Say Hello to the New COW on the Block!

COW-SummerThe Classroom on Wheels (COW) Bus will be the ‘new kid on the block’ this coming October, with four new locations in Edmonton. Maple Ridge, Rundle Heights, Baturyn, and Walker are the newest communities we have added to our roster, and we’ll be welcoming both new and familiar families back in six other neighbourhoods. If you’re nearby you’re welcome to come aboard—you’ll have a blast bonding with your little ones while sharing books and singing songs!

The COW bus is a FREE drop-in program for parents and their children from birth to 6 years old, that helps support family learning. You can:

  • borrow books for free
  • share books and  puzzles with your child
  • listen to stories and songs
  • win free books

We have so many wonderful books for you to borrow, with no late fees. Come listen to stories and songs that will soon become family favourites! But we need you and your family to help bring these stories to life and build excitement!

Duck RabbitOne of our many favourites is Duck, Rabbit by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld, “a clever take on the age-old optical illusion: is it a duck or a rabbit? Depends on how you look at it! Readers will find more than just Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s signature humour here, there’s also a subtle lesson for kids who don’t know when to let go of an argument. A smart, simple story that will make readers of all ages eager to take a side, Duck! Rabbit! makes it easy to agree on one thing, reading it again!”

The fun starts October 3rd with weekly stops at 10 locations. Visit the Centre for Family Literacy website to find out when the bus will be in your area.

See you in October!

 

Pick up a Book and Get Active?

A little counter-intuitive, isn’t it? For me, reading a book means finding a comfortable spot to curl up without distractions. How do you get active with something that’s typically relaxing?

All I can say is that it’s a good thing literacy isn’t just about reading a book. It can be about many activities, including:

Rhymes and songs help build vocabulary and a foundation in language necessary for future literacy learning, and they are a lot of fun!

In my small town, we have an amazing program team that comes up with activities for kids to participate in all summer. One activity is based on the television show “Mantracker.” (Here’s the link for those of you who have never seen it: http://www.mantracker.ca/)

My kids were given a map and a legend for checkpoints where their team had to get a flag. If our summer programmer—all dressed in camouflage with fake leaves and everything—caught them, they had to give up a flag.

Not only did my kids have fun, but what a great way to engage in a literacy activity around maps and legends! Linking it to the popular show ensured the activity was well attended and the kids knew what to expect.

This summer when kids are bored, or become couch potatoes stuck to an electronic device—with the usual excuses of “my friends aren’t home,” or “it’s too hot outside,” (you know I could go on and on here)—challenge them to find a way to get active in literacy! They could make up their own “mantracker” game, find a skipping rope and rhymes, or put on a scavenger hunt.

The possibilities are endless and limited only by imagination. And you never know, someone may even enjoy reading a book while bouncing on a trampoline!

The Centre for Family Literacy has a free app called Flit, for parents of 0-6 year olds, that has plenty of fun and active literacy activities, available on both iOS and Android.

Watch a demo:

Click here for more information or to download the free iOS version of Flit

Click here for more information or to download the Android version

Centre for Family Literacy website

How to Add the Fun of a Scavenger Hunt into Everyday Activities

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.

Dad & daughter

YOU CAN SEARCH FOR ANYTHING

You can 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 don’t find that very helpful—most often you are reading the list to them. You can also use pictures with, or instead of, words, but that takes time; 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 on a list, but I don’t understand the appeal myself. Instead, if you want to keep track of what you find in your search, you can 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 older kids or teenagers.

WHY ARE WE DOING THIS AGAIN?

  • It’s fun!
  • You can encourage the children to be more observant and methodical. Often children forget to look everywhere, or they 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 can 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.

If you are interested in family literacy resources, or programs in Edmonton, please visit the Centre for Family Literacy website at www.famlit.ca

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.

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.

 

MOOOve Over Winter – the C.O.W. Bus is ready for spring!

Join us on the bus and help us celebrate all things spring! This season is about new beginnings and we have plenty of new songs, stories, and toys to keep you and your family busy and actively learning all spring. We will be getting a visit from the tickle monster, reading about hunting for eggs, and singing about spring rain and garden snails.

TickleMonster Book If your toddler or pre-schooler loves to be tickled, this book, with the loveable extra-terrestrial, will be a big hit. “A loveable monster has just flown in from Planet Tickle on a mission to tickle any child who happens to be following along with the Tickle Monster book. Parents read aloud and do the tickling, while children laugh and squirm with delight.”

Great Easter Egg HuntHere is a sneak peek at another one of the fun books we’ll be reading—you’ll want to read this one over and over again as it is jam-packed with surprises and hidden messages. “With its suspenseful treasure-hunt plot, this magical picture book set in the land of the Easter bunnies offers more than 200 hidden objects to find, puzzles to solve, and intriguing clues that lead to a surprise ending—a meeting with the Great Easter Bunny himself!”

One of the spring songs we’ll be singing:

Five Garden Snails

Five garden snails
Sleeping in the sun,
Along comes a (yellow) bird,
And flies away with one.

Four garden snails
Sleeping in the sun,
Along comes a (blue) bird,
And flies away with one.

(Continue with Three, Two, and One garden snail, changing the colour of the bird each time)

Action:

  1. Select 5 children to be the snails
  2. For lines 1 and 2 the snails lie curled up sleeping
  3. Select a child from the rest of the group wearing the appropriate colour to be the bird and fly away with a snail.

You can use your new spring songs while digging in the garden, splashing in puddles, or walking through your neighbourhood. Stories and songs are a great way to support language development with your children, while having fun and creating memories.

Here are two more ways to learn with your children and try something new this spring:

Tissue Paper Decorated Eggs

Easter Egg Slime

Check out the Centre for Family Literacy website to find out when the bus is in your area, or for more information!

 

Books – and Tunes – for Babies

Hispanic mother and baby at homeA great way to keep the interest of a baby when you’re reading with them, or a child of any age really, is to add some rhythm or melody to your book sharing.

The rhyme and repetition in many childrens’ books makes this easy in many cases, and if you have a rhyming book, a quick search on Youtube can sometimes give you a few different musical styles to choose from. Beyond that, there are many books that are meant to be sung with verses, choruses, and sometimes even music or information for where you can find the music online.

Don’t worry about your singing voice, I promise your baby doesn’t mind if you’re out of key or can’t really carry a tune, and it’s perfectly fine if you would rather settle into more of a chant than a full-on melody.

Even when the book does not rhyme, sometimes a picture can give you an idea for a song or a rhyme to sing, adding a little extra fun to your book sharing time. For example, a book might feature an animal, and there are a lot of songs and rhymes about animals. It’s okay if the animal song or rhyme you want to sing doesn’t exactly match the plot of the story for 2 big reasons:

  1. Babies don’t have the longest attention spans; you probably won’t get through more than a few pages of the book anyway
  2. We want our child to be able to relate the things they see in books, and the words they hear, to other things that they know. If you are reading Runaway Bunny with your toddler and they start singing Sleeping Bunnies, you’ll know that they are making those connections, and you can tell everyone how brilliant your child is.

You won’t always feel like singing, and your child might not always be receptive to it. Think of it as one more tool that you can use to make book sharing more fun for you and your baby.

If you would like to learn more about sharing books, songs, and play with your baby, you’ll find tip sheets on the Centre for Family Literacy website, you can try our free Flit app with family literacy activities to do with your little ones, or better yet, find a Books for Babies program near you and come have some fun with us!

 

Literacy Links

Lit-Links3

Picture this, tables set around the room covered with all kinds of interesting materials, inquisitive preschoolers pulling their parent toward a table to check out all the amazing set ups. You have just entered a “The Scientist in Us All” workshop—just one of the many offered through the Centre for Family Literacy’s Literacy Links program. For the next hour or so the children lead their parents through a series of activities and experiments that amaze, amuse—and sometimes even make them believe in magic!

Children learn through play and explore their world by touching, hearing, seeing, and smelling—in other words by using their senses. They question everything, wanting to know how come? Why does? What if? A workshop like this allows parents to learn the value of following their children’s lead, to explore with them and to answer their questions. The parents may even have some questions of their own! The workshop also helps parents remember how to get into the play space, and why it is so important to connect play with their children’s learning.

Mingle about the room and you will hear chatter about exploding volcanoes, dancing spaghetti, magic flowers, and making a rainbow of colours. One dad wonders where his three-year-old learned a word like erupting, until his son points out that it is in his dinosaur book that they read almost every night. A mom is astonished when her little one, who doesn’t like to get her hands dirty, plunges wrist deep into a bowl of Goop in search of hidden treasure. A parent is amazed at her little guy as he sits still watching ever so patiently, waiting to see if a piece of spaghetti will make it to the surface before the raisin.

You may hear a facilitator explaining more about the science behind the activities, or modelling to the parents about how to ask their children questions to get more than a yes or no answer (to enhance their language skills). The facilitators will also provide parents with information about where they can find more experiments to do at home—with items they already have around the house.

100_0797.JPG  Lit-Links

The room is rarely silent—there is plenty of laughter, questions, and learning happening. And as the families leave the workshop with their activities booklet in hand, you might hear things like “that was so much fun,” “can we do this again at home?” or even “can we come here again?”

If you would like more information about this workshop or the many others offered through the Literacy Links program, please check the Centre for Family Literacy website: www.famlit.ca

3 DIY Puzzles to Make with Your Kids

The Alberta Prairie C.O.W. program visits communities around the province for 12 months a year. To each visit we bring a variety of great family literacy activities and ideas for parents to explore with their young children.

We have books, puppets, blocks, and puzzles that have been purchased, but we also bring a wealth of activities that the families can make for themselves. For example, we have homemade “I Spy” bottles made from old pop bottles that are filled with rice and random trinkets (with the bottle lid glued on tightly afterwards). We also have a homemade cash register and a stove that are made out of cereal boxes, as well as matching games made from old calendars. We encourage parents to use materials they already have at home; materials that don’t cost a lot of money.

Among the homemade activities that we bring with us are a selection of DIY puzzles. Puzzles are a wonderful way for your children to develop their fine motor and problem-solving skills. Puzzles can also be made for different ages and stages of development. You can even create puzzles geared toward your children’s interests, so go ahead—be creative and have fun together!

 

Paper Plate Puzzle

Using a plain paper plate, have your child scribble or draw a picture. Depending on the age of your child, cut the paper plate into as few or as many pieces as they can put back together.

paperplatepuzzle

 

Box Puzzle

Cut the front of a cereal, cracker, or cookie box into as many pieces as your child will be able to put back together.

puzzle-cerealbox

 

Popsicle Stick Puzzle

Tape together approximately 5 to 10 wide popsicle sticks so that they are parallel to one another and lying flat on the table. Glue a picture your child drew, a picture you cut out of a flyer or magazine, or a photograph, on top of the popsicle sticks. Once the glue is dry, you can cut the popsicle stick puzzle into its individual pieces for your child.

puzzle-popsiclestick

These are a just a few examples of DIY puzzles. Can you think of more? We would be happy to share your ideas, and create new homemade puzzles with families across the province.

For more easy and inexpensive craft ideas, check out the newsletters on the Centre for Family Literacy C.O.W. program page

 

Homemade Book Making

make-your-own-book

Learn Together – Grow Together is a program for parents and their children (ages 3-5 years old), to attend and participate in activities together as a family. We encourage the parents to recognize their role as first teacher of their children. In order for parents to help their children become lifelong readers and writers, we show the parents simple activities they can do at home to help foster the early literacy skills needed for their little ones to grow into literacy.

At Learn Together – Grow Together, a fun  activity we have done was to make a homemade book. We showed the parents that you can use inexpensive materials and/or materials you may already have at home, to make your own books.

One of the books the parents created with their children is called a “Straw Book.”

make-your-own-book1Supplies Needed:

  • 3+, 8 ½ x 11 plain white sheets of paper
  • 1 piece of coloured construction paper
  • 1 pair of scissors
  • 1 drinking straw
  • 1 elastic band
  • markers and/or pencil crayons and/or crayons
  • optional: stickers

 

make-your-own-book2Directions:

  •  Fold the white pieces of paper in half, as they will become the inside pages of the book
  • Fold the piece of coloured construction paper in half, as this will become the cover of the book

 

 

make-your-own-book3

  • Carefully cut two small triangles into the folded sides of the plain paper and the folded side of the construction paper. Make sure the triangles are a long enough distance apart to be able to weave your straw in between them

make-your-own-book4

 

 

  • Put the straw through the holes on the inside of the book

 

 

 

make-your-own-book5

  • On the outside cover, put the elastic band on the top and bottom ends of the straw, keeping the cover and inside pages together
  •  Have fun decorating, writing, and drawing in your book!

 

 

 

At Learn Together – Grow Together, the families used pencil crayons, markers, stickers, objects cut out of magazines, etc. to decorate, draw, and write in their straw books. The children were very pleased that they were able to scribble and/or write whatever they wanted in their book; it gave them a sense of pride and ownership!

It was exciting to see that even a simple and inexpensive activity, like making a book from a drinking straw, an elastic band, and some paper, was able to foster early literacy skills. The children were able to be creative on their own and practice their writing and drawing skills. The parents learned that it doesn’t cost a lot of money, or take a lot of time, to have a literacy activity for their children to work on.

Have you made any other types of homemade books with your children? We would love to hear more of your ideas to help foster early reading and writing skills in young children!