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Posts by Jen Robinson


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #8 Be Selective in Television Watching

Posted by Jen Robinson on February 8, 2010 at 6:00 AM in Literacy NewsRecommendations
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This is Part 8 of a continuing series on encouraging young readers. These ideas were originally captured in a post that I did on my blog in 2007, 10 Tips for Growing Bookworms. Here at Booklights I'll be expanding upon and updating each idea, and adding links for more information.

Tip #8: Be selective in television watching, and limit total time spent. There has been various studies that suggest that children under the age of two should not be allowed to watch any television. The American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, recommends that television viewing for children under the age of two should be avoided. The PBS Parents website has an excellent FAQ on TV and kids under age 3), compiled by children's media expert Shelley Pasnik. It includes links to the full AAP policy statement on young children and television.

For older kids, as reported in an article by Annie M. Moss in the Journal of Early Childhood Literacy (Vol. 8, No. 1, 67-102, 2008), an examination of various studies concluded that "(1) moderate amounts of television viewing were found to be beneficial for reading; (2) the content of programs viewed by children matters; (3) programs that aim to promote literacy in young children have been found to positively impact specific early literacy skills; and finally, (4) there are limitations to the existing literature".

The message that I take from this, and other reading that I've done, is that it's a good idea a) to limit the amount of time that kids spend watching television, and b) to be selective about what your kids (especially younger kids) watch.

Limiting Television Time:
Here's one simple fact, in the context of growing bookworms: time spent watching TV is time NOT spent reading books. In general, allowing hours and hours of television watching per day is not going to help you to raise readers. When kids watch stories on TV, everything is spelled out for them. When they read stories in books, they use their imaginations more. They picture the characters. They can imagine that the characters look like them. They become accustomed to filling in some of the details in their own minds. They see the words printed on the page, and learn what they mean.

I also think that books are better in general than television shows in terms of helping kids to expand their vocabularies. Kids who are read to from birth will hear many more different words over the course of their preschool days than kids who spend most of their free time in front of the TV. Especially if those television shows primarily use words like "bam".

WG-LOGO.gifUsing Television Wisely:
Of course television is quite enticing for kids. If you're going to allow your preschoolers to watch television, there are a couple of things that you can do to make TV work in favor of, instead of against, literacy skills. The first is obvious. Pick television shows that are educational and help your child's development, instead of violent or mindless cartoons. There are a number of educational shows that focus on vocabulary, but also strive to make reading fun. I've heard particularly good things about WordGirl and Super WHY!, for example.

rah-cov06.jpgAnother tip is one I learned from Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook (a book that every new parent should have a chance to read). Jim suggests that if you are going to have the television on, you can turn it into a "mechanical reading tutor" by the simple act of turning on the closed captioning. He cites examples of children in Finland who don't start school until age 7, watch a lot of television, and yet have high reading levels, explaining that they typically watch quite a bit of non-Finnish television, and make heavy use of closed captioning. It's like an interactive reading tutor, with the televised characters acting out the words. Closed captioning provides a steady stream of words across the bottom of screen, words that your child will notice and, eventually, decode.

Jim concludes: "It stands to reason that reasonable doses of captioned television can do no harm and most likely help greatly with reading. There is enough research to indicate significant gains in comprehension and vocabulary development (especially among bilingual students) when receiving instruction with educational television that is captioned." You can read more details here.

If you want your kids to love books, you have to give them time to love books. And that means quiet time, when the television isn't blaring in the background. Time to immerse themselves in other worlds, worlds that will build their imaginations. Time to just read.

But variety is important, too. If your kids are going to spend time watching television, the best ways that I know of to make TV work in favor of literacy are to select television shows carefully, and to turn on the closed captioning.

How have you balanced television and books in your house, in your quest to grow bookworms?


Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere: Encouraging Readers, Writers and Artists

Posted by Jen Robinson on February 1, 2010 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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StoryToYoungerSister.jpgThis week is National Storytelling Week in the UK, established "to promote the oldest art form in the world". Tipping my hat to the UK's storytelling week, I've collected a smorgasbord of articles from around the world dedicated to encouraging young readers, writers, and artists. I hope that you find some of these links useful.

At Literacy Launchpad, Amy has started a new series similar to my own Tips for Growing Bookworms series. But she has much cuter illustrations than I do, since she's focusing on her young son, Isaac. Her first installment is about finding books on topics that interest your child. She says: "There's this certain joy that comes with finding a book that you know your little one is going to go gaga over. So far for me, it's been one of the most rewarding experiences when it comes to parenting... Who am I kidding? It's been one of the most rewarding experiences PERIOD." Who could resist that? Her second installment is about something that I'll be writing about soon, too: Have Books Everywhere!

And in the spirit of having books everywhere, Booklights contributor Susan Thomsen from Chicken Spaghetti shares a short list of suggested reading topics for six year olds. The list was compiled with help from Susan's first-grade reading buddies.

Here's another fun idea for six year olds (and others). At Here in the Bonny Glen, Melissa Wiley talks about how her father "converted a bunch of family photos to coloring pages and emailed them to us for printing out." Lori, a commenter at Melissa's site, dug up a link to Crayola's website for creating coloring pages from pictures. Seems to me that a creative aunt, uncle or grandparent could make a truly awesome coloring book for kids, with this technology.

YoungArtists.jpgThe Book Chook (Australian author Susan Stephenson) has a fun post about using toys as a springboard for writing. She says: "Kids love their toys. Do you remember wondering what your toys got up to when you were asleep? ... Why not tap into that fascination and encourage your child to take photos of his toys? Use those photos to spark some writing OR plan your story first, and work out what pictures you need to accompany the story." She offers several concrete, detailed suggestions for children's writing projects based on photos of toys.

Also from The Book Chook, a lovely post that answers the question: "what's so great about children's literature anyway?". Susan highlights many excellent attributes of children's literature, particularly when used for shared family reading (closeness, conversational bridges, exploration and escape, etc.). Here's a snippet: "By reading children's literature, or listening to it read aloud, we are putting ourselves in someone else's shoes. We experience their reality. This exposure to other lives increases our empathy and tolerance. One thing our world needs is more tolerance! By understanding another's perspective, we are less likely to be ego-centric, or bully others." Regular Booklights readers probably already think that children's literature is pretty great. Still, Susan's post may give you some ammunition, if needed, for convincing other people about the many upsides of books for kids.

mrspicon.pngEverybody Wins has a Q&A with Mrs. P (aka TV star Kathy Kinney) about the importance of reading. Mrs. P says: "when you read to a child, you compel her to use her imagination, which can be a very addictive pleasure. Once you've escaped into that world, you always want to go back, and the best way in is through a book. The most interesting and successful people I know are book addicts. Hmm, all this talk has given me an uncontrollable desire to go read a book. Are we done?"

The newest edition of the monthly Carnival of Children's Literature was posted this weekend at Jenny's Wonderland of Books. Among other kidlit-related topics, host Jenny Schwartzberg included a section of links dedicated to the importance of literacy and reading to children. One post in particular (in addition to The Book Chook's second post above) caught my eye:

Fiona Ingram from South Africa shares her thoughts on why many children don't enjoy reading. She says: "the problem of literacy in my home country affects me deeply as an author. Around one fifth of the population of 48-million people are still illiterate." She offers advice for parents to remedy the problem, focusing on ways to keep reading from feeling like a chore. For example: "Be innovative. For example, reading to each other or acting out the various characters' parts will make it fun (children love acting), and if another parent or enthusiastic family members are the audience the 'cast' have to work hard to entertain."

But do check out the other links from this week's Carnival of Children's Literature. It's an excellent resource for anyone interested in kids and reading. For additional literacy links, you can also check out this week's children's literacy and reading news roundup from Terry Doherty and me, now available on my personal blog. Thanks for caring about connecting kids with books!


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #7 Point Out When You're Learning Useful Information by Reading

Posted by Jen Robinson on January 25, 2010 at 6:00 AM in Literacy NewsRecommendations
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This is Part 7 of a continuing series on encouraging young readers. These ideas were originally captured in a post that I did on my blog in 2007, 10 Tips for Growing Bookworms. Here at Booklights I'll be expanding upon and updating each idea, and adding links for more information.

Tip #7: For younger children, point out when you're learning useful information by reading. The idea is to gradually (and in non-didactic fashion) show young children the many doors that reading opens, and make them that much more eager to learn to read themselves. Here are just a few examples:

FamilyCooking.jpgRecipes. When you're cooking from a recipe, you can ask your older child to help you by reading the next step, or measuring out an ingredient. For younger kids, you can browse through recipe books or cooking magazines that have pictures, and point out that the text can tell you how to make the dishes that you see. If you then follow up by actually making some of the most interesting dishes, that will really reinforce the value of reading. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]

ReadingGroceryLabels.jpgProduct names, ingredient lists, and prices at the supermarket. You can say "Look, your favorite cereal is on sale" or "Well, let's check the package and see how healthy this is" or even just "Can you tell which one is the Cheerios box? See the C?". Teaching kids to read and pay attention to ingredient lists is especially important for kids who have food allergies. (One of my favorite bloggers, HipWriterMama, writes about kids and food allergies occasionally.) But for most kids, food is a pretty important part of their day-to-day life, so seeing the connection between food and reading can only help. When you're out to eat, you automatically demonstrate useful reading when you read the menu. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]

Maps. When you're planning to go somewhere new, near or far, break out the atlas, and point out some of the things you can learn from the writing on maps. Being able too read the symbols on a map is like learning to decode words, and is sometimes easier (since the symbols appear as pictures).

KangarooRoadSign.jpgSigns on the roadways. I've seen snippets on blogs (I don't remember exactly where) to the effect that the first reading that many kids do involves street signs. Makes sense to me. STOP signs are big and clear, and have a special color and shape to add visual cues, and make reading easier. Any time you're out in the car, or out in the neighborhood for a walk, it can't hurt to point out signs, and talk about what they say. The same goes for directional signs in neighborhood parks and amusement parks. For example: "This sign says that there are ducks around this way. Should we go see?". [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]

Instructions. Whenever you have something new come into the house that requires setup or assembly, you can point out how helpful it is to read the instructions. As kids get older, you can encourage them to read instructions themselves.

FamilyReadingNewspaper.jpgNewspapers and magazines. When you pick up the daily paper or a magazine, it might make sense to point out to your child that you're getting useful or interesting information there. For example: "Should we check and see if the Red Sox won yesterday, and where they are on the standings now?" or "I'm thinking about buying a new phone, and this article talks about the one that I'm thinking of." And of course many kids enjoy reading the comics before they're ready to read much of anything else. I personally think that it's a great idea to keep printed newspapers and magazines coming into the house, even when you can look up a lot of things online. The physical presence of printed material provides opportunities for entertainment and consultation. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]

Search engines. When a question comes up that you can't answer off the top of your head, you can develop a habit of turning to the computer. Most of us do this anyway - it's mostly just a matter of pointing out to kids when we consult Google or Wikipedia or IMDB or whatever. Of course we can also still turn to the printed dictionary or thesaurus. The more important point is to show that when certain types of questions come up, we can use reading, in whatever format, to answer them.

These are just a few ideas for pointing out the positive consequences that come from knowing how to read. We can get to where we need to go, eat what we want to eat, use the new things that we buy, and find information that we're interested in. Of course there's no need to be overly aggressive about this, and turn every little walk around the neighborhood into a reading lesson. But here and there, as you go about your day, you'll naturally find a few opportunities to demonstrate practical reading. It makes sense to me to use them.

What do you all think? Do you have other ways that you subtly point out to your kids the benefits of reading (above and beyond reading with them)?


Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere: January 18th

Posted by Jen Robinson on January 18, 2010 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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As many of you know, today, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, has been designated a National Day of Service to honor the life and work of Dr. King. The First Book blog has a guest article from Tina Chovanec of Reading Rockets with links to ways to help out in your community, as well as some "reading-writing-and-book-inspired ideas for the Day of Service or for a year-round community project." And here are a few other ideas from around the Kidlitosphere for encouraging young readers every day.

KidWriting.jpgBig Universe shares Five Ways to Raise a Reader from parent and former classroom teacher Dawn Little of Links to Literacy. Dawn's suggestions aren't unusual (read to kids, talk to them, expose them to plenty of print material, etc.), but her genuine enthusiasm shines through in every tip. For example: "Reading and writing go hand in hand. The more you read the better writer you become and the more you write the better reader you become. Encourage your child to write."

Terry Doherty found a nice little article about why reading aloud to your child is important at The Hobbit Movie Guide. Kent W. Johnson says "By reading aloud to your kids, you're showing them how to enjoy children's books, the English language, the wonders of a good story, and hopefully, you're instilling a love of reading and learning. Many kids associate books with the drudgeries of school and homework, but you want to show them how a well written children's book can be an exciting adventure, a real pleasure, as their imagination takes them to places they've never been to visit with people and characters they've never met." Obviously, we've been talking about the importance of read-aloud here at Booklights since day one. But we liked how this article specifically mentions poetry as a way to engage kids with reading.

MomReading.jpgAnother pro-read-aloud post, with book suggestions, can be found at Grow Up With Books, where Lara Ivey includes quotes from both Patricia Polacco and Jim Trelease. Lara concludes: "So, here is our challenge for you this week. Take a look at your calendars. What do you value? What do you make time for? Is there time for reading? Go ahead...write it in pen and commit to it! Do it for yourself as much as for your child."

The Book Dads blog recently linked to a handy 2-page flier prepared by the Eaton County School Readiness and Kindergarten Transitions team. The first page features tips for reading to young children, while the second page is chock-full of book recommendations by age range.

At Literacy, families and learning, Trevor Cairney shares 30 simple ways to stimulate children's learning over the holidays (he's based in Australia, and wrote this while facing the warm-weather end of year holidays last month). His suggestions cover a wide range of activities, including things like: "Dramatisation - Dramatisation is an excellent way to respond to a book. If you have a dress-up box all the better. Let your children either re-tell the story through dramatisation or improvise. Get involved to help set the pattern for turn taking etc. I play a mean wolf, and an even better Grandma!" See also Trevor's post about making books come alive during the holidays by visiting the real-world setting for a treasured book.

At Getting Kids Reading, Joyce Grant suggests encouraging kids to write thank you cards as a way to promote literacy. I thought this was a nice companion piece to Terry's recent Booklights post about Letters to Santa. Joyce is firm about requiring her son to write thank you notes for all gifts, and she includes suggestions for keeping the activity fun, rather than letting it turn into a chore. And it's probably not a coincidence that Joyce's son's favorite holiday gift this year was a book.

ParentReadingforPleasure.jpgPam snuck in an important post here at Booklights on New Year's Eve, with three recommended reading resolutions for parents. My favorite, of course, is Pam's third resolution: model pleasure reading. She says: "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."

At Kidliterate, Melissa urges parents not to rush into reading the Harry Potter books to their young children. She says: "If you are reading HP to your kids before you have read them the RAMONA books, LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, the FUDGE books, most of Cynthia Rylant, A CRICKET IN TIMES SQUARE, STUART LITTLE, and most of Roald Dahl, just to name a fraction of the available books, then your kids are not ready for HP. Shorter books do not equal bad. It is okay to finish a read-aloud quickly. It is okay to tell your child that they are not old enough for HP yet." She also offers a great list of read-alouds that are appropriate for six to eight year olds. I agree with Melissa completely, and I know that Pam does, too.

The Learning & Reading Disabilities blog recently ran a guest post by Francesca Lopez about how her family helped a child who started out at-risk for reading problems to learn to love reading. Lopez's suggestions are in line with several already discussed (including parents modeling reading behavior), but I liked the personal nature of the article. I found this link via Everybody Wins! USA.

I hope that you all find some food for thought in this article. If you would like more literacy-related links, check out this week's Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup at The Reading Tub. Enjoy MLK Day / the National Day of Service.


The 2009 Cybils Shortlists

Posted by Jen Robinson on January 11, 2010 at 6:00 AM in AwardsRecommendations
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Cybils2009-150px.gifOn Thursday, Pam focused on three Cybils picture book finalists for her Thursday Three. Today I'd like to talk a bit more about the Cybils finalists in general, and why I think that they're such a great resource for parents, teachers, and librarians.

The Cybils are an annual series of book awards given by children's and young adult book bloggers. Now in their fourth year, the Cybils were started by Anne Boles Levy and Kelly Herold with a dual purpose:

"1. Reward the children's and young adult authors (and illustrators, let's not forget them) whose books combine the highest literary merit and "kid appeal." What's that mean? If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussel sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we're thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We're yummy and nutritious.

2. Foster a sense of community among bloggers who write about children's and YA literature, highlight our best reviewers (and shamelessly promote their blogs) and provide a forum for the similarly obsessed."

The Cybils award process is quite an undertaking. Each year, children's book fans nominate titles in a variety of categories ranging from picture books to young adult fiction and nonfiction. This year, 939 books were nominated across the different categories. Anyone who likes can nominate titles (one per category).

Once the nominations close, two rounds of judging ensue for each category. The judges are drawn from children's book bloggers, including authors and reviewers, people who immerse themselves year-round in their respective categories. Nearly 140 bloggers are involved in this volunteer-run effort. Many authors and publishers help by providing review copies, though panelists also buy, borrow, and share titles.

In each category, the first team of panelists weeds down the nominated titles to a shortlist of five to seven titles. Then a second panel selects a winner from that shortlist. This year, there are a total of 72 shortlist titles spread across a dozen sub-categories. The winners will be announced on February 14th (and we'll be sure to share the news here at Booklights).

This year, in addition to being the Literacy Evangelist for the Cybils (read: person who jumps up and down and tells people how great the Cybils are), I'm a second round judge for the Middle Grade Fantasy and Science Fiction category. I'm currently reading my way through the seven shortlisted titles. I know from my experience in past years that selecting the best of the best will be a difficult task. That's because, honestly, every title that makes it onto the shortlists is amazing.

And that's why I'm telling you about the Cybils shortlists at Booklights. Where else can you find recommended titles, guaranteed to have both literary quality and kid appeal, helpfully grouped by age range and genre? There are thousands of children's and young adult books published every year. What the Cybils process does is start with those thousands, and then use an open nomination process to narrow down to roughly 1000 nominated titles, and then us a well-thought-out judging process to get the list down further to a few dozen recommendations. And although I'll be taking my round two judging seriously, my personal belief is that the most valuable thing that comes out of the Cybils are these shortlists. Are you looking for high-quality nonfiction picture books? Look here. Are you looking for middle grade graphic novels? Here you go. The Cybils shortlists are an excellent resource for anyone looking to match books to kids.

Here are the links to this year's Cybils shortlists (the Easy Reader and Short Chapter Books and Graphic Novels categories each are broken into two sub-lists, by age range):

Easy Readers & Short Chapter Books
Fantasy & Science Fiction (Middle Grade)
Fantasy & Science Fiction (Young Adult)
Fiction Picture Books
Graphic Novels
Middle Grade Fiction
Non-Fiction Middle Grade/YA
Non-Fiction Picture Books
Young Adult Fiction

And here are links to printable versions of the shortlists from last year and the year before (each link opens a PDF file).

I hope that you'll find the Cybils shortlists a useful resource. I know I do.


An Appreciation for National Ambassador Jon Scieszka

Posted by Jen Robinson on January 4, 2010 at 6:00 AM in Authors and IllustratorsLiteracy News
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Tomorrow, January 5th, the new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature will be announced by the Library of Congress. The official National Ambassador site explains: "The position of National Ambassador for Young People's Literature was created to raise national awareness of the importance of young people's literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education, and the development and betterment of the lives of young people... The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, the Children's Book Council (CBC), and Every Child a Reader, the CBC foundation, are the administrators of the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature initiative." As you might imagine, I was thrilled when this position was first announced two years ago.

JenwithJonScieszka.jpgToday, Mary Lee and Franki from A Year of Reading are hosting a virtual celebration of our outgoing (first) National Ambassador Jon Scieszka. They asked for blog posts honoring Scieszka, saying: "The "Thank You Jon Scieszka" post can be a review of one of his books, your reflections on his work as ambassador, a personal story around one of his books or author visits, something connected to Guys Read...anything Jon Scieszka."

I have previously reviewed one of Scieszka's books (Smash! Crash! (Trucktown)) on my blog, and recapped one of his bookstore events during his term as Ambassador (see a photo of me with Jon Scieszka above). I just mentioned one of Scieszka's articles, written as Ambassador, in my most recent Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere post, among many other mentions over the past two years.

knucklehead.jpgI also loved Scieszka's memoir, Knucklehead (though I didn't review it, because I listened to it on audiobook, but you can read a great review at A Fuse #8 Production). I think that his Trucktown series cries out "make reading FUN" with every new book. All in all, I'm a huge fan not only of Scieszka's books, but of his tireless efforts to promote reading, especially among boys and reluctant readers.

Before he was appointed National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, Scieszka founded Guys Read, a website dedicated to helping boys learn to enjoy reading. Here's his brief statement on boys and reading (much of which he carried over to his work as Ambassador), edited slightly for formatting:

"Boys often have to read books they don't really like. They don't get to choose what they want to read. And what they do like to read, people often tell them is not really reading. We can help boys read by:

  • Letting them choose what they read.
  • Expanding our definition of "reading" to include: nonfiction; graphic novels, comics, comic strips; humor; and magazines, newspapers, online text (edited for formatting)
  • Getting boys to recommend reading they do like to other boys.
  • Providing boys with male role models for reading in school and at home.

Great ideas, all! A big part of what Guys Read provides is lists of boy-friendly books and audiobooks, broken up into entertaining categories like "Outer space, but without aliens" and "At least one explosion". But there are also recommended resources, options for starting a Guys Read field office, downloadable bookmarks and bookplates, and more.

Guys Read is a great resource, and I'm glad that it will be continuing. But I personally think that Jon Scieszka has done even more for kids (especially boys) and reading during his tenure as Ambassador. You can read his platform here. He visited 33 states and 274 schools, libraries, bookstores, conferences, and festivals in the past two years (per the Huffington Post article). He engaged thousands and thousands of children, and their parents, during that time. He spent the past two years encouraging people to let kids choose what they want to read, provide adult reading role models, expand our definition of what constitutes "real" reading, stop vilifying other types of media like television, and take ACTION to prmote literacy. The amount of energy this must have taken is truly breathtaking.

The committee members who chose Jon Scieszka to be our first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature chose well. They picked someone dynamic and talented, with a kid-friendly sense of humor and an unquenchable enthusiasm for connecting kids with books. I can't wait to hear who the 2010-2011 selection committee chooses for our next National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. He or she will have big shoes to fill. Thanks, Mr. Scieszka. You did a great job!

Updated to add: you can find links to many more posts in honor of Mr. Scieszka in this post at A Year of Reading.


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #6 Read yourself, and model an appreciation for reading

Posted by Jen Robinson on December 28, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy NewsRecommendations
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This is Part 6 of a continuing series on encouraging young readers. These ideas were originally captured in a post that I did on my blog in 2007, 10 Tips for Growing Bookworms. Here at Booklights I'll be expanding upon and updating each idea, and adding links for more information.

Tip #6: Read yourself, and model an appreciation for reading. It's all very well to SAY that books and reading are important. But what kids notice is what you DO. If you turn on the TV during every free moment, and never have time to go to the library or the bookstore, your kids are unlikely to turn to books themselves. Terry just talked about this in her Dear Santa ... post last week. She said: "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."

DadSonReading.jpgThis especially important for male role models, because boys often think of reading as an activity that's primarily for women. Every time a boy sees his dad (or uncle, or grandfather) reading, whether it's a novel, a history book, a business plan, or the sports section, he absorbs a tiny message that reading is something that guys do. Those tiny messages accumulate over a lifetime, and create a strong base for literacy. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]

So what do you do if you're not much of a reader yourself, but you want your kids to grow up as bookworms? One answer is: tell them the truth. "I didn't read much as a kid, and now reading is hard for me. Plus I feel like I missed out on a lot of great stuff. I want better for you." That's modeling an appreciation for reading. Cap that off by making sure that your child has plenty of books.

FamilyCooking.jpgAlso, remember that all kinds of reading count as reading, and make sure your kids notice whatever it is you're reading. Point out when you come across something interesting in the morning paper. Talk about how much you love a particular cookbook, or how much you learned from a how-to manual. Listen to audiobooks in the car on long trips, or on your regular commute, and tell your kids about what you're listening to. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]

Another way of modeling an appreciation for reading is to have lots of printed material in your home, especially books and magazines. This shows that you think that reading is a valued activity. Subscribe to the local paper, instead of just reading the news online. If you're planning a family trip, bring home some guidebooks about your destination. If you're planning a household project, pick up some books or manuals about that. Fill your house with printed material, and take books and magazines with you everywhere you go.

There are always competing demands on our time. Laundry to fold, bills to pay, phone calls to make, shows to watch on the DVR. And, hopefully, books that we want to read. But here's the thing. If we always prioritize the other tasks, and we let the books get dusty on the shelves, how on earth can we expect our children to think that reading is a valuable way to spend their time? Pam has a great anecdote at MotherReader about an incident playing house with her young daughter one day. The daughter, as "the mommy", sat down on the couch with a book, and told "her child" to go play with her sister, and let "the mommy" read for a while. Pam is justly proud of this story.

Here's what I recommend. Over the holiday vacation, take some time out to read. I mean, how great is it that you can do something to help your kids, and have it be enjoyable for you at the same time? So, curl up in that armchair in front of the fire with your book, lose yourself in its world, and be a reading role model, all at the same time. Years from now, your children will thank you.


Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere: Christmas Week Edition

Posted by Jen Robinson on December 21, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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It's been a quiet time in the Kidlitosphere lately. But I do have a few links saved up to share with you.

Literacy-Lava-Badge.jpgThe third issue of Literacy Lava is now available. Literacy Lava is a free downloadable magazine (in PDF format) dedicated to encouraging children's literacy. It's produced by Susan Stephenson from The Book Chook. Susan says: "It's another great issue, exploding with tips for parents about ways to encourage literacy in family life. Find out what your local library has to offer, read ideas on making books with kids, sneak some learning into shopping, discover games that build literacy skills, develop imagination while playing Grocery Store, make writing part of your family's life, read why picture books are so good for kids, and find out how literacy helped one child fight night terrors. Don't forget to check out the Online Extras page, and the Writing Prompt activity page for kids." I hope that you'll all check it out. [Image credit: Susan Stephenson, The Book Chook.]

The Book Chook also recently linked to an Australian study that found that most kids are largely sedentary, and that "Preschoolers are spending 85 per cent of their waking hours inactive". Susan went on to discuss ways to balance the need to encourage literacy AND encourage kids to be active. She suggests: "Making small changes might be the best way to start. We could swap half an hour of TV watching with half an hour of family walking or bike riding in the park. Once the whole family is involved, it becomes not only a healthy habit, but a way for everyone to wind down after work and school, and a great opportunity for casual conversation." She also suggests focusing TV time on shows that encourage kids to move around, rather than sitting passively.

Outgoing National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Jon Scieszka had a great article in the December 11th Huffington Post. Scieszka says: "I used my two-year term to work on reaching the reluctant reader: that's the kid who might be a reader, who could be one, but just isn't that interested in reading. The new Ambassador will have his or her own program, and ideas on connecting kids with reading." He then outlines his top advice for encouraging reluctant readers. Although the advice is technically focused on kids who aren't so into reading, I think that it's a great list of tips for anyone. For example: "If a kid doesn't like one book, don't worry about finishing it. Start another. The key is helping children find what they like." Click through to see the whole list. Thanks to Meghan Newton from Goodman Media for sending me the link.

The Washington Post's Answer Sheet recently ran a guest column from Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer about whether good readers are born or made. Miller says: "The widespread belief that some readers possess an innate gift, like artists or athletes, sells many children short. I often hear parents claim, "Well, my child is just not a reader," as if the reading fairy passed over their child while handing out the good stuff." She adds: "The strong readers always outstrip the weaker readers because they practice, finesse, and expand their reading skills through hours and hours of reading." She also outlines the conditions that have been found to increase "reading engagement" in kids. Things like time to read, access to books, and reading role models. Click through for more details.

Our own Terry Doherty has a timely post at The Reading Tub, chock-full of holiday gift ideas that keep an "I" towards literacy. She notes: "With the kids in my life, I look for gifts that look more fun than educational. For example, kids who love mysteries and riddles might enjoy word puzzles or games. Because it is a game, then don't notice that they're practicing spelling, expanding their vocabulary, or learning synonyms and antonyms." She then suggests pen and paper games ("that you can create yourself, find online, or purchase in a "formal" game") as well as board games.

Terry also found a fun article with tips for practicing family literacy at home and in your community. Cindy Taylor shares an alphabet themed list that has everything from "Ask your child questions about the story you're reading to ensure comprehension" to "Zap off the TV - pick up a book instead!". I also liked "Quiet, cozy reading spaces are good places for your child to read independently."

9780399251931H.jpgAlso from Terry, an article at Literacy News on teaching about language through reading aloud. The article emphasizes in particular the benefits of dads reading aloud to kids, saying: "When dads read aloud to them, children are learning many different things. They are learning about the world, they are learning to love books and reading, and they are learning about language. This learning about language occurs mainly as children hear, see and understand the language as it is used". My Dad always read us The Night Before Christmas every Christmas Eve, and I can testify first-hand that this kind of experience leaves a lasting impression.

And on that note, I'll leave you with my hope that for those of you who celebrate Christmas, it's a festive and happy experience for you this year. [And don't miss Pam's post on celebrating Christmas around the world.] For those who celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or some other holiday - I hope that is, or was, wonderful, too. Me, I'm wishing for, and giving, books for Christmas, and gifting myself time to read them. Happy Holidays!


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #5 Visit Libraries and Bookstores

Posted by Jen Robinson on December 14, 2009 at 6:00 AM in LibrariesLiteracy NewsRecommendations
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This is Part 5 of a continuing series on encouraging young readers. These ideas were originally captured in a post that I did on my blog in 2007, 10 Tips for Growing Bookworms. Here at Booklights I'll be expanding upon and updating each idea, and adding links for more information.

Tip #5: Visit libraries and bookstores. I talked last week about how I think that it's important for kids to have at least a few books that they can own and cherish. And that's absolutely true. But I think that libraries and bookstores are important in raising readers, too.

It would be impossible, not to mention incredibly wasteful, to try to buy copies of every book that might possibly work for your child. Libraries allow you to choose a variety of books on every visit, and to try books out before you buy the ones that your child really loves. This is a true gift. The library will have the big-name popular books, sure, but they'll also have books that you would never have heard of on your own. The array of choices can be dazzling. Some of those books might become your child's favorites. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt gallery]

But there's much more to it than just the chance to try out books for free. A library is a celebration of books and reading, day in and day out. Taking your child to the library is a way to show her that you aren't the only one who values books. Lots of people, from all sorts of backgrounds, work in and visit the library, and think that books are important. Libraries also have events and read-alouds, programming centered around showing kids that books are fun. Yes, you can (and should!) read books aloud at home. But being surrounded by other kids listening to the same book delivers a powerful message to pre-schoolers. Hearing someone besides Mom or Dad reading books aloud tells kids that literacy is a universal thing. All of this reinforces what you're already doing at home.

Another plus to visiting libraries, although one that not every visitor takes advantage of, is access to librarians. Youth service librarians excel at recommending books based on a child's interest. Sure, you can find book recommendations online, too. But if your school or community boasts a highly trained, caring person, someone who can get to know your child and help him to select books, why on earth wouldn't you take advantage of that? I still have books on my shelves that were recommended for me personally by my elementary school librarian.

For more on the services performed by librarians, from collection development to cataloging, check out this recent post from Liz Burns at A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy. Other Booklights posts that talk about the benefits of libraries can be found here (from Susan), here (from Terry), and here (from Pam).

Many of the benefits of libraries (with the notable exception of the free access to books) are also true of bookstores. Bookstores show kids an environment and a culture filled with people who also love books. The good ones are staffed by people who can help you choose books based on your child's interests. Bookstores also often have fun events. A bookstore is more likely than a library to host author events. These can be an amazing opportunity to get kids excited about books. See my Booklights post about a Rick Riordan author event last summer, an earlier post on my own blog about an event by Jon Scieszka, and Becky Levine's recent post about a signing by Eoin Colfer. [Image credit: Photo taken by Susan Taylor Brown at Jon Scieszka signing event at Hicklebee's Books.]

And although the books aren't free at the bookstore, that can be a plus, too. Occasionally taking your child out and buying her a book says that you value books enough to spend money on them. My mother used to take me to our local used bookstore on a regular basis. She'd buy books for herself, and she'd buy books for me. We always had fun picking them out. I loved the treasure of finding a used copy of a book by one of my favorite authors. Is it any wonder that I grew up a reader? (And, actually, my mom and I still go to used bookstores together when we have the chance. And I still love finding old copies of books by cherished authors.)

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of visits to the library, and visits to bookstores. Taking your child to visit both can be a wonderful component to growing bookworms. And, as an added bonus, you get to visit libraries and bookstores yourself.


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #4 Make Sure Your Children Have Books of their Own

Posted by Jen Robinson on December 7, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy NewsRecommendations
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This is Part 4 of a continuing series on encouraging young readers. These ideas were originally captured in a post that I did on my blog in 2007, 10 Tips for Growing Bookworms. Here at Booklights I'll be expanding upon and updating each idea, and adding links for more information. Today's tip also includes links to a variety of book suggestions for the holiday season.

Tip #4: Make sure that your children (and nieces and nephews and grandchildren) have books of their own. Sure, it's great to visit libraries (we'll talk more about that in the next tip) and explore a wide range of books. But it's also important that kids have at least a few books of their own. Books that they can re-read as often as they like. Books that they don't have to return by a certain date. Books that they can save and cherish and (eventually) look back on as priceless childhood mementos. I know that the books from my childhood that I still have on my shelves will always remain among my most treasured possessions.

ReadingAtNight.jpgThere's a special bond that comes with re-reading a book many times. Especially as a child becomes older, and is reading on his own. The experiences of reading a beloved book build upon one another. Each reading becomes a celebration of the book, and a reminder of the past readings. To have that bond, I think that you need to own the book. Sure, you can check the same book out of the library every year. But it's not the same as having the book on the shelf next to your bed, and being able to pick it up when you can't sleep, or aren't feeling well, or just need the comfort of familiarity. The shelf doesn't need to be large, but it needs to be filled with books that are loved.

ReadingOlderKids.jpgThere's also a sense of pride that comes with ownership of possessions. And attaching that pride to books elevates the importance of literacy. When you spend your hard-earned money to buy books for your children, you're putting your money where your mouth is. You aren't just saying that books are important. You're demonstrating that you value books and literacy. I think that's important. And books are a bargain, compared with video games, going out to eat, going out to a movie, etc.

So, if you're doing any holiday shopping for the children in your life this season, I urge you to consider buying at least a few books. Great books are truly a gift that can last a lifetime. I know that it can be difficult to know what books to buy. Fortunately, quite a few bloggers have taken the initiative to offer targeted suggestions. Liz Burns from A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy has a post in which she's keeping track of other people's gift-giving ideas (mostly books). You'll find lots of links there.

Here are links to a few of my favorite sources for book ideas this year:

I hope that you'll find these lists a useful resource. But really, however you choose the books, and whenever you buy them, the important thing is that you make sure that your children have at least a few books of their own, to keep. You'll give them books to re-read and fall in love with, and you'll show, in a tangible way, that you think that books are important. And that's worth doing, both at the holidays and year-round.

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