Reading Every Day Helps Keep the Doctor Away

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

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

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

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

Here are some other key findings:

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

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

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

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



Guys Read Too, Don’t They?

Fam_Lit079How do you get kids to read? Reading was never a problem for me – I always found it to be a very fun and enjoyable activity. It was easy for me to find books that I wanted to read. But what about those kids who can’t find books that are of interest to them? Boys, especially, struggle with this. How can parents find books that their boys will enjoy? As an educator, I’ve been asked this question a lot and this is what I’ve found.

In order to get kids to read, you have to make reading fun for them and find books that hold their attention. I found a couple of great websites containing lists of valuable resources: and

Why might boys have trouble with reading? has this to say: “biologically, boys are slower to develop than girls and often struggle with reading and writing skills early on. The action-oriented competitive learning style of many boys works against them when learning to read and write. Many books boys are asked to read don’t appeal to them. They aren’t motivated to want to read. As a society, we teach boys to suppress feelings. Boys aren’t practiced and often don’t feel comfortable exploring the emotions and feelings found in fiction. Boys don’t have enough positive male role models for literacy. Because the majority of adults involved in kids reading are women, boys might not see reading a s a masculine activity.”

There are a few things we need to do to help boys be successful. We need to draw attention to boys’ literacy. GUYS READ is our chance to do that. We need to include humour, comics, graphic novels, magazines, websites, audiobooks and newspapers in school reading and give them a choice about what they read. We need to encourage male role models of literacy. And we also need to be realistic and start small. contains a list of books on topics such as: cars, trucks, sports, outer space, how to build stuff, robots, boxers, wrestlers, ultimate fighters, scary, action/adventure, animals and explosions, just to name a few. also contains lists of books of various levels and interests. These lists include: great family reads, great picture books, great transitional books, great pageturners and great advanced reads.

If you have trouble finding books for boys, these two websites are a great place to start.

Giving the Traditional Chore Chart a Modern Twist

Chores… Something every parent has to think about and most children dread. There are so many tips available on the Internet and in many parenting magazines. Yet chores remains a hot topic in any circle of parents meeting in playgrounds and playgroups across the county.

At this time of year, as schools prepare to let loose the children, parents are talking even more about chores and responsibilities. Summer is upon us and though we want our children to have their fun, we need them to contribute to the home chores.

How do you balance work and play for your children? Do you pay them an allowance? Do they get incentive rewards? How old should they be when you start to assign chores? How you choose to work out those details is as individual as each household. However, most experts (and parents) agree that it is as important for children to learn these skills as it is to learn to walk, run, and ride a bike.

Chores teach children how to accomplish tasks. They teach children how to schedule or budget their time. They teach children how to work together. Chores create independence and problem solving skills. If allowance is involved, it can serve as a lesson on how to budget or save earnings for a special item. These are all wonderful lifelong skills and positive character traits!

So why can it be such a battle to follow through and assign chores to the children in our lives? As adults we rationalize that if we had a choice between something we perceive as fun, vs something that we perceive as work, we would likely choose the fun thing as well. But since we do not really have a choice, we get through the work so we can reward ourselves with some leisure time afterwards. Personally, I dislike kitchen chores. Why does it seem to be never ending? I can relate to “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout” and what happened because she would not take the garbage out!

How can we get our little lovelies to chip in around the house? There is no magical answer to that question. As a mother of four, I know what has worked in my house and what hasn’t. Trial and error can take more effort by the parents, but it is rewarding to find a method that works for your own family. One thing many parents agree on is that, though the chore itself may not be fun, the approach to it should be. Pinterest is a great source for creative ideas and approaches.

My boys are like many other boys and really enjoy their video games and computer time. I struggled to find a balance for their allowable game time, chores, and other fun until I started using a sign up sheet. In our home, it is a successful and fun way to encourage my boys to do chores.

Your sign up sheet can be new daily or laminated to write on with a dry erase marker. On our sheet I add things that I can use help with daily. There are a variety of things to choose from with varying degrees of difficulty and age appropriate for each boy. I write things such as tidy up the shoe shelf, sweep the kitchen floor, take out the garbage, take the dog for a walk, shovel the sidewalk, or weed the flowerbeds. For fun, there are things such as go for a bike ride with a brother, play tag outside, build a snow fort, use sidewalk chalk to create a picture, or even read a book.

The boys are responsible to sign up for a chore one at a time. They have to complete one chore fully before they can sign up for another. Each “chore” or “job” has an amount of time assigned to it by myself, such as 5, 10, 20, or 30 minutes. When they have successfully completed some jobs and accumulated enough time credits, they are given equal time on their games. It is a great way for us to balance chores, play and computer time. The boys feel it is their choice and that they are in control. It balances out well and they never have too much “time” accrued to make me feel they are spending too much of it on video games.

This summer, think how to keep it fun. Have the children think they are in control of how and when they help out around the house. It makes for less of a battle and guarantees more fun for all!

New Math versus Old Math

A friend is a teacher in the school system and his biggest problem with the profession is the constant scrutiny it gets from the public, whether it is media publicity or constant critique from over zealous “helicopter parents”. But occasionally there is an issue where he has no choice but to side with the public. The recent uproar over how math is being taught is one of them.

Here is how I understand the difference between the new and old methods of teaching math. The old method involved learning or memorizing the multiplication table and formulas to arrive at an answer. The new method places less focus on memorization, and replaces it with text laden, descriptive problems designed to encourage students to discover the answer.

In short, the problem with old math is students had to accept that 2 x 2 = 4. The strength of the new math is that it encourages students to ask why is the answer 4. Proponents of new math argue that the old method is flawed as it is based on memorization and rote, and that the new method is better as it encourages critical thinking and allows the learner to determine the answer in a variety of ways.

Critics of new math argue that students cannot even begin the critical thinking process if they do not have a grasp of simple math concepts. Vocal parents complain that they cannot help their children with homework because the new math might as well be a new language.

Some parents have enrolled their children into specialized math courses like Kumon. Others have decided to teach their children the multiplication tables in spite of the school’s new methodology. In both cases, parents contend that their child’s marks improve dramatically once exposed to the old method.

So which method is better? Here is my take. I am a product of the old and I take exception to the characterization of the multiplication table as memorization. Years ago I was a literacy tutor and the orientation included a numerical literacy module which re-visited the multiplication table.

It was through this module that I discovered the multiplication table from 1 to 10 was not strict memorization. Rather it was a grid of patterns which were not difficult to learn (not memorize). An obvious pattern is the “5” times table, where all the answers end with the numbers 0 or 5.

There may be merit with the new math methodology, but the implementation by school boards has failed to gain acceptance by its primary audience – the students and the parents. I see parallels between this implementation and the Canadian government’s switch to the metric system in the 1970s, which I think was a good move.

While officially a metric nation, what has evolved over 40 years of conversion is Canada adopting a hybrid metric-imperial standard. We measure our distances in kilometres, yet all Canadian vehicles are still sold with speed gauges in miles and kilometres.  Temperature is measured in Celsius, but we still think of our weight in pounds and our height in feet.

So while officially metric, the Canadian government has never really discouraged or eliminated the imperial standard. This, I believe, is the path school boards should take.  New math is the official standard, yes. But do not throw away the old methods. Both can, and should, co-exist.


Why Lullabies Work

Parents and other caregivers have been using lullabies to sooth babies and put them to sleep for generations, because, usually, they work. They are not magic spells but there are a number of things going on, when we sing lullabies, that help to soothe and comfort babies.

  1. Your beautiful voice – you might not like it, but babies are in love with the voices of their close family members. It won’t last forever, but at least for a few years your baby would rather listen to the voices of his parents, siblings, and other caregivers than anything else.
  2. Your rhythm – babies can actually hear before they are even born, and the steady rhythm of mom’s breathing and heartbeat have made a big impact on your baby. Any regular rhythm (especially ones similar to a heartbeat) will put babies at ease, perhaps reminding them of simpler times before they were born and everything became strange and new.
  3. Your excellent taste – when you sing the songs and rhymes that you like, your baby can hear it in your voice and see it in both your facial expressions and your body language. If you are happy with your repertoire, your baby will love the experience.
  4. Your love of “the classics” – babies really are not trendsetters; they tend to like hearing the same things over and over again. If you are consistent in what you sing to your baby, they will appreciate the familiarity and feel more comfortable as a result. When you want to relax, you fall back on your favourites; you don’t charge into new and unfamiliar styles, and babies are no different. Speaking of which, if you regularly sing a song to an unborn baby, they will remember the song after birth and you can bet they will be fond of it.
  5. Your expert delivery – this is not rocket science. Gentler, slower, quieter tunes are usually more relaxing than songs that are aggressive, fast, and loud. I say “usually” because if your baby is used to hearing something loud and fast, she might be soothed by that instead.

So whether you sing traditional lullabies, the latest pop favourites, or the jingle from that terrible commercial that you just cannot get out of your head, you can probably make them work for you and your baby if you keep even a few of the above in mind.

And on those nights when lullabies don’t work, when you’ve sung everything you can think of, and tried everything that you can imagine to calm them down, and they just keep screaming… that’s when you need to sing for you. Your heart will slow down to match the beat of the song. Your breathing will slow down and your body will relax. It won’t solve everything, but you will be calmer which is good for you and for your baby.

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:

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:

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.

Making Sense of Allowances

Most parents choose to give their children an allowance. Two good reasons to give an allowance are:

1.  to teach children to manage their money, and

2.  to curb their constant requests for money.

Here are some things to consider before handing over those first dollars to an eager child.

When to Start:  Perhaps a good time to start is when your child realizes that money can buy the things he wants. That could be as early as 3 years old for some children. The sooner you start, the sooner the learning begins.

How Much:  The amount of the allowance will depend on how much you can afford to give, and the age of the child. Most parents don’t want their child to have significantly more or less money than other children in the neighbourhood or school. The allowance should increase as the child gets older, and it would depend on what your child is expected to buy with it.

Weekly or Monthly:  Most parents give the allowance weekly, as it is too hard for young children to manage their money over an entire month. Pick the day when the allowance is paid and try to stick to it. If your child asks for an advance, and you agree, it is a great opportunity to talk about loans (use of other people’s money), what they cost, how they are paid back, and what the penalty is for late payment. Be prepared for your children to ask for interest if you are late with payment of their allowance; it shows they are learning how debt works!

Connection to Chores/Grades:  Experts are divided on the issue of the connection of  allowances to weekly chores or good grades. Some feel that children should share the family workload just as they share in the resources and advantages of being in the family.  The logic is that if parents train their children to share and work together, it builds a giving, volunteer spirit, and if the children do their best to get good grades, the reward will be pride in their accomplishment.

Others argue that to link chores or grades to money will prepare children for the adult world of work for pay. It teaches responsibility and consequences. Some children may respond better to one method more than the other. Some parents use a combination where the allowance is independent of the chores but the children can earn more money if they do extra jobs.

The age and maturity of the child is also a factor. Small children need immediacy, and will not make the connection between putting away their toys on Monday and getting an allowance the following Saturday.

Saving and Giving:  Encourage (or insist) your children save a little each week. It will help them learn how their savings grow over time. They can save for short-term goals such as family birthday gifts, as well as long-term goals which might take a year or more.

There are opportunities to learn simple math such as how to divide allowances into parts – 1/4 for saving, 1/10 for charity, etc. Help your child calculate how many weeks of saving it will take before he has enough to buy the item he wants.

Sharing and helping makes everyone feel good. Giving a child an opportunity to see how his money is helping to make someone’s life better will make him feel wonderfully empowered. If you can, take him to the place where his money is being used, and show him the people it is helping, such as a centre where homeless people can get a meal.

Kids can learn decision making, patience and goal setting, and sometimes they learn by making mistakes with their money. If they learn the lesson with a small amount, they may not make the same mistake later in life when the stakes are higher.

Here is a link to further discussion on allowances.

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!


The Family that Dines Together

(edited from

Sometimes family dinner can be the highlight of the week, and sometimes it can just feel like a huge inconvenience. For people who grew up having dinner with the family on a regular basis, there are sure to be some instances you can recall when family dinner was the least appealing thing in your schedule. Love it or hate it, it turns out that regularly eating dinner with your family is a good thing. Studies show that families who eat dinner together on a regular basis tend to produce offspring who are happier, healthier, and oftentimes more successful. The following infographic examines some of the benefits that come with a regularly scheduled family dinner. It turns out eating dinner together is a recipe for more conversation between family members, stronger ties, and positive communication among other things. There is a lot of good to be had from an old fashioned family dinner.

Family Dinners Infographic

Dandelions can be useful? Who knew?

Dandelions seem to be over-taking our yards. They are nothing but trouble and yet I feel they have gotten a bad rap. I get a fresh dandelion bouquet every few days from my child that I cherish dearly, so they do make me happy.

With a big glass of water within reach, my bored nephew and I hit the Internet highway in search of everything dandelion that Google could tell us. I thought the first few sites listed would be about how to get rid of dandelions. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find numerous sites telling me of all of the nutritional value that dandelions have.

Upon further investigation, we found recipes for soup, salad, dandelion wine and tea, as well as body creams and art projects.  One website in particular grabbed my attention as it talked about many aspects of dandelions, from garden tips to articles and book recommendations, to “did you know” facts.  I will be honest in that we did not know the following facts about dandelions: (

  • The dandelion is the only flower that represents the 3 celestial bodies. The yellow flower resembles the sun, the puffball resembles the moon and the dispersing seeds resemble the stars.
  • The dandelion flower opens to greet the morning and closes in the evening to go to sleep.
  • Every part of the dandelion is useful: root, leaves and flower. It can be used for food, medicine and dye for coloring.
  • Up until the 1800s people would pull grass out of their lawns to make room for dandelions and other useful “weeds” like chickweed, malva, and chamomile.
  • The name dandelion is taken from the French word “dent de lion” meaning lion’s tooth, referring to the coarsely toothed leaves.
  • Dandelions have one of the longest flowering seasons of any plant.
  • Seeds are often carried as many as 5 miles from their origin!

My nephew and I thought these were pretty cool facts. It makes me wonder what other interesting things we could learn by searching the Internet on specific topics when we are bored…