Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Write your kid a letter

Have you sent your kid a letter this summer?

What a great thing to do!

When you're bored at work - instead of re-checking your e-mail for the tenth time, or surfing, do something that will help your kid... write her a letter.

It takes, like, 10 minutes and it will be one of the most rewarding things you will do all day. Use a big, easy-to-read font like Times 18. (Resist using a cartoon or handwriting font. They may look fun, but they're very hard to read. The easiest ones to read are serif fonts, like Times.)

You don't have to say anything profound. Just chat, let her know what's happening at work, tell her that you're proud of her, ask her what she wants to do this weekend.

A letter from you will let her know that you're thinking of her, it will give her some insight into your day and it's a great way to get your kid reading!

When you're finished your letter, actually mail it - don't just bring it home. Half the excitement is going to the mailbox and getting something that's been sent to you.

It's also a good idea to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope that your child can use to write you back. (And if you use your work address, you'll get something at your desk in a couple of days besides conference flyers and departmental invoices!)

Writing your kid a letter is one of the greatest ways to spend 10 minutes. For you, and for your kid.

Don't have a kid? Write your grandchild a letter. A neighbour. A friend's kid. Santa (don't need a stamp for that one!). Snail-mail is fun... and it's still pretty cheap (especially if you sneak your letter in to the company mailbox and let the firm pay for your postage).

Image: Wikimedia Commons, by Deadhoax.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Red Pyramid

Looking for the next great book?

Here's a conversation I've had a couple of times recently:

Parent: "I need a good book for my son."

Me: "What books has he already enjoyed?"

And then the list goes like this, not necessarily in this order:

* The Bone series

* Diary of a Wimpy Kid series

* The Harry Potter series

* The Percy Jackson series

Me: "Great! I know exactly what to recommend."

The next absorbing reads

First of all, if your kid loved the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, take him to see the movie. It's heartwarming and every bit as good as the books.

If he's seen the movie, then make sure to get The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary. It's the "making of" the Wimpy Kid movie and he will love the book. For more information about it, check out my post - it'll tell you all about it.
But after that...

The Red Pyramid
As you know, the Percy Jackson series was about a modern-day boy dealing with monsters and gods from Greek mythology. Your kid (and you) will be thrilled to know that the author, Rick Riorden, has started a new series - this time drawing on Egyptian mythology.
The Red Pyramid is the first book in the new series The Kane Chronicles. It's about a brother and a sister who have family bloodlines that go back to ancient Egypt. That makes them, it turns out, very powerful magicians and it gives them mystical abilities which they discover throughout the course of the book.

The Red Pyramid has the same rollercoaster excitement of the Percy Jackson series, it's action packed and it's one of those books you just can't put down. I found it much more fact-heavy than Percy Jackson - which I found impeded my enjoyment of it a bit, but which actually makes it more attractive to boys. Boys love facts. They love to collect information about things that are interesting to them, and The Red Pyramid gives them tons of useful information about Egyptian gods, goddesses and monsters.

My son is in the middle of The Red Pyramid right now and he's eating it up like candy. His reaction seems to be typical amongst boys.
The other day he was on a playdate and suggested to his friend, "Uh, let's take a break and, um, maybe read a bit?" Basically, he was thinking about his book and wanted to get back to it - in spite of the fact that he was in the middle of a fun playdate. His friend said, "Whaa-?" And my son tried to recover: "No, that's silly - we can read later. We'll just play a video game or something." A-heh.

I love that little exchange because it illustrates the kind of pull a really great book can have on you. It becomes like a little obsession that you think about and want to get back to as soon as possible.

Here's the official website for The Red Pyramid/The Kane Chronicles. It gives you a great overview of the book. Links to related information are "coming soon." The site says that book 2 in this series will be coming out in Spring 2011 and book 3 in Spring 2012.

Rick Riordan's website
Here's Rick Riordan's website, which is surprisingly content-rich in terms of Greek mythology, teachers' guides for his children's books, online research websites where kids can learn more about Greek mythology, links to relevant online games and lots more information for kids who don't want the Percy Jackson series to end. They can look at maps supposedly drawn by Percy Jackson and Grover and get tons more behind-the-scenes information.

A few kids have asked me how to pronounce Rick Riordan's name. It's like Ryer-din, where Ryer rhymes with fire. There's even a link on Riordan's website where he pronounces his own name for you and then reads a bit of one of his books.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

License Plate Game

Our family recently took an 11-hour car trip.

And guess what we did in the car? Played Julia's License Plate Game.

It was great! First of all, it took our son away from his DS video game (curse you, Pokemon!).

Secondly, it did exactly what Julia said it would - it got us creating goofy sentences and thinking about words. When you have to create a phrase with the letters "FTP" you realize there are so many possibilites.

It's funny, but the first phrase you create sticks in your mind, like "Frogs top poles" and you can't think of any word for the letter F other than frogs.

But then someone else comes up with a completely different word for F. My husband said, "For the people." And that created all kinds of new possibilities for us. Then we started on a bunch of "For the" sentences and that was really funny. "For the penguins." And then we morphed that one: "Free the people."

"Free the penguins!" (I just thought of that last one.)

Heehee. Fun game.

And no, incidentally, none of us ever thought of "that" F word. For pete's sake, people.
Photo: Sean Mack, Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Survey for research on "enhanced books"

GKR readers, the U of C needs our help.

The University of Connecticut is doing a study on illustrated children's books. They'd like GKR readers to help by taking a brief (four-minute) online survey.

Before passing along their request to you, I called them and spoke to them about their research. It sounds pretty interesting.

It's an academic study - not funded by any toy company or book publisher. They're interested in investigating a product that would enhance an illustrated book with online information. So for instance, it might be that a child clicks on a picture of a dolphin and gets some facts about dolphins. Or maybe the child is instructed to click on all of the nouns on a page and the device counts the number of nouns the child successfully finds.

The survey is intended for parents of children 8 and under, but if you've got an older child and can simply cast your mind back to the time when they were 8, they'd like your input too.

I've asked them to share with us the results of their survey so we can blog about it. The results should ready in August.

Here's the survey:

Canadian (and other non-US) GKRers - when you come to the question "What state do you live in?" resist the temptation to type "state of bliss" and just leave it blank. Their research includes Canadians and non-Americans, but not to the extent where they'll actually let you select a province. Whatevah.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Literacy games for in the car

By Julia Mohamed

Going on a road trip? Here are some great literacy games you can play in the car.

● One person begins by spotting a license plate and announcing the letters (not the numbers) on it.

● Everyone else, in turn, must come up with a funny phrase using the letters of the license plate, in order. So for example, KES could become “kiss every squirrel” or “knights eating steak.”

● Create a list of things to look for while you’re on the road.

● Your list can be adjusted, depending on where you’re travelling. For instance, a city scavenger hunt list may have: a flashing red light, someone talking on a cell phone, and a sign in a foreign language. A rural scavenger list could include: a horse, a tractor, road kill, a silo, a pond, and a gas station.

● Before the trip, buy a note pad and box of crayons for each child in the car.

● Every day on your vacation, or for each memorable event that occurs, have the kids draw a picture and write about it in their travel journal.

● Give them some suggestions to get them started (“how about drawing the beach we were on this morning”) but after that, let their imaginations run wild. Encourage them to use as many words as possible. They may want to do the art in the evening in the hotel room or campground, and add the words in the car while you’re driving to your next destination. Young children can write one or two words (“Beach” or “Playing frisbee”) while older kids can write descriptions and even leave out the pictures altogether.

Julia Mohamed is a freelance journalist. This was her first assignment for GKR and I'm hoping it will be the first of many articles from her. (Hint, hint Julia.)
Photo: Ian Britton,
Car literacy games? Literacy games in the car? Not quite right. Literacy games for in the car? Looks weird - sounds ok. It's what you'd say but it looks wrong when you see it spelled out. I dunno - today's not a good headline day for me obviously. Sorry, Julia. Harumph.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The "Air Mail" game

My son’s friend likes to play “air mail” whenever he comes over on a playdate.

It’s a great game and I know that it works on their literacy skills because I've seen improvements. It involves a bit of the adult’s time, but it’s such a fun game that I indulge them whenever they ask me to play.

Here’s the game:
The kids run upstairs and hole up in their bedroom.
They each, or together, write a note to me on a piece of construction paper.
Then they run downstairs and throw the note in my general direction – and then run giggling, like criminals, back upstairs where they slam the bedroom door.

So we’ve got lots of good elements here. There’s some kind of “chase” which involves getting the note to the adult without being seen. The adult can add to the excitement by either pretending not to see the note, or suddenly flinching in the child’s direction as through he’s going to chase them.

The first note from the children will be something like:
“We want a snack!” or “Ask us a question!”

Then the adult writes a note on the other side of the paper. I usually try to get some kind of dialogue happening, like: “Ask the Oracle a mysterious question.” Last time, I tied two snack bags of jelly candy onto the note and then pitched it at their bedroom door where it made a very satisfying – and disconcerting – thump. That was the kids’ cue to gingerly open the door to see if I was still there (I wasn’t) and retrieve my note.

If you can picture it, there is a lot of silliness, giggling, whispering between the kids and slamming of doors. There’s a lot of running up and down the stairs and a lot of suspense about what the note will say, whether they’ll get caught sending or retrieving their notes and whether they’ll get a treat.

In the meantime of course, there’s reading and writing. And I don’t make it easy for them. I use big words and I make sure there’s a pay-off for reading and understanding each message.

For instance, in our most recent game “Ask the Oracle,” the kids’ second note didn’t include a question. I figured they probably didn’t know what an Oracle was. So my next note told them to look the word up in the dictionary to find out what an Oracle could do for them. There was a pay-off to using the dictionary (because Oracles are cool).

Sometimes I make my notes into paper airplanes and throw them at the bedroom door. Sometimes I load them with a treat or even carrot sticks. Usually there’s a payoff for them writing another note back to me—maybe it’s a knock-knock joke they’ll have to ask for the answer to. Or sometimes it’s a nugget of information that they have to ask for more details about. Just something to keep the game going and keep the kids reading and writing. And giggling.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons, by Akkana.