Thursday, April 29, 2010

Physical literacy games

It's a good idea to link learning to physical activity.

I was inspired this week by my son's teacher, who was teaching them fractions by having them throw balls into various buckets marked 1/7, 1/3, 1/4, etc. They had to add them up and avoid making an improper fraction.

I think that's great. Because they're doing something physical, their thinking will be linked to muscle activity - not to mention being outdoors - and it will all sink in so much more easily. The learning will stick with them longer, too.

It got me thinking about physical games we could play with kids around words.

The buckets could be labelled with letters (E, I, A, L, S, M) and the kids could throw balls into the buckets to gather letters which they could use to make words. If they miss a bucket, they can't use that letter.

Or, the game could be about vowels. You have to try to only get your ball into the vowel buckets, and avoid the consonants. You get a point for every vowel you hit. Or you then make words that have those vowels in them.

Or, you could label the buckets with words, and try to form sentences.

Matching physical, outdoor activities will help most kids achieve better results. For certain kids, it may be the only way they can learn.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Internet helps kids read

The Internet can help to get kids reading, according to a 2008 Scholastic Kids and Family Reading study. In an article in the Bismarck Tribune (North Dakota), journalist Pamela Krueger says the study shows that:

*Kids who use the Internet are more likely to read a book for fun.
*Two-thirds of children aged 9 to 17 go online in order to broaden their reading experience (in other words, for reading extensions).
*Kids who are low-frequency readers prefer to read online rather than books.

The article suggests that your child look up their favourite author on the Internet to learn more about them and find other books written by them, e-mail family and friends, or visit the American Library Association's "Great Websites for Kids" page.

Here's the article in full.
And here's an article from GKR about how to get your video-loving kid reading books.

(Via a tweet from @JeanetteMcLeod.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary

Just when you thought the Wimpy Kid series couldn’t get any better, author Jeff Kinney has outdone himself.

He’s created The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary—a non-fiction version of the Wimpy Kid books. How great is that?

We know how much kids love the Wimpy Kid books. And then there was the movie, which was a real extension of the books. This “making of” book goes one step further, and may encourage kids to not only read the other books and see the movie, but to take a look at a career in filmmaking.

The Movie Diary is written and illustrated just like the Wimpy Kid books. And it has colour stills (like the movie). It uses that same hand-writing font featured in the books and the movie.

The Movie Diary takes the reader through the making of the Wimpy Kid movie—from the time the book idea and the lead actor are born, until the movie is made.

Along the way it explains how a movie gets made including:
*choosing the actors;
*writing the screenplay;
*blocking the shots;
and tons of other stuff that will be fascinating to any kid who loves movies.

The book tells some wonderful secrets, like the fact that Mr. Winsky’s (the Safety Patrol officer) office has newspaper clippings of him as a young safety patrol member—and that the set designer used actual pictures of the actor when he was younger.

It also shows you all of the “Zoo-Wee Mama” comic strips, which go by too fast in the movie to allow you to enjoy them.

And the fact that the school in the movie is actually three schools in Vancouver, spliced together.

The Movie Diary also explains some things in the books, like the fact that all of the girls in the Wimpy Kid books are drawn to look exactly alike, except for hair colour. That’s because, explains the author, they’re meant to be from Greg’s perspective, and to him all girls look alike.

This book is full of gems, and tells the story about the making of the movie in a way that lets the reader understand the process without overwhelming him with technical details.
Intelligent and not condescending—just like the Wimpy Kid books.
It contains everything boys, in particular, like in books: facts, brief snippits of text and lots of pictures. I can’t imagine there’s a Wimpy Kid fan out there who wouldn’t love this book.

And for pete’s sake, if your kid’s read the Wimpy Kid books and you haven’t taken him to the movie yet? Well, what the heck are you waiting for!?

I'd like to thank Veronica Wasserman, who rushed a review copy of this book to me so that I had it in, like, two days. Some people just do their job really well, and she's one of those. So thanks.

I filed this article under "gift ideas" because--grandparents, aunts, parents of friends who need a birthday gift suggestion--this book would make an awesome gift.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More books = more education

Books lead to education.

There are three things that you can do to help ensure your child will become a reader:
1) Read to him every day.
2) Have lots of books in your home.
3) Read, yourself.

The research is very consistent. Statistically, families that do these three things end up having kids who read.

Yesterday, the Toronto Star ran an article about the benefits of having lots of books in your home.

Basically, the more books in the home, the more education the child is likely to get. The effect is very profound in less-developed countries like China and among low-income families.

"In China the study found a child whose parents own 500 books will average 6.6 more years of education than a child from a home without books. Amongst blacks in South Africa it is 4 years. In the U.S. the figure is 2.4 years. In Canada it is 1.6 years. According to Evans a child from a family rich in books is 19 percentage points more likely to complete university than a child who grew up without a home library." (-Toronto Star.)


It's a statistical correlation. In other words, having books doesn't send a kid to university. But in homes with lots of books, kids tend to go to university. And if parents are poor and uneducated, kids are much more likely to go to school longer when there are lots of books in the home.

There is another link, brilliantly outlined in the book Freakanomics. When a child is surrounded by books, she feels entitled to them. Whether or not she even opens up a book at home, she becomes comfortable with them, understands them and feels that she is entitled to be in a place where there are lots of books - ie, a university.

The article and associated research also speaks to my third point - that reading, yourself, will get your child reading.

"If you get parents reading even a small amount, Evans said, you gain in cognition, learning capacities and vocabulary in children. “This study says having bookish parents no matter where they sit in social stratification if they stick to their books they can improve their children’s futures,” she said." (-Toronto Star.)

So number one, read to your child every day.
Number two, give your child his own books.
Number three, read yourself.

Here is a link to the article in The Star, by Debra Black.

And are some past GKR articles that talk about the three most important things parents can do to get their kids reading:

I know it sounds like I'm beating on the same drum--read to your child, scatter books, read yourself. But everything, everything I read about literacy points to the same things. It's like saying, "If you want to lose weight, eat less and exercise more." Yes, it's simple.

But yes, it's true.

Thank you to my wonderful husband for pointing this article out to me. Good get.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Movie

My son and I saw the movie Diary of a Wimpy Kid the other day.

As you know, the books are hugely popular with boys and girls of all ages. But I was leery about the movie. I pictured one of those "revenge of the nerds" types of movies, where the main character gets picked on mercilessly for the first half of the film.

That's not what this is. Wimpy doesn't mean loser. Sure the main character is at the bottom of the pecking order in his new school, but he's never a victim. I think it's because he never sees himself as a victim.

That crucial distinction takes Diary up a step--several steps--from other kids' movies.

The other thing I like about the movie is that it's not just a good movie for kids, but for adults too. It's fun to see with a kid, but it would probably be just fine for two adults as well.

Most importantly, I think that Diary the movie is a great reading extension that will encourage kids to read Diary the book series.

And speaking of reading extensions, here's a great twist: author Jeff Kinney has recently published a book about the making of the movie. It was the author's first movie and so he's documented it in Wimpy-Kid-Diary format. I haven't read it (I just found out about it as I was researching this article) but it's a great idea that could extend the learning even further.

Here's a great quote from Roger Ebert's review - and one with which I thoroughly agree:

"The movie is inspired by the books of Jeff Kinney, and the titles reproduce his hand-lettering and drawing style. The movie reproduces his charm."

His movie review will also give you more information about the plot of the film and the characters.

Here's a link to the books.
And a link to a past post featuring Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Before you go, make sure to flip through one of the books with your child to remind yourself of the main characters. They have been brilliantly cast and considering how simplistic the drawings are, they're remarkably accurate. Fun!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Read the signs

Signs are great "flash cards."

The other day, I was speaking with a mom whose son is having some trouble with reading.

It was recommended that he start learning "whole words." (As opposed to phonetically sounding things out.)

I'm all for the whole-word approach to learning to read. It's a great partner to phonetics and for some kids, may be the best way to learn.

When kids memorize some words it gives them confidence. When they're struggling with a sentence and then they come to a word they know, it's like an oasis in a desert.

We do it in math - math teachers will tell you that memorizing the times table is a must. With reading, memorizing words creates successes and can help defray frustration.

Flash cards are what come to mind when you're thinking about learning whole words. They can easily be created yourself or downloaded from the Internet or, as in the case of this boy who is very artistic, he can create them himself. That will give him buy-in and because he's drawn the pictures, he'll have the exact images that will make the words stick in his mind.

I know this boy well, and he's also very active. He loves to keep moving. So I suggested to his mom that they go for a walk outside and take advantage of the natural "flash cards" that are all around us.

The Stop sign. Yield. For Sale.

And here's a good one - our neighbour built a bird house and put "Vacancy" on the side of it. But it was damaged this winter, and now it says "Vacanc..."

It's a great flash card, because it begs a question: "What is that word? What does it say now? What do you think it should say? What does that word mean? What letters are missing?"

Life isn't perfect, and signs are often hard to decipher. Don't shy away from them - stop and talk about them with your child. The strange ads that at first glance make no sense. The missspellings on signs and billboards. The misplaced punctuation marks.

My son often stops and points out grammatical errors on signs. We laugh together at the funny meanings that get created by these errors. (Yes OK, I know it's nerdy but we have fun. We just don't do it when there are, um, people around.)

The whole-word approach is great with really long words. Kids can often memorize long words that may be difficult to sound out. Often those are better memorized. Kids are sponges - use that quality! Store some good stuff in their memory banks that they can draw on later.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Profile: Girl, 7, tomboy likes nature, video games

When you're trying to choose books for your own child, it's really useful to ask kids with similar interests what they like. Chances are, there'll be some cross-over. But it's kind of hard to find just the right kid. So we've got a series of Profiles (click on Reading Profiles in the Categories for more) to help you with some great book suggestions.

Here's a spunky, imaginative and extremely interesting seven-year-old girl with some great book choices.

Girl, almost seven, Canadian, reading above grade level.

Kooky, brave, tomboy

Pokemon, animals, nature, computer games

1) The 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith (the original, not the Disney version)

2) Unicorn Wishes and entire World of Wishes series by Carol Barton

3) Wild Paws series by Susan Hughes

4) The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden

5) Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

6) The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting

This is a great list. It's got some wonderful classics... and then some unicorns. You've gotta love this girl!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Read to your child. Every day.

It's the single most important thing you can do to get your kid reading.

Statistics show that if you read to your child, every day, even for 10 minutes - it's likely that your child will grow up to become a reader.

The New York Times recently published a heartwarming true-life story about a father who read to his daughter every night, without missing a single night. For more than nine years.

It's a wonderful article about a single father who wanted to create a bond with his youngest daughter. He proposed "The Streak" - to see if they could read together for 100 straight bedtimes without skipping.

That 100 became 1,000. And then 2,000. And they didn't miss a single night right up until she went to college. (Are you tearing up yet? You will, read on.)

An excerpt from the beautifully written New York Times article by Michael Winerip:

"In those nine-plus years, they survived many close calls. When Kristen was still in elementary school, her father and older sister went to Washington. "The phone rings at 10:45 in the hotel and it's Kristen," Mr. Brozina recalled. "She says, 'Dad, we forgot The Streak!' Fortunately, I always travel with several books and we read right then and there."

The Streak brought the pair much more than a love of reading. It brought them a shared language, taken from the pages of the Dr. Seuss and Dickens and Shakespeare books they read together.

But more importantly, it was something they both could count on, through the hectic days. No matter what happened during the day, they knew where they would both be that evening.

Together - reading.

Here's a link to the article.

You can do this, too. Don't think of it as a nine-year streak. Think of it as - tonight I'm going to read with my kids. Just 10 minutes.

Thank you to Jen Robinson, for bringing this story to my attention through your tweet. And to Michael Winerip for being "that" kind of journalist.

Bonus nonsense: Did you catch that I've used a picture from Family Affair, that great 1966 sitcom about a single dad bringing up two children (and of course featuring their butler, Mr. French)? If you look at the picture accompanying the New York Times article, you'll see why. I hope. Or maybe it's just me.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Profile: Girl, 8, likes skiing and horses

Quite a charmer.

Here is a girl I know quite well. She’s a fun-loving, easygoing girl who has a twin brother (with a very different, albeit nonetheless charming disposition). If you know a girl like her, check out this girl’s favourite books and maybe your girl would like them, too.

Girl, 8, Canadian, in French immersion at school. Enjoys reading and being read to.

Eight-year-old girl who likes playing with her friends, books, skiing and horses. And is charming.

1. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy, by Jeanne Birdsall
Birdsall has also written a sequel (which this girl enjoyed), The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, and is writing a third book in the series. There will be five Penderwicks books in all.

This is President Obama and his daughter putting the book into backpacks for kids whose families are in the military. (The book for the boy-backpacks is The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan.)
Here's a link to the Obama article.

2. Felicity Wishes: Secrets and Surprises, by Emma Thomson

3. Princess Lillifee, by Monika Finsterbusch

4. Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney

This very popular book follows the life of Miss Rumphius from childhood to old age. As a child, she decides what she wants to do with her life when and then achieves her goals - which includes searching for ways in which to make the world more beautiful.

5. Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel, by Leslie Connor and Mary Azarian

The story centres around a young woman leaving the "old country." The text begins, "She could have picked a chiming clock or a porcelain figure, but Miss Bridie chose a shovel back in 1856."

“Oh, and why stop at five favourite books? I also like the Junie B. series, Clarice Bean, and the Ramona books.”

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Great online game: Clockwords

Clockwords is an online word game I can't stop playing. (Must. Stop. Playing... Have. Deadlines...)

Here's why it might be good for your child - in moderation, something I'm not particularly good at, so be forewarned.

1) Literacy
The game is based on you (uh, your child, that is) coming up with words, lots of words. But not just any words. You do much better in the game when you come up with words that are long and use "difficult letters" like J and Q rather than, say, vowels. Plus, you get more points if you don't repeat the same words and if you enter a string of words the same length. So it gets you thinking about vocabulary. And spelling is very important because the game won't accept a word that's spelled incorrectly.

2) Typing
You have to type in all of the words, of course. And the faster and more accurately you can type, the better you'll do. I'm a big advocate of kids learning to type, because it helps them get their ideas down faster when they're writing something and it may be an incentive for technology-oriented kids to write.

A synopsis of the game
Like most games, the plotline is a bit fuzzy. Something about a clock-machine and some robot bugs that are eating its documents? Does that sound right? No it doesn't, but stay with me.

You type words into the machine, preferably using the letters that appear on the screen in tubes. Those words are loaded into some kind of blaster and are shot at the bugs. The more letters in the words you choose, the more ammunition to blast those bugs. You win a round by blasting all the bugs so they don't - erm, eat your document? Or something.

Did I mention this is a really good game? Trust me, it is.

At the end of each round you can "buy" letters that have qualities like freezing ability or... OK, I'm going to stop here. It's sounding a lot more complicated than it is.

Just play it.

Thanks to Barte Bonte for pointing out this addictive game. Now, could you please call my publishers and explain why I'm about to miss my deadlines? Thanks.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

New Twilight book

Here's something exciting to tell your teenaged daughter.

There's going to be a new Twilight book out soon.
June 5, to be precise.

Here's the title (deep breath): The Second Short Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella.

Author Stephenie Meyer is calling it a novella, although it's 192 pages long. For her that's a novella, since her books typically come in at more than double that size.

The story is the tale of Eclipse (her third Twilight novel), told from the point-of-view of Bree Tanner, a minor character from that book. It will retail for $16.99 in Canada.

Cool facts
Here are some cool facts to casually let slip in conversation with your teenager, showing that you're an oh-so-plugged-in parent who sometimes knows even more than she does.

* Bree Tanner was a newborn vampire created by Victoria. (Your teenager will likely not even remember this character, because Bree was killed off early in her chaotic young life, so this will be a cooler fact than you may realize.)

* $1 from every book will go to benefit the American Red Cross (think about it...)

* Meyer began the book as a short story to "help me examine the other side of Eclipse, which I was editing at the time."

* The book will be posted online, free, from noon June 7 to July 5.

* Stephenie's name is spelled with an "e" rather than the traditional "a" because it's taken from her father's name - Stephen. I've mentioned this one before, but it's still cool.

Here's Meyer's website.
Here's Bree's website.
And here's another article I posted about the whole Twilight series.

Sorry about the long delay in posting - I've had a backlog of deadlines. I'm still not finished with 'em, but I've got too much stuff to blog about to wait any longer! More soon. And thanks for all of the great feedback I've been getting from everyone (you know who you are). Please keep those e-mails and comments coming!