Sharing Stories vs. Reading Stories

Fam_Lit044Here at the Centre for Family Literacy we like to talk about sharing books with children as opposed to just reading books to them.

When you are sharing a book, as opposed to reading it, it becomes interactive. It becomes much more than just reading the words on the page. Two ways to do this are:

  • Ask open-ended questions such as “What are they doing in this picture?” or “What do you think is going to happen next?” This encourages children to stop and think about what is on the page, to make connections to real life, and to really step inside the story.
  • Find ways to extend the story.

What does it mean to extend a story?

To extend a story is to build on it—to add activities that are related to the subject of the story. But why should we extend stories?

Children learn best by doing—by being active. When they’re being active they are using all five senses to learn, and these multi-sensory experiences build neural connections in the brain. If they are having fun, they will want to do it again and again, and this repetition makes the connections even stronger. This is how children gain the confidence needed to learn new things.

Simple summertime story extender

one dog canoeA great book to share in the summer is one of our favourites, One-Dog Canoe by Mary Casanova.

In One-Dog Canoe, a girl and her dog set out on a canoe trip, just the two of them, when one by one they are approached by other creatures like Loon, Wolf and Moose, who want to join in on the fun.

I set off one morning in my little red canoe.
My dog wagged his tail.
“Can I come, too??
“You bet, I said.
“A trip for two – just me and you?”

It doesn’t take long before this canoe trip becomes a little more crowded!

“I swished past ferns,
where dragonflies flew.
Loon stretched her wings, “Can I come too?”

What you’ll need:

  • The book One-Dog Canoe
  • Stuffed animals or toys to match the characters: Beaver, Loon, Wolf, Bear, Moose, Frog, Dog, and Girl
  • A “canoe” made with construction paper or bark

(You can always improvise using what you have on hand.)

Give each child a character to hold on to (or multiple characters), and as each character comes up in the story, the child holding that character places it in the canoe. At the end of the story, there are too many animals in the canoe and it tips over, so act this out too by dumping out your canoe!

After the story we like to pair it with a song. Rhymes and songs are critical for developing oral language, and oral language is at the root of all future learning.

Try singing “Row Your Boat”

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

Row, row, row your boat,
Down a jungle stream.
If you see a crocodile,
Don’t forget to scream.
Ahh!

Row, row, row your boat,
Underneath a stream,
Ha, ha, fooled you,
I’m a submarine!
Bing!

Other ideas:

  • Act out the story using a big box, couch, or outdoor picnic table for the canoe
  • Bring a make-belief canoe into the bathtub
    • Experiment with what floats and what sinks
    • Ask “how many items will fit in your canoe before it tips over?”

Have fun sharing stories! For more ideas on how to make the most of your books, check out Flit, our family literacy app on the iTunes App store here!

 

A Winter Lesson

I had originally signed up to write a blog about my winter travelling experience. I was looking forward to sharing everything I had learned while visiting a new country; its food, culture and language. The plane tickets had been purchased and accommodations finalized. I had my passport ready to go, but I was just waiting for my tourist visa to come. Long story short, my tourist visa was never processed and my trip was cancelled.

I was initially disappointed as I had been so excited about getting on a plane and experiencing something new. However, I learned that although I may plan and expect things to work out the way I want them to, it doesn’t always mean they will.

Looking back now, I know it wasn’t meant to be. Instead of travelling I was able to visit with relatives from out of town that I haven’t seen in months, and I had time to finish a few long-overdue projects at home. I learned the value in “letting go” and to appreciate all of the opportunities I have right here at home. I am so thankful I was able to visit with family that I don’t often see, and that my house is now put back together.

As life goes on, I know I will have plans that may or may not come to fruition. I hope I will continue learning and growing through each experience!

What life lessons have you learned this winter?

 

Success Stories from our Adult Tutor Program

Three months ago, I was privileged to become part of the Centre for Family Literacy team as Coordinator of the Volunteer Program. In my role, I have the pleasure of getting to know some of the most generous people I know – people who make space in their often busy lives to give of themselves to make a difference in someone else’s life. Many of our volunteers have committed to work with us as tutors, meeting weekly with an adult learner who is eager to improve their reading, writing or math skills.

In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve already encountered more success stories than I can recount here. For example, the learner from China who had made up her mind to return to her home country when her children got older. But through her work with one of our tutors, her love grew for English and for Canadians and she decided instead to stay. Or the learner who dropped out of high school to work, but was discouraged when he discovered he could not read and write well enough to get a good job. While he worked with his tutor he began to enjoy books, read the newspaper with comprehension, and believe in himself. Now he is studying at NAIT.

Many of our learners are no longer coming to the Centre because they have achieved their goals: entering the workforce, passing difficult exams, or reading with ease to their children and grandchildren. Thanks to their tutors, they have each grown not only in skill but also in confidence. Perhaps one of the most rewarding transitions I’ve observed is seeing adults who came to us as learners and are now volunteering as tutors themselves. What a beautiful picture of ‘giving back.’

Several of our tutors have nominated their students for a Lois Hole Award. These awards recognize an outstanding individual who has shown a commitment to his or her own learning. Here is how one of our nominated learners is described by her tutor:

“She is one of the bravest people I know. Her long-term goal is to go to NAIT to take banking and business to improve her employment prospects. In order to enhance her English skills, she is working in a Dollar Store as well as supervising grade five students on their lunch break. She often endures harassment from the customers in the Dollar Store when she cannot understand quickly enough or is unsure of how to handle a situation. Yet her determination to reach her goal is undiminished. She goes to the store for each of her shifts and does her best, hoping to improve her English sufficiently to be accepted at NAIT.

She is always smiling and she never hesitates to give me a warm welcome when I arrive. She is usually at the Centre before I am, and I will find her working on homework for either our class or another one that she is taking. She is willing to try new approaches to learning and often asks me to help with work she does not understand in other classes.

She has made a great deal of progress in speaking, reading, and writing English since our first lesson. Her determination to learn more, her high intelligence and her unflagging optimism should enable her to meet her goals.”

We recently published a collection of similar success stories from our Adult Tutor program.  If, like me, you can never hear too many of these stories, feel free to request your own copy of Life Changing Stories from the Centre for Family Literacy here:  volunteer_coordinator@famlit.ca

 

Christmas in Zimbabwe

Looking back at the years in Zimbabwe with nostalgia, I reminisce about the Christmas gatherings with close and distant relatives, friends and neighbours. The days leading to Christmas were filled with an air of excitement for the annual reunion. Family would come from far and wide to celebrate Christmas at our grandpa’s distant farm. I remember my brothers and sisters betting on who would be the first to arrive and who would be last.

      

Muriwo Nedovi                                                 Sadza Rezviyo

On Christmas Eve there would be no sleep for anyone. The female family members would be cooking all night; muriwo nedovi (vegetables with peanut butter), Nhopi (a traditional Zimbabwean delicacy made from pumpkin and peanut butter), and of course sadza. Sadza is the staple food in Zimbabwe and is typically made from ground corn. My family ate this “white” sadza almost every day – except at Christmas, when the women in my family cooked sadza rezviyo which is sadza made from rapoko (finger millet), for a special treat. This sadza had a very deep brown colour and a pleasant smell. The male members of the family had it relatively easy, braaing (barbequing) the meat from the cow and goat that were normally slaughtered for the occasion.

I can smell the yummy Zimbabwean traditional food just thinking about it. The food is one of the things I miss the most now that I live in the western world.

The youngsters were usually involved in playing games like dunhu (a version of monkey in the middle), chisveru (a version of tag), chihwande-hwande (hide and seek), as well as the usual mischief that kids get up to when excited! This helped to spread the merriment into a naughty spirit of laughter. Even the toddlers seemed to feel the excitement in the air and stayed up past their normal bedtimes.

With all the cooking, braaing, games and merrymaking came the joy of catching up with family, reminiscing about Christmases past, and looking forward to the joys of the coming year.

As we approach another Christmas, I sentimentally look back on those times and miss the large extended family that made Christmas the once a year event in our family.

I wish everyone a joyful Christmas with family!

Stereotypes: No longer in literacy or hockey players

I love things that defy convention or stereotypes.

Captain Oiler or Captain Environment?

When he’s not playing hockey, Andrew Ference is an environmental activist. He created the NHL’s carbon neutral program, bicycles to practices, and is involved in various activities promoting green living.

 

 

A Rocket Scientist Playing in the NHL?

There are several former hockey players who, during their playing years, were involved in activities or professions that one wouldn’t normally link to an athlete.

Joe Juneau graduated with a degree in aeronautical engineering before starting his NHL career with the Boston Bruins. In short, he was a rocket scientist playing professional hockey. Since his retirement, Juneau runs a hockey program in Northern Quebec for Inuit youth, with a major focus on academics.

 

 

Hockey, Politics, and Literacy

The NHL has produced a former player and a former coach who have served as federal politicians: Ken Dryden was the Liberal MP for the Toronto riding of York from 2005 to 2011; and Jacques Demers has been a Senator since 2008. Both have notable ties to literacy.

Ken Dryden is better known as the goalie for the Montreal Canadien’s Stanley Cup teams of the 1970s. During his playing years, Dryden finished his law degree.

At the height of his career, Dryden published his first book, Face-off at the Summit, his memoirs on the 1972 Canada-Russia series. After retirement he published five more non-fiction books covering the topics of hockey, education and politics. His most famous, The Game, was adapted into a 6-part documentary by the CBC.

A more direct link to literacy is the story of Jacque Demers. Demers had a twenty year coaching career in the NHL, highlighted with a Stanley Cup win with the Montreal Canadiens in 1993. Throughout his career, Demers had a dark secret – he could not read or write.

Demers was a product of an abusive home and dropped out of school in the 8th grade. He masked his secret and the shame of his low literacy skills with a gregarious personality and a passion for the game.

During his coaching career, Demers employed tricks to compensate for his limited writing and reading skills. He would tell his players that he wasn’t a big “Xs and Os” type, and would position the players on the ice rather than write their names on a hockey diagram. When ordering food on the road, Demers would insist on eating at the same restaurants, where he memorized the menu items by their numbers.

Near the end of his hockey career, Demers was the General Manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The GM position involved negotiating and reviewing player contracts. Demers’ personality allowed him to negotiate contracts with ease. When it actually came to draw up the contract on paper, he would defer the task to his assistants.

By 1984, at the beginning of his second marriage, Demers revealed his dark secret to his new wife and his adult kids. Everyone was stunned and amazed that he was able to craft a successful hockey career with this limitation. Demers decided it was time to address his limited reading skills and enrolled in a literacy program.

By 2005, Demers revealed publically his struggles with literacy, and how he overcame them with the support of his family. Now retired from hockey, he began a second career as a literacy advocate. In 2008, having raised the profile of literacy in Quebec, Demers was appointed to the Senate and is still a Senator today.

From a literacy and life perspective, Demers is a Senator whose story is uplifting and inspirational.

Halloween Traditions

Halloween has always been a big celebration in my household. Every year in October we would bring out all of the previous year’s costumes and have a fashion show. We would decide on our new costume for the year and make a list of all the new things we would need to add. I can remember being a gypsy, a witch, Little Bo Peep, and many others. After the fashion show we would decorate the house. The decorations we made in school were added to the collection of plastic spiders, webbing, and skeleton stickers for the windows. My mother still has a few of her favourite Halloween decorations that my sister and I made.

Closer to October 31, we would all go to the store and pick out our pumpkins for the time-honoured tradition of pumpkin carving. We would spread garbage bags over the living room floor and scoop out the inside of the pumpkin until it was clean – first with our bare hands and then with a spoon. Next would come the debate on how we would like to decorate our pumpkins this year. Would it be a scary face or funny? To start we would draw the face with a permanent marker, then hand the pumpkin over to our parents to carve. Eventually, as my sister and I grew up, we were able to take over all pumpkin carving duties. I can still remember the first year I was able to carve my pumpkin all by myself. Unfortunately the pumpkin didn’t turn out as well as it had on previous Halloweens.

Even now, years later, pumpkin carving is my favourite part of Halloween. I still spread out garbage bags on the living room floor and debate what to carve on the pumpkin. I have graduated from triangle eyes and crooked mouths to designs of witches, cats, and sometimes even star wars characters. In recent years I have started to save and roast the pumpkins seeds. So far I haven’t attempted to cook with the actual pumpkin but I hope to try something this year.

To me, Halloween isn’t about trick or treating and how much candy you can get. It’s about time spent together with family and traditions. I hope one day to pass down the Halloween traditions that I love so much.

I always like to hear others’ experiences of Halloween. Please share your favourite memories, costumes, and experiences with me.

 

Sharing Books Creates Memories 2

I remember my mom reading with my sister and I every night. Our favourite book was “The Big Book of Stories” and we read a different story each night. My favourite was about animals joining the circus. Our imaginations ran wild with the images of puppies swinging on a trapeze, chimpanzees flying up and down on a trampoline, and piggies walking on a tightrope. So of course I wanted to share books with my daughter when she was born, and I was lucky enough to inherit a whole collection from my sister whose children were older. We had so much fun and the tradition with my daughter lasted for many years.

Eventually I had to part with some books and offered the best of them to a neighbour with a toddler. I was so shocked when she refused them, saying “no thanks, he doesn’t like books”! My mind was racing with thoughts like “what, he doesn’t want to fly a spaceship or go on a jungle adventure?” I felt bad that the boy was missing out on the experience of cuddling with a parent and sharing a book, or the fun of acting out the story of a trip down a crocodile infested river on couch cushions, with wooden spoons for paddles/weapons. But I didn’t say anything. I just wondered if it was the parent more than the child who didn’t like books.

After many years, I did learn that my neighbour had difficulty reading. Teachers hadn’t had  the extra time to spend with her and she was embarrassed to keep asking. It still happens. I wonder if her son is sharing books and creating memories with his children?

 

 

Sharing Books Creates Memories

Do you have a favourite memory of sharing a book with a child?

    

I have a favourite memory of my son’s love for these two books in particular. When he was nearly three years old we read them every day, often two or three times a day. It was never boring or dull to read the same stories over and over with him! His face would light up as if it was the first time every time. The stories he loved were easy to animate with their words that rhymed and great illustrations. What I didn’t realize was that he absorbed every word – memorized each phrase for each page. Then one day I needed to be away at his bedtime and his father did the bedtime story routine. After he read the first book with our son he called me to ask “when did he start to read?” I didn’t understand and said “he can’t read yet! What are you talking about?” Apparently my son knew exactly word for word the book my husband had shared with him – with such accuracy my husband thought he could actually read!

I was proud my little guy was able to fool his dad. I was also encouraged to continue to read with him every day, no matter what story he chose, no matter how many times he chose it. He began to “read” his stories to me as well, and even years later we would take turns and read chapter books to each other. We still enjoyed our story time together.

Dandelions can be useful? Who knew?

Dandelions seem to be over-taking our yards. They are nothing but trouble and yet I feel they have gotten a bad rap. I get a fresh dandelion bouquet every few days from my child that I cherish dearly, so they do make me happy.

With a big glass of water within reach, my bored nephew and I hit the Internet highway in search of everything dandelion that Google could tell us. I thought the first few sites listed would be about how to get rid of dandelions. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find numerous sites telling me of all of the nutritional value that dandelions have.

Upon further investigation, we found recipes for soup, salad, dandelion wine and tea, as well as body creams and art projects.  One website in particular grabbed my attention as it talked about many aspects of dandelions, from garden tips to articles and book recommendations, to “did you know” facts.  I will be honest in that we did not know the following facts about dandelions: (http://mydandelionisaflower.org/did-you-know/)

  • The dandelion is the only flower that represents the 3 celestial bodies. The yellow flower resembles the sun, the puffball resembles the moon and the dispersing seeds resemble the stars.
  • The dandelion flower opens to greet the morning and closes in the evening to go to sleep.
  • Every part of the dandelion is useful: root, leaves and flower. It can be used for food, medicine and dye for coloring.
  • Up until the 1800s people would pull grass out of their lawns to make room for dandelions and other useful “weeds” like chickweed, malva, and chamomile.
  • The name dandelion is taken from the French word “dent de lion” meaning lion’s tooth, referring to the coarsely toothed leaves.
  • Dandelions have one of the longest flowering seasons of any plant.
  • Seeds are often carried as many as 5 miles from their origin!

My nephew and I thought these were pretty cool facts. It makes me wonder what other interesting things we could learn by searching the Internet on specific topics when we are bored…

What Brings Your Family Together?

Our Tree Named Steve is a story about a family who comes together and grows together around a tree in their yard. The parents build the family’s house and leave the tree standing for their family to enjoy. The youngest child isn’t able to pronounce the word “tree” initially, so instead she calls the tree “Steve.” The name sticks and the tree is referred to as Steve for the remainder of the story.

Steve is a constant figure for the family as the children grow up. Through happy times and through tough times, Steve is there.

As I was reading Our Tree Named Steve, I was reminded of the various objects and events in my childhood that brought my family closer together. I lived in five different towns growing up, which always meant changes in houses, schools, friends, etc. However, no matter where we went we had our family dog. This family dog lived for 16 years and was a constant companion for us — no matter where we were living.

My parents also tried to make sure we sat down and had supper together as much as possible. As much as I grumbled about eating together with my family (as I would have rather sat in front of the television), I am thankful for our mealtimes together. It was a consistent event every week that helped us to know what was going on in each other’s lives and get to know one another better. In fact, some of the biggest laughs I had with my parents and my brother growing up were at the supper table!

What brings your family together? Is it a weekly family games night? Do you take a regular family trip to the grocery store? Is it a swing set or a sandbox in the backyard where you can play? Do you have a favourite book that you like to share before bedtime?

Whatever it is, enjoy the things and events in your family that bring you closer together!

Our Tree Named Steve is written by Alan Zweibel and illustrated by David Catrow.