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/

The C.O.W. has Mice & Pretty Bugs in May!

Mouse_CountMay is full of mice on the bus. First we will be reading Mouse Count. In this charming companion to Mouse Paint, Ellen Stoll Walsh introduces the concept of counting forward and backward in a suspenseful story that will keep young readers guessing. We have some furry little props to add to this exciting story.

 

Lunch

Lunch is also on the bus this month. It’s time for lunch, and one little mouse is famished! In fact, he’s so hungry that once he starts eating, he can’t stop. He sinks his teeth into a crisp white turnip, gobbles up some orange carrots, devours an ear of yellow corn, and then tosses back some tender green peas. He’s full, but this mouse keeps on munching until his bulging belly won’t hold another bite. Come and see all the stuff author Denise Fleming has this little mouse devouring!

 

Butterflys2Still on the fun theme, we will be singing B.I.N.G.O. on the bus. We have some new puzzles and activities like “Who Knows Whose Nose,” and some giant bugs that snap together. We also welcome a kaleidoscope of beautiful butterflies in the bus this month. Join us for some great stories, fun activities, and pretty bugs!

You’ll find our Edmonton bus schedule here

hashtag: #edm_cow

 

What I Wish We had Done on our Summer Vacations

School is almost over, milestones have been celebrated, the last sport tournament is just around the corner, and thoughts turn to summer vacation – where to go, what to do, and how to fill the time between visits with family and friends. It is also important to think of ways to ensure that during this two-month break our children don’t forget everything they have learned in school.

When my girls were little, we always tried to take advantage of the many free and child friendly activities that happened over the summer. We:

  • joined the Summer Reading Club at the library. The girls picked up a week’s worth of books and rushed home to read them so they could be finished before we headed back to get the next week’s stickers
  • took the train downtown to the Street Performers Festival or the Klondike Days Parade
  • watched the Canada Day fireworks after spending most of the day at the Legislative grounds
  • planned the bus trip to Heritage Days and each of the girls chose what food item they wanted to bring for the Food Bank.

We often wondered through our neighbourhood with no specific destination in mind. It was a way to get out of the house and keep the kids active, but those walks would have been a perfect opportunity to practice their literacy skills without them even knowing. I wish I knew then what I know now. We could have:

  • played a game of street sign bingo – how many stop signs could they count on the way to the park or yield signs on the way to a play date, or what was the most unique sign found
  • searched for all the letters in their names on street or business signs
  • looked for all the numbers from one to ten, or the numbers in our phone number, in the numbers on the houses
  • sung a song about all the colours of the rainbow and looked for them in the beautiful flower gardens we passed along the way
  • planned ahead to make it to our local spray park before the mad lunch rush
  • discussed all the different shapes we could find like the octagon in the stop sign, the triangle in the giant slide, the rectangles made by doors, or the circles in the playground
  • named all the different animals we could see as the clouds passed by in the sky
  • counted how many steps it took to walk to the mailbox and back.

We also could have done more literacy activities at home. We could have:

  • used sidewalk chalk to encourage the kids to write and illustrate their own stories – each square in front of the house another page in their book
  • researched what flowers or veggies grow best in our area, then they could have planted their own to take care of over the summer
  • planned a back yard pool and sprinkler party and sent invitations to their friends
  • read the comics and then created our own.

There are so many opportunities at our fingertips to support and build on our children’s literacy skills – we just need to look at things with a different mindset. The next time you see a child scribbling on your sidewalk, take a minute to ask them about the story they are trying to tell.

 

Gender Imbalance in Children’s Books

Recently there have been a few articles written about the lack of female characters in children’s books. One article published by The Guardian, says “The messages conveyed through representation of males and females in books contribute to children’s ideas of what it means to be a boy, girl, man, or woman.” Thus, it is important to present positive images of females in children’s books.

A study, led by Janice McCabe, a professor of sociology at Florida State University, looked at almost 6,000 children’s books published between 1900 and 2000, and found that males were central characters in 57% of children’s books published each year, with just 31% having female central characters. Male animals are central characters in 23% of books per year, the study found, while female animals star in only 7.5%.

To make matters worse, even in modern classics many of the male and female characters are stereotypical and out-of-date.

While there may be more children’s books directed at male audiences, there are some great books for girls out there as well. The website http://www.amightygirl.com/ has some great book ideas to share!

Read the full article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/may/06/gender-imbalance-children-s-literature

 

Play! Have fun and learn

PLAY! A simple word with so much meaning. How unfortunate that as we get older we forget how important it is to stop and have fun. Play.

Play is how children learn. They learn movement through play; they build the core muscles and develop their large motor skills — essential before perfecting the small motor skills they will later need for holding a pencil and commanding it on paper.

Crawling, rolling, spinning, jumping, hopping and skipping are all part of big body play. Being messy while learning to feed yourself, creating with playdough (rolling, kneeding), finger painting, building with blocks and finger tapping to melodies are all part of small body play. For a child, all of these skills are critical to developing the muscle control needed for the rest of their lives. Children are not hardwired to sitting still. They need to be moving and using all of their senses to really learn from their environment and experiences. They need to touch, taste, smell, feel, hear and talk about what they are doing.

Play is fun! Play also encourages the brain’s creativity centre. Play promotes language skills. When we are playing we can be in deep thought as we are trying to build that tower or create that sculpture. We learn to keep trying when it doesn’t work out. We learn problem solving when we have to try again. We can be loud while pretending we are animals in the jungle or aliens in outer space, or race car drivers racing in our cardboard boxes. Whether your child likes playing aloud or quietly, you have the opportunity of using language with them. Get down on your child’s level and play alongside them. With very young children it is okay to narrate their play. You are building on their vocabulary as you comment on the colours, shapes, sizes or sounds around them. Don’t be afraid of making up stories and singing your own tunes. Your child adores the sound of your voice. Play encourages relationship building. Children won’t necessarily recall the meals they ate or the clothes they wore, but they will have memories of the days spent sitting on the floor singing, laughing, tickling, playing hide and seek, and being silly with their parents.

When children are playing together they are learning so much more than we can hope to teach them any other way. They are learning social awareness, emotional thinking, and more. They are learning to compromise, be in relationships, and to take turns. This all seems very simple on one level, but it really goes quite deep and is worth investing some time to ensure you promote play in your family life. With our busy schedules and hectic lives, we need to remember that playing is crucial and there is no substitute.

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.

Our Library is Waiting to be Discovered

Tucked away in a corner of a light industrial business park in west Edmonton is a gem of a library for beginning adult readers and their tutors. This small, specialized library (3,522 items) is cosily housed at the Centre for Family Literacy (CFL). In it you will find a section of workbooks, specifically written for adult learners, that explain and offer practice in phonics, grammar, vocabulary, spelling, composition, comprehension and fluency – all of the skills that must be mastered in order for one to learn to read fluently. These particular workbooks are not found in the Edmonton Public Library.

Especially good is The Active Reader, a series of workbooks from Foundations to Level 5 focussed on reading and writing, written by Linda Kita-Bradley and published by Grass Roots Press in Edmonton. Each book contains articles, with photographs, on five broad subjects – people, relationships, health and safety, the environment and significant Canadian historic events and people. They are up to date, relevant and engaging.

Across the aisle from the workbooks is the fiction section. We have over 1,330 novels on our shelves. The reading levels of the books range from F1 to F9 (approximately equivalent to grade levels). Most of the novels have been specially written with the adult literacy learner in mind. Vocabulary is basic, sentences are short and the page count is lower than mainstream fiction. Good Reads and Rapid Reads books are well-written, engrossing mysteries for the middle level reader. Gail Anderson-Dargatz, Louise Penny, Deborah Ellis (Good Reads) and Gail Bowen, Richard Wagamese, and Medora Sale (Rapid Reads) are just a few of the writers in these series.

I love what Neil Gaiman says about fiction and why he thinks it is important:

“Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it’s a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it’s hard, because someone’s in trouble and you have to know how it’s all going to end . . . that’s a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you’re on the road to reading everything. And reading is key.”

The second thing that happens when we read fiction, according to Gaiman, is that it builds empathy. When we read fiction, we see through others’ eyes; we experience events that are worlds away, far from our own experience, our own time, place, and gender. Reading fiction changes us, he says. Read the whole article:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming

There are also sections on mathematics, science, the trades, life skills, and resources for tutors. One shelf is devoted to workbooks written for English Language Learners. Workbooks and audio tapes geared to the GED, IELTS, and TOEFL exams are popular. The non-fiction section contains a little of everything.

You will even find a small Aboriginal section. Books on the Métis people are currently highlighted, as this is Métis Week (November 11-16). For more information about the Métis in Alberta, link to: http://www.albertametis.com/MNAHome/Home.aspx

How the Library Works

Tutors and learners are given library cards. Both get a tour of the library when they come to the CFL for their initial interviews. As well, during the tutor training sessions, tutors learn how to access the library on the computers at the Centre.

When a new tutor and learner have been matched, they meet in the library at the CFL. The tutor has a sheet with information about the learner and some suggestions about what workbooks might be appropriate. But these are only suggestions. Over time as the tutor and learner come to know each other, as conversations become easy and trust develops, learners explain their reasons for wanting to learn and their goals. Sometimes the goals are specific; a learner may want to be able to read the Alberta Driver’s Handbook in order to get a driver’s license. Others may want to upgrade and work toward their GED. Perhaps the goal is to speak and write English clearly.

Together learner and tutor take the beginning steps towards the goal. And there, right next to them is the library, filled with hundreds of adventure stories and mysteries just waiting to be read. Workbooks that build the skills underlying fluent reading, or explain the basics of mathematics, are within reach. They are all doorways to knowledge, to expanded horizons, and to the sheer pleasure and escape of getting lost in a book – of being someone else, of being transported to other worlds and other times.

The library, the whole world, is waiting to be discovered.

Go Ahead and Let Your Kids Play in the Mud!

There is so much information lately about sensory play and the benefits of letting our kids get dirty. Being a mom who loves to dive right in and get my own hands dirty, I hopped on the sensory play bandwagon immediately! A mommy friend and I excitedly planned our first sensory play date. After the items were picked and the space was prepared, the kids were ready and it was time to begin!

Since our little ones still put everything in their mouths we needed to use things that were edible. Cornmeal was the first texture for the girls to explore. We started modestly with a small container and a few scooping toys. This was very similar to playing in the sand although it would not be as bad if they decided to give it a taste.

Things got messy in a hurry. The girls really enjoyed feeling the cornmeal in their hands and between their fingers. It was dry and slid off the skin easily. It gave us the opportunity to use new words such as gritty, coarse, and mild when talking about how the cornmeal felt or smelled, and the girls tried to repeat the new words back to us. The new vocabulary and fun we were having made it well worth the mess!

We were pleasantly surprised that it took longer than we had expected for the kids to taste-test this new texture. Although they made yucky faces, they persisted in trying it again and again. They even used the spoons to feed it to each other.

We were so happy that they were sharing and using the spoons successfully that we waited a few scoopfuls before adding more new vocabulary. Share, feed, lick and taste were just a few of the words we found ourselves using.

We were also learning about how to keep the floor clean while still having fun! In came the water/sand box from outside as our new, larger exploration space. We decided if we were going to do this sensory play thing we were going to go all the way!

My daughter loved how it felt having the cornmeal showered onto her face, neck and head. This gave us the opportunity to talk about those body parts and location words like in and out. Then we let them go in and out of the sandbox as they pleased, so they were in control of what they were, or were not, showered in. And why stop at playing with food? The containers were just as much fun; a bowl could also be a hat or a drum!

Next we added some dry rice, and then some oatmeal. Once again we found ourselves using more new vocabulary. Flat, round, hard, soft, light and dry were just some of the words we used.

Our next step was to slowly add some water. The girls were very comfortable diving in and exploring these new textures, as things got messier and messier, with little or no direction from mommy!

After a quick spaghetti and tomato sauce lunch to refuel, we were ready for round two! The leftover spaghetti was a perfect addition to the sensory play space. Although it was a texture and taste the girls were familiar with, it was new to get to squish it between their fingers and toes.

The girls continued to try tasting every new item we added and neither of them showed any sign of wanting to stop. This made us feel awesome!

The last food we introduced was tapioca pearls (the kind used in bubble tea). The pearls came in an array of colours and sizes. Eventually the gritty cornmeal stuck to the sticky tapioca exterior. Because we did not add sugar to the pearls, as the recipe suggested, the girls attempted to eat them, spat them out, then tried other ones. They probably did this fifteen times each!

The girls loved to stand up and sit back down, transfer textures back and forth between containers, and taste-test items over and over again. With music playing in the background, covered in goo, they even stood up and danced!

It was time to clean up and take our sticky kids to a new sensory play space – the bathtub! Our play date was ending, but we continued talking about all the new words, textures, tastes and smells we had experienced that morning.

Voting Voice

The concept that our vote is our voice is a popular and compelling way of getting people out to vote.  The legitimacy and authority of our government lies in the confidence that it is elected by a majority of the people who live in the community. If there is low voter turnout, it could be argued that the government that is elected does not accurately represent the community it is serving.

In the 2010 civic election in Edmonton only 33.4% of the eligible voters cast a ballot. How do we increase this number?

I believe one way is to increase the literacy levels of adults in our community.  In Alberta, 4 in 10 adults do not have the literacy skills to fully participate in our society.  During elections, we read campaign pamphlets, articles in newspapers, and information online and attend forums to help us form our opinions on the issues. For 40% of Albertans who have low literacy levels, acquiring the information to make informed decisions can be a challenge.

I believe that every citizen has the right and the responsibility to participate in the democratic process.  If everyone has the skills to understand the issues and the confidence to participate in the process, we will have a more engaged electorate.

At the Centre we believe that literacy develops in families first.  Parents who are informed on social and political issues and discuss these with their children are demonstrating the importance of having your voice heard. My daughter and I have gone through all the websites of candidates running in our ward and she has helped me decide who I am going to vote for!

There is one action that I think we can all do to support the community – go vote on October 21, 2013.

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.