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/

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.

Scholastic e-Reading App

If you aren’t yet familiar with Storia, it’s a free e-reading app by Scholastic. It’s a great way to get Scholastic ebooks delivered online to your computer or any app device. It’s easy to download, and you can set up bookshelves for each child in your family. There are a great selection of fiction and non-fiction books for pre-K through middle school. You can receive book recommendations based on your child’s grade level, and books can also be searched by lexile level. Best of all, you can get a free book just for registering and you get free books periodically throughout the year. If you love Scholastic books, this is a great app to use for kids to read on a tablet, computer, ipod touch or smartphone. http://store.scholastic.com/microsite/storia/home?esp=SSO/ib/2012/vanityURL/txtl/ads/storiasso//landing////

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.

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: http://www.lexile.com/findabook/. 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: http://www.cpschools.com/Schools/HMS/SummerReading/LexileConversionChart.pdf.  For more information about Lexile levels and how they are measured, check out this resource: http://www.lexile.com/about-lexile/lexile-overview/.

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: http://www.lexile.com/findabook/, OR http://digitalbooktalk.com/?page_id=6

Find a book turned in to a movie: http://www.kidsreads.com/features/books2movies.asp

Find a book based on interest or popularity

Scholastic’s “The Stacks”: http://www.scholastic.com/kids/stacks/?esp=CORPHP/ib/////NAV/Kids/Tab/STACKSHP////

Kids Read: http://www.kidsreads.com/

 Find a book based on recommendations

By age or category: http://school.familyeducation.com/literature/reading/34576.html?detoured=1, OR http://www.readkiddoread.com/home

By grade level: http://www.teachersandfamilies.com/open/summerread.html, OR http://www.hedgehogbooks.com/

By interest: http://www.goodreads.com/

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 http://www.wikimommy.com. 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 WikiMommy.com, gives 10 ideas for activities to try this summer to have fun while promoting learning. Check it out here:  http://www.wikimommy.com/Ten_Activities_to_Do_This_Summer_to_Have_Fun_and_Promote_Learning

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: http://familyfun.go.com/printables/car-bingo-for-a-road-trip-703634/

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: http://www.homemadegiftguru.com/free-printable-word-search.html

Picnic word scramble: http://edubakery.com/Word-Scrambles/Things-at-a-Picnic-v1-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: http://www.scholastic.com/resources/article/the-benefits-of-board-games

Here is another site that lists ideas for some of the best board games for each age level: http://www.education.com/magazine/article/Best_Board_Games/

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: http://genresofliterature.com/

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.