Posts Tagged ‘commentary’

Reading for Reward – Are Extrinsic Rewards Good or Bad?

Posted on March 21st, 2012 by Jody

Reading for Reward - Are Extrinsic Rewards Good or Bad?

Whether it’s reading, math, science, or socials, there is conflict over rewarding children for meeting goals and expectations in the classroom. If we reward them with tangible “prizes”, do we diminish their intrinsic motivation? An argument can be made either way. We need, and kids need, to understand intrinsic motivation. Not every accomplishment deserves a prize, just like not every misstep deserves a consequence.

I think that we can create a balance in the classroom that reinforces intrinsic motivation but allows for concrete rewards as well.

Let’s be honest: we all like rewards; take out on Fridays, a trip to Starbucks, a special purchase. So while we need kids to know and understand that reading in and of itself is a reward, I’m okay with giving a little more every now and then. At my school, we do Accelerated Reading which allows kids to read books at their level then take a test to check their comprehension. Each book is worth a certain amount of points (harder book = higher points) and your points are based on how well you do answering questions about the book. The teachers at our school take various approaches when deciding how to utilize those points as motivation. I have seen (and borrowed) some incredibly creative ideas. Depending on the grade level, the teacher, and the goal, kids have earned computer time, tours of the office and staff room, buddy time, time with the principal, lunch with the teacher, and a host of other special rewards.

So does this add to or diminish the academic and personal reasons for reading? In my experience, it adds to both. Students who are academically motivated already, will enjoy the extra rewards and bonuses that come from doing something they were going to do anyway. For the at risk, unmotivated, or uninterested readers, the reward might provide a hook to get them started. The key, for me, is knowing your learners and knowing what would be a reward for the individual student. It might not be a prize from the ‘prize bin’ or an extra ten minutes on the computer, but if you can know your students, you can find what their motivation is and use it to help them move forward.Reading for Reward by Jody Holford

I’ve noticed that once you start a ‘system’ with students, they become attached to the routine as much as anything else. In my class, every AR point goes up on a chart. From there, every 5 points gets a sticker and every 5 stickers receives a prize, which could be a new pencil, sharpener, eraser or bookmark.

Most kids are going to meet these goals anyway, so the ‘prize’ is just a little bonus for effort, time, and achievement. The students are very particular about the routine, even at the grade 4/5 level. They put their AR quizzes in the folder, remind me to tally points, let me know when they’ve reached personal and/or class goals. Recently, my class walked to the store as a reward for achieving the class goal of reaching over 500 AR points. Every student in the class contributed to that goal. It didn’t matter by how much, but it mattered that together we worked towards it and together, we celebrated it.

I can teach without giving rewards. I can implement curriculum and engage my students without giving them prizes or anything more than verbal praise. The 21st century learning goal is to motivate and engage all learners. I like to think that I can meet this goal without the bonus incentives. If my objective is to do just that, to motivate and engage without incentives, then, for me, offering the incentives only enhances the experiences and the enjoyment for my learners.

Journey of a Reluctant reader…Re-evaluating Reluctance

Posted on January 20th, 2012 by Jody

Journey of a Reluctant reader...Re-evaluating ReluctanceI’ve realized a few things about reluctance this year: 1 is that it can be subjective; 2 is that it exists in all of us; and 3 is that it can tell us a lot about ourselves, as readers and as individuals.

My reluctant-but-not-really-reluctant reader, Johnny, informed me the other day that he LOVES Gordon Korman. So much so, that he has read a number of Korman’s books. Based on this, he decided to try Titanic. He actually ended up returning the book the next day because he didn’t like it, but it was at this point that I realized his reluctance applies less to reading and more to WHAT he is reading. He’s more than willing to read (or try) Korman books, anything by Sachar, and books recommended by myself or friends. So while he says he doesn’t like to read, I think that really, he doesn’t like wasting time reading books that don’t pull him in. His reluctance is an ever changing thing, based on what he happens to be reading at the time. This led me to realization number 2.

If reluctance applies to what we are reading and not reading itself, then it exists in all of us. My best friend often reminds me, when she’s trying to get me to read a great book, how long I resisted reading Harry Potter. She has read the books more times than I can count and had praised them repeatedly for years. All 7 were out by the time I finally opened the Philosophers Stone. I couldn’t put it down and was very grateful to have 6 more to read when I finished it. But, I had definitely been reluctant. What makes us, and students, so sure that we won’t enjoy something? What makes us want to give some books a chance and not others? I continue to be a reluctant, or perhaps choosey, reader. This same friend had a hard time convincing me to try Hunger Games, which I also loved. However, when it came to book 3 of that series, my reluctance once again surfaced and the reason, I believe, is linked to my third realization.

My reluctance to read Mockingjay, and even my approach to Hunger Games and Catching Fire, reflects aspects of my personality. I think that if we look at what hooks students and what doesn’t, we can get some insight into their personalities as well. While reading Hunger Games, I needed verbal reassurance from my friend that things were going to be okay; that Katniss was going to be okay. I couldn’t truly invest myself in the novel if she wasn’t. Though she was okay, both in this book and the next, I still couldn’t read the third because there was too much sadness for me. There were so many powerful aspects of the books; the characters, the fight for a better world, the relationships, the physical and mental challenges. But in the end, it still involved losing people and making horribly difficult choices. For me, it was too emotional. This relates to who I am as a person and made me realize that the books our students choose, likely relate to who they are as people.

If I take a look at Johnny’s choices this year, I can definitely find links to his personality. Some of the books he has chosen are Lemonade War, Lemonade Crime, Holes ,and Small Steps. Each of these books has a strong male character, humor, struggles and challenges for the male character to overcome and interesting interactions between the characters. In my class, Johnny has the ability to take a ‘lead role’ in classroom activities. The other students enjoy working with him and playing with him. He’s a people person, much like Evan in Lemonade War. He has a good sense of humor, which likely makes it easy for him to relate to books such as these. The strongest link I recognize however, is that each of the male characters in these books feel comfortable with the decisions they make. They know right from wrong and though they don’t always make the best choice, they look for ways to please the people around them because they care.

Over the next little while, I’m going to watch the book selections of my students more closely. I’m going to try to find links between what they choose and what I see in them. Does the choice for fantasy and magic tell me something about them or link to their writing style perhaps? What about the students who choose books about power struggles and facing fears? Do they back away from books, like I do, that pull out too much of themselves or are those the books they seek? It’ll be interesting to track what books some of my other reluctant readers are choosing or avoiding. The more we know about ourselves as readers, the better we can teach our students to get to know themselves through their choices.

Weeding and Organizing My Personal Library Isn’t Easy

Posted on January 15th, 2012 by Carolyn Hart

Organizing My Personal Library and Deciding on Discards Isn't Easy

This year I am determined to find the best way to organize my personal library. At the same time, I hope to “weed out” a few titles. After all, there is only so much space I can devote to picture books – especially as my boys are now fourteen and sixteen.

But going on a “book diet” is no easier than reducing carbs or eating low fat. Most every book I pick up has a memory attached or has some redeeming qualities: I love the illustrations or the narrative promotes diversity and acceptance, the animals are charming or funny, the rhyme is clever or the lesson imparted is an important one.

After careful consideration, I finally think I have arrived at the perfect measuring stick for picture books: ‘Will I want to read this book to my grandchild?” Of course, grandchildren are unlikely for the foreseeable future so the books that are permitted to “stay” need to have a timeless quality. Also, since I have no idea whether my grandchild will be a boy or girl, I will have to keep books for boys and books for girls as well as those that appeal to both. Since I don’t know whether my grandchild will be an only child or one of many, books about family life and siblings are definite “must haves.” Anything, anything that hints at a loving relationship between grandparent and grandchild will definitely stay.

At the moment, my personal library includes close to three thousand children’s books, chapter books and young adult titles. I have it organized as follows:

Picture books (excluding seasonal) arranged alphabetically by author
Concept picture books (alphabet, counting, time, etc.)
Wordless and almost wordless picture books
Seasonal and holiday picture books – arranged by month and then by title
Chapter books and young adult novels – arranged alphabetically by author
Easy Readers and books for emergent readers – arranged according to difficulty

Of course, this sounds really quite well organized but it fails to include the various “piles” that dominate my office floor, waiting to be read. It also ignores my “workshop” books which are always “at the ready” in easy-to-transport Rubbermaid totes.

This month, I am hoping to reread about one hundred of the picture books and decide which of them should stay on the picture book shelf but, then again, maybe I ought to tackle one of the “piles.” At least the former books are currently on a shelf! If I deal with a “pile,” I will have more floorspace and will feel just a tiny bit better about my ability to organize. I might actually “reduce” my library footprint.

Stay tuned as I work on this project throughout 2012 and post about it monthly.

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.

Selecting great stories and the importance of reading aloud to kids

Posted on October 25th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

Suggestions for selecting great bedtime stories from Storytime Standouts

When making presentations to parent groups and professional organizations, my goal is always the same: to inspire adults to read good books to children on a frequent basis.

I have two children and I began reading aloud to them when my oldest boy was 6 months. I continued reading two stories a day until the youngest was about 7 years old. (We still enjoy chapter books together.)

Believe it or not, I actually did the calculation:
8.5 years X 2 stories per day X 365 days = 6,205 bedtime stories! Unbelievable!

Choosing Great Bedtime Stories

We know as parents that we are going to read some books over and over again because our children will insist we do. The rest of the time, let’s do our best to find books that are worth reading.

Whether through this website or a Parent Ed session at your preschool, I want to help you discover some new books that will help your child…
• substantially grow his vocabulary. Remember, we tend to use the same words over and over again when we talk with our children. When we read aloud to them, they encounter new vocabulary. Here are some suggestions for picture books with rich language
• gain and awareness of rhyming and alliteration. Also known as ‘Phonemic Awareness,’ discovering that words are made up of sounds will help your child read and spell. Here are some suggestions for you to support your child’s phonemic awareness.
• learn about places and situations. Whether reading about Madeline’s life in Paris or Ping’s home in China, books take us to new and exciting places. They introduce situations that our children do not encounter personnally.
• explore the language and conventions of print. Children learn that English is read from left to right and from top to bottom. They may also learn that exclamation marks and bold print send a message to the reader.
• discover new information and ideas. Books are a great way for your child to learn about topics that interest them: dinosaurs, castles, robots and undersea creatures! Here are some non fiction picture books that we particularly recommend.
• become a good listener. Ah yes, you can be sure that your child’s teacher will be grateful for his attentiveness.

When selecting books for children we should look for
• respected authors and illustrators and their well-reviewed books
• good matches for our child’s interests (in my case it was, ‘Books about trucks!’)
• ways to connect books with life experiences (i.e. an upcoming trip or planting a garden)

Keep reading, I will do my very best to help you with selecting great bedtime stories.

You may also enjoy…
Answers to 10 FAQ About Reading Aloud to Children from Storytime StandoutsStorytime Standouts guest contributor writes about reading aloud to children10 Great Reasons to Read Aloud to Your Child

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?

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.

I don’t know about you, but I”ll gladly accept one of these paycheques.

Posted on September 6th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

Like so many moms, my job description is a long and complicated one. I am self-employed and work outside the home four days each week. I also volunteer and am currently the chairperson of our school Parent Advisory Council. My most important jobs are here at home. As a wife and mother, I garden, decorate, clean, launder, tutor, cook, transport, counsel, organize and cheer. Add ‘Elder Care’ to the mix and my days are full to the brim.

I was intrigued to hear about a recent study by They have created a Mom Salary Wizard. They surveyed more than 40,000 mothers and discovered “ that the time mothers spend performing 10 typical job functions would equate to an annual salary of $138,095 for a stay-at-home mom.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll gladly accept one of those paycheques!

Here’s wishing you a happy Friday – how ’bout taking a “day off” from your endless “to do” list and choose something from your “want to do” list?

Parenting: What Exactly Am I Expecting – of Myself?

Posted on September 1st, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

Storytime Standouts looks at I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids: Reinventing Modern MotherhoodI Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids: Reinventing Modern Motherhood written by Trisha Ashworth and Amy Mobile
Parenting book published by Chronicle Books

Back after an all-too-short “Spring Break.” The boys returned to school this morning and I scrambled around doing some of the chores I’d put off while they were home. Well, actually, “home” is a bit of a stretch — six hockey games in four days meant we weren’t actually at home very much.

I did manage to read quite a number of (mainly kids’) books during the break (after arriving at the rink 60 minutes prior to each game). My favorite of the week was not a children’s book. I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kidsreinventing modern motherhood was such a compelling parenting title that I couldn’t wait to delve into it. I was not disappointed – it was thought-provoking, funny and reassuring.

The quizzes, commentary and quotes encouraged me to consider (and reconsider) my own ‘Never-Ending To-Do List” and My Expectations for Myself. I am still thinking about how I can match my expectations with the real world and, at the same time, honor my whole (not just parenting) self.

In the meantime, I have decided to form a GET A GRIP CLUB – especially for hockey moms — because really, we all need to GET A GRIP and enjoy each and every day. Beating ourselves up because we haven’t crossed every last thing off our “to-do” list or met an inflated list of parenting expectations, is far too destructive to ourselves and our family life.

I Was a Really Good Mom website (including blog)

I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids at

I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids at

Tips For Encouraging Boys to Read – The Male Perspective

Posted on August 31st, 2011 by E.R. Yatscoff

Tips For Encouraging Boys to Read - The Male Perspective A Guest Post on

Back when I was a firefighter, the chief discovered I was a writer with a short story published.  He volunteered me for a children’s reading week at a district school.  I walked in the school gym and mingled with several other neighborhood people who had volunteered.  Since I was in full dress uniform I got all the attention from the elementary students.  What surprised me were the comments of the children regarding firefighters: “Firemen can read?”  “Is that really your name in that book?”  Apparently firefighters were illiterate sorts, Neanderthals, who couldn’t read or write.  Most of the children told me their fathers didn’t read books; “only the paper.”  Many of my male friends and ex-colleagues have rarely cracked a book.  Could it be they never found anything interesting to read while growing up?

Few firefighters write books.  There’s plenty of non-fiction in Canada written by them but no fiction.  I’m the only one in Canada writing eBook mysteries featuring a firefighter.  Unfortunately it’s an adult book.

Whenever school and children’s groups toured my fire station there was always a definite level of excitement.  The older the group, such as Boy Scouts, the higher the interest.  To keep this interest going, with regards to books, there was little around, save for picture books.  A chapter book/juvenile novel with firefighters and fire trucks could continue to build on the excitement.  Literary books are a tough sell for boys.  In my situation, I’ve written several juvenile/middle grade novels yet it’s never occurred to me to write one about firefighters.  The high interest angle is essential to attract children, especially boys, to books.  Perhaps a few firefighter novels in the genre would turn on more boy readers and therefore more men readers.

I was at a provincial park in Saskatchewan several years ago and watched a mixed group of tweens goofing around near the beach on a hot day.  One boy sat on the grass reading.  What kind of book could keep a boy away out of the sun and water?  I walked over to him and saw it was a Harry Potter novel.  That’s when I realized the power of attraction in those books.  Thank you J.K. Rowling.

The Male Perspective – Encouraging Boys to Read was written by Edward Yatscoff.
Archie's Gold by E. R. YatscoffHe describes himself as follows…
Retired fire captain with Edmonton Fire Rescue. Widely traveled. Have won several writing competitions and awards for short stories. My writing credits include travel articles, short stories, non-fiction, and mystery novels ranging from juvenile/middle grade to adult. I’ve written the very first firefighter mystery in Canada in an eBook. For this momentous achievement I can hear one hand clapping. I manage a writers group in Beaumont, AB. Hobbies include fishing and camping, boating, home renos, and writing.

Archie’s Gold at

Archie’s Gold at

Visit Ed’s website

You may be interested in our page about reluctant readers.

The Reading Response – One Way to Turn Kids Off Reading

Posted on August 30th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

Asking students to write reading responses may not have the desired affectMonday morning and just five more school days until Spring Break. Boy, are we ready for a break from routine; swimming lessons, hockey, elder care and school have taken their toll this winter. It is time to sleep more, enjoy extra family time together and go on some fun outings.

It is time for a break from the reading response.

Once again this weekend, both my sons had (the dreaded) Reading Response homework. My elder boy worked on a title page for his assignment, due next Friday. He is worried that he hasn’t done enough work and this will hurt his mark in reading. He’s likely right — although an enthusiastic reader of fiction and non fiction, pausing to ‘respond’ is not his strong point. Rather than analysing, he’s much more likely to pick up another book and move on.

My younger boy had already completed (yet another) chapter summary for Owls in the Family, but he had not yet written his ‘response’ to the chapter. His last response explained that we recently visited a bird sanctuary and saw a small owl — pretty cool. Unfortunately, he didn’t reveal his feelings about the experience (gosh, he didn’t reveal them to me either!!!)

Now, I ask you, when was the last time you sat and did a multi-faceted report on a book you’d read (as my grade six boy is doing) or a chapter-by-chapter summary and response (grade 4)? I think Jim Trelease is absolutely right when he says, “let’s eliminate not all but much of the writing they’re required to do whenever they read… We adults don’t labor when we read, so why are we forcing children to?” (in The Read-Aloud Handbook)

Jim Trelease is a favourite of mine. He really turned me on to creating a home environment that nurtures readers. He also encouraged me to get involved at the school level. His list of recommended read-alouds has been invaluable as we moved from picture books to short novels to full length novels.

So I say, “Thumbs Down” to apparently endless book reports and “Thumbs Up” to a Spring Break that includes an enticing stack of books – that, when finished, require nothing more than a sigh of satisfaction.

Jim Trelease’s Website

The Read-Aloud Handbook at

The Read Aloud Handbook at

10 Best Picture Books – Choosing is Next to Impossible!

Posted on August 5th, 2011 by Jody

While thinking about what to pack for a mini family vacation next week, it struck me that I should come up with a list of my TOP TEN picture books. As soon as I began trying to choose, it became my TOP TWELVE.  I thought it’d be a good exercise because whenever we go away, we have to be very firm with our youngest child about what she can and cannot pack. If you have ever read Robert Munsch’s Too Much Stuff (see how I snuck an extra book in there that’s great but won’t be on my top ten twelve?) you’d have great insight into how my five year old packs. I don’t like limiting how many books our girls can bring, but if we didn’t, we wouldn’t have enough room to bring our clothes! Hopefully it’ll be a while before they figure out that I have NO limit thanks to my Kindle. But if, like them, I was stuck picking ten stories for bedtime or any other time, I wondered which ones would make my list. These are not in order by favourite because that’s just asking too much of myself.

Jody's Top Ten Picture Book list includes OliviaOlivia written and illustrated by Ian Falconer

Olivia is the funniest pig ever! She’s determined, stubborn, and highly amusing. I love the simplicity and the truth of Olivia. She’s tiring, she’s demanding, but she’s so loved. I only wish that Ian Falconer and Kevin Henkes would write a book together so that Olivia could play with Lilly (see below).

Jody's Top Ten Picture Book list includes Lilly's Purple Plastic PurseLilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes

Lilly is perhaps my favorite storybook character. She perfectly encapsulates the egocentric child in such a charming, fun way. I love the way Henkes uses simple sentences in his writing to tell you so much. “Lilly loved school. She loved the pointy pencils. She loved the squeaky chalk”. I love Lilly.

The Princess and the Pea by Hans Christian Andersen

I’m not sure what makes this story one of my favorite fairy tales, but it is. I love the queen piling on all of the mattresses and bedding and I love the version where the prince realizes he loves her, even if she isn’t a real princess.

Jody's Top Ten Picture Book list includes Suki's KimonoSuki’s Kimono by Chieri Uegaki and Stephane Jorisch

This is a beautiful story about independence and confidence. It’s not easy for Suki to wear her kimono to school when even her sisters are wearing brand new clothes and all the kids stare at her. But she’s not afraid to be who she is and wear what she wants. I read this book, the first time, years ago and still enjoy it every time I read it to my daughters or to a class.

Jody's Top Ten Picture Book list includes Paper Bag PrincessThe Paper Bag Princess written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko

My kids love this book because Elizabeth says Ronald is a “bum”. I love it because Elizabeth is clever and strong and not only defeats the dragon but gets her happily ever after by NOT getting her happily ever after.

Jody's Top Ten Picture Book list includes Hand, Hand, Fingers, ThumbHand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb written by Al Perkins and illustrated by Eric Gurney

I love the simple rhyme and rhythm of this book. To this day, whenever I cross a street and say to my kids “Hand”, they both reply “hand, fingers, thumb”. It’s delightful.

Jody's Top Ten Picture Book list includes You Are SpecialYou are Special written by Max Lucado and illustrated by Sergio Martinez

This book makes me smile every time I read it. I love the message that believing in oneself comes from inside, not from the beliefs of others. The symbolism of the stickers falling off of the Wemmicks when they stop caring about how others see them is beautiful.

Jody's Top Ten Picture Book list includes Seven Silly EatersThe Seven Silly Eaters written by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Marla Frazee

This book is adorable. The pictures are fantastic and I love the pickiness of the kids. The rhyme is awesome and the chaos and love projected in the words and the pictures are realistic and amusing.

Jody's Top Ten Picture Book list includes Wmberly WorriedWemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes

Just so you understand how difficult it was for me to pick only 12 favorites, I should mention that I absolutely LOVE,  LOVE,  LOVE every Kevin Henkes book I’ve ever read, including Zebra Wall, which is a novel that I didn’t even know, until last year, that he had written. Wemberly is me. She is my oldest daughter. She is every kid who hates uncertainty and is comforted by the familiar.

Jody's Top Ten Picture Book list includes The Kissing HandThe Kissing Hand written by Audrey Penn with illustrations by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak

The first time I read this story, I cried a little. Our oldest daughter was almost three when I bought it and read it to her. It was exactly what I wanted and still want for my children- to know that wherever they go and whatever they do, I love them and I’m with them.

Jody's Top Ten Picture Book list includes Goodnight MoonGoodnight Moon written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd

I can recite this book word for word. I love the line “Goodnight nobody”. When our youngest daughter was born, we decorated her bedroom as the ‘great green room’. We had all of the details; “the old lady whispering hush” drawn on the wall,” two kittens and a pair of mittens”. For a border, we wrote the words of the story.  It will forever be one of my favorites.

Jody's Top Ten Picture Book list includes Guess How Much I Love YouGuess How Much I love you written by Sam McBratney and illustrated by Anita Jeram

I loved this book even before I really understood it. I gave it to my mom before I had kids and she nodded as though she had some sage understanding of something I did not. Then I had kids and I really got it; because even though they love me to the moon, I love them to the moon and back.

There. I did it. I narrowed it down and chose twelve favorites. I’m so very proud of myself for not even mentioning Sleepy Bears by Mem Fox, Pocket Full of Kisses by Audrey Penn, every other Kevin Henkes book, or Hooray for Diffendoofer Day by Dr. Seuss. It’s probably safe to say that I, too, need strict guidelines for what I can and cannot pack.

Adult Non-Fiction: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother A.K.A. Ambitious Bully

Posted on August 4th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

Adult Non-Fiction: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother A.K.A. Ambitious BullyBattle Hymn of the Tiger Mother written by Amy Chua
Non fiction parenting book published by Penguin Press

My husband and I are “Western parents” to two adolescent boys. We live in a very diverse community where the most commonly reported ethnic origin is Chinese. In fact, in 2006, 45% of the citizens in my city reported having a Chinese background. When Ms. Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was making headlines earlier this year, I decided to make time to read it over the summer months…

“Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they are capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”

Ms. Chua is a law professor at Yale University. She grew up in the United States, married an American and had two daughters. As evidenced by the foregoing quote from Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, she is compelled to make broad generalizations about “Western” parents and the Chinese. She characterizes herself as a Chinese mother although “ambitious bully” would be a more apt description.

Relentlessly demanding (and proud of it), Chua expects her daughters, Sophia and Louisa, to earn consistently high marks and master either the piano or the violin while shunning sleepovers, extracurricular activities and socializing with their peers. Chua’s firstborn, Sophia, is compliant but her second child offers resistance. She does not want to devote every waking hour to school work and violin lessons; she objects to outrageous harrying by music teachers and she wants to learn to play tennis well.

If Ms. Chua’s depiction of their family life is accurate, one wonders what would drive her and her husband to foresake spending enjoyable, leisure time with their girls. It seems to me that there are many, many parents of Chinese origin who are able to find balance and moderation in their parenting. They may demand academic focus and want their child to study music but they do not spend hours yelling and screaming at their children and then write a sensational book cheerfully detailing the experience.

“The truth is I’m not good at enjoying life. It’s not one of my strengths…The girls barely had time as it was to do their homework, speak Chinese with their tutor, and practice their instruments.”

Whether your approach is “Western” or “Chinese”, parenting is never an easy road. All parents need to be prepared to look themselves in the mirror on a regular basis and evaluate and adjust. What works with one child, won’t necessarily suit another circumstance. It is important to remember that, while on a parent-chosen path to academic and musical “success”, children can miss the opportunity to discover other talents and interests and to make social connections.

It would be interesting to revisit this family in twenty years, when Ms. Chua is no longer dictating to her daughters. What will she do with her strong opinions and ambition? What will her daughters do when given freedom and choice? Will they be good at enjoying life?

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother at

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother at

Finding a Balance – Looking at a Child’s Reading Level and Maturity When Selecting Books

Posted on August 3rd, 2011 by Jody

Finding a Balance - Looking at a Child's Reading Level and Maturity When Selecting Books

As a teacher and a mom, I want to see kids succeed. I want to see them achieve success and push past it to the next level, particularly in reading. When getting kids to fall in love with reading you have to keep a couple things in mind:
a) You have to (help them) find books that interest and appeal to them
b) You need books that they can read and understand independently without frustration

Once you have done both of these things, the chances of success in reading, and in turn, the love of reading, increase greatly. My favourite moment is when it clicks~ they understand what they are reading and they want to read more. It’s been an absolute pleasure to watch our eight year old develop not only a love of reading and books, but to become a strong reader. However, she is now reaching a difficult stage; one I didn’t expect to encounter even though I have watched her excel in reading. What happens when children know what interests them but what they are capable of reading academically and independently surpasses what they should be reading emotionally?

Striving for independence, my daughter recently convinced me to let her go to our school book fair alone, with her own money to make her own choices (By on her own, I mean I didn’t go into the book fair with her but since I work there, I was close by). When she showed me what she had chosen, I knew I was stuck with a dilemma. She had chosen a book that dealt with adolescent friendship, middle school, and a crush on a boy. She used my ‘a/b’ theory and found something that appealed to her and was within her reading range. For some kids though, like my daughter, what she is able to read and what she should be reading are two entirely different things.

While we are ecstatically proud that she is reading at a grade six level in grade two, it does present some problems, even if the grade level and ability level gap is smaller. An author’s goal is to speak to their audience; to engage and captivate them. They build their plots and characters based on their (anticipated) audience. Therefore, an author writing books for the typical grade two/three student would appeal to their developmental stage. Some great books in this age range (at least for my girls) are the Daisy Meadows Rainbow Fairies collections, the Nancy Drew Clue Crew series, or the Bailey School Kids. These books appeal to this audience with their age appropriate characters solving problems, working on mysteries, and going up against mythical or magical figures. In grades two and three, the problems our kids are facing (hopefully) include getting out for recess fast enough, snagging one of the three skipping ropes available, or not being it for tag. It’d be nice if problems could stay this simple, but they don’t and as kids mature, so do the books that appeal to them.

A grade six student, by contrast, is caught up in an entirely different world that includes best friends that come and go, crushes on boys, and dealing with self-image. Accordingly, books that appeal to this age range deal with these issues. Coming of age classics like Little Women by Louisa May Alcott or Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret by Judy Blume perfectly highlight some of the trials girls this age face. And while I truly want my daughter to read these books, or even the one she chose from the book fair, I’m not ready for her to wonder about these ‘issues’. So, I’m faced with deciding whether or not to let her read books past her maturity level to accommodate her ability level.

I suppose it’s like anything else with parenting; I take a look at her choices and make the best judgement call I can. For me, I’m hoping that keeping the conversation doorway open is the answer to finding balance. Discussing what your child is reading is a key to helping them develop as fluid readers. So, while I don’t want her to have a crush on a boy, I’m fine (so far) with explaining what it means and talking to her about the issues her characters are facing. Perhaps it’s a plus that right now she’s hooked on the Goddess Girls series by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams. I don’t think I’ll have to worry about any boys from the Underworld popping up with their three headed dog any time soon.

Welcoming a New Guest Contributor to

Posted on August 2nd, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

I am absolutely delighted to introduce readers to a new guest contributor to the website. Jody describes herself as follows, I am a happily married mom of two little girls ages 8 and 5. I am an elementary school teacher. I love books and feel very fortunate to be able to read so many different genres and authors as both a mom and a teacher. It is great to add Jody’s fresh and enthusiastic voice to our community. You can read her first post here.

Summertime Reading – Will July be reading-friendly for your children?

Posted on June 8th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

Ways to make summer vacation reading friendly for kidsThe lazy days of summer are perfect for reinforcing your child’s emerging reading skills. When you are out and exploring, take a child-friendly reference book with you and keep it nearby as you do some star gazing, bird watching, beach or nature walks. If you make summertime reading a priority, you and your child will be rewarded in September.

Storytelling and Listening…
While sitting around a campfire, encourage story-telling or pull out a book of spooky stories and a flashlight. Snuggling up around a fire is the perfect place for memory-making, spine-chilling tales.

Reading maps…
When on a roadtrip, be sure to take a map or two and encourage your child to trace your route and alert you to upcoming points of interest.

Drawing and writing…
At home, check your supplies of crayons, pencils, lined and un-lined paper (and, we’re sure you’ll want our summertime interlined paper). Keeping a summertime scrapbook or diary will encourage your child to do some writing and illustrating. summertime interlined paper

When visiting the library, look for books on tape or cd or download audio books onto an IPOD. Long drives are so much more pleasant when listening to an engaging story. I can still remember where we were driving when we heard the amazing recording of Hiccup: How to Train Your Dragon. The miles simply flew by as our family created a fabulous memory.

Summertime Reading…
Finally, don’t forget the all-important trips to the library. For young children, look for a mix of rhyming books, alphabet books and not-to-be-missed picture books. For older children why not find some books of science experiments, recipes or art projects to go along with chapter books?

Getting to Know Twitter @StoryStandouts

Posted on June 3rd, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

I have been playing around with Twitter for awhile and am starting to feel reasonably comfortable with it. My user name is @StoryStandouts and I’d love to have you “follow me” . I’ve added my Twitterfeed to this site and you’ll find a link to it in the column to the left of this post.

I’d also be really interested in feedback – what sort of news would you like me to share?

If you “Tweet”, please let me know your user name…

9 Ways to Help a Beginning Reader – We Can Help You Make a Plan

Posted on April 5th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

9 Ways to Help a Beginning Reader Succeed from

If you are helping a beginning reader, these ideas will be of assistance to you and your child.

Often with beginning readers, there is alot of emphasis on having the child read aloud to an adult. Sometimes teachers will even assign “Home Reading (aloud)” homework. The fact is that some children don’t want to read aloud to an adult. They may worry about making mistakes and feeling “exposed.” If your child doesn’t want to read aloud to you, suggest that she read aloud to a favourite doll or teddy bear or even the family dog. There was a study, not long ago, that found reading aloud to a dog was effective in improving reading skills.

9 Ways to Help a Beginning Reader Succeed including Jen the Hen, a good book for a beginning readerI also want to mention that parents should continue to read aloud to children long after they learn to read for themselves. So, don’t stop reading aloud just because your child has started to read. Hearing you read more challenging stories will encourage them to improve their own reading skills. We want them to have an appetite for more difficult books and an appreciation for the amazing stories that are available to good readers.

Click on the book covers for more information about each book and follow this link for more information about Beginning to Read.

Anyhow, back to the “plan” for helping a beginning reader…

  • Choosing a book is alot like tasting porridge. We don’t want a book that is too difficult and we want to move past the ones that are too easy. We want a book that is “just right.” Some people suggest using The Rule of Five. If your child has difficulty with five or more words on a page, have your child choose a different, easier book to read. Then, offer to read the “too tough” book aloud so your child has the opportunity to enjoy it.

  • 9 Ways to Help a Beginning Reader Succeed including reading books like Nate the Great

  • Keep in mind that just because a book is labelled “level 3,” does not mean that the level of difficulty is consistent with other books with the same label. Take time to check out the text.
  • Once your child has selected a book, talk about the cover. What sort of story will it be? Does this cover remind you of anything else we’ve read? Who wrote the book? Who illustrated it? Previewing a book can help boost comprehension and critical thinking.
  • If the book is non fiction (a fact book), ask your child what he hopes to learn and what he already knows about the subject. Warm up the book.
  • Decide how best to share the book… does your child want to read it silently and then aloud? would your child like you to read together with him? will you alternate pages or paragraphs? or will your child read the passage and then listen while you reread it? Please keep in mind that some memorizing and guessing is “normal.”If your child makes a mistake or gets mixed up, pause and give him a chance to self correct. If he can’t solve the problem, suggest that he try to read it again or read to the end of the sentence and decide which word would make sense.
  • 9 Ways to Help a Beginning Reader Succeed including Mercy Watson, a good series for a beginning reader

  • If your child makes a mistake that does not make sense, ask him, “Did that make sense? Did it sound right?” If he tries twice but can’t decode the word, tell him the correct word.
  • If possible, as you are reading together, pause to discuss what is happening, what might happen next, how the story might end.
  • Remember, your praise is incredibly important to your child. There are all sorts of things you can say to a beginning reader

    “I loved your expression when you read that story.”
    “I’m so glad you are checking out the pictures for clues about this story.”
    “I like the way you figured out that tough word.”
    “I’m glad you asked me to help you read that tricky word.”
    “I am so proud of your reading!”

  • 9 Ways to Help a Beginning Reader Succeed including Houndsley and Catina, a popular book for a beginning reader

  • Keep in mind that your child does not have to read perfectly. If she substitutes a word and the sentence still makes sense, ignore the mistake and let her continue. If she makes a mistake and the sentence does not make sense, wait for the sentence to end and then ask, “Does that make sense?” Encourage her to correct her own mistakes.

  • My advice is to relax. Learning to read is not a race and becoming an early reader does not ensure a love of books. Reading is like so many other milestones in childhood. Some children become readers quickly and almost effortlessly, while others require encouragement and lots of extra help. Your child will become a reader – I am sure of it – and, if you can keep the experience positive, relaxed and happy, I believe you will be playing a critically important part in raising your child to love to books and reading.

    Please share your ideas, questions and suggestions about helping a beginning reader.

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