Summer Learning Fun

It’s that time of year again – school is ending and summer break is beginning! It’s the season to unwind, play, and enjoy some summer fun. But while it’s important for kids to take a break from school, it’s equally important for them to continue practicing their skills so they don’t fall behind. Learning in the summer doesn’t have to be as intense or demanding as it is during the school year, however. Learning in the summer can be as relaxing and fun as the season. What’s important is that students maintain the progress they made over the past 10 months during their 2 months off. For most students, this can be done through regular reading time, playing learning games, building learning into your summer plans, taking a summer school class (which are often less intense and more interest-based), or participating in a summer workshop, program, or tutoring.

Find fun ways to build learning into summer activities in this previous post: Ways to Have Fun This Summer and Promote Learning.

For a list of learning websites, check out the links on the right under Fun Online Learning Games and Reading Websites, or check out these quick guides found online:

http://www.achildwithneeds.com/parenting/learning-websites-for-kids/, http://www.parenting.com/blogs/mom-congress/melissa-taylor/10-best-educational-websites-kids-are-free, and http://www.freehomeschooldeals.com/10-free-learning-websites-for-kids-with-free-printable-listing/.

Keep learning simple for your child this summer. It will help them maintain their skills while still allowing them to have a a much needed break. Most important, make it fun!

 

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Read Across America – Motivating Kids to Read (March 2nd and 3rd)

Every year the National Education Association celebrates Read Across America in conjunction with Dr. Seuss’ Birthday on March 2nd. According to the NEA website, it looks as if this special day will also take place on March 3rd, assumedly because the 2nd falls on a Sunday.

Read Across America is a national celebration of reading that many schools and libraries participate in.  It’s a fun way to share in the joy of reading. Here are some ideas for ways to participate in this special celebration of reading:

1. Attend a library program – check your local libraries for special events or programs happening in honor of Dr. Seuss and Read Across America.

2. Attend a story time at a library or bookstore – many libraries and book stores will have special story times on March 3rd. Some Barnes and Nobles will be hosting a read aloud of a favorite Dr. Seuss book on this day.

3. Read a book online – try We Give Books if you haven’t already – you can choose from many great books to read for free, and every book you read online, the site donates a book to kids in need, www.wegivebooks.org.

4. Find a new book to read – snag a new deal of the day e-book or get a classic or best-seller you’ve been wanting to read from the library.

5. Schedule family reading time – set aside a special time to all share in a favorite story together, or read individually during your designated time and share with each other afterward what you read.

6. Share a book with a friend – participate in a book swap with a friend, and/or loan a friend a book you feel is a must-read.

7. Read to someone – parents and older children can read to younger children, and younger children can read to a pet or a favorite stuffed animal.

8. Read with someone – participate in a shared reading of a book or a chapter, each taking turns reading a page.

9. Join a reading program (library or online) – extend the celebration of reading through the spring by signing up to participate in a reading program. Check your local library or book store for ongoing programs or find one online. If you can’t find one that works for you, create your own reading challenge on Book Adventure: http://www.bookadventure.com/create_reading_challenge.aspx.

10. Join, start and/or attend a book club (in person or online) – if you like to take reading one step further and talk about the books you read or if you want ideas for great books to read, find a book club to join. Check your library or local book store for one in your area or join Good Reads, www.goodreads.com, Barnes and Noble book clubs, www.barnesandnoble.com/bookclubs, or The Stacks for Kids, www.scholastic.com/kids/stacks/, to find one online that fits your needs.

For more ideas and resources to celebrate Read Across America and Dr. Suess’ birthday, check out these sites:

http://www.nea.org/grants/886.htm

http://www.seussville.com/special/read.html

http://www.readacrossamerica.org/

TAG Reader…one mom’s thoughts

As a teacher, when I first heard about the TAG reader, I have to say that I was not very open to the idea of kids using this device. It is an electronic “wand” that when used with special books, will read either the page or each word separately to the user. I thought that it would take away the opportunity for children to work through text on their own. I thought, what child would want to learn to do that on their own if given the choice to have a device read their books to them? I also thought it would be very limiting to children’s reading experiences, as you have to use it with the special TAG books, each sold separately.

For Christmas, my son got a TAG reader along with a stack of books to go with it. He was very excited to try it, so we set it up for him. After downloading the books that would fit (only 8 at a time), he set out listening to Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. He listened to the whole page, going through the whole story. Then he went back, and looked for letters and words that he knew, squealing with excitement when he was “right”. He played the interactive games that are “extras” on each page. He spent a good 20 minutes reading and re-reading that book, then moved on to another. He was so motivated, and he used the TAG system as a tool to check his own understanding, and to push himself to learn a few new words in that one session.

Now I still think that there are limitations to this tool. Most of the books are not exactly the “high quality” books that I would choose for my son. There are many books that feature popular Disney and Nickelodeon characters, and relatively few without. Most of the titles are fiction, although it seems that some tools for learning featuring nonfiction are being added to the offerings. But given these limitations, it still seems to be a highly motivating tool that helps foster early literacy skills and fluency as children use it.

Now, we are several weeks into living with the TAG reader. Given the early experiences with it, though, I will be on the lookout for more TAG books whenever I pass the clearance toy section at Target. It might be a toy you want to consider adding to your library.

Awesome Reading Site and Fun Online Reading Challenge

One of my favorite reading sites is We Give Books. This fantastic site both promotes a love of reading, and helps give books to children in need. According to the We Give Books site, it “enables anyone with access to the Internet to put books in the hands of children who don’t have them, simply by reading online.” The online books available on the site are a mix of fiction and nonfiction picture books, appropriate for children up to age ten. New books are added monthly, and there are books suited for read-alouds and independent reading. There is a wide variety of books, and you can search by genre, age range, or author. Best of all, it is FREE to join and read books online, and for every book you or your child reads, a book will be donated for free!

Currently We Give Books is offering a fun online reading challenge in conjunction with WWE. Get more information here for how your child can join the WrestleMania Reading Challenge 2014, which includes reading with an online reading buddy and the chance to win great prizes. http://www.wegivebooks.org/wwe

Read great children’s books for a great cause! Support literacy by reading, sharing, and giving on http://www.facebook.com/WeGiveBooks, @WeGiveBooks on Twitter, or www.wegivebooks.org.

Motivating the Unmotivated Reader

One of the biggest concerns I hear from parents is that their child does not enjoy reading. Sometimes it’s because a child struggles with reading, but often times it’s not a reading problem but rather a lack of interest. So how does one get a reluctant reader to want to pick up a book? There is no one right way that works for every child. I wish it was that simple! But, depending on your child’s age, ability, and reason for being unmotivated, here are some suggestions you can try that may help turn a reluctant reader into a motivated one.

1. Offer a Variety of Reading Materials – Let your child choose what they read when you can, but make sure they explore a variety of genres and materials. Anything counts – fiction, non-fiction, articles, comics, guide books, even reading a map or directions to build something or make something.  For kids who are more tech driven, have them read a book or article on a tablet, computer, or other device. Some kids’ ebooks are even interactive, which makes them more engaging. Think about your child’s interests when looking for fiction and non-fiction books. There are many great series out there for kids with a wide range of topics. You can find some here (https://literacymatterstoday.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/popular-childrens-book-series/). Also check your local library. Fiction books are grouped by age/grade level, with series books kept together for easy searching, and non-fiction books are grouped by topic. For just about every general topic, there are NF books available in a range of ages/reading levels.

2. Set Goals, Set Aside Time, and Offer Rewards or Incentives – You won’t turn your child into a successful reader overnight, but like any behavior change you are trying to make, it helps to have a plan. Get your child on board and have them help set goals (number of books read, or minutes read per week, etc.). Decide together on a plan of action for how these goals are going to be met (when? where?) and what will be the end reward if the goal is met? As goals are met, make new ones.

3. Build Confidence – Praise your child as they work toward meeting their goals, offer encouragement, and show them that you are proud of them when they make an effort, show improvement, and when they meet their goals. Give help and gentle reminders or guidance when needed.  Avoid using reading as a punishment or a chore.

4. Engage in Different Types of Reading
Shared Reading – alternating page or paragraph, this is great for lengthier texts and allows the parent a chance to model reading
Echo Reading – parent reads a sentence or passage, child repeats the same reading (this is good for younger kids learning to read and works best if kids point to the words while reading)
Choral Reading – parent and child read the same passage or page together at the same time
Read-Alouds – parent reads to child, even older kids still like to be read aloud too (books that are read aloud can be slightly above your child’s reading level)
Silent Reading – child reads to him/herself – books should be at child’s independent reading level

5. Read and Watch TV and Movies

6. Books on Tape – Have your child listen to books they are reading on tape. They can follow along with the book to see the words being spoken. Listening to books on tape makes comprehension easier because kids can focus on the story rather than thinking about the words. This is a good way to have kids read books they have to for school but maybe struggle with.

7. Record Reading – Video or tape record your child reading and play it back for them. Let them see how they sound and what areas of fluency they need to improve on – speed, accuracy, prosody (expression). This is good for children learning to read or needing to work on fluency.

8. Model Reading – Let your child see you reading as often as you can. Show your child when you read for work, daily life, or pleasure. Show that reading is important for gaining information as well as a way to relax and escape in a good story.  If you have older children who read independently, read what they are reading, even if you aren’t reading to them. This shows them that books can be enjoyable and allows you to participate in reading discussions with them, which is great for building comprehension. Give the message that reading is informative, necessary, and most importantly fun.

9. Ask Questions – Ask your child about what they are reading. Help them build comprehension by having them tell you what their book is mostly about (main idea); summarize or paraphrase what they read (details); draw or describe a picture of what they just read (visualization); tell how what they read is similar to something in their own life or something they’ve read or seen before (making connections);  tell how what they read is similar or different to another book or to the movie (comparing/contrasting); tell what they learned or what facts or details they found interesting (drawing conclusions); and explain what they think what they read means (making inferences).

10. Make Reading a PriorityGive plenty of opportunities for your child to read and have plenty of books on hand. Set aside a time daily to read to your child or have them read to themselves (bedtime, nap time, after school), and give them time, quiet, and space to read whenever they feel like it at any time of the day (my kids love to read when on the potty!). Take them to the library or book store often for story times or activities and to get books. Keep a variety of reading materials on hand that interest your child, even when traveling, on long car rides, or when waiting at appointments or at another child’s activities (e-books are especially good for these times!).

11. Utilize Technology As mentioned before, let your child read on an e-reader, tablet, computer, or smartphone to make it more interesting. You can download a free e-reading app to any online device to turn it into an e-reader. There are several to choose from, but Kindle and Storia are good ones. Using technology to help with reading doesn’t have to be limited to e-books however. There are also many websites devoted to promoting reading, with tons of games, ideas, digital books, articles, resources, and activities to get kids reading while making it fun and engaging. There are also online book communities for kids to share what they read, and online book clubs for kids. For a sampling of reading sites available for kids online, check out the Reading Websites column of this blog, or you can do a simple search of what you are looking for (fun reading sites, reading sites for kids, etc) and find pages of results. For younger kids, you can make reading more fun and engaging using products like the Tag reading pen, a LeapPad, Leapster, or other handheld devices. 

12. Play Games – Visit any learning store or search online, and you will find dozens of reading board games that can help build reading skills and make reading more fun. There are also online games, printable games, and interactive apps that engage kids in reading activities. Games are great for helping to build confidence, increase comprehension, and motivating kids to read.

Popular Children’s Book Series

First of all, I haven’t forgotten about or given up on this blog. I just took an extended break to work on other projects. And of course life (aka kids) leaves me little time for writing. But that doesn’t stop the desire or the ideas for articles. And now that the new school year is upon us, I’ve been inspired yet again. The start of a school year means new school clothes, fresh school supplies, energized teachers, new friends, eager students, and of course . . . book logs.

Yep, if your child’s school is like mine, you are back to recording every single book and/or minute your child reads. And there are expectations for how many books and/or minutes your child should be reading (or read to) weekly. And if you really want to do it right, these books should be at your child’s independent or instructional reading levels. (If you don’t know what these are, see my previous post Choosing What to Read.) This can seem overwhelming, especially if it’s tough to find books your child likes, which is why many parents, and kids, love book series. One of the most common questions I get asked by parents is whether I know of any good children’s book series that I can recommend for their child. And now that my daughter is reading chapter books, I find myself asking the same question. Because once you find a book your child likes, you want more of it. You want to keep their reading interest and momentum going.

For the purpose of this article, I am focusing on chapter book series. Not that there aren’t some wonderful picture book series out there, but when the books get longer and tougher to read, that’s when some kids begin to lose interest, unless they find a series or genre they like. And those who love to read love book series too because when you read a book you like, you want it to continue. Also, to keep the list shorter, I am only focusing on early to middle level chapter books. Although some of these series are appropriate for junior high students, most of these series are for elementary age.

So here are some fun, popular early and middle grade chapter book series for kids at various reading levels. I know one worry some parents face is whether the topics in chapter books written at a middle grade level are appropriate for their primary-aged child, so if you have a an early reader or are looking for above level books to read aloud to your developing reader, most of the topics in these books are appropriate for a wide range of ages (approximately ages 6-12), depending on your child’s interests, and their developmental and reading levels.

The following list of fiction and nonfiction (marked as NF) series, in alphabetical order, is just a sampling of some great ones available. For more book series options, check your local library or search online bookstores or book sites.

  •  A to Z Mysteries
  • Abby and Tess: Pet Sitters
  • Absolutely Lucy
  • Amber Brown
  • Amelia Bedelia Chapter Books
  • American Girl
  • Andrew Lost
  • Animals Knowledge Series (NF)
  • Arthur Chapter Books
  • Babysitter’s Club
  • Bailey School Kids
  • Ballpark Mysteries
  • Big Nate
  • Books of Elsewhere
  • Boxcar Children
  • Capital Mysteries
  • Captain Underpants
  • Choose Your Own Adventure
  • Chronicles of Narnia
  • Cul-De-Sac Kids
  • Dear Dumb Diary
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid
  • Dog Diaries
  • Doll People
  • Dork Diaries
  • Encyclopedia Brown
  • Everything Kids (NF)
  • Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy
  • Flat Stanley
  • Fudge
  • George Brown, Class Clown
  • Goddess Girls
  • Goosebumps
  • Hank Zipzer
  • Hardy Boys (the original series or the new Secret Files series)
  • Harry Potter
  • Henry and Mudge
  • Horrible Harry
  • Horrible Histories (NF)
  • Horse Diaries
  • How to Train Your Dragon
  • I Was a Sixth Grade Alien
  • Ivy and Bean
  • Jigsaw Jones
  • Joey Pigza
  • Judy Moody
  • Junie B. Jones
  • Just Grace
  • Katie Kazoo
  • Knowledge Books (NF)
  • Lego Friends
  • Lego Ninjago
  • Lemonade War
  • Lily Series
  • Littles
  • Maggie Brooklyn Mysteries
  • Magic School Bus Chapter Books
  • Magic Tree House
  • Matt Christopher Sports Books
  • Mouse and the Motorcycle
  • My Little Pony Chapter Books
  • My Weird School, My Weird School Daze, and My Weirder School
  • Nancy Clancy (Fancy Nancy Chapter Books)
  • Nancy Drew (the original series or the new Clue Crew series)
  • Nate the Great
  • National Geographic First Big Books (NF)
  • Never Girls (Disney Fairies)
  • Notebook of Doom
  • Our Amazing World (NF)
  • Percy Jackson
  • Polk Street School
  • Pony Pals
  • Puppy Place
  • Princess Posey
  • Rainbow Magic Fairies
  • Ramona
  • Roscoe Riley Rules
  • Rotten School
  • Saddle Club
  • Secret Agent Jack Stalwart
  • Series of Unfortunate Events
  • Sisters 8
  • Star Wars DK Readers
  • Stink
  • Time For Kids Big Books (NF)
  • Wayside School
  • Weird Planet
  • Wild Soccer Bunch
  • Zach Files

Mommy-Daughter Book Talks

During our routine bedtime stories tonight, my five-year-old daughter stopped midway through reading her book to me and said, “Mom, this is like Jan Brett. The author is giving us picture clues.”

“What do you mean?” I asked her. It sounded like she was making a connection, but I was surprised by her casual use of an author’s name so I asked her to clarify just to be sure.

“Like in the book The Mitten,” she explained. “The author gives picture clues to show what animal is coming next.” Yep, she had made a text-to-text connection that both surprised and amazed me.

“What’s a text-to-text connection?” She asked me when I told her she had made one. And thus, a teachable moment about a reading strategy that she already does naturally began.

It may come as no surprise that I love reading to my kids and talking to them about books. But what I love even more is the excitement my kids show over reading and talking about books. Recently my daughter asked me if we could start our own book club. Just us. And sometimes we’d let Daddy join in too. Of course, I was more than willing to participate. During our special book club meetings, according to her rules, we each read a book of our choosing and then we tell the other person about our book. What a great way to practice summarizing! And we could ask questions about each other’s books. Another great way to gauge comprehension. My daughter doesn’t realize she’s learning. She just thinks it’s fun. But for the teacher in me, the teachable moments are endless! Our book clubs and book talks have become a wonderful way for us to spend quality time together as well as practice reading skills.

Just recently, I read my daughter a book titled Elena’s Story. It’s about a young Mayan girl near Guatemala who goes to school, helps her mom take care of her little brother and baby sister, does chores around their house, helps with planting, and figures out her role in the family while her father is away as she practices her reading and shares a story with her brother. The story provides great insight into the life of a girl, close to my daughter’s age, from another culture in another part of the world. After finishing the book, I asked my daughter how her life was similar to Elena’s. She pointed out that they both go to school and they both help their moms with their little brothers. Then we talked about how Elena’s life was different. Her life was harder. She had more chores to do, especially while her father was away. They had to walk everywhere and read by candlelight that they could barely afford. She struggled to find time to read and stay caught up in school because she was responsible for always watching her little brother.  It made for an interesting conversation about how people live differently in different cultures, but how she and Elena had many similarities as well even though their lives were so different. Just by talking about the book, we practiced several comprehension skills including making connections (text-to-self), comparing and contrasting, and drawing conclusions. Then my daughter asked a question (another comprehension strategy), that led to another teachable moment. “Are we rich or poor?” She asked, after we drew the conclusion that Elena’s family was poor and had more struggles than we did.

“Well, that’s a matter of perspective,” I said. And that led to a very interesting discussion about what perspective means and how one person’s view of things like rich and poor is different than another’s. And in my daughter’s typical 5-year old fashion of summarizing every new thing she learns, we ended our discussion with her giving me an example of perspective by using a butterfly analogy.

“So if everyone in the world owned butterflies,” she explained, “and we had, say, twenty butterflies, then someone who had 100 butterflies would think we didn’t have very many butterflies, but someone who only had four butterflies would say wow, they have a lot of butterflies.”

“Good example!” I responded, proud of her understanding. “That’s perspective.” Then, after another question about what jobs make the most money (I gave her a few examples like famous actors and singers and CEO’s of big companies) and whether her daddy makes a lot of money, I again explained that it’s a matter of perspective. She went on to further demonstrate her understanding by making more connections (the Aha! moments that a teacher lives for!).

“So Elena’s daddy (a plantation worker), would think my daddy makes a lot of money, but the person in charge of Facebook would think daddy makes hardly any money.

“Yep,” I responded again, laughing at her example. “You got it!”

And with that, we ended another great book talk with its ensuing teachable moments and comprehension practice. I love seeing my daughter learn through books, and I love sharing these moments with her. I hope our book talks never end, but rather grow and evolve as her love of reading does. And I also hope that by sharing my mommy-daughter book talk experiences, I can help inspire someone else to share wonderful teaching moments like these with their kids as well.

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