Archive for the ‘Storytime Standouts Shares Early Literacy News and Commentary’ Category

Journey of a Reluctant Reader…Giving Small Steps a try

Posted on December 10th, 2011 by Jody

Journey of a Reluctant Reader...Giving Small Steps a tryWe found another book this week and once again, I found myself being thankful for sequels. My reluctant reader, Johnny decided to give Small Steps by Louis Sachar a try this week. Knowing that he loved Holes enough to read it twice made it an easy suggestion. He easily agreed to give it a try. I find that even as an adult, I love books that connect and carry on. When you really love a book, chances are you really love the characters. When you love the characters, you want more. You want to know what happens to them and to their friends. Sequels make this possible. There’s a comfort, for me at least, knowing that even if the end of a book is coming (which always makes me a little sad if I’m really enjoying it) there is another one to follow that will update me on what’s happened to those characters.

Though every series can’t be Harry Potter, which allows us to follow much beloved characters for years, it’s wonderful when there’s at least a second. Lemonade War offered this with Lemonade Crime. Holes is followed by Small Steps. Then there’s other series, such as Ramona, which is followed by many books about her family, adventures, and friends. Series of Unfortunate Events, Fudge, Warriors; there are too many to list.

I think for “reluctant readers”, like Johnny, sequels are a critical component of ‘keeping them hooked’. His willingness to read allows for him to get attached to a character and the sequel keeps him coming back and keeps him reading. Often, it’s what keeps me reading.

So for now, I’m really happy with how Johnny’s journey is going.  He may be reluctant to choose the activity (although this is becoming less true), but he’s reading. In the end, whether it’s sequels, Harry Potter, comic books, or the newspaper, we just want them reading.

We’ll see where Johnny’s journey takes us in the new year.

The Butterfly Circus – view it and rethink disability and stereotypes

Posted on December 5th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

Set during the Great Depression, The Butterfly Circus encourages viewers to rethink disability, stereotypes and assumptions.

The greater the struggle, the more glorious the triumph

When Mendez, a showman from the renowned Butterfly Circus discovers a limbless man being exploited at a carnival sideshow, the showman sees ability and courage rather than disability. He sees a magnificant man.

A multi award-winning short film, The Butterfly Circus will soon be made into a full-length, feature film.

The Butterfly Circus – HD from The Butterfly Circus on Vimeo.

The Butterfly Circus
Directed by: Joshua Weigel
Written by: Joshua Weigel & Rebekah Weigel
Produced by: Joshua Weigel, Rebekah Weigel & Angie Alvarez
Starring: Eduardo Verastegui (Bella, Chasing Papi), Nick Vujicic (Life Without Limbs) & Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth, Fantastic Four – Rise of the Silver Surfer, Hellboy)

Journey of a Reluctant Reader…apparently, “it’s on”

Posted on November 21st, 2011 by Jody

Journey of a Reluctant Reader...apparently, it's on

Maybe reluctant reader is not the term I’m looking for…

I’m beginning to think that reluctant is not the best term to define my reader. While some synonyms of this word, such as wary or opposed, might apply to his overall attitude toward reading, this last week assured me that he is not, as the definition states, unenthusiastic or unwilling.

Many of the kids were very excited by the arrival of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Cabin Fever this last week. Some had ordered it as far back as September, myself included. I was quietly happy when Johnny asked if he could borrow my copy to read. When I commented about the fact that he was asking to read yet another book, he ammended his request to, “Actually, can I just borrow the book to look at the pictures?” He’s clever.

But so am I. On Friday afternoon, I asked Johnny if he’d like to borrow my copy of Cabin Fever.

Johnny: For the weekend?

Me: Yes, but I haven’t even read it yet. It’s brand new so you have to promise to be extra careful. And you have to promise to return it.

Johnny: Ok.

Me: You have to bring it back Monday. Even if you’re not done.

Johnny: Oh, I can finish it by Monday (he was only a chapter or so into it at this point)

Me: The whole book?

Johnny: I totally can! I bet you I can!

Me: Ok. You want to read the whole book this weekend?

Johnny: I will. I’ll be finished by Monday. I bet you.

Me: Ok. You finish it by Monday and I’ll give you a bonus AR sticker (I give one sticker for every 5 Accelerated Reader points and every 5 stickers gets a prize)

Johnny: Okay!!! It’s on!!

Me: It’s on?

Johnny: Yup~it’s on!!!

Me: Okay then. It’s on like Donkey Kong.

Other students: It’s on like Donkey Kong! It’s on like Donkey Kong! It’s on like Donkey Kong!

This morning, five minutes after walking in, Johnny returned my copy of the book, in perfect condition, telling me that he had, just like he said he would, finished the book. He even offered to tell the class about it, which I may let him do tomorrow.

If you remember my earlier posts about Johnny, you’ll know that he had once said he’d rather sleep, or do anything else, than read. So I can’t help wondering if he realizes that he not only chose to spend his free time reading, committed part of his weekend to the activity, but met a self-issued challenge that may cause him to lose his ‘reluctant’ title. I won’t tell him just yet, that he may gain something far more valuable.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 6: Cabin Fever at

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 6: Cabin Fever at

If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you want to read, thank a parent.

Posted on November 6th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

If we want to engage children in reading and grow great readers, we need to make daily practice with age-appropriate books a priority.

If you can read this thank a teacher.  If you want to read thank a parent. from

I’m just back from a quick trip to the library. I had three books due today and didn’t want to rack up a fine. As I walked from the library, I passed a car with a wise bumper sticker: “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” It reminded me of a lunchtime conversation I had with some friends earlier today. We were talking about kids (actually boys) who read and kids (also boys) who don’t. One of the men at the table remarked that his parents didn’t express any anxiety over whether he would read, it was just assumed that everyone in the house enjoyed reading and so they all read together. One of the women remarked that she has a friend whose kids don’t read at all. Both children are boys and they never pick up a book. Apparently, even TV Guide is a challenge for one of them. As a booklover, I view this as a tragedy, as a teacher, I am suspicious. (Actually, the teacher part of me also sees it as a tragedy.) Becoming a good reader requires at least two things: instruction and practice. Virtually every child receives instruction but I’m not convinced that every child receives adequate practice.

If we want to engage children in reading and grow great readers, we need to make daily practice with age appropriate books a priority. The trick is to find increasingly challenging books that captive and inspire. I will do my best to alert you to my favourites – please “chime in” with your own.

By the way, my rewrite of the bumper sticker would look something like this:

“If you can read, thank a teacher. If you want to read, thank a parent.”

Journey of a Reluctant Reader…he’s not alone

Posted on November 1st, 2011 by Jody

Journey of a Reluctant Middle Grade Reader

I chose a different approach this year when I found an openly reluctant reader. Normally, I would try to get to know the student, figure out their interests, ask for suggestions from the librarian or do some online research about popular books. This year, instead of approaching my goal of changing Johnny’s mind about reading alone, I’ve included the entire class in the process. Establishing a strong classroom community is essential for academic, social, and behavioral success. By enlisting my class in the goal to change Johnny’s mind, we’ve become stronger as a group. Last week I mentioned that other students were now recommending books for him. While this sense of community and caring for others is exactly what I want in my classroom, I also want to be sure that the students, including Johnny, understand the importance of making that shift from being a reluctant reader to being an avid reader or at least having an open mind and a willingness to try.

Noticing the way the students laugh when Johnny makes comments about not reading, I also want to be sure that this journey doesn’t become a form of amusement. One other concern I’m beginning to have is that the other students, particularly the other less than enthusiastic readers, may use this as an opportunity to blend into the background. If I’m focused on showing the class that Johnny’s mind can be changed, then I might not make a big deal, or even notice, that others are practicing avoidance. So far, I’m hoping this isn’t the case.

Any teacher knows that all students are different and thus, require a different approach. So while it may be entertaining, powerful, and even successful to allow Johnny’s reading journey to be public, I am quietly aware of the other journeys taking place. I wonder if these students notice the subtle push I hope that I am giving when I offer or suggest books in the library or the classroom. Does the classroom awareness of our reluctant reader’s journey make these others want to read more or less or have any impact at all? Are there ingredients I’m missing to help push the others forward in their own journeys? Is knowing their reading level and interests enough? What about those students who want to read more but struggle?

I’m still working on answers to some of these questions. What I do hope, is that those students who aren’t having their journeys made public, recognize that I’m aware of their academic needs as well. I’m hoping that the students are getting the right message from my decision to talk more publicly about Johnny’s journey. That message is that every journey is different and my goal as a teacher is to help each student find the tools and confidence to make their own journey successful and hopefully, enjoyable.

Kids and EBooks a guest post by ER Yatscoff

Posted on October 30th, 2011 by E.R. Yatscoff

Kids and EBooks a guest post by ER Yatscoff

If you think eBooks are popular now, consider the new generation of kids whose parents have smartphones, laptops, eReaders, and every other electronice device. More and more parents are handing off their iPhones with apps to entertain young children or simply shut them up. The youngest of the bunch get apps with music and animals and stuff to keep them occupied. The older ones get more printed words and simple games. Up the ladder we go until each child will have their own eBook device. Already people are reading more because of eBooks. Ebooks are cheaper than their print versions and far more available.

In this technological age children under eight are spending more time than ever in front of screens. Those with access to technology are more affluent while low income groups are still watching TV. For kids under two, experts have found no educational benefit to watching television, and, in fact, believe TV could actually delay language development. Reading remains the best path to developing language skills.

Common Sense Media , a San Francisco non-profit group, has just released the first study of children and screen time from birth. Almost half of affluent families downloaded apps specifically for their young children, while lower income families were far less likely to do so. Only one in eight low income families downloaded apps. As technology gets cheaper, expect more and younger children to have screen devices. Presently, the study found half of children under eight had access to a mobile device like a smartphone, a video iPod, or an iPad or other screen device.

Television is still the number one screen device but that will likely change as interactive programs will no doubt challenge children more, keeping their interest much more than static television programs. Even with the current state of the economy, 30% of children under 2 have televisions in their bedrooms. I can’t comprehend a TV in a two year old child’s room. My children had no TVs in their rooms and, I believe were much better readers for it. As incomes rise, the preponderance of TVs in kid’s rooms drops.

In regards to another screen, the computer; preschoolers are using them more than ever. Putting your child in front of a computer or other screen has to be better than the TV, education-wise, anyhow. Parents do like their laptops and iPhone and games and we all know children copy their parents.

So, given that children are attracted to screens, it’s a good time to wean them from TV and get them specific apps to encourage reading and interaction. When this new generation of eKids grows up we hope they will be better readers and subsequently do better in academics. They will have access to humungous online libraries directly from their rooms. I just don’t think they’ll be as excited going into a bookstore or library as I was. Better readers will find this technology easier to use and have advantages over others. Technology may even result in children reading at younger ages.

Read more: Screen Time Higher Than Ever For Children

This article was written by E. R. Yatscoff, retired fire captain with Edmonton Fire Rescue. Widely traveled, Edward has won several writing competitions and awards for short stories. His writing credits include travel articles, short stories, non-fiction, and mystery novels ranging from juvenile/middle grade to adult. He wrote the very first firefighter mystery in Canada in an eBook format. Edward manages a writers group in Beaumont, AB. His hobbies include fishing and camping, boating, home renos, and writing.

For more information about Edward Yatscoff and his books, please visit his website.

Making words powerful – replacing a traditional spelling program

Posted on October 22nd, 2011 by Jody

Making words powerful - replacing a traditional spelling programWhen I was in elementary school, spelling programs were a large part of our Language Arts lessons each week. On Mondays, we would do a pretest, mark it, correct it, and write out each of the words. In the next few days, we would complete numerous activities, including writing each word in a sentence, doing the dictionary definitions, perhaps a crossword, and filling in the blanks using the correct word. On Fridays, we had our test. It was on long, skinny, full scrap paper. The next week, we would begin the entire process again with new words. I’m not certain that any of us could necessarily spell these words correctly from then on, but we definitely knew them for Friday’s test.

For the past several years, I’ve avoided this traditional type of program. I believe it has valuable components, such as understanding the meaning of words, being able to use it in the right context, and improving our ability to learn how the word is created between the pre and post tests. What I worry about though, is whether there is a connection between learning how to spell in this fashion and improving your oral, written, and reading vocabulary. Does rote memorization of word lists truly impact a child’s reading and writing? I think the answer is both yes and no.

What I do believe, is that there is a connection between a child`s understanding of how words are made up and their ability to decode, read, and comprehend. I am a big fan of the activities that come along with Word Work and think they are important to retaining vowel sounds, word chunks, understanding of syllables, and knowledge of prefixes and suffixes. I use the term Word Work, both here and at school, in place of the word Spelling. It is more than spelling a word correctly that I am after.

Powerful readers make connections and I think that students need to connect the words they are learning to what they are reading and writing. While many spelling programs offer word lists that compliment the curriculum, I think that the important feature is that the activities that students engage in must help them further understand the word. They need to be able to see and understand the letters, sounds, parts, and the whole. They need to understand it in context and out. They need to recognize small pieces of words so they can identify sound patterns. This means going beyond rote memorization of word lists.

Having said that, in the early grades, memorization of Sight Words (they may be called Dolch, Primer, No Excuse, or Red words) is a building block to reading success. These words don’t conform to the conventions that we teach. Using rote memorization in combination with “spelling” and writing activities is a great way to reinforce these unconventional words that are such a huge part of our oral and written vocabulary.

As we move up through the grades and try to move toward reading for understanding, the students need to extend and strengthen these skills. Programs such as Rewards, Words Their Way, or Making Words are great ways to get students to extend and strengthen their word recognition abilities. I have been using a new book that I recently purchased from Scholastic, called Systematic Word Study. It’s a sequential, daily word program that highlights prefixes, suffixes, meaning, parts, antonymns, and syllables. The more kids understand how to break these words apart, categorize them, put them back together, or see them in different ways, the better chance we have at them transfering this recognition to their writing and reading. The best part of this program is that it is fun. It’s got really great activities, such as building mystery words using parts of other words, that the kids get really involved in. The activities are short, specific, and powerful.

So while I don’t think that the spelling programs of my youth are what we need to boost strugging and proficient learners, I do recognize the value in Word Work. The more connections and transfer skills that we can arm our students with, the greater chance they have for success in all curricular areas.

Systematic Word Study for Grades 4-6: An Easy Weekly Routine for Teaching Hundreds of New Words to Develop Strong Readers, Writers, and Spellers at

Systematic Word Study For Grades 4-6 at

Journey of a reluctant reader. Two weeks, three books, one closet reader

Posted on October 21st, 2011 by Jody

If you ask Johnny if he likes to read, he’ll say no. He’s been honest from the start; reading is not his favored choice of activity. I too have been honest with the class; they know that my goal is for Johnny to love books. Of course, all of my energy is not focussed just on him. In fact, being in the Library with my students is one of my favourite weekly activities. I pour through the shelves with them, asking them about their choices, finding books from my childhood, and reading the summaries of new books that my students might enjoy. The students know that reading is more than just an important skill for me to teach them. I think they really get the idea that, to me, reading is the portal to so many other great things~characters, places, struggles, triumphs, memories, and lessons. They also know that I am just persistant enough to keep harping at them about how powerful books can be in their lives.

So what I’m saying is: they humor me. They let me show them all the books I think they’d like; they even say they’ll try them and return them quietly on their book exchange day. And I adore students for their willingness to please their teacher by trying something new. However, I’m feeing quite triumphant this week because not only has Johnny chosen three novels in the last couple of weeks, but the other students have joined my quest to hook him on books!

Journey of a reluctant reader. Two weeks, three books, one closet readerWalking by Johnny’s desk today, I noticed a Warriors book, a favourite among many of the students I have taught over the past few years. I tried to hide my excitement as I asked, “What is THIS?”. He laughed and shook his head and said, “I’m just trying it”. His friend, who also took out this book responded, “Ya, we’re reading the kitty books together”. Yet another friend said, “That’s because of me! I told them to read those books so they are. We told them how good they are”. So I realized that two hugely exciting things are happening and I’m not sure which one is better. Johnny is choosing to read, without any prompting on my part and secondly, our sense of community is coming together so well, that they are pushing each other for better things. It’s not just that they’re recommending literature or following through with a peer’s book recommendation. It’s the fact that they care about each other enough to share their interests, to listen to each other, to take advice from one another, and to push each other forward in a positive way.

Today is one of those days where I am so grateful to be a teacher. Some days I get caught up in all of the sadness that exists around us and days like today remind me of all the goodness that is right in front of us. Kids are amazing.

Family Literacy Program Development Part 3 – We share helpful tips

Posted on October 19th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

Family Literacy Program Development Part 3

I have a firm belief that everyday experiences represent tremendous opportunities for children to learn and grow. Whether hearing a nursery rhyme during a diaper change, chatting while doing grocery shopping or laughing about a fun picture book, interactions between family members and with other caregivers provide many opportunities for language development and growth.

Almost all parents and caregivers want their children to flourish, they want to be involved, effective parents and they want to create a healthy, nurturing environment for their children. In my opinion, a good family literacy program will support parents and caregivers without intruding. A good family literacy program will be responsive to the needs identified within the community. An important aspect of responsiveness is a willingness to listen to parents and other caregivers and to ensure that services are delivered when, where and how they are needed.

A good family literacy program will be empowering, it will help adults understand the pivotal role they can and should play in developing their child(ren)’s literacy. It will encourage parents and other caregivers to make time for reading aloud, playing with and talking to children. A good family literacy program will encourage adults to consistently enrich the lives of young learners with a variety of spoken and written language and experiences.

As an aside, learning does not need to be an expensive proposition but it does require commitment. It is easier to put a child to bed without reading a story, it is easier to let the child watch television than to sit and do a puzzle with him, it is easier to text with a friend than to chat about fire fighters and their equipment. for the tenth or twentieth time. A good family literacy program understands this and acknowledges it. A good family literacy program will encourage parents and caregivers to make the extra effort each and every day with their youngsters. A good family literacy program will ensure that participants understand how chatting about fire fighters, sharing a bedtime story and doing a puzzle can have a tremendous impact on young children.

Getting Ready to Read and Beginning to Read, Week Three

Posted on October 6th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

In this week’s Getting Ready to Read class we talked about letter B and some of the words that begin with b – bumblebee, blue, black, brown, baby, big, bag, bread, book, balloon, basket. We played a guessing game, the answers were items in my brown bag (a basket, a banana, a balloon, etc.)

We also played a game about opposites using words that indicate position (high, low, in front, behind, over, under).

Sharing information about our Getting Ready to Read and Beginning to Read program, week threeThe story for this week was one of my favourites, Otis by Loren Long

Otis is the story of a small tractor who loves life on the farm. When a calf arrives in the stall next to Otis, he befriends the young cow. It is not long before they discover ways to play together in and around Mud Pond.

All is well until a shiny new tractor arrives to work on the farm. Sadly, Otis is parked behind the barn and the new, larger tractor goes to work.

When the little calf gets stuck in Mud Pond, the farmer frantically looks for some way to rescue her. Thankfully, Otis responds when everything else fails and, with hard work and determination, Otis rescues his friend.

Fans of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel will thoroughly enjoy this gentle story about friendship.

Otis at

Otis at

In this week’s Beginning to Read class we played an alphabet recognition game, I call Boom. It is a fun way to review letter names quickly.

We also spent quite a lot of time, talking about rhyming. Learning about rhyming and recognizing rhyming words enhances your child’s phonemic awareness. We played, making silly rhymes with our names and talking about rhyming words.

Our word family today was the “-all” family. We began with the /all/ sound and added different sounds to it, in order to make words. We made ball, call, fall, hall, mall, tall, wall. Once we had finished playing with sounds, we used letters (b, c, f, h, m, t, w) to change “all” into ball, call, fall, etc.

Having opportunities to blend sounds together and make words will assist your child. When you are in the car or waiting in a lineup, ask your child to blend the /S/ sound with /AT/. Help your child, /S/…… /AT/. If your child can’t figure out the word, bring the sounds closer together /S/…./AT/, and closer… /S/ /AT/ – until your child realizes the word is “SAT.”

Our story today was Lois’ Ehlert’s beautiful tribute to fall leaves, Leaf Man. This is a wonderful story to share at this time of year. The beautiful die cut illustrations are a wonderful inspiration for young artists.

Leaf Man at

Leaf Man at

Teach Preschool’s teaching ideas for The Leaf Man

Harcourt Book’s teacher guide for The Leaf Man

Journey of a Reader…Bits of resistance

Posted on October 4th, 2011 by Jody

I knew it wouldn’t all be smooth sailing turning Johnny into someone who enjoys reading. Two things are on my side at the moment, however; he’s willing to try and he’s already had one good read that he enjoyed this school year. I will continue to build on these two positives, but he’s made it clear, in actions and words, that he’s in charge of the journey. I think that’s important for us to remember: we can teach them, we can model, we can preach, and we can show them the way, but in the end, the choice is theirs. If they truly don’t want to be readers, do we have the power to change that? At this point, I’m still optimistically going to say YES.

In his school wide write this week, Johnny wrote about setting goals and learning new things. Providing further proof that he is not avoiding reading due to difficulty decoding or comprehending, Johnny’s school wide write was well written, grammatically correct, and properly organized.  When he wrote about some of the things he was willing to try this year, he mentioned that he was “even going to try to like reading”. At this point, I smiled, thinking, “He really does want to try”. Then I read the next sentence, neatly put in brackets: “(like that’s going to happen)”.

So far we know these facts:

  • He can read above grade level
  • His written output is strong
  • He’s got a good sense of humor and a willingness to try
  • He’s not going to say he loves reading just to please his teacher

Storytime Standouts guest contributor shares more ideas about working with a middle grade reluctant readerThis last fact I know for sure because now that he has finished The Lemonade War (and I was unable to find The Lemonade Crime this weekend) he was reluctant to try something new. He is definitely a student that wants to be sure the read is going to be worth the effort. He told me today that he needed something to read. We took a look at This Can’t be happening at Macdonald Hall by Gordon Korman. I felt confident saying that he would know whether or not he liked it within the first few pages. A few pages later, he gave the book back.I offered him Sideways Stories of Wayside School, by Louis Sachar. This book is below his reading level, but sometimes, we just want to keep the kids reading. Better that he read something entertaining while I find him a more suitable book than to have him not read at all. While we were talking about Louis Sachar, he mentioned that he LOVED the book Holes. A previous teacher had read it to him.  I don’t have a copy in my class but said I would get him one by tomorrow. (I didn’t mention that people who love reading often find enjoyment in re-reading an old favorite.) Though not entirely engaged, he was content to read about the kids at Wayside (an extremely funny book if you’ve never read it) for today.

So the journey continues. Even though I haven’t succeeded in making him LOVE reading yet, I think the fact that there are books he does LOVE, is going to make this easier. Often, not being able to find the right style of book can be very discouraging. I’ll take it as a good sign that I know of a few authors already who have peaked his interest.

Getting Ready to Read and Beginning to Read, Week Two

Posted on September 30th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

Week Two of Getting Ready to Read and Beginning to Read at Steveston Community Centre, Fall 2011

In Getting Ready to Read this week, we talked about letter “G”. As adults, we know that “G” can make two different sounds. The sound we hear in garden, gate, go, green, gloves, glue is referred to as the hard “G” sound. This is the “G” sound we talked about in class.

As the children move ahead with reading, they will learn that “G” also makes the sound we hear in gym, giraffe, gem, giant. This sound is referred to as the soft “G” sound. We are not going to confuse the children by introducing the soft “G” sound at this stage. When they are ready to learn about the soft “G” sound, you will want to know that “G” usually makes the hard sound when it is followed by “A” (gate), “O” (go), “U” (gum) or a consonant (great). It usually makes the soft “G” sound when followed by “E” (gem), “I” (giant) or “Y” (gym).

Week two of our community centre programsOur story this week was Honk! – The Story of a Prima Swanerina written by Pamela Duncan Edwards and illustrated by Henry Cole.

Honk!: The Story of a Prima Swanerina at

Honk!: The Story of a Prima Swanerina at

In Beginning to Read this week we talked about the “et” word family (bet, get, jet, let, met, net, pet, set, wet). Our tricky word was “quiet.”

Our theme was Bathtime and we played a fishing game – fishing for rubber ducks (each had one of our word family words on it). Our story was Once Upon a Bathtime by Vi Hughes and illustrated by Sima Elizabeth Shefrin.

For more bathtime fun, check out our free downloads

image of PDF icon  Bathtime Chants

Add actions to these fun chants for bathtime. A free printable for home and preschool.

I love using word families with beginning readers. If you wish, you can download and print off more word family materials for your child here.

Once Upon A Bathtime at

Once Upon a Bathtime at

Journey of a Reader…Lemonade War

Posted on September 30th, 2011 by Jody

Last time, I introduced you to Johnny, my “I’d-rather-do-anything-other-than-read-even-though-I’m-totally-capable” student. He mentioned that he’s not opposed to reading, he just doesn’t care much for it and certainly doesn’t see it as a pastime or escape. Once I found out he was really enjoying having me read Fudge-a-Mania to the class, I knew I had a book for him. The Lemonade War is a book I read with my daughters over the summer. It’s a great read and actually, my very first post for Carolyn’s site was a review of this book. It definitely has humor and it has a great sibling rivalry that leaves you torn between which character to root for in the end.

Johnny knows all about my plans to make him like reading and he’s very receptive. I gave him a short summary and he said he’d try the book. I have to admit, I thought he was just messing with me when he said he’d read several chapters later that day. He was picking up the book when he had time and before I knew it, he told me he was finished. He loved it! He said it was funny and great and part way through he said he couldn’t wait to see what happened. So~success right? That day, when I signed his planner, I said I was so happy he liked it so much and wasn’t reading great? Sadly, he said, “It was a really good book. But I still don’t like reading”. While I did not achieve a quick victory, I do have every reason to be hopeful. My “chosen” student for this year is an above average reader with a very open mind and a good sense of humor. He won’t simply tell me he now loves reading so I’ll leave him. I think he might want to know if I can change his mind. For now, though, I’ll take the small victories. He really, really liked the book. He was excited to have finished it and his Accelerated Reading test confirmed that he also understood it. It’s still early days yet, but at least we started the year off with him enjoying a book. I want more though. I want him to love a book so much he can’t put it down. I want him to read before bed by choice or take a good book on a long car ride. I want him to see what worlds he can open up by finding new authors. However, for now, I’ll accept this small gain. Coincidently, the first book I get him to enjoy? It’s sequel just came out last month! Guess I’ll be purchasing The Lemonade Crime this weekend.

Journey of a Relutant Reader…The Chosen One

Posted on September 30th, 2011 by Jody

Journey of a Reluctant Reader - a series of posts by Storytime Standouts' Guest ContributorIn one of my summer posts, I talked about how I love the challenge of finding that “one” student who is NOT a reader. The student that can read, but would rather not; the one that doesn’t make an effort to engage with the text; the one that feels there are far better ways to spend time than reading. In the second week of September, I found my student. He laughed at the shock on my face when he muttered the words “I don’t like reading”. I decided to tell him that he was my new project and explained to him how I’d like to change his mind. His response? “Good luck” he said. I have plans and ideas, and surprisingly, I’ve already made some head way. So these posts will be a little different; these will be about his journey, and mine, as I try to change his mind about the world of reading. Some of my ideas might work and others might not. I’ll happily take suggestions if you think of something that might further engage him. I thought it would be very informative to track his progress and attitude throughout the year. Obviously, my hope is that his journey will lead him to finding the joy in reading. These posts will be slightly shorter, as I will basically “journal” about my efforts and his responses. When he told me he didn’t like to read, I thought it might be informative, if not entertaining, to see where his journey takes us.

So, the Chosen One? We’ll call him Johnny because obviously I can’t use his real name and Johnny seems to be the go-to name in nursery rhymes, references to school, and in basal readers. To give you a little bit of background, “Johnny” was tested yesterday and is currently reading at a grade level of 7.7 in grade 5. There is nothing, academically, stopping him from reading. Before I had him take the reading test on the computer, I had done my own reading assessment and knew he was at the higher end of the spectrum. He’s a good kid. He can be chatty, but since my last post was on the benefits of oral language, I can’t really complain too much there. What I really like about Johnny is that he knows I’m going to try to change his mind about reading. He won’t try to stop me, but he’ll be honest about how he feels too. He’s got a good sense of humor. When he told me he had started a Christmas List already, I asked if he had books on it. He replied in a deadpan voice, “Yes. That’s my whole list. Just a bunch of books”. Back in week two of school, when I had thought about this project, I had Johnny humor me and I interviewed him.

Me: Why don’t you like to read?

J: It’s boring

Me: But what if the book is really good? Then it’s not boring.

J: Well, then I can read it.

Me: You laugh when I’m reading. Do you like our read aloud book? (We are doing Fudge-a-mania by Judy Blume)

J: Ya. It’s funny.

Me: Do you like funny books? You like humor?

J: Funny books are good. I like that one.

Me: What else do you like to do?

J: Anything

Me: Except read?

J: (laughing- I suspect AT me) Ya.

Me: What if mom said, go to your room and stay there for a while? What would you do to pass time?

J: Go to sleep.

Me: Will you let me try to change your mind about reading?

J: Okay

Me: You know I’ll change your mind right?

J: Okay. Good luck with that.

Hopefully you’ll join me and Johnny as I try to reach my goal.

Read the entire series by Jody

Environmental Print – Great for Beginning Readers

Posted on September 25th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

Looking for letters and words in the environment is great for beginning readers!

I’ve been having some fun this week. I grabbed my camera and headed out on a hunt for words in my community.

Environmental print is print that is all around us. In our homes, it is on food packaging and on other products we use. In a public building it is on door handles (PUSH, PULL) and above doorways (EXIT), when we go for a drive, it is on road signs (STOP), vehicles (POLICE, AMBULANCE), buildings (DRUG STORE) and in other public places (PARK, GARBAGE, RECYCLE).

Environmental Print - Storytime Standouts shares a Smile

For a preschool or kindgergarten-age child, who is anxious to read his first word, environmental print may be “just the ticket.” Head out for a walk and see how many words your child can “read.” In all likelihood, he will already know how to read “McDonalds” or “Starbucks.”

Can he use context clues to correctly “read” more of the words around him? Can he “read” a situation and use the information he sees to make a correct guess about the letters and words he sees?

City Signs by Zoran Milich
Environmental Print picture book published by Kids Can Press

City Signs is a great book to share with four and five year olds, particularly youngsters who are anxious to read. City Signs is a series of photographs that each include at least one word. The word is shown in context so young “readers” can use their detective skills to make an educated guess about the word. Some of the words are unmistakable: ambulance, ice cream, life guard, horses. Other words are somewhat trickier: litter and supermarket could be mistaken for garbage or grocery store.

For children who are desperate for reading success, looking for words in the world and encouraging them to read “EXIT,” “PUSH,” “BUS STOP” and “LIFEGUARD” can be a real confidence builder.

City Signs at

City Signs at

When you go out with your child, take a camera with you. Take pictures of environmental print. When you get home, help your child to make a book to read. You can be sure he will be excited to show off his ‘new words’ to Grandma or Grandpa.

Food packaging and pictures from advertisements are more great sources of words to read. Work with your child to put together a collage or scrapbook to read and enjoy.

Environmental Print - Great for Beginning Readers - Storytime Standouts shares Toys

Environmental Print - Great for Beginning Readers - Storytime Standouts shares Books

Our free Environmental Print printables for young children

image of PDF icon  Environmental Print 1

image of PDF icon  Environmental Print 2

There are some fabulous resources online, here are some of our favourites

Sharon MacDonald’s page about environmental print.

Mrs. Horner’s Environmental Print Alphabet (PDF)

Environmental Print Games – including Bingo from Canada’s National Adult Literacy Database

Read Write Think – From Stop Signs to the Golden Arches: Environmental Print

Logos from

Candy Bar Wrapper Image Archive

We invite you to follow Storytime Standouts’ Environmental Print Board on Pinterest

Follow Storytime Standouts’s board Environmental Print for New Readers on Pinterest.

Oral Language Learning in a Middle Grade Classroom

Posted on September 24th, 2011 by Jody

Storytime Standouts' Guest Contributor Writes About Oral Language Learning

Having students talk to each other is a great way to keep them engaged in a lesson. They love to do anything that involves chatting with their friends and neighbors. There are a number of great oral language tools to get kids sharing information, including AB partners, walk and talk, whip around, and sentence frames. I tell my students that in order for us to process what we are learning, we need to make a connection between our brains, our mouths, and our hands. Basically, we need to think it, say it, and write it. Not all students need each of these steps to process, but they are beneficial to all learners. Though not every lesson can include talk time or partner time, oral language learning can still play a large role. During a vocabulary lesson on adjectives today, the students struggled to understand the concept and use the words in different types of sentences. Writing it down wasn’t working for them, even though there were clear examples and we had gone over the work. Asking the students to take a break from the writing, we simplified. I asked the kids to repeat the words after me. Most do this with that monotone-couldn’t-be-more-bored voice. That drives me crazy! So, I told them that when they repeated the word back to me, they had to yell. They were happy to comply. Then we whispered them, broke them into syllables, drew them out as l-o-n-g as we could, and finally, said them as quickly as we could. When it came time to use these words in three types of sentences, declarative, interrogative, and exclamatory, the kids really enjoyed repeating one sentence in the different ways. All of this only added about 5 minutes to my lesson but it changed the overall tone. No, everyone didn’t suddenly LOVE learning adjectives, but they were able to play around with the words a little more and build different sentences. I heard them saying their sentences to their neighbors in different ways.

We know oral language is an essential element in the curriculum. Sometimes though, I forget how truly powerful it can be. My husband is taking a course on Teaching English as a Second Language. To give himself a better understanding, he observed an ESL lesson today. He said that he was very impressed with the tone of the room and the way the students conversed with each other. We might feel like we have too much curriculum to get through to allow the kids so much talk time, but his observation of the ESL class further reminded me of the value of these conversations. Not just for ESL learners, but for all learners. Their ability to have strong verbal interactions with peers influences their writing, their reading, and their confidence. In the early years, we place a huge emphasis on oral language, but I think it’s important that we continue this trend in the upper grades as well. Letting the kids play around with the words, be expressive, and even be silly, lets them make stronger connections to what they are learning and increases their retention.

Learning, growth, and assessment comes in many forms. It doesn’t have to be pen and paper. Listening to your students interact with each other in both formal and informal ways can provide you with new insight into their strengths, their weaknesses, and their point of view. Knowing your students well is part of keeping them motivated and engaged. What better way to get to know them, than through the art of conversation?

Getting Ready to Read and Beginning to Read, Week One

Posted on September 23rd, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

Welcome to Getting Ready to Read and Beginning to Read at Steveston Community Centre, Fall 2011

I am delighted to have your children in my programs.

Getting Ready to Read and Beginning to Read are community centre early literacy programs. Read about week 1In Getting Ready to Read (Tuesday at 4 p.m.), we began by talking about letter F, our theme was Down on the Farm.

The children knew some words that begin with the /f/ sound. I had some items for them to guess: frog, fire truck, flag, fish, fire

We enjoyed one of my favourite picture books – Click, Clack, Moo Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin

I chose Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type because it is a fun story that does a great job of introducing print awareness. The story draws the reader’s attention to letters and words and one way of conveying messages. As well, Farmer Brown’s body language is great to watch. The illustrations in the story encourage children to “read between the lines.”

If your child would like to do some homework for our next session, please have him/her bring pictures of things that begin with letter F. He/she can draw the pictures or cut them out of an old magazine.

Please note, if your child enjoyed this story, Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin have teamed up for more wonderful books about Farmer Brown and his animals. Look for Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type and other great books at the library.

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type at

Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type at

Beginning to Read (Thursday at 4 p.m.), we began by talking about vowels (A,E,I,O,U,Y) and the ug word family, our theme was Down on the Farm.

The “ug” word family –

image of PDF icon  The "Ug" Word Family

Free -ug word family printable for young readers in kindergarten and grade one.

We also talked about rhyming words and played with the following rhymes:
name/game, red/head, yellow/fellow, blue/you, good/could, day/say, park/dark, brown/clown

Learning about rhyming is an important prereading skill. You may be interested to visit my page about phonemic awareness. If your child is interested to do homework over the course of the program, I would love to have him/her draw or find pictures of rhyming words.

This week’s story was Olivia Saves the Circus by Ian Falconer. Many of the children were familiar with Olivia’s show on television

Olivia has her own website, with lots of fun activities for youngsters.

Olivia Saves the Circus at

Olivia Saves the Circus at

The Home and School Connection – Middle Grade Reading

Posted on September 12th, 2011 by Jody

Middle Grade Reading, connecting school and home

Middle Grade Reading Depends on What Happens Outside the Classroom

My students have already figured out a few things about me, which they happily shared with my new student teacher today. They told her that I like diet Pepsi (to the point of obsession), that I’m 35 (not sure she needed this information), and that I love to read. I can’t really complain, since they were correct and also because I was glad they already figured out how much I value reading. From the way they’ve been raiding my book bins, I would say they value it as well. So far, so good. The boys are gravitating toward the graphic novels, making me glad I have plenty. The girls are really seem drawn in by the classics (Oliver Twist, Alice in Wonderland). I love those first few weeks of seeing their preferences. While things feel like they are off to a good start inside the classroom, the importance of what happens outside the classroom cannot be underestimated.

As much as I would truly LOVE to spend the entire day reading and writing with the kids (and I would), there’s not enough hours in a school day. In a typical day, the students will get to hear me read aloud to them for 15-20 minutes and get to read to themselves for about 25-30. This sounds like a lot of reading in a day but it’s not if you consider that it’s academically directed. The read aloud tends to lead to learning strategies, such as predicting, questioning, and making connections. The 30 minute silent reading block is well liked by students, but hardly ever without at least one or two interruptions.

It is important that students know reading is not a “school activity”. We teach them how to read, how to connect with what they read, and how to write about what they’ve read. At home, a perfect compliment to this routine, is encouraging them that reading is a great option for down time, car rides, before bed, or in the middle of a rainy day (or a sunny one). Kids need time to read that is uninterrupted. They also need time to read that is not leading to activities that will show what they know. When my oldest daughter is absorbed in a book, it’s amazing what kinds of connections and conversations we have. I know that in school she can perform the reading strategies both orally and on paper. However, it is truly engaging to listen to her rave about a book or character she loves or to see her smile when I agree to “just one more chapter.”

It’s our job as parents to pass on our values to our children. Perhaps if you are not a reader, there are other ways to support and encourage your child. Take your lap top to the library while they read or ask them to cuddle on the couch, reading, while you do the crossword or watch tv. If you are a reader, READ. Your kids need to see you read. They need to see that you make time for reading and for yourself. This shows them the value, and pleasure, of reading.

As in many other areas of life, maybe it’s time to go back to basics. Switch family movie night to family reading night. I want to say, show them they don’t need technology to be engaged, but it seems hypocritical since I’m wrapping up this blog now so I can go read my Kindle

The Grade Four Reading Slump – Steps to Avoid It

Posted on September 8th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

Avoiding the Grade 4 Reading Slump Advice from

The Grade Four Reading Slump – parental awareness and action can have a huge impact

Children, when they reach about grade four, are vulnerable when it comes to reading. Typically, the books grade four children want to read are longer, the print may be smaller, there are fewer illustrations and readers may encounter tougher and/or altogether unfamiliar words.Amulet is a graphic novel that may appeal to otherwise reluctant readersAll of these factors may deter these children from wanting to read.

To avoid having middle grade children stop reading (or choose to read books that are meant for younger children), remember that it is best for you to continue reading books aloud even when your child is eight, nine or ten years old. Find an exciting children’s novel to share with your child and either alternate reading with your child or let your child sit back, listen, relax and savor the story. Drawn in by a great book and your enthusiasm for it, your child will be motivated to read increasingly challenging books. Series are especially great choices because children will often decide to read subsequent books independently. To a parent, the choice for a child to pick up book 2, 3 and 4 of a series signals, “Mission Accomplished.”Wolf Brother is the first book in the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series. It has short, exciting chapters and strong appeal for reluctant readers

I once shocked a group of parents when I said that if I had a choice of reading to my child or listening to my child read, I would choose reading aloud to him (fortunately, the choice should never be necessary). The fact is, if we read aloud to our children, we will foster an appetite for great books and we will introduce fascinating characters, unusual settings, little-known historical and/or scientific facts and spectacular new vocabulary that will serve our children well. Also remember, the more your children observe you reading, the greater the likelihood that your child will reach for a book when he has an opportunity, successfully avoiding the dreaded Grade Four Reading Slump.

Inkheart is a very popular series for middle grade readersFor further information on reluctant readers and the grade four reading slump, check out our page about reluctant readers .

Reading Aloud to Children and Why It is Very Important

Posted on September 6th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

The importance of reading aloud to children - even once they can read independently

It is almost impossible to believe that the 2011/12 school year marks the tenth anniversary of Storytime Standouts. Indeed, I have been writing about the importance of reading aloud while introducing wonderful picture books for families for nearly a decade. My first column was dated April 2002 and included a review of Stella, Fairy of the Forest. I love letting parents and teachers know about wonderful children’s books just as much today as I did ten years ago. As well, I remain committed to sharing the importance of reading aloud to children whenever I have an opportunity to do so.

Given that this is a special anniversary for Storytime Standouts and since it is the start of a new school year, I want to share my suggestions for ensuring that young children mature into young adults who love to read…

Start ’em young
Beginning at six months of age, every child should hear at least two picture books read aloud every day. If we begin when a child is still an infant, the baby gets used to the idea of snuggling close and enjoying a story. If we introduce stories when children are older and ‘on the move,’ it may be more difficult to entice them to cuddle with us, enjoy the story and the illustrations.

Every day, no matter what
Making time for stories, whether at bedtime or during the day, should be sacred. Even on busy days, when we are on holiday or when a babysitter is involved, enjoying two picture books every day is essential for youngsters. It is for this reason that bedtime stories should never be withdrawn as a form of discipline.

Help your child learn words, concepts and lessons
When children hear two stories a day, they will enjoy 730 stories in one year and 3650 stories in five years. Hearing more than three thousand stories in five years will introduce all sorts of delicious vocabulary, fascinating concepts, wonderful artwork and important lessons. If we delay reading aloud to our children, perhaps waiting until they are two years of age, we miss the opportunity to expose them to the vocabulary, concepts, artwork and lessons in more than one thousand picture books. If each story introduces just two new words… that means your child will have missed the opportunity to add more than two thousand words to her vocabulary.The Importance of Reading Aloud to Children - Keep Reading Even Once Children Are Able to Read Independently

There is something for everyone
Exploring the vast array of children’s books will be fun and rewarding for both you and your child. Visit your local library or book store and dive into the wealth of fairy tales, fables, tall tales, concept books, alphabet books, nursery rhymes, poetry, humor, lift the flap, wordless, fiction and nonfiction picture books. There is truly a picture book for every occasion.

Make connections
Encourage children to make connections with the books they hear read aloud. Whether starting school or visiting a pumpkin patch, dealing with a sibling or learning to ride a bike, there are picture books to match a young child’s experiences. Parents can enrich the read aloud experience by pausing to ask questions, “What do you think Little Red Riding Hood should do?” “Which version of The Three Bears did you like best?” “Which story book character do you like best? Lilly, Wemberly, Olivia…”

Continue reading aloud
Even once children have become independent readers, they will benefit from sharing a great book with you. Although it may be tempting to step aside when your child is eight years old and is reading chapter books independently, there are all sorts of wonderful novels for you to enjoy together. You and your children will remember and reference these shared books for years to come.

For additional information, read our 10 FAQs About Reading Aloud to Children and Why Sharing a Bedtime Story or Two is Not to Be Missed.

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