the whole day.

I'm reading the book now, before we all go to see the movie. I think it's appealing to certain kids because it's a very fast read and it has tons of action. Even before you find out Percy is half Greek god, there's lots of physical stuff happening.

If your child has ADHD, this book has an added bonus. Percy Jackson and the other half-blood kid protagonists in the book have all been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and/or learning disabilities. Then, of course, we find out that they're all heroes. If your child has been similarly diagnosed, this book may help to boost his self-esteem and help him see his potential. Well, not to become a Greek god (I hope) - but you know what I mean.

The book is a bit easier to read than I thought it would be. It might be good for older kids who are somewhat reluctant readers. The content is more mature (fights, battles, general mayhem) but with the exception of the Greek words and names of the gods, the vocabulary is fairly light.

I have an idea for the author, however. In the back of each book, include a pronunciation guide for the names of the Greek characters. I thought that my son was getting a bit of an education on Greek mythology--and he is--until he said some of the names aloud and I realized that he's pronouncing them in his head very differently from the way they're normally pronounced. For instance, "Chiron" as "Cheer-on" rather than "Ky-ron." Don't worry, I set 'im straight.

Until the author takes me up on my fantastic idea, here's an online pronunciation guide to Greek mythology.
Here's a link to the Percy Jackson website.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

We're now

We have a new - and improved - web address.

Getting Kids Reading is now at

The old address ( will still work. And the content hasn't changed. But the address is just a bit easier to, um, read. And isn't that the point? Yes.

I'd like to thank my husband without whom, trust me, this could not have happened. Like, in a million years.

Plastic plate as whiteboard

Here's another great idea from Lori Jamison's workshop.

A cheap, plastic plate can be used as a mini-whiteboard for kids.

They're durable, easy to store and inexpensive.
And best of all, dry erase marker wipes right off!
Kids can practise their writing on them, wipe off what they've done, and then practise again.

Jamison suggests you give each child a little glove (raid the lost-and-found, she says), which they can use to wipe their mini-whiteboard clean.

She packages a plate, marker and glove in a Ziploc bag for each child.

One caution - she says that not all plastic plates are erasable. And she says you should never, ever bring a marker to a store, poke a hole in the packaging, and try the plate before you buy it. No, no.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lessons from a kindergarten teacher

This is a kindergarten teacher - and a teacher of teachers.

Lori Jamison introduced a roomful of kindergarten teachers at the recent Reading for the Love of it conference to a handful of "mini-lessons" to get kids reading.

Her first point was, "what do we want kindergarteners to know about literacy?" Here's what she thinks are the most important take-aways.

1) The concepts of print - which is the front/back of the book? How does a book work?
2) The conventions and structures of spoken language.
3) Why do we read/write?
4) Motivation - helping children see themselves as readers and writers.

This last point, she said, is the most important one.

I'll be posting more information from her very interesting session. In the meantime, here's one of the many great suggestions she had for teaching beginning readers and writers: Have them use the letters in their name to write.

She pointed out that the first letters children learn and use are the ones in their name. They're most comfortable with those letters, and they have a context for them. So concentrate on using those letters to help them spell new words.

It's a simple idea, but wonderfully helpful.

About the only thing I didn't love about Jamison's speech was that she made us all do a "hello to your neighbour" song - with high-fives and thigh bumps - at the beginning of her speech. As I was scowling, wondering how I could avoid doing it without making a scene, it brought home to me that I am far too cynical to ever be a kindergarten teacher. Fair enough.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Video-kid ideas needed

As you may know, when I'm not blogging or mothering I'm a freelance journalist.

I'm currently writing a magazine article about how to get kids who love video games, to love reading as well.

One of the ways to do this is to use technology, that has a literacy component, to interest them.

Do you know any particularly interesting websites, games, toys or products that use technology but have a strong literacy component?

If so, I'd love to hear from you. Please comment, below, or send me an e-mail at joycegrant (at) sympatico (dot) ca. Please include your e-mail address so I can follow-up with you if necessary.


The readers of this blog often have the most amazing ideas, which is why I'm reaching out in this way. Thank you, everyone, in advance for your thoughts. And Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Finger Puppet Book Bags

A little gem from the literacy conference.

It's a knitted book bag, with finger puppets that adhere with snaps to the bag. A knitted string lets the child hang it around her neck and take it anywhere.

Each bag has a theme. For instance, the Ocean bag has a handpainted ocean scene, and it comes with a clownfish, a crab, a mermaid, an octopus, a sea turtle, a seal, a shark and a starfish.

The idea is that you put a book, or a couple of books, into the bag.
There's a list of book suggestions for each bag. For the Ocean bag, they suggest Baby Beluga, by Raffi and Commotion in the Ocean, by Giles Andreae (and eight others).

Then, wherever your little reader goes, she carries an entire puppet show with her.

Interacting with literature is definitely a great way to get kids reading.

The bags are made in Bolivia by indigenous peoples; it's a Fair Trade project, benefitting both countries and helping families in Bolivia earn a living wage.

You can purchase a bag, a product the owner calls 3 Bags Full, from her website.

And speaking of the owner - here she is. Her name is Sue Berlove, and boy, she is passionate about what she does. Do visit her website. For one thing, they have way better pictures of her bags than the one I've used here (taken myself, as if you didn't know.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

For the Love of Reading

I'm covering the Reading for the Love of it conference today.

I've never been before, and I'm really excited about it. It's a two-day "language arts" conference in Toronto aimed at educators. I consider myself one of those--after all, if this blog isn't about educating, what is it about? ("Fun!" screams the sassy voice in my head, but I shush it.)

For every workshop time-slot, there are dozens of speakers. Impossible to choose. I can only imagine how many booths there will be. I had 100 business cards printed up yesterday, and I hope I give them all away.

From this literacy cornucopia, I will try to distill the best and most useful information and present it here in upcoming posts. In the meantime, I'm bringing my laptop and my camera and my good shoes.

Here's a link to the conference's home page.

Stephen Lewis is speaking on "Education: the world's greatest force for good." Good lord, how does anyone take the stage after that? It's like trying to follow Al Gore at an ecology conference.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Percy Jackson and the Olympians


When my son went to bed last night, this is what he found on his pillow - a Coles bookstore bag, with a book-sized lump in it.

You're eight, you don't feel like going to bed, you're dragging your feet, prolonging the inevitable... and then you find a new book in your bed.

The whole situation suddenly changed. His face lit up, and he thanked me like crazy.

Giving a book as a "just because" and "for no reason" gift is a great way to get your kid reading.

And it helped that it's a book there's some buzz about, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan. Many parents have been telling me how much their kids are enjoying it--those who like fantasy and even those who normally don't.

I haven't read it yet (I'm going to), but it's based on Greek mythology; Percy discovers that he's a demi-god--a son of Poseidon, who rules the sea. He finds out there are other living Greek gods in the world, both good and evil. He meets up with them, has some battles, and presumably finds out some things about himself in the process. Here's a slightly longer synopsis.

There's a series of five books, and the movie is due out this month in the US and Canada (I'm not sure about the UK or other countries, but I would assume so).

Hiding a good book in your child's bed is a fun way to stall bedtime for just a few minutes--and get your kid reading.

The Percy Jackson books started out as tales the author told to his son, who was studying Greek mythology in Grade two. Eventually, he wrote them down and now... well, now he's a ba-jillionaire. Ka-ching! Wait until my writers' group hears about this.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Seen in Blockbuster: books!

Get your kids reading by telling them about the movie or TV show.

I don't visit Blockbuster very often. So it was a revelation to to me that they had a book rack filled with the book versions of about a dozen popular movies.

That is great.

I'm a big advocate of what I call "reading extensions." That's a book that has been made into a movie or a TV show.

I think reading extensions can get kids reading. For instance, while they're waiting for the new Alice in Wonderland movie to come out, I bet a lot of kids are picking up the book for the first time.

Or let's say they've seen all the Twilight movies. It takes a long time for those movies to be made. In the meantime, they buy the buttons and the reversible Jacob/Edward posters... and then they see the book stand at Blockbusters. And maybe they buy the books.

Harry Potter. Julie and Julia. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Up in the Air (betchya didn't know there was a book). The movies can be portals into the joys of reading, that's what I think.

My 18-year-old niece is, by her own admission, not a big reader. But she did read all the Twilight books. The other day, I gave her The Host, by the same author. I'm hoping that her interest in Twilight will spark her to read The Host. If not, the book may sit on a shelf in her room until the movie comes out and then I'm almost certain she'll read it.

Wait - I just Googled it - yes, they are making a movie of The Host. So now I've just texted my niece, saying "you'd better hurry up and read the book!"

See, that's how it works.

So - good on ya, Blockbuster, for selling books and helping to get kids reading.

That last line had a bit of an Aussie accent, didn't it? Consider it an homage to all our readers down under (undah).

Monday, February 1, 2010

Profile: Girl, 7, likes art, spaghetti

Playing in the snow.

Here's a girl who's 7, and likes art, ballet and spaghetti. She also loves books. Maybe you know someone similar, who would like the same books she does.

Female, age 7, Canadian, loves reading

Smart, creative

Art, Disney World, spaghetti, ballet, soccer, horses and playing in the snow and on the beach

1) Camping Out: A Shadow Story, by Lisa Allen and Julie Sharp

2) The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch

3) Eloise's Guide to Life: or, How to Eat, Dress, Travel, Behave and Stay Six Forever, by Kay Thompson

4) Thomas's Snowsuit, by Robert Munsch

5) Santa Knows, by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith

Want to know more about this post and the profiles we're writing about? Click here.