Teaching Your Child Literacy and Numeracy: There’s an App for That

Baby Girl on a Messy Couch with her Parents “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important.” – Bill Gates

For a lot of parents, the idea of “teaching literacy and numeracy skills” to our children is intimidating—and if it’s not intimidating, it’s definitely overwhelming: there are only so many times we can recite the alphabet and sing nursery rhymes between doing the laundry, getting groceries, making meals, changing diapers, changing more diapers, loading and unloading children from vehicles, cleaning puke from our hair, and occasionally showering. Sitting down with our kids on the daily to intentionally “teach literacy” is a bit of a lofty goal: even if we have the time, we might not know what to do. And so it’s sometimes easier—let’s face it—to sit our kids down with Dora and hope they learn through cartoon osmosis.

There’s no harm in that—I know lots of toddlers who can teach me Spanish because of that show. But it’s important to remember that you are your child’s first and most effective teacher; Dora and her purple monkey companion are merely extending the lessons you’ve already taught. And though you might not know it, you are teaching your children all the time.

Your children develop most of their literacy and numeracy skills during the routine, day-to-day activities that are already part of your family life. While you are sorting laundry with your two-year old, she is picking up on patterns, numeracy, sizes, and categories. The most effective way to improve and develop your child’s literacy is to recognize these moments and build on them. This is easier said than done—most of us go on auto-pilot when we do routine tasks, so it’s a bit of a stretch to expect that you will remember to recognize (and build on) those moments of literacy in every mundane thing you do. Luckily, there’s an app for that.

Flit, our free family literacy app, was developed for parents like you to identify those moments of literacy and build on them. Whether you are in the middle of grocery shopping, doing laundry, or cooking dinner, you can click open the app, choose a category and quickly find a literacy activity you can incorporate into the task at hand. Here’s an example of what you’ll find:

  • Making Breakfast?

Click the “Cooking” category. Choose an activity that corresponds to what you are making for breakfast—there’s a fun activity for everything from Smoothies to Fruit Loops.

Say it’s a Fruit Loop day: the app suggests laying the fruit loops out in a pattern of colours, having you or your child string them on a string in the laid out pattern, and fruit-loopsthen tying the ends of the string to make a fruit loop necklace.

While you do this activity, you can talk to your child about the different colours and pattern of the fruit loops. To extend the activity, you can share a book like We All Went on Safari by Laurie Krebs or Elmer by David McKee and have your child look for different colour patterns in it.

Each activity also has a section that explains the “Why?” of the activity—in the case of the Fruit Loops, the app explains that “Patterns are everywhere—in language, reading, writing and numeracy. This type of activity lets you make pattern recognition a natural part of your child’s routine.”

The app, which was completely upgraded last fall, has more than 125 activities under eight categories: books, rhymes, games, crafts, writing, numbers, cooking, and reading. With so many activities, you can use it to incorporate literacy activities into most of your daily routines for a long time to come. After awhile, you will learn to come up with your own activities and see the literacy potential in all of the things you are already doing with your child each day… you might not even need an app for it.

Click here for the iOS version.

Click here to download the Android version.

Watch a video demo of the app.

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Hop! Hop! Here Comes the Easter Bunny!

Finally, we can all peek our heads outside and breathe a sigh of relief. Winter is over. 

CELEBRATE WITH BOOKS, SONGS, AND OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES with an Easter theme!


BOOK RECOMMENDATIONHopHop!

Share the book Hop, Hop! by Leslie Patricelli together.

“The Easter Bunny is coming! It’s time to dye eggs. Did you know that red and blue make purple? That blue and yellow make green? That an art project may result in a multicolored Baby? There are bunny ears to wear (for the dog and cat, too) and an Easter basket to put out before bedtime. What will Baby find inside it the next morning?”

Stretch Your Book

There are many things related to the story that you can do to stretch out the learning opportunities and fun. Try these:

  • As you read through, talk about what the characters are doing in the story. Talk about any similarities and differences to your own family’s springtime traditions.
  • Talk to your child about the different colours and what happens when you mix them.
  • Colour your own eggs and dress up like a bunny, just like in the book!

EASTER EGGS

Easter_eggMaterials:

  • White-shelled hard-boiled eggs
  • Hot water
  • White vinegar
  • Food dye (yellow, red, and blue)
  • 3 small bowls
  • Large spoon
  • Newspaper to protect your table

 

Instructions:

  1. In each bowl, combine ½ cup of hot water, 1 tsp. of vinegar, and about 20 drops of food colouring (one colour per bowl).
  2. The story says, “Yellow and red make orange!” So dunk an egg into yellow, then dunk it in red and see how it changes.
  3. Do the same for the rest of the colours, and do your own mixing experiments as well. Don’t forget to refrigerate the eggs before and after your egg hunt!

 


BUNNY EARS BunnyEarsCraft

Materials:

  • White cardstock paper
  • Pink paper or
  • Pink crayon/pencil
  • Scissors
  • Glue Stick
  • Pencil

  BunnyEarsInstructions

  1. Cut white cardstock into strips for the headpiece and ears
  2. Use a pink crayon or the pink paper to make the inside of the ears
  3. Tape or glue the headpiece and ears into place
  4. Hop around like bunnies, just like in the book

 

 

 

 


SONG FOR SPRING BUNNIES

(Try wearing your bunny ears for this!)

“5 Little Bunnies”

*a bunny version of the traditional song “5 Little Ducks”

(Try asking your child what sound they think a bunny makes, and change it to whatever they say!)

Five little bunnies went out one day,
Over the hills and far away,
Mother bunny said squeak, squeak, squeak,
But only four bunnies came hopping back.

Four little bunnies went out one day,
Over the hills and far away,
Mother bunny said squeak, squeak, squeak,
But only three bunnies came hopping back.

(Continue counting down to “none”)

Sad mother bunny went out one day,
Over the hills and far away,
Mother bunny said squeak, squeak, squeak,
And all the five bunnies came hopping back!


THE GREAT OUTDOORS

EasterEggHuntIf you coloured Easter eggs, get outside and hide them for your little ones! And if you didn’t, create your own scavenger hunt.

Create a list, using pictures and words, of the items they need to find. For example:

  • you could hide golf balls
  • search for certain colours
  • find things in nature like a green leaf or a pine cone
  • search for objects that begin with different letters of the alphabet….

The options are limited only by your imagination!

Check the Centre for Family Literacy’s website for the tip sheets “Families just want to have FUN! Party Activities” here

Happy Easter!  

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Spring into Learning!

Spring has arrived! It is a pleasure to get outside now that the snow is melting and the air is warmer. Outside, there are many things to learn in spring. Children are like little sponges ready to soak up new information. It doesn’t take extra time to give your children the chance to learn; family literacy can occur naturally during daily routines.

Here are some ways to use literacy in your activities this spring:

  • talk to your children as they put on their spring gear. Ask why they no longer need to wear winter boots, coats, etc.
  • dressed in rubber boots and raincoats, let them experience the tactile joy of crunching ice and splashing in puddles. Talk about how it feels as they squish through mud and try to pull their feet out. Ask them to make the sounds of squishing mud and splashing and running water.
  • look at snow and ice melting where the sun shines and talk about where the snow goes. Wonder why water sometimes gathers in a puddle and sometimes runs down the drain. Discuss why it rains in warmer weather instead of snowing. How does this helps things grow?
  • encourage your children to use their senses to experience spring. 
Talk about what they see, smell, feel and hear. Look for the first flowers and buds on trees. Notice if it’s lighter at bedtime. Search for bugs. Ask if the air smells different and feels warmer. Hear the different bird sounds.
  • share a book.
  • sing a song.

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers is a favourite of children and parents alike; it is laugh-out-loud funny. In the story, a boy loses his kite in a tree and tries to knock it down by throwing everything he can find into the tree.

Here is a springtime song to enjoy. Try acting it out!

Rain is Falling
(tune: “Skip to My Lou”)

Rain is falling, what shall I do (X 3)
What shall I do my darling?

Put on a raincoat, (rain boots, rain pants, rain coat) that’s what I’ll do (X 3)
That’s what I’ll do my darling.

Grab an umbrella, (jump in some puddles) that’s what I’ll do (X 3)
That’s what I’ll do my darling.

For more fun ideas, download our free parenting literacy resource app, Flit, from Google Play or the App Store. The app gives you over 120 fun literacy activities, recipes, games to do with your children, and tips and tricks to add to your parenting tool box.  

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What is STEM and How Do I Teach it to my Kids?

STEM. This has caught a lot of attention. Do you know what it means?

– Science
– Technology
– Engineering
– Mathematics

Did you think it was exclusive to older children, or even adults? Not at all! These concepts are all part of children’s learning through exploration and discovery. 

Did you know all children are little scientists? Everything about their world is open for discovery. They want to know “why,” “what happens if I do this,” “where does it go,” “how did that happen.” Children will repeat actions such as building a tower over and over again even though it keeps falling apart. They want to learn how to make it more stable and  they want to build it taller. Have patience! Though they may get frustrated, they are learning a STEM concept! Encourage questions from your children by prompting them with questions of your own, such as, “why do you think the tower fell,” “should we try it again,” “what do you think will happen this time,” and “what should we do differently?”

Allowing children to experience concepts hands on—by creating a learning environment where they can touch, manipulate, and explore their surroundings—will benefit them far more than only reading a book about a topic or watching a video.

Try these activities at home:

SCIENCE: 
Little scientists investigating the natural world

GLOVE-garden

  • Try planting some seeds. Watching something grow from a seed can be exciting and doesn’t have to be done outdoors. You can start the growing season early by planting seeds indoors
  • You don’t have to start them in a pot or container either. Try using a plastic glove! Children can drop a moistened cotton ball into each finger length, add a seed and then hang it in the window
  • Discussion about what plants need to grow—sun, air, and water—can occur as you daily monitor the changes together as the roots begin to break free from the seed
  • Once the seed has sprouted, transplant it to a little pot with dirt and continue to watch it grow

TECHNOLOGY:
Exploring ways to use what they build for a purpose or action

Balloon Car2

  • Think “outside the box” and do activities that have less to do with an electronic device and more to do with hands on. There are plenty of apps available that offer activities related to technology, and children are getting more and more time on screens. Offer something new by taking the device out of technology
  • Use technology to “research” a project to make with your children
  • A project we like to make is a little car or boat that can be powered for simple movement. You only need common supplies such as cardboard, a couple of wooden skewers (sticks), milk jug tops for the wheels, some tape, a balloon, and a straw. After the car is built you blow the balloon up, and as the air escapes through the straw it propels the car forward. You can find complete instructions here http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Balloon-Car

ENGINEERING:
Using their knowledge of the world around them to build and create

Build-Engineer

  • Yes, build and create!
  • Make blanket forts
  • Build simple structures using toothpicks and mini marshmallows or small candies
  • Use building toys, such as stacking blocks
  • Make things from recycled materials

 


MATH
:
Increasing knowledge of counting, patterns, colours, and shapes to strengthen their ability to build and create with purpose

Color Mix

  • Get messy. Mix colours to learn about primary and secondary colours. Partly fill a sandwich bag with a small amount of shaving cream. Add a few drops from 2 different colours of food colouring. Have your children mix it all together to see what new colour is created. Have them predict ahead of time what will happen

  • Using different coloured recycled jug lids and stickers, make your own memory matching game
  • Create a container filled with random things you may find in a junk drawer (child safe of course), and have your children sort the things from smallest to biggest, or by colour or shape
  • Have fun with food! Break apart a chocolate chip cookie to count how many chocolate chips are in it. Estimate how many will be in each cookie, and compare the totals with the actual chocolate chip count

Looking for activities to do with your children, with STEM concepts in mind, can be a super way for you both to learn, be creative, get messy, and have fun!  

To get over 125 of the best activities to do with your children to boost and build key literacy skills from birth to 5 years, download the Centre for Family Literacy’s FREE Flit app (Families Learning and Interacting Together).

Click here for the iOS version.

Click here to download the Android version.

Watch a video demo of the app.

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Making Book Sharing Time Count

Family reading in bed.You may have heard that we should be reading to children every day. Some articles will even urge parents to read to their children a minimum of 15 minutes or half an hour every day. This isn’t bad advice, and it’s not even a bad target to shoot for, but I’m not sure how realistic it is for everybody. I would argue that quality matters more than quantity when it comes to sharing books.

Babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers, and the rest of us learn best when we are comfortable and happy. If you try to share books with children when they are tired, in pain, hungry, or otherwise uncomfortable, they will probably resist and quickly become frustrated with your attempts. Our brains operate very differently when we’re scared or upset, and learning necessarily takes a backseat to the desire to feel safe again. So, if your goal is to give your children a lifelong love of reading, do not insist on book sharing when your children have clearly had enough. You want them to associate book sharing with good feelings and not fighting and tears.

Those moments when you can spend one-on-one time with your children are very special, and as much as our organization exists to promote literacy, books are not the only thing that children need. So don’t be too concerned if they don’t want to read all of the time. Playing together, snuggling, making weird noises, and exploring the community are all valuable and worthy pursuits. Add to that all of your daily meals, sleep, work and errands, and some days you might be lucky to find 5 minutes to read together, and that’s still incredibly valuable.

One last thing: asking young children, and especially babies, to pay attention for a long time is often asking too much. If your book sharing time is split up into 15 one-minute chunks, that is no less valuable than one 15-minute session. Look for when the reading opportunities present themselves rather than try to force it to happen at any particular time.

Whether you are reading to calm your children and get them ready to sleep, or to goof around and have some fun, you want book sharing to be a positive experience for both you and your children. That way no matter how often you actually get the chance to read together, it will be something that you both look forward to and benefit from.

#books_for_babies

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Have Fun and Build Brains Using “Serve and Return”

More brain connections form in the first six years of life than at any other time, and the more you use these connections the stronger they get. Brain connections are built on a foundation of “serve and return” interactions. Serve and return refers to give-and-take —healthy interaction that goes both ways. For example, if your baby “serves” by smiling at you, you “return” by smiling back. By doing this, you are showing baby that you understand them and they matter; you are giving them the feedback they need to learn.

TheBigAnimalMix-upReading a story together is a great example of a serve and return activity, and many have an interactive nature built right into them. The Big Animal Mix-up, a lift-the-flap book by Gareth Edwards and Kanako Usui is a good one to try. It has bright pictures, humour, and a lot of rhythm and rhyme. In the story, Little Bear’s dad tries to teach him about animals: “Hello Little Bear, here’s a story for you, that’s all about animals and what they can do.” Only as the title suggests, they’re all mixed up! He has snakes mixed up with birds, and mice mixed up with whales. Now Little Bear (and your child) have to set the record straight.

Here is a bird. It slithers around. And slides through the jungle with a soft hissing sound.”

“Hang on a minute! You made a mistake. If it hisses and slithers it must be a..… [open flap] SNAKE!”

Remember that any book can be made interactive by talking about the pictures, having your child help you with the story, asking open-ended questions, and relating the story to real life.

Building brain connections through serve and return has a big impact on the rest of a child’s life, providing the solid foundation needed for language and emotional health. But don’t forget to have fun while doing it!

 

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How to Choose Quality Children’s Books

Choosing good quality children’s books can be difficult, as there are no guidelines for what can be published as a children’s book. Not all books are appropriate for all children. At the Centre for Family Literacy, we try to keep three things in mind when we are considering the purchase of a new title. These tips are very helpful, especially when buying multicultural books because we may not be familiar with all aspects of different cultures.

  1. Is the book truthful and respectful?
  2. Would this book hurt or embarrass anyone?
  3. Does this book perpetuate a stereotype?

To help us choose good quality books that are age-appropriate, we keep in mind the following:

  1. How realistic are the pictures in board books?
  2. How wordy are the picture books?
  3. How well are the books are made?

When we see a new book from a familiar author, we generally know if the book will be a good fit for our program. A great example of this is Hervé Tullet’s book, Mix it Up! His previous book, Press Here, is a favourite of many of our facilitators, and we knew that Mix it Up! wouldn’t disappoint us. Parents and children can explore the wonder of colours in a new, fun, interactive way.

Some of our favourite books are:

  1. Mix it Up! by Hervé Tullet
  2. Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? by Martin Waddell
  3. Duck & Goose: It’s Time for Christmas! by Tad Hills
  4. The Very Best Daddy of All by Marion Dane Bauer
  5. Boy + Bot by Amy Dyckman

MixItUp Can't You Sleep? DuckGoose BestDaddy Boy&Bot

Remember, everyone does not have to like the same books. You know your children best, and what is okay for some children may not be okay for others. However if you enjoy the book, your children probably will too.

Here is a link to our free tip sheet with more about choosing children’s books. 

Please visit our website for more free tip sheets about choosing books for specific age groups and more. 

 

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A Christmas Tree for the Birds

Every year when I was young, my brothers and I would spend a day with my Grandpa and Grandma, and decorate a tree outside with treats for the birds. It was usually on a Saturday close to Christmas, to give my parents time to do their Christmas shopping.

We would spend the morning making treats with my Grandma, and after lunch we would go outside with my Grandpa and decorate the tree.

A garland of stale popcorn and dried cranberries strung together was a treat for the sparrows and little chickadees, and peanuts, threaded through the shell and hung, were for the Blue Jays.

My Grandma would mix up peanut butter, suet and cornmeal, and we would coat pinecones with this mixture and then roll them in birdseed. We hung these on the tree branches with red yarn so the birds would notice them. We would also hang dried apple slices. 

Next we made mesh pouches out of mesh bags (like the ones used for lemons or oranges) and filled them with suet for the other birds. As we were working, my Grandpa would talk about the different birds that would come to eat the treats: pine siskins, grosbeaks, nuthatches, and woodpeckers; he would tell us what they looked like and their funny little mannerisms.

After the tree was all decorated, we would clamor back inside and race each other to the couch, the best place to view the action outside. After the usual jostling and complaining, we would finally settle to watch with delight as the birds visited the Christmas tree filled with treats.

This Christmas tradition is one of my favourite memories of my grandparents. I feel so fortunate that they took the time to do this with us when we were kids.

Pinecone treats for the birds:

  1. Mix equal parts peanut butter (use the natural kind with only peanuts listed in the ingredients) and suet (or lard).
  2. Stir in enough cornmeal to make a thick paste.
  3. Press this mixture into the pinecone.
  4. Roll in a wild birdseed mix.
  5. String or tie cotton thread to the pinecone and hang from a tree in your yard.
  6. Enjoy the birds that come visit!
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What is National Child Day?

iStock_read2You may have heard that National Child Day is approaching on November 20th, but do you know what it’s all about?

A Brief History

In 1959, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the first major international agreement on the basic principles of children’s rights: The Declaration of the Rights of the Child. On November 20th, 1989, the first international legally binding text to protect these rights was adopted: the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. National Child Day is a way to celebrate these two events.

Principles of National Child Day include:

  • Acting in the best interests of the child
  • All children have the right to an adequate standard of living, health care and to play

Family is foundational to a sense of belonging and identity. Children feel like they belong when they have positive, loving relationships with the adults in their lives. This is actually needed for the development of skills such as communication, language, empathy, and cooperation to name a few.

There are many ways to celebrate National Child Day, and November 20th is as good a time as any to consider your child’s needs.

Family Activities

Songs, rhymes and books serve as a great way to bond with family. Singing together in particular can build that sense of closeness. Try singing The More We Get Together, a song many of us remember from our own childhood.

The More We Get Together

The more we get together,
together, together,
the more we get together,
the happier we’ll be.
Cause your friends are my friends,
and my friends are your friends,
the more we get together,
the happier we’ll be.

The more we play together,
together, together,
the more we play together,
the happier we’ll be.
Cause your friends are my friends,
and my friends are your friends,
the more we play together,
the happier we’ll be.

The more we dance together,
together, together,
the more we dance together,
the happier we’ll be.
Cause your friends are my friends,
and my friends are your friends,
the more we dance together,
the happier we’ll be.

The more we get together,
together, together,
the more we get together,
the happier we’ll be.
Cause your friends are my friends,
and my friends are your friends,
the more we get together,
the happier we’ll be.
The more we get together,
The happier we’ll be,
The more we get together,
The hap-pi-er we’ll be!

One by Kathryn Otoshi is a book that not only touches on numbers and colours, but also has something to say about acceptance and inclusion, and how it often takes just one voice to “make everyone count.” one2

“Blue is a quiet color. Red’s a hothead who likes to pick on Blue. Yellow, Orange, Green, and Purple don’t like what they see, but what can they do? When no one speaks up, things get out of hand — until One comes along and shows all the colors how to stand up, stand together, and count.”

Recommended for ages 4 – 8, there’s even a downloadable parent and teacher guide for the book on the KO Kids Books website.

I’m Here by Peter H. Reynolds is a book recommended for ages 4 – 8 with a theme of self-love from the perspective of a child who feels like an outsider. It’s a great book for building acceptance and empathy, and shows how one person can help a child to feel connected.

im-hereI’m here.
And you’re there.
And that’s okay.
But…
maybe there will be a gentle wind
that pulls us together.
And then I’ll be here
and you’ll be here, too. 

Family activities like these help to foster a sense of belonging, which, in turn, creates a strong foundation for learning and development that will take them through the rest of their lives.

Check out the official website of National Child Day and the  Public Health Agency of Canada, for more information, events and activity kits.

#NCD2020    

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Halloween Science Fun!

I think I have one of the best hobbies in the world – science! Halloween is especially fun, as I become a mad scientist, performing science shows and demonstrations at events.

One of the things I love about this is that I get to create a character and a story to act out around the science experiments I’m doing. It changes a little with every show, but that’s part of the fun!

This Halloween, why not act out a character that’s different from your everyday life, and add some cool science activities to the fun! Here are a couple of fun, easy ones you can try!

BONE GROWING FORMULA (A.K.A. Goop)

You need:

  • Deep pan or bowl
  • Cornstarch
  • Water

What to do:

Mix the cornstarch and the water until everything is wet, but there is no water sitting on top. To mix it, you have to move slowly and gently.

This neat goop gets hard when squeezed or hit, but oozes when let go. (It’s called a non-newtonian fluid for anyone who wants to look that up.)

It’s entertaining for all ages – trust me, I had more trouble getting the adults out of it than the kids!

FAKE BLOOD

You need:

  • 1 cup Corn syrup
  • 1 tbsp Chocolate syrup
  • 2 tbsp Cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp Red food colouring
  • 2 tbsp Water

What to do:

Put all the ingredients in a blender and mix it up. Add more red or chocolate syrup to get the colour you want, but it works out pretty well.

Want to really gross people out? Taste the fake blood in a way that makes them think it’s real – it actually doesn’t taste bad!

Left Brain Craft Brain is a great blog that lists some spooky science experiments to do as a family. You’ll find links to all the instructions you need to have a great time this Halloween!

 

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