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:,, and

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!



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,

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:

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,, Barnes and Noble book clubs,, or The Stacks for Kids,, 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:

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 ( 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.

Choosing What to Read

I often get asked by parents for book suggestions for their kids. I have touched on this topic and shared book selection sites in various posts, but I realized that I don’t have a post that directly deals with this topic and contains all of these useful sites in one place. So here it is. Whether you are looking for books to read aloud to your child, books they can read on their own, books turned in to movies, books in a particular genre, or popular books for your child’s age/grade/or reading level, here are some helpful suggestions and sites that can help you find the perfect books to choose.

What is the right level?

Many schools now use Lexile levels to determine an individual student’s reading ability. These levels are measured using reading assessments from a test or program. Ask your child’s teacher for his/her reading level. Even if your child’s school doesn’t use Lexile levels, they can still give you an idea of where your child is reading. Check out this website which helps you search books based on your child’s Lexile level: If you don’t know your child’s Lexile level, you can also search this site based on your child’s grade, interests, and approximate reading level. For a Lexile grade conversion chart, click here:  For more information about Lexile levels and how they are measured, check out this resource:

If you are looking for a book your child can read on his/her own, you want to search for books that are at his/her independent reading level. If you are looking for books you can read with your child (shared reading), find books that are at his/her instructional reading level. If you are looking for books to read aloud to your child, find books that are one to two levels above your child’s reading level. Children’s listening comprehension levels are generally higher than their reading comprehension levels.

 Sites for finding books:

Find a book based on Lexile Level OR Grade Level:, OR

Find a book turned in to a movie:

Find a book based on interest or popularity

Scholastic’s “The Stacks”:

Kids Read:

 Find a book based on recommendations

By age or category:, OR

By grade level:, OR

By interest:

Ways to Have Fun This Summer and Promote Learning: My Latest Article Featured on WikiMommy

Update as of May 30, 2014- This article is no longer active on I have pasted the original article below.

Kids learn best when they are having fun and not even realizing they’re learning. Summer is a great time to plan fun, engaging activities that help your kids build learning skills, satisfy their curiosity, and explore new things. My latest article, featured on the site, gives 10 ideas for activities to try this summer to have fun while promoting learning. Check it out here:

1. Visit the Library – Libraries have some fantastic summer programs for kids and families. The Summer Reading programs are fun, thematic, and the more kids read, the more great prizes they can earn. Many libraries also have an increase of children’s activities, shows, and family events in the summer months. Check the calendar or brochure for your local library to see what events are coming up. Some events require registration, but usually they are free.

2. Visit a Museum and/or the Zoo – Summer is the perfect time to plan an outing to a museum or the zoo. You can take advantage of deals and avoid crowds by going mid-week. Check your local library;some lend out free admission passes to area museums and zoos. Taking field trips gives your kids enriching experiences and extends their learning. It helps build background knowledge and vocabulary, two important literacy skills. Kids also build comprehension skills by reading signs and maps and reading or listening to information about the various exhibits.

 3. Plan a Beach or Park Outing – Not all summer field trips have to be to a museum or a zoo. Kids also learn from playing. Going to a beach or a park offers a chance to build background knowledge and vocabulary. You can extend the learning by using new surroundings to practice math skills (counting, sorting, noticing similarities and differences in size/shape), phonemic awareness (find something that begins with each letter of the alphabet, look at signs to find letters or letter sounds), and comprehension skills (read and decode maps and signs, talk about your setting and what you are doing). You can extend the learning even further by reading books that pertain to your outing, and by having your kids retell what they did at the end of the day, including as much detail as they can, to further practice vocabulary and comprehension skills.

 4. Take a Road Trip – If you will be driving for any length of time, play car games to help build phonemic awareness, vocabulary, comprehension, and math skills. Playing games as a family in the car is also a great way to spend quality time together and help pass the time quicker. Here are a few ideas for games to play:

ABC Hunt – Look at road signs, license plates, building signs and billboards to find each letter of the alphabet in order. You can take turns or have a competition to see who can spot the next letter first.

I Spy Letter Sound Hunt – Find objects outside of the car starting with each letter of the alphabet in order. Whoever finds the object has to say what they found and what letter it starts with. For example, “I spy an arrow that begins with A.” Encourage kids to get creative with the tougher letters, using adjectives or words that end with the letter.

Car Bingo: Make your own or download and print bingo cards listing objects that you are likely to see on your trip. As you see an object, mark it off on your card. See how many bingos you can get before you reach your destination.  Here is an example:

5. Watch a Movie – Read a book together and then watch the movie adaptation. So many popular, quality children’s books are now turned in to movies. Decide on one your whole family can enjoy, and then everyone read the same book. You can read the book aloud to younger kids (usually children’s listening comprehension is above their reading comprehension so this is great for younger children who might be interested in a particular book or series but can’t yet read it on their own). If your child is able to read some of the book, you can do a shared reading with him or her – take turns reading pages or chapters. Older kids can read the book on their own and then discuss the book with you when you all finish. Once you have finished the book and discussed it, reward yourselves with a family movie night. Talk about the similarities and differences between the book and the movie: How was the movie interpretation like how you pictured the book in your head and how was it different than you imagined?  What was in the book but not shown in the movie, and why do you think it was left out?

6. Go on an ABC Picnic – To help build phonemic awareness skills, take young kids on a picnic and have them help you find and pack something that begins with each letter of the alphabet. For example: appetite, bug spray, cooler, diet soda, entertainment, food, grill, hats, ice, juice, ketchup,  lighter fluid, matches, napkins, outdoor toys and games, plates, quilt or blanket, radio, sunglasses and sunscreen, tablecloth, utensils, volleyball, water, eXtra snacks, yummy treats, zipper bags

Or, once on your picnic, have your kids do an ABC hunt and find something outside that starts with each letter of the alphabet. For example: ants, bees, caterpillar, dragonfly, elm tree, flowers, grass, hats, ice-cream truck, etc.

You can also extend the letter/word practice and the picnic theme by printing up word searches or word scrambles. Some examples:

Picnic food word search:

Picnic word scramble:

7. Play Games – Games are a great way to spend quality family time together and have fun while learning. Games practice a variety of educational, thinking, and logic/reasoning skills.  Games also practice social skills, including turn-taking, speaking, and listening. Schedule family game nights or pass a rainy afternoon playing games.  For more on the benefits of playing board games and some great game ideas, check out this site:

Here is another site that lists ideas for some of the best board games for each age level:

8. Pick a Family Genre – Choose a literary genre and everyone in the family read a selection from that genre. You can choose to read the same book or different books within that genre, depending on everyone’s interests and reading levels. Try to choose a genre that is outside what you normally read. After reading a selection from your chosen genre, discuss what you read with each other. What did you like/not like about your selection? Is it a genre you are interested in reading more selections from, why or why not? Each member of the family can take turns choosing, changing genres each time. For ideas, check out this site for a list of fiction and nonfiction genres:

9. Be a Chef – Everyone in the family work together to make a meal or bake desserts. Cooking is a great way to practice literacy and math skills. Find the recipes you want to make and then have your kids help write the shopping list for the ingredients. This practices reading and writing skills. At the store, have your kids compare labels and prices to practice reading and math skills. For younger kids who can’t yet read, you can build phonemic awareness skills by playing letter/sound hunt games. For example, I’m looking for an ingredient that starts with the letter “_” or the “_” sound. Have your kids help read the recipe directions and measure the ingredients to further practice reading and math skills. If you have younger kids, you can choose recipes from kids’ cookbooks or “mommy and me” cookbooks, which feature simpler, kid-friendly recipes and easier-to-follow picture steps.

10. Get Crafty – For children who like to work with their hands or design things, you can engage them with a building project, sewing project, or other crafty project. Summer is a great time to do projects because kids are usually less involved and have more free time to be creative. Choose a project that is appropriate for your child’s age level and attention span. You can choose projects to do together and/or projects your kids can do on their own. Projects you do with your children can be more complex, while projects they do on their own should be simpler. To get inspiration, visit a craft store, hardware store, or search the web. Building and craft projects are great for practicing reading, math, and thinking skills because they involve reading and comprehending multi-step directions, measuring, thinking geometrically, and visualizing. Projects also help build intrapersonal skills, and if worked on with others, they can build interpersonal skills as well.

Helping Your Child Become a Successful Reader

I often get asked how parents can help their child with reading. Reading is a process, and there are steps that children follow sequentially to become proficient readers. Mastering these steps requires practice as well as developmental readiness. Here are 10 ways that you can help your child in his or her reading journey.

1. Read early and read often. I put this first because it is the number one thing you can do to help your child become a successful reader. The first step in the process of reading is language acquisition. This begins before a child is even born. Your baby can hear you in utero and begins to pick up on sounds. Talking to your baby and reading to him or her is a great way to develop language and vocabulary skills. Learning sounds is auditory, and these sounds have to be developed before a child can transition to written language. As your child develops and begins reading on his/her own, it is important to keep up the read-alouds so your child has a model of fluent reading.

2. Practice reading daily. Learning to read is like learning to play a sport. It is a process of skills that needs continual development. Setting aside time daily to read to your child and having him or her read on their own is the best way to practice these skills. Choose books that are appropriate for your child’s reading and developmental level. Children first learn sounds. Then they learn the letters and that these letters make up the sounds. Once your child knows the letters and sounds, help him/her begin to recognize rhymes and identifying initial sounds in words. As you read with your child, point to the words you are reading. Help your child recognize basic sight words. You can even find simple sight word books at the library or a teacher store to read with your child. The simple text and picture cues in these books make them ideal for beginning readers. As your child begins to read simple sight words and gains confidence in reading, help him or her start figuring out words he/she doesn’t know but can easily decode. Use decoding strategies such as identifying the initial sound, looking for word parts they know, reading through the word, and using the pictures as clues. Reread familiar books often to help build fluency and confidence. Talk to your child often and explain unknown words to him/her to help build vocabulary. A strong vocabulary will help your child with reading.

3. Learn to Read – Read to Learn. Once children learn how to read, they transition from decoding skills to comprehension skills. They no longer focus on trying to figure out words and building fluency, but instead they start to focus on understanding what they read and gaining meaning from what they read. It is during this transition that you may begin to see your child struggle, especially if they haven’t yet mastered decoding skills. Reading comprehension involves higher level thinking skills and interaction with text. You can help your child with reading comprehension skills by asking comprehension questions, using comprehension strategies (Into the Book , , is a good online resource for this), and helping your child build his or her vocabulary skills and background knowledge.

4. Recognize if your child is struggling and get him or her help if needed. Reading skills build upon each other, and if a child begins to show signs of struggling with reading, it is a good idea to get him or her help, through reading services at school and/or with a tutor. Kids who fall behind in their reading skills need even more practice, and the farther they fall behind, the more practice they need. Sometimes struggling readers are hard to identify. Reading requires many skills, and a child can struggle with any one or combination of these skills. Often times a child may seem like they are a good reader because they can decode well and read fluently, but they may struggle with comprehending what they read. Or a child may comprehend what they read but continue to struggle with decoding or fluency. Your child’s teacher and school assessments can help identify if your child needs additional help in any areas of reading. Needing help with reading does not mean that something is wrong with your child or that your child will always struggle. Reading is a complex set of skills, and sometimes a child just needs a little extra help mastering some of those skills. Not getting needed help early on though can lead to greater reading and learning problems later.

5. Work with your child’s teachers. Your child’s teachers will know best how your child is doing in each area of reading. They can give you suggestions for how to best help your child practice reading at home.

6. Make reading a priority. Many schools will send home reading logs or offer incentives for reading at home. Some teachers even make reading at home part of daily homework. It is hard to find time to read daily, but as I mentioned in #1, practicing reading regularly is the best way to get better at reading. Read with your child (books that are at his/her instructional level which they can read with a little bit of help), read to your child (books that are too difficult for your child to read on his/her own), and give your child time to read independently (books that your child can read without help). Doing a combination of these kinds of reading at home and asking questions about what is being read will help your child practice different reading skills. Also remember that kids do what you do, not what you say, so be a reading model for your child as well.

7. Help your child find materials he or she is interested in reading. Keep trying different genres, series, or types of text for your child to read. Many kids’ movies today are based on books so if there is a movie they like, or a particular genre of movies they like, this is a good place to start. Reading doesn’t have to be limited to books either. You may find a kids’ magazine or newspaper your child enjoys reading. The articles are shorter and often the text is nonfiction, which may appeal to your child more. Try to expose them to a variety of texts so they have practice reading different genres and types of writing.

8. Find reading activities in daily activities and games. Reading is everywhere. You can help your kids practice reading while shopping (they can write and read the grocery list, read labels with you, read signs); cooking or baking or making things (they read directions or a recipe); traveling (have your kids read a map or road signs, or if you have younger kids they can play the alphabet game by finding the letters on signs); playing on the computer (there are many great educational websites that help build literacy skills); and even watching TV (there are great educational shows that help build literacy skills or you can turn on the caption setting on your TV and have your kids read along with their favorite shows).

9. Visit the library often. Libraries are rich with resources that promote literacy. They are a great place to find books and other materials your kids might be interested in, play educational games (computer and otherwise), and participate in story time and other reading and educational activities and programs. Libraries offer the perfect environment for learning and getting your child excited about reading.

10. Make reading fun. Reading shouldn’t feel like a chore for children. It should be a positive experience and something they enjoy. It just takes finding the right books or other texts and reading activities that your child enjoys. Reading skills can be practiced through board games, online games, toys, TV shows, movies, favorite books, and even every day conversations and outings. Take your kids on fun family trips to places like museums, the zoo, a farm, the beach, parks, nature preserves, orchards, etc. Outings like these provide great opportunities for building background knowledge, vocabulary skills, and practicing reading (for example older kids can read informational signs and maps while younger kids can point out objects or animals that begin with each letter sound). Finding ways to make reading skills fun for your child will help make reading a positive experience for them. This will help kids enjoy reading more, and the more they enjoy it, the more they will want to practice, and the better readers they will become.

Summer Reading Fun

Kids work hard during the school year and make great strides in their learning. With over two months off during the summer though, it is common for students to lose some of their gain. Help your child maintain his or her reading progress this summer without sacrificing any fun by following some of these tips. Also included are some websites for summer reading fun ideas and recommended book lists.

1. Sign your child up for summer school or other fun learning classes this summer. Summer classes are more laid back and often more interest-based, but kids still learn while they have fun.

2. Visit the library often. Sign your child or your family up for library reading programs and receive fun incentives for reading.

3. Participate in an online or local book store reading program:


Book Adventure:,

Barnes and Noble:,

Borders Education World:

Half Price Books:

4. Visit museums, zoos, or other points of interest that provide learning opportunities. Encourage your child to read and discuss as much of the information as they can at the places you visit.

5. Provide reading opportunities at home. Students should continue setting aside time daily to read. You can also encourage reading through engaging activities such as cooking, shopping, or reading directions to make something. Be sure to ask your child questions about what they are reading to help with comprehension. Also read out loud to or with your child or encourage your child to read out loud to help build reading fluency.

6. Enrich travel experiences by finding reading opportunities. Kids can help by reading maps, road signs, or informational signs. You can also make a car or airplane ride go faster by playing games like travel bingo. Here is a sight with printable bingo cards:

Kids can also write about their travel experiences in a travel journal. Here are printable ones:



7. Read books that have been turned into movies. After reading the book, watch the movie and compare/contrast the two. Here is a great site with a comprehensive list of books turned into movies:

8. Summer is also a great time to introduce the classics, new fiction, or other quality children’s books to your child. Here are lists of recommended children’s books broken down by age, grade, or category:

By ages or categories:

By grade level:,

9. Try a new reading activity each day of the month by following this summer calendar,  put together by Just Read, Families (FL Dept. of Ed.):

10. Play reading games online. You can find many sites online with reading games. Here are a couple of good ones:

From Reading is Fundamental (Reading Planet):

From Scholastic:

Check out the links on my blog for more great reading websites and ideas.

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