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Posts in Literacy News Category


Tips for Growing Bookworms: Series Recap and Future Plans

Posted by Jen Robinson on April 5, 2010 at 6:00 AM in Literacy NewsRecommendations
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jkrROUNDUP.jpgBack in 2007 I wrote a post for own blog about 10 Tips for Growing Bookworms. Over the past few months, I've been expanding upon and updating each of those original ten ideas here at Booklights. After all, helping parents to grow young readers is what we're all about at Booklights, right? It only made sense to share these tips here.

In today's post, I'm going to link to each of the 10 tips posts, as presented here at Booklights, so that they'll all be handy in one place.

  1. Read Aloud
  2. Read the Books Your Children Read
  3. Choose Books that Your Children Enjoy
  4. Make Sure Your Children Have Books of their Own
  5. Visit Libraries and Bookstores
  6. Read Yourself, and Model an Appreciation for Reading
  7. Point Out When You're Learning Useful Information by Reading
  8. Be Selective in Television Watching
  9. Create Cozy Reading Spaces within Your Home, and Keep Books Handy
  10. Let Them Stay Up Late Reading Under the Covers

It should be noted that the above tips owe a debt to the following references, all of which I read prior to writing the original post (versions updated here as appropriate). Any of these books would be an excellent place to start, in learning more about growing bookworms.

I'd also add Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer to my list of recommendations, of course. That hadn't been published yet when I wrote the original set of tips.

I would love to know if there are other tips that you'd like to share to help parents and teachers in encouraging young readers. In my mind, there's no particular reason why the list has to stop at ten tips, after all. Any suggestions? If anything here in the comments (or elsewhere) inspires me, I'll add further entries to the series. Thanks for reading, and for caring about growing bookworms!!

Links to books in this post are affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program, for which the site Jen Robinson's Book Page may receive a referral fee.


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #10 Let Them Stay Up Late Reading Under the Covers

Posted by Jen Robinson on March 30, 2010 at 6:00 AM in Literacy NewsRecommendations
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This is Part 10 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. Then we'll recap, and see what we can do to come up with some more.

ReadingAtNight.jpgTip #10: Once in a while, let your kids stay up late reading under the covers. Pretending you don't know is probably acceptable in this case, though I'm not generally a big advocate of deception. Staying up past bedtime reading a great book under the covers makes reading fun. It's a special treat. It's a way to keep reading a joyful experience. It feels sneaky and grown up at the same time. It's the kind of thing that kids remember, and helps them to associate reading with pleasure as they grow older. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]

redpyramid.jpgI think that this idea could tie in to the whole concept of "social reading", too. Say, when the new Rick Riordan book (The Red Pyramid, featuring Egyptian mythology) comes out in early May, or the next Diary of a Wimpy Kid book by Jeff Kinney is released. If your child stays up late reading that buzz-generating book under the covers, and can brag about that at school tomorrow, well, I think that could go a long way.

As kids get older, one of the challenges is that reading isn't always perceived as "cool." I say, if your child wants to read enough to sneak a flashlight into bed - you should consider yourself very lucky. (See Tricia's post about this at The Miss Rumphius Effect. That post was the inspiration for this tip.) Of course sleep is important, too. But I think that the occasional bending of the rules about bedtime could be a real asset in growing bookworms.

What do you all think? Do you ever let your kids stay up late, reading under the covers?

Links to books in this post are affiliate links for the Amazon Associates program, for which the site Jen Robinson's Book Page may receive a referral fee.


Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere: March 22

Posted by Jen Robinson on March 22, 2010 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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Last week I shared some links from the Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour that I thought Booklights readers would be particularly interested in. This week, I have just a few quick links for you to other recent posts dedicated to helping parents grow young bookworms.

Amytshirt.jpegAt Literacy Launchpad, Amy shares Part 4 of her series on tips for fostering a love of reading, about the joys of reading aloud. Of course we've talked about the importance of reading aloud many times here at Booklights (it's #1 in my Tips for Growing Bookworms series, for example). What I like about this particular Literacy Launchpad post is that Amy adds specific tips for the parent who "discovers the power of reading to their child a little later", and feel a bit awkward about starting. Like "Read interesting articles you find to your child (articles you think would also interest them)." [Image credit: a pro-reading t-shirt that Amy designed. You can order it from Literacy Launchpad.]

Speaking of reading aloud to older kids, I posted yesterday on my own blog about a father and daughter who read together for 3218 nights in a row (from fourth grade until the daughter's first day of college). It's an inspiring story, well worth a look!

At Getting Kids Reading, Joyce Grant suggests that parents read the books that their children are reading. This was #2 in the Tips for Growing Bookworms series, and is something that I highly, highly recommend. I was thus happy to see Joyce promoting it, too. She says: "My son's copy of Percy Jackson has two bookmarks in it--his and mine. We're both reading it. Not only is it a great series and a lot of fun to read, but I'm realizing there are huge benefits to reading what he's reading."

frog.jpgMama Librarian has a thought-provoking rant about why parents shouldn't be reading early chapter books aloud to their kids. She says: "Books like Frog and Toad and Mr. Putter and Tabby are written especially for children who are learning to read on their own. They don't have any significant concept challenges, so readers can focus on decoding and fluency... As a media specialist, I suggest you save junior fiction for beginning readers to enjoy on their own." The basic idea is that kids will likely be interested enough to read those easy reader-type books on their own anyway. Parents can instead read aloud more advanced books, books that kids wouldn't have discovered on their own. All of which makes sense to me!

Just in case you missed it, Terry Doherty had a great post here at Booklights earlier this month about letting kids write wordless stories, using images. She says: "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."

And, in a link suggested by Terry, Barbara Freedman-De Vito, at Activity Village, shares several ideas for sharing stories aloud with children. She says: "despite a panoply of print and electronic media, purely oral forms of storytelling do still exist and are in fact used every day by talented entertainers, by skillful teachers and librarians, and by loving moms and dads quietly sharing good books with their children at bedtime. The purpose of this article to suggest some variations on the concept of bedtime stories and to offer some additional ways that parents and others can both share precious moments and create some precious memories with their children."

BunchOfBoysReading.jpgIan Newbold at the Tidy Books Blog has an interesting post about his policy of limiting reading time to encourage reading (the idea being that he feels that kids, especially boys, are more likely to desire something that they get a "little bit too little of"). While my gut instinct is to reject the idea of limiting reading time out of hand, I can see the appeal of making more reading time a reward, something to aspire to... Food for thought. What do you all think about that? [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]

I hope that you've found some articles worth checking out today. For anyone who would like even more children's literacy and reading links, this week's children's literacy round-up from Terry Doherty and me is available at Jen Robinson's Book Page.


Share a Story - Shape a Future 2010: A Blog Tour for Literacy

Posted by Jen Robinson on March 15, 2010 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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It_takes_a_village_2.jpgAs Pam mentioned on Thursday, the Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour was held last week. Share a Story is an annual celebration of literacy and reading - a cross-blog forum for idea-sharing and community-building. Share a Story was founded last year by Booklights contributor Terry Doherty. This year's theme was "It Takes a Village to Raise a Reader". [Image created by Susan Stephenson, The Book Chook, at]

I hardly know where to begin telling you about this year's celebration. There were amazing giveaways (such as two sets of RIF's collection of 50 multicultural books), interesting daily writing prompts (to allow a wide range of people to participate), and contributed posts on topics ranging from The Many Faces of Reading to Creative Literacy to Nonfiction to Reading through the Ages. I hosted Day 5, Reading for the Next Generation, with a dozen parent-friendly articles from reading advocates from around the Kidlitosphere.

Here's a quick tour through the posts from Share a Story that I thought would be of the greatest interest to Booklights readers (though of course every post is worth a look, if you have the time):

Terry_readingtubfinal_1.jpgStarting on Day 1 (hosted by Terry Doherty), The Many Faces of Reading, Lee Wind shares Dads! The 3 Secrets to Reading with your Daughters at I'm Here, I'm Queer, What the Hell do I Read. He talks about overcoming one's aversion to "Sparkle-Fairy-Pixie-Dust-Pink-Glitter" books, coping with the child's desire for repeat readings, and treating reading together as a shared experience. Great stuff, well worth a read for Dads or Moms. Also on Day 1, Dad Greg Pincus from Gotta Book has a lovely post about how sharing stories together is the gift that lasts a lifetime.

Still focusing on The Many Faces of Reading, we return to the topic of "social reading". Back last summer, I did a couple of posts here at Booklights about the power of social reading (here and here), wherein kids spark each other's enthusiasm for reading. Those posts were inspired by discussions from Sarah Mulhern at The Reading Zone. Last week, Sarah presented more detail on her thoughts and experiences with social reading, including some specific tactics for capturing social reading in the classroom.

BookChookLogo.jpgHeading on over to Day 2, Literacy My Way (hosted by Susan Stephenson) we find a post from Joyce Grant at Getting Kids Reading with tips on getting active kids reading. There's also a fun post by Danielle Smith of There's a Book about using activity and sticker books to promote literacy, and another from Jen Funk Weber of Needle and ThREAD about using math, word and logic puzzles to engage young readers. And, in a useful, tip-filled post, Amy Mascott of teachmama shares some clever ways to sneak literacy learning into your children's daily routines.

it-takes-a-village-pink.jpgDay 3, The Nonfiction Book Hook (hosted by Sarah Mulhern) includes a host of recommendations for using nonfiction to reach readers who might not be as interested in fiction. Many of the posts include book recommendations. There's also an interesting article from Dawn Little at Literacy Toolbox about doing "real world reading" with preschoolers, as well as some tips from Natasha Maw at Maw Books about selecting nonfiction for early readers. [Image created by Susan Stephenson, The Book Chook, at]

ShareAStoryLogo-color.jpgDay 4, Reading through the Ages (hosted by Donalyn Miller), talks about balancing old classics and new favorites on the quest to hook today's kids on reading. Donalyn's contributors ask readers to share favorite childhood books, and favorite first lines from books, as well as suggesting new titles and new methods for reading with today's kids. For those looking for book recommendations, Tess Alfonsin, offers classic and contemporary favorites at The Reading Countess, while The Goddess of YA Literature, Teri Lesesne, suggests several new titles for tweens that have classic themes. [Image created by Elizabeth Dulemba for Share a Story - Shape a Future]

jkrROUNDUP.jpgNow we come to Day 5, Reading for the Next Generation. For this part of Share a Story, I sought posts about the disconnects that can arise between parents and kids on the way to growing young bookworms. My contributors tackled practical issues like what to do when you struggle with reading to your kids, or you have trouble finding time for reading, or you feel silly reading animal sounds aloud, or your kids are obsessed with videogames or Princess books. Our collective goal was not to tell anyone what they "should" do. Rather, we wanted to provide some concrete help for parents and teachers looking to encourage young readers, but struggling with particular issues.

Really, I think that all of the posts from Day 5 should be of interest to Booklights readers, and I hope that you'll click through to see the full list. But, if you read nothing else, I do want to direct you to MotherReader's post, in which she asks moms to give themselves permission to sometimes find reading with your kids ... less than stimulating, and Esme Raji Codell's entertaining piece about ways to keep older kids engaged in family read-aloud time.

We also had a particular focus during Day 5 on a topic that's been addressed before here at Booklights - letting kids read the books that they enjoy, instead of pushing them towards ever-more-advanced titles. This important topic was discussed in different ways by Dawn Little, Melissa from Book Nut, Mary Lee Hahn, and Kate Messner. All of us here at Booklights feel that the key to reading kids who love books lies in making reading an enjoyable experience for them. All of these posts offer help with that.

Thanks for checking out my quick tour of Share a Story - Shape a Future 2010. I hope that you found some useful links, and discovered some kindred spirits.


Tips for Growing Bookworms: #9 Create Cozy Reading Spaces within Your Home, and Keep Books Handy

Posted by Jen Robinson on March 8, 2010 at 6:00 AM in Literacy NewsRecommendations
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This is Part 9 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.

litnpugs.JPGTip #9: Create cozy reading spaces within your house, and keep books handy in different places. The idea here is to a) continue to make reading a pleasurable activity, one that kids will want to repeat often, and b) make it convenient to read, so that kids will choose books as an option when they happen to have some free time. [Image credit: MorgueFile, photo by taliesin]

Amy wrote about this idea recently at Literacy Launchpad, when she said: "Have Books Everywhere... and Watch the Magic Happen!". Jim at Teacherninja talked about books as "bait", and said (of keeping books in convenient locations) "If you build it, they will come...". And of course Jim Trelease talked about this in The Read-Aloud Handbook (which I reviewed here).

Think about all of the places that you child could read, if you were to provide the right environment and materials. Here are a few ideas:

  • Leon's Library.jpgSet up a cozy reading corner in your child's bedroom, with a beanbag or a comfortable chair, a good lamp, and access to a bookshelf. [This is a much better use of space than, say, putting a TV in the child's bedroom, that's for sure.] Personally, I find a cozy reading space a temptation in and of itself. I want to spend time there, curled up, lost in a story. [Image from Susan's earlier post, with thanks to Alex Zealand for the picture of her five year old's bedroom and his book collection. ]
  • Make sure your child's bed is reading-friendly - enough light, enough pillows, and a table or shelf nearby on which to store some extra titles. Make sure there's someplace comfortable for Mom or Dad to sit, too, to read aloud.
  • Keep a few children's books handy by your own bed, too, in case of late-night, bad-dream-inspired emergencies.
  • Have baskets of books in the kitchen, the bathroom, the family room, and anyplace else in the house that your child spends time. See Susan's recent post on home libraries for some examples. It doesn't matter how you store the books (baskets, piles, shelves, boxes) - it just matters that they're readily available, and the kids can find them. And of course they can be library books, too - you don't have to buy hundreds of books to do this.
  • Keep books in the car. Teacherninja Jim said: "The back of the driver's side car seats in both of our vehicles are stuffed with magazines and slim books that my daughter likes. There's no DVD player (except on long trips). Guess what she does when she's not bopping to the music?".
  • For older kids, have a bookshelf near the entrance to the garage. Make it easy for your child to pick up a book on the way out to the car. I know for me, some of best childhood reading was done in the car. I'd carefully choose a book, even for the 15 minute car ride to Grandma's house. And longer drives would have been unbearable without books to help me tune out my three younger siblings.

I can see that it would be tempting to keep all of the books in, say, the child's bedroom. Tempting to keep the piles of books out of the way, and thus keep down the clutter. But there are all sorts of moments throughout the day when your child might read, if a book happened to be nearby. And you'll miss those moments if the books are hard to get at. For example, say you receive a phone call on your way out the door, and your child is waiting for you, bored, at the kitchen table. A book could help keep the peace AND squeeze in a little reading time.

Matilda.jpgOne final point is that how you set up your house sends a strong message about how you feel about books, a message that your kids will read loud and clear. If all of the shelf space in your living room is dedicated to DVDs and video games, and books are nowhere to be found, how can you expect your child to choose books? (Matilda Wormwood was a notable exception, dragging her little wagon to the library on her own.) On the other hand, if you've carved out comfortable reading spaces, and you've piled up books in most of the rooms of the house, your child is going to think "hey, reading is what people do." And isn't that what this growing bookworms thing is all about?

Do you have cozy reading spaces set up for your child? Where do you keep your child's books? What am I missing in the above tips?

On a personal note, I've just shared the news on my own blog that my husband and I are now growing a bookworm of our own. She's due to make her first appearance in June. But you may be sure that we're already reading to her. And that we already have plenty of children's books around the house.


Today is Read Across America Day!

Posted by Jen Robinson on March 2, 2010 at 6:00 AM in Authors and IllustratorsLiteracy News
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Seuss2.jpgEvery year, on March 2nd, the National Education Association (NEA) celebrates Dr. Seuss's Birthday as Read Across America Day. Here's a bit of background from the Read Across America website:

"NEA's Read Across America is an annual reading motivation and awareness program that calls for every child in every community to celebrate reading on March 2, the birthday of beloved children's author Dr. Seuss. NEA's Read Across America also provides NEA members, parents, caregivers, and children the resources and activities they need to keep reading on the calendar 365 days a year.

In cities and towns across the nation, teachers, teenagers, librarians, politicians, actors, athletes, parents, grandparents, and others develop NEA's Read Across America activities to bring reading excitement to children of all ages. Governors, mayors, and other elected officials recognize the role reading plays in their communities with proclamations and floor statements. Athletes and actors issue reading challenges to young readers. And teachers and principals seem to be more than happy to dye their hair green or be duct-taped to a wall if it boosts their students' reading."

So, what we have is an entire day dedicated to getting kids excited about reading. A day when people visit schools, and dress up like Dr. Seuss characters, and read books. PBS is a Read Across America partner. Here are a couple of PBS-affiliated resources (with thanks to DC PBS station WETA and Reading Rockets), to help you celebrate the day:

  • offers new activity ideas and resources for bringing Dr. Seuss into the secondary classroom, celebrating Read Across America with older readers, and making the day more meaningful with service. For example, the site lists Seuss-themed suggestions for youth service projects, such as a "Hats for Haiti" initiative.
  • At Reading Rockets, you can send an e-card to your favorite readers and get them excited about this special day of reading. There's also a whole Read Across America Day resources page at Reading Rockets, including a video interview with Dr. Seuss's widow, bookmarks, book suggestions, and more.
  • The NEA website offers tips for parents, contributed by both Reading Rockets and the PBS show Between the Lions. There are tips for reading aloud, tips for parents of preschoolers, and various book lists available.

Many other partners and supporters of Read Across America Day are listed here. You can also fan Read Across America Day on Facebook, and, if you like, make a pledge there on how you plan to celebrate Read Across America Day.

I do have one other idea for how you can celebrate Read Across America Day, if you are so inclined. is running a contest on Ideas for Change in America. The top 10 rated ideas (out of 60 finalists) will be presented to members of the Obama Administration and media at an event in Washington, DC. One of the finalists is the Everybody Wins! proposal to launch a national "Read To Kids" campaign. Personally, I think that a national campaign that encourages reading aloud with children is a wonderful idea. If you think so, too, you can click here to see more details, and vote. Voting for this round of the contest runs through Friday, March 11, at 5:00 pm Eastern (each individual can vote once).

But really, the ultimate way to celebrate Read Across America Day is to curl up in a comfortable corner, and read a book with a child. Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss, and happy reading to all of you.


Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere: February 22

Posted by Jen Robinson on February 22, 2010 at 6:00 AM in Literacy News
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I've run across a host of articles dedicated to encouraging young readers recently. I hope that you find some of them useful.

readingtogether.jpgCommonsense Media shares a Q&A with Diane Frankenstein (author of Reading Together: Everything You Need to Know to Raise a Child Who Loves to Read) on how to get kids excited about books. Here's a brief excerpt: "Parents mistakenly think that once their children can read on their own, they no longer need to be involved. Reading and discussing a story creates and nurtures the habit of taking about what matters to children. And in our fast-moving, media-saturated world, thoughtful conversations are more important than ever before." I so agree! Diane also includes some specific guidelines for talking to your kids about books. Thanks to my friend Liz for the link.

T. Wright at Room to Grow: Making Early Childhood Count has a nice nuts and bolts piece, with examples, on questions to ask when choosing a book for your preschooler. For example: "Is the text appropriate for my child's developmental level? Text with rhymes and repetition are often favorites for young children. Children are able to remember the text patterns and "read" the books independently."

pancakes.jpgOnce you're done choosing a book for your preschooler, you might want to check out Dawn Little's piece at Literacy Toolbox on ten tips for reading aloud with your preschooler. Dawn suggests: "Read wordless picture books with your children. Create a story for your child based on what is happening on each page. If your child is old enough, ask your child to "read" the story to you." She also includes some suggested wordless picture book titles, such as Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola. What do you all think? Do your preschoolers like wordless picture books?

SkeletonCreek.pngAuthor Patrick Carman has an interesting piece in Publisher's Weekly about how to reach young readers in the distraction-filled modern era. Carman says: "Today's teens and preteens have an overwhelming need to stay connected, and while adults may not appreciate it, we do have to live with it. My wife and I face this reality on a daily basis with our 14- and 12-year-old daughters. We've surrounded them with books, read to them endlessly over the years, and encouraged quiet time away from their friends and the consuming force of the computer. Yet it's a challenge to keep them engaged by the written page." He goes on to discuss the need to have (in addition to traditional books) stories like his Skeleton Creek books that "seamlessly blend words, videos, and the Web." Have any of you parents seen your teens and pre-teens engaged by more interactive, media-connected books? Thanks to Benjamin J Apel of PC Studio for the link.

And for another piece with an author's views on encouraging young readers, don't miss our new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature at Public School Insights. The interview is available in text and audio formats (it's 12 minutes long). Among other insights, Katherine Paterson says "Reading asks things of you that nothing else does. You cannot be a passive reader. It takes the gift of your intellect--you have to be able to decode the words and understand them. It takes, in a way, life experience, because a story doesn't make any sense to you if you can't understand what's happening in it. It also takes your creative imagination, because you have to make all the pictures. The whole child is involved in the process. I think we've seen what happens to a country and to a society when people stop reading and listen to a few sound bites, making really important decisions on the basis of very little--and many times very biased--information."

ReadAloudHandbook.jpgDawn Morris from Moms Inspire Learning recently read Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook for the first time. She considers it essential (the one book we all should read), and I do agree with her. I'm in fact re-reading it right now. Dawn is writing a series of posts in response to the book. One that stood out for me is The Tortoise, the Hare, and Literacy, about how many parents seem to live like the hare, instead of the tortoise, racing around to teach children phonics and worksheets, instead of slowing down to gift them with the love of reading. Dawn says: "It's up to parents to raise the readers and leaders of tomorrow. If we want to create a better world, we have to stop relying on other people to help our children to learn and grow. It's a big responsibility; but we have the tools we need to change the world, one child at a time..."

TheLightningThief.jpgJoyce Grant from Getting Kids Reading is always thinking about ways to connect her son with books. Recently she shared two posts that stood out for me. In the first, she describes leaving her eight-year-old son a surprise, no occasion gift: a copy of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. "You're eight, you don't feel like going to bed, you're dragging your feet, prolonging the inevitable... and then you find a new book in your bed. The whole situation suddenly changed. His face lit up, and he thanked me like crazy." The second post is about getting kids reading by telling them about the movie or TV show. She was thrilled to see a rack of movie tie-in books at Blockbuster, saying "I think reading extensions can get kids reading. For instance, while they're waiting for the new Alice in Wonderland movie to come out, I bet a lot of kids are picking up the book for the first time." What do you all think? Do popular movies and TV shows get kids excited to go back and read the books?

I've mentioned Amy's series at Literacy Launchpad on tips for fostering a love of reading. In her latest post, Amy talks about limiting television (something that I also wrote about recently here at Booklights). Amy extensively references The Read-Aloud Handbook (are you parents out there getting the idea that this might be a good book to read? It is!). But she also shares her own family's personal experience in limiting television watching for the sake of encouraging reading. For example, she suggests having audiobooks or NPR on in the background, especially in the car, instead of TV.

And speaking of posts that tackle topics that I've also discussed in my Tips for Growing Bookworms series, Dawn Little writes at Literacy Toolbox about incorporating "environmental print" into your preschooler's vocabulary. (My tip was about pointing out when you're learning something useful by reading - environmental print is a more concise way to express some of the things that I as saying.) Dawn says "Recognizing the signs, symbols, and words that children see every day is a precursor to beginning reading... It's important that children use the world around them to help make connections."

One more tips post, one that also references The Read-Aloud Handbook, comes to us from Jim at Teacherninja. Jim offers tips for teachers and parents for growing readers (especially formerly reluctant readers). Here's an excerpt: "The back of the driver's side car seats in both of our vehicles are stuffed with magazines and slim books that my daughter likes. There's no DVD player (except on long trips). Guess what she does when she's not bopping to the music? There's also a basket of magazines and books in both bathrooms. There's one with her name on it next to her bed she can dig into when she can't get to sleep. If you build it, they will come...". Jim also talks about reading aloud and limiting television, clearly recurring themes this week.

On the remote chance that the above didn't provide enough links for you, I have other literacy and reading-related news (including literacy-related events, programs and research, 21st century literacies, and grants and donations) at my own blog today (in a post co-authored by Terry Doherty). I'd also welcome any feedback that you might have on how I could make these Literacy 'Lights posts more useful. Thanks for stopping by Booklights!


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)?

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