Saturday, December 01, 2007

Ten Ways to Make Reading Part of Every Day

1. Keep Books in Reach
Make sure there are plenty of books where your child can easily see and reach them so he can pick one up whenever he wants. Include catalogs and magazines too!

2. Drawing Time
Build up your child's ability to hold writing implements and control her use of line just by letting her draw and color.

3. Write a Story Together
Have your child draw a picture and ask her what's happening within it or what she would title her drawing. Write down the story or title at the bottom. Encourage her to draw a series of pictures and develop her sense of story. You'll also empower her with the idea she can create stories herself.

4. Meet and Greet the Library
Bring your child along on trips to the library. Make it a familiar and friendly experience and show him that there is a place where he can freely access tons of books.

5. Stop, Look, and Ask While Your Child Listens
Make sure to pause and point things out to your child while you're reading. Ask questions about stories as you read them and discuss plots and characters after you're done to develop reading comprehension skills.

6. Make Your Own Books on Tape
Tired of reading the same books again and again? Record you or your child reading those books so she can listen to them whenever she wants -- at bedtime, while playing, or in the car.

7. Label Everything
Putting signs or stickers on things around the house is a great way to connect language with concrete objects. It lets your child know that everything has a name and a word attached to it.

8. How Was Your Day?
Expand your child's sense of narrative by giving simple explanations of what happened to you during an ordinary day. Tell him of happenings and how they affected later events. Ask him to tell you about his day, too.

9. Create an Alphabet Book
Take 26 pieces of heavy paper and write one letter from the alphabet on each. Challenge your child to draw pictures of things beginning with each letter. When she's finished at least one drawing per letter, bind it together, and present her with her novel work.

10. Rhyme Time
Challenge your child to come up with simple rhymes for words like "cat" and "ball." It's a fun game you can play anywhere and builds phonemic awareness.

source unknown

Friday, October 26, 2007

Why pictures won't teach Johnny to read

Dr. Samuel L. Blumenfeld
WND Exclusive Commentary
Why pictures won't teach Johnny to read

Posted: October 19, 2007
1:00 a.m. Eastern

There is much puzzlement these days over why so many children can't seem to become proficient in reading. A letter in the New York Times from one Lee W. Anderson on Oct. 8 summed up the general public frustration. He wrote: "The goal of universal math and reading proficiency by 2014 may be harder to reach than the moon, which simply means that we have to get more serious about providing schools, teachers and students with the tools they need."

Curiously enough, the needed tools were available well before the progressives took control of public education in the 1930s. These educational reformers decided to change the way reading is taught in the schools. They got rid of the traditional phonetic method and adopted a new picture method known as look-say. The switch from sound to image meant that children would be taught to read by looking at each printed word as a little picture, sometimes alongside of an actual picture, instead of a group of letters standing for speech sounds. The result has been massive reading failure among American children. Indeed, by 1955 the situation was so bad that Rudolf Flesch was compelled to write his famous best-seller, "Why Johnny Can't Read."

In that book, Flesch wrote: "The teaching of reading – all over the United States, in all the schools, in all the textbooks – is totally wrong and flies in the face of all logic and common sense." He then explained how imposing an image methodology on a phonetic writing system would lead to reading failure, generally known today as dyslexia or functional illiteracy.

Back in 1973, I wrote "The New Illiterates," in which I researched the origin of the look-say method and discovered that it had been invented in 1837 by the Rev. Thomas H. Gallaudet, teacher of the deaf and dumb in Hartford, Conn. He juxtaposed printed words with their pictorial equivalents, which the deaf were able to memorize to some extent. He thought that this method could be adapted for use by hearing children. And so his method was adopted by Boston's primary schools, and it produced a literacy disaster. It proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that a phonetic writing system must be taught phonetically if the learner is to become a fluent, proficient reader.

Today, primary reading instruction still relies heavily on pictures as the means of training children to look at printed words. Children are still required to memorize a "sight vocabulary." And that is why we still have large numbers of children unable to achieve proficiency in reading. They are given more phonetic information than in previous years, but they are not sufficiently drilled in the letter-sound combinations so that they can acquire the needed phonetic reflex – the automatic ability to see the phonetic structure of the written word so that they can sound it out. In other words, the pictures produce a holistic or image reflex, which becomes an obstruction to seeing the word in its phonetic structure.

That is why pictures in reading instruction are harmful. Indeed, in 1983, I produced Alpha-Phonics, a reading program without pictures, which has been used by thousands of homeschoolers very successfully. The learners acquire the needed phonetic reflex, and thus become proficient, fluent readers. I proved that pictures are not necessary in learning to read.

There is another important reason why reading should be taught without pictures. Every child learns to speak his or her native language without pictures. The left side of the brain – the verbal side – contains the language-learning faculty. When children learn to read without pictures, the left side of the brain expands its language learning power. However, picture reading is a faculty of the right side of the brain, which deals with images and space. You cannot train the right brain to do the left brain's job. In fact, you create internal cognitive conflict by imposing an image methodology on a phonetic system. Thus, picture reading retards the growth of the language faculty.

The importance of the spoken word over the image cannot be exaggerated. For example, if you watch television and click on mute, you cannot understand what is going on. People are talking but you can't hear them. On the other hand, if you listen to a radio talk show without any images, you are easily engaged in what is being said. And that is why talk radio has become so successful. The message is conveyed in spoken language, not image.

Spoken language appeals to the innate logic of the human mind. The image appeals to the emotion. That is why the average listener learns more from talk radio than from watching the TV news where the appeal of the image is to the emotions and language is used to enhance the emotional impact of the image. Of course, the spoken language can be used to influence the emotions and also to convey falsehoods. But a good reader will be better equipped to discern truth from falsehood than a non-reader dependent mostly on the image.

Black children, in particular, need to be taught to read without pictures. Picture reading has largely destroyed high literacy among blacks. That is why they have such high rates of academic failure and are inclined to drop out. We don't know why sight reading is so harmful to black children; all we know is that it is. Unless we change the way reading is taught in our schools, the cognitive skills of black children will continue to be greatly damaged, with tragic consequences.

For more information about Blumenfeld's Alpha-Phonics reading program, contact him via e-mail.

This article comes from World Net Daily:

Monday, September 10, 2007

Read 20 Minutes Every Day With Your Child!

Learning to read is hard work for children (especially age 5 and older). Fortunately, there are things we can do to help raise good readers. Reading with a child for 20 minutes every day dramatically improves their ability to read. (Most parents do not ever read to their children!) AND the best part is you can begin from BIRTH -- never consider a child too young to begin, nor too old. Some of the greatest family bonding times can come from family read-alouds too.

Here are some simple things you can do to help create a strong reader.

  • Be fun and creative, animate the story by using character voices and dramatics
  • Ask questions as you read, so they can think beyond just the words they hear
  • Relate stories to your child's life, are they the same or different, what would they do, etc.
  • Re-read your child's favorite books, they're learning from them again and again!
  • Run your finger along the words as you read, this shows we read from left to right.
  • Let your children turn the pages, involve them in the process
  • Select stories that use repeated phrases. Rhymes help teach word endings and build confidence, let them finish the phrases.
  • Subscribe to a children's magazine and enjoy it together
  • Get a library card for your child. They love to check out their own books.
  • Ask your librarian for a recommended (age appropriate) book list.
  • Fill your home with books (studies have shown there is a direct correlation to adult illiteracy was connected to the number of books in their homes as children)
  • Be a reading role model. Why should they read, if they don't ever see you enjoying books. Share your excitement of a story you're reading.
  • Tell stories to your child, allow their minds to imagine the people, places, times and circumstances.
  • Ask them to review (narrate) the story back to you. Helps with building memory, sequencing and other valuable learning skills.
  • When planning a family vacation. Read books that describe the history of the destination, or stories of the different modes of travel you will take to get there. Get stories that are set in those places and then while there have the children see if they can locate any landmarks that were read about before the trip. Historical fiction is also a fun way to learn too!
adapted from a bookmark put out by the sponsors of "Read With A Child": Zion's Bank, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Bonneville International, and Governor's Literacy Commission (Utah)

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Turning Boys into Readers

Read, Boys, Read: Books That Turn Boys into Readers
by Dr. Pamela J. Farris and Dr. Pamela A. Nelson

Many teachers find boys losing interest in fictional stories with happily-ever-after endings. Keep your boys reading by providing what they like: fact-filled books and swashbuckling adventures.

In first grade, Kurtis drifted away from the library bookshelves of picture books with happily-ever-after endings and chapter books about kids his age. He was drawn like a magnet to informational books about science and social studies where he could pore over photos and accompanying captions and learn “neat stuff.” Kurtis longed to know how and why things work, who did what in history and science, and what causes creatures to be the way they are. Today he is headed off to college and, while he reads novels in his free time, he still devotes a great amount of time to gleaning facts and concepts from informational books. When it comes to science and social studies, he’s a walking encyclopedia.

Boys gravitate to informational books because they want to know “just the facts.” Give them books about dinosaurs, insects, or knights, and they will become fountains of knowledge in a relatively short time. “Considering gender as one aspect of reading instruction is critical inasmuch as boys read far less than girls at all age levels” (Farris, Fuhler, and Walther, 2004, p. 491). As adults, it is estimated that 94 percent of all that we read is nonfiction, informational text. William Brozo believes that many boys are turned off by fiction books. He notes that when boys are given informational books to read during independent reading time they “shift their postures from complacency and disengagement to involvement and curiosity” (2002, p. 17). Brozo points out that, when they do read fiction, boys prefer reading text that is politically incorrect—books with lots of action and adventure plots, which may be why Harry Potter and the Red Wall series are so popular with boys.

Research indicates that when reading preferences and interests are matched with books, the depth of students’ thinking processes is enhanced and learning is internalized (Guthrie, Alao, and Rinehart, 1997). Studies also suggest that girls find it easier to lose themselves in fiction than do boys. By middle school, 85 percent of girls read for pleasure compared to only 65 percent of boys (Moffit and Wartella, 1992).

Boys' Preferences

Adventure books and coming-of-age novels about boys lure young male readers to open a book and turn the pages. Yet, swashbuckling tales are not politically correct in the classroom. Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet (1987) and its sequels depict Brian’s plight when the pilot of a small plane suffers a fatal heart attack and Brian must take over the controls. The plane crashes in a small lake in the Canadian wilderness, and Brian must learn through trial and error how to survive alone. Boys avidly read this classic book and conjure up their own resourceful ideas just as Brian does.

Whether each boy must go through a rite of passage vicariously in his reading has yet to be proven; yet it is clear that plots involving adventure and danger are much preferred over milquetoast novels or the usual selections in basal readers. But few authors are writing books meeting the adventure and danger criteria as compared with female-protagonist novels. Finding action- and drama-laden trade books and sharing them through book talks, then having a couple of copies available for classroom use, results in boys reading—and reading a lot.

Introducing Informational Books

Exposure to informational books must be guided. Students need a roadmap of what to expect. Just as we tend to point out the story structure of fiction, so too should we inform our students about the structural elements of expository, informational text. Illustrations may be actual photos, drawings, or computerized renditions. Cutaways may give a close-up view of something being studied, such as the actual size of a shark’s tooth. Captions accompanying illustrations often provide information in addition to the main text. Bold text is usually new vocabulary or terminology. Informational books follow certain organizational patterns as outlined below (Farris, Fuhler, and Walther, 2004):

• Description—The author points out specific characteristics, details, or features and provides examples for the reader. The student should look for such cue words or phrases as a number of, features are, several, types of, as an example, small (medium or large) sized, characteristics are, for instance. An example of a book for grades 4-6 is Seymour Simon’s They Swim the Seas: The Mystery of Animal Migration (1998).

• Sequence—Events are placed in an appropriate order. The student should note such key words or phrases as first, second, third, then, to begin with, later, not long after, next, at last, at the same time. For an example, see Gail Gibbons’ Chicks and Chickens (2003).

• Comparison and Contrast—The author explains how two or more things may be alike or different such as different species of the same creature in Gail Gibbons’ Spiders (1994) and Owls (2005).

Students also should realize that informational or expository books have a specific job to do. According to Carol Piazza (2002), when reading such books the students can expect the text to:

• Inform, report, or explain
• Be precise and accurate in its explanations
• Give examples to clarify concepts
• Define unfamiliar concepts and vocabulary
• Clearly differentiate between facts and opinions
• Emphasize important points
• Provide technically sound information
• Pose clear and relevant questions
• Explain and support legitimate differences in information that arise

“One simple but effective tactic to broaden the exposure to expository text and to build a schema, or cognitive foundation, for understanding it is by introducing informational books as part of the classroom read-aloud routine on a regular basis” (Farris, Fuhler, and Walther, 2004, p. 545). By reading aloud different authors from different topics you can provide different voices and topics for the children to sample on their own (Graves, 1983).

Selecting Informational Books

Limited library funding, a common situation, may lead to keeping older, outdated informational books on the shelves. If a section of a nonfiction book is inaccurate but the rest of the book is accurate, merely attach a “reader beware” sticky note on the outdated portion of the book indicating that newly discovered evidence points to other information (recent findings on dinosaurs, for instance).

Some librarians practice the “if it isn’t an inch thick, it doesn’t have enough information” measure. But many recently published picture books offer a wealth of information, often taking on just a sliver of a broader theme. For instance, Secrets of a Civil War Submarine: Solving the Mysteries of the H. L. Hunley (Walker, 2005) is an award-winning book that explains the mystery of how the first submarine to sink a ship vanished into the ocean’s depths. While hundreds of Civil War books have been written for children and young adolescents, this picture book focuses on the construction of the H. L. Hunley so students learn about ballast, hull plates, and snorkel tubes as well as the men who served on board. The book addresses a piece of folklore that a coin had stopped a minnie ball from penetrating one of the Confederate sailors during a battle. The tale was found to be true when the body and its belongings were exhumed over a hundred years later. How could any boy resist such a book?

Another recent picture book that connects science and history is The Story of Salt by Mark Kurlansky and S. D. Schindler (2006). From examining the chemical makeup of salt and the critical need for the element by humans and animals to the wars fought over it and economic trade of it, the authors tell an intriguing tale of a common kitchen substance. Boys will pore over this book, discovering that their own bodies each contain about three shakers of salt.

History as a Content Area Boys Enjoy

Most popular textbooks on children’s literature cite the value of story in teaching history. Recent research by Cathy Block (2004) indicates that engaging students with two pieces of current, award-winning literature read back-to-back increases motivation and comprehension for both strong and struggling readers. Camp (2000) and Hancock (2000) also advocate reading fiction and informational text sequentially in order to enhance comprehension. For boys in the study of history, a major portion of their interest in topics also comes from the stories that are told in film. Students’ interest in the topics, time periods, and issues are connected especially closely to the films and to the stories of the individuals who lived through those experiences. Films such as Glory, Gettysburg, and the more recent Sands of Iwo Jima deepen interest and background knowledge that send them in pursuit of more information.

A study by Pamela Nelson (2005) of fifth graders e-mailing preservice teachers as they read notable historical fiction found that the interest of the boys who were involved in the e-mail project was heightened as they read a book set during the Civil War. More recent interest in Jackie Robinson flowed from their reading and discussion of Teammates (Golenbock, 1992) and their teacher’s use of United Streaming video clips associated with Jackie Robinson.

If story is used in teaching history or science, however, teachers must urge students to approach it with knowledgeable and critical eyes. Doing so provides opportunities to gather schema or background knowledge that strengthens comprehension. It also allows students to compare and contrast fictional and informational writing styles and to explore the literary devices authors use to reach particular audiences and goals. Students may also be involved in noting the writing traits of main idea, organization, details, sentence fluency, word choice, voice, and presentation in order to detect bias and to check accuracy of interpretation.

In particular, boys tend to note details. If the teacher demonstrates the scientific method in weighing and discarding information, students will hone their own research skills. Keeping in mind that the greatest scientist never to live was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, trained not as a police officer but as a chemist, students need to refine their “research reading skills”— that is, the ability to note subtle changes in a character’s actions or mood.

Combining Literature and Primary Sources

Using literature and primary sources gives students the opportunity to see that there are indeed differences in perspectives and interpretations of the same event when it occurs and over time. Historical objects and reproduction objects bring a more complete picture of the past to the present. Maria Harris calls this anamnesis (Nelson, IRC Journal):

Anamnesis is a recalling to mind, as is all remembering. However, it is not so much a mental act as it is the actual bringing into the present—the re-membering—of a past event… at the core of anamnesis is the human capacity to take hold of an event or occurrence or person from the historical past in the present, and to allow that event, occurrence or person to take hold of oneself… [teaching] becomes a… ritual of re-membering where as teachers and learners we reenter the past and make it our own….

Museums, libraries, community agencies, and families often have photographs, memories, and objects that are related to a particular unit of study in either the sciences or the social studies (Nelson and Brady in Farris, 2004). Using such documents or artifacts creates the need to provide a context for the document or artifact being used. It is equally vital that teachers actively teach students ways to take from such documents.

This includes transcribing handwritten letters or diaries, introducing unfamiliar vocabulary, and using small portions at a time. In the case of maps, charts, and graphs, students must have the necessary skills to draw information from them. However, the power of seeing the copy of an actual document or artifact in itself lets the students know that the topic is “real.” Boys in a fifth-grade class remembered what it took the Wright brothers to be successful as developers of the airplane through the biography The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane (Freedman, 1994) as well as through seeing and holding a copy of the U.S. Patent Office drawings of the plane.


Boys seek out the nuts and bolts of informational texts and historical fiction. Facts that many girls readily discard are pounced upon by boys as though they were pure gold nuggets—memorizing them for sharing at a future date. Adventure books and coming-of-age novels with male protagonists are readily sought after if the teacher can give a motivating book talk that fires up their imaginations. Actual documents and artifacts are revered and pondered as boys gravitate toward hands-on activities. Using this knowledge we can spur boys’ interest in reading by sharing books that motivate them and, in turn, improve their comprehension.


Block, C. (2004). The research-base: Effects of trade book reading on student achievement. Paper Presented, International Reading Association Regional Leadership Workshop East and Great Lakes, Pittsburgh, PA, June 25-27, 2004
Brozo, W. (2002). To Be a Boy, To Be a Reader. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Camp, D. (2000). It takes two: Teaching with twin texts of fact and fiction. The Reading Teacher, 53, 400-408.
Farris, P. J., Fuhler, C.A., and Walther, M. (2004). Teaching Reading: A Balanced Approach for Today’s Classrooms. Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Fuhler, C., Farris, P., and Nelson, P. (2006). Reaching across the curriculum: Opening the doorway to the past through artifacts. The Reading Teacher, 59,646-659.
Graves, D. (1983). Teachers and Writers at Work. Portsmouth, NH: Heineman.
Guthrie, J. T., Alao, S., and Rinehart, J. M. (1997). Engagement in reading for young adolescents. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 40(6), 438–446.
Guthrie, J., Wigfield, A., and Perencevich, K. 2004. Motivating Reading Comprehension. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Hancock, M. (2000). The survival of the book in a megabyte world: Children’s literature in the new millennium. Journal of Children’s Literature, 26, 8-16.
Harris, M. (1988). Women and teaching: Themes for a spirituality of pedagogy. New York: Paulist Press.
Moffitt, M. A. S., and Wartella, E. (1992). Youth and reading: A survey of leisure reading pursuits of female and male adolescents. Reading Research & Instruction, 31, 1-17.
Nelson, P. (2005). Preparing students for citizenship: Literature and primary documents. Social Studies and the Young Learner, 17: 21-29.
Nelson, P. A., and Brady, M. (2004). Social studies and the arts: From inner journeys to faraway lands. In P. J. Farris (Ed.), Elementary and Middle School Social Studies: An Interdisciplinary, Multicultural Approach, pp. 510-554. Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Piazza, C. (2002). Journeys: The Teaching of Writing in Elementary Classrooms. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Children’s and Young Adult Books

Freedman, Russell. (1994). The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane. New York: Holiday House.
Gibbons, Gail. (2003). Chicks and Chickens. New York: Holiday House.
Gibbons, Gail. (1994). Spiders. New York: Holiday House.
Gibbons, Gail. (2005). Owls. New York: Holiday House.
Golenbock, Peter. (1992). Teammates. New York: Voyager.
Kurlansky, M., and Schindler, S. D. (2006). The Story of Salt. New York: Putnam.
Paulsen, Gary. (1987). Hatchet. New York: Atheneum.
Simon, Seymour, and Elsa Warnick. (1998). They Swim the Seas: The Mystery of Animal Migration. San Diego: Browndeer Press.
Walker, Sally. (2005). Secrets Of A Civil War Submarine: Solving the Mysteries of the H. L. Hunley. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books.

Lists of Award-Winning Books

The Carter G. Woodson Award and Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, featured each year in the May-June volume of Social Education, are excellent sources of high quality, content-accurate literature for students. Recognized books are drawn from all genres—poetry, nonfiction, fiction, historical fiction, and picture books. The National Science Teachers Association also identifies and recognizes children’s and young adult literature that present science content accurately and skillfully. That list appears in Science and Children annually. Another source, which consists only of informational books, is the list of Orbis Pictus Award and honor books identified by the National Council of the Teachers of English. These are published by the Council in the November volume of Language Arts. They include nonfiction books of science and social studies content. Finally, the American Library Association recognizes high-quality nonfiction books through its Siebert Award which is found on the American Library Association website.

The books on all of these award lists offer a wide range of readability levels on a variety of topics. Books that are recognized as winners and honor books meet stringent content and literary criteria. The books are reader-friendly in terms of text structure and text features which boys identify as being important. Books that are honored by these professional organizations also include experiences and views of diverse groups, which offer insider perspectives. All of the award groups have recognized that persons of color, persons with physical and emotional handicaps, and the elderly and very young have often been marginalized in terms of their place in informational books. The committees also look for materials that present fresh interpretations or perspectives of events, concepts, or individuals.

Motivating Students to Read

If students are reluctant to dive into informational text, create a climate of mystery and intrigue in your instruction by wrapping up a picture book on the topic to be covered along with four or five copies of an appropriate historical or scientific novel. Present an authentic or recreated artifact from the period or a recreated one for students to examine and discuss. Where would you expect to find it? In what time period? Who would likely use the object? Finally have the students take turns reading the picture book as a group, stopping from time to time to discuss it. Then they can open the package of novels and begin reading the title as a book club (Fuhler, Farris, and Nelson, 2006).

Dr. Pamela J. Farris is a former elementary teacher. She’s the author of several books including Teaching Reading, Language Arts, and Elementary/Middle School Social Studies as well as over 175 journal articles. Dr. Farris served as distinguished teaching professor in the Department of Literacy Education, Northern Illinois University.

Dr. Pamela A. Nelson is a former elementary teacher. She’s the author of several articles on children’s literature and social studies. Dr. Nelson is an assistant professor in the Department of Literacy Education, Northern Illinois University, where she teaches children’s literature and language arts and serves as director of the Children’s Literature Collection.


Source: Today's Catholic Teacher, January/February 2007

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Writing Through the Summer

9 Ways to Keep Your Child's Brain Focused (K-5)

Mom and Daughter (Image credit: Corbis)


Those six letters mean the world to children who have just spent the last nine months behind a desk. But while kids are building forts, catching lightning bugs, and eating ice cream, parents can squeeze in some brain-boosting to help them prepare for the next school year. At a young age, children often develop the idea that writing is something to be done only at school. Nothing is further from the truth. Here are nine ways to help your child realize writing can be not only fun, but inspiring!

Travel journal: As you travel, have your child draw or photograph his favorite people or places and keep brief written notes. Photos and descriptions can be about a place, person, or event. Display the finished work at home as your child's first book!

Observation log: Before you go to the pool, park, or zoo, ask your child to observe something in particular: leaves, insects, trees, clouds, birds, etc. As with the travel journal, have him record his observations with drawings and a brief description. Once the topic has been exhausted, turn the page and begin a new topic.

Local newspapers: Check out your community newspaper and search for the children's section. Have your child submit a writing piece or drawing with a short script. Remember to cut out the published piece and put it in the album! If your newspaper doesn't have a children's section, have your child write to the paper and suggest the addition.

Treasure hunt scrapbook: Take your child's favorite things--airplanes, cars, coins, etc.-- and make a game. Have your child search for pictures and articles about their hobby in magazines, newspapers, online, and at the library. Paste the pictures and articles into a scrapbook!

Rainy-day fun: Have your child select a letter of the alphabet in the morning. Throughout the day, collect words that begin with this letter. Older children can select a theme or topic and list all of the related words. Offer an incentive for the most words collected or have a friendly competition! For more rainy-day ideas, pick up Zany Rainy Days by Hallie Warshaw.

Writing online: Some Web sites offer story starters on a weekly basis and then randomly select pieces to feature on the Web. Some sites, such as Global Story Train, will allow your child to write the first, second, or last chapter of a story that has been worked on by other children from around the world. Journal writing has also become a popular pastime for children. Sylvan Learning Center offers free writing journals at Children are provided with story or thought starters as well as trivia and math problems as part of the journal exercises.

Photos and family journal: Bring out old and new photos and have your child write a phrase, a sentence, or a brief story for each photo. Older children can write a narrative for pictures they really like. This is a creative way to record your family history. Use labels or special blank photo captions. Visit for more ideas.

Jokes and riddles collection: Have your child write and read riddles or jokes. Understanding humor increases reading comprehension and inference. Have neighborhood children join in and have a small "Original Joke Pool Party" or have a "Stand-up Comedian Night" as a celebration.

Family/friend pen pal: Encourage your child to get a pen pal. A distant relative or a friend who has moved is a good choice. This is a practical way to keep in touch, share values, and practice writing and reading skills. Younger children can draw and include their "message" at the bottom of the page.

Article provided by Sylvan Learning Center

Friday, June 15, 2007

10 Ways to Motivate Your Child to Learn

Inspire her thirst for knowledge inside — and outside — of school.
By Caolan Madden

If you want your child to be a stellar student, don't limit learning to the walls of his classroom. Although the skills he's learning there are crucial to his intellectual and social growth, your child needs your help to really "open up the world of ideas," according to child psychologist Robin Forman, PhD. His renewed joy in discovery will transfer to his schoolwork, so you'll boost his academic achievement, too!
  1. Fill your child's world with reading. Take turns reading with your older child, or establish a family reading time when everyone reads her own book. It's important to show her that "it's not only a school task," says Ted Feinberg, Ph.D, assistant director of the National Association of School Psychologists. Demonstrate how important reading is to you by filling your home with printed materials: novels, newspapers, even posters and placemats with words on them. According to Stephanie Fanjul, director of student achievement at the National Education Association, "Children can learn to read by living in an environment that's rich in words."

  2. Encourage him to express his opinion, talk about his feelings, and make choices. He can pick out a side dish to go with dinner and select his own extracurricular activities. Ask for his input on family decisions, and show that you value it. "One of the things valued in school is class participation," says Feinberg, and "having practice at home expressing his feelings" is "good for self-esteem and self-confidence." He'll be more likely to engage with the material he studies if he's comfortable asking questions and drawing his own conclusions.

  3. Show enthusiasm for your child's interests and encourage her to explore subjects that fascinate her. If she's a horse nut, offer her stories about riding or challenge her to find five facts about horses in the encyclopedia. Make sure she has the tools she needs — since Feinberg's daughter "loved looking for sea life" at the beach during family vacations, he bought her little nets so that she could catch crabs and minnows. Now she's a marine biologist.

  4. Provide him with play opportunities that support different kinds of learning styles — from listening and visual learning to sorting and sequencing. Fanjul recommends supplies that encourage open-ended play and "do more than one thing," such as blocks — your child will develop his creative expression and problem-solving skills as he builds. He'll need lots of unstructured play time to explore them. Although sports activities and language clubs are valuable experiences, too many scheduled activities can add "too much stress" to your child's life, and distract him from exploring the pleasures of learning at his own pace.

  5. Point out the new things you learn with enthusiasm. Discuss the different was you find new information, whether you're looking for gardening tips on the Internet or taking a night class in American literature. Let her see you in action: choose an activity that's unfamiliar to you both, such as playing tennis or speaking Spanish, and schedule a lesson or pick up a couple of instructional tapes. "Parents are the single most important modeling agent in a child's life," says Feinberg, and if you "demonstrate that learning is a lifetime adventure," your kids will get the message.

  6. Ask about what he's learning in school, not about his grades or test scores. "Even if he doesn't do well grade-wise compared to the other students, he might still be learning and improving, and you don't want to discourage that," cautions Fanjul. Have him teach you what he learned in school today — putting the lesson into his own words will help him retain what he learned.

  7. Help your child organize her school papers and assignments so she feels in control of her work. If her task seems too daunting, she'll spend more time worrying than learning. As she gets older and has more responsibilities, things can get "excruciatingly painful," warns Fanjul. So check in with her regularly to make sure she's not feeling overloaded.

  8. Celebrate achievements, no matter how small. Completing a book report calls for a special treat; finishing a book allows your child an hour of video games. You'll offer positive reinforcement that will inspire him to keep learning and challenging himself. "If a child feels as if he is successful regardless of what it is, it builds him up and makes the next challenge easier," says Feinberg.

  9. Focus on strengths, encouraging developing talents. Even if she didn't ace her math test, she may have written a good poem in English class. In addition to a workbook for math practice, give her a writing journal. When she knows that she's talented in one area, she'll be confident enough to try to achieve in others. "You don't want to not offer challenges," explains Feinberg, "but there's always a transfer when you have your kid feeling good about who she is."

  10. Turn everyday events into learning opportunities. "Being educated doesn't mean knowing a lot of disconnected facts," says Fanjul. "Learning is building from what you know and connecting it to new facts." Encourage him to explore the world around him, asking questions and making connections. Fanjul remembers pointing to a prickly pear in the produce aisle and asking her young daughter, "Have you ever seen anything so bizarre?" When she replied that the fruit looked like "one of those fish that blows up," Fanjul knew that the structures for learning were firmly in place.
Article From:

Friday, May 11, 2007

How To Make Reading Fun

Reading can be a blast -- a wild, laugh-a-minute, occasionally rambunctious party between two covers. Here's how you can encourage your child to have some fun with books:

Throw a book exchange party

Invite your child's friends over, and ask them (or their parents) to bring five books they want to trade. Then let the bargaining begin! It's the best way to refresh your collection without spending cash. Tip: Offer gift bags for toting home "new" books.

Have some bath-time fun with books

Get your child a few bathtub books (made of vinyl and labeled "bath-safe") and some bathtub paint. Let your child "read" a book in the tub and draw pictures from the book on the bathroom wall with the paint.

Heard of books on tape? Make your own!

Read a book with your child into a tape recorder. Let your child add sound effects (using pots and pans, any musical instrument, utensils, anything that makes noise) or read a couple of lines of the book. If it's a favorite your child has memorized, let him read part or all of the book into the recorder. Let your child play the tape back and read along.

Let your child "buy" her own books

Make your own "book dollars" out of construction paper, and give them to your child for chores or good deeds at home. When your child earns ten or 15, go to the bookstore and let her spend the equivalent money on books.

Arrange a holiday book grab-bag

Try a preschool holiday gift exchange with books only. Each child brings a new book to wrap and contribute to the gift pile. Number all the gifts and then ask children to pick numbers out of a hat for their gift. You can add to the fun by asking all the other parents to give the teacher a children's book as a holiday gift rather than a ceramic apple for her desk. With a new book from every child, she'll be well stocked for the rest of the year.

Make an alphabet book

Draw each letter on a different piece of white paper. Then go through magazines and catalogs, and cut out pictures of things that begin with each letter; glue them to the page. Next put the book together. Let your child put the letters in order. What you'll need: a stack of white paper (more than 26 sheets to account for mess-ups), markers or crayons to draw each letter, old magazines and catalogs, a glue stick for gluing pictures, and a stapler to assemble pages or a hole punch and string to tie the pages together.

Frame a book

Make a color copy of your child's favorite picture in a book -- or favorite book cover -- and frame it for the bedroom. Let your child pick the frame, or pick a plain white one and let your child decorate it. What you'll need: access to a color copier -- try a local office supply store or chain such as Kinko's, an 8.5 x 11" plain frame with wide rim for decorating (if the book is smaller than a standard sheet of paper, cut down the color copy and put it in a smaller frame), and materials to decorate the frame, such as permanent markers, glue, ribbon, feathers, stickers -- anything goes!

Play dress-up and act out a book

Invite your child's friends over to play the other characters.

Have a reading picnic

Take your favorite eats and your favorite books to the park.

Serve a meal from a book

Use food coloring to make green eggs and ham, try to re-create parts of the Grinch's Christmas feast, or make your own oatmeal porridge for the Three Little Bears.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Reading to young children improves language and cognitive development

English-speaking mothers who begin reading to their children at a very early age have toddlers with greater language comprehension, larger, more expressive vocabularies and higher cognitive scores by the age of 2.

Meanwhile, Spanish-speaking mothers who read to their children every day have 3-year-olds with greater language and cognitive development than those who aren't read to. These results, based on research from researcher at the universities of Nebraska-Lincoln, Iowa State, New York, Columbia and Harvard, and from Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., are published in the July/August 2006 issue of the journal Child Development.

The researchers chose their focus because while numerous studies have shown connections between parental reading to preschoolers and children's language development in low-income families, there has been surprisingly little research of low-income children below the age of 3. Yet this is a very important period for the language development required for later reading success.

Researchers studied 2,581 families in the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project and a control group in 17 communities across the U.S. Within a subgroup of 1,101, they explored in-depth relations between reading and child outcomes for English- and Spanish-speaking families. The children were evaluated at ages 14, 24 and 36 months.

About half the mothers reported reading daily to their children at each age, although slightly more mothers read daily when their children were 2 and 3 than when they were 14 months. White mothers reported reading more frequently than mothers in other racial/ethnic groups, as did mothers of girls, firstborn children and children in the Early Head Start program.

In addition to the findings noted earlier, the researchers also found that reading and children's vocabulary seemed to enhance one another beginning as early as 14 months in English-speaking groups. In other words, the more mothers read, the better the children's vocabulary, which, in turn, encouraged more reading.

"Thus, we propose a snowball model in which reading and vocabulary lead to more language opportunities and competencies for children," said lead author Helen Raikes, Ph.D., professor of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "This study shows relations between reading to children and children's language and cognitive development begin very early and implies that parent-child bookreading and other language-oriented interventions for vulnerable children should begin much earlier than has generally been proposed." The researchers also found that most children in the study, with the exception of non-English speaking children, had access to picture books. Thus, the team recommended that libraries, intervention programs and commercial vendors increase the availability of picture books with language and cultural themes of interest to non-English speaking families.

This information provided by Society for Research in Child Development.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Learning To Read: How do you raise a reader?

How do children learn to read?
How do you raise your child to be a reader?

The process of learning to read is a mystery to most parents. We can read but have few (if any) memories of how we learned to read. We know learning to read is one of the most important steps are young children will take toward success in school and life. We want to help but we don't know how. There are five simple ways you can help make your child a reader and you can start with young toddlers or use these techniques with preschoolers. In fact, these skills can also be used to support school age children who are learning to read.

One important way you can teach your child that reading is important is to model reading.
Show your child that you value reading by experiencing printed material whether it is books, magazines or newspapers. Children often imitate their parents so you certainly want to show them (as well as tell them) that reading is important and fun.

Probably the most important step in helping your child become a reader is by reading to your child every day.
You should make reading to your child a part of your regular daily routine but also include spontaneous opportunities as well. Not only will these moments draw you closer to your child and provide lasting memories but you are also giving your child benefits that will impact their entire life.

Exploit your child's interests to create an interest in books.
If your child is interested in horses or dinosaurs then check books on those topics out of the library or buy them for the child's personal library. Make sure the books have lots of pictures and be willing to read them over again.

Have fun with words and books.
Many children's books are written (and illustrated) to tickle a child's funny bone. Exploit those and seek out funny songs and poems as well for more word play. While learning to read is serious business that does not exclude fun from the process. The more fun your child has with reading and books then the more eager they will be to learn to read.

Finally, show your child that books contain useful and interesting information. When your child asks a question about the world then use that question as the focus for your next library visit and look up a book about Pueblo Indians or fruit bats or whatever.

You can help your child learn to read by modeling reading, reading to your child, exploiting your child's interests, having fun with words, and showing that books contain answers.

Article from:

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Growing Up To Read

Article taken from "Starting Out Right"

Children begin to develop their language skills in infancy. Even their babbles and coos and the ways their families speak to them before they really understand can help them to become speakers of their native tongue. When an infant shows excitement over pictures in a storybook, when a two-year-old scribbles with a crayon, when a four-year-old points out letters in a street sign--all of these actions signal a child's growing literacy development.

The more children already know about the nature and purposes of reading before kindergarten, the more teachers have to build on in their reading instruction. Research reveals that the children most at risk for reading difficulties in the primary grades are those who began school with less verbal skill, less phonological awareness, less letter knowledge, and less familiarity with the basic purposes and mechanisms of reading.

To prepare children for reading instruction in the early grades, it is best that they be exposed to high-quality language and literacy environments--in their homes, day care centers, and preschools. The best time to start sharing books with children is during babyhood, even when they are as young as six weeks. Families, early childhood educators, health care professionals, and communities can bring literacy into the lives of young children.

Early research dating back to the 1930s suggested that there was little use in teaching children how to read until they had already conquered specific readiness skills, such as certain fine motor skills and the ability to tell right from left.

Today, researchers know more. They know that growing up to be a reader depends mostly on the child's knowledge about language and print. A wide range of experiences with printed and spoken language, from infancy through early childhood, strongly influences a child's future success in reading. What is good for a six-year-old, however, is not necessarily good for a three-year-old. Children need activities they will enjoy and can succeed at, without being pushed uncomfortably beyond their current developmental stage.

-- Even when children cannot yet spell,
they learn from trying to write.

-- Even when children cannot yet read,
they learn from being read to.

Article taken from "Starting Out Right"

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Best Window of Opportunity..

...for learning to read is ages 0-5 years!

Did you know that:
  • Tens of 1,000's of new synapse connections are being formed in a baby's brain every second from Birth through 2-1/2years old (this is when language/speech skills are wired in the brain)
  • Babies prefer stimulation over food, even when they're hungry - They want to be stimulated!! (its better if its educational stimulation vs passive forms such TV. It needs to have a meaningful connection that involves the baby as purposeful stimulation)
  • Once a baby learns to read his first 50 words (the hardest ones to learn), they learn additional words much faster usually by only being told once or twice they will remember it.
  • By age 4 this synaptic activity slows down to thousands per second (still good but significantly less)
  • 90% of a child’s language is developed by age 5
  • 90% of a child's brain is formed by age 5
  • 40% of 8-year-olds in the U.S. cannot read independently
  • Only 1 in 8 kids who cannot read at grade level by 1st grade will catch up to grade level in their life
  • The earlier a child reads the better he reads…it’s important to start as early as possible(the more second nature reading will be)
  • Americans are usually at the bottom of industrialized countries in almost every educational study done
There are ways YOU can take advantage of the early Window of Opportunity

When a child learns how to read early, the ability is incorporated into the brain's developed language center. When reading is learned after age 5, it ends up being stored into a different part of the brain, causing learning to read difficulties because then the "reading" part of the brain and the "language" part of the brain are in separate sections. This makes the brain work harder in order translate to from and from the reading to language centers it has created.

Why not then teach reading before age 4?

There are many who object to early reading instruction. They feel that because if its done a structured format as in the school setting: such as make a child sit still for 30 min a day to "learn to read" will get the teacher and the student nowhere.
Our previous article did emphasize that children should learn before age 5. Obviously, we're not advocating teaching reading as done in a structure setting. Certainly a young child would not gain anything from being taught in a manner inconsistent with the age.

Think of fun ways young children learn. Think about how they learn their native language. Babies do not learn language so formally do they? Rather we expose them to language from birth -- they hear it, they babble and we cheer any sounds they make that we recognize. When we cheer and repeat the sound they make, they try again. It typically takes 12 to 18 months for infants to produce recognizable speech. AND they do understand spoken language much earlier than they can perform it through their own ability to speak it.

If words are shown and incorporated into the language development phase of babies development, we would create a nation of "natural" readers rather than develop reading as a "second language" for the brain to translate. It has been done! Watch this amazing video.

This is not to say that anyone learning to read after age 5 can't. Of course that is simply not true. But consider this: we do know that the older one learns how to read the more difficult the process becomes. The more intensive and consistent the process must be for daily reading to practice and develop that ability. Think of it as an adult learning a second language -- it is much easier if they are in an environment where they hear the foreign language and have to use it daily -- vs -- being in an environment where that new language is rarely used but once a day or once a week such as in a traditional language class in high school or college would be.

A child's environment needs to be rich in the written word to help the brain connect the spoken language to the written one. When done early, reading becomes naturally as easy as speaking the language.

A major set-back for many children is, their good parents in an effort to help them start by teaching them the A-B-C's. Unfortunately they do it with all upper case letters (98% of written words are with lower case letters) and using the letter names instead of the sounds they make. The letter 'G' makes two sounds, "C" makes two sounds. Letter 'a' makes 4 sounds depending upon what consonant or vowel is next to it and so forth.

What typically happens to many children in Kindergarten is they end up having to re-learn the abc's sounds correctly before moving on so they can begin to learn how to read the letters using the correct sounds. This is a very common set back for children in school. Then they become labeled as behind and in need of remediation.

Here are ways to work with a baby to help them learn the language of reading more easily.

  • Speak correctly. Do not use baby talk or substitute words. The child may make attempts to speak, and we think their efforts are cute, but when we perpetuate mispronunciations, it makes for more difficulty with reading later. Always, praise and repeat the intended word correctly. They will learn the correct speech patterns better that way.
  • Talk to them from birth. Describe all the senses they are experiencing, what they see, touch, taste, and hear. Colors, textures, temperatures, flavors etc. This also builds an enriching language base for them.
  • Use lower case letters. To teach young children the A B C's be sure to get lower case letters, write word cards in lower case (use variety, hand written, block letters, print in different fonts from the computer, etc) use magnets on the fridge. Magnadoodle or dry erase boards are also wonderful tools.
  • Be sure to model the sounds those letters make. Meaning: avoid using the letter names until well after they understand and can use the letter sounds correctly. i.e. the letter 'g' makes two sounds, g as in good and g as in George. Be aware that vowels make more than just long and short sounds, particularly when paired with other vowels and relative spelling rules. Use or make a chart that illustrates all those sounds/letter combinations. As adults we know these patterns without thinking. Having a chart to refer to helps immensely.
  • Reading to the child several times a day. When reading to your child, make sure they can see the words with you and show them by using finger across the page under the words as you read them. Read slowly too. If they know a word, then let them say the word any time it comes up in the reading of the day! Participating in the process is a multi-sensory application that hard wires the brain.
  • Make it fun. Play word games, matching, sing nursery rhymes and recite poems and read along books. If they are tired, move on. No one ever learns well when tired or disinterested. Young children have a short attention span. They fill their day with constant moving activity.
  • Review in small segments several times a day will do more for them than any one long session will never accomplish.

This information is intended to enlighten you and encourage you on ways to begin. We'll post additional information soon. Enjoy this special time with your baby/toddler child!