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Jen Robinson: November 2009 Archives


Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere: Tips and Techniques for Encouraging Reading

Posted by Jen Robinson on November 30, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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I hope that you all had a lovely Thanksgiving weekend. I spent part of the long weekend poring over children's literacy and reading-related news. In the process, I found a variety of newspaper articles and blogs posts aimed at helping parents to encourage young readers. Coincidentally (or maybe there's something about this time of year), nearly all of the posts are written in the form of tips for raising readers. I hope that you will find some useful ideas.

pbskidsisland.jpgAt Great Kids Books, Mary Ann Scheuer reviews two websites specially designed for children just learning to read. She says: "Two websites that I particularly like for children learning to read are: PBS Kids Island and Starfall. Both sites help children develop early literacy skills while having fun. Both are solidly based on literacy research, and both have no advertising. Best yet, both are free and easy to use." Mary Ann describes PBS Kids Island in quite a bit of detail - her post is well worth a look.

At A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy, Liz Burns recently republished an article that she wrote for Foreword Magazine in 2007, about ways to encourage reading. Liz says: "Reading is fun. And I think that should be enough reason to encourage reading, and to praise reading, and to value it when we, and kids, read. Linking reading to increased employment opportunities and civic duty may be necessary to get press attention or involve employers and other organizations, but c'mon; does a ten year old care about that? Should they? No; they shouldn't read "because I will be a better person." They shouldn't read "because then I will make more money." They should read because it's fun." And then she discusses specific ideas for making reading fun (including "Read what your kids are reading", one of my favorite suggestions, too).

For more tips on encouraging reading, check out this article by Dr. Michele Borba with tips to get kids and teens to read. Borba says "Here are nine tips from The Big Book of Parenting Solutions I shared recently on the TODAY show to help parents get their kiddoes reading and hopefully even rekindle that great love of the printed page. (A little disclosure here: I was a former teacher and taught children's literature so you have to know I LOVE the printed page. I've also written 22 books so my bias should be evident)." There's definitely some overlap between Michele Borba's list and my own list of Tips for Growing Bookworms. But personally, I don't think we can talk enough about the importance of letting kids choose their own books, reading aloud to older kids, and so on. I found this link via Tweet from @KidCriticUSA.

Still more tips are available in a Times Press Recorder article from First 5 San Luis Obispo County, published in honor of Child Literacy Month. This article breaks the tips down for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. For instance: "Babies like brightly colored books with photos of other children and such familiar objects as toys and baby bottles. Also, choose books with pop-up characters and images that are soft to the touch so your baby can feel different textures." And, for preschoolers, "Make sure to always have books available for your children, even while running errands or traveling in the car. Read while waiting at the doctor's office or the bus stop -- anytime is a good time for reading."

BunchOfBoysReading.jpgBack in September, I linked to an article by Trevor Cairney about using nonfiction to engage boys in reading. This week, Trevor published a second post relative to fiction. He says: "While using non-fiction is a great way to get boys actually reading, it is also very important to raise their interest in reading fiction. It is out of the reading of literature that so much knowledge of language develops as well as a whole range of study and research skills that are important for life". He shares a host of specific techniques for younger boys vs. older boys, as well as specific books to try with boys of different ages. (Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt)

Based on sometimes frustrating personal experiences, Amy from Literacy Launchpad shares suggestions for making the most of a library visit with a toddler. My favorite of Amy's ideas was: "When you read a library book at home that you really like, talk about how it came from the library! Get them excited about finding MORE great books at the library." There are some other suggestions from Amy's readers in the comments.

That's all I have for this week. How about all of you? Has anyone come across any good articles or blog posts about encouraging young readers? If so, I'd love to hear about them. I also have some additional links in this week's Children's Literacy and Reading News Round-Up on my own blog.


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #3 Choose Books that Your Children Enjoy

Posted by Jen Robinson on November 23, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy NewsRecommendations
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This is Part 3 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 where I have them.

Tip #3: Choose books that your children enjoy. Find books that satisfy their interests, and let them choose books that please them. When kids are reading (outside of assigned school reading), the important thing is that the reading is a pleasurable activity. The best way to make this true is to help them to find books that they are interested in. Not books that are good for them. Not books that teach them a particular lesson. Not books that are someone else's favorite (like the parent's favorite). Just books that the particular child eagerly wants to read.

BoyReading.jpgThis is especially important for women selecting books for boys, who may prefer reading in formats other than traditional fiction. Yes, it can be frustrating to have your child read nothing but comic books. But reading comic books IS reading. I'm not saying don't try to suggest other books for them, too. But keep in mind that the central goal is for kids to find reading a pleasurable activity, one that they wish to continue. Everything else follows from that (all the way to better test scores and dream colleges).

EagerReader.jpgA related point regarding book choice is the question of reading levels. Pam suggested in a post from earlier this fall that children benefit from reading a mix of books, some within and some outside of their comfort zone. She also said, strongly, that it's important for parents to avoid playing "The Reading Game". You know the one. Where parents speak loftily to one another about their children's advanced reading levels. Don't get sucked into this trap. The important thing isn't that your third grade daughter is reading a sixth grade book. The important thing is that your third grader is avidly reading ANY book. She'll get to the sixth grade level book eventually, if she enjoys reading. But if you pressure her to read harder and harder books all the time, you're likely to turn her off of reading altogether. And that is a tragedy.

For more on reading levels, see my earlier post about discussions in defense of escapist summer reading, which links to several articles in defense of letting kids read what they enjoy. I also had a two-part piece (part 1, part 2) early last summer about reading levels, and the defense of kids reading books that they enjoy, even if they are capable of reading more challenging books.

StackOfBooks.jpgIt's simply, really. If you want kids to learn to enjoy reading, you have to give them time to read things that they like, and that they choose. The choice itself is empowering, and leads to a positive association with reading. Your son could choose fiction or nonfiction, graphic novels or poetry, magazines or car manuals. He could read Goosebumps or Junie B. Jones or 100 different Magic Treehouse books. He could read the comic pages of your newspaper, all of the Harry Potter books, or the Guinness Book of World Records. What he's reading doesn't matter. What matters is that he is engaged in what he's reading, and wants to read more. Because that's what we're after here. As long as kids keep reading, something, anything, they'll become more proficient. And that's the way to make them readers for life.


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #2 Read the Books Your Children Read

Posted by Jen Robinson on November 16, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy NewsRecommendations
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This is Part 2 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 where I have them. You can find Tip #1: Read Aloud here.

AdultReading.jpgTip #2: Read the books that your children read, even after you are no longer reading aloud with them (or along with books you're reading together). Talk to them about these books. Let them recommend books to you. By reading the books your children read, you show them that you value them, and the books, and you open up untold avenues for important discussions. I personally think that if more parents and other adults did this, there would be less of a drop-off in reading for pleasure as kids get older (though I have no formal data to back this up). I wrote about this in more detail in a very early post on my blog. But here are three good reasons to read the books your children read:

A. Reading the books that your kids are reading will give you a much better idea of what they like, and what their reading level is. This will make it easier to help them pick out other books, to buy books for them as gifts, etc. Some parents take this approach a step further, and read certain books before their children do, so that they can help decide when the child is ready for the book. The more you know first-hand what your kids are reading, the more you can help.

B. If you and your child are reading the same books, you'll open up all sorts of doors for discussion. This is especially true for parents of teens and tweens. Today's YA titles cover a wide range of issues, and sometimes it's easier to talk in hypotheticals than in actuals. As in "hmmm, I wonder what you would do in that situation." It's a thought, anyway. I do know parents who have found this to work well.

C. Reading the books that your children are reading sends a strong message to your kids that reading in general, and specifically what they are reading, is important to you. This tells them a) that they are important to you, and b) that you value books and reading. And I can't emphasize enough how important this last point is. There are all sorts of reasons why many kids' interest in reading for pleasure drops off as they get older. All of the distractions of television and computers. All of their activities at school. A perception that reading isn't "cool" in some cases. And so on. But if you are as excited as they are about the release of the new Rick Riordan series featuring Egyptian mythology - surely that has to help.

AnotherAdultReading.jpgI'll also add a side benefit of reading the books that your kids are reading - it's a tremendous amount of fun. I know lots of people who got back into reading children's and young adult literature because of their children, and then simply never stopped, because the books were so good.

One thing I'm not sure of with this whole "read the books your children read" idea is what you do when you are flat out not interested in the type of books that your child is reading. The most common example is mothers who enjoy fiction, confronted with sons who want to read about planes, trains, and war. Any parents out there have suggestions for handling this one? All I can say is that even a little bit of effort probably goes a long way here.

Of course I'm not suggesting that you try to read everything that your kids are reading in any case. If your child is a real bookworm, this will be impossible. And some teens might resist the idea that their parents want to read all of the books that they're reading. But I'll say this: if your son or daughter (or niece or nephew or grandchild) has a favorite series, it's worth checking out an installment or two. If "everybody" in your child's class is reading Twilight, then perhaps you should, too. I think that you'll find the experience rewarding. You may help keep your older child interested in reading. And perhaps you'll find yourself hooked on children's literature, too.


Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere: Be A Commercial for Literacy, and Keep it Fun

Posted by Jen Robinson on November 9, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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For some reason, Terry and I have come across quite a few articles lately for parents on encouraging young readers. Since I had several articles stacked up, I decided to share them with you this week. I'll be back next week with Tip #2 in my new Tips for Growing Bookworms series (Tip #1 is here). But for now, here are ideas from a variety of smart people across the blogs and the press.

The Book Chook, Susan Stephenson, shared a fun post about the "sheer pleasure" of playing with language. She said: "Children are hard wired to enjoy nonsense, (as are Book Chooks!) and playing with language is something they take to immediately. From early peek-a-boo and finger rhymes, through nursery rhymes, poems and songs, we are exposing our kids to new vocabulary, and the rhythms of language, as well as reinforcing the sheer pleasure of messing about with words." She then suggested several fun wordplay activities for parents and their children.

The Eden Prairie (MN) News recently shared tips from Heather Peterson for motivating "reluctant readers". For example, "Family reading time. Families read together - either aloud or silently, either the same book or separate books. It is a time when adults model good reading habits for their children."

Hopscotch.jpgThe FirstBook blog published a guest post from Tina Chovanec, the director of Reading, chock full of suggestions for helping "parents jumpstart reading and learning together". I especially liked "Game night. Start a new weekend tradition centered around family games. Rediscover classics like Memory, Scattergories, or Scrabble, or explore something new."

FamilyCooking.jpgAt Moms Inspire Learning, Dawn Morris suggested that an important way for parents to raise literate children is by listening. She said: "Before children learn to read or write, they first need to listen to what people are saying and respond in an appropriate manner. The more they are spoken with and read to, the greater the chances that they will grow into active listeners, speakers, and storytellers. THEN they can become the strong independent readers and writers we so want them to be." She also included some concrete suggestions for more active listening and support of literacy development.

DadSonReading.jpgThe Bolingbrook Sun published an article with simple steps for parents to help students read better. The author (no name was listed) focused on helping kids improve their reading comprehension by asking them frequent questions, and thus teaching them to think critically about what they're reading. I think this makes sense, to a point, as long as you don't stop and ask so many comprehension questions that you make the whole thing feel like work. The author added: "Experts suggest that what they read is not as important as the fact that they read. Encourage her to read often from a variety of resources; books, magazines and newspapers, just get them reading! Let them see you read as well. Children learn to value what the caring adults in their lives value. If they see you reading, they may be more willing to read regularly, too." (All of which you know I agree with.)

In a related vein, at Parents and Kids Reading Together, Cathy Puett Miller shared resources to help parents find the right books for their children. The column placed particular emphasis on resources for gifted readers, but the author said that "many of the resources here will also be terrific for all families, with children of all ages so read on and see what you can find that works for your child." Here's a snippet, "Remember that you are the commercial for reading and that motivation is an important indirect component." Cathy also included lists of book recommendations, including "books under the 9-12 year area that are "safe" content for younger children."

Finally, The Hindu Newspaper's Magazine section published yesterday a detailed, thoughtful article for parents about the benefits of raising readers, and ways to do so even in today's digitally-saturated environment. Aruna Sankaranarayanan wrote "Reading can give children analytical skills in this age of information overload. As another Children's Day comes around what can we do to foster this habit". She concluded: "For India to achieve 100 per cent literacy in the fullest sense, it is not enough to simply teach the mechanics of reading and writing. Ultimately, literacy informs a way of life. Instead of children reading under pressure, we should strive to be a nation full of children reading for pleasure." Of course, her ideas apply to children everywhere, not just in India.

jpg_book008.jpgThat's all I have for you today. But Terry has a slew of other links this morning in this week's Children's Literacy and Reading Roundup at Scrub-A-Dub-Tub.


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #1 Read Aloud

Posted by Jen Robinson on November 2, 2009 at 6:00 AM in Literacy NewsRecommendations
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Back in 2007 I wrote a post on my own blog called 10 Tips for Growing Bookworms. This has remained a popular post, and people have suggested several other tips in the comments there. I've decided to expand upon each of these tips, and create a new Tips for Growing Bookworms series here at Booklights. Of course other Booklights contributors talk about tips for encouraging young readers here, too, as in Terry's Bedtime from Afar post from last week. But I say, we can't focus on this important topic too much. So, without further ado:

MomReading.jpgTip #1: Read aloud to your children from (or even before) birth, as often as possible, and keep reading aloud to them even after they can read on their own. Reading aloud has been shown to have a huge impact in raising readers, and is the number one thing that parents and other concerned adults can do to help grow bookworms. By reading to kids in a comfortable, safe environment, you help them to think of reading as a pleasurable activity. You also increase their vocabularies and attention spans, and show them that you think that books are important. And with all of the many wonderful books out there, reading together should be enjoyable for you and the kids.

DadSonReading.jpgIt's especially helpful when Dads or other male caregivers can participate in at least some of the read aloud activity. This shows boys that reading isn't just something that girls do, but rather something that's fun for everyone. A recent survey by UK charity Booktrust found that "some 67% of mothers of four to five-year-olds claim to be the principal reader, compared with 17% of fathers, although many more fathers were said to be reading than in last year's survey." The Booktrust study (as reported by BBC News) found that 96% of children surveyed reported enjoying reading, but also reported that only one in three families read with their children every day. I would personally love to see that last statistic increase.

ReadingOlderKids.jpgIt is, of course, tempting to think that once your child can read on his or her own, you can stop reading aloud. However, if you can find the time and the motivation to continue reading aloud with your older children, your whole family will reap rewards. You'll be able to read books that they aren't ready to read on their own, and share the experience of discovery. You'll be able to introduce your kids first-hand to the books that you loved as a child, and talk about why you loved them. You'll be able to discuss all sorts of topics that are raised in books, allowing you and your kids to learn from and about each other. Andrea Ross from Just One More Book! wrote a wonderful article for Canwest Newspapers last month about the benefits to parents of reading aloud with their children.

Of course sometimes it's hard to find the time for read-aloud. But I promise that if you do, you and your children will find the time well-spent. For parents who aren't comfortable reading aloud, you can listen to audiobooks together (libraries have audiobooks you can check out), or turn the pages of a picture book and make up your own stories. Children, young children especially, are a forgiving audience. They'll find the attention and the closeness and your time much more important than your particular pronunciation of a word, or the fact that you aren't skilled at giving the different characters distinct voices. The more you try, the easier it will get, too. See also Susan Kusel's post at Booklights about the ups and downs of reading aloud.

Reading aloud together. It's enjoyable time for parents and kids. It helps kids to do better in school, and builds family closeness. And it's free (all you need is a library card). It is well worth a try. Do any of you have success stories or tips that you'd like to share about reading aloud with your kids?

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