Sunday, December 03, 2006

Praise for Effort -- While They Learn

As you work with your child reading with them and as they make their best efforts beginning reading, especially with the very young, we sometimes do a lot of "gushing" when a child correctly reads a word. There is a difference between praise and encouragement. Praise is an overall statement: good job, great job, good girl, good boy, wow that's the greatest thing you ever did, you are so smart, that's a beautiful picture, you always do the right thing.

Praise is not wrong, it's just overused at the expense of encouragement, which is more focused on a single effort. We want to use more encouragement so we can help children learn to value themselves and become more self-reliant.

Some children don't know how to judge what the've done unless an adult tells them. We want children to be able to judge their own accomplishments and capabilities; we don't want them always looking to someone else to tell them how they did. As they grow, we teach them the proper guidelines (educational, social, moral, ethical) so they can learn to critique themselves without always trying to please an adult.

In fact, we all probably know some grown-ups who continually seek someone else's approval. Sadly, they lack the ability to think for themselves and to decide what is good and what needs improvement. We will never stop praising children, but it will be better if we use fewer general statements of praise and more focused statements of encouragement.

Here are some examples that really work:
  • You did it! (This is the easiest and the most effective).
  • You worked hard on this, didn't you?
  • I can tell that you thought a lot about that.
  • That's the first time you were able to lift that!
  • I see that you used purple circles in your painting. (Or when they show you something they made, ask, "Do you like it?")
  • You shared because you like to help others.
  • You've been trying for a long time, and you did it.
  • You're being helpful; you gave him a tissue.
  • You found a way to do that!

...and when you show a child a word and (s)he reads it correctly, you can just simply say, Yes!

In the book How to Teach Your Baby to Read by Glenn & Janet Dorman, (also authors of How to Teach Your Baby Math) list 8 points to remember about the child: (Ch 7, pg 88)

1. Before age 5, a child can easily absorb tremendous amounts of info
(before age 4 it's easier and more effective, before 3 it's even easier and more effective, before 2 it's the easiest and most effective)
2. Before age 5, a child can accept info at a remarkable rate
3. The more they absorb before age 5, the more retained
4. before age 5, a child has tremendous amounts of energy
5. before 5, a child has a monumental desire to learn
6. before 5, a child can learn and wants to learn to read
7. all tiny children are linguistic geniuses
8. before 5, a child can learn an entire language (and as many as are presented to him)

There are two vital points involved in teaching your child: (pg 89)

1. your attitude and approach
2. the size and orderliness of the teaching materials

I highly recommend reading these books (use your library!) They will give you the means to explain to others about the child's ability to learn at such an early age! There is so much more information on their research on brain injured children and how it led to teaching 'well children' at earlier ages.

Appreciation to colleagues Beckey Thomson and Cheryl Macdonald for their contributions to this article.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Five Things Every Smart House Needs

From the pages of "Family Fun" magazine November 2006, pg 58

1. A world map. Name a country and see who can find it first. Study the map and design a quick geography quiz: Which US states border Mexico? What's the skinniest country in South America? See any of our beautiful world atlases (page 102)

2. A good dictionary. Need the meaning of mentation or the spelling of moonquake? Look it up. Then play the dictionary game: choose an unusual word and challenge each family member to come up with a definition; vote for the one that sounds most convincing. See First Dictionary (page 80)

3. A jigsaw puzzle table. Puzzles, says education neuroscience consultantMarilee Sprenger, build visualization skills, as well as memory and pattern recognition. See all the fantastic Luxury Jigsaw Books (page 61)

4. A brain-boosting library. Stock it with books of crossword puzzles, mazes, brainteasers, and Sudoku. Check out the wide selection of puzzle and game books (pages 64-67)

5. A domino set. Play the classic version to reinforce number skills, then create knock 'em down courses to enhance creative thinking. See Farmyard Tales Dominoes (page 62)

Monday, July 31, 2006

Don't Read Just Anything

While in the pediatricatian's office this past week, I picked up a magazine in the rack which I've never seen before. Called Wondertime, it focuses on things parents can do to spark the love of learning in their newborn to 6 yo child. The issue I saw was Spring 2006, the premier issue. You can see what this publication is all about at

Don't Read Just Anything
by Daniel Pinkwater

Why you should be as choosy about what you read to your child as you are about what you feed your child.

Here's an experiement you can do at home. Some Saturday morning tune in to a random children's television show -- Astro-Rocket-Transformer-Kids, Space Gerbils, or whatever you happen upon. Sit comformtably. You may enjoy a snack or a beverage. While viewing, try to refrain from conditional thoughts. In other words, you may not think, "I find this appaling, but my kid might like it. " Do not think of the program as something for children--just watch it. Seek to enjoy it. Time yourself. Note how long it is before you a) become engaged in the program, b) drift into private thoughts, or c) get disgusted.

Unless you are very lucky, your answer will likely fall into the b or c category, as you probably expected. The simal state of much of children's TV has been well publicized. Now do the same experiement with some random picture books at the library or bookstore. You may be unhappily suprised. As one who writes and reviews children's books, I am sorry to tell you that half the storybooks published are juast as mind numbing as bad TV, only the pictures don't move. And yet, the truisim persists: Ready anything to your children, anything so long as you read to them. No, I say! Be picky. Life's too short to read bad books.

If you as a parent don't like a book, like it for yourself, like it because there is something there to like, then why in the world should your ch ildren like it? And if you and they are merely pretending to like it, its' laying the groundwork for mistrust and a distaste for reding in general.

If, on the other hand, Mommy cracks up laughing every time she comes to a certain part, if Daddy really likes the drawings, if lines from a story or aspects of a character become part of the family's everyday language, then you've got riches that will last generations. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, The Story of Ferdinand, Where the Wild Things Are--classics lilke these come to mind. You remember them, right? You're smiling, right? If you don't remember these or somehow missed them growing up, hunt them down--you will gladly read them more than once.

I said that half of children's books are a disgraceful waste of trees. The bright side is that half aren't! Here are a few more I like.

Six books you won't mind reading again and again and...


Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
by Virginal Lee Buron (Houghton Mifflin, ages 3 and up)

Where the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendack (Harper-Collins, ages 2 and up)

The Story of Ferdinand
by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson (Viking, ages 3 and up)


Rootbeer and Banana
by Sarah Sullivan, illustrated by Greg Shed (Candlewick Press,2005 , ages 3 and up)

Carmine: A Little More Red
by Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin, 2005, ages 1 and up)

Bad Bears and a Bunny
by Daniel Pinkwater, illustrated by Jill Pinkwater (Houghton-Mifflin, 2005, ages 3 and up)

Daniel Pinkwater has written about 100 books for children, many illustrated by him, and "the really good ones" illustrated by his wife, Jill Pinkwater. He reviews children's books on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday with Scott Simon.

(I will come back and enter his reviews of the titles he listed...sorry on the run and will have to come back. I just wanted to get this post started asap! aa)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Keep Your Children Reading During Summer Break

Do you remember the last day of school for summer break when you were young? Anticipation of what you would be doing for all the long days, and extra time? Of course as children we most likely never even gave a thought to the idea that we could keep on learning over the summer break. This is why it is critical as parents we take an active role in emphasizing the importance of reading through the summer months.

Kids should have as much free time and fun as possible, but it is also important that they continue to read and engage their minds while away from the school day structure. Here are some ideas that can help your child be engaged in reading over the summer break.

Find out what's available with your library Summer Reading Program. Most public libraries have programs to encourage reading in the summer break. They typically have their reading lists available as a hand out at the Children's desk or online. The programs usually include incentives along the way and a chart to record their reading. They're designed to motivate the children to read and usually the library includes a special event to help keep the students focused on achievable goals with a prize or certificate of recognition.

Know what reading level is appropriate for your child. Before school lets out, check with your child's teacher and ask what his reading level is and also for suggestions to aid in specific areas your child should be working on. As the teacher for suggested books which should be read. The library staff will also be able to assist you based upon your children's reading level and interests.

Select books that your children will like. Most importantly, ask your children what things they'd like to discover -- if you focus on their interests, your child will typically be more motivated to take the time to read. Find a series of books they like, it will motivate them to ask for more. Stopping at the cliff hangers keeps them thinking about what may happen next. If your children like a particular style or special genre, there are plenty of reading lists for children and young adults.

In the weeks leading up to that summer vacation trip, seek out brochures and books about the places you'll visit. Brochures and trip guides, books and stories related to where you're headed can help build anticipation for the trip. Knowing what things they can be looking for will help keep the trips interesting. Looking up the history of how a place came to be can lead you to history, non-fiction, and fun facts about where you're headed. Reading reviews and looking up websites also provide ways to engage their minds.

Always continue to read aloud to your children. This is a valuable way to spend time with your children daily while helping them develop their desires to read when you read aloud. Your children will improve in their listening and vocabulary skills, increase their overall knowledge and give your family great subjects to discuss. They will enjoy the time together. This is also a great way to take turns reading aloud, which builds their skills. Or you can do all of the reading. Its a great way to show your child how fun reading can be. Especially if you 'dress up' the reading by dramatizing voice and put some theatrics into the story for some extra fun.

Do they anticipate the newest movies coming out? There's always books, magazine articles, and novelty items promoting the next releases. By reading the book before the movie, (especially if you can get the original story a movie is based upon) will give your children something to compare and contrast -- providing an opportunity for a variety of topics for discussion. Did they like the book or the movie better? Was the directors interpretation of the story line way off, or right on. Did you imagine the characters represented differently? What was the message behind the story? There's a lot of thinking going on if they've been able to know the original story before seeing a movie interpretation.

Another idea is to find out and view many different movie versions of well known classics. By watching each to see the differences and to discuss what they like to dislike about the various interpretations, will give hours of entertainment. What does this have to do with reading? Children benefit from the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills from reading a story and then viewing several different interpretations of it. By having discussion over these interpretations, each member of the family can express differing viewpoints, like or dislike a character or his actions, and provide great themes for discussion over the table while eating or while on traveling.

Books on tape provide another avenue. These can be listened to while traveling or at naptimes and bedtimes. There is higher cognitive brain activity while listening to a story being read by a parent or a tape than when the visual stimulation of TV or movies is going on. The brain tends to work less with audio/visual learning, unless it is broken up with discussion or if there is a reason to "what do you think 'character' will do next?" or "why did that character decide to do 'x', would you do the same? or what would you do differently if it were you?" and so forth. When the brain has something to seek there is more active thinking going on.

Older children can even write their own versions, or go so far as to film their own interpretations of familiar stories. One family we know, takes classic stories and then creates the story using modern characters, such as "Little Red Riding Hood" using the characters from "Star Wars." By having unusual projects such as these engage their minds in complex ways, they won't have time to be bored. While doing these activities throughout the summer will keep their brains engaged in learning and you'll find they'll be ready for school come end of the summer.

Play word games and mad-libs. Some of my fondest summer memories were of times my friends would sit around together filling in the blanks on mad-libs and rolling on the floor belly laughing to the silly stories we'd invented. Creating our own crossword puzzles for each other to solve, or coming up with riddles or clues for a scavenger hunt kept our creative juices flowing.

Make a "Flat Stanley" to go with you through the summer, or to exchange with long-distant family or friends. Taking pictures and journaling what "Stanley" did on his summer vacation will provide writing activities. Just thinking up crazy things that "Stanley" will do, is fun and helps keep the children focused on creative thinking. Later, having a journal of the summer is also nice to look back on later.

Keeping the mind engaged through a variety of ways throughout the break will help keep your children actively learning all summer long. When you're feeding their minds in fun and engaging ways, learning can be ongoing year round and you'll be less likely to hear the common summer complaint, "I'm bored!"

Friday, June 02, 2006

Creating a Reading-Friendly Home

The best way to raise a great reader is to make reading a big part of their lives. Here are some ideas to fill your home with reading.

Books, books, everywhere! Surround yourself with books. Store them in a place that is easy for your children to reach. Visit bookstores and your local library often, and get your children their own library cards. Also, try flea markets and garage sales for inexpensive books.

Build a book nook. It doesn't take much to create a special reading spot--just a cozy chair in a corner or a comfy pillow by a sunny window. Show your own love of reading to your children by curling up with a book of your own too!

Fit reading into everyday life. Ask about your children's favorite books or what they read at school while you're riding on the bus or in the car. When the family is cleaning up after dinner, ask them to read you a story. Then trade--you read aloud while they clear the table or put away silverware.

Follow their lead. Help your children find books that reflect their interests, such as nature, sports or mysteries. And don't worry if your kids are reading comic books or ghost stories -- as long as they're reading!

Give yourself a break. Listening to recorded books on tape or CD is a great substitute when you're really busy, not around or too tired to read. And listening in the car is almost guaranteed to keep your drive calm.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Did You Know???

  • It is strongly recommended that children read and/or are read to at least 30 min a day?
  • When children read and are read to, they increase their vocabulary, reading comprehension & spelling?
  • Books contain three times as many rare words (30.9 rare words per thousand) than a conversation?
  • That children who utilize the Internet and /or CD ROMs in homework do better on tests?
  • Most children each year spend about 1,500 hours in front of TV vs. 900 hours in a classroom?
“If every child were read to daily from infancy, it would revolutionize education in this country.”-- U.S. Education Secretary Richard W. Riley

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Creating A Library for your Little One

I find that there is just NO WAY to under-emphasize the importance of reading.

In order to be a successful in school as well as in any future vocation, it is imperative to posses strong literary skills. For this we need to be exposed to the proper materials from the beginning. Not every child has an easy journey on the road to literacy. And some children never fully learn to read properly. Others may acquire the skills involved eventually, but retain the idea of reading as a dreaded chore rather than a cherished activity.

Its all relative to how they are exposed to reading. Are they shown how fun reading can be? Do they see you reading? Or, are they being forced to sit down and "learn to read"? If the whole reading experience is one where the child is brought to tears over not meeting up to the expectation of him performing to a particular level, not only is the parent frustrated, but the child is feeling "failure". To push them to meet up to the expectations of their parents and teachers, or they may also feel the negative peer pressure. When a child is pushed too fast, too soon, the end result is the child looses all interest in wanting to read and they will likely avoid any opportunity to read.

So how do we as parents guarantee that our little one will acquire the necessary abilities to read with ease? The short answer is "start early". Regardless of when you start, how do we ensure they will view a book as their "buddy" rather than their "burden"? We must have a solid understanding of early development and offer some suggestions on what types of books will work for each age.

Babies... Will enjoy being read to from birth. The content of the book makes no difference at this stage, our purpose here is to develop a bond with those who love and read to him. Simply hearing the gentle rhythm of a voice associated with books will set a firm foundation for a lifelong love affair with the written word. While any book is appropriate for this activity because what a parent is building is emotional messages of love, comfort, security. Doing it before naps and bedtime helps the baby settle down and sets the patterns they know that its time to unwind, relax and enjoy this special time!

6-12 months... Infants begin to want to "get in on the action". They will want to grab the books and explore them with their eyes as well as their mouths. Given their excitement and lack of experience, it is unrealistic to expect them to be gentle as they do so. If we approach this in a critical way they may get the sense that books are "don't touch" items and that they are not for them. Therefore, getting durable board books which are en curiosity curiosity of the busy body baby works like magic to capture their focus such as "touchy feely" types where they can touch and explore the textures. Talking about how we hold a book will introduce your child to important concepts and develop good habits for later years. Continue the routine of reading before nap and bedtimes, these are treasured moments that won't last forever.

Many parents often object to spending any "book" time with the young toddler. Typical objections are: won't sit still, reaches at pages, tears pages etc. This is why board books at this age with mostly pictures, vivid color, and basic themes work well. Again, talking about the images, using descriptive language is more important than reading written word. This age is critical for building the familiar vocabulary of "reading" with spoken language. Children thrive later if the vocabulary is heard long before the written words of reading are taught.

12-24 months... As our children grow, so does their fascination with books! This is largely based on their intense fondness for simple mechanisms. The binding on a book makes a nice hinge, and infants will be enamored by their ability to simply turn the pages back and forth. Again, content isn't as important as the "construction" at this point. Books that have a peek-a-books, rattle, squeak and have interactives are fun. Board books continue to be used at this age, as most children's fine motor skills are still developing and few might be ready for real book pages. Chunky style board books are favorites for this age.

Continue the rich vocabulary. Speaking regular words are important. Don't use baby talk as this will be confusing when the child is learning the mechanics of sounding out and reading words later. So talk it up! Directional words, adjectives, adverbs are important building blocks that the brain will be familiar with when the more in depth reading development occurs later. Have fun! Do silly things. Books with familiar songs, ones with rhyme and rhythm are additional building blocks they will use later as they build phonemic awareness and help the brain learn new pathways for language.

Toddler years... During these years our vocabulary expands enormously and children start to make a connection between the spoken word and the object or picture it represents. Here is where picture books become so important...Which ones are Best? Well, the best way to teach a child is to find what they are interested in. And dive in!

Preschoolers... As children move through these years they begin to master the various elements involved in actual reading. The greatest challenge at this point is not to force reading upon them. In the schools there is often the debate of which method is best "Phonics" or "Whole Language". Some children learn better with one style , while others will learn faster with the other. Most however, will learn through both, so with that in mind, parents should keep a verity of materials on hand for their children to view.

School age... As children finally become involved in independent reading it is essential to reinforce the notion that this is an extraordinarily useful and enjoyable activity. Find books with puzzles, riddles, mysteries. There are many books which are of topical interest particularly in non-fiction. At this age they're really wanting to know how things work! Where do things come from and learning about history with biographies told as a story are fun and engaging.

By building your own family library, your children will be well on their way to a healthy and enjoyable lifelong love affair with reading! At this point, if you have built your library around the indications of her unique rate of learning and pattern of development, you will get to reap the rewards of cuddling up with your child and experiencing the pleasure of hearing her read to you!
How to build your own family library
You can always "test drive" many different types of books through your local library. It keeps the reading habit affordable. Be aware that studies have shown a direct correlation to literacy with the number of reading materials found in the home. Usborne Books at Home helps parents build their own library when a family hosts a book demonstration, based upon the purchases of their guests. The cost to the family is basically two hours of time for the evening and a small handling fee and shipping, typically earning $100 or more in FREE books!
Usborne has plenty of books and subjects for every age in the family. Activity books that encourage basic understanding of math, writing, and reading. First Experiences series helps children discover how to deal with new situations. Their wide variety of storybooks incorporate whole language learning while providing fun and exciting stories in most of the early childhood categories. Usborne is the king of non-fiction for youngsters. They have topical encyclopedias, reference books, and themed activity books, etc. They also have plenty of pre-reading books to engage even the youngest of children.

Click here for information on how you can build your family library for pennies on the dollar with an Usborne home demonstration.

You can also trove used book stores, Goodwill, Salvation Army and Deseret Industries stores. People are always giving away books and second hand is also great!

Have you've ever heard of Freecycle? This is another treasure trove to get the things you need from someone who doesn't need them any more. Many on the list are moving on, either literally moving and they can't take it with them, or their children are growing and they'd rather give it to someone who would enjoy and use it rather than throw it into the landfills. (BTW, its a great source for more than just books!)

Hopefully this has given you some background to get you started in building your own family library!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

How? Let's start with a simple list.

The number one question people ask me about their child is, "How do I raise a reader?"

This question is just as complex as it is simple. I could go on and on about all the technical and scientific terms, processes and methods that are used to teach reading. But that would bore most who come here looking for useful information. So, here is the purpose of this blog: To give parents a place to find tips and information about how to raise their children with the love of reading.

Lets start with a simple list:

1) Read to your Baby!
Its never too early to introduce your child to books. "Read" board books to your infant, put cloth books in the crib, and float plastic books in the bathtub. Your children will grow up with the idea that books are an integral part of their lives.

2) Make Time For Books.
Set aside a specific time to read to your child every day. Nap time and bed time are obvious opportunities. Another might be over mealtine or while they are in the bath tub.

3) Keep Books Available.
Make it easy to read. Keep a sack of board books in the car to divert kids while you're running errands and on the nightstand to amuse early risers. Pack a vareity of books while traveling. Put a shelf in the bathroom with books to read while potty training.

4) Be A Reading Role Model.
Show your children that you value reading. Let them see that you are reading for pleasure, and tell them how much you enjoy reading with them. Take them along on trips to the library and book store.

5) Make Your Own Books.
Preschoolers can dictate their own stories and then add illustrations. Other ideas? Make a Holiday Book that shows your family traditions, a birthday book recording party memories, or a travel diary about the family vacation.

6) Read Anything And Everything.
While in the car, encourage your child to read the road signs. In the grocery store, ask the children to find the juice or cereal they want. Learning to differentiate amoung packages and to recognize road signs is a beginning step in learning how to read.

7) Play With Letters.
Magnetic letters allow children to spell t heir name on the refrigerator. Letter blocks combine stacking and spelling for double the fun. Cards with the letters raised in sandpaper give the shapes a tactile feel, and they can make rubbings of the letters and create words too.

8) Read it Again and Again.
Parents may get tired of reading the same favorite book over and over, but repetition is an important development step in learning to read. As they repeat the familiar refrains with you, children begin to associate the words they say with the words on the page. Soon they'll be recognizing and reading words on their own.

Those are a few ideas to get you started. Keep coming back to find more tips and ideas to envelope your child in the love of reading.