Teaching a Love for Reading!

I always try to teach my kiddos a love for reading. It doesn’t matter to me what they’re reading. If they are sitting down with their eyes glued to a book, magazine, comic book, or whatever, my day is made. My heart is warmed. Reading was a big part of my childhood.  The 7 year old I work with loves reading, but I’ve been finding it challenging to find books that will hold his interest enough to motivate him to pick up the book on his own.  Last summer, we read Matilda (by Roald Dahl) together, alternating chapters, and he loved it.  He also read aloud really fluently, so I knew his reading level was pretty high.  About a month ago, I introduced him to “The Indian in the Cupboard” by Lynne Reid Banks. To “bait” him, I read the first chapter aloud to him.  He put the book down for a bit, then after about a week, he picked it back up and couldn’t put it back down!  He’ll be on vacation this coming week, so last week he hurried to finish the book so that I’d have time to get the next book, “Return of the Indian,” from the library to take with him.  “Indian in the Cupboard” has a reading level of 5.9, and he’s in 2nd grade. Now I have a better idea of what reading level I can look at for future books for him.

Want to get your early reading loving to read too? Here are some quick tips and tricks!

1)  Don’t worry about what he/she is reading. There’s no such thing as “wasteful reading”. Go to the library and find a variety of types of books- picture books, chapter books, comic books, magazines, non-fiction, Ripley’s Believe or Not, etc.  Then ask your kiddo what he/she enjoyed the most!

2) If you suspect that your child is intimidated by harder books, try chapter books with audio books!  Following along with the words while someone else is reading them can be really beneficial when you’re helping a kid to improve their vocabulary and push them into a slightly higher reading level without any fear of failure.  Just remember- if your child’s at a 1st grade reading level, look for something just a little higher, like 1.5 or 2. If there’s too many words that he/she can’t recognize, they’ll end up lost in the book and just listening.  Listening isn’t horrible on its own- they’re still enjoying stories and using their imagination and listening skills, but the most benefit comes from seeing and hearing the words together.

3) Read together to get a better idea about what their reading strengths and weaknesses are.  You read a page, they read a page is a good start, and alternating chapters can be good for stronger readers.  This can be a fun experience for both of you, and highly beneficial. You get to see how well he reads, what his comprehension is like when he reads, and how he flows as a reader, and he gets to take a break and enjoy listening sometimes, which makes the book less intimidating.  Bonus!  You can model voice changes, pace changes, and expression- all the things that take a good story to a great one!

4)  Peak your kid’s interest in a book by reading the first few pages or the first chapter of the book to him/her. Or you can talk about how much you enjoyed the book as a kid and give a brief, exciting synopsis of the book.  You can also try reading positive reviews of the book.

5) Never “require” that any specific book be read. It’s ok to set aside 30 minutes a day as “quiet reading time” (less time for younger readers or readers who just can’t focus that long or don’t enjoy it), but don’t put any requirements on what is read. If he/she wants to read the instruction manual for the new toy they got, go with it!  Seeing reading books as a chore will quickly snuff out their interest in them.

Teachable Moments! Your Doll’s Body

I had a perfect opportunity for a teachable moment today!  I go to the library in the mornings once a week while the two kiddos are in school. Before I go, I ask them what kind of books they especially would like.  Today, Miss 4 said she wants a book about what’s inside our bodies.  I thought that was awesome!  I found two- one that has lots of awesome microscopic photos and images of the different systems and parts of our bodies, and a Dr. Seuss book about our bodies that we could read out loud.

We looked through the first book and read the second one before her nap.  After we did that, I noticed that she had her new Monster High doll in bed with her. I am NOT a fan of those dolls- their body shape is even thinner than Barbie’s!  However, she likes them.  So I took this opportunity to say, “Good thing your Monster High doll isn’t a real person!  Even if she was as big as a person, there wouldn’t be room inside her chest for lungs!  And look at her arms! She wouldn’t have room for muscles in those tiny things, so she wouldn’t be able to move them!  And see how tiny her tummy is?  All of the intestines that we have inside us DEFINITELY wouldn’t in there, so she wouldn’t be able to eat properly.  And her head is so big that she wouldn’t even be able to lift it!” At some point, Miss 4 started contributing as well- “Good thing she’s just a pretend monster!  Her legs couldn’t even run because she can’t fit muscles in there!”  I said, “If she were a real person, her body would have to be a lot thicker to have space for all the important things that make our bodies work.”  Miss 4 agreed, “Good thing she’s just a doll!”  It was a wonderful little conversation that made me feel much better about her playing with toys like that.  I’m going to continue to reinforce those ideas for her in hopes that she doesn’t see her Barbie and Monster High dolls as body shapes that she should one day try to have.

P.S.-  On the same note, I got my Lammily doll in the mail yesterday!  I helped fund the project when it was new, and am super excited about it!  Lammily is around the size of a Barbie, but has the proportions of a healthy 19 year old.  She has super soft hair, adorable toes, flat feet, and no make-up.  She’s wonderful.  I’m going to try to create some awesome clothes for her, and then I may get one for Miss 4 for her 5th birthday in the spring.  🙂  I’ll leave you with a Lammily/Barbie comparison:

Go out and vote!

Yesterday I put together a great post about chapter books for elementary-aged kids.  Somehow, it disappeared completely.  😦  I have no idea what happened.  Life goes on, I suppose.

Today is a big day!  It’s mid-term elections!  Have you voted yet?  I voted early this year.  If you are not sure who you should vote for, there’s a great non-partisan website that will help you figure it all out!  Just go to ISideWith and answer some questions about the issues out there, and see who agrees with you!  It’ll only take 5-10 minutes.  Then you can print out your answers and take them with you to your local polling place!  Go!  Do it now!  And don’t forget your “I voted” sticker!

It’s a great day to talk to kids about democracy and the importance of voting. You might even want to take your kiddo with you to vote!  I’ve also put together a few resources and activities to help you get your kiddos excited about voting. Enjoy!

PBS Kids: The Democracy Project– Create your own campaign poster, learn about different parts of the government, and find out how much of a difference one vote can make.  This site is mainly themed around presidential elections, but there’s still enough good information to make it worth visiting.

Ben’s Guide to the US Government for Kids– I like that this site has different grade levels that help explain things for kids at different ages.  There are pages about our country, our government, our town resources, and some games and activities. It’s a simple, but quality site.

Start your own election– Read two books about voting, then create a ballot box and have everyone in the family vote for which book they like most.  Or vote for what to have for dinner or what movie to watch tonight.  Have fun with it!

Make a “Future Voter” Button!  Use Ribbons, Felt, or whatever else you have around the house to make a fun button for your future voter.  Maybe it can be worn to go to the polls with a grown-up?

Remember, voting is important, but it can be fun, too!

A Great Article about Autism

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a BIG fan of Disney’s animated movies. I’m definitely a Belle type- I always have a book to read (Belle- you need a Kindle. Seriously worth it.), and I’m that nurturing type of person who reaches out no matter how much of a challenge it can be to connect to someone.  So when I came across this article, I weeped. Not just as a Disney fan, but as someone who never gives up hope on people, like Belle. The article is about a boy with regressive autism and his family, who never gives up trying to find a way to connect with him.  It turns out that Disney was the key to getting into his personality again.  You won’t regret reading it.  I promise.

“Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney”

Talking about Bullies

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about bullies in school.  Most kids have to deal with being picked on at school now and again.  Unfortunately, that’s how it is.  That doesn’t mean it’s ok, of course, and if things get bad, I think it’s ok to intervene by talking to the child’s teacher about the situation.  But what can we do to help protect against bullying? How can we help a child cope with being picked on?  Here are a few of my ideas.

1.  It’s ok to stand up for yourself. Teach a child from an early age, preferably starting at age 2 or 3, that it’s ok to say no to things that make you upset or uncomfortable.  When another child is bothering you, you can stand up for yourself by saying (in a firm, but polite voice) things like, “No thank you!” or “Please stop!”.  There’s a balance between being friendly and being a doormat, and that’s something you can start teaching pretty early on.  I do a lot of roleplaying with this type of situation to help kids know the difference between when to try being nicer (if a child is asking really nicely if you’ll play, and you don’t want to, you use a nice, polite “no thanks”), and when to stand up for yourself.

2.   It’s not your fault.  Explain to the child that when someone picks on you, it’s not because there’s something wrong with you.  There’s actually something wrong with that bully.  Maybe she’s sad, or mad, or having a hard time at home.  Maybe he’s lonely and wants to be your friend but doesn’t know how.  Maybe she was never taught that differences are beautiful. But it’s not your child’s fault.

3.  Walk away… or don’t.  There are different strategies for dealing with a bully.  You can always walk away, but sometimes that kid will continue to follow you.  You can talk to a teacher, but that might only make teasing worse because you “tattled”.  Sometimes using the “buddy system” can work because a friend can help stick up for you.   Personally, if the child seems strong enough (emotionally, not physically), I think it’s better to stand up to that bully. Not by taking revenge, but by doing the opposite.  You could either tell that bully, “You can say whatever you like, but it doesn’t bother me” and then just stand there and not let it bother you.  The bully will move on to someone he/she can get a reaction from.  Or you could play the “happy” game- every time the bully tries to make you angry or sad, try to make him/her happy.  The meaner that child gets, the more you compliment and show kindness.  Remember that often bullies are unhappy people, and that’s why they’re mean.  If they’re happy, they won’t want to be mean.  And you never know when a bully can become a friend.

I like to let children try to work things out by themselves first, but if a bullying situation is escalating, or if your child has tried all of their strategies and are still having problems, it’s time to talk to your child’s (and/or the bully’s) teacher(s).

Writing Practice is Fun!

As you may know, I’m not a fan of pushing kids into learning things they aren’t interested in.  I make suggestions, make things into games and fun activities, and encourage them to try things… but I don’t push.  I think that trying to force kids to learn something when they aren’t interested is counterproductive.  Not only will the child probably not retain the things you’re trying to teach, but their curiosity and love for learning will get squashed a bit, too.  If I had to choose one value that I thought was the most important for a child to have, it would be a love of learning.

Like I said, I try to make learning a fun thing to do, and I’ve been working with Miss 4 on her letters, since she’ll be going to Kindergarten next year. She’s loving it!  Yesterday, I suggested that we do some drawing and coloring together, but she excitedly suggested that we practice her letters instead! Of course I said yes to that!

Here’s my typical teaching process when I’m working with kids writing letters:

1.  Make sure to have some primary-lined paper.  You can buy this at the store, or print them out. I’ll give you a link to a great free printable site at the end of this entry.  You could even get out your ruler or straight-edged item and make your own, if you like!  Sometimes making the paper fun can make a big difference!  Find/make paper that has a picture of your kiddo’s favorite animal on it, or make your own paper with their favorite colors (or rainbow colors!).  This is a super easy way to start the process out in an exciting, fun way! Make sure the lines are big enough!  Start out with bigger lines, then make them smaller as the child gets better fine motor skills.

2.  Let the child choose a letter.  If your kiddo doesn’t know many letters, give suggestions! Perhaps the first letter of their name?  Or the first letter of a favorite toy, animal, or movie? Keep in mind that letters with straight lines are easier in the beginning. Be sure to talk about what sound the letter makes, but don’t overdo it.  Even just saying it in passing, “Ok, let’s draw an ‘M’.  M says ‘mmmm'”, can make a difference. But follow the child’s lead. He may just want to get to the fun part, which is the writing part!

3.  Use a highlighter or light-colored marker to write the letter a few times very neatly on the lined paper.  Always encourage the child to watch you writing the letters, and talk through what you’re doing as you do it (“Straight line up, curved line down, etc). Let your kiddo trace over your lines with a pencil. I always use a pencil for writing practice, because that’s what will be used in school, and it’s good for kids to get used to the feel of a pencil.  Praise every attempt, and point out lines that are straighter, or letters that are even a little bit nicer than the last.  Remember to praise hard work, not skill level.  “I can tell you worked really hard on that one!”  “Wow- all this practice is helping you get better and better!”  NOT “You are such a great writer!” Do this for as long as your kiddo enjoys it!

4.  If/when it’s time for a new challenge, the next step is to play “connect the dots”.  On the lined paper, put dots where each line will start or stop.  Be sure to focus on the order that these lines are made in, but don’t stress if it’s not done correctly in the beginning.  Remember that the most important part of this is making sure your kiddo wants to play this “writing game” again!  If you’re practicing the letter “T”, there’ll be 4 dots, two for the vertical line and two for the horizontal line on top.  If your kiddo knows his numbers, you could play this with numbers next to the dots.  Just make sure she knows when to pick the pencil up!  Remember to praise every attempt!

5.  Eventually (probably not on the first day of practicing), your kiddo will be able to try writing letters without the dots.  This will be a lot more challenging, but make sure he feels good about doing something all by himself!  And you can go back and forth between highlighter, dots, and all-by-yourself as much as you want.  I like to take the kid’s lead and ask what they want to do, tracing, dots, or nothing.  End your practice whenever it’s becoming a little less fun.  It may be 2 minutes in or 20, but learning only really takes place when there’s interest, so put it away whenever your kiddo is done.

Here’s a great place to find fun lined paper to practice with!  Let your child pick his favorite! Printable Stationary with Primary Lines

This is Miss 4’s favorite lined paper sheet. It’s in the “animals” category in the above link. 🙂