Category Archives: Reading

5 Summer Reading Tips for Parents

book

“Books fall open, you fall in” (David McCord)

Almost every student has a summer reading list to conquer.  Some children love summer reading and can’t wait to dive into the books. Other dread it. If your child dislikes required reading, I have five tips for you:

  1. Start early and space reading out over the next few weeks. Plan a related reward for each book.
  2. Is there an assignment to complete after the book? Find the directions and make sure she understands what to do before reading. That way, she can pick up cues as she reads. (Even better: Ask her to find the directions and read them aloud to you.)
  3. Create a routine and a comfortable place to read. In a treehouse? By the pool? Tucked away on the porch with lemonade and cookies?
  4.  If a book is challenging, have everyone in the family read the same book, together or separately.  Invite grandparents to read it, too. Then talk about it over a book dinner.
  5. Complete the assignment right after reading is finished and keep it out where your child can see it.  She’ll use it in the following days to remember what the book is about.

Everyone responds to praise and don’t be afraid of using it abundantly while helping a child complete a summer project, a difficult book, or many books!  It boosts your child’s confidence when you compliment her thoughtfully and often.  Two suggestions:

  •  “Emily, I’m proud of you for sticking with that book. Doesn’t it feel good to accomplish something difficult?”
  •   “Luis, I love to see you disappear into a book.  I can see your mind learning new things when you read.”

Let me know how any of these work for you.

Children and Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Don’t you love it when your child plays with others and uses her imagination and creativity to act out stories?VG.peasant-woman

Then you must read aloud one of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s excellent books. They mix fantasy, adventure, mystery, and magical thinking in a way that children respond to.

A person’s imagination is not an isolated ability.  It needs to be fed, stoked, and given time and space to develop.  When we do this with our children, we’re helping them learn problem solving, thinking, and social skills.

There are two of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s book that I recommend.  One is The Velvet Room–a girl explores an old, abandoned house and discovers a room full of books surrounded by velvet drapes that becomes a special space to her. When I read it, I remember the feeling of becoming the character and thinking about solving the problems.Book_egy_2007

The other is The Egypt Game, a Newbury Honor Book.  If your child likes to read about Egypt, or is drawn to Egyptian relics, this is the way to explore it.  The Egypt Game is used in lots of schools today to teach about Egypt through a child who discovers an artifact, and draws her friends into a magical game about Egypt.

In my next post, I’ll say more about how to bring special book experiences to your child.

 

 

3 Reading Tips For Parents

Do you read every day?  Even when I worked crazy, long hours as a principal, everyone in our family read every night.  We ended up cutting down on TV when our children’s schedules got busy.

VG.Book.BranchAs your child’s first and most important teacher, you’re a role model. If you expect your child to do her 20 minutes of reading a night, you should, too.

Let me add  that I believe the 20 minutes a night that most schools prescribe is far too low. It’s also misleading.  Readers grow through practice and talking about what they read, but learning to sustain their attention over time is just as important.

Here are 3 tips to increase your reading:

  1.  Make reading time child and parent snuggling and comfort time.
  2. If you read exclusively on a mobile device, show your child that you enjoy reading books, magazines, newspapers or other print material that is in your home, too.
  3. Is your family in a routine of regular trips to the library?  Library books are essential in the home.  Bring your child to the children’s room and ask the children’s librarian to help him find books.

Part of helping kids learn to read is helping them to do it every day.

 

 

Books in Your Home

Studies show that the number of books in your home library directly correlates to your child’s achievement.  This isn’t surprising, because children who see books in the home, read books in the home, and are read to at home become better and more fluent readers. It’s reading practice.

van-gogh-yellow-books-c-1887

Our home library is extensive.  My professional books about teaching and learning fill an entire wall.  Biographies, which I love to read, take up about six shelves of their own. There is a special bookcase holding books by and about E.B.White.  Same with cookbooks.  My husband’s library of program and project management, woodworking, and homebuilding books is significant, too.  Our children’s books remain in the hundreds, although we’ve given many away.

Our children grew up surrounded by books, with everyone reading, going to bookstores, having weekly trips to the library, and stories every night before bedtime.  Our family was immersed in reading practice.

When parents ask me how to improve their child’s reading, I encouraged them to:

  • Consider themselves a critical part of teaching kids to read.
  • Go to the public library and take out books your child finds interesting.  (Take advantage of your tax dollars!) Let the librarian help find books at the proper reading level for independent reading.
  • Read aloud together every day.  Children’s picture books often have challenging vocabulary, so talk about the words as you go.
  • Teach children the pleasure of browsing in a bookstore.
  • Sign up for the classroom teacher’s book club–Scholastic or another one.  This is an inexpensive way to build a home library with fun books your child chooses.
  • Model reading at home every day:  newspapers, magazines, books, Kindle, audio books.   There’s something for every reader.

Your home library matters.  How can you expand it to help your child today?

 

 

Unique Gifts for Children

 

You’re doing lots of gift-giving this month, no matter which holiday you celebrate.  Our family celebrates Christmas, but what I write here works for any December holiday of light and peace.

Wilcox

Painting by Jessie Wilcox Smith, who also illustrated The Night Before Christmas.

After each child of mine was born, I began a family tradition of giving and inscribing a Christmas book to our children every year.  Over time, they build up a sizeable library of Christmas books, with a different inscription to mark each holiday.

Adding an inscription—a personal message, signed and dated by you—on one of the first pages–turns a book into a unique gift.  I still have a few books given and inscribed to me before I could read. Reading an inscription from an older relative remains meaningful, even years later.

If you buy books for children this Christmas, here are four I recommend:

The Night of Las Posadas, Tomie de Paola (author and illustrator). Puffin Books. For picture book lovers.

Thomas Nast, Santa Claus

Illustrator Thomas Nast of the 19thc. gave us one of the most famous images of Santa Claus.

The Night Before Christmas, by Clement Moore; I like the version illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith.

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. (“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents!”).  The version edited by Daniel Sheely includes photos of Concord and Orchard House as well as fascinating annotations.  Remember that it’s a book for boys, too.

The Gift of the Magi, by O.Henry. in The O.Henry Short Story Collection. I like the 2009 volume published by Merchant Books.

Enjoy thinking up an inscription that’s special to the child and remember to date it. Whatever you write is unique because it comes from you, and will stand the test of time.

 

 

The Best Way to Teach Your Child to Read

Let’s imagine that you studied the clarinet as a child. You attended a weekly lesson, thirty minutes long. In between lessons, you practiced at home to make progress before the next lesson. Your amount of home practice determined what kind of progress you made after each clarinet lesson.

The Reading Lesson, by Emile Munier (19th c.)

The Reading Lesson, by Emile Munier (19th c.)

This is the best way to teach a child to read, too. Home practice makes all the difference. I know that some teachers ask children to read twenty minutes a night, but many fluent readers easily read for an hour or more. If your child is a struggling reader, several short sessions may be better. Think of twenty minutes as a minimum amount, rather than a maximum.

Also, there’s no magic script to use to help your child become a good reader. It’s more important that you spend time with your child and talk about the book before, during, and after reading. Try reading aloud to him, and then listen to him read aloud to you. Listen to audio books together and let your mind illustrate them.

Part of teaching a child to read is to create an environment loaded with print. That’s what teachers do, and in your child’s classroom you see words, poems, songs, and stories on the walls, on shelves, even hanging from the ceiling. It’s not about decoration as much as it is the best way to teach reading.

Still Life with French Novels and a Rose, Vincent Van Gogh (1887)

Still Life with French Novels and a Rose, Vincent Van Gogh (1887)

Likewise, think about where you keep print in your home. Are books, magazines, newspapers, and library books readily available? Using a Kindle or Nook is great, but children need to touch, feel, manipulate, and enjoy all the sensory pleasures of reading a physical book.

As for learning the clarinet, remember the old joke:

Q.  “What’s the best way to get to Carnegie Hall?”

A.  “Practice, practice, practice!”

 

Wandering Adventure in a Bookstore

Wandering around a local bookstore is a travel adventure to me. Naturally, that was part of my plan when my daughters and I visited a friend in Provincetown.

Talk about the illustrations as you read aloud.

Talk about the illustrations as you read aloud. This is “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Illustrations by Graham Rust.

My 7-year old went one way. My 4-year old whined in agony.

“Mom, I’m not like everybody else in the family.” She threw herself on the floor. “I hate bookstores!”

News to me. We went to bookstores as often as the playground. Snuggling at night with a read-aloud, talking about the story as we read, and keeping piles of library books around the house was part of family life.

Listen to audio books read aloud by the author.

Listen to audio books read aloud by the author.

I led her to the children’s section and encouraged her to pick out a book. A few feet away, I sank into the nonfiction.

Soon, a little voice began. It was my 4-year-old, reading a book aloud. By herself. I held my breath. When had she begun reading? I asked her nonchalantly.

“Just now,” she said.

Look through travel books together.

Look through travel books together.

It’s one thing to be a teacher and witness the light bulb moment when children learn to read. When it’s your child, it’s a thrill. But it is not magic.

These are two simple ways to help your child be a good reader:

  1. Keep all kinds of books, magazines, newspapers, catalogs, and e-readers around the house. Kids need to be immersed in print to become good readers.

    Kids love to read other kids' books.

    Kids love to read other kids’ books.

  2. Kids need to see their family members reading. Read aloud to kids and read alone. (Even if reading isn’t your favorite activity.)

When you help a reader grow, you’re helping to build a better world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grandparents and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes

Your two granddaughters come to visit while their mother copes with a new baby. Every morning, you pour mountainous bowls of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes for each one before they come downstairs.

Did you know Kellogg's Corn Flakes has been around for over 100 years? (K.Nollet, 2015)

Did you know Kellogg’s Corn Flakes has been around for over 100 years? (K.Nollet, 2015)

You set out spoons and the yellow milk pitcher. You have firm ideas about the propriety of leaving the cereal box on the table, so you put it back in the cabinet.

Years ago, I was one of those little girls and severely disappointed.  Why?

Because I’d been deprived of one of life’s pleasures–reading the cereal box while eating.

Have you noticed how we all read cereal boxes over and over? It’s entertainment and learning, something today’s grandparents love to provide.

Lots of preschoolers can read plenty on the box because they recognize the logo, colors, shapes, and easy words. Older grandchild will notice the kayaking and Kellogg’s free cruise contest. Why not help them enter?

Do your grandkids know Corny the rooster? (K.Nollet, 2015)

Do your grandkids know Corny the rooster? (K.Nollet, 2015)

The nutrition information alone is full of math and science possibilities—percentages, measurement, minerals, vitamins—and you can practice Spanish and English at the same time.

On the back of the box, there’s a message just for you. “Discover the possibilities” the next time you serve a bowl of corn flakes.

Math on National Fudge Day

When I heard that today was National Fudge Day, I dug out my grandmother’s recipe book to find “Fudge Without Cooking.” Grammy reused and recycled many things, including two pieces of plywood from her friend Mrs. Bagelmann’s husband, a pharmacist. Inside, she handwrote, typed, or taped recipes on stiff manila cardboard pages.

The first page recipes begin with “Mrs. Potter’s Sponge Cake” and end with “Amalia’s Yum Yum Cake.” (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Following a fudge recipe with children creates the perfect opportunity for practicing math skills. It’s a great way for students to help build confidence using math. Recipes involve other skills, too, like reading, comprehension, vocabulary, planning strategies to solve problems, thinking, rethinking, timing, and lots of measurement and estimation.

Ask students if this potato is right for the fudge. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Ask students if this potato is right for the fudge. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Plus, it’s fun to hear students hypothesize about why a potato is in the fudge.

Approach using this recipe any way you wish.  I’d probably provide the ingredients, tools, and a microwave and tell a small group of students that I had faith in their ability to figure it out.  Then, I’d assess them along the way.

For others who prefer to take it step by step, consider this approach:

1.  Students read the recipe.  Ask “What ingredients do you need and how much of each? What is your plan to obtain them?”

Shave a little chocolate off the block so children can experience the taste. (Photo K.Nollet, 2015)

Shave a little chocolate off the block so children can experience its particular taste. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

2. Student read the list of ingredients.  Ask “What units of measurement are used in this recipe? What tools will you need? How is unsweetened chocolate different from a candy bar?  How many potatoes do you estimate make 1/3 cup?”

3.  Students explain the tasks that the verbs indicate, including if they need tools to complete them.  Ask them about melt, blend, mix, sift, add, knead, turn out, press.

(I encourage teachers, parents, or grandparents to let the child talk more than you do.  It’s easy to jump in and tell the answer, but don’t.  The best hands-on learning lets students discover on their own.)

IMG_3889

(Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Continue and release the responsibilities as much as you can.  Click on the recipe to enlarge it.

This recipe was originally printed in Parade magazine, in 1971 or 1972.  The Parade Food Editor was Beth Merriman and the photo was by Walter Strelnick.

 

 

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Teddy the Terrier

IMG_3688What’s blue and tan and smart all over? Meet my nine-year-old Yorkie, Teddy.

Don’t assume what you read about Yorkshire terriers to be true, like making good lap dogs. For Teddy, this is 10%. He cuddles when he feels like it and if the conditions are right. (Is the crook of your knee available? Will you stroke him? Is there a soft blanket in the sun?)

The remaining 90% of Teddy’s time is spent working an independent agenda, true to his breed’s curiosity and roots as a ratter. Open doors intrigue him. No hole remains unexamined, no rocky crevice unexplored, no object unaudited.

A blur of Teddy checks out a hole.

A blur of Teddy checks out a hole.

From his post atop a Victorian wicker settee, he evaluates neighborhood intruders: people with dogs, motorcyclists, bicyclists, walkers who lag.

Although highly motivated by food, Teddy loves another kind of reward: sitting in a parked car. Harnessed into his car seat. In the garage. Teddy stares at me when he decides it’s time for this; if I’m busy and don’t notice, he barks.

 Zen and the art of carsitting-in-garage.

Zen and the art of carsitting-in-garage.

As an educator, I don’t compare children to dogs. But life with Teddy has reinforced why I never make assumptions about students. Assumptions can limit a teacher’s expectations and even form invisible barriers to growth. It’s our job to find out what’s unique about a child and to help each one thrive.