Advent Calendars for Kids

As December quickly creeps up on us, our kids’ minds turn to Advent calendars. The anticipation the calendars build with each day is a fun part of the season.

The Wikipedia definition of an Advent calendar is a special calendar used to count or celebrate the days in anticipation of Christmas. The Advent calendar was first used by German Lutherans in the 19th and 20th centuries but is now found everywhere.

If you go into any large chain store you will find an array of Advent calendar choices. Traditional Advent calendars conceal 24 small chocolates to be opened one a day until December 24th, but more and more choices are becoming available every year. Lindt has a full chocolate every day, and Lego has 2 or 3 different calendars to choose from every year. Toy or candy calendars, ranging from Disney, Crayola, Playmobil, Hot Wheels, Kinder surprise, Jelly Belly and more, can also be found.

But ever since my kids were born, I have been interested in making my own Advent calendars. They are more personal than the bought versions and I can add anything I want, from toys or books to candy. You can find many Advent calendars to make with your kids at Growing A Jewelled Rose.

One of our yearly traditions is a Book Tree Advent Calendar. I love it because it combines my love of reading with my kids and a surprise for the kids each day.

I found the following Book Tree Advent Calendar at Reading Confetti. Every year we enjoy opening up some of our favourite Christmas classics and a few new ones.

book-tree-advent-4

 

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

 

Flit the App: Fun literacy activities to do WITH your 0-5 year old!

As a mother of 3 children now 9, 7 and 5, and a former teacher, literacy learning has been a big part of our family and my career. I’m familiar with how important it is for a parent to engage and read with their children. Still, I would sometimes wonder how to build their language and literacy skills. There are only so many times you can sing “Paddy Cake” with your children before you get bored.

Where did I turn to find activities? Pinterest, of course. If you are not familiar with Pinterest, you can search a topic of interest and find a multitude of ideas. I would sort through numerous Pinterest boards searching for literacy learning activities, but it takes a lot of time. Wouldn’t it be great if there was an app that provided us with some of the best ideas to help our kids gain literacy skills, so we could easily find what we wanted?

Now there is! The new Flit app by the Centre for Family Literacy is not just another literacy app to put in front of your kids. This app is for us, the parents and caregivers of children from birth to 5 years. The Flit (Families Learning and Interacting Together) app offers a curated resource of some of the best activities to connect and do with your child to boost and build key literacy skills.

Here is how it works:

First, scroll across the top to choose from 8 categories: Books, Rhymes, Games, Crafts, Writing, Numbers, Cooking, or Reading.

Flit1

Once you choose a category, you will see the activities in that category. Simply choose an activity and you will be taken to that activity screen.

For example:

Flit2

Once you click on an activity you will be taken to that activity screen.

 Flit3

There you will find:

  • What you need
  • What to do
  • How to do it together with your child

Flit4

At the end of each activity you will find:

  • What concepts can be learned from the activity
  • Additional resources or ideas
  • Related activities

You can also heart favourite activities for use another time or share your activity with family and friends on Facebook.

 

HOW ELSE CAN THIS APP HELP YOU AS A PARENT?

  • Imagine you are sitting in a restaurant that doesn’t have any activities to keep children busy. Yikes! You could easily open this app and choose an activity to help you occupy your children before their food arrives.
  • Kids are at home for their day off from school and you’re not sure what to do with them to pass the day. Take a peek at the app for ideas to get your day moving.
  • You can’t make it to the Rhymes that Bind family literacy program today because your toddler is sick. You can open the app and do the activities in your own home until you can make it back to the group.
  • It gives you an opportunity to engage with your children in a meaningful way.

The app will also benefit: parents, grandparents, babysitters, nannies, day home providers, preschool teachers, and early learning professionals.

Are you ready to get the free Flit app? Here’s more information and the link to iTunes to download the app.

Currently Flit is only available to Apple users, however the Centre for Family Literacy is working on securing funding for an Android version. Please do the quick survey on the website if you are interested in the Android version of the app.

Bonnie Dani
Educator, Writer, Blogger, Mom

I blog over at Adalinc to Life where you can find children’s book reviews, activities, diy projects, and other inspiration for you and your home.

email: bonniedani@adalinc.org

 

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.

Brains for Literacy!

  1. Halloween is coming.
  2. Zombies are popular.
  3. Let’s talk about brains!

This is a very exciting time to be alive. For thousands of years what went on inside a persons’ head was a mystery. And over the last hundred or so years there have been a number of breakthroughs that gave us a better and better idea of what the brain we carry around in our heads is actually doing.

The history of brain research is full of gruesome accidents, war wounds, dead bodies, and brain surgery. But even though Halloween is coming, I’m going to skip that part and get straight to the point: the advancements made in the last ten years have given us an increasingly sophisticated picture of how brains grow and develop in the very early stages.

So, why exactly is that exciting?

  1. It helps explain why so many of the traditional activities we have done with children for generations are so effective: person-to-person interaction is one of the most effective ways of forming connections in the brain.
  2. It shows us how stress can derail healthy development and compromise healthy brain functioning.
  3. It gives us very good reasons to hold off on expensive programs and products that promise to make babies into geniuses, because babies clearly don’t need any of those things.
  4. Seriously, there a lumpy organ behind your eyes that makes everything you think, feel and do possible with a system of squirts and splashes. That’s pretty close to miraculous in my mind.

I could go on and on, but there is a new video from the folks at the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative and Norlien Foundation that paints the picture of why this is helpful quite nicely in less than 5 minutes:

How Brains are Built: The Core Story of Brain Development

And if that video whets your appetite for more brains, Dr. Bruce Perry and his organization, the Child Trauma Academy have made a 13 minute video introduction to the brain. If you’re interested in how the brain works, this is an excellent place to start. You might have to watch this a few times, there’s a lot going on in that dark place between your ears:

Seven Slide Series: The Human Brain

So, if you ever catch a glimpse of a family literacy program, remember that while we spend a lot of time crawling on the floor with babies, and squashing play dough with pre-schoolers, we are hard at work building healthy brains!

 

Everywhere You Look…

Open a newspaper, check out a magazine stand, turn on the TV, watch the news, catch a conversation in the lunch room and chances are you are hearing about the absolute devastation that is the result of the rains and flooding in Southern Alberta. If it hasn’t affected you personally, you know someone whose life has been changed forever in some shape or form or know someone who knows someone. I see the pictures, hear the stories and my heart goes out to all of them. My daughter came into the room one night as I sat watching the coverage with more than a tear in my eye and said “Mom, turn it off if it makes you so sad!”

As an adult, I can follow up and read more about the way those affected are coping, see all the wonderful volunteers helping complete strangers without hesitation, understand the reasons why the flood victims aren’t allowed in their homes and rationalize that the pets sometimes can go a few days without food or water. The ones I worry more about are the children. They see the pictures and wonder why everything is garbage and why all the toys are being thrown away, see the people being rescued by boats and are scared because not everybody knows how to swim and how will they be saved, hear the big people around them say “it could happen to any of us” and be terrified the next time it rains.  They may only hear snippets of conversations, see their parent cry over the losses of strangers or watch the TV and not have anyone there to talk them through it.  How do we explain these kinds of disasters without scaring them? They hear things and take them literally, see the pictures and imagine all these things happening to them.

I remember the tornado here in Edmonton back in 1985 and how so many of the little people I knew were scared every time the wind picked up or the sky turned a funny colour. I didn’t know how to talk to them or reassure them that everything would be all right.

I was looking for ways to help little ones I know deal with the emotions these recent events have brought to the surface. I was fortunate that I got some really good resources sent to me and I would like to share them with you. Here are a couple of links that might be helpful to parents/caregivers who are looking for ways to talk about this with their children. Perhaps you have some others that could be shared here or words of wisdom on how you have dealt a traumatic event like the flooding.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Little Listeners in an Uncertain World

There are so many unseen casualties from the flooding. Wishing all our friends, neighbours, and fellow Albertans the strength to get through the rebuild and hope for tomorrow. With time all the material things can be replaced, it is the emotional wounds that will take much longer to heal.

Family Literacy in the Workplace, Does it Work?

Research shows:

  • Adult and workplace literacy programs may be underused because of employee fear or sense of stigma
  • Adults with low literacy skills will often participate in literacy programs to benefit their child. Parents join because the focus is on helping their children, as opposed to their own abilities
  • Family literacy programs have been successfully used as the “hook” or “carrot” to get reluctant workers into training programs
  • Adults retain information and skills picked up in the workplace training to a greater degree when the training materials are related to day-to-day experiences at work, home and communities

Family Literacy in the workplace is about overcoming these barriers, getting employees interested in learning and comfortable with taking training, and creating an intergenerational cycle of achievement.

Parents gain the confidence to reenter the learning system and pursue other training.

Family literacy initiatives in the workplace can make a difference in areas such as recruitment of workers, job satisfaction and retention, promotion and especially providing a pathway into additional training and work related skill development. Encouraging employees to learn at work has implications for key elements of business success especially in the areas of safety and productivity.

One of the Centre’s national projects was conducting research based family literacy workplace pilot projects in Alberta. One pilot was run in Brooks at a large manufacturing plant with an English as a Second language program that had a hard time getting people signed up for training let alone getting the results the business needed.

A family literacy program model called B.O.O.K.S. (Books Offer Our Kids Success) was piloted with 25 participants during the lunch hour. Participants were shown how to expand different children’s books by using a nonfiction book or looking up things on the computer or doing a craft or activity associated with the story.

In the Brooks pilot, discussion of the themes of children’s books led naturally into discussions of work related interests such as job aspirations and workplace safety. Outcomes included enhanced communication in the workplace and enhanced family enjoyment of learning. At the conclusion of the pilot, the company decided to continue B.O.O.K.S. with over 50 employees on a wait list for the next program.

For more information go to http://www.famlit.ca/resources/resources_pr.shtml where you will find downloadable resources on workplace family literacy

What do you think?