Thursday, December 3, 2009

Three Secrets to Helping Kids Read

Today I visited with Pat Montgomery of ParentsRule radio and we talked specifically about helping young children come to the reading table "at their prime time".  This post will serve as an additional resource to that interview (which you can hear via podcast anytime this week if you missed the live show).  Pat also has a blog with more information from her shows so you can find even more important information there.

Did you know . . .

Children begin to read normally between the ages of 4-6 (a few exceptions on either end of that spectrum) and it is important to know that each child comes to the reading table at a different time (and reading later than 4 doesn't mean your child is "behind").

Did you know that the vocabulary level of children by 1st grade can predict at least 30% of their success in comprehending what they read when they are 16 or 17?  The details are included in a longitudinal research study summarized in the book Beginning Literacy with Language.


Conversations are important.
Exploring print and books together is important.
Playing with the Language is important.

All of these work when they are consistently applied.  More details on all three of these concepts are covered in detail in my new book Anytime Reading Readiness (for parents) which makes a great holiday gift for a young family (or a stocking stuffer for yourself!)    Easy, fun activities that can be slipped into busy days, without too much "academic" pressure (which can be counterproductive) are what you will find in this family-friendly handbook.  It's also designed so you can find just the areas you need more information and ideas on or, if you want an overview, you can read from front cover to back.

If you are looking for a great gift for the preschool or kindergarten teacher in your life, you can choose the companion book to Anytime Reading Readiness, called Before They Read.  Covering the same three big ideas mentioned above, this takes a more academic focus for easy application in the classroom while retaining the important essential elements of reading readiness and emergent literacy.  A plus is that this book's margins are full of teacher tips and more ideas for involving families in complementing what is happening at school.  I purposely wrote both these books at the same time to give families and schools a target for working together because that is the way children learn to read most easily.
Here are a few of the resources mentioned on Pat's program today:

Indistructibles, great wordless books for "reading" and exploring with young children
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton, one of Cathy's early favorite books
Singing (which we didn't get to) is always great - check out Fran Avni's CDs for great songs that are fun (and foster learning).

Join my revolution to draw families and schools together without an "academic hothouse" approach.  Reading and writing are tools for life, not just something that happens as an assignment or work in the classroom.  The most important part of reading, talking, and playing with language at home is that it gives time for a strong relationship between adult and child to grow.  That is the best part of literacy, combined with the fact that literacy is the doorway to all learning.  As a parent, don't worry if you're not a bookworm:  think - "It's bigger than the book" because it is.  The interaction you have with your child will grow literacy skills but it also helps the two of you grow closer.  It helps you understand your child more deeply; it helps your child connect with you.

You can also be a part of the revolution by sharing the resources from  TLA's website with schools, parent-teacher organizations, community family-friendly groups because literacy is everyone's business and children's literacy is our future.  TLA is currently booking me for events and conferences for 2010 and 2011.

Post questions you have in response to the radio show or to this blog and The Literacy Ambassador will be happy to respond!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Keeper of Your Children's Dreams: Celebrating Literacy is A Key


Today's blog is a time for reflection - take a deep breath, listen carefully and you can feel that same emotion, that same pride you first felt on that first day you met your new little one. Whether you are a parent (or a grandparent or other relative), I believe every one present at the first moments of life has this great rush of dreams and love for that baby.  The start of a new life is inspiring to us all.  But sometimes the whirlwind of life, the pressures and worries, can drive that feeling away or at least bury it a bit. 


Reading with your child can help you recapture that understanding that every possibility is open; every life a new chance for the world to be a better place.  I love the words from Nancy Tillman's On The Night You Were Born, "So whenever you doubt just how special you are and you wonder who loves you, how much and how far, listen for geese honking high in the sky (they're singing a song to remember you by): . . .   They take us back to those singular, life-affirming moments that are the core of our relationship with our child.

Whether you have a newborn, a toddler or a preschool child, think back to that time and those feelings and use them as motivational fuel.  One of the truest, most satisfying ways we as parents (grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, etc.) can keep those dreams alive is by creating a rich literacy environment for that young child.


Have that feeling close to your heart?  Here's the next step (no academic hothouse).   Learning how our language works can be a natural, relationship-enriching experience for both child and family.  Sitting down for just two or three minutes can rekindle that connection we had from the very beginning and remind us of what is most important in life. Look at the outside of a book together.  See if you can guess together what it might be about.  It's that simple to begin.


I was personally reminded of just those connections when I spoke last week with Graham Scharf, father, educator, entrepenuer and co-founder of, a great place for parents to find resources for understanding and nurturing their child's growth, an inspirational place to connect with the joys of parenting.

Graham and I were talking about how easy and rewarding it is to create a literacy-rich home environment for your child.  To the left you'll see he and his lovely wife with their two little "readers".  We talked about finding the most delicious books for sharing like Mem Fox's Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes and The Little Red Caboose, books with my three R's of books for young children

Rhyme and

These kinds of books are easy to find in your local library or at the bookstore down the street or at the mall.

We also talked about how important it is for children to hear lots of conversations (not only for their language development but also for their emotional and social development).  It is so empowering to a child when they know they are loved and when several someones in their life often say that to them and show them their care with a listening ear.  My mom loved to talk with our son when he was small (here's one of my favorite pictures of them talking about a single thing, a toy squirrel)


One of the last highlights of the conversation with Graham last week was the idea of consistency.  I don't want any parent to think that you have to be the Martha Stewart of mothers or the Mr. Rogers of dads.  I do want you to know that you are the single most important influence in your child's life and that you are the most powerful, natural teacher you child will ever have. Learning doesn't just happen at school.  Think about what you have already taught your child to do (sit up, make raspberries with their lips, walk, talk, hug, empathize).

If you don't read with your children now, just try doing it once a week to begin with.  Set aside a few minutes before you tuck your child in for a quick read.  Remember, at this age, it doesn't have to be more than 2-3 minutes long.  You have time for that; it's less than a coffeebreak and you know (when you think back to those early emotions) that your child is worth the effort to give that little bit of time wholeheartedly to him.

Once you begin to enjoy the story with your child (no correcting and directing), you'll want to add more reading times and you'll be motivated to carve out those times because you see how much it means to your child and to you.  Reading aloud with your child is also a "destressor " for you both when you simply enjoy it together rather than making it an academic exercise.


Once you've broken the ice with the routine, try adding just one more night - go for a few weeks at that level and don't beat yourself up if you miss one as you are setting the new habit.  Stay on target and try again.   If you read twice a week, aim for three times (researchers tell us that at least three times a week is the minimum we eventually need to make a consistent impact). 


Listen to more tips and ideas from the conversation between Graham and me at his podcast of the event on  You can also learn more about the power of conversation, reading with your child and playing with the language through my new book, Anytime Reading Readiness, available now through Maupin House Publishing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hope For Young Adult Readers - But We Adults Have to Be The Models

Since the last few posts on the blog have related to the younger set (and their families), it's time to go back to our more independent readers.  I just saw some terrific news from Publisher's Weekly:

While adult trade sales are expected to fall 4% this year, juvenile and young adult sales are expected to increase 5.1%, according to the PW/IPR Book Sales Index. Although it's impossible to completely break out juvenile from young adult (YA), it is possible to look at expected growth rates for different categories. In the fiction/fantasy/sci-fi segment, where most sales in the YA category fall, we expect nearly 13% growth in 2009, reaching $744 million. By 2013, sales in this segment are anticipated to hit $861 million, a 30.6% increase over 2008.

Wow!  In part, we have the growing popularity of Kindles and Ipods for reading books.  But families also play a particularly important role in whether children continue to read after the "snuggle and cuddle stage".

One of the big questions is:  what do teens and tweens want to read?  The Young Adult Library Association (part of the American Library Association) just this fall published a booklist made by teensPaper Towns by John Green tops the list.  It is the story of a bright, quiet kid and how he cares for a neighborhood girl.   Kirkus Reviews calls it, "genuine and genuinely funny".  Alicia Afterimage by Lulu Delacre is another great example of a book teens will want to read, this one dealing with grief.

What is most important for students once they leave the elementary school years is to have steady, open choices as to what they read.  The difference between students who read beyond what is required in the classroom and those who just read to "get by" is staggering.  One of the best ways to prepare your student for college (or life) is to encourage him to be a reader.

The reality is that parents can't control what your teen reads, so read a few books with controversial topics at the same time and discuss it with them.  Parents will find a ready (and surprisingly open) approach to talking about decision making and careful choices if they start by listening with an open mind.  And we all know how important communication and staying in touch with our growingly-independent man-child and woman-child is in these complex times.

Helping students carve out time to read what they are interested in and to grab it online or in print ideally starts with habits when they are young.  However, as children move into reading mostly as an independent person rather than reading together with an adult, often families stop supporting their child's reading.  They aren't sure what to do.  That's where the decline often begins.  It is important to remember that no reader is mature at third grade and that supporting them as a reader no longer means "having them practice for you".  There are many more layers of understanding and depth to be developed and encouraged. Continuing to provide a variety of reading opportunities in the home, thinking "quick reads" for those busy teens (including magazines, internet articles, links sent via email, Facebook, IM, etc.) is essential.

I believe that one reason the types of stories mentioned earlier are so powerful for teens to read is because they connect to what they are experiencing, what they are learning about life at a time when they are learning so much.  And that connection is critical, rather than a "you should read this" approach.

So do something different.  Ask your teen or tween what their latest passion is, what they are interesting in knowing more about.  You are sure to uncover a topic that you can support them reading about (or help them find a fascinating story with which to escape the challenges of the teen years if just for a little while).

Nurture their inner reader.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Calling All Parents: Practical Reading Ideas for Gifted Kids

If you missed the live show with host Audrey Borden and literacy expert, Cathy Puett Miller, now is your chance to hear a podcast of that event.  Lots of practical ideas to match up with our recent post.  You may need to listen to the hookup intro for a few seconds before the show actually starts so settle back, be ready to be inspired about reading with your child and finding the perfect book to share with your gifted child.

This podcast isn't just for parents of gifted children.  It has excellent tips for anyone interested in promoting their child's literacy.  Focusing on helping your child have positive experiences with reading, tons of references to great books and solutions to finding time to encourage reading and writing at home are all included. 

P.S.  Be on the lookout for a revolution starting in just a few weeks with the release of Cathy Puett Miller's two new books - Anytime Reading Readiness and Before They Read.  Never before have two books been so relationship-building between the teacher of 3-6 year olds and the parents of that same age group.  With these tools, parents will learn the three big essentials to getting their children ready to read and preschool and Kindergarten teachers will find fun skill-building activities to integrate into your curriculum with great results.   Stay tuned!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Webinar - Just Right Books - Sponsored by

This blog serves as a follow-up and a place to share extra resources after the webinar held the evening of October 29, 2009.  It was hosted by's founder Audrey Borden, and presented by literacy expert, Cathy Puett Miller. Although the focus of this webinar was gifted children, many of the resources here will also be terrific for all families, with children of all ages so read on and see what you can find that works for your child.

Selecting books for any child, but especially those who may read several months or years above children the same age, is a challenge. Remember to:

Let your child be part of the process and help them find time to read.

Look for books that tap into your child's passion and interests (don't forget nonfiction like books listed on the I.N.K. database (a free resource). Visit I.N.K.'s blog for a special (and very timely) article on What Does Age Appropriate Mean Anyway?

Rely on experts like media specialists, librarians and family-friendly resources like The Reading Tub to help you find great books for your child.

Send the message to your child, "You can read ANYTHING". Of course, if you have materials inappropriate for the social and emotional age of your child, my advice is to keep it in a place your child has no access to. Save leveled reading for "required reading from school" and classroom instruction.

Help your child learn to cope with the limitations and restrictions he or she may feel from school by encouraging a passion for learning and a love of reading at home. Give your child positive reading experiences in a wide variety of circumstances, but never overwhelm your child with more "academic" work.  The best learning, at home or school, happens when the activity is integrated and interwoven into a child's nature experiences.  Remember that you are the commercial for reading and that motivation is an important indirect component.

Remember your child is a whole person.  He or she very well may be socially and emotionally closer to their chronological age, even if academically or in special areas, they are much advanced.  Celebrate your child's age where they are and help him or her find the balance between stimulation and

age-appropriate development.  Talk with early childhood and childhood experts to learn what is "normal" for your child.


I believe there is a book for every child.  If you have a child that isn't excited about reading, maybe it's just that he or she hasn't found the book to "turn him on".  Commit yourself to helping her find that book (the journey and the search will be almost as much fun as finding it when you do it together).

Here are great books for your child to read on his/her own or with you (based on average grade level reading). If your child reads above or below grade level, adjust accordingly. I purposefully listed books under the 9-12 year area that are "safe" content for younger children.

Ages 4-8
On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman
Oops by Arthur Geisert - a wordless book with a great story YOU can tell
The Let's Get Ready Series
Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson (and the rest of the "Bear" series
Morris and Boris by Bernard Wiseman
Dewey: There's A Cat in the Library by Vicki Myrion
Dandelions by Eve Bunting
Special Goin’ Someplace by Patricia McKissack
Help, I’m A Prisoner in the Library! By Eth Clifford
Big Words for Little People by Jamie Lee Curtis
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Sieszka
The Van Gogh Café by Cynthia Rylant
Time Warp Trio Series by Jon Sieszka
When Jesse Came Across the Sea by Ann Hest
Baa-Choo by Sarah Weeks
Saving Lilly by Peg Kehret
Our Library by Eve Bunting
White Star: A Dog on the Titanic by Marty Crisp

Ages 9-12
Marie Curie by Vicki Cobb
Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
The Number Devil by Hans Mangus Enzensberge
In English, of Course by Josephine Nobisso
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster
Over the Wall (and the Desperado Who Saved Baseball) by John H. Ritter
Poppy by Avi
Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr
Be A Perfect Person in Three Days by Stephen Manes
What Darwin Saw: The Journey That Changed The World by Rosalyn Schanzer
Adventures & Challenges: Real Life Stories by Girls & Young Women by Suzanne Beam
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
Fever 1793
The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford
The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick
The Tale of Despereaux: Being A Story of A Mouse, A Princess, Some Soup and A Spool of Thread by Kate DeCamillo
The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White (author of Charlotte's Web)
Hachet by Gary Paulson
The Eye, The Ear and the Arm by Nancy Farmer
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli,
Millicent Min, Girl Geniuis by Lisa Yee
January's Sparrow (a picture book but high level content) - by Patricia Polacco

Ages 13-15
Adventures and Challenges: Real Life Stories by Girls and Young Women by Frances A. Karnes and Suzanne M. Bean
Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
The Lives of Christopher Chant by Diane Wynne Jones
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Waiting for Normal by Leslie Conner
The Island of the Blessed by Nancy Farmer
A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Straton Porter

Ages 16-18
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
The Gifted Kids's Survival Guide: A Teen Handbook by Judy Galbraith
Hercule Poirot series by Agatha Christy
Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
More Than A Test Score by Dr. Robert Schultz
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson

Links to help families of gifted children

Parents' Books

Some of My Best Friends Are Books: A guide for parents of preschool through high school gifted children.

When Gifted Kids Don't have All the Answers

Online Resources for Parents

An extensive booklist for families from Duke University's TIP program website.

Dr. Katherine Bolman's Art and Architecture website with photographs and information to explore.

National Association for Gifted Children

Dr. Linda Silverman's resources on Gifted Development.

Article on the balance between structure of school and freedom of home – reading for points, leveled readers, etc. – by the way, be an advocate for your child.

Info on the Javits Grant and a way to contact your representative or senator about this important issue

Want to get gifted kids involved in an incredible, creative project involving people from all over the world? Check out The Dream Rocket.

A special offer just for you . . .
purchase any of Cathy Puett Miller's books (see below for availability), send a copy of your receipt/confirmation for that order to , and you'll receive a free customized 10-title book list for your gifted child.  Requests must be received by December 31, 2009 to qualify.  Book purchases which qualify are:

Powerful Picture Books: 180 Ideas for Promoting Content Learning (an annotated list of over 180 picture books all that connect to content area (subject matter) learning.  In eBook format, this title is an excellent resource for parents, librarians and teachers.  Available through  Inspiring Teachers. 

Anytime Reading Readiness:  Fun and Easy Family Activities That Prepare Your Child to Read 
for parents of 2-5 year old children.

Before They Read:  Teaching Language and Literacy Development through Conversations, Interactive Read Alouds and Listening Games - a must-have pick up resource for preschool and kindergarten teachers.


What questions do you have about reading (and writing) and gifted children?  Post them here or on MyGiftedGirl's forum and we'll be happy to respond to as many as we are able.

"What we teach children to love and desire will ALWAYS outweigh what we teach them to do."  Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Supporting Families In the Search for Just Right Books and more

This Thursday, October 29, join Cathy Puett Miller and her co-host Audrey Borden of My Gifted Girl, Inc. in a special collaborative FREE Webinar. We'll be discussing choosing the best books for your child (gifted or not)and promoting a love of reading. How important is that!

You can sign up for this FREE event at Audrey's FACEBOOK page. We have limited slots so we hope you'll join early. After the event, we'll be posting more resources on this page.

We can start an incredible wave of influence if you'll share a link to this blog or to Audrey's Facebook signup page with families (and educators) you know.

Don't forget to look for Cathy's new books out in November. These focus on the 3-6 year old and represent a unique collaborative opportunity to promote three big ideas (great conversations/oral language development, reading aloud with children, and playing with the sounds and patterns in our language) with both educators and families. You can preview and pre-order them at Maupin's website.

We are starting a revolution -- outside the ideas of those who know reading is important. This provides an opportunity for any family in America (or the world) to promote literacy learning with their child! Be a part of it!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Helping Independent Readers Think About What They Read

I think this time we are on the "older reader" channel. Those of you with young children, read this too because you'll be here before you know it. I was reading a message from the President of the International Reading Association in Reading Today and was impressed with her comments about comprehension -- understanding what we read in more than just a "can I regurgitate simple facts" approach. She emphasized in her comments that it is most important that our children learn to think logically and deeply about what they read. Elizabeth Drew, an author who has written about Washington personalities in politics, says, "The true test of literature is, I suppose, whether we live more intently for the reading of it."

When was the last time your independent reader was moved by something he or she read? Certainly we don't need to be pressing "heavy-duty classics" on them all the time but reading text that makes us think is important. We need to exercise that "muscle" power in our brains to help our brains reach their potential. That's true for us as adults just as well as children.

How can you help your child learn to think about what he or she reads?

First, be interested. That may mean reading or re-reading the same novel they are in class and talking about it. I remember that when my son was reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, I re-read it myself. In turn, it made me want to read more written related to Harper Lee and Truman Capote (they were neighbors as children), especially since I had just seen a movie about Capote's life. I read his novel, In Cold Blood, for the first time and then Harper Lee's autobiography. All those three books together were a great study for me and I learned a lot about these authors and the period of time in which they wrote.

If you can't take time to read an entire novel, read a little at the first and ask your student to keep you up-to-date on what is going on with the story (a TV guide version, if you will, of each chapter). Don't make this a drill or lesson; just have a conversation about an interesting story.

When your student has trouble understanding assigned reading, there are two things you can do: first, read segments with him, stopping every couple of paragraphs or so to talk about the meaning behind the words (that's helpful sometimes with the antiquated language of Shakespeare). Secondly, find other, easier reading materials that help your student build some background knowledge for understanding the story. Sometimes there are simpler versions of Shakespeare's plays that use modern English. Reading it along with the original text can help. Both of these options mean that you have to make some commitment of time. Believe you me, it will be worth it for your student immediately (and it will be good for your brain too!). Beyond these immediate rewards, it will solidify your relationship with your child, something that is important to every parent. They see you investing time with them and it is meaningful.

Be a poser of questions - why is my favorite. If a simple statement is made, ask "why is that true?" or "why did that happen?" or "why did she do that"? Follow up with "would you have done the same?" Great readers are thinking, active, engaged individuals, experiencing the author's intent and drawing from it ideas that can appeal to, enhance and improve our own lives. Questions help us think about what we read.

And that's the true power behind reading, not what is on the page alone but what we take away from the page.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Words of Wisdom About Reading with Your Child

In my travels in the reading world, I often have an opportunity to meet incredible people. Conversations with Mem Fox, Dr. Catherine Snow, John H. Ritter, Carmen Agra Deedy, and Aliki Brandenberg are at the top of my list. I have many more friends out there (just too many to name) but they are are devoted to one thing in common: helping families understand the power and magic of reading with your children.

I keep in touch and Aliki in the midst of her travels was kind enough to share the following words of wisdom with me for you. They apply whether you have a child who is 5 or 15.

Reading to Your Child

Dear Friends,

I hope you know the joys and benefits of reading to your child. My greatest pleasure was reading to my own two children, Jason and Alexa. We would pile on the bed an hour before bedtime with our chosen books, snuggle close, and spend as much of that precious time as possible in this magical state. When I sometimes hear “I’m too busy”, I wonder what is more important? The dishes?

The statistics are clear, and there for all to see. They tell us that Books=Literacy. To read is to absorb words, grammar, sentence structure, the comprehension of ideas, and insights into the world around us.

But beyond those many benefits is the soul. In the warmth from that nearness of reading a book together, we share any emotion the words and pictures inspire: joy, laughter, fear, sadness, excitement, awe. We share conversation, and communicate the wonder, questions, and understanding the story generates.

A love of reading is one of the most life-fulfilling habits children can develop - AND IT IS FREE! It is a precious gift for which they will one day thank you. Your reward will be to see your own children read to their own children. Believe me. Those who live this, know. Just as teachers often beget teachers, readers beget readers.

Happy reading together!


Do you have wonderful mentors and inspirations you want to share? Can you be an inspiration to someone who doesn't read with their children? Absolutely, you can!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

How Do I Find The Time To Read With My Young Child?

Are you frustrated because you have great intentions but just can't seem to find time to read regularly with your child? You know it is important but it just seems to get squeezed out. You aren't alone.

Here are a few secrets to finding that time and making it rewarding for both you and your child:

1) think about the importance of reading with your children. It is when we reflect on where our time is going that we as adults most often get our priorities back on track. Reading aloud with children is the "single most important activity" to eventually build the skills necessary to be a good reader. It isn't worksheets; it isn't flashcards (who remembers favorites of those - do you?).

2) carve out time in 10-20 minute increments. Your schedule may not allow more or your child may need small doses so that he leaves with a pleasant taste in his mouth about the experience instead of a negative one because he was asked to sit still for too long.

If you don't read regularly with your child now, don't try to make it a daily thing right away. It's kind of like eating a healthier diet. Very few of us will completely change what we eat at one time. We work on it gradually, with goals, and slowly we change. That kind of change is more likely to become habit. Parents are the best ones to set this example, according to Johnny Appleseed.

If you read with your child, once or twice a week, add one day. Wherever you are, if you aren't reading every day with your children, bump it up a day.

3) recognize the reality that, with your schedule, you may not be able to have a story-time or reading time together every single night, especially during the weekedays with homework, extra activities, baths, dinner, etc. I'll share a secret with you. Research seems to indicate that families who read at least three times a week MINIMUM with their children have a greater impact than those that read less frequently. Am I telling you that so you will not try to read with them every day? No. But I am saying use that framework as a minimum goal. Look at #4 to see what to do on the days you legitimately can't find time.

4) When you cannot read with your child, read the world. While running errands in the car, there is always an opportunity to read. Our world is full of text - signs, billboards, maps, restaurant take-out menus, business banners or signs. At home there is junk mail, laundry labels on clothing, soccer schedules, notes and reminders on the refrigerator or calendar. Think about the grocery store and how much there is to read there (your list, labels and nutritional information, advertisements, etc.) Reading is Fundamental shares more ideas in their summer article but you can use these tips anytime to remind you . Show your child that reading is truly a tool for life.

These ideas ensure your child gets a daily dose of practice with reading but it fits into today's family schedules. The key is consistency.

5) Last, but not least: If your child is a beginning reader, that doesn't mean that your time together should always be your child practicing reading to you. There are two reasons to flip it around and read to him or her sometimes:

first, the books your child can read on his own with little or no help from you often contain "controlled vocabulary". That simply means that these books have been specifically written so that your child will mainly see words that she already knows. That's important for her practice so she becomes fluent (starts to put words into phrases and sentences rather than reading one word at a time). However, if you limit your child's reading to these controlled vocabulary (or leveled) books, you also limit his exposure to new vocabulary, which if that is all the diet of reading he has, can stunt his reading growth. Some of my favorite books about words (that will help you introduce your children to new words in a fun way are Maisey's Amazing Big Book of Words, Big, Bigger, Biggest, and any of Karma Wilson's picture books.

Secondly, if you are the one doing the reading, you can read books with higher levels of vocabulary (which will grow your child's listening vocabulary - the words she knows and understands when she hears them). That will connect later to his reading vocabulary (he'll recognize words more easily when he has them in his listening vocabulary already). Try sharing the chapter book, Charlotte's Web, a chapter or a partial chapter at a time. Give your child a crayon or pencil and a piece of paper and suggest that he draw a picture about the story since there are few pictures in this book.

You can also share books with more complex ideas and have great discussions over what is happening (or will happen) in the book. Even among picture books, there are many that are written beyond a beginning reading level such as Fancy Nancy's Favorite Fancy Words, The New Way Things Work, or The Librarian Who Measured the Earth. Reading these types of books with your child helps him/her with his understanding (comprehension). That can happen even before the child is a reader in the conventional sense. Don't fall into the trap of limiting what your child is exposed to or what you choose to read together. Let your child's interest be your guide.

Talk with your spouse, your best friend, your mom or dad about how you can find time in your busy day for reading with your child. Even a fellow co-worker may be struggling with the same challenges in this area as you. Reading together, sharing a book, can even be a stress-reliever for you and your child.

Please take a few minutes to share. Send a link to this blog along to a friend. Share with us in a comment how you make time for reading in your busy schedule in a comment on this blog. I'm sure others would benefit greatly from your additions to this post ( and I know I would love to hear from you!)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Literary versus Literacy

Whether you have children in middle or high school, you know there is a lot of reading they have to do to be successful in school. Some of it can be complex and "high brow" literature, introductions to the literary world. Although that certainly has value, many kids today have trouble relating to that sort of reading and it may turn them away from the reading that will help them be successful, happy and productive in our world. I can't tell you how many parents have said to me: "My child loved to read as a small child but now he hates it. What happened?"

It could be that your child has lost an important support system when he moved from the "snuggle and cuddle" stage to being mostly an independent reader. He may have begun to think about reading as "all that school required reading" instead of as a tool for life.

Certainly you can't expect that 13 or 15 year old to want to sit with you and read like they did when they were small. But you can keep whetting his/her appetite for reading by exposing your young person to reading materials (books, magazines, Internet sites, how-to manuals, vacation brochures, etc.) that connect to his interests. Here are five tips on transitioning into supporting your teen's reading habits.

1) Make sure you have plenty of reading materials (from a variety of sources) in your home. You don't have to spend a lot of money. If you have Internet access, and a nearby library, much of your reading materials can come from those sources. Teen Ink is an Internet site where real kids are posting their own writing. It just might be the hook your child needs.

Share what you are reading with your young person and talk a little about what you are getting out of it. If you aren't reading something (it doesn't have to be a 300 page novel) and sharing your responses to that reading, you are missing a great chance to send the message "reading is important". Think back to all the things you've had to read today - here's my list from just this morning: emails, grocery ads, phone book, online ads for alternatives to our current telephone service, directions on weed killer, my favorite blogs, the local newspaper (and it's only 9:30AM). I just finished reading a fascinating novel (historical fiction) about the mother of Leonardo de Vinci entitled Senora da Vinci.

2) Respect your child and listen to his ideas. Those are the tips which tell you exactly what your child might be interested in reading about, on his own, away from school "stuff". They need an escape, an outlet just as we do. And books and reading can be a healthy option. For some teens, that is reading about kids their age in social situations, struggling with some of the same things they are; for others, the topic might be another part of the world or another time, space exploration, animals, or cooking. There are books about popular guys and girls, about kids struggling with divorce in their families, ADHD, making smart choices. Chris Crutcher's Anger Management and Laurie Halls Anderson's Fever 1793 are great examples. Magazine subscriptions that relate to his/her interests are also a great way to keep that fuel coming. Visit World for a wide list to choose from.

3) Continue to give your teen books during the holidays and birthdays you celebrate. Don't choose the boxed set of classics (unless your child has voiced an interest in those). Think about a novel their favorite movie is based upon. What about a hiking manual for your area f that is an interest for your son or daughter? A book on young self-made business people (Conversations with Teen Entrepreneurs). Don't select the book you think they "should" read; pick one they will want to. It doesn't have to be the only gift, but make sure you include one.

4) Don't stress if sometimes your teen has so much reading to do for school that he/she doesn't seem to have as much time for "outside school" reading. There will be times when that takes priority. But know that, if you are protecting and encouraging your young person's love of learning, he or she will want to read(on a subject of their choice) or read more deeply on a subject just touched upon in a class.

5) Last but not least, help your teen see that reading is a tool for life. Everyday we use reading of some sort (even text messages or Facebook profiles) to connect with our world. Acknowledge those activities we don't usually think of as reading, talk about what you (or they) are taking away from those experiences with text and explicitly relate that sort of reading as an application of what they are studying in school.

Follow this blog and share it with families who have children first breath to twelfth-grade. We'll continue to alternate the postings between parents of young children and those who are parenting independent readers. They both need lots of support!

Visit Reading is for Everyone for even more resources for parents of all ages!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Where the Radio Shows Left Off

We're breaking the pattern from alternating between the "snuggle and cuddle" stage and older, independent readers. I am visiting a couple of radio shows this week on reading, families and young children and there's just so much to share that we never have time to talk about everything. One is with my friend, Stacey Kannenberg, the Ready to Learn mom.

If you get to this blog tonight (9/22) or in the morning of 9/23, you may be able to listen in live at 11EST at The Get Ready to Learn Mom Radio Show. Otherwise you'll be able to find a podcast after the fact at this same website.


COMPREHENSION - understanding what you read (and the real reason we read).

DECODING - refers to the various skills we use to decipher text into understandable words. It has more specifically been used to talk about the phonics approach of breaking apart words into different single sounds, then calling those sounds and blending them together to figure out a word. No all words can be decoded strictly in this way, only those that follow regular phonics rules.

- a screening used by many schools to determine whether a child has competency in several key early literacy skills including at the beginning of Kindergarten alphabetic knowledge, an ability to attend to single sounds in words and break words apart into single sounds (orally, not by reading). This same screening later (up to 3rd grade usually) is used to evaluate fluency (whether a child sounds like they are talking when they read), comprehension, and decoding abilities.

FLUENCY - as readers move beyond calling out one word at a time and having to decode, sound by sound, most words, they begin to sound more like natural speech when they read aloud. Not only is the pace regular and smooth, but the reader adds expression and phrasing and recognizes most words in that given text easily.

GUIDED READING - in simplest terms, that is the time in class when children read text that is fairly easy for them to "decode", concentrating on understanding and being fluid in what they read (sounding like they are talking). Guided reading or leveled books have a limited number of words in them and the vocabulary is more "controlled".

HIGH FREQUENCY WORDS - these are words that appear most often in real reading text. Drs. Dolch and Frye created age level lists of these words, from the simplest in Kindergarten to higher levels in the upper grades and, if our children practice with reading that contains those (mostly sight words, see definition below) and maybe practice reading them off a list as well, our child will be able to automatically read those words with little mental effort. Knowing the high frequency words helps a child become a more fluent reader who understands more of what he/she reads.

LEVELED Readers - Books that have been carefully written to include a limited number of words (and words from a certain Dolch/Frye grade level list). Teachers carefully select these books for each child so that individual child has a chance to read something that contains lots of words they are already familiar with. If a child can easily read about 95% of the words in a book, they can put more mental power toward understanding what they read and less on recognizing and decoding words.

METACOGNITION - thinking about how you think

ORAL LANGUAGE - This is more than just speaking. It is the complex system that we humans use to relate sounds to meanings. It has three parts: the phonological (how we combine sounds in words to translate/transfer meaning in speech -- not reading, just speaking and listening); semantic (understanding that the smallest units of meaning, whether those be words, prefixes, or suffixes, can be joined together. We deal with semantics when we make single words plural for example) and syntactic (rules that enable us to combine those smallest units of meaning into sentences so meaning is communicated - in the beginning, humans use short syntactic phrases to communicate like "more cookie" which are later expanded as our abilities with language grow to "I would like another cookie, please.") Who knew speaking and listening was so complex. It is amazing that our children develop all this without direct instruction!

SIGHT WORDS - those are words that don't follow the phonics rules so we have to know them "by sight" as soon as we see them. Learning sight words takes seeing them over and over until you immediately recognize them. Think of the word "give". It breaks the rule that when you have two consonants and two vowels, the first vowel most of the time says its name (is a long sound) and the second vowel is silent/quiet. In the word "give" the first vowel is short and the second one silent.

If there are other terms that you need a translation for, add a comment and I'll edit this blog to include them.

Some of my favorite quotes for parents on reading:

If we do not give our children mostly positive reading experiences, they will not choose to be readers . . . Dr. Michael Pressley

If you are reading regularly -- every day -- to your children, taking a reading time of fifteen or twenty minutes, whenever it can occur, before bed or whatever, that shows a respect for books. It shows that you have a reverence for books. That's the only way to reallky get kids interested in reading. Show how interesting it is and how much fun it is. If you read, your child will follow your example, as the night follows the day . . . Bob Keeshan AKA Captain Kangaroo

What we teach our children to love and desire will always outweigh what we teach them to do . . . Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook.


Reading Rockets and Colorin' Colorado - sponsored by PBS
Just One More Book, a podcast about children's books we love
The Reading Tub, a source for great book reviews for parents
Planet Esme, a website full of great resources about reading with your children
Stories for Children Magazine, an ezine for children ages 3-12, with a great interview with Stacey, complete with stories and advice

News flash - I just saw that Jamie Lee Curtis (one of the few "celebrities" writing quality children's books) has a new book out in October called Jamie Lee Curtis's Books to Grow By Treasury. I can's wait to read it!

That's all for now. Stay tuned next time for answers to the question: My child is beyond the "snuggle and cuddle" stage - what do I do?

Remember, if you have questions or want to share what works in reading with your kids, feel free to add your gems of wisdom.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Delicious, Delightful Read Alouds

Occasionally, I still long for the days when our son, Charlie, was small. He'd come from preschool, snuggle close beside me and we'd dive into a book. Now I get my "little kid fix" from preschoolers in centers where I consult and train teachers and families.

What made those times long ago so special? It is the fact that the reading experience was bigger than the book. It's no different today. There is a danger that, with all the focus on reading skills in school (which is important but not the whole picture), we as parents may forget to tap into the pure joy, suspense, delight and fun of reading aloud with our children.

When you do that, not only is it a relationship-building experience with your child, but it is a guaranteed stress reliever for you (and who doesn't need that in today's face-paced world). It's more positive than forcing your child to practice with the focus on correcting and directing. Besides, the message behind picture books can be meaningful to you, not just your child.

So remind yourself that these sweet days are passing, kick off your shoes, snuggle close, and dive into a book together. Here are a few of my favorites.

I have to squeeze in this tidbit: keep your eyes open for Jane Yolen's latest book due out in October, How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You?.

For more tips on making reading with your child an incredible experience every time, visit The Diva Toolbox. For an extra dose of practice advice, a conversation between two passionate professionals and moms, tune in to Stacey Kannenberg's "Ready to Learn Mom" show at

11AM EST on 9/23

Cathy and host, Stacey Kannenberg, will be discussing

Parents in the Literacy Loop: Why Families Are The Key To Children's Reading Abilities and Success.

If you can't tune in live tomorrow, there will be a podcast available after the fact that the same website. Be sure to listen!

Last gift today for you . . . take one idea you learn from this blog and share it with one other person (your spouse, your neighbor, the person you want to get to know in your child's class or play group, Grandma or Grandpa). It could start a revolution!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Picture Books Are For Everyone

Has your child ever come home from school, frustrated because he or she feels lost in a class? We've probably all been there at one time or another. You feel for them but when you read the content with them or ask them questions, you just get a blank stare. Most often, the real reason behind that is that the student has no place to begin, no frame of reference to connect to. Educators call that foundational understanding, "background knowledge" or "schema". Without a place to start ("oh, I know this information already, so I can understand the new information better"), students may not be able to make sense of it.

Think of what would happen if you had never learned to read and you were suddenly given text. You wouldn't be able to understand, no matter how hard you tried. Or maybe you were thrown into the middle of an engineering project with no training in that area. It would be impossible to be successful or to learn more without a foundation. It's the same when it comes to understanding writing, historical events and times, science, math, music, art, most anything -- we all need a starting place.

To find that starting place, enter the world of today's picture books. They are more colorful than ever with exquisite art created by true talents such as Jerry Pinkney and Jan Brett. They sometimes contain complex ideas in a simple format (like Patricia McKissack's Goin' Someplace Special).

Want to find more treasures to help your children learn content-related facts and information? Visit my Amazon List to find more suggested titles on the subject of music (all the way from Native American and African roots to classical and jazz legends).

Because I recognize this is an issue and that parents want to help, I've created a new environmentally friendly resource to help you find even more fantastic subject-matter picture books (the new e-book is entitled Powerful Picture Books: 180 Ideas for Promoting Content Learning available at Inspiring Teachers. Powerful Picture Books will soon be featured at Cool Book of the Day where you can find a new cool book for you posted there every day.

One last resource: my friend, Vicki Cobb and a group of over 25 of her fellow nonfiction writers have started a new blog at I.N.K.. It highlights interesting Non-fiction for Kids and is a fantastic source for finding even more great non-fiction books for kids of all ages. Non-fiction is the heart of fact-finding and most reading beyond 3rd grade is content area or nonfiction reading. Whether you are looking for science books, books about famous people, language, painting or whatever, you're likely to find a sampling there.

With these tools, you have an easy way to support your child's learning. Find out what your student's subjects (outside of reading)will be this year. Tap into the world of picture books (fiction and non-fiction) to use as a fun, interactive way to help your child gain the basics. You'll help them gain a position where they can soar.

Even if you have a child who is doing well in school, search out a picture book or two that relates to a time in history or a subject that they may not study very much in school. Parents, after all, are first and forever teachers and the more your child knows, the better prepared he/she will be to succeed in school, on standardized tests and in life.

Happy Reading!

Friday, August 14, 2009

MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME-Readers 10+ Years Old

Some families, in the midst of their whirlwind of life, never really got into the reading together habit when your children were young. It's so easy to become distracted and deal with what is most urgent rather than what might be more important. I often hear families say, "we just don't have time".

First of all, let me tell you -- it's not too late. Make a conscious decision that this is a forever gift you can give your child. If your child doesn't "love" reading, my first advice is never force a "sit down, you must read now" time. You can to enforce a regular homework schedule but put reading on a different page. Especially as our children grow into young adults, such pressure to read often simply backfires. So what do you do instead?

1) Start being a reading model yourself. Order a magazine subscription (usually only $15-25 for a whole year) that you both can enjoy. Check out a few books from the library or at the bookstore that you would like to read or revisit (and they don't have to be classics - think "what will I enjoy?" A mechanic's how-to, a cheater's manual for the latest video game, a cookbook, anything. Find out what books are on the reading list for your child's English class and determine that you'll read (or maybe) struggle through one just so you can relate to what your child is experiencing.

2) If your child says, "I hate reading", it may simply mean that she/he is embarrassed because reading skills are weak. Have a heart to heart, not about reading at first, just about what your child wants to do with his/her life. Share what you know about the importance of reading for that profession and offer to help your youngster get where he wants to be, do what he wants to do. Even professional ball players have to read large play books. Think of reading more as a tool for life than an academic exercise. Solicit help from your child's favorite teacher.

3) Involve your child in reading and writing activities that serve your family every day. Making out grocery lists, searching for coupons, reading labels when doing the family shopping -- all of that is literacy. Get your child involved in paying bills, doing laundry, and look for ways to incorporate a little reading and writing into those experiences. But make the reading the tool, not the focus.

As our readership of this grows (and I hope all of you will share this blog with at least one friend), I'd love to see you adding your own comments, suggestions, frustrations. Together we can help every child discover the power and privileges that come with reading, writing, listening, communicating and viewing.

Don't forget that TLA, Inc. specializes in helping families find time and motivation for reading and writing. Check out our website at for ideas for PTA/PTO meetings, community events, etc.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A New Year for Reading

Families are busy this time of year, starting to think about getting the kids back to school, supplies, clothes, even a bit more peace and quiet. Put reading on your channel. I'm going to speak this week to those of you who have preschool children or children who start school this year. These early ages are most important for developing a love of reading (which is just as critical as getting the "skills" right). Also, setting regular times for sharing stories together helps build a "behavior" approach to reading. That's the greatest gift you can give your youngsters because it will lead them to be a life-long learner. No matter where their life's road takes them, reading and writing are essential tools.

As you move toward the routine of "school days", don't get too caught up in the academics of reading. Yes, children need to learn certain skills like decoding to become readers. However, if we don't give children mostly positive experiences with reading, they will come to the reading table reluctantly and only practice it when forced. Forcing, as Jim Trelease says, is rarely effective.

Get to know your child's teacher early in the year (preschool or K) and communicate with him or her about your child's development and their needs. Be their greatest cheerleader but don't have too perfect a view of where they are. That only builds barriers between home and school.

A few new titles I want to share with you:

The Trucktown Series by Jon Sciezska (a raucous, rambling series that's fun and fast). Jon is known as the National Ambassador for Young Children's literature

Think happy by Nancy Carleson - Nancy's books are always simple and fun. This one is no different and we all need to be thinking happy thoughts at the start of school.

The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, winner of the 2009 Caldecott Metal for Children's Picture Books

A few closing words: find a friend who doesn't read with their child or is expecting a new baby. Plan some playdates in which your children can socialize, and play. When they've run to you, with flushed cheeks and ready to wind down, have a big comfortable quilt or chair and a cool drink, plus a new book to share. You just may become a Literacy Ambassador, to influence your friend in a way that will reward them and their child, strengthen their understanding of their own child and the relationship between the two of them. Great way to start the school year, don't you think?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wiping Out Illiteracy - One Child At A Time

I've been thinking a lot lately about something author, Mem Fox, said in her book, Reading Magic (If you haven't read it, EVERYONE needs to). She says that, if everyone whose live touches a child read three books a day with them, we would wipe out illiteracy in a generation and a half. There's a lot in those simple words.

Certainly, just the volume of exposure of reading is important. But it goes deeper. Dr. Michael Pressley, a reading researcher, says if we do not give children mostly positive experiences with books, they will not choose to be readers. Not only must be get in the "quota", but the experiences must be rich and rewarding. How do we do that? By making sure that:

1) we turn off distractions and give 100% of ourselves to our children when we read with them. After all, we are the commercial for reading.

2) we read, at least some of the time, things they want to read.

What about those children that don't have someone to read with them at home? Those children are the ones that don't benefit from the literacy-rich environment many of you reading promote. Someone - a tutor, a neighbor, a teacher, a librarian - has to make sure that a team of supporters works with that child to get the minimum of 3 a day in. If you have a lot of players on the team, and you count engaging read alouds, it's possible.

Why all this focus on reading? Without reading in this information-rich society, we fall short. We cannot comprehend the complexities the modern world throws at us and make thoughtful decisions. An inspirational fellow I met several years ago in Walker Co., AL (learning to read at the age of 73) said to me, "When I was coming up, you could get by. I certainly did and ended up running a $100,000 a year trucking company with a lot of help. Kids today can't do that. You let me talk to any of them and I'll tell them how important reading is."

I'd like to challenge those of you following and visiting this post to do two things: first, read regularly with your own child. Make it a priority this year and beyond. Secondly, find a child you can read to, maybe not every single day but frequently and build a team of supporters around that child. It can be done! Feel free to post updates on your "experiment" here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sharing A Few Good Books

Whether your children are 5 or 15, summer is a great time to read. Less structure and "required" reading from school can leave time to investigate whatever it is that your child is interested in.

Try these:

Can You See What I See? Nature - Read and Seek Book (for early readers)

The Last Golddiggers by Harry Horse (a funny, down under adventure)

The Amazing Flight of Darius Frobisher, by Bill Harley (flying on a bicycle?)

Firefly Mountain by Patricia Thomas (I love the pictures; it reminds me of hunting fireflies in North Carolina when I was a child)

Rocket Man by Ruth Ashby - a biography about a key player in the space race.

The Desperado Who Stole Baseball by John H. Ritter (for upper elementary and middle school kids). I'm in the middle of this one myself and the story is terrific. Set in the wild west (with an unlikely subject matter of baseball - did you know they played baseball in the wild west?)

Gabriel's Horses by Alison Hart (the first in a Civil War trilogy for middle grade kids.

Pepperland by Mark Delaney - a tragic story with a soul that helps understand how to deal with grief and move on.

One for parents of young children,

Einstein Never Used Flash Cards by Drs. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta M. Golinkoff

and just for fun, Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild! by Mem Fox (ever feel that way?) This book is one of Mem's lesser known books but still delicious!

A NEW ADDITION TO THE POST: I have a new friend who is a member of the National Council of Teachers of English and mom of a son with LD (7th grade). She shared a ton of titles with me and I wanted to pass along a few for you (from lower to higher levels of readability):

King of Shadows by Susan Cooper (anything Susan writes is good)
Gym Candy by Carl Deuker (deals with steroids);
Tangerine by Edward Bloor (harder, and my son says that some kids didn't like it, but we both loved it)
The Wednesday Wars, Gary D. Schmidt (harder, absolutely fantastic)

For even more ideas, check out the summer reading lists below:

The International Reading Association's Reader's Choice Award books (chosen by kids!):

The Reading Tub's great book reviews - age specific (the reviews have the voices of the authentic readers who wrote them)

Til next week, happy reading! Stop by my website to read about how to help your children with their reading without creating an academic hothouse environment at home: (scroll down to the Reading Tub to access this article).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Check Out Activities At Your Local Public Library

Yesterday I was in the tiny town of New Hope, AL and was privileged to see about 85 upper elementary school kids and their parents coming to the library! It was great! They were there as part of the summer reading program and they had dogs at the library!

If you haven't visited a library with your kids recently, you are in for a treat. There are still lots of wonderful books (I'll list a few in a minute) but there are also TONS of activities, morning, noon and night. This year's summer reading theme is "Be Creative @ Your Library". If you are looking for ideas on engaging your children in reading this summer, the librarians are also a great source.

While at the library, let your children see you checking out a book as well. Your example is so strong, even though you might not realize it. You send one of two messages: reading is important and will be a regular part of our lives OR it's not really that important anyway. Which do you want to send?

If your child isn't too excited (YET) about reading, find videos or CDs at the library for them to listen to. Look for themes or corresponding books to read before or after. Talk about the differences between what you saw in the movie and what was in the book. If you read the book first, ask your child to "make a movie in their heads". Teachers call that visualization and it's an important tool for understanding what you read. Try this:

1) Have your child close their eyes while you read a particularly descriptive section or paragraph.

2) Ask them to think about what the room or the scene might look like. What do they smell, hear, think, wonder?

3) If they have trouble with this, do it together. Think out loud and describe beyond the author's words. You'll find that your image and that of your child might be different. That's because each person has unique experiences and "background knowledge" that he or she brings to the "reading table". That colors what we get out of the text.

Keep practicing this. It will engage your child in the reading experience. They can even draw what the words tell them as they listen.

Now, the list I promised - great reads from the public library -- but instead of listing titles, I'm giving you links to my library's suggested reads and those across the country. Enjoy! (pick a few for yourself at the top and then scroll down to see the children's books) - from my home state of North Carolina - from the New York Public Library - LA Public Library - ideas for incorporating reading into family life from the American Library Association.

Until next time, happy reading!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Reading Beyond the Snuggle and Cuddle Stage

Those of us who have older sons or daughters know that there is a transition, a growth in relationship after our children reach the stage where they don't want to cuddle close and feel "too old" to have stories read to them. A part of me misses that with my 19 year old.

But for parents of kids 3rd grade through high school. here are surefire tips to keep reading on the front burner:

1) Know your child's passion and make sure there is plenty of stuff (books, magazines, internet, anything) to read on that subject available in or around your home.

2) Understand that if your child says "I don't like to read" it is a signal that the reading animal within them needs some feeding. It can also be an admission (hidden in a defense mechanism) that they recognize they aren't very good at it. If your child is a good reader, then it's a flag to find that book that will turn him/her on. Pay attention to those signals.

3) Be an example. If your child never sees you using reading "as a tool for life", then why should he want to spend any time doing it? It must not be very important.

4) Get them hooked! Do whatever it takes (manuals for Nintendo games, fake fingernail "how to"s, sports or speciality magazines, the Internet) to keep your kids reading regularly. They need a dose every day outside of what they must read for attempt to read for school.

Resources to help keep your older kids reading: - Improving Older Kids Speed and Comprehension - great ideas for Dads (yes, Dads) reading aloud with older offspring - Forbid your teen to do something and he/she is likely to want to. Reading "the forbidden" can give you and your child a unique opportunity to talk about choices and lifestyles. It's better than limiting them. - lower reading level books with high interest for older kids (from the Monroe County (IN) Public Library). - I've reviewed several of this publisher's books and find them all very engaging for good and struggling older readers. - one of the best public library sites for young and older kids in Charlotte, NC - great book reviews for kids, has areas devoted to middle and upper elementary. My article "Guided Reading At Home (Part II is best for parents of older readers) is available at

Don't forget to check out these great books for kids aged 10 and older:

The Desperado Who Stole Baseball by John H. Ritter
Deadline by Chris Crutcher
Jefficoe Road - by Melina Marchetta
Three Cups of Tea by Gre Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Last ideas:

Pack books when you go to the beach, when you are traveling to the mountains, there is always down time. Substitute some TV time (not your child's favorite shows) with reading. One friend of mine had her kids "earn" TV or computer time by reading, but they could read ANYTHING they wanted. They had to show not only how many pages or minutes were read but give evidence that they did read (what was it about, details, what did you think, what did you learn, etc.) Great dinner conversation, especially if the parents have to follow the same rule!

Enjoy reading and discussing reading with your older children. It is guaranteed to keep you close! If you missed my interview with Allen Cardoza of (, you can listen to the podcast by the same name as this post at Just scroll down in the archive until you find the June 8th show.

Friday, May 29, 2009


This has been a big week so I'm doing two postings. This one relates to new resources for families and for educators and librarians.

1) Visit my new website: for the latest links to The Literacy Ambassador®'s many appearances on internet websites devoted to reading and writing and to parent involvement. You'll also find the latest in special event presentations as well as trainings for educators and for families, useful tips for anyone reading or writing with children and much, much more! Come visit us at the Home of the Literacy Ambassador®

2) My new e Book is out! You can learn about and purchase it at

Powerful Picture Books: 180 Ideas for Promoting Content Learning gives teachers, librarians and/or families a fat list of picture books (one for each day of the school year or three for every day of the summer). With each book listing, you also get plenty of ideas on how to use the picture books to build background knowledge in an area new to students/children and to spark conversations about such important issues as the civil rights movement, music, art, biographies, etc. It has embedded links to Amazon so, if you don't have a book in your collection, you can easily order it. But the best part is that the e Book includes an interactive (bookmark) index. Click on subject area or age level and you immediately get a list of all the books that fit that criteria. Click on the book title in that index and it takes you right to the page that contains that book.

I worked hard to make this an easy-to-use tool. At least 34 of the 180 books relate to music and many more to the arts because I see that sometimes these subjects get "squeezed out" in busy school days. Feel free to share the link to this resource!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

It's Summertime!

School is out! Time for families to transition to the summer schedule. In the midst of all this change, don't forget that reading with kids in the summer is as important, if not more so, than reading with them during the school year. Why?

In the school year, your children are gaining daily exposure to reading at school so they are practicing there as well as at home with you. When summer comes, kids can lose reading skills, if they don't keep practicing.

Never make it a chore! The secret to reading with your kids in the summer is to make it fun. Think outside the box! Read about your vacation destination or have your kids help research local "mini-vacation" spots right in your backyard. Check out new releases like John H. Ritter's The Desperado Who Saved Baseball for your 5-7th graders, Jon Scieszka's new picture books on trucks for the little ones, Judy Blundell's What I Saw and How I Lied (don't be put off by the title - it's a great opportunity to talk with your young adult about truth and consequences). ALA (the American Library Association) has great suggestions for reading lists:,, and

Set up special "quiet reading spots" around your home. A bathtub full of pillows, a quilt in the backyard, a hammock in the shade and keep plenty of magazines, graphic novels, books in print and e Books, a laptop computer handy. Don't forget to stash books or other reading material in the luggage, carry-ons (if you're flying), and in the pockets on the back of the car's front seat. If the stuff to read isn't there, the kids won't even have a chance to read.

Take a break yourself and find a quick read. The power of your example will have an impact on your children. Tell each other about what you are reading. Run to your kids with the latest copy of Sports Illustrated and talk about the NBA finals. Our world is full of opportunities for everyone to read.

Visit to hear the voice of someone else who believes reading is important. Alvin Romer speaks from the heart and tells us how important reading must be in our information-dense society. Also read about Dr. Ben Carson's story at

Keep reading!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Networking with People Who Love Reading

I love talking with all kinds of people that have an appreciation for reading as a tool for life and those who are interested in getting kids and families excited about reading, writing, listening and communicating! Today I just had to share my enthusiasm for an event sponsored in beautiful Minneapolis, MN by the International Reading Association (IRA) - their annual conference! I'm already there!

IRA is a place to me where all those interested in children's and family literacy can come together. I noticed in the program that tomorrow is actually considered a Special Teacher Professional Development AND Parent Day. What a great combination!

Why is that partnership so important?

Neither teachers nor parents can be as effective in influencing the children in their lives alone as they can be when they work as partners.

There are plenty of misunderstandings, mistrust and perhaps even potential hostility between families and educators but it doesn't have to be that way if both of you are focusing on the child AND recognize and celebrate each of the strengths you bring to the reading table.

Partnering over a common goal like building enthusiasm and interest in reading lowers so many of the barriers we inadventently put up between teacher and family.

Teachers: don't use that "eudcationese" when talking with families. Understand their family literacy and search for ways to connect that to the academic literacy you teach.

Parents: respect teachers for the things they know that you don't but ask that they give you meaningful ideas for promoting reading when the kids are out of school (without turning the home into an academic hothouse).

When more than one person is involved in promoting literacy with kids, they get the idea that "hey, maybe this is important".

How do you do it?

Teachers, focus on teaching the skills but never forget to let your students in on the secret of what reading is really all about (and adding motivation when you can).

Parents, focus on helping your child see reading and writing as tools for life. Integrate what you do and say about reading into everyday life (writing grocery lists, reading instructional manuals, sharing the reading you have to do with your children and asking for their help in understanding what you have to read if you need that, sharing the latest sports or celebrity article, etc.

I challenge everyone who reads this blog today to share it with one teacher and one family member who has a child who is reading (or getting ready to read). Together we can make a big difference, one child at a time, one book at a time, one experience, one conversation at a time.

Look for my new website, coming live in the next few days!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Enjoying Reading Without It Becoming A Chore

In the past week, I have had so many families talk with me about "making sure their child" reads before the son or daughter goes to kindergarten. When I ask them "why", the response is usually "I want them to be ahead of everyone else". Again, I ask "why"?

Research from early childhood, pediatrics, psychology all agree that pushing children too soon can backfire. I strongly believe that if you are enjoying and exploring read alouds with your child, playing with the language (banana fana fo fana kind of stuff), and talking (not just at your child but with them), using lots of varied language, you child WILL read when he/she is physiologically and emotionally and mentally ready. My son who read early never had one phonics lesson, never did I flash card him, never did he have anything but the most delicious experiences with books being read to him. He simply started reading when he was ready.

PLEASE consider that with your child. If you press your child to read too soon, he/she is likely to lose any temporary benefit gained by the time 3rd grade is reached. If, instead, the child is given the opportunity to start reading at his or her "optimal time", it is likely that child will excel.

Dr. Michael Pressley once said, "If we give do not give children mostly positive experiences with reading, they will not choose to be readers." That is so true. Jim Trelease echoes that idea when he says, "What we teach children to love and desire will always outweigh what we teach them to do."

Have fun, relax, enjoy your child and his/her interaction with you and the book. Make it fun. Be silly, act out voices, compete with the TV and computer for your child's reading soul!