APPsolutely Amazing!

placeit (4)As one of the developers of our Flit (Families Learning and Interacting Together) app, I am amazed and humbled at the support and feedback we have received since Flit was first launched on Family Literacy Day in January, 2016. Here are some of the things we’ve heard:

 

  • “Simple activities that are fun and able to be enjoyed by kids. Would recommend this app to any parent, in particular stay at home dads who need a bit of inspiration around activities, reading, and crafting. Fantastic for kids.” (5/5 Stars)
  • “What a great app to support literacy activities with the kids! Easy to use, provides great resources for parents to reference when looking for ideas to support a child’s reading, singing, etc.”
  • “Helpful and easy to use! I love this app! For those of us who are sleep deprived, tools like these are invaluable! The layout is easy to understand and use and the songs/rhymes are engaging and definitely promote language! Can’t wait to see what else the Centre for Family Literacy comes up with next!”

The app was even reviewed by Montreal Families! Read the review titled “Free mobile app aims to boost literacy in kids.”

Here’s an excerpt: “Created by the Centre for Family Literacy, an organization that develops educational programs in Alberta, Flit (families learning and interacting together) is a phone and tablet application that offers 116 activities parents and kids can do together to enhance literacy skills. These include reading, writing, numbers, cooking, games, rhymes and crafts.

Although it is an app, the intention isn’t for kids to spend more time with technology. Rather, it suggests day-to-day activities that teach kids about numbers or words in a fun way…

And to top it off (at least for me), we were contacted by a researcher who is going to recommend Flit in her project with the National Center on Parent, Family, & Community Engagement at the University of Washington. They are trying to identify resource information for parent engagement with early language and literacy, and were focusing on digital resources and apps when they came across Flit.

In addition to this amazing feedback, we also have some numbers about how people are using it, how many, and how often. Our partner in this venture, Punchcard Systems, is impressed with how the app has done and had this to say:

We’ve reached a great deal of users (3519 – across 76 countries), and they’ve spent a crazy amount of time inside the application (405 hours), not to mention that since the application is designed to try and give people a spring board, 5 minutes in the application might be a whole day of fun and learning for parents and kids.”

This has been, and continues to be, an exciting venture for Centre for Family Literacy. We are looking forward to hearing your feedback either by reviewing the app itself or by leaving a comment here. Watch for an update with new activities coming very soon!

Here’s a screenshot of the homepage:

IMG_7891-s

Flit is FREE and available for both Apple and Android devices.

More information or to download from the Apple App Store!

More information or to download from Google Play!

Watch a video demo of the app.

Read our blog “Flit the App: Fun Literacy Activities to do WITH your 0-5 Year Old!

Read our blog “Teaching Your Child Literacy and Numeracy: There’s an App for That!”

Visit the Centre for Family Literacy website for more resources.

A Walk with the Kids Fun? Absolutely!

Walk3

As I sit here, looking out the window at the falling snow on the second day of spring, a poem pops into my head:

Spring has sprung, the grass has ris
I wonders where the birdies is?

I have known this poem forever. I don’t know where I learned it, or why it popped into my head today of all days, but I thought I’d investigate further. It turns out the poem has more to it:

Spring has sprung, the grass has ris
I wonders where the birdies is?
They say the birds is on the wing
Ain’t that absurd?
I always thought the wing was on the bird.

The poem’s original author is unknown, but it reminds me of the style of one of my favourite poets, Ogden Nash, known for his short, funny and often nonsensical poems.

What does this have to do with anything? I promise, there is a point. As we finish this first week of spring (that is, of course, supposed to be filled with snow) and head into Easter and spring break, what types of activities can we do with our families? For those of you with young children, have a look at our previous blog for information on the Flit app. It’s filled with great activities for the 0-5 crowd.

For those with older kids, here are a few ideas inspired by the poem (see, there really is a connection)! Get outside to enjoy the snow or sun (whatever the case may be) and go for a walk. Try these activities:

  1. Create your own funny poem. Choose something you notice on your walk and see how many words you can think of, or make up, that rhyme with what you chose. When you get home, write the words down and arrange them into your own poem! For example:

I see a bee, right on that tree
Leave it alone, or maybe flee?
If I wave and dance, it may sting me
But flowers won’t grow if I hit she.

  1. Make your own spring walking game. Let your kids make up the rules, and how to start and end the game! Tell your kids you will follow their rules no matter what (as long as it’s not dangerous of course). It might be that every time you see a bird, you have to splash in a puddle or run around in a circle clucking like a chicken. Maybe the first person to spot a squirrel wins.
  1. Make up a story. See what you can find outside and take turns creating the story, line by line. For example, if you see a piece of fur in a tree, you can start the story by making up a reason why it’s there. Then your child can add to it.

One day, a tiny rabbit thought it would try to jump up into a tree. As it jumped, it caught it’s tail on a branch and a big piece of fur pulled out…

Have fun and enjoy your time together!

 

 

Don’t Forget to Plug In this Family Day Weekend!

placeit (1)You may say “Hey Kim, last year you told us to unplug! You told us that we should unplug and get out as a family! What’s going on?”

That’s all very true, but I’ve got a good reason to change my mind this year. I’d like to ask you to plug in, just for a bit, to download flit, our new Family Literacy app. On it, you’ll find some great activity ideas to try with your family—then unplug and have fun!

You might say we are more than a little excited about our venture into the app world. Families Learning and Interacting Together, or flit, is perfect for your unplugged Family Day.

The activities and information are divided into eight categories—each one supporting an aspect of literacy and numeracy development in an easy and fun way. Best of all, you can do them all as a family and work them into your daily routine!

APP-web 400pxThe activities are also divided into age groups for zero to five year olds, and really are directed at those ages. However I experimented with my own children (who are 10 and 12 years) to see how they would like the activities, and I’m pretty sure they had fun with many of the games, cooking, and craft activities even at their age (with a few suggestions for changes).

My kids’ favourite is the fry-bread activity. We use it as a base for tacos and they are delicious! Download the app, and check out this recipe, along with the book Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Let me know how it goes!

See a demo of the flit App

Android users—please ask your Apple friends to like and rate our app—it could help us get funding to create a version for you too!

Do you think we should develop flit for Android? Take the short survey!

More about the Centre for Family Literacy at www.famlit.ca

Happy Thanksgiving! What are YOU Thankful for?

Thanksgiving Contest - What Are You Thankful For?

Thanksgiving, and the traditions and celebrations around it, are unique to every family. In mine it means gathering with as many family members as possible and lots of food – Chinese food at the local restaurant with my Grandma, turkey with my mom and dad, and turkey again with my in-laws. There’s lots of laughter and re-connecting.

Thanksgiving was originally created as a day to celebrate and give thanks for the harvest and all the other good things that had been received throughout the year. These days as we celebrate, how many of us stop and think about all the things we are thankful for?

Taking time to talk with your children about what you are thankful for can become a great tradition. A friend ensures they do this every year with an activity at the dinner table before the family eats. They each take five kernels of corn (I’m sure whatever vegetable you have will work) and take turns telling five things they are thankful for.

You can also make it into a game. Going around the table, each person gets a letter from the word Thanksgiving and has to come up with something they are thankful for that starts with their letter. For example, “T” could be “time with my family” and so on.

ThanksgivingBookIf you think your children might need some help understanding what they could be thankful for, Thanksgiving Is for Giving Thanks by Margaret Sutherland is a lovely little book you could read together to get things started.

I would love to hear the ways you give thanks with your family. Send me your ideas and have a wonderful, and thankful, Thanksgiving this year!

 

“O Canada, our home and native land…”

CanadaDay1As Canada Day approaches, many families are gearing up to celebrate. They are stocking up on red and white decorations and Canadian flags, making plans to participate in local festivities, and planning get-together barbeques. These are just a few ways to mark the day.

Here are some different activities to try with your family this Canada day:

Make your Own Flag

  1. Take a large piece of white paper and paint the two sides red.
  2. Put red paint on your child’s hand and make a print in the middle of the paper as the maple leaf.

Make a Canada Flag Cake

CanadaDay2

  1. Choose a cake mix (I like white for this one) and follow the directions on the box (or use your own recipe). Read the steps out loud and let your kids add the ingredients.
  2. After the cake is baked and cooled, spread whipped cream over the top as icing.
  3. Let your kids use sliced strawberries to create the flag on the cake by putting them on the sides and in the middle.

Sing a Canadian Song

  1. Make one up using a tune you know, like this one (http://www.dltk-kids.com/canada/songs/ourcountry.html) sung to the tune of “The Muffin Man.”

Do you know our country’s name,
our country’s name, our country’s name.
Do you know our country’s name.
C-A-N-A-D-A!

2.   Another favourite song for this special day is, of course, our national anthem. I love hearing the random outbursts of it everywhere. Each time I hear it, I’m reminded of a story from our Rhymes that Bind program.

A parent came to the program worried because she knew it was really important to sing to her baby, but she only knew one song. I asked which song she had been singing and she sheepishly confessed it was “O Canada.” After reassuring her that her baby loved hearing her voice, no matter what song she sang, we supported her goal of learning more songs to share with her baby.

You and your children will treasure the memories made, not only on these special days but all the time. Sing anything, anytime, but sing our anthem especially loud this Canada Day – I’ll be waiting for it!

 

2 Easter Egg-tivities, a Song and a Book

“See the bunnies sleeping, ‘til it’s nearly noon
Shall we awake them with a merry tune
Oh so still. Are the bunnies ill? Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,
Wake up little bunnies, hop, hop, hop!
Wake up little bunnies, hop, hop, hop!
Wake up little bunnies, hop, hop, hop and GO!”

Usually we end this song with “stop” so our little bunnies will pretend to go back to sleep for another round of the song. For Easter, it’s only fitting that we use this song as is to start the morning or the egg hunt. If your kids are anything like mine at Easter, you probably don’t have to wake them up!

Easter for us means a family get-together, good food, and many different activities. Colouring eggs is a big part of our traditions, but we like to try something new each year – sometimes it doesn’t even involve dye!

“Mod Podge Egg” was a hit last year, providing many opportunities to talk about colours and shapes, and to just have fun.

mod-podge

Mod Podge Egg

You need:

  • Egg (boiled, or blown out if you want to keep it)
  • Tissue paper (many colours)
  • Mod Podge (a sealer – like glue, but it hardens and keeps the egg strong)
  • Paint brush

 What to do:

  1. Tear or cut up the tissue paper into different shapes and sizes.
  2. Spread Mod Podge on the egg and put tissue paper all over.
  3. Spread another layer of Mod Podge over the tissue paper on the egg, and add more tissue paper until you’re happy.
  4. Add one last layer of Mod Podge to seal it completely.

Another Easter favourite for our family is the great Easter Egg hunt. It gets more complicated every year, and sometimes we like to add a little variety to what the Easter Bunny brings.

One year we made “goldfish carrots.” The kids had so much fun pulling them out of our pretend garden.

carrots

Goldfish Carrots

You need:

  • Goldfish crackers (or something else orange)
  • Clear disposable icing bags (not cut)
  • Green ribbon

What to do:

  1. Fill the icing bag with the goldfish so the pointy end is down.
  2. Tie the ribbon around the top of the bag when you get the size of carrot you want.
  3. Hide them in a houseplant or make your own “garden”.

Finally, what is Easter without a good book? For some bunny-themed books, scroll down to Darren Hinger’s blog, “Babies Touching Books… with Bunnies.” A great Easter themed book is Duck and Goose: Here comes the Easter Bunny by Tad Hill. It’s about two little birds trying to find a hiding place so they can see the Easter Bunny. It’s perfect for bedtime the night before the big day.

There are many fun Easter activities. Does your family have Easter traditions you would like to share? We would love to hear about them!

 

Digital Technology

technology

“…New digital technologies have entered every aspect of our reality, including families and the lives of young people. They have already affected preschool children’s play and learning as well.”

UNESCO (2010)

I recently did a presentation on technology at the Alberta Early Years conference. I opened the session with a confession – I am not a technology expert and I have been a reluctant user of new technologies.

However, as the above quote from UNESCO states, technology is in every aspect of our lives. Families are using technology, and in family literacy we work with the strengths and tools that families are bringing. So the debate is no longer “do we use it,” it is “how do we use it.”

Major studies (“Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers” – Kaiser Family Foundation Report – 2006, American Academy of Pediatrics and Canadian Paediatric Society) have advised that 0-2 year olds should not have any “screen time” at all and it should be limited for toddlers and pre-schoolers.

In my session, we discussed the research versus the reality. Like anything, there has to be balance – between the use of technology (by both parents and children) and meaningful interactions (that promote positive family relationships and healthy development). I challenged participants to pick their favourite app, perhaps one they thought families would be using at home, and answer the following questions:

  1. Why are we using this technology or app? Is it for fun, for learning, or for some other purpose?
  1. What kind of time is being spent with it? Is it high quality and interactive (e.g. can we use the technology as we would use a board game) or is it time being spent alone?
  1. Is what we are doing developmentally appropriate for children?
  1. Do we have guidelines/rules about when and how long it’s used (for parents and children)? Do you have technology-free zones or times?
  1. What are we modelling? What are our children and families seeing?

There’s no “right” answer to any of these questions, but perhaps they can help us think more critically about our use of technology, both personally and professionally.

Ending the session, we talked about how it can be a challenge to start the discussion about technology use. Here are some great books that could help break the ice. Enjoy them and have fun as you explore how you are using technology!

Goodnight IPad by Ann Droyd

Hello, Hello by Matthew Cordell

The End of Winter Means a New Garden… Yes, it Will Happen!

Eventually it will warm up and our thoughts may turn to planting a garden – at least one can always hope. Over the winter I debated about how to do my garden this year. I always have a ton of weeds and not enough time to keep up, but I still like having a garden. To find a solution, I went “digging” for information.

I found an idea that I’d previously disregarded because I have always done my garden the way my mom did hers when I was little. But if I want to get rid of weeds without using chemicals, the easiest thing to do would be to just cover up the garden. I’ve decided to compromise and cover half the garden with containers to kill the weeds – especially after finding this neat growing tip.

What is this brilliant idea? Well, normally part of my garden is potatoes and they take up a lot of room. This idea takes that horizontal space and makes it vertical – you go up instead of out, using much less space! Growing potatoes vertically also seems like a fun way to garden. How is it done? This website has some instructions:

http://www.kiddiegardens.com/growing_potatoes_in_tires.html

What does this have to do with literacy? The potato garden will be a project with my kids this summer. If we decide to use tires, as suggested, there will definitely be some decorating to do. We will have to decide whether we need weed cloth under the containers. We will need to figure out how many tire containers to plant. We will measure the potato plants regularly so we know when we have to put on more dirt. We will need to figure out how much water to give them and when. All of this is going to use a lot of vocabulary, numeracy and creativity.

The other thing we will do is read a great book called The Enormous Potato by Aubrey Davis. Asking questions about what my kids think will happen when our potatoes are ready to be harvested will be a fun way to tie in the book. Also, we’ll talk about what we’ll do with the potatoes at the end and look up recipes for a great way to close the project in the fall.

As I said in my last post – there will be an end to winter and a time to start planting. Have fun with your children, get dirty, and make it a literacy rich experience!

 

The First Day of Spring – In Alberta

I sat for a while trying to decide what to write for this blog. Many of the topics I thought I might discuss have been done in the last few weeks, so what to do? Then I looked out the window and inspiration struck! I would do a blog on… wait for it…. SNOW!

It really makes sense that a blog posted on the first day of spring should be about snow. Not just any snow – cold, swirling, biting snow – at least at my house. My dogs are shivering outside, trying to understand what has happened to them after such a wonderful, teasing taste of spring, as I’m sure we all are.

Let’s be honest though. Do we really expect anything else living in Alberta? Where at some point we have had snow in every month of the year? Why would we be surprised? In fact, I laughed as one of my team members, who moved here from Ontario in the fall, naively asked if the snow would be gone by Easter.

So what to do? Well, I say lets embrace our unpredictable – but not unexpected – weather and do something fun!

Why not mix food colouring in water and put it in a spray bottle. Take it outside and write or draw, or play a game of tic-tac-toe in the snow. You can talk about colours and what happens when they mix, why the snow melts a little when it gets sprayed, and what patterns you see.

Capture a snowflake and preserve it forever in super glue. This neat little experiment lets you see snowflakes up close (but definitely requires adult help): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OVUzKcLUjQ

Go have a snow or snowball fight. Make your fight into a game – tell the kids to play snow tag and see what that means to them. I always love the games my kids come up with – at least for their creativity if not for all the rules that tend to accompany it.

You know this weather isn’t going to last forever. We have seen the signs of spring around us and can gain strength and hope that it won’t be here much longer. Do not despair!

If you are one who doesn’t want to even look outside, let alone go and play in this crazy white stuff, then curl up and read a good book with your kids. Read one about spring like Spring is Here, by Taro Gomi. Just remember to add the word “almost” to the title and you’ll be fine.

Happy first day of spring everyone!

Summer Cooking: Chocolate and Marshmallows Are All That You Need!

Although that title may not be entirely true, especially if you like fresh vegetables and fruit and want to avoid those pesky things like scurvy or other vitamin deficiencies, they are definitely a staple for campfire treats over the summer!

Each year, my family looks for new summer recipes to try while we’re camping, barbecuing, or just cooking together. My kids are excited to discover something they can help with and add to our summer cookbooks. We experiment and have a great time finding different ingredients, measuring, and, of course, eating our final product.

Capturing the recipes can be just as fun as trying them out. A scrapbook of favourites might go camping with you. You could make a family cookbook by getting everyone in the family to send you their best summer recipes. Adding a picture of each relative would give it a personal touch.

Recipes and food, in general, lend themselves to stories — they tend to stir up memories and are a great way to get people talking about “days of yore.” Written in one of our family cookbooks, my grandmother’s fried chicken recipe starts out with “Go out to the hen house, choose a nice fat bird…”  (I’ll let you finish that). It was a fun (and funny) way to hear about her life and your recipes might just do the same — have fun with it!

Here are some of the recipes we will be adding to our book this year!

 

Chicken and Peach Skewers

You need:

Chicken (cut into cubes)

Bacon (cut in half)

Peaches (cut in 8 wedges)

BBQ sauce

Skewers (soak wooden ones)

 

What to do:

  1. Wrap bacon around chicken pieces and put on skewers. Alternate pieces of meat with peaches.
  2. Brush all with BBQ sauce and cook on the BBQ until chicken is not pink.

 

Banana Boats

You need:

Bananas (sliced lengthwise with peel on, not cut all the way through)

Marshmallows

Chocolate chips

Tinfoil

 

What to do:

  1. Put chocolate chips in the banana.
  2. Push marshmallows in over top of the chocolate chips.
  3. Wrap in tinfoil.
  4. Place on hot coals of a campfire until warm and melted.

Frozen Chocolate Bananas

You need:

Popsicle sticks

Bananas (peeled and cut in half)

Chocolate melting wafers

Toppings like peanuts or sprinkles

 

What to do:

  1. Put the Popsicle sticks in the bananas.
  2. Completely freeze bananas.
  3. Melt the chocolate and dip the bananas in.
  4. Roll in the topping of your choice.
  5. Put back in freezer.

 

Roasted Beet and Carrot Salad

You need:

Greens (your choice)

Feta cheese (or goat cheese)

Pecans

Beets (sliced thinly)

Carrots (sliced thinly)

Balsamic vinegar

Olive oil

 

What to do:

  1. Toss the beets and carrots in olive oil and roast in oven (or BBQ) until soft.
  2. Place beets, carrots, feta, pecans, and dressing on greens.