How do moms and dads encourage reading in the home? We share some great ideas for encouraging kids to read
Some days I’m more “quirky” than others. This is one of those days. Instead of just telling you that your middle-grade children (grades 4, 5, 6, 7) are not too old for you to keep up that nightly ritual of reading, I’ve made some alterations to a classic Journey song. You can laugh or roll your eyes, but the message will be the same. They’re getting older, but it doesn’t lessen their enthusiasm for books. Nor does it mean they don’t need us there to help them navigate some of the issues that their favourite characters are facing. Bottom line? Take fifteen minutes at the end of the night, curl up on someone’s bed, and keep reading.
Don’t Stop the Readin’ (adapted from Journey’s Don’t stop believin’– hardcore Journey fans…I’m sorry 🙂 (ps: it helps if you listen to the song in the background softly so you can read with the beat)
Just a grade five girl
Readin’ bout’ a wizard world
She read the whole series
Loved the characters
Just a grade six boy
Thinks he doesn’t like to read
He found The Outsiders
Thinks he’s Ponyboy
His father comes into the room
The moon is out the day is done
For a while they can read tonight
It goes on and on and on and on
Learnin’ bout the Hunger Games,
Heroes like Percy
Quests and danger
Find out what your kids are lovin’
Read with them every night
Workin’ hard to pay the bills
One on one time is such a thrill
Read a story, talk about your day
It’s worth the time
Doesn’t matter what you read
Graphic novels, Patterson
The list can go on and on and on
They aren’t too old
Even in the middle grades
Let them read to you
Read to them
Make it matter
A great way to stay connected
Just fifteen minutes a night
Don’t stop the readin’
Hold on to that feelin’
With your children
Don’t stop the readin’
Sachar, Judy Blume
They keep you readin’
Keep on reading!
Most teachers and parents are glued to the news and various forms of social media, hoping to hear the news that public schools will be back in session on Tuesday, or at the very least, next week. It’s been a longer summer than we’re used to and it started under less than ideal conditions. I don’t know one teacher who isn’t sad about the quick way we had to say goodbye to our classes in June. But alas, all this stuff makes us stronger, right? We’ll see.
In a typical summer, your child’s reading level will probably lower. This summer, because of it’s length, this is even more likely. It happens: later bedtimes, fun activities, and vacations change the routine that many of us have established through the school year. When we get back to school, we spend those first weeks reestablishing routines, both at school and at home. I can’t honestly put into words how very much I want (NEED) school to go back next week, but while we’re waiting, we can slowly start pushing ourselves and our children back into those old habits.
Getting to bed earlier, what used to be “on time”, is important. I’m not very good at this one, myself. I figure that the first week of having to get up at six thirty will curb my tendency to stay up until one a.m. For our kids though, it’s nice to ease them into it. This last week or so, we’ve been getting home earlier if we’re out, sending the kids to get ready closer to their usual time. The main reason for this is to reestablish the bedtime reading ritual.
Throughout the school year, this is one we try to hold onto tightly. The fifteen to thirty minutes with each of the girls at the end of the night is just as important to my husband and I as it is to them. Somehow, being told that it’s time to go up and read causes less confrontation that it’s time to go up to bed. One of the best things you can do for your child, regardless of whether school goes back, is get this routine going again. Get them excited about books, about reading. Maybe pick out a special book at the library or bookstore to get you back into things.
Students reading every night plays a huge role in their fluency and comprehension. Whether you’re reading to them or they are reading to you, this is a time that can result in great conversations with your kids. Why would the main character do that? Would YOU do that? What might you have done? My youngest likes to read to us but my oldest likes to be read to. Children (okay, people) are never too old to be read to. Just because your child is going into an upper grade, doesn’t mean that quality reading time has to stop. In fact, it might even be more important.
When they’re little, children are your shadow. But when they get older, they start to turn into themselves more, or to friends. That reading time at the end of the day is your chance to connect. We know how busy the days are, with school, work, activities, more activities. Building that constant into your schedule, keeping it that way, will allow for a time when your child can open up to you, if they want. They’ll know that at the end of every day, you’re checking in with them. Maybe they don’t want to open up about what boy they like or the mean girl at school, but they’ll know that you’ll be there and they can listen to your voice or that you’ll listen to them. There’s comfort in that. Our children take comfort in routine and whether school is back or not, it’s time for us to get back to it. Good luck with the first day, whenever it is.
It just started with a shove or a frantic bite, but now your little kid is pushing her weight around on a regular basis. Children fear her. Parents whisper. You’ve justified your toddler’s actions as a “big personality” or “kids being kids”, but now this undesirable behavior has transformed your sweetheart into a bully.
She’s figured out this behavior gets results- exactly what she wants!
Toddlers are enjoying mobility. Developing friendships and building a vocabulary are new freedoms. They are navigating new situations, people, and expectations in a very short time. The toddler’s world revolves around their needs and wants.
Most children go through a “bully” stage at some point, but it is extremely common for toddlers. To overcome this development stage is to identify the problem and consistently deal with the issue as it develops. If you take control now, you will avoid serious problems later.
If you are reading this, you have identified a problem and want to tackle the issue head on.
According to the Pacer Center, children who bully may suffer as much as the victims they target. Bullies are likely to experience school failure, depression, violence, and crime. It’s obvious that this behavior can’t be ignored.
Watch for these signs if you suspect your toddler is a bully:
they need control
they frustrate easily
they are “left out “ from groups
You may have noticed the negative behavior on your own, or perhaps another parent approached you.
If a parent initiates the conversation, be honest and acknowledge that your child is going through a phase. Mention a few techniques you are implementing to stop bullying. Chances are, they will encounter a similar situation someday.
What can you do to curb this from developing into a full fledged problem?
Talk with your child. Don’t underestimate your child. Young children are capable of understanding a wide variety of situations. Model appropriate behavior and role play situations with your little one. Read stories or watch their favorite shows and point out positive behaviors portrayed.
“Use your words.” Toddlers are at a unique development stage. They are placed in situations where they don’t possess the right vocabulary to express their needs. Help label their emotions and encourage “words”. Keep the phrases simple- “next?” is a great way to ask for a toy instead of grabbing.
Encourage empathy. Use teachable moments to help your child understand what it feels like to be the other person. At Care.com, Rosalind Wiseman, author of Masterminds and Wingmen, recommends to “create a respectful home”.
Make your expectations clear, with consistent consequences. Hold your child accountable for their actions. If your toddler has a bullying event, follow through with time-outs or other age appropriate consequences.
Rule out a physical problem. Unfortunately, this is something to consider. Does your child suffer from a behavioral disorder? Are your toddler’s social skills limited? Is your child’s sight and hearing on target? If you suspect a physical problem, consult your pediatrician.
Avoid situations that trigger the behavior. Be diligent and supervise your child. Identify anger sources and try to avoid triggers. If you can’t avoid the issue, redirect the toddler’s attention to another object.
Apologize. Start early and encourage your child to apologize. A simple “sorry” with eye contact works or have the child sign “sorry”. At PBS Parents, they believe it’s important to have natural consequences for a toddler’s actions.
Seek support. Parents are not able to watch their children 24/7. Be honest with caregivers and teachers. Ask them to keep an eye on the situation and be aware of any incidents.
Be realistic. Let’s face it. Humans learn from their mistakes. It doesn’t mean you are a terrible parent or did something wrong. Take a deep breathe and decide to support your child through this stage. Be patient and teach your toddler how to navigate in the world around him.
It takes time and guidance to help your child become respectable citizens.
Bullying doesn’t have to define your child. This phase will soon pass. Your little sweetheart will quickly be making new friends and embracing life.
Amy K. Williams is am a mom of two and a former social worker, specializing in teen behavioral issues. She is passionate about parenting and determined to help put an end to cyberbullying. Please visit Practical Parenting for information about her work.
Since September 2013, I have been working twice a week with a four year old boy who has delayed speech. He lives in a bilingual household and he has one older sibling – a girl who also had delayed speech. It has been enormously rewarding to help this child find his voice. He is unfailingly happy and is always excited to welcome me and my “bag of tricks” into his home.
Here are some of the items that have been particularly helpful as we find ways to engage him verbally.
Alphabet by Matthew Van Fleet has been our go-to alphabet book.
At almost every one of our sessions, my student has touched, lifted flaps and pulled the tabs of this cheerful and engaging alphabet book and accompanying (pop up) poster. Whether feeling the alligator’s scaly tail or the yak’s shaggy head, this is a book that children love to explore through touch.
Phonemic awareness is also supported as the author effectively uses alliteration, ‘Wet waddling Warthogs,’ rhyming and onomatopoeia, ‘Furry Lions roar, Whiskered Mice squeak, Hungry newborn Nightingales – cheep, cheep, cheep!‘ while introducing a variety of animals. Older children will notice that extra details have been added to the illustrations but not the text. Termed, Safari Sightings, these animals and plants are illustrated and listed in an afternote.
Alphabet won the following
I can’t tell you how many times we have solved this Ravensburger See Inside Puzzle together. My young student happily turns the puzzle upside down, and together we turn all the puzzle pieces over. We chat as we start with the corners and work towards the middle of the puzzle. There are so many ways to enrich a child’s vocabulary, understanding and problem solving as we talk about the puzzle pieces and their attributes while noticing the plants, insects, animals, birds and structures featured in the puzzle itself.
Rather than focusing on the enunciation of specific sounds or words, I want to encourage playing with sound and making a variety of sounds. It is amazing how an inexpensive plastic toy ‘Echo’ microphone can encourage a child to sing, make sound effects and speak. I pick up an Echo Mic and put the other one on the table. Before long, we are both singing The Alphabet Song or The Wheels on the Bus or Happy Birthday. I hate to think what we sound like but progress is progress and the plastic ‘Echo” microphone has helped us along the way.
As we work toward improved verbal communication, I want to ensure that my student has a rich listening or receptive vocabulary as well as a large speaking or expressive vocabulary so I want to provide him with repeated meaningful encounters with words. I want him to hear and know colors, numbers, positional words (over, under, beside, inside) and nouns (windows, doors, wheels, roof, trees, flowers, bricks, fences, house, car, truck, steering wheel). Of course, I turn to my favourite toy. Ever. Each day I arrive with a bucket of Lego . We build houses and towers, we look for small bricks and blue bricks and yellow, white, red, black and blue bricks. We add windows and doors, stairs and roofs. And I talk about everything we do. I chat constantly and now he chimes in.
From the start, we have played Tic Tac Toe. I made a laminated game board (that includes a letter of the alphabet in each square) and I use Xs and Os from a dollar store game. When we first played, his job was to say, “Your turn,” after he played his “O.” Now, he says the letter name in the box and a word that begins with the letter, “C is for Cat.” He also says, “Your turn, ” and “I win!” He has never tired of this simple game. When we first started, he said very little. Now, it is a constant exchange of short sentences and the joy of communicating about a shared activity.
Spot the Dot created by David A. Carter
Novelty book published by Cartwheel Books, an Imprint of Scholastic
Spot the Dot is an appealing, brightly colored, interactive pop up book that includes flaps to lift, a wheel to turn and tabs to pull. Visual clues and predictable text encourage children – even those with delayed speech – to venture into ‘reading.’ My student thoroughly enjoys this book and now points to the words as he ‘reads’ each page and then pretends to ‘search’ for the dot.
I have written previously about my youngest son’s sensitivity to artificial food dyes. Last night we had yet another unexpected encounter with a colorant and, after just a few hours of sleep, I am once again on the phone to a large, multinational company about their decision to add (unnecessary) dye to a food product.
When your child is sensitive to artificial food dyes, you read every label. You watch for terms like “Yellow No. 5”, “Allura Red” and “Annatto.” You have a mental list of foods that are “safe” and you check new products with suspicion. You live in hope that food manufacturers will come to understand that consumers care about this issue and there would be a competitive advantage to those companies that vow to avoid dyes.
Yesterday my husband offered to do some grocery shopping. He asked what we needed and I mentioned that we were pretty much “out” of cereal. He came home with Kelloggs Frosted Flakes. The sugary cereal is not one that I eat but it has been a “safe” food for my son. He’s an active sixteen year old and he eats many times a day. On occasion, he enjoys a bowl of cereal before bed.
Unfortunately, for some completely unfathomable reason, Kelloggs has changed the recipe since we last checked. The box of cereal that was once safe, now includes color.
Why oh why would they change their recipe and add color to a previously “safe” product?
After checking the label on the Frosted Flakes box, I telephoned the Kelloggs toll free number (twice) and got a busy signal each time.
I went to their website and was required to sign up for an account in order to leave a question. I signed up for an account but was unable to input my true birth year because of a glitch on their website. For some reason, you cannot scroll to a birth year prior to 1995 AND if you aren’t of age, you aren’t allowed to ask a question. Mmmmmm. How convenient is that?
Despite busy signals and an uncooperative website, I was committed to my mission.
I tried the phone number again and ended up at a Call Centre in the United States. Their list of (Canadian) Frosted Flakes ingredients does not include color. Rather odd… I left my name and number and asked them to get me the information and call back. I also pointed out the problem with (not being able to answer a question on) the website.
Next, I went onto the Kellogg Canada Facebook page and the response I received astonished me! (See above) I have never encountered this sort of resistance to answering a consumer question.
I expressed my amazement and guessed Annatto. They responded as follows, “Hi Carolyn. Could you provide us with your contact information via Private Message, so we can contact you directly and help answer your questions.”
I have one question. I want to know WHAT COLOR IS IN CANADIAN FROSTED FLAKES.
It is now more than twenty-four hours since my inquiry. I have provided an email address via Facebook DM and they have seen it. Their response was a follows, “Thank you for providing us with your contact information. We’re following up with our labelling team. We will get back to you as soon as we have this information.”
They have not replied to yesterday’s telephone inquiry so I called them again today. Today they asked for the Best Before Date and the UPC on the package and then I was asked to tell them what colorants my son is sensitive to. Frankly, I don’t think that should matter. I do not understand why they can’t/won’t tell me the name of the colorant.
Anyhow, I gave them a list of natural food dyes and they say that I will hear back from them. I explained that I am very disappointed in Kellogg Canada Inc.
In the summer it is easy to let routines flounder. Well, if you’re exceptionally lucky and both you and your spouse are teachers and therefore have your vacation together as a whole family. We spend our days doing day trips, staying in pajamas, the girls playing while I write; it’s pretty sweet. The kids go to bed a little later, you socialize more so the bedtime routine isn’t always predictable. I’m often tempted to just tell my ten-year-old to go ahead and read on her own. My seven-year-old, with a great deal of warranted pride, always wants to read to us. She reads us her three stories with unique and funny accents and expressions that never fail to make me smile. My ten year old reads her own book, a series with her dad and a series with me. There’s no lack of reading going on in our house. She was given the green light to read the rest of the Harry Potter series this summer (something I was torn about allowing as she is only ten). This made it even more tempting to just say goodnight and get to the quiet time early. We could probably convince our seven year old to read to herself too in exchange for being allowed to stay up later, reading in her room. So why do we bother? Even, or maybe especially, in the summer when we feel lazy and carefree?
So why bother? Some days seem especially long but in reality, time speeds by and we need to do what we can to form strong bonds and relationships with our children. I love the opportunities that present themselves through reading with my girls, particularly the older one because it lets me see how she would problem solve or resolve an issue. “What do you think of the way they treated that girl?” “Have you ever been part of a rumor?” “What would you do if two friends were fighting over you?” We spend so much time figuring out how to teach our kids to be prepared for life and how to handle stress that we forget that some of those very lessons are in the books they’re reading. Rather than fearing what they may face in middle school and high school, I like having the opportunity, through books, to talk to them about things rather than lecture. It’s one more way to be proactive in helping your child be the strongest, most capable person they can be. And that’s our job.
King of the Playground written by Phyllis Renolds Naylor and illustrated by Nola Langner Malone
Antibullying picture book published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers an imprint of Simon and Schuster
Kevin is hopeful. Each day he heads to the playground, wanting to go down the slide but knowing that if Sammy is there, he won’t be allowed to do so.
“You can’t come!” Sammy said. “I’m King of the Playground!” And he told Kevin what he would do if he saw him on the slide.
Disappointed, Kevin returns home and confides in his dad. His dad listens to the threat that Sammy has made and he encourages Kevin to ask himself, “And what would you be doing while Sammy was tying you up? Just sitting there?”
The following day, Kevin tries again and, again, Sammy is at the playground. When Kevin wants to use one of the swings, Sammy announces,
“You can’t play here!” yelled Sammy, running over. “I’m King of the Swings.” And he told Kevin what he would do if he saw him on the swings.
Once again Kevin shares his problem with his dad and once again his dad challenges him to problem solve.
Kevin’s dad’s approach to bullying is perfect. He remains calm, he doesn’t intervene, he encourages Kevin to think logically and he empowers Kevin to solve the bullying problem himself.
With Dad’s guidance, Kevin realizes that there may be a different way to deal with Sammy and his threats. On his next visit to the playground, Kevin is just a little bit braver. He uses his imagination to counter Sammy’s threats and together the boys find middle ground.
Recommended for children aged four years and up.
She is five years old and she will start kindergarten in September. Initially, I worked with her for one hour each week. After a month or so, her parents were delighted with her progress and they asked me to double the frequency of our sessions. Currently we meet Tuesday and Thursday afternoons for one hour.
My goals in working with her are to (1) expand her vocabulary (2) increase her speech from one or two word answers to full sentences (3) improve her phonemic awareness (4) increase her understanding of concepts (i.e. opposites, positional words).
Now, our sessions also include (1) pictures of words that begin with the same sound (i.e. fish, flag, fingers, flower, five, fork) (2) concept books (3) puppets (4) stories for beginning readers (especially the Oxford Press Read At Home series)
Birthdays, In the Neighbourhood, Valentine’s Day, Feelings, Weather, Clothing, Families, Farm, Bedtime, Music, Fruits and Vegetables, Colours, In the Kitchen, in the Bathroom, Toys and Counting. All of the themes are intended to introduce new and reinforce her existing vocabulary. Once the individual words are mastered, we add description: blue umbrella, brown blocks, green grass.
More recently, we have added concepts to our sessions: Words that Are Opposites, Positional Words (in, beside, under, over, behind, in front of).
To further encourage speech, we play with puppets and we play Simon Says and we sing If You’re Happy and You Know It. My student loves to be Simon. She giggles and laughs as she tells me what to do.
I can’t tell you how rewarding it has been to work with this young girl. Her vocabulary and her ability to converse has blossomed. It has been so exciting to witness the transformation in this beautiful, funny, enthusiastic child.
After reading my Tips for Hockey Parents, it may not surprise you to know, the first year of ‘rep’ hockey, my son played on an Atom A3 team. In his second year, he made it to the Atom A2 team. First year PeeWee, he made the A3 team and first year Bantam, he made the A2 team. Last season, he was a first year Midget player and he played on the Midget A1 team. He is determined, he has never given up and he works every day to become a better hockey player. My husband and I believe in him and we believe that all of his hard work and determination will be rewarded.
It is a long road. Best of luck to you and your child. Remember to use these five words whenever possible, “I love watching you play.”
We all want to see our children reading. Even parents who don’t love to read, (such as my own dad who refuses to) like to see their children enjoying reading. We know that it’s part of what makes us successful in life. Reading and comprehension open not only figurative doors, but literal ones as well. Having your child be able to read and understand what they are reading is a necessity. However, having your child read just for pleasure and the magic it provides, is a gift. As much as we try or don’t try, we can’t always determine whether our children will love the act of reading; of falling so far into a story that you feel like you’re part of it.
What if, however, your child is falling so far into the story that they refuse to come out of it. For those of you that struggle to get your children to read their 15 minutes a night, this might not sound like a problem. However, I’m facing a dilemna that I don’t know how to solve. My husband, myself, and our children LOVE to read. We read constantly. Both of our children read far above their grade level and while I would love to say that’s our influence, (and, in part, it might be) I don’t think that’s the only factor. I say that because I know parents who foster a love of reading and it’s still a chore to get their kids to read. So, I’m very grateful that my children love their books. They are more likely to choose a book for a long car ride than their iPods. They’d like the iPods too, but are content with a pile of books. So how can this become a problem?
This morning, my oldest daughter, who is caught deep in the trenches of Percy Jackson and the Olympians Lightning Thief saga, came downstairs, hugged me, went straight to the couch and crawled back into her book. When we spoke to her, she didn’t hear us (most likely because of how loud the cyclops and strange animals in the book are), when her sister asked her to play, Polly Pockets seemed a ridiculous choice over the half man-half dog that she was reading about. When we made her put down the book, she was less than impressed, in the way only a preteen, emotional girl can be.
Now I’m hovering between pride, that she loves this book so much, and irritation because she won’t do anything else. I felt absolutely ridiculous telling her to put down her book and spend time with her family. I told my husband that I felt like I was punishing her for reading, which is the very last thing I want to do. How can I be irritated that she’s reading?
Then I started to think about the books that I have on the go; several, as always because I can’t read one thing at a time. Also, I currently have two manuscripts I’m working on open on my computer. I’ve got cleaner on the table because my plan is to spend some, much needed time cleaning. There are waffles on the counter because my youngest was desperate to have them. It would have been nice to stayed tucked up on the couch reading my own book, but the youngest is rather persistent. The point is, even though we want them to love reading and know that it will give them so much pleasure as they get older, balance is still the key. We have to still be able to attend to our lives, even in the midst of a great book.
I understand my daughter’s obsession very well; she gets it from me. When I get into a book, reading or writing, it can consume me. If my characters are unhappy, my mood is affected. Likewise, if they are happy, so am I. It’s wonderful to feel this much a part of a book and a great cudos to an author that they brought you into their world so completely. Still, we cannot forget the world around us that inspires and creates these stories. We cannot lose ourselves so completely that we miss out on what is right in front of us. It bothers me to tell my kids to put down a book but I have to sometimes, the same way I’d tell them to put down their DS or iPod. Okay, maybe not the same way; I’m far more likely to let hours go by just reading than I would be to let hours go by on the electronics. All the same, the world is still going on around us and it is very easy to forget when we aren’t paying attention.
I don’t think I’ve solved my quandry because I still feel both guilty and justified over making her put down the book. Plus, now I have to see what’s got her so hooked. She has not loved a set of books like this since Harry Potter. Anyone who knows how obsessed my daughter has been with Harry Potter knows: that is saying something. She has decided that Rick Riordin is her favourite author and is reading anything she can get her hands on by him. She talks about his characters as though I’ve read every page with her; she starts telling me about something and only when she mentions half-animal bodies do I realize she’s not telling me something about her friends at school. She is IN those books. I love that; more than I can possibly say. But I still need her to be IN our life; playing with her sister, helping around the house, laughing and talking with us, and being a part of our day.
I suppose, like anything else, we have to teach her how to employ that balance. If the author didn’t come up for air sometimes, hadn’t had the experiences he did, if he hadn’t loved mythology, or had a desire to share stories with his own kids, she wouldn’t be reading these books that have her so captivated. Living our lives is what makes for great stories. While it’s an amazing treasure to get lost in the stories that someone else has created, we have to remind ourselves that real life is pretty cool too.
I always feel some apprehension when returning to the classroom after a break. I wonder how I’ll go back to planning lessons, implementing them, assessing student growth, understanding, and engagement. I think about what I haven’t taught yet (a lot) and what I have. I ask myself what it is I really want the students to know. Then, because thinking about all of this causes apprehension, I distract myself by reading online, playing on my iPad, or writing. Over the break, I have read a variety of truly awesome articles and blogs. Fantastic words by a selection of online and print authors, by psychologists, teachers, and parents.
I have spent most of my life writing in some form or another. It’s my outlet, solace, hobby, one of my very favorite things to do. Yet, after reading some of these articles, I was truly enlightened. I read about writing and publishing, about motivation, engagement, and other topics that I feel like I should be somewhat of an “expert” in. After all, I teach with the intention of motivation and engagement. Also, I write constantly and have published numerous online articles so one would think, that I have some prior knowledge and understanding. And I do. However, I’ve barely scratched the surface. The common thread in the articles I read was that you can always be better. You can edit more, add more, do more, learn more; always. This morning, while on Twitter, scanning more blogs and articles, I came across a quote from Jim Henson, tweeted by Dr. Michele Borba. For those of you that don’t know her, she is a psychologist, an author, an educator and an expert. Of all of the experts I’ve explored since I picked up my first What to Expect When You’re Expecting, she has been my go to in the classroom and my home. Her books, and now her blogs and posts, make me feel like not only am I normal but for all those things that feel overwhelming, there are solutions. My admiration of her is making me digress but I strongly recommend her to any parent, educator, or person who has social interactions.
The quote was this: [Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are. (Jim Henson). She then adds that ‘how you live [your] life is the best kid lesson.
This is how I will ease my apprehension about returning to the classroom tomorrow. I will remember that kids learn best from the examples they see. This means the good and the bad. By being my best, I encourage them to be their best. That means I have to be ready to learn, grow, and adapt, just as I expect them to. I need to show them that just because we feel like we are really good at something, we always have room for improvement. Likewise, I have to model feeling good about the successes that I have but show them that even so-called experts are always growing and learning and that is what makes them stronger in their fields. As well, I have to show them how I am accountable for the mistakes I make if I want them to step up when they make mistakes. I have to show them it’s okay to make mistakes (I show them this quite often). I have to remember that five years from now, those same kids are unlikely to recall which novels I read them but hopefully, they will remember how we worked together as a class to make our school and the world a better place. I think what we often forget is that we are teaching people, not curriculum. The content of what we teach our kids is not as important as our delivery. Are we teaching them strategies to apply to reading problems in later grades? Are we teaching them how to deal with the first bully they meet in the workplace? Have we taught them how to put others first but know when to step up for ourselves? Have we taught them to not only accept others as they are but themselves as well? There’s so much more to teaching our children and our students than just making sure we’ve loaded them with specific knowledge. As parents and educators, we teach them to greet the world, face challenges, and be a positive member of society.
As I write this, I’m not sure if I’ve increased or decreased my apprehension. It seems a tall order to fill and there’s the risk of mistakes. But, as I will tell them, we’ll all do the very best we can, for ourselves and for others. We’ll try to remember that people will remember US, not the books we read. They will remember how we, as people, impacted their lives. Hopefully, that impact will have been genuine and positive.
Happy New Year everyone!
Last year, I enrolled in a Family Literacy program through Vancouver Community College’s Centre for Continuing Studies. The program is delivered annually and consists of six online courses My goal was to earn a Family Literacy Certificate to augment my Bachelor of Education. So far, I have completed four of the courses and have been introduced, virtually and personally, to other indviduals who share my passion for developing and delivering high quality family literacy programming.
As a direct result of my involvement in the Family Literacy courses, last spring I was contracted to present a program for preschool-age children and their caregivers at a neighbourhood library. The program began in April and was held once a week until the end of June. The program resumed in September and will be offered until the end of November of this year.
Participation in our neighbourhood family literacy program has exceeded expectations. Most weeks, twenty or more children arrive for the program, along with their adult caregivers. In all, we usually have thirty to thirty five people arrive at ten thirty and leave at noon. Each session includes a storytime and a healthy snack along with learning activities, games and printed materials for the children as well as the adults in attendance.
At every juncture, we have ensured that our program is low-barrier and family friendly. From the outset, it was my personal goal that the program would be so successful that funding would be renewed and we would be in a position to offer the program again in 2013.
The existing ninety minute program will become a two hour program. The April to June and September to November program will now start in November, February and June. Preregistration will likely be required and the healthy snack will likely be reduced to fruit juice.
In my opinion,
~ It is relatively easy to attract families to a neighbood program when the weather is nice (and dry), I firmly believe that it will be tough to draw people out of their homes consistently in February. This will be especially true those who don’t have access to cars. The folks who walk to the program or take the bus will be reluctant to attend regularly if it means walking through snow or rain.
~ Offering the program in Spring and Fall ensures that it does not compete with families’ summer vacation plans and that only preschoolers are available to attend. Having a program begin in June and end in mid August will draw school age children as well as preschoolers. As a means of excluding the older children, some sort of preregistration will likely be required. Preregistration means that the program will not be low barrier. It will be available only to those families who can navigate the registration process and it will exclude those who need it most. Excluding school age children will mean that some families will not attend because they will not have access to child minding for their older children.
~ Reducing a healthy snack to “just juice” ignores the fact that one of the program’s objectives is to model healthy snacking.
~ Lengthening the program to two hours will be stretch for a large, noisy and diverse group of three and four year olds. Without the structure of a classroom, it can be difficult to manage a group this size. I find it hard to believe that program quality can be sustained over two hours.
I am saddened by the fact that organizers are ignoring good sense and by their desire to compromise some of the best aspects of the existing program. I know their goal is to “check the boxes” mandated by the grant they received. I would much prefer that their goal and that of the funding body be to deliver excellent quality programming that is respectful of the participants’ needs and goals.
Each session of our family literacy program began with a thirty minute “storytime” presented by a librarian. The storytime theme matched the weekly program theme. This ensured a good match between the librarian’s “storytime” and the program presented by the program facilitator. Following the “storytime,” the group learned a new rhyme or chant (in rebus form) and theme-related vocabulary. The group also reviewed material from previous sessions, sang the Alphabet Song and played learning games. For Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, the children (enthusiastically) made cards to take home.
Most weeks, the children spent time with the child minders while the program facilitator presented information to the adults. During this portion of the program, the child minders served a healthy snack of fresh fruit and juice or water.
The adult portion of the program included ways to help children with alphabet recognition, the importance of phonemic awareness, the value of reading aloud, ways to help a child with comprehension, why wordless picture books support vocabulary development as well as an introduction to affordable recreation opportunities in the community. The presentation of rebus chants and vocabulary activities also provided learning opportunities for adults.
Weekly handouts were provided to both the children and the adult participants. As well, multilingual information about accessing emergency services (911) was offered.
During June, the children who participated in the family literacy program received “homework” assignments which included borrowing a book from the library, reading environmental print, counting, printing, drawing, comparing, borrowing a theme box from the library and enjoying read alouds. Most of the participants completed and returned the homework to the facilitator.
Also in June, the Summer Reading Club was actively promoted and most of the children signed up to participate. By the time the program ended, virtually all of the adult participants had library cards and were using them.
The final family literacy program session included the usual storytime, chants, vocabulary, snack and adult learning. The children who attended regularly received Certificates of Attendance. At noon, most of the participants walked to a nearby park and played with sidewalk chalk, blew bubbles and enjoyed the playground equipment. It was a happy, friendly time.
Offered from April to June and September to November, the program is held at a neighbourhood library. It is intended to be a low-barrier family literacy program, especially appropriate for immigrant women who are caring for young children and who may be socially isolated. Initially intended to attract a maximum of twelve families to each session, the Spring 2012 program was enthusiastically attended by more than two dozen families each week. So far, our Fall numbers are almost as high.
As hoped, the program attracted a diverse population. The children in attendance range in age from one to five years. The adults who participate were almost all women; some are grandmothers and aunts however the majority are mothers, attending with their preschool-age children. Some participants have never been to the library prior to attending our family literacy program.
Many of the attending families are learning English as a Second Language. The group includes individuals who primarily speak Cantonese and others who speak Punjabi as their first language. As well, some families who attend regularly speak English fluently.
In keeping with the objective of making the program “low-barrier,” participants are not required to preregister and are welcome to join the program at any stage. For those who join the program partway through or who miss a session, handouts from the previous week(s) are easily obtained. The message is, “Whether you are able to attend every week, most weeks or some weeks, we are very happy to see you here.”
My team and I work to maintain a friendly, welcoming atmosphere for all participants. I am indeed fortunate to have multi-lingual child minders who assure participants that they were welcome to converse in their Mother Tongue during the program.
While passing time at the Sea-Tac airport, I wandered into one of those everything-and-then-some stores. In between the hand-crafted cards, joke gifts, and eclectic jewelry, an interesting and colorful print caught my eye. Really, it seemed more like a scrawled version of a stick person. But it was the words that accompanied the image that grabbed me. It said:
I read once that the ancient Egyptians had fifty words for sand & the Eskimos had a hundred words for snow. I wish I had a thousand words for love, but all that comes to mind is the way you move against me while you sleep & there are no words for that.
Just like that, I was fascinated. Along with dozens of prints, all showing oddly shaped figures and sketches and sharing beautiful words, there were books. I had never heard of the author, Brian Andreas before. Flipping through his books, I was amazed at the power of his words and the fact that he could be so moving without truly defining characters. Somehow, without even giving them names and using, what seem like, pieces of conversation, he pulls you in and makes you feel like someone understands. I used all of my “mommy-needs-a-few-minutes-to-look-around-by-herself” time standing at that small shelf reading everything I could and trying to decide which print was my favourite. It’s not often you can read a few paragraphs that have the power to make your heart skip or your eyes tear; well, for most people, anyway.
As I read these little snippets of conversation between unidentified characters, I felt completely drawn in and captured by them. Some of the conversations had an almost “Time Traveller’s Wife” feel to them. Then there are sketches that accompany the words; sketches that should be amusing, but with the words, just seem beautiful. There’s so many times in life, as kids and adults, that we feel alone, that people don’t ‘get it’. It’s part of what makes a good book so important~connecting to characters makes us feel validated, understood, accepted, and “normal”. Reading through Mr. Andreas’ book Trusting Souls, I felt that way. It was so compelling that I bought it for my husband, who I’m sure would have rather had something else, from another store entirely. However, sometimes someone else has already written the words we feel we can’t express properly. When that happens, as adults and as children, it matters. It stays with us.
On his website, Mr. Andreas says “we are all story people”. I like that. Because we are. We’re all just trying to do our best, make connections, and make sense of what we see and think and feel.
His books and prints show the power words can have and I think that, in the classroom, that’s a strong message. Words matter. How we say them or write them or think them. The words we hear or see can leave a lasting impression on us. This is why it’s important to choose wisely what we say and what we read.
Here are a few pieces that will stay with me; that matter:
“Is there a lot of things you don’t understand? she said and I said pretty much the whole thing and she nodded and said that’s what she thought but it was nice to hear it anyway and we sat there in the porch swing, listening to the wind and growing up together”
With this phrase, he draws an interesting picture and scribbles that it is a “doorway that only lets some stuff through, but you never know what it’s going to choose so it’s hard to plan for the future”.
“Remember to use positive affirmations. I am not a dork is not one of them.”
This one is called “Anxiety Break”:
“things have been going so well that she’s taking an anxiety break to keep centered”
“We lay there and looked up at the night sky and she told me about stars called blue squares and red swirls and I told her I’d never heard of them. Of course not, she said, the really important stuff they never tell you. You have to imagine it on your own.”
I am reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to my oldest daughter this summer. I have read the series once after a friend, who has read it, literally, dozens of times, insisted that I could not put it off any longer; I had to read it. So I did. And I absolutely loved it. I’m not sure why I didn’t read it when it originally came out. I remember listening to how much everyone loved it and the movies are among my favourites. Waiting did have one advantage, however; by the time I read the books, they were all published so I could read them all back to back.
Now, as I reread Harry Potter with my daughter, I’m remembering all of the things I loved about the books. I am completely absorbed in the story once again and so is she. Lately, all of her playing is geared around wizards and wizardry. All of their dolls are currently attending Hogwarts. As I’ve watched her get wrapped up in the story of Harry and his friends, I realized that only one of my students was reading Harry Potter this year. This could be because the kids have read it when they were younger, but it seems unlikely that they have read all seven books by grade four or five. I am hoping that with series such as Twilight, The Hunger Games, Warriors, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Harry Potter is not being forgotten in this age group. I think grade four is a great age for the first book. I think I will have to poll my class in September to see how many have read the series or at least some of them.
Harry Potter came out 12 years ago. The Deathly Hallows came out in 2007. It’s entirely possible that with the hype of so many new books over the years, that Harry is not the most sought after character at the library. It would be a shame to forget how magical and amazing JK Rowling’s books are. Unlike the Twilight series or The Hunger Games, children get to grow and mature with Harry. As he becomes older, the conflicts and challenges he faces become more involved and difficult. The intensity builds with each book. Not that the intensity doesn’t increase with each of the books in the other series, but the intensity is there from the beginning. Katniss* is fighting for her life from chapter one. Bella and Edward** are drawn to each other immediately.
In Harry Potter, we meet a young boy poorly treated by relatives that do not want him. The first story captures our hearts and interest by letting us connect to him and feel the same amazement that he does as he learns about his wizarding background and accepts his future at Hogwarts. Harry has an innocence that Bella and Katniss do not. Of course, they are entirely different books, but I know that they were the central focus of my grade five classroom not that many years ago. Now, based on what I’ve seen my students borrowing from the library, that focus has shifted.
I don’t actually read Harry Potter in the classroom. But this year, I think I will make an effort to see how many kids have read it on their own or with their families. It will be interesting to see how many of this year’s class, who would have been born in between Goblet of Fire and Order of the Pheonix, are familiar with the novels. Since they became readers, the “Harry Potter Hype” has lessened, as all hype does. Regardless of which books are grabbing the most attention today, we need to remember that there are some books (many) that should always be on a person’s “Must Read” or “Have Read” list. The Harry Potter series should definitely on those lists.
*The Hunger Games
The selections included plots that dealt with the afterlife, ghosts, sibling deaths, parent deaths, autism, disease and similar horrible afflictions and topics you can think of. Most of the books sounded excellent, despite the rather grave subjects. More than that, the books were definitely capturing interest; many of my students chose stories that I had decided against because I wanted something lighter.
I started thinking that maybe we shouldn’t be exposing the students, our kids, to these topics. I don’t really want my daughter reading or asking about the afterlife, wondering what terrorism is, or thinking about the dangers that exist for kids trying to find themselves in middle school. It’s one of those balance issues again because if my kids ask me about things, I’d rather be honest. I don’t want them completely unaware or in the dark, but a little unaware until they’re older seems okay with me. But most kids aren’t; unaware that is. They have access to far more information through social media and technology than I ever did at the same age.
It was this thought that made me think about what I was reading at their age. Surely it wasn’t about disease, terror, and end of the world chaos! I had to have been reading something that protected my unjaded 12 year old view of life. Only it wasn’t. I didn’t watch the news or have access to high speed internet at 12 so maybe I wasn’t as “aware” as kids are today. However, I was reading Heaven by V.C. Andrews and vividly remember reading it over and over again. No terrorism there. Just a girl growing up dirt poor, in a shack, hated by the father that eventually sells her, forcing her to go out into the world and discover the truth about her past. Nope. No terrorism there. Of course, I was also reading Sweet Valley High. What could be more innocent than Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield? The perfect Wakefield twins and their friends who experienced drugs, death, kidnapping, and a whole host of other over the top tragedies. I say that fondly, as I remember being completely addicted to the series. Just as, I would imagine, today’s young adults are addicted to the engaging plots and twists found in Hunger Games, Speak, Twilight, Abandon, Sold, Stargirl, Slob, and so many other well-written, attention-grabbing, heart-twisting young adult fiction titles on the best sellers list.
I didn’t take enough Psychology courses to truly dissect why, as both kids and adults, we are drawn to stories that present that edge of darkness. Having said that, you don’t need Psychology courses to recognize that each of these books have common elements. The main characters are flawed, allowing the audience to connect with them. The crisis or darkness that each of them must confront seems overwhelming but they manage. They don’t escape the darkness without scars but are stronger for what they have faced. They aren’t perfect, but they survive. So maybe, the solace we all find in the dark is actually hope. Hope that we are strong enough to face what comes our way. Strong enough to be the people we want to be, despite the obstacles in our way.
In light of recent real-world tragedies, it seems to me that hope is never a bad thing. We can’t control real life and we can’t predict the outcome. But there’s a comfort in knowing that when the darkness comes in the book, somehow everything will be okay. I wish we could make the same assurances in life. I wish that in life, like in books, we knew, in the end, that the boy will get the girl, justice will be served, and good will trump bad. But life’s not like that. And sometimes, the only way to deal with that reality is to fall into a good book, with amazing characters that maybe remind you a little of yourself, and know that, in the end, things will work out.
About five years ago, I managed to figure out what was “wrong” with my youngest son. Some of the time he was a happy, relatively polite, relatively well-behaved, active kid but (and this was a huge issue), some of the time he was unpleasant, miserable and defiant.
We were at a loss to understand what was happening with him. It was completely illogical and sometimes scary. Frankly, at times, my husband and I worried it was a mental health issue. We consulted our family doctor and attended family counseling.
After one particularly miserable evening, I sat at my computer and started searching “kids and anger”. I think the first website that gave me hope was that of The Feingold Association of the United States. My son’s symptoms couldn’t be described as ADHD but there seemed to be “overlap” in some of their descriptions and our experiences.
Anyhow, we decided to try a one week elimination diet. We removed all coal tar food dyes from the foods he ate. Although we had planned to experiment for seven days, we knew in three or four that we had identified and solved the problem. He was a completely different boy when not consuming artificial food dyes – especially those derived from coal tar.
Now, fourteen years old, happy and healthy, he does not eat any artificial food dyes derived from coal tar or petroleum and he also avoids Annatto (which is technically considered “natural”).
Red dye derived from coal tar can be called Red Dye 40, Red Dye #40 or Allura Red. In addition to eliminating Red Dye #40 from his diet, my son also avoids Yellow Dye #5 (also known as Tartrazine) and Blue Dye #1 and #2.
Basically, if a food, medicine, toothpaste or beverage has an artificial dye or Annatto as an ingredient, he does not ingest it.
Interestingly, after we figured his intolerance out, we had one professional say to us that kids who are sensitive to artificial food dyes are likely very sensitive to alot of things. It is part of their “make up.”
On the “good news” front, the issue of sensitivity to color is now much better known than it was five years ago. President’s Choice (Real Canadian Superstore) has recently announced that they are eliminating artificial dyes from their products by the end of this year. McCain also seems to be moving in this direction. Some products, especially in the United States are now specifically labeled “No Artificial Colors.”
We have also discovered a few rather interesting differences between Canadian and American products. Miracle Whip produced in Canada has artificial food dye in it, American Miracle Whip does not. Jug chocolate milk, sold in Canada, has artificial food dye in it, American jug chocolate milk usually does not.
We don’t trust anything – we have found artificial dyes in vanilla ice cream, in chocolate pudding, in French fries, in cheese, in salad dressing and in snack crackers. I read every label before I put a product into my shopping cart or before he eats it. We have even asked to see labels when eating in restaurants.
We are very fortunate because he is equally committed to avoiding the artificial food dyes. He never asks to eat anything with dye even when tempted by cupcakes decorated with sprinkles or the cherry on top of a milkshake. Obviously, artificial food dyes and Annatto make him feel terrible.
There is not a day that goes by without me feeling grateful that we solved the mystery of my son’s behavior. What once seemed illogical and frightening is now completely understood and avoidable. We wonder, how many other children and their families are unknowingly dealing with sensitivities like his. We wonder how many children are having difficulty sleeping or managing their anger because something they ate was made to look “pretty” by adding an artificial food dye. This desire to create a more attractive food at less cost is unnecessary and is hurting our children. I continue to advocate for (at minimum) better food labeling but I would much prefer an outright ban of coal tar based artificial food dyes.
Cavendish Farms frozen potatoes, Fanta soft drinks, Colgate regular toothpaste, (some) Sudafed cold tablets, Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes but not Kellogg’s Vector (seems crazy), Smarties, Bryers’ Natural Ice Cream, Powerade Clear and Kirkland Organic Chocolate Milk, available at Costco.
Our Artificial Dye Pinterest Board
I would love to hear your thoughts about this topic. It is one that I am passionate about.
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