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.

Everyday Scavenger Hunts

I’m sure there are many sticklers who would argue that what I’m suggesting here is not a real scavenger hunt, but let’s skip past the dictionary definitions and focus on how you can incorporate the fun of a scavenger hunt into everyday activities.

You can search for anything

You could make a list of specific things to find, or try to see how many things you can find that fit a certain category. Personally, I’m a fan of categories and descriptions because they are great for developing vocabulary and they require a lot less preparation. Here are a few examples:

  • colours
  • sounds
  • shapes
  • words or letters (or things that start with a letter or sound)
  • movements (things that roll, fly, bounce, walk, slide, never move…)
  • sizes (what things are huge? what can you find with a magnifying glass?)
  • textures
  • groups of things (things found in pairs, 3s, 4s, 5s…)
  • things that fit a theme (tools, animals, plants, wet things, things that rhyme…)

 

You can search anywhere

Really, anywhere:

  • outside (what do you notice: walking down the street, on the bus, in the park, around a pond, at the zoo…)
  • at home (in a particular room or searching the whole house)
  • in other buildings (the garage, the grocery store, a greenhouse, the library, the post office…)
  • in books, magazines, and newspapers (newspapers are great for finding words and letters, and you might be amazed how many things they can remember seeing in the books you have shared together)
  • in your imagination (very handy when you run out of things to spot on long car rides)
  • in the garbage (maybe you’re learning about recycling or composting?)

 

You don’t need a “list”

While traditionally you start by handing out copies of a written list, a lot of young children will not find that very helpful. More often you will be reading the list to them. You can also use pictures with or instead of words, but that takes time, so you are probably only going to do that for special occasions or with things you use all the time (like turning your grocery list into a scavenger hunt).

Some people like checking things off in a list, but I never understood the appeal myself. Instead, if you want to keep track of what you find in your search, you could draw together, take pictures, use the voice recorder on your phone, collect the items themselves in a bag/box/backpack/basket (half the fun is remembering where the things you collected came from), or scribe for them (they will love seeing their words in print).

Or, you can skip the list altogether. Just pick a category or theme and go exploring together to see what you can find, or take turns deciding what you’re going to look for next.

 

Consider your audience

It’s easy to be overwhelmed if you think that a scavenger hunt needs to play out like the script to a blockbuster movie or an episode of a reality TV show. I’m not saying that wouldn’t add to the appeal, but young children are natural explorers. They will notice all kinds of things that you never thought to look for, and they bring a level of excitement to “let’s go find things that are red” that you rarely get from us older folk and our teenage friends.

 

Why are we doing this again?

  • It’s fun!
  • You can encourage them to be more observant and methodical. Often children forget to look everywhere or take a running approach to everything. By looking for things together, you can teach them some helpful strategies, like how to slow down or form a plan before you start looking.
  • We are building vocabulary! If your little one is starting to read, then circling all the words they recognize by sight on a newspaper page is great practice.
  • As exciting as it can be, this can also be really relaxing. How often do you take the time to look for shapes in the clouds? Or really listen to all the sounds in your neighbourhood?
  • There are all kinds of categories, themes, and ideas that you explore with these kinds of activities, so you’re helping them develop a broader, deeper, and more coherent worldview.
  • If you are missing a few things (your keys for example) this can be a sneaky way to recruit some help. I’m kidding, but not really. If you approach everyday tasks in a playful manner, you can keep the kids engaged, help them learn, still get everything you need done, and have fun doing it.

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.

Reading, Then and Now

We have started a sort of a competition in our house to see how creative we can be in places to read. We have the basics covered: in bed, on the couch, on the floor, at the kitchen table, etc. But creativity has us thinking outside the box; we have read in a few spots in the yard, on the patio, in hammocks, at the pool, while grocery shopping, at our local coffee shop, and even upside down. It feels like a Dr. Seuss book many of us have read before…

It was always a special feeling when my children would bring a favourite book to me and ask if we could read it. We got extra time for cuddles, and it offered an extended discussion period of the stories we read and what we thought about them. I appreciate that these opportunities have allowed me glimpses of who my children are and who they are becoming.

Although they are all independent readers now, we still enjoy book sharing. Many times a good picture book is just too inviting to be read quietly or alone. Chapter books can still be shared as well: we take turns reading aloud a chapter each. It is one of my favorite times with my kids, as I hear how, as they read, the stories in their minds come to life. There is also something very peaceful about sitting together in a room, each enjoying our own books, just sharing in our presence as we have our own stories unfolding and our own adventures awaiting on each turning page.

Summer Reading Club

I have always thought that summer meant reading all the books that I didn’t have time for during the school year – ones that I wanted to read just because. One summer I got a box of books from a family friend who was closing their bookstore. I devoured 45 paperbacks while waiting for my next bunch of swimmers to show up for class or sitting in the truck waiting out a thunderstorm. I read everything in that box from autobiographies to how to guides, quick romances to epics, history to self-improvement. I even used a bunch of comic books for my Bronze Medallion class to read aloud while they swam on their backs and practiced their legs-only kicks.

When my girls were young, summer meant joining the summer reading club at our local library. Even before they were able to read on their own, we would go to the library once a week to take part in the games, crafts, and activities that were part of the program. Can’t forget about borrowing the books! My girls couldn’t wait to choose their books and get their game card stamped. Each week we would try and get at least one book that related to the theme for the summer.

This year’s theme is GO! I suggest you go to your local library and sign up now or head to the TD Summer Reading Club 2013 website http://tdsummerreadingclub.ca to check out all the book lists, games, and activities posted there that will challenge and inspire you. You might even get a surprise or two!

There is still plenty of time to join before heading back to school. Who knows, you might find a new favourite author or read a book that you would never have thought you would like. Take some time to read – you’ll be surprised where a book can take you.

Family Favourite Books

One of my favourite books as a young child, and also as an early reader with three younger siblings was The Monster at the End of This Book.

I loved how silly this book was, and how each page had something we could point at and talk about with even the baby of the family. No matter how many times we read it, it still seemed incredibly hilarious that Grover could be afraid of a monster, the irony we understood even as small children. That family book was so loved it was read and ripped and taped and mended and sticky with fingerprints and probably drool. I got a lot of practice changing my voice for different characters when I read it aloud to them.

As an adult, my sister and I were given a box from our parents garage when they moved. It contained our Barbies, Strawberry Shortcake dolls and other miscellaneous things from our childhood. At the bottom of the box was the book! We both went for it at the same time and fought over it. We tried to arrange custody of this book in order to share it with our children. Then we realized you can still buy the book today! It even comes in different formats – I’ve seen it in board book style, paperback style, even with buttons that make Grovers voice. To this day, I still fondly remember time spent with this book ;)

My seven year old daughter has a well-loved book that she will read over and over again to herself, to the cat, to the dog, to anyone who will listen: Harold and the Purple Crayon. She secretly wishes for a purple crayon of her own, I am sure. Its a classic. I had forgotten all about this book until she brought it home from the school library over a year ago. SInce then I have found a complete collection of all the Harold stories for her. I had no idea that Harold had more than one story to tell, but then there is no end to what a boy can do with a magic purple crayon, now is there? Does anyone else remember Harold?

A favourite author of mine in childhood was Roald Dahl. Known for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, BFG, The Twits, and Fantastic Mr. Fox to name a few.

Every year I volunteer to read to a variety of age groups in my children’s schools during wonderful Read In week (the first week in October). One year stands out to me because of the special gift I received afterwards. I had read The Twits and Esio Trot to a grade 5 class. They howled with laughter at the stories. This is not unexpected when reading Roald Dahl. What was unexpected was a few days later I received some thank you letters from the children in that class. In true Esio Trot fashion, each one was written completely backwards. What fun that must have been for the class to have to write their thank you’s and their favourite parts all backwards, and even more fun for me deciphering each one. I reflected back to when I was in school doing a book report on this author. If only I had been clever enough to compose the entire report backwards for my teacher!

 

A “Hug” for Family Literacy

Every year in March I have the pleasure of doing a presentation for students in the Library and Information Studies program at the University of Alberta.  Dr. Margaret Mackey brings her students to the Centre for Family Literacy to help provide a real, practical connection for all the theory her class has been learning.

I am very passionate about family literacy and this type of situation – where a solid link can be made between the student’s learning and our practical experience – it provides an amazing opportunity to raise awareness and get others excited about it too.

During this year’s presentation, I talked specifically about a book called “Hug” by Jez Alborough.  It is mainly a picture book with just a few words, the most significant being the word “hug”.  The amount of words allow this book to be shared by a family in many different ways – in their own language, making up a story to go with the pictures, acting out the hugs and emotions together.  It is a wonderful and versatile book.

I have a fondness for this book in that it was one I shared with my children.  My son and I read this book together many times and I remember one day he was showing it to his sister.  He got so excited and came up to me afterwards to show me how he had “read” the book to his sister. He was three years old, but he knew what that book said and how it sounded. It was a proud day for him and for me.

Today, I received a thank you card from the students at my presentation. Inside were some amazing comments of thanks and excitement about what they had learned with me. The power of family literacy in helping adults who struggle with literacy was evident and they had seen the passion and care with which we work. The seed of knowledge about family literacy was planted within their learning and awareness was built.

Within all these wonderful comments, one stood out a little. One of the students had gone out and bought the book “Hug” after hearing my story for her new niece. I hope she is able to get as much out of it as I have!

Books You Can Play

Let’s say that you’re walking through the woods on your way to school. All of a sudden your lunch box is yanked out of your hand, and you spin around to see a wolf running away with your lunch in one direction and a friendly looking bear with a picnic basket in the other direction. You hate to skip lunch, so you’ll have to choose: will you chase after the wolf, or will you stroll over to see what that bear is up to?

It’s one thing to read about a character making a decision, but when you get to choose which path the story takes you have a lot more invested in finding out what happens next. It’s a simple idea, and some might even dismiss it as a gimmick, but it‘s a powerful motivator. I read every book like this that I could get my hands on in elementary school. I also loved puzzle books (they usually had more visual problems to solve), and books that posed mysteries for me to solve based on the clues in the text.

I would bet that many teachers have passed these sorts of books to the more reluctant readers in their classes over the years, but I think they have a lot to offer for even them most avid reader. For example, they are great for:

  • Introducing a genre of story: mystery, romance, adventure, fantasy, horror, and science fiction are all represented
  • Practicing important skills: problem solving, math, logic, and reading comprehension
  • Bonding: read them together for fun, they are a kind of game after all.

I could go on and on about the “Choose Your Own Adventure” and “Two-minute Mysteries” that I read as a child, and these books are still out there. Some are even in electronic form, and I recently discovered that there are many written for adolescent and even adult audiences.  Some of them even offer an experience closer to playing a board game than the “turn-to-page…” adventure stories that I remember. There are even tools to help people write and create their own game books online. So, if you do want to play with your stories, there are lots of options out there for you to choose from.

         

National Family Literacy Day

This year’s theme for National Family Literacy Day on January 27 is “15 Minutes of Fun”.  It reflects the fact that it doesn’t always take a long time to do literacy activities with your children and that it should be fun for everyone!

What kind of activities can you do with your kids every day?  ABC Life Literacy has developed a list of suggestions at http://abclifeliteracy.ca/fld/family-literacy-day.

Here’s what my kids and I came up with – I look forward to you adding your ideas to our list!

  • Make up a silly song from one we already know
  • Do a rhythm story game (clap, clap, snap, snap – one word for each clap or snap and we go around in a circle)
  • Read a book
  • Talk about traditions
  • Go for a walk
  • Play a letter game (name an animal then the next person has to name an animal that starts with the letter the last one ended with – eg. wolf – fox)

The Centre for Family Literacy has partnered with MacEwan University students in the Golden Key International Honour Society, to celebrate Family Literacy Day this year.  Bring your family to the Family Literacy Carnival event from 1-4 pm at the main floor of Robbins Health Learning Centre, downtown campus on Sunday, January 27.  More details can be found at: http://www.macewan.ca/wcm/MacEwanEvents/FAMILY_LITERACY_CARNIVAL