Archive for Family literacy activities


A Stocking Stuffer with Parenting Tips

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“A great stocking stuffer for parents, teachers, grandparents, babysitters and other childcare providers”—that’s what Maya Creedman, mother of two, said about Plus It! today in San Francisco’s She’s an educational consultant, a teacher, and a writer on parenting and education—so she should know!

Then she says, it’s a “pocket-sized book perfect for a purse or glove compartment…” Yes!

Creedman knows that “parents have an incredible opportunity to further their child’s development and education in day-to-day activities and routines,” and that Plus It! is about exactly that opportunity.

I’m thrilled with this online review. Read the whole review here.

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Create a Literacy Rich Home-6: “Books-I-Read”

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Here’s an idea to add to your literacy activities for kids: Have you ever wanted to know how many books you or your kids have read in a month or a year? Did you ever get stuck trying to think of the exact title of a book, or the author?

Since nowadays the titles and author names of books you check out of the library are printed on the return slip (at least in the public libraries around me), just keep that slip!

My memory is fallible, so for a few years now, I’ve kept a “Books I Read” list in the “My Treasures” section of my Way to Go! Family Learning Journal three-ring-binder. I never put much energy or time into this; I record date, author, and title.

Sometime I put a note if there were something significant I wanted to remember (like a quote from the book); sometimes I put a 1—10 rating on how good I thought the book was.

And believe it or not, I’ve referred to this list, especially when I wanted to recommend a book and couldn’t remember the author. I wish I had three kinds of lists from the days when I raised my daughter—books we read together, books I read on my own, and books she read.

She’s a mom now and we talk about these things occasionally—“Do you remember if we read The Celestine Prophecy aloud as we drove across country when you were in high school—I think we didn’t love it, right?” and “Did we ever finish Tess of the D’Urbervilles? Or did we both cry so hard we decided to complete it separately?”

Thanks to computers, now there’s a simple way to create such lists: just hang on to the library checkout tape. The trick is to put this slip where you and your kids can find it again (like in a binder). Keep adding to it over the months and years. (Of course, you may still also want to keep a written list of books purchased, or borrowed, since you don’t have a library receipt for them. Also, if you have comic book and magazine readers in your family, why not add those titles on the lists, too.)

Another idea is to have your kids paste or tape the computerized lists on three-hole-punched paper so there’s room for comments. It’s easy to add a 1-10 rating right on library printout: Try using a scale that’s 10 for All-Time-Favorites-to-Read-and-Reread and 1 for Couldn’t-Get-into-It, and the range in-between.

It’s a challenging, thoughtful exercise to rate a book; a child who does that frequently over time can develop a sophisticated awareness of his or her own interests, values, tastes, and growth. And it’s certainly a way to Plus It with an individual or shared reading experience.

Like watching the growing balance in a savings account that gets regular deposits, it’s satisfying to see a “Books I Read” list get longer and longer. And I’d say its value far exceeds anything in a bank, for it represents lasting, often thrilling, deposits to the mind and imagination.

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Using New Words: Fun Family Literacy Activities

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If you want a quick reminder about down-time activities for kids that can pick up the energy and create good feeling, check out the suggestions on Andrea Patten’s “What Kids Need to Succeed” blog.

It’s an activity I created for the Way to Go! Family Learning Journal series—something simple and definitely not new, but something you might have forgotten about.

Basically, it’s a vocabulary enrichment, search-your-brain, activity: think of synonyms for common words and use them with your kids, encouraging them to do the same.

Simple. Easy. Undemanding. Straightforward. Trouble-free. Effortless. Uncomplicated. (I had help: I used my Word thesaurus to come up with those synonyms as I wrote this. But aren’t they enriching words!)

Try it. Have fun!

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Parent Education: Improve School Success for Kids

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Parenting education and family literacy got attention in the Los Angeles Times Online this week when they published an article I wrote. I’m pleased they accepted my submission!

This article came about when I read an op-ed piece in the Monday (10/12/09) newspaper by former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan. He made six suggestions for how to improve education in Los Angeles. But he didn’t address real parenting education or family literacy, which I believe are key avenues to improving reading comprehension and creating school success.

So I wrote an open letter to him and sent it to the op-ed section of the paper. An editor contacted me and asked to use it in their online Blowback section. Of course I said yes. In a few days, it was online and getting comments.

Click here to read my article supporting  parenting education as part of school reform.

But you know, I forgot to identify myself in the attribution line as the author of Plus It! How to Easily Turn Everyday Activities into Learning Adventures for Kids. And this book definitely promotes parenting education and family literacy. Now that’s a missed opportunity for marketing if I ever saw one. Live and learn!

But the most important issue—parenting education—got publicity, so I feel it was “mission accomplished” for that article.

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Family Literacy Day Is Nov. 1: Four Fun Activities for Kids

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November 1 is Family Literacy Day. Cheers! What fun family activities for kids are you planning for that day?

It’s the Sunday after Halloween. Hmm… Are there ways to combine family literacy with Halloween?

Remember: Literacy is about more than simply decoding words, although decoding is the basic skill. Literacy is about understanding. Family literacy is all the activities in the home that provide kids with the foundational experiences upon which comprehending the written word is based.

So to my way of thinking, anything you do with kids that expands their understanding and knowledge of the world and how it works and of human experience, is a family literacy activity. Of course, reading is a rich avenue for expanding understanding, but it’s not the only one.

Here are four ideas for celebrating Family Literacy Day (and Halloween):

1) Have a Post-Halloween read-aloud picnic or party: Invite friends of all ages to pack favorite kid foods (and a LITTLE Trick-or-Treat candy) and bring a favorite short book, poem, or personal writing. Then everyone gets to stand up and read their choice, while others are munching.

2) Put a gently-used children’s book in someone’s Trick or Treat bag: Go through your bookshelves and see if there are any you want to give away. When you see the right-age child at your door, slip the book into his or her bag along with a treat.

3) On Nov 1, take a trip to a museum, historical spot, or place of interest—perhaps one that you’ve been putting off. Notice any Halloween decorations they may have put up. Expand your children’s background of knowledge about that place and what it represents. Read aloud together any brochures you find about that place or exhibit.

4) Do a neighborhood or town Halloween Decorations tour, either walking or driving: Talk about why ghosts and goblins are associated with Oct. 31? Why spiders? Are there old medieval stories to discover? Why are pumpkins such a big deal? Do a little research on the internet or in books—that’s certainly a family literacy activity.

Perhaps you have other suggestions for Family Literacy Day? Feel free to add them in the comments section here.

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Create a Literacy Rich Home-5: Kids’ Imaginative Play, Based on Books

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Gosh, Rose, age seven, loves to read! And best of all, she’s into imaginative play based on stories and books, and I know that develops reading comprehension.

Yesterday I spent part of the day with her and Calvin, who’s almost five. Rose led me into her room to show me something she’d set up in a corner.

There she pointed to a large colorful pillow wedged between the dresser and the wall. Two dolls were propped up on it, and in front of them was the footstool from the bathroom, serving as a table. On the table were cups and saucers, a teapot, a few plastic vegetables.

A doll's tea party, based on "A Little Princess"

“You know why I’m doing this, Grandma?”

“Tell me.”

Rose rushed to get a book. “Grandma, did you read this book to Mommy when she was little? I think it was hers.”

She held ancient, browned, mildewed hardcover copy of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I honestly didn’t remember whether I’d read it to her mother or not. I told her I wasn’t sure.

“Well, in this book, the girl thinks that dolls come alive when people aren’t looking, but when people see them, they freeze. So I’m trying to find out,” she said. She clearly was skeptical that her dolls were alive, but at the same time, she wanted it to be true.

“When I look at them, they just sit there,” Calvin interjects. He’s shares the room with Rose, so he has lots of opportunities to test the dolls-are-alive theory. He’s quite sure they’re not.

“Well, I think it’s something worth checking out,” I say, noncommittally. We three glance at each other…we each know dolls aren’t alive, but it’s sure fun to play.

Don’t you love seeing kids involved in imaginative play based on a book? It’s one of the reading strategies that actually develops background knowledge, and that’s crucial to reading comprehension.

After I left the room, I thought of questions I could have asked that might have “PLUSed” or enhanced the experience for her: “I bet you’d like to play with Sara (the Little Princess) for a couple days. What do you think you’d do together?” or “It would be fun to live back then. But I think I’d missing having a car to drive. Is there anything you think you’d miss?”

Next time I see that kind of play, I’ll try to seize the moment more effectively. But still I know it was a rich, inspiring experience for her to create that tea table and scene.

The truth is that in order to play that way, a child has to read a book, or listen to it, paying close attention to the details and description. Then the child has to be resourceful to figure out how to replicate an experience from the story. For instance, Rose had to figure out what she could use from her room and toy box to create a doll’s tea party.

Then think of all the historical detail and context that a child has to take in and process in order to do play like she or he is in another period or country.

And in many ways, when children are playing out a story they are re-writing it; they are getting experience with creating character and even story structure. That sort of play develops empathy and understanding. And it’s certainly theater.

Unfortunately, I know there are children who don’t know how to engage in imaginative play based on books (or movies/TV). It’s tragic that they miss out of some of the sweetest experiences of childhood.

So let’s thank our lucky stars when we see kids really playing imaginatively. Let’s grant them time and space and encourage them in any way we can. For such activity develops brains and hearts, and it contributes hugely to school and life success.

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Create a Literacy Rich Home–4: Writing–Show Kids How to Make a List

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Even before kids start learning to read or write, one of the useful literacy activities you can do is to let them see you making lists: to do lists, appointment/schedule lists, grocery lists, names of people to invite lists…all kinds of lists.

Then it’s especially fun to see what kind of lists they make once they learn to write and read on their own!

Rose is excited about her upcoming November birthday, even though it’s only September. She is seven still, just beginning second grade, and she LOVES reading and writing.

Yesterday she handed me her wish list for her birthday. She wasn’t pushy or demanding or coy in doing this; she just wanted me to know what she was thinking she’d like to have and do. I like that kind of straightforward communication.

Here’s a picture of her list:

A seven-year-old's birthday wish list

A seven-year-old's birthday wish list

In case the writing in the photo is too small for you to see, I’ve typed out what it says, keeping her spelling and capitalization. I didn’t say anything about her errors when she presented it to me because “inventive” spelling at this age is normal and fine, the experts say. She’ll learn conventional spelling at school over the next few grades (and beyond!). Here’s her list:

trafic jam game
littleest petshop clubhouse house
Pogo stick
doll house
Amarican girl eneything
Books/boxcar children seris
Juni B. Jones seris

So why is making lists a great thing to do for literacy and to develop writing skills?

There are many reasons: It shows kids how useful writing things down is (it helps you remember). It teaches organization and thinking skills like categorizing or grouping. It teaches kids a way to get things out of their heads so they can use their brain space for other things. It’s a way to communicate easily with others (“Babysitter, my list of important telephone numbers of posted on the refrigerator.” It’s a way to have an idea now and then go back to it later.

In Plus It! How to Easily Turn Everyday Activities into Learning Adventures for Kids there’s a suggestion (p. 68) making a list of household tasks or chores with your kids as a strategy that helps turn housework drudgery into something resembling fun.

And there are lots of other reasons to make lists, too. Please feel free to comment below about your personal experience with lists or with helping kids make them.

I think it’s one of those family activities that definitely contributes to both family fun and family literacy. And it’s so simple to do.

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