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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Let Your Child Take the Lead

As your child grows, their interests in books will change—follow their lead on what books to choose!

LET’S GO!

Follow your child’s lead!

DO IT TOGETHER!

Have a variety of books for your child to choose from. Make sure the books are accessible by placing them on a lower shelf within reach of your child. Or better still, put them in a basket on the floor. Let them decide which one they want to share with you.

WHY?

Your child’s interests will change over time. They may like different topics, styles, and types of books (fiction or non-fiction) at different stages in their lives.

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The Easiest Ever Thanksgiving Craft

Thanksgiving is coming soon! It might be a little different this year, but enjoy a long weekend of fun, food, and lots of family time! Here’s an easy and fun craft for the whole family:

LET’S GO!

What you need:

  • Paper
  • Crayons
  • Optional: felt tip marker

What to do:

  1. Trace your hand or your child’s with a marker or crayon
  2. Use crayons or markers to draw in and colour a turkey
  3. Have fun with it! 

You and your child can make just one, or make a turkey for each person at Thanksgiving dinner! Place them on each plate, not only for decoration but for conversation too! 

 

WHY?

Making crafts together is a good way to bond with your child, and the talking that comes from working together is building an important literacy skill. A bonus is the hand coordination that comes from drawing, which will help with writing skills in the future.

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4 Ways to Celebrate Autumn with Your Child & Reap the Benefits of the Outdoors

autumn

The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.” – e.e. Cummings

Fall is almost here with its whimsical, whirling leaves and wind. There’s no better time to make sure we, and our children, are getting enough outdoor fun. With screen time increasing for both kids and adults, it’s more important than ever to consciously make the time to play in nature.

There is no shortage of information about why our kids need the great outdoors. Vitamin D exposure, healthy eye development, opportunities for exercise, improved sleep quality and brain development, Mother Nature provides it all. Thanks to the nature of outdoor play, (the jackpot of early childhood development), kids can discover confidence, independence and resiliency.

Playing outside forces kids to be inventive. It requires them to make choices and choose adventures, take risks and adapt. They move their whole bodies, and use all of their senses when in nature; they can see, hear, smell and touch the world around them, and research tells us that multi-sensory experiences promote better learning. Outdoor play supports coordination, balance, and motor skills; it feeds a sense of wonder, forces our kids to ask questions, and it even reduces stress, which is important because stress is a huge barrier to brain development.

Below are four ways to take advantage of the outdoors to promote healthy brain development and early literacy.

1. Do something that helps out Mother Nature, such as make a bird feeder, plant a tree, or make a birdbath.

How to make a bird feederbirdfeeder

You will need:

  1. natural peanut butter
  2. suet (or lard)
  3. cornmeal
  4. pinecone
  5. wild birdseed
  6. cotton thread

Directions:

  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 the pinecone in the wild birdseed mix
  5. String or tie cotton thread to the pinecone and hang from a tree in your yard

2. Start an art project. For example:

  1. Collect and press fall leaves between wax paper, or do leaf rubbings (place a piece of paper over the leaf and lightly rub over it with a pencil or crayon)
  2. Collect rocks and paint them to look like animals
  3. Create a “stained glass” window with fall leaves. After picking your colourful leaves outside, press them to the sticky side of some transparent contact paper, and place on your window

3. Read a non-fiction book about birds. Try About Birds: A Guide for Children by Cathryn Sill, and see if you can find any of the birds outside.

Pair it with fiction books about birds or animals, like the Little Owl’s series by Divya Srinivasan, or any of the Pigeon series by Mo Willems. Extend your books even further by drawing and colouring your favourite birds together.

little-owls-nightpigeon-book              

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Learn a rhyme together that involves nature. Here’s one to start you off:

September Leaves

Leaves are floating softly down;
Some are red and some are brown.
The wind goes whooshing through the air;
When you look back there’s no leaves there.

 

Mother Nature provides for a rich learning experience, so get out there and seize the season—make those mud pies, and jump in those puddles!  

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Frozen Fruits

Making a healthy snack together is fun! You can count pieces of fruit, time how long it takes to freeze, look at the shapes, and more!

LET’S GO!

What you need:

  • 2 cups green seedless grapes
  • 2 cups purple seedless grapes
  • 2 bananas

What to do:

  1. Wash the grapes and cut them lengthwise.
  2. Cut the bananas into slices about 2cm thick.
  3. Put all the fruit on a baking tray and place it in the freezer for at least an hour until it is frozen.

DO IT TOGETHER!

Let your child help you wash the grapes, cut the fruit (using a child-safe knife) and lay the pieces on a baking tray.

Talk about the measurement, and count how many grapes fit into two cups. Count how many pieces of banana you cut. Enjoy a fresh frozen dessert or snack together when it’s ready!

WHY?

Recipes give an opportunity to use reading and numeracy (numbers) in a different way. Talking about measurements, counting, and making something together helps build vocabulary and skills in a way that your child feels very involved with.

The end result, no matter what you’ve made, helps make them want to do it again!

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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Hot Day Relief and Writing – What Could Be Better?

Combining water on a hot day with an opportunity for writing can be great fun!

LET’S GO!

Use the hose and your bodies to create letters or words on a dry fence or wall.

DO IT TOGETHER!

On a nice hot day, get your hose out and have some fun! Find a dry spot on a fence or wall (the wall has to be one that gets darker when water hits it). Have your children and other family members line up in front of the dry area and strike a letter pose by making the shape with their body. You might need two people to make some letters!

Ask everyone to freeze and spray them with the hose, making sure to soak the dry area around their bodies. Once everyone’s nice and wet, have them step away and look at the dry areas left behind.

Have fun with it. Once it’s dry again, challenge yourselves to write a simple word or someone’s name! Give your children a turn with the hose, so they can be the one “writing”.

WHY?

Aside from giving relief on a hot day, writing using different tools and methods will help your children learn to write. Whether it’s making the shape with their body, or outlining someone else’s shape with the hose, they will be able to see what the letters look like and how they are formed. If you try to write words, such as their names, they will start to understand that putting letters together makes something new and meaningful.

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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Painting Patterns

Have fun painting with different-shaped objects that don’t always create the pattern you think they should.

LET’S GO!

What you need:

  • Paper
  • Non-toxic, washable paint – different colours
  • Bowls or plates to hold paint
  • Washbasin (or deep cake pan)
  • Objects that roll or slide (golf ball, rock, marble, pencil, etc.)

What to do:

  1. Put the paper on the bottom of the washbasin.
  2. Put each paint colour into a bowl or on a plate.
  3. Choose an object (like a golf ball) and dip it into the paint.
  4. Place it on the paper in the bottom of the washbasin.
  5. Move the object around by tipping the basin in different directions.

DO IT TOGETHER!

Look around outside and in your house for objects that your child thinks have fun shapes or designs. Let them try each object one at a time in the washbasin. Talk about their painting and the patterns left by the paint.

Does the pattern match the shape of the object or the pattern you thought it would leave in the paint? Follow your child’s lead and experiment by putting more than one object in at a time, or different coloured paints on the same object.

WHY?

Numeracy isn’t just about numbers. Talking about colours, shapes, and patterns helps with your child’s numeracy development. Experimenting and having fun at the same time will help your child learn and remember these numeracy ideas even more.

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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