No sooner had Jen Robinson finished her Ten Tips for Growing a Bookworm series and her daughter arrived - ten weeks early. Ten tips ... ten weeks. Coincidence or just an anxious bookworm? Ah, the mysteries of life.
When Jen announced the birth of her little bookworm, she also explained that she was taking a hiatus from blogging. On Mondays, Jen often starts us off with Literacy 'Lights, a quick roundup of family-reading related ideas and tips from around the kidlitosphere. For the next few weeks, while Jen is enjoying all of the joys that come with bringing home a new baby, Susan Kusel will be here on Mondays and I'll stop by on Wednesdays with Bookworm Basics.
Jen and her passion for growing bookworms is the inspiration for my column. I wanted to do something that complements what she does AND celebrate bookworms of all ages. So each week I'll offer ideas about literacy and reading in the context of how a reader grows, from emergent literacy (infant/toddler) through fluency (third grade). I will incorporate my Prompt Ideas, too, when they fit. This week, I thought I'd round out National Poetry Month with ideas that draw on a poetry theme.
Emergent Literacy - Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers
When we think of poetry for kids, we often think of rhymes, which are perfect for this audience. At these ages, kids are exploring, testing, and repeating sounds ... a lot! The sillier or sing-songy the sound combinations, the better. In the process, these pre-readers are learning how to make sounds and give them meaning (gurgles to dada); discerning words and vocabulary (recognizing that shluba is a silly word and tuba is a real thing); and beginning to connect a letter sound with the symbol.
Nursery rhymes and silly words - like the ones we think of as "classic" Dr. Seuss - are great ways to combine poetry and learning. In this YouTube video, a young boy is "reading" by exploring the sounds in Dr. Seuss' ABC Book An Amazing Alphabet Book. The video is about 4 minutes long, but you can get the idea of how he is exploring words and sounds with about 45 seconds.
Early and Transitional Literacy - Kindergarten to Second Grade
Now that they can recognize individual letters and sounds, readers-to-be are ready to start combining them into words and learn how one letter (silent e) affects the sounds of others around it (star becomes stare). Rhyming and repetition often remain central to helping kids build vocabulary and pronouncing words they don't quite know yet. Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, and Kenn Nesbitt are wonderful children's poets who combine rhymes, recognized song lyrics, kids' favorite (and least favorite) things, and silliness to engage kids as readers - without them even knowing it!
One way to engage kids in creating their own poems (and silly words) is to add a set of poetry magnets to the fridge. Every time someone reaches for the milk they can create something new! This is an activity that lest kids stretch their imagination, explore language, and work on spelling all at the same time. It's also a game that everyone can play ... including Mom and Dad. To help with the (dreaded) weekly word list, you might try making some magnets of your own using materials from a craft or hobby store.
Fluent Readers - Third Grade and Beyond
This is the group of independents (in more ways than one). Once kids are reading at a third grade level, they have mastered the strategies they need for reading without help. They have the tools to put understanding, vocabulary, and spelling together and combine them in whatever format is presented. They also compose lengthier original works, from synopses to full-length stories and reports.
Those rhyming books they loved last year are now "for babies," though there are exceptions. The magnets on the fridge can come in handy, because they let your reader independently explore their creative side. And Mom and Dad sneak in a little writing!
Another idea would be to pull out their old alphabet letters and let them "text" on the refrigerator. I know, it confuses me too, but there is research that suggests texting can help kids with spelling. If the study doesn't convince you, maybe this video by Mr. J.A. Gill, an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, will add a perspective that makes sense.
There are some great resources to help you engage kids as readers across the spectrum of development. Reading Rockets, for example, has some wonderful parent guides with tips in English and ten other languages. I have always loved their practical ideas, and I was tickled to find their new parent tip sheets for babies and toddlers.
One of the great things about growing a bookworm, as Jen has explained, is that the old can become new again. Reading aloud to them as infants and beyond (Tip 1) might just lead to them sneaking a flashlight to stay up late and read under the covers (Tip 10) . At least we can hope!
Note: Dr. Seuss ABC Book title link goes to Amazon.com and the Reading Tub affiliate. Purchases made through that link may generate income for the Reading tub, a 501c3 nonprofit.
Just when we thought winter was going to go on forever ... April has arrived. The almanac predicting snow this month is just an April Fool's joke, right? In our school district, Spring Break starts next week. I have been trying to think of some fun games to play (and sneak in a little literacy, of course), and then it hit me ...
Mad Libs! Remember those? For those who might not be familiar, Mad Libs is a word game where players create a unique, one-of-a-kind story simply by filling in some "missing" words. One person asks for words to fill in the blanks, and (at least) one person provides them. The reader asks for specific types of words, but doesn't reveal anything about the story. Once all of the words have been gathered, the story is read aloud, usually with lots of laughs. Mad Libs have been around since 1953, and the creators (Leonard Stern and Roger Price) published the first book of Mad Libs in 1958. Mad Libs is a registered trademark, but the name is used universally, much like "kleenex" is used for "facial tissue."
Another form of this word game is called Consequences. In this version, one person writes a word or phrase, folds the paper to hide their answer, and then gives it to the next person. The first two people offer names; the third person a place; the fourth and fifth offer he said and she said, respectively; the next person offers a consequence, and the last person offers an outcome. Although there are seven parts to the story, you can play this game with two people passing the paper back and forth. The finished product might look like this.
Jeffrey and Mary Ellen visited the zoo. He said "I love bike riding." She said "Purple is my favorite color." He gave her a pickled beet. She gave him blue earrings. They ended up with no money. Then they ran away to find the library.
Both Mad Libs and Consequences are "home version" of a writing method called the exquisite corpse. That may sound familiar, as the National Center for the Book (part of the Library of Congress) and the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance are sponsoring the episodic Exquisite Corpse Adventure, where children's book authors are writing a chapter, drawing on content of the previous writer. With each episode, a children's book artist adds an illustration. That alone is cool, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Reading Rockets and AdLit.org have a companion project that lets kids be writers, too. Each month, as part of The Exquisite Prompt project, two of the Exquisite Corpse Adventure contributors ask the kids to write something, based on a prompt they provide. Last month Nikki Grimes asked Kindergarteners, first and second graders to create an original joke, riddle, or short story. Oh there is bound to be silliness there!
When I was a kid, creating and reading Mad Libs was always good for an afternoon of laughs. I remember then as a "summer" thing and something we did at birthday parties. They were fun, and they ALWAYS got us laughing and being silly. What I didn't realize about them - but do now - is how valuable these word games are as a literacy tool.
Some of the online versions, like It's a Mad Libs World website, include prompts about what the various parts of speech do, which is helpful for developing readers and English Language Learners. Mad Libs have always been portable, but technology makes them even more so. There online versions and apps for your iPhone.
These are simple word games, adaptable to readers of all ages and abilities. For kids not yet reading, they can be adult-directed; for developing readers and beyond, they can do it all themselves. Once kids understand the concept, they can create their own word libs from some of their favorite stories. All they need to do is drop out a word here and there and create "blanks" for their friends to fill in. Oh, think of the possibilities for The Three Little Pigs!
Unlike the "old days," you can find Mad Libs for just about every branded character or television show. And that's no fooling!
I have discovered that the one advantage to losing your job is that you can close down pushy salesmen immediately. Apparently there is no answer in the sales patter that matches, "Now that I'm unemployed, I just can't spare the money."
Nobody is going to argue that we're in tough times and even if your finances haven't changed, you've probably become a bit more cautious and thrifty in response to the economic situation. Here I have another advantage, because I've always had a frugal streak and a nose for bargains. When I hear about kids in our country without books at home, I'm upset that these kids are missing this important literacy exposure, and I'm also frustrated knowing that it doesn't need to be expensive to have books.
Maybe feeling the pinch lately, you've cut restaurant outings or Starbucks grandes or - sigh - new, cute shoes. But you don't need to cut books, though you can change the way you get them.
1. The Library - Duh. You may roll your eyes at my noting the library as a place to get books, and that's okay. I can take it. Of course you know it exists, that it's there as a source of free books, but that doesn't mean you're taking full advantage of this generous resource. Yes, you can check out books. You can also take your kids to programs, including some for older children that might not require your actual presence in the room allowing you to skim the magazine section. When my kids were young, we sat and read some of the books there and then took a few of those home. It made reading time special to be doing it in the library, and offered a chance to try some new titles. Utilize the librarians to get suggestions on good books for the kids, instead of wasting money on something disappointing. And don't forget all of the resources in the library that can save you money by giving you information in the form of home repairs, craft projects, exercise programs, and financial planning.
2. Book Sales - There are many kind of book sales, and which works best depends your own needs and free time. Libraries often run book sales, either as an event or an ongoing sale. You can do extremely well here, picking up some great hardbacks for a buck or two while supporting the library. Win-win. Thrift stores also sell books, though the selection and quality varies from place to place. I find the special kid consignment stores rather pricey on books, but I do have to admit that they are generally better organized. When I feel like heading to the bookstore, I do so mostly to browse the bargain books and overstocks. I'll also use some mindless Internet time - maybe while supervising homework - to browse the bargain books section on Amazon. I've bought some amazing books this way, including standards that must be temporary overstocks or something. Otherwise I can't explain the continual appearance of titles by Mo Willems, Rick Riordan, and Neil Gaiman.
3. Book Exchanges - Some schools or community centers have a Leave-a-Book/Take-a-Book plan, but if not you can start your own. Set up a book exchange for your own school, preschool, playgroup, neighborhood, or workplace. Having a dedicated shelf for the book exchanges is a small way to start. You can set up systems of one-to-one exchanges or credits, or be more loose about it, hoping that books simply find a good home. You could arrange a larger scale trade at your child's school and donate the books that aren't chosen to a charity that can get them into the right hands.
What book ideas do you have for the frugal family?
How many times have we heard that? Imagery tells stories and explains things without words. Photographs, maps, and illustrations are images that freeze a moment in time: when your Mom held your new baby the first time, when your son held up the "big catch," or the kids waving to a train going by. Each of those images reveals a story, or at least part of one.
Images can be writing prompts, too. When I was in school, our teacher would present an image and ask us to tell her/him about it - describe what we see, what we think we see, or create a story, depending on the assignment. Some would be fictional/creative writing, others would be more factual.
I have become fascinated with stories presented completely without words. One of the "hot" genres for children's books is the wordless book ... and they're not just for little kids. One of the most popular picture books last year was Jerry Pinkney's Caldecott winning book The Lion and the Mouse. It is the folktale we all grew up with, told only in imagery. The story we remember may be "simple," but the illustrations are far from it!
For children who struggle with reading or writing, sharing and creating stories with just pictures may be just the thing to get them excited about literacy. First, they let kids stretch their imaginations. It also gives them a chance to tell a story in their own words ... the way they see it, without feeling hemmed in, overwhelmed, or intimidated by the actual text. There is a list of wordless and near-wordless books at the end of this post that may help you find books of interest.
Younger children draw "simple" pictures that tell very complex stories. Sometimes they'll launch into stories that would rival Tolstoy's War and Peace. But if they don't, ask them questions: Is that a tree? Does anyone live there? Do they have a name? Asking them to tell you about their picture today can encourage their long-term interest in stories and reading.
Older children may enjoy making cartoons. Because they are telling a complete (albeit short) story in 3 to 5 "boxes," they have to think carefully about what details they want to show and also how to organize their thoughts.
For kids who don't like to draw, grab some magazines. Let them cut out images and put them together in a single "picture" or sequence them to create a book. If writing practice is important, ask the artist annotate the images as the text of the story.
Pictures, maps, charts, and drawings can be great literacy props. We use them for everything from teaching kids colors to helping adults put together a bike. [I can't remember the last time I actually looked past the illustrations to read the instructions on how to put something together!]
In creating and telling their stories, kids are practicing their vocabulary, sequencing (putting events in order), and communication skills. Images help us get kids excited about reading, and ultimately writing ... without reading a word!
Prompt Ideas for March
Each month I'll close the column with some starter ideas. This month, I'm building on the theme of wordless writing and including a few "traditional" prompts, too. For kids who aren't ready to write, you can talk about them as conversations.
For Celebrate Your Name Week (March 7)
For each letter in your name, pick something you like that starts with that letter. Now do the dislikes. (This can be pictures, drawings, or words)
When you think of your name, what color do you see? Why?
If your name were a food, what would it be? This can be pictures, drawings, or words)
For Genealogy Day (March 13)
Pull out some old photographs and create a book about someone's life.
Work together to create a short interview with an older family member. Start with "What would you like to know about from the time [person] grew up?"
For St. Patrick's Day (March 17)
The pot of gold is gone. What would you find at the end of the rainbow? Who/What would protect it? (This can be words or pictures)
Wordless Picture Book Resources
Wordless and Almost Wordless Picture Books List Reading is Fundamental
Wordless Book Reviews Children's Literature (online journal)
Wordless Picture Book List, Weber County (Utah) Public Library
Booklist - Wordless Picture Books Louisville (Kentucky) Free Public Library
Wonderful Wordless Picture Books Ann M. Neely, on Booklights
Boy and Fish Image - Morgue File - http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-the-boys-the-fish-image12217640
Child holding Crayon - Morgue File - http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-drawings-as-a-child-image912268
Little girls holding up pictures - Flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/tigerlillyshop/2691767702/
Book title links to Cybils affiliate account with Amazon. Purchases made through that link may earn income for the Cybils and help fund this literary awards program.
At first glance, February isn't the most inspirational of months. The slog of winter feels, well, sloggy, and spring is still ages away. May we suggest a little writing prompt to help you and your kids through the doldrums?
The Exquisite Prompt Writing Challenge from Reading Rockets and Adlit.org has just the right mix of ideas to get you going: Self-portraits, poetry, pourquoi tales, fabulous fables, and the 13th Labor of Hercules. This month, Shannon Hale (Princess Academy) and Calef Brown (Polkabats and Octopus Slacks) provide the inspiration and your kids do the rest.
Any other creative ideas to break the February blahs? Or does anyone out there actually like February?
As you may remember from my post about letters to Santa, one of my goals for 2010 is not only to write more notes for my daughter, but also to let her see me writing more.
Modeling writing is important, as it is one way to help her become more comfortable with writing. I have tucked a couple of silly notes and cartoons into her lunch box and written in my journal at the table while she does her homework. It isn't an everyday thing, but it is something I am doing more consciously and consistently
All that thinking about writing and encouraging my daughter to write ultimately led to A Prompt Idea, a new column here at Booklights that will explore writing. Each month, I'll talk about writing and suggest ways to add writing to children's literacy diet.
Even if your child isn't ready to put pen to paper, prompts can open the doors to building vocabulary, honing communication skills, and being creative. Varying the outlets for writing and communicating is as important as offering different types of reading materials. With that in mind, I am going to use the concept of writing prompts as the foundation of to create literacy prompts. So let's get started ...
Prompts are like open-ended questions. They can help you bypass the yes-or-no answer, but sometimes nothing comes back. The question "What did you learn today at school?" is a great example. As parents, we're thinking, after six hours, Sammy should have lots to tell us. Sammy is thinking Geez, I don't know; so much happened where should I start? I can't remember. The proverbial brain freeze.
The same thing happens when we ask kids to "write about anything you want." That works for some kids, but for others it is too broad. That's where prompts can help. A writing prompt is a "device" to narrow the focus and help you start writing.
There are prompts for every type of writing, from creative to narrative to topical, on all kinds of topics, and lots of children's books. In the months to come, we'll explore many of them. For now, I've included a selection of resources at the end of this post. As you'll see, there is no shortage of writing prompt lists and prompt generators (based on words you plug in). Although many sites are for authors or educators, they can be helpful to parents, too.
Here are some Prompt Ideas for February. As part of this series, I will close each post with some writing prompt suggestions focused on topics relevant to that month.They may be helpful in just talking about ideas, dinner conversation, or as the start of a writing project.
If you haven't yet read it, Jen's latest Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere includes a link to Melissa Wiley's Saturday Snapshots post about her dad converting photographs to coloring pages for her kids. A picture is worth a thousand words, right?
These are just a few of the events and days of recognition/awareness for February. If you have a prompt idea for one of these themes or another one, I hope you'll add it in the comments.
Places to find Writing Prompt Ideas
Within the Grammar and Composition section of About.com, there is a list of 400 topic suggestions for paragraphs and essays.
Children's authors Glen and Karen Bledsoe have built a robust website with all types of starter ideas for adult writers, young authors, and teachers, that is also an informative resource for parents.
Daily Holidays on the Net lets you search for holidays, awareness days, and days of recognition on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
images found via Google Image Search
Spilled Milk Writing Prompt Template - Make Learning Fun website
Mom and daughter painting - Young Audiences of Northeast Ohio blog
Mom writing note with daughter - ClearWisdom.net
Sketches are from the Microsoft Clipart Gallery
For some of us, winter wears out its welcome long before the season is over. If you or the kiddos in your life are anything like me, you've got an extended case of cabin fever. Here's an outlet for all that pent-up energy: the Exquisite Prompt Writing Challenge from Reading Rockets and AdLit.org.
This year-long activity and writing contest (through seasons warm and cold!) gives students the opportunity to flex their creative muscles with writing prompts inspired by famous authors and illustrators. The challenge is connected to a larger serialized story (called an exquisite corpse) sponsored by the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance and the Library of Congress, and boasts participation by superstars like Jon Scieszka, Katherine Paterson and Kate DiCamillo.
January's prompt has Gregory Macguire (Wicked) and Patricia and Frederick McKissack (Goin' Someplace Special) to thank for its roots. Learn more and participate here.
Has anyone tried an exquisite corpse in a classroom or casual setting before? How crazy did the story get?
It being the last day of the year - of the decade - it's a good time to set Reading Resolutions. Continue to follow Jen's fabulous series on Tips for Growing Bookworms and make this the year - and the decade - that you...
1. Establish a Reading Ritual
The easiest way to keep reading in your child's life is to schedule it with as much regularity as dinnertime. Sure, it seems easier to fit in books whenever it works - and that's not to say that reading can't have some time in the quiet moments of the day. But what tends to happen, especially as the kids get older, is that other activities slowly crowd out books. Scheduling reading time for the end of the day keeps it important and keeps it happening.
2. Expand Reading Choices
I suspect that one of the reasons that parents become less invested in reading time is that they get bored. Hey, I've been there. I've done the tenth reading of Pinkalicious. One of the things that helped me through twelve years of reading time is keeping it interesting for me by expanding our reading choices. The easiest, cheapest way to do this is go to the library. I definitely believe that kids should choose their own books, but I also believe that parents should pick a few titles too. Use our suggestions here at Booklights. Print out some of the "Best Of" lists, and make your way through them during the next year. (My favorite lists for children's literature are The Cybils shortlists, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Association for Library Services for Children.) Ask the librarians for some new books that they've enjoyed. Along with exposing your child to many different kinds of books than what you might select yourself, you will keep the reading time engaging and interesting for you. Who knows, you might even learn something new.
3. Model Pleasure Reading
Okay, here's the one where I - and Jen - give you permission to do what you probably haven't been doing enough - reading books for fun. If you're like most of the moms I know, you save your own reading time for the very end of the day after the chores, the carpooling, the ballet/karate/music class when you're so exhausted that you fall asleep with latest Grisham book on your lap. Well, no more. I'm telling you to read during the day, perhaps in the actual presence of your child. I know it sounds crazy. But sometimes the dishes - and yes, even your kid - can wait. Kids interrupt adults' reading because we subtly train them to. We wouldn't stop cooking dinner because Susie wants us to color, but we'll quickly put down our newspaper for the same request. Yes, we want to show our children how valued they are by playing with them, but we need to balance that by showing them that reading is an important activity. That it is What People Do. Try out these phrases: "You play with your felt board here." or "Mommy's going to read. I'm going to read for a while, so do you want to make a picture with your crayons?" and my favorite, "Hey, get your book and I'll get mine and let's read together!"
Love Catherine 2007
As she explained to us, Catherine didn't want something made out of plastic or a tube you load batteries into, she wanted a REAL wand. The kind that goes "poof" and makes what you want appear (and what you don't disappear). Well, because that was the ONLY thing my then 6-year-old daughter wanted, Santa felt compelled to reply with a letter of his own. When the Jolly Elf himself explained that wands are very tricky to make because the ingredients are different for each person, Catherine could accept why hers wasn't under the tree ... yet!
Periodically throughout 2008, Catherine would ask if we remembered the letter and what Santa said. Last year, still hopeful about that wand, she added another request, this time on behalf of her dog. Santa wrote again, explaining why he couldn't bring 15 real squirrels for Casey to chase.
In addition to creating two-way communication, Santa's letters have had another benefit: he is encouraging Catherine to keep writing. While she has always enjoyed reading, writing has always been very hard. In Kindergarten and first grade, her struggle with fine motor skills frustrated her, and even now that she has mastered correct letter form, getting her to write is still a battle. Only when something is important to her - like that wand - will she do it.
Santa thought he was showing her that he understood her requests. He didn't realize at first that he was becoming a role model. Through this written conversation, he is quietly demonstrating how the two skills complement each other in her growth as a successful person.
Those simple replies from Santa are very important to Catherine. Last Christmas morning she made a beeline for the letter sitting in Casey's stocking, completely ignoring the gifts under the tree. She sat and read it immediately ... it was that imperative. Then she asked if she could write a thank-you letter to Santa. [Yes!]
So what does this have to do with raising readers? Well, it goes back to the idea of modeling our goals. One of the easiest ways for us to get kids to see reading as just a regular part of their life is to catch us reading. The same thing is true of writing ... if I want Catherine to see that writing is important, I need to do more of it around her and with her ... with pen in hand, not sitting at a keyboard.
So in the new year, I'm going to write more notes ... silly notes, story notes, just different things to entice Catherine to keep writing. Speaking of writing ...
When 2010 arrives, Susan Kusel will be back on board at Booklights ... which makes me very happy! I love how she brings the library to us in ways we can use at home. Although I won't be a regular contributor to Booklights every two weeks, I will still be writing about literacy, libraries, and books over at the Reading Tub blog. So I hope you'll stop by and chat there, too.
Here's wishing you times filled with great books, shared stories, and the magic of the season during the holidays and beyond.