Write Away

iStock_write
Family Literacy is about more than the ability to read, it’s about having the skills needed to build a strong foundation for future learning and lifelong success. One of those foundational skills is the ability to write. Writing will be needed to communicate effectively in the classroom, in the workplace, and more. It is also a form of self-expression that can really help us sort through our thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

Pre-Writing

In the pre-writing stage, your children will need help understanding that writing is connected to reading, and that writing is a way to communicate information through symbols.

At this stage, they will show emergent writing skills through scribbles, drawing pictures, copying symbols, drawing lines and circles, and attempting to write their name.

It is easy to practice writing with your children throughout your day.

  • Make sure they have easy access to pens, pencils, crayons, and paintbrushes so your children can develop the fine motor skills needed for writing. Keep the supplies all in one place with some paper
  • Encourage your children’s drawing as it helps them to express their stories and ideas. Ask them to “write” down what it is
  • Point out environmental print (such as billboards, signs, cereal boxes) every chance you get so they can see how writing relates to everyday life. For more on this topic, read our blog Build Pre-Reading Skills with Environmental Print
  • Help them learn the letters in their name
  • Help your children label items around the house (such as lunch boxes and toys)
  • Use play dough to make letter shapes
  • Create a shopping list and menu using pictures from flyers. Have them “write” what it is next to the picture
  • Spend time finger painting and colouring
  • Sing rhymes and songs that use actions to develop finger strength. For example:

One little finger,
One little finger,
One little finger,
Tap, tap, tap!
Put your fingers up!
Put your fingers down!
Put them on your nose!

Chalk

  • Go outside and let them loose with some sidewalk chalk. (Pair this with Chalk, a wordless book by Bill Thomson)

Beginning Writers

For those a little further along, try these activities:

  • Writing with chalk2Writing prompts. For example:

“Imagine you have been shrunk to the size of a mouse. What would you see? How would objects around you look?”

or

“If you could make anything come to life just by drawing it, what would you draw?” (Also pair this activity with the wordless book Chalk by Bill Thomson). Read our blog Reading Books Without Words for more about wordless books.

  • With your children, make a homemade book for them to write in. For more information, see our blog Homemade Book Making
  • Make a photo album story book and have your children write the story. (You can always write the translation!) Find out how: Scrapbooking Your Way to Essential Skills
  • Write letters and valentines to loved ones

Helping your children to build their writing skills means giving them ample opportunity to practice. Weave these activities into your normal routine and write away!

For early literacy tip sheets, visit the Centre for Family Literacy website

 

6 Books You and Your Little Ones will Want to Get Your Hands on

Do you find it difficult to have your child sit with you to read a book? Are you competing with touch screens or big screens for time with your child for sharing a book? Are you finding yourself so busy you realize you haven’t read a book together lately?

These days it can be tough to establish a routine, such as a regular reading time with your child, and sticking with it. Personal and work schedules can be very demanding and time consuming. It can be easier to let your little one have a book read to them by an app on a tablet. Your family might even love books—your child has a bookshelf bursting with them. Or maybe you visit the library periodically to borrow them, however time slips away and the books are due for return before you’ve had the time to enjoy them.

As a child grows more independent and is able to play on their own, it is still very important to set aside time in your busy schedule for reading together. Not only does it model to your child that reading is done for pleasure, it is a simple action that strengthens bonds and can provide a child with positive memories related to reading.

It really doesn’t take long to share a good book with your child. If their attention span and focus don’t seem to be with you, there are a number of books available that encourage interaction with the audience—books that ask the child to touch parts of the page, shake the book, swipe here or there, and many more similar and fun ideas. The result is that the child can “help” you read along. They may also have a job to do—while you read, they can flip the pages. Even when they know the story well, they enjoy being able to predict what comes next, or what happens when they turn the page.

Books such as these may help you and your child look forward to a reading routine. Find the time in your day, whether it is at bedtime, nap time, after breakfast, before a bath, or whenever and wherever! The important thing is making the time to spend with your child.

Try out some of these favourites that encourage touching the pages to see what happens next:

Press Here and Mix It Up! by Hervé Tullet

Press Here3

MixItUp

 

Touch the Brightest Star and Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson

Touch the Brightest StarTap the Magic Tree

 

Don’t Touch this Book! and Don’t Push the Button! by Bill Cotter

Don't Touch this BookDon't Push this Button

 

Books like these are meant to be shared. Try not to see it as one more thing you must do on your to do list. Find the fun! Capture the smiles and giggles in your heart as you share some silliness with your child. If your child learns to read for pleasure, it just might make a difference for them later on, in school, when some find reading a chore.

My children are not small anymore, but I still enjoy showing books like these to them. The appreciation for a fun story can still be shared on a different level. Now we look forward to sharing books with the younger children in our lives whenever we can.

At the Learn Together – Grow Together program, parents learn ways to help their children in the early stages of reading and writing through stories, rhymes, songs and books. Check out the Centre for Family Literacy website for information on literacy programs for parents and their children 6 years and under, and for adults.

 

Spring is in the Air

Spring is in the air and we can all peek our heads outside and breathe a sigh of relief. Winter is over. (We’ve had Second Winter, yes?)

CELEBRATE WITH BOOKS, SONGS, AND OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES


BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

HopHop!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, or 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 Spring!

 

Non-fiction Books Your Kids Will Love

I have been reading to my children since they were born, so I have noticed a real trend in their choices of non-fiction or fiction books. As babies, they wanted us to read non-fiction—books with real pictures of real things in their daily lives while they were getting to know their world.

Now that my oldest is preschool age, she prefers that we read fiction—stories that expand her ideas of whimsy and make-believe worlds, where princesses always live happily ever after and the super heros always win. She has lost interest in non-fiction books.

animal-teeth2Because of the research on the importance of reading non-fiction, I have been trying to find interesting topics for my daughter. When I came across the series of books “What if you had Animal…” (Feet, Teeth, Hair, or Ears) by Sandra Markle and Howard McWilliam, I knew right away she would love them.

The books combine fiction and non-fiction. They have pictures of real animals and information about their feet, teeth, hair or ears. But what makes the books fun is that they also have illustrated pictures of children with the same animal’s attributes. As you can see on this cover, the child has beaver teeth, which of course look hilarious to children.

The series allows children to read non-fiction literature to get facts and dive into a fantasy world at the same time! What a great bridge for readers to find their way back to non-fiction books. The series can be found on the Edmonton Literacy C.O.W. bus!

animal-feetMy daughter absolutely loves these books! We have read them so often that she can tell me what great super power, as she likes to call them, I would have if I had certain animal features. At the playground she commented that she would love to have kangaroo feet to  jump high over the fence and get to the park faster.

Since we have travelled with my daughter several times, she found an easy interest in maps of our country, continent and world. We have also been venturing into the career and cooking sections at the library.

Here are some ways to spark your children’s interest in non-fiction books:

  • Pursue their passions: do they have a love of dinosaurs or big monster vehicles? Use their current interests to encourage them
  • More is more: by offering a variety of non-fiction reading materials, you may find a format they prefer, such as books, magazines, newspapers, or atlases
  • Parents are their children’s best teachers: if you read a variety of literature, both fiction and non-fiction, and talk with your children about what you are reading, it is likely their interests will grow

Below are links to research on the importance of reading non-fiction books:

http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/dec12/vol70/num04/Nonfiction-Reading-Promotes-Student-Success.aspx

http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/non-fiction-why-its-important/

http://scholarworks.wmich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1071&context=reading_horizons

http://www.education.com/reference/article/reasons-teaching-nonfiction/

http://uanews.ua.edu/2014/03/ua-matters-the-importance-of-reading-nonfiction-with-children/

Early Writing Skills

Writing with felts2

Learn Together – Grow Together is one of our family literacy programs for parents and caregivers and their children ages 3-5 years old. The program encompasses a variety of activities that range from sharing stories and rhymes, to gym time, free play, crafts and games. Parents learn ways to help their children in the early stages of reading and writing.

During one of our parent-time sessions, we discuss the beginning stages of writing. Children are not born knowing how to hold a pencil or even what to do with it. This is a skill that must be taught and modelled by parents. From an early age, children are eager to use their hands to grab things. Allow your little ones to use crayons or markers, for example, to scribble on a piece of paper. The scribbles may not mean much to you, but they are the beginnings of letter and word formation, as well as fine motor skill practice.

Often I hear from parents that their children don’t want to sit down and work on their writing skills. So at Learn Together – Grow Together, I always have examples of new and fun ways to practice writing. Here are a few:

  • use sidewalk chalk
  • use just your finger and write in the sand or snow
  • cut up numbers and letters made of sandpaper, and use your finger to trace them
  • in the bathtub or outside, write with shaving cream, or write on a big glob of it
  • put acrylic paint in a Ziploc bag and tape the top, then practice writing on the bag with just your finger
  • tape a long piece of ribbon to a pencil or stick and practice making letters in the air by waving your wand
  • paint letters and numbers on large blank sheets of plain paper

Can you think of more fun ideas to add to the list?

It is also important for your children to see you modelling your writing skills. For example, if you are making a grocery list, or printing an address onto a piece of mail, ask your children to take part in the activity. Or let them watch you fill out forms and documents. As you show your children these skills, they will begin to understand that written print has meaning and that it is an important skill to have.

One of the tip sheets available for free download on the Centre for Family Literacy website is titled “Signs of Reading and Writing Development in Young Children.” It is on side 2 of the “Tips for Sharing Books” pdf. Here is the link to the webpage.

www.famlit.ca/resources/resources_p.shtml

If you are interested in the fall session of Learn Together – Grow Together in Edmonton, please give us a call at 780-421-7323 for more information. Have fun learning and growing together with your children!

Learning About Colours

There are many things you can do to help your child learn about different concepts, such as reading books, making crafts, and singing songs. One of the concepts your child will need to learn is colours.

Read Books

The Day the Crayons QuitIn the Alberta Prairie C.O.W. (Classroom on Wheels) program, we like to share a book called The Day the Crayons Quit, written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. In addition to learning about colours, this book can help your child understand their own emotions, as well as help to develop their empathy skills.

“Poor Duncan just wants to color. But when he opens his box of crayons, he finds only letters, all saying the same thing: His crayons have had enough! They quit! Beige Crayon is tired of playing second fiddle to Brown Crayon. Black wants to be used for more than just outlining. Blue needs a break from coloring all those bodies of water. And Orange and Yellow are no longer speaking – each believes he is the true color of the sun. What can Duncan possibly do to appease all the crayons and get them back to doing what they do best?”

Make Crafts

Here are some activities you can pair with this book:

Dear Crayon craft1.  Use a box of crayons to extend the story. As you read each crayon’s letter, ask your child to take that colour of crayon out of the box. What can they draw with it?

2.  Ask your child how they think each crayon was feeling when they wrote their letter. Use a large index card to write back to one of the crayons in the story. Draw and colour in the crayon that you are addressing, and tell your crayon why they should not quit. Make one for as many colours as you like!

3.  Make your own crayon box.

Materials:

•  Crayons
•  Markers
•  Pencil
•  Glue
•  Scissors
•  One sheet of yellow cardstock (8.5” X 11”)

Crayon Craft x 2Instructions:

  1. Draw and colour your own paper crayons (or use different colours of construction paper) and cut them out.
  2. Fold the yellow cardstock sheet in half and crease it.
  3. Open it up, and with your pencil, draw the opening of the box (a half circle) on the left-hand side of the sheet, making sure to leave about ¼” on either side.
  4. Cut out the opening, fold it back in place, and glue only the edges, so that you are still able to fit your paper crayons inside the “box”.
  5. Decorate your crayon box with crayons or markers!

 

 

Sing Songs

Teaching Mama” has some great resources, including “10 Preschool Songs About Colors.” One of my favourites is “Pass the Colour,” in the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat:”

Sit in a circle and pass a crayon around, singing the song until the following verse is done. Then yell out the crayon’s colour! Continue with as many crayons as you like.

Pass, pass, pass the colour,
This is the game we play.
When the little song is through,
The colour name we’ll say.
(YELLOW!)

For more craft ideas and book recommendations, check out the Centre for Family Literacy webpage: Resources for Parents

 

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!

 

Reading Every Day Helps Keep the Doctor Away

The benefits of reading regularly are endless. But our health? What could reading have to do with how frequently we visit the doctor? It turns out quite a bit, actually.

In fact, a report conducted by the Canadian Council of Learning (CCL) found daily reading to be the greatest determinant in predicting individual health literacy. So does this study suggest that reading makes you healthier? Not exactly, but it does point to a significant correlation – on average, those who read more often are in better health.

This finding pertains to the field of health literacy, which is “skills to enable access, understanding and use of information for health,” as defined by the Canadian Public Health Association. As such, health literacy can encompass everything from taking the correct dosage of a medication, to exercise and healthy eating, to seeking out health services.

Health Literacy is more complex than general literacy. This is also reflected in the CCL study, which shows that 48 percent of Canadians struggle with general literacy, while 60 percent of Canadians have low health literacy. Despite the differences in literacies, it is clear that the numeracy and prose skills involved in general literacy are fundamentally important in people’s ability to grasp often complicated health information.

Here are some other key findings:

  • Six out of ten Canadians do not posses adequate health literacy skills
  • Individuals with low health literacy are found to be 2.5 times more likely to be in only fair or poor health
  • The populations of seniors, immigrants, and the unemployed are most susceptible to inadequate health literacy

These findings are shocking. Take into account the daily struggles faced by individuals with inadequate health literacy and the connection becomes clear.

Health-LitGrocery shopping is a great example. Without the ability to accurately read and understand nutrition labels, how is one supposed to make healthy food choices? Individuals need to be able to understand the implications associated with what they’re eating. How is this possible without the fundamentals of literacy? Well it turns out it isn’t, and that’s exactly what these findings suggest.

A literate society is a healthier society, and for many, the prescription is reading.

 

 

The Language of Symbols

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you remember all the work that went into learning to read? I was reminded recently while at a conference in Montreal where I experienced immersion into a french speaking world. I have been reading fluently for so long that it is difficult to work so hard for the meaning of each word. It is easy to forget how complicated language development is for our children; it has been so long since we learned ourselves.

I caught myself listening to other people’s conversations and listening for familiar sounds or words. This is one of the strategies children use to learn and why it is so important for them to hear a language spoken regularly and fluently.

I then used my brain in a different way as I looked at words and signs and tried to figure out their meaning by using the pictures or symbols next to them. On my first night I walked along the street by my hotel in search of a restaurant that I would enjoy. I found one with a sign that had Cafe in the title, which was promising, but it also had symbols of dancing girls on it. Despite my concept of the meaning of the word, I decided to use the symbols on the sign to determine that I should keep on walking.

The next day I took the subway and again relied heavily on symbols. Thank goodness the symbols on the maps matched those at each station! Symbols and pictures are the “map” that we use to decode language and the head start of all language development and comprehension.

See if you can recognize some of these symbols:

                              

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?