Friday, September 25, 2009

Back to School Writing Games

OK, school has started - time to get your kids in bed earlier and to pack those bag lunches. Soon enough, the inevitable moment will arrive when your child presents you with a homework assignment that asks him or her to write a story. If your child draws a blank, here are some games you might try to get the creative juices flowing.

So get out the pencil and paper. Then challenge your child to do one of the following:

  1. Write a story where every sentence begins with the same letter.
  2. Write a story about a pet that they've never had. (Say, a bald eagle or a stegosaurus.)
  3. Write a story where every one of the characters has a funny striking feature (super hairy ears, gigantic nose, ten-inch deep bellybutton, etc.)
  4. Write a story where every character is named after someone in the family.
  5. Write a story that is a sequel to one of their favorite books.
  6. Write a story that's set entirely in their local playground - until the jungle gym turns into a rocket.
  7. Write a story in rhyme.
  8. Write a story where the main character is really, really thirsty.
  9. Write a story where their teacher is the main character, maybe even the bad guy.
Of course, you don't need the excuse of a homework assignment to get your kids writing. I've found that all most kids need is an idea to get them started. Have fun!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Introducing Video Thursdays

Starting today, we're launching Video Thursdays.

There are so many songs, cartoons and fun videos in the new Learn to Read that we just have to share. As I've said before: "You'll laugh, you'll cry. You'll learn the sound of the letter I."

Or... as with today's Video Thursday post, you'll learn the Sound of a K.

The K Song - Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read Pre-K

The K Song is part of Hooked on Phonics® Learn to Read Pre-K and is designed for children ages 3 to 4. Follow us on:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Learning to Print

How many of us remember learning to print? As an adult, it’s really second-nature, isn’t it? It’s hard to think back and remember trying to get the order of the lines right and just the right proportions of the letters.

It’s in Pre-K and Kindergarten where children usually get their first exposure to organized learning and where they begin to learn about the world, usually through play. This is where you and I were most likely introduced to the very basics of the alphabet, and that certain letters make certain sounds, not to mention the specific shapes of each letter. Learning letter names, sounds, and shapes is the first step to becoming a great reader. Many children start to learn to print at this age.

Learning to print helps children distinguish words from pictures and to understand that print carries meaning. However, learning to print is not intuitive. It may seem simple enough on the surface, but there are multiple skills involved: basic pencil-control skills as well as drawing vertical and horizontal lines, diagonal lines, and the dreaded curved and wavy lines.

When I first taught kindergarten a few years back, I wondered about the best way to teach my students to print. Should I start with the letter A? If so, should I start from the top and work down? Should I make the left diagonal line first?

For those of you that also struggle with such profound philosophical questions, I have included a few nifty videos that will answer them once and for all. They tackle letters down to their easiest and simplest form. You won't have to worry about confusing the lowercase L with the uppercase I after watching these videos. You don’t believe me? See for yourselves...

Friday, September 18, 2009

O, P, Q, Arrrrrr!

September 19th is Talk Like a Pirate Day! In my social circle, that's one of the most important days of the year. In honor of this scurvy celebration, here's a round up of PIRATE BOOKS for all you literate landlubbers.

To be a first-rate pirate, you need a first-rate education. Fortunately, there are many fine institutions, fully acreddited in the instruction of pirate arts and sciences. You can read all about them in Captain Abdul's Pirate School by Colin McNaughton and Pirate School by Cathy East Dubowski.

The seven seas are brimming with pirate vessels. But who would have supposed that so many of them are piloted by... animals? Yes, you can read about their daring canine/feline/bovine/equine exploits in the pages of Captain Wag the Pirate Dog by Michael Terry, The Pirate and the Penguin by Patricia Storms and Sheep on a Ship by Nancy Shaw.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Shapes of Letters

Yesterday morning I was tickled to wake up and discover my 4-year-old making the alphabet out of pipe cleaners, and soon the whole family was in on the action. She was really into it, and even rejected her dad's Q for not being quite Q-like.

Working with tactile materials to learn letter shapes is a big part of Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read Pre-K. There are endless fun ways to explore letter shapes with your child, like:
  • Decorate an apple with As.
  • Glue buttons on a board to make Bs.
  • Create a C out of clay.
  • Dish out a D with dish soap.
  • Erase an E from an envelope.
You get the idea. In addition to Learn to Read Pre-K, another great resource for letter activities and ways to have fun with your preschooler is the wonderful blog No Time For Flash Cards. Be sure to check out the Letter of the Week activities.

Oh, and one important safety note: always wear your superhero goggles when doing any alphabetic work with pipe cleaners.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

5 Books for Back to School

Ah, the transition back to school-is there anything quite like that mix of fun and fear? For any child who may be feeling some school trepidation, give one of these books a try.

Superhero School by Aaron Reynolds. Leonard has heat vision and can hit a baseball into orbit. Where does such a kid go to school? Superhero School, of course! Yet when he arrives at superhero school, Leonard is disappointed to discover that his teacher, The Blue Tornado, is only teaching fractions and multiplication and division, instead of more useful things like vanquishing evil robots. When the ice zombies kidnap the teachers, though, Leonard and his classmates discover how those skills can really come in handy.

Splat the Cat
by Rob Scotton. Splat lays in bed, wide awake, and his tail wiggles wildly with worry for his first day of Cat School. He simply doesn't want to go, so he takes his mouse friend, Seymour, with for moral sup
port. Splat learns all the things that cats do-including chase mice! But Splat and Seymour give his cat classmates a reason to change their mouse-chasing tune. By the end of the story, Splat's tail wiggles wildly... with excitement. He can't wait to go back to Cat School.

I Don't Want to Go to School by Stephanie Blake. Much like Splat, Simon the rabbit has a lot of worry built up for his first day of school. He also lies awake, turning the lights on and off, alternately thinking "I'm scared!" and "I'm not scared!" He doesn't want to go, greeting every question with a "No way!" But when he gives school a try and sees how much fun he can have, when it comes time to go home he says, "No way!"

David Goes to School
by David Shannon, a follow-up to the fabulous No, David! Kids will delight in watching all of David's naughty tricks: chewing gum in class, starting a food fight, and spreading finger paint on a classmate. It's hard to be good all the time! But even though he gets into trouble, David still works to earn a gold star from his teacher.

Emily's First 100 Days of School
by Rosemary Wells. This delightful book isn't just a great book about all the things that happen at school and at home during Emily's school year, it's also a superb counting book. There are lovely numbered details like Emily writing her name in 14 different colors, 28 peas in the jello cup (yuck!), and 63 hellos on the school bus as well as useful conversions like 25 pennies in a quarter and 60 minutes in an hour.

These books are a great way to talk with your kids about all of the things that happen at school: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Book Marks the Spot

My wife had this really cool idea for our wedding. First, we scoured the city and bought 100 or so copies of our favorites books. Once we had our stash, we embossed them with the words, “Dan and Andrea’s Wedding,” then used them as centerpieces at the tables. At the end of the festivities, guests each left with a copy of one of our favorite books and hopefully something meaningful to remember the occasion by.
Well, I got thinking. Most of us love books. But do we take their presence in our households for granted? Is there a way to reinforce their enormous value to us to our children? Here are a few ideas:
  1. A Special Bookshelf. I don’t know about you, but I tend to keep my favorite books grouped together on a shelf near my bed. I find their presence near me oddly reassuring. So the other day, we did the same for our daughter, Cassie. Now the complete set of Daisy Meadow’s The Weather Fairies, The Cricket in Times Square, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and other favorites are only an arms length away. We also got her a flashlight so that on those nights when she has trouble falling asleep, she can read to herself (as best she can) and leave us to our well-earned nightly collapse.
  2. Mark Your Gift Books. I’m sure this has happened to you. You grab a book from the shelf and say to yourself or your spouse, “Who gave this to us?” The answer is most often a shrug. Well, how about writing the date you received it and the name of the purchaser on the front page of each book? It might well add to your child’s reading enjoyment to remember that a particular book was given to him or her by a particular person. Also, the dated books can serve the same function as a scrapbook, bringing back memories of special events. As in, “Check it out! Uncle Rick gave this to Jack on his third birthday,” setting off a stream of recollections about the party: who was there, what you served, which kid left a handprint in the cake.
  3. Signed Books. When possible, meet authors; buy signed books. My kids love feeling a connection, no matter how tenuous, to a real live writer. And it’s also fun to give your signed copies their own special shelf. Hey, books like to feel important, too.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Old Books, New Readers

I wrote a previous post about the difficulty many parents have in clearing out their children’s bookshelves. Books seem to pile up. We stack them in double rows, on the floor, on radiators – anywhere to keep some sense of order in the house. Previously, I suggested throwing book swap parties or giving your old books away to churches, synagogues, the Salvation Army, friends, neighbors – even foisting them on strangers on the street.

But with my daughter, Cassie, a week away from entering first grade, I recently discovered another use for those old tomes. Yes, we had been unable to rid our apartment of Goodnight Moon, The Okay Book, and Hop on Pop – books that had been woefully collecting dust on our shelves for years. But our inability to cull the herd suddenly seemed fortuitous. It was time to give those early readers a second act. But this time, my wife and I wouldn’t be the ones reading them: Cassie would.

In truth, times haven’t changed so much. Yes, the books our children are given to read in kindergarten and first grade are a step up from Sally, Dick and Jane. Even so, despite the hard work of generations of educators, most of the early readers Cassie brought home from kindergarten last year still dealt with tales of children with their dogs or cats. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – kids love dogs and cats – but why not spice it up a little?

And so when it came time to warm Cassie up for first grade, we had her stumble through Sandra Boynton’s Hippo Goes Berserk. After that, we moved on to Dear, Zoo and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Cassie got to practice her reading, while having a few laughs at the same time. Best of all, is what it did for her vocabulary. Thanks to those old books we never had the heart to toss, Cassie will enter school able to sound out “hippo,” “camel,” and “coconut.” Not bad.