Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Join JUMPSTART This October 6 - My Baby Sister's Birthday!

What are you doing on 10/6/11?

How does breaking a world reading record while raising awareness about America’s achievement gap?

Join me and TLA, Inc. as we participate in Jumpstart’s Read for the Record® presented in partnership with Pearson Foundation. Its a national campaign that mobilizes adults and children to close the early education achievement gap by setting a reading world record.

This annual campaign allows Americans to demand that all children receive the quality early education they deserve. On October 6, 2011, more than 2 million voices will call for an end to America’s early education achievement gap by reading Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney – setting a world record in the process!

Get involved at to help Jumpstart close the early education achievement gap:

1. Pledge to Read: Submit your official pledge and help us reach more than 2.1 MILLION children.

2. Spread the Word: Use our simple tools to educate your friends and family about America’s early education achievement gap and invite them to read.

You can even become a partner, a facilitator in your community, calling hundreds of folks to read this delicious book on the same day.

For more information visit

While you're looking at this terrific children's book, perfect for youngsters with lots of rhythm and rhyme and interesting language, check out the author's website or see her read the book on YouTube.

Enjoy!  When you read this book to your little llama or a group of little ones, tell us about the experience.  What is your favorite part?  What is your favorite word?  How many times does the book include the phrase "llama, llama red pajama"?     I've chosen a number between 1 and 32 - if you are that number of post on this blog, you'll get a chance to have the Literacy Ambassador call your little one (or come by if you live in North Alabama) and share her special version of this book delivered in Engaged Interactive Read Aloud technique to your chosen group of children.   Join in the fun!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


A special quick post to say - hope you and your children have a great start to the new school year!  As we are all so busy, I especially appreciate you continuing to follow this blog, even as it is often less frequent and regular than I would like.  Hopefully late this fall, I'll have a breather and can set a better habit.  Please continue to "tune in".

A few new resources:

check out Wonderpolois, the National Center for Family Literacy's great new conversation starter for parents and kids alike.  Each day a new short, fun video is posted with something new and interesting to learn.

next, visit your local United Way to find opportunities for you and your child to get involved in volunteering for literacy.  Maybe a book drive, maybe tutoring, maybe replenishing a school library, there's always a lot to do and your children learn the important lesson of sharing through one of the most trusted names in nonprofits today.  Also check out your chance to brag on a favorite teacher.

Finally, give that teacher a powerful link to a new community just created for them:  The Community at  They can create a profile, join groups (including mine under subjects, language arts K-12), view resources and videos, download lesson plans, read articles from education experts and more.    Thanks for sharing.

I'll be back soon with more resources just for PARENTS AND KIDS READING TOGETHER.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Debunking Three Big Myths about Your Child Learning to Read

As a parent, in our information-dense society, you may be confused:

How do I know what to trust?
Which is a sales pitch and which is valid?
How do I tell the difference between truth and misinformation, facts and hype?
Nowhere are those questions more important, or more frequently posed, than on the subject of our children learning to read.

Myth #1: Earlier is always better.

We see ads for fix-all programs, computer games that “give your child an advantage”, and even preschools who are sitting three-year children at desks under the guise of “getting them ready for school”.

In contrast, the world of research tells us that there is a developmental spectrum which children need to pass through before they are ready to read. Each child hits her “ready to read moment” at a slightly different time. You child can become a “parrot” before then but, if she is pushed into a part of the spectrum she isn’t ready for (socially, cognitively, emotionally, physically), she won’t learn the concept behind that parroting. More importantly, ignoring parts of the spectrum can later negatively impact your child’s abilities and motivation to read.

Myth #2: But he’s just a baby . . . he’ll get enough learning once he goes to school.

Over the past 10 years particularly, extensive research in the area of neuroscience has given us a clear understanding of the potential for learning during the first 3-5 years of age. It is greater than at any other time. Your child’s developing brain creates strong connections whenever someone plays and interacts with him using language. Those connections make it easier for him to learn to read when the “time is prime”. As you’ll see in Myth #3, that’s not a license to flashcard your child incessantly or drill him on concepts he may not be ready for.

Myth #3: Rigorous, structured lessons are the best way for any child of any age to learn.

The truth is that young children learn differently than their older, more mature counterparts. “Learning happens everywhere in a young child’s life, and play is the optimum learning environment. Learning at this age should not look or feel “academic.” Think about how your baby learned to walk. Did someone just show her pictures of people walking, telling her how to move one foot in front of the other without showing her, or did someone say, “well, it’s time for you to walk so you need to do it”? We laugh because we know that’s certainly not true. Getting reading to read is no different. “Only when proper foundations are established through repeated and varied concrete experiences can we expect young children to grasp higher-level skills.”

There are many other myths out there so be wary.  Talk with education professionals about your concerns and questions or tap into parent resources such as the PTA, parent resource centers, and United Way.
I wrote Anytime Reading Readiness to address these very issues and to help every family with a young child find what is just right for your child, in the short and long term. The book contains simple, easy-to-implement concepts from the experienced voices of authentic experts, both in the worlds of research and practical experience.  

I hope you find this article and Anytime an asset in your journey with your child.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

ATTENTION: Preschool Parents - QUOTES TO PONDER, Getting Ready for Kindergarten!, and MORE!

First of all, happy birthday to my friend and a wonderful illustrator (who drew my little friends which are the illustrations on this posting) - Pegi Ballenger.  You can see more of her beautiful art at her website.

Now, on to the real purpose of these next few posts

Recently, I've been preparing and revising my workshop on getting ready for Kindergarten from a language and literacy perspective and have two new sets of resources to help you get ready for that big event as a result:.  If your child is a younger preschooler, these will help you start to think about this important transitional time; if your child is older, please share this blog with someone you know who has a 4-5 year old.
  For the next few posts, I'll be sharing:

1) A series of quotes relating to the foundational skills necessary to be successful in the very structured, rigorous environment that is the modern-day kindergarten.

2) a glossary of terms every parent needs to know before their child enters those school house doors.

Here we go . . .

Without fundamental understandings of the functions and uses of literacy (such as storybook reading, language play, written language use in everyday practices), children may not profit from phonological awareness instruction. . . Sulzby and Teal.

That helps parents see what is important - not flashcards and drills and fancy video games . . . the literacy your child will develop in school is built on his or her ORAL language abilities (speech and processing).

Through introduction to various forms of narrative texts - including nursery rhymes (look for modern ones if you aren't into the old fashioned "Mother Goose") poetry, big books (oversized) and wordless picture books  -- in an environment where inherent curiosity is encouraged, a child is able to begin a lifelong love of reading that will continue outside the classroom.

The challenge I find so much of the time is that parents don't see the connection between taking time from a busy schedule to talk and read and a child's ultimate success in school.  They are inseparable.  Think snippets of time; not big blocks.  Think within my real word; not "I have to stop".

The Beginning of Our Glossary of Terms

Teachers live in a world of science and acronyms but don't always have the awareness that families may not be familiar with those terms.  Here's the start of a beginning list.  If your child's teacher uses an unfamiliar term, don't be upset with yourself because you don't know - ask what it means.

Alliteration:  the repetition of a beginning letter sound with several words,  Tongue Twisters are alliteration - the bad boy broke the basket - it focuses on the letter "b". (Alliteration is important because it begins children thinking about how words sound in addition to what they mean).

Book Awareness - knowing how books work, that you read them from front to back, left to right and top to bottom on the page, that they have an author, an illustrator and a title (academic terms), that they have a front cover and a title page.

Dialogic Reading:  an interactive shared picture book reading practice designed to enhance young children's language and literacy development.  During the shared reading practice, the adult and the child switch roles so that the child learns to become a part of the storytelling with the assistance of an adult who listens and poses questions.  Even non-readers can still become a part of the storytelling through conversation, looking at the pictures, responding to prompts from the adult reader.  This type of reading aloud to children is found to have positive effects on the development of their oral language and phonological awareness (you learn about those terms later).

Finally - a few new books to tell you about:

Just One Bite by Lola Schaefer


Snow Day! by Lester Laminack

Stay tuned for more!

Monday, March 7, 2011

On the Independent Reader Channel

Switching Gears

It seems that this blog recently has gravitated to parents of children who are just beginning to read or who may not yet be readers.   That certainly is an important time.

However, this post will be devoted to those readers in 3-4th grade and beyond. One of the most common mistakes I see parents make is, when their child becomes an independent reader at some level, moving away from supporting their child as a reader.  Most of the time it's because the parent mistakenly believes that the child can now "do it on his/her own" and doesn't need anything further.

They Aren't Ready to Fly Solo

The truth is that children continue to mature as readers into their adult years.  In one manner of speaking, if we keep reading all our lives, we are constantly becoming better, deeper readers and thinkers.  That translates into better problem-solvers, more creative individuals and who wouldn't want that for their child?

Unique ways to support your older reader

The same strategies you use to encourage reading with a 5, 6 or 7 year old won't be very effective with a pre-teen or teen.  Think "what are they interested in?" and answer that question with a book, a magazine, an online resource.

Think about reading as a tool for life and ask yourself, "how can I help my child use this tool effectively?"

Practice and exposure to what they want to read is always important.

Dr. Steven Layne, one of my favorite researchers, reminds us all that we cannot forget to encourage reading for its pleasure, its interest.  Click on his name in the previous sentence to read more.

Lastly, the U.S. Department of Education has some good advise and, although their brochure Helping Your Child Through Early Adolescence isn't exclusively about supporting him/her as a reader, it does give some excellence tips in that area.

Looking for new titles?  Try these:

From the New York Times Chapter Books (January, 2011)
Chapter Books for Middle Readers 
Random House selections
Want to try something really new?  Check out Jon Scieszka's chapter books
Don't forget to visit my friends at the Reading Tub.

Happy reading!

A final P.S.  I'll be traveling next week to Springfield, IL for the Illinois Reading Council Conference.  If you know anyone who lives in that central part of Illinois or is planning to attend the convention (mostly educators and librarians), please let them know I'll be presenting 3/17/2011.

As always, comments about content or books are welcome!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Recently, I was able to talk with a group of teachers (and later a group of parents of preschool children) about an important milestone in children's development: when they first learn to read.  What I learned is how many misconceptions there are out there, spurred on perhaps in part by the new hype in the last few years of teaching babies to read.

"I'll just be giving my child a head start, right?"

"The earlier the better."

 "I saw it on TV!"


These are common comments from well-meaning parents.  The problem is that these ideas have no scientific foundation.  Just because someone says "there's research", don't believe it.  What I alway recommend to educators is to look for three INDEPENDENT studies that confirm the same findings before you believe any of it.  The science (and there is a lot of it) tells us a much different story, one of complex connections being built in brains years before a child is ready to learn to "decode" (see the symbols and understand the sounds related to them, blending into words they recognize from their oral vocabulary).

The truth is that most baby's brains at birth have nearly the same number of brain cells, give or take a small number according to genetics (about 100 billion!).   Years ago, Piaget confirmed that young children first learn through the concrete, concrete experiences with senses and motion.  As they grow, they move into increasingly more abstract thinking (the first hint is when the baby realizes you are still behind the blanket and that you haven't gone away just because he/she cannot see you).  That is a good framework from which to think about children learning to read.  Understanding a variety of symbols (graphemes) and cognitively recognizing and thinking about the sounds they represent is too abstract for most children until the ages of 4-6.  And that doesn't mean that if your child isn't ready to read at 4, you should "make him".  Earlier IS NOT always better.  For more information about young children's brain growth at ages zero to three, visit Zero to Three's website.

All the parents I spoke with recently want the best for their child.  They had great questions to ask and the answers were able to help them filter out the myth of babies learning to read.  I also found few parents who were aware of the importance of oral language (speech and listening) as a foundation for later reading.  Dr. Catherine Snow, an incredible, long-time researcher from Harvard says, that before children are ready to read, they must have many, many experiences with language and with print.  

Here are a few signals to watch for that might indicate your child is ready for the "reading table":

They ask, "what does that say, Mommie?" or say "I want to learn to read."
They play easily with patterns and sounds in speech (like being able to change around first sounds or last sounds to make new words).
They have learned the corresponding sounds that are associated with certain letters.

Don't rush this stage - surround your child with print experiences that are fun and entertaining, talk using lots of varied words, explain their world to them and take time to talk with them in regular conversations.  That as much as anything will move them toward their "right time to read".  Most normally developing children will learn to read between 4-6 years of age, and anytime within this range is acceptable.  In my own observations I see that children with rich literacy environments (and few if any flashcards) come to reading early at their own instigation and those children, with a continued support system, will often continue to read above their peers.  To the contrary, children forced to read before they are ready lose creativity, become frustrated and turned off to learning and who wants that?

 Another question to ponder is, do we ask a 3-month old to learn to walk, stand them right up there and why can't they do it?  Because they don't have the foundational strength and balance yet.  We accept that our children won't all walk at the same time.  It is also true that they will not necessarily learn to read at exactly the same time.  Throwing a child into reading before he/she is ready is akin to taking them to a swimming pool when they have never been near water and throwing them in the deep end of the pool.  Never!

I could go on and on with reasons why it's so important to know how those early years contribute to reading at each child's "prime time".  If you have others questions about children learning to read, post them here and I'll answer them as they are posed.  You can also learn more in my books on this subject (Anytime Reading Readiness for parents of 3-6 year olds and the partner book, Before They Read, for educators working with children of this age.

Cherish childhood - it is all too fleeting.  And take a little time every day to read to your child.  It not only brings you close together, it relaxes you and your child in a stress-filled world.  It's a "good thing".

P.S.  If any of you live in Illinois or know a teacher there, I'll be a featured speaker at the Illinois Reading Council's annual conference in mid-March.  Come join in the fun and information; I'd love to meet all of you in person!


Sunday, January 30, 2011

After Too Long An Absence . . .

Thank you to all of you who continue to follow this blog.  I have been absent, struggling a bit as all of us do from time to time, with squeezing everything we want to do into the time and energy we have.  I know that parents can relate to that. 


With this post, I'd like to draw us back together and begin again the discussions about parents and kids reading together.  This post is for parents of 2 year olds and parents of 22 year olds.

Please share this new post with your friends and tap them into an important resource.


This is a view out my hotel window tonight.  I am in lovely (and warm) Tampa, Florida for the
National Title I Conference and am so excited to tell you that family engagement in children's learning is on the FRONT burner!  

Not only does my session, Families and Educators: A Joint Book Club Concept, address this topic but there are at least five other presenters talking about this same issue.  With educators talking more about how to involve families (some how to "follow the letter of the federal law in Title I schools but others, happily, who are genuinely interested in partnering with parents).

I'd love to hear the viewpoint from anyone reading this post on the following questions:

  1. Do you feel welcome at your child's school?  Why or why not? 
  2. Do you see your child's teacher as "friend" or "foe"?  Why or why not?
  3. If you could stand in front of the Title I teachers from all other the country this week, what would you say to them?

I look forward to your comments!

P.S.  Need some reading for yourself?  Check out reviews from me and my fellow book reviewers at