As a Mom, I feel like the most over-used word in my vocabulary is “No” — followed closely by “Don’t.” I get tired of hearing myself say them, so I can imagine how weary my daughter is of listening to them. I’m sure its true for teachers, too.
Our job as parents and educators is to guide our children and help them make good choices. There is no way to eliminate “no” and “don’t” from our vocabulary, but it would be nice not to hear them so often. It would be nice to have an assistant to help with the teaching. That’s where books — especially picture books — come in handy.
There is no shortage of children’s picture books with stories whose intended purposes are to teach a specific lesson, whether it is the ABCs of friendship or the XYZs of potty training. There is a book for just about anything we want to help a young child understand. The hard part is finding a book that gets the message across without beating the theme to death.
In books like No, David! By David Shannon and No Biting! By Karen Katz — both personal favorites — the lessons and expected behaviors are explicit.
Sometimes, though, it’s better to let the kids glean the lessons from the story and/or its illustrations. What’s With This Room? by Tom Lichtenheldis another example of the kind of book helps children learn by observing the wrong way to do things. How can this help the “no”-weary parent or teacher?
You aren’t the one saying “No.” Even though [name your character] says the exact same thing you do about being sloppy, kids will believe him or her first.
The kids don’t hear “No.” The listener or young reader is looking at what happens and thinking about what’s going on. They are exploring the story by anticipating events or their consequences.
Laughter can lighten the mood. Most of the time, these stories the events and consequences are exaggerated to make sure the lessons aren’t missed.
Last but not least … the kids feel superior to the character! That little ego boost might just help their self-esteem and confidence enough to “act on” the message. The other plus is that they empathize with the characters and can suggest ways to make things better.
Often kids see themselves in the book character, but they don’t see themselves AS the book character. Because you are talking about a “third person,” you’ve eliminated the pressure your students may feel about the topic at hand.
In the child’s mind, you’ve separated the behavior from him or her, so he or she might be more interested in talking about choices and consequences.
Children’s book illustrators are an incredibly talented bunch. They often have secondary activities that aren’t directly related to the text in their illustrations. We have found stories that are just fun to read that have no specific lesson at all, but which end up being stories where we can talk about behaviors.
For example, several years ago while I was reading the words about spending the day at the beach, my five-year-old was dissecting the illustration, talking about the child pouring sand over another child’s head. I hadn’t picked the book for “teaching,” but a lesson was hiding in plain view … and I wasn’t the one who pointed out what was “wrong.”
Do you have any favorite life lesson books that you’d recommend to other teachers and parents?
This is an updated version a post I wrote for PBS Kids Booklights in August 2010. The theme THEN was to give parents help in getting their kids back on that literacy train before school started. The same ideas will work well for winter at school, too, on those days the kids can’t go outdoors for recess … or if parents want learning game ideas for holiday gifts.
‘Tis the holiday season when, despite the first days of winter, our days seem sunny and bright … or at least seasonal. But what about January? February? When we get into the unpredictable, too-cold / wet / icy -to-go-outside-for-recess days, the kids need something to do.
Every classroom has a rainy-day-recess game shelf for just those days. As educators, we like to find games that sneak in some learning. For preschoolers and Kindergartners we consider more than just the fun factor, we look at
The amount of time it takes to play (think: attention span).
How well it disguises learning. For some kids, Scrabble Junior is a blast; for others (like my daughter) it takes too long and looks too much like her spelling list.
How it introduces (rather than memorization).
Last but not least: is there a winner, loser, or race to the finish.
Picture puzzles are great for that, because they help kids create a complete image from just pieces of it, they don’t require any letter or spelling knowledge, and they can be done independently or with help. Here are a few other ideas.
There is no spelling or letter recognition required, but it does make kids think: Does a blue head go with a red tail? Do snakes really have two heads? Where is my snake’s tummy?
Like Wig Out! (below) this game lasts about 15 minutes.
Melissa & Doug See & Spell It is hard to beat Melissa and Doug products for durability and educational value. Kids can create words by placing the letter on the word board, but they can also use the letters independently to create new words, too. For example, slide “bug” off the board, swap out the “b” for an “r” and they have rug … or any other silly words they’d like to create.
This game has no time limits.
Wig Out! Here’s a matching game that will have everyone rolling with laughter, making it perfect for mixed age players. You get a series of bald heads and your job is to play all your hairstyle cards faster than anyone else. Of all the games in the list, this is probably the most marginal for this audience. Not because of content, but because of its speed.
Each game takes 10 to 15 minutes, which is good for kid with short attention spans, but it also is played quickly.
ThinkFun Zingo We had a blast with this game when my daughter was in Kindergarten.
It is a combination of picture and word Bingo, and you can make it as easy or as complex as you want. We would also use the little plastic cards to play matching games (think Jeopardy!).
Depending on how you play the game, each round lasts 10 to 15 minutes.
These games – and others – are perfect for the teacher looking to update their rainy-day game shelf, a mom trying to find a great gift for your child’s teachers, or a dad looking for something new for Family Game Night.
Do you have some favorite learning games and / or puzzles? Add them to the comments … someone might be looking for just that idea!
Ready or not the Thanksgiving holiday is just four days away!
What I love about the holiday is that despite the hustle and bustle, I can still find that ”quiet place” to think about all of the things I’m thankful for.
What am I most thankful for? Well, the gift of literacy ranks right up there with my family and my health!
There were a lot of people who encouraged me to read, try my hand at writing, and of course, made me stand in front of a class and give a speech!
That I can read means I owe a debt of thanks to those who helped me. There isn’t just one person, it is a community effort at home, at school, and yes at work. Not all of us turn out to be bookworms, but all of us use those skills every day, probably without even thinking about it. Here are some examples …
Odds are pretty good that you are part of an adoptive family or know an adoptive family. According to the 2000 US Census, more than 1.6 million children under the age of 18 live with their adoptive parents, and more than 100,000 children are adopted each year.
Thanks to international adoptions, the fabric of our society has become even richer, with families celebrating the heritage and cultures their children bring with them. According to the US State Department, between 1992 and 1999, the number of children adopted from abroad more than doubled from 6,720 to 16,396.
Thousands of community organizations arrange and host programs, events, and activities to share positive adoption stories, challenge the myths, and draw attention to the thousands of children in foster care who are waiting for permanent families.
With adoption so integrally woven into the fabric of our nation, National Adoption Month offers us a chance to share stories that celebrate family, friendship, culture, and diversity. Three of my favorites for home and classroom are the As Simple as That series by Deb Capone and Craig Shemin.
Rain, a six-year-old girl, loves to make jiaozi (jow-za), a Chinese dumpling, with her mom. When she takes some to school for lunch one day, she learns that all over the world, families love to create, fill, and share dumplings.
This is a picture book that introduces diversity by celebrating the things cultures share in common.
The author introduces Rain’s adoption story again so you don’t have to read any of the other titles to understand the context of this one.
The story is sweet, with the emphasis on each child’s curiosity and discovery about another’s culture.
The story is simply presented, with layers that parents and teachers can use for their own purposes (culture, geography, diversity, etc.)
Parents and teachers can introduce a topic and then build on it with “real life” activities. Whether it’s cooking, learning more about a culture, or role-playing, there is plenty to share.
Families are Forever
by Craig Shemin and Deb Capone; illustrated by John McCoy
As Simple As That, 2003
Rain, a six-year-old girl tells us her story of how she came from China to live with her Mom and Bo, her stuffed hippo. This is a first-person story about becoming an adoptive family.
The story has great universal appeal. The story emphasizes how families come to be, with adoption playing a role, but not taking center stage to the love itself.
Children of all ages and cultures will relate to Rain and the relationship with Bo, her hippo.
Because of our child’s questions, we were able to introduce a “second plot” with our own adoption story. Although this is a story of Chinese adoption, we didn’t feel limited by it in our situation (which was a domestic adoption).
Every family can enjoy this story. It can help young children write their own story, adopted or not. It is a great way to introduce adoption as a concept of love.
Rain and her classmates are losing their first teeth. When Rain loses her first tooth, she starts to wonder what the Tooth Fairy does with all of those baby teeth. That’s when she learns that there’s more than just the Tooth Fairy collecting teeth. This is a story about the ways different cultures celebrate the magic of losing your baby teeth.
This is a fun story to read, as there is something for everyone to learn.
The story is broad, allowing children to understand that losing teeth is natural, and everyone celebrates the event in their own way.
The illustrations are simple. The writing clarity and child’s perspective take the “fear” out of the process for kids.
Depending on audience age, you can talk about myths and legends, growing up, diversity, and geography, as well as contrast/compare similarities and differences among cultures.
I can’t believe it. It was one thing to hit September and have the 1c pencil deals replaced by pumpkins, skeletons, and apple-cinnamon scents. Now, its just October 8 and the pumpkins are marked down 40% off to make room for green, red, blue, and silver … and the aroma of pine!
That can only mean one thing: merchants are getting us ready for the holiday gift season. So before we’re bombarded with ads for other stuff, I thought I’d put in a pitch for games that make great gifts because
We can do them together as a family.
Are perfect additions to the classroom, especially when kids have to stay indoors for recess.
Make literacy fun.
As a mom and literacy passionista, I am always on the lookout for entertainment that doesn’t involve a screen, has some type of educational value, and can have lots of players. I have some childhood favorites like Scrabble, Boggle, Pictionary, and Yahtzee, but also like to find new things that have the bells and whistles to grab kids of today’s generation.
Most of these games are good for kids who are in second through fourth grade and have some experience with creating and playing with words.
I am usually behind the times, so Bananagrams had been around the world and back a couple times already before I discovered it in 2010. I had seen it, but never played it. Now I’m addicted … yes, two years later it is still one of my favorite gamges.
Playing Bananagrams is great fun and, as it turns out, is a great modeling tool, too. A bunch of us moms used to play it at the pool on summer evenings. I can’t tell you how many times our dripping-wet kids came over to watch us play and “help” us with words.
Scrabble SLAM is a card game that is a natural choice when you want something for kids of mixed ages. Essentially, you rebuild a four-letter word like sand by playing a cards in your hand … changing it to hand or sane or band, etc.
Speed is part of the game, so it may take young players a bit to get comfortable. The other option is to turn “off” the speed component or pair together in teams (e.g., parent / child).
Concepts & Strategies
Such & Such is for up to four people or can be played in teams. The game’s tag line is “the answers to the game come in twos,” so players build pairs of things that go together: peanut butter and jelly, guilt and innocence, moon and stars, etc.
This is a game about “clever pairings and witty competition.” It will be more fun for kids 10 and up, but could be hilarious to do with sibling teams of mixed ages.
Ticket to Ride is a good, old-fashioned board game. Each player is trying to build a cross-country railway route by making city-to-city connections from one coast to the other. The game is sure to expand the players’ vocabulary and understanding of geography, history, and analytical processes.
There are lots of facets to the game, including geography and strategy. There are individualized versions for several continents.
These games combine fun and literacy concepts on many levels, not just letters. They require creativity, memory, problem solving, and even strategy. It’s your move. What are your favorite games to play as a family?
Disclosure: The hyperlinks and images take you to Amazon.com. The Reading Tub, a 501(c)(3) public charity, uses passive fundraising like affiliate partnerships to raise funds for its mission. The Reading Tub may earn income from purchases made through those links.
As I mentioned last week, reading with your kids – even when there are many years between them – can be enjoyable for everyone to share together. Sometimes it may be about the book, but every time it is an opportunity to connect with your kids and connect them with each other!
With homework looming most days, it can be very hard to find time to be together and remind the kids that reading is for enjoyment, too. Even a ritual like reading a [insert: poem, chapter, picture book, comic strip] at the table one morning or evening a week is great. It is your tradition, so do what works for you!
In The Read Aloud Handbook (now in its Sixth Edition!) Jim Trelease emphasizes that as readers, we have a listening level and a reading level. In Hey! Listen to This! (an article on his website), he re-emphasizes this point.
A consistent mistake made by parents and teachers is the assumption that a child’s listening level is the same as his or her reading level. Until about eighth grade, that is far from true; early primary grade students listen many grades above their reading level. This means that early primary grade students are capable of hearing and understanding stories that are far more complicated than those they can read themselves.
What does that mean? Well, you don’t have to read only picture books with simple messages or text. Young audiences can be enticed to enjoy text-heavy picture books and chapter books alike. There are a number of genres that naturally lend themselves to reading to mixed-age audiences, including …
Nonfiction. More specifically, nonfiction picture books, also called “informational picture books.” One of the best ways to hook kids of any age on reading is to give them some nonfiction books. They may be straight-up factual books, or they may be stories that have lots of facts in them (think: historical fiction for example). The great thing about informational picture books is that they have something for everyone. These are books that invite exploring, so whether you read all of the text or just talk about the illustrations, you’re in for an enjoyable, shared read.
Poetry. Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein write poetry that is meant to be read aloud.
Their poems are very “graphic,” allowing readers to “see” what they describe, and they often have a nonsensical quality that strike kids’ funny bones.
Humor. Despite the dictionary description, defining “funny” is a matter of personal taste. Still, a good laugh is something we all enjoy. As a parent, you understand the types of humor your kids enjoy … and you can decide what types of things you want to share together.
Books with lots of dialogue. “Dialog books” aren’t a specific genre, but a lot of short chapter books use conversation among the characters to tell the story. There are usually only a few characters (often school-aged kids and an adult or two) so it is an opportunity for everyone to take a role and read together.
These are by no means the only genres. On her website, storyteller Mary Hamilton offers a handy checklist that describes reading interests for various ages, from preschool through high school.
When you are selecting a book the whole family can enjoy, what types of books do you pick? If you have a family – or classroom – favorite, be sure to share!
Mom reading with kids: Family Story Minute by Sean Dreilinger on Flicker. Copyright. Some rights reserved.
Collage of nonfiction picture books: University of Maryland News photostream on Flickr. Copyright. Some rights reserved University of Maryland Press Releases.
Bookshelf with poetry books. Thingamababy Awesome Wall photostream on Flickr. Copyright. All rights reserved.
Roscoe Riley by Katherine Applegate. Book cover image by Mr. Biggs photostream on Flickr. Copyright. All rights reserved.
Reading aloud is not only a great way to model reading, it can be lots of fun … especially when you add voices and noise and bring the story to life.
With “little kids,” reading aloud seems the natural thing to do. They can’t read the words on the page, so you do it for them. Once young readers become independent, though, we sometimes forget that they still enjoy – and can also benefit from – listening to you read. But who has time to read with each child every night? “Not I,” said the exhausted parent.
We need one book for sharing with everyone. But picking the right book can get tricky. The 9-year-old doesn’t want to hear “baby” books, and the preschooler isn’t ready for some of the subjects nor can they sit still that long! Finding books that interest your 4-year-old AND your preteen may be easier than it sounds.
Don’t give up on picture books. Librarian Pam Coughlan points out in a PBS Booklights post that sometimes those pre-teen protests are a surface reaction. See: Reading Aloud: Picture Books Rule! (MotherReader, March 2009). After the requisite “that’s for babies” teens will still sit and listen to a picture book. They may even surprise themselves with how much they enjoy their little brother’s reactions. The secret bonus: you are modeling reading for them so they can read to their brother later!
Chapter books need pictures, too. Illustrated chapter books are helpful because young audiences often need the images which engage their interest while you read pages with a lot more text. In general, the chapters in these books are short, making it easy to read in small spurts and over consecutive nights.
Mix it up. Sometimes you have enough time – and the kids’ temperaments are in sync – to read something that each child likes, and you can share a picture book and a chapter or two from a longer story. On those days when your energy is low, just pick one. The kids will understand … and be happy not to miss the chance to spend quality time with you.
Regularly sharing a book as a family will not only let you reconnect and renew a love of stories and books. Who knows, as everyone becomes readers, maybe everyone will want a turn!
Toes and a book: Public photo on Flicker.com. Copyright All rights reserved by Tina Cockburn Photography, tcockburn2002.
Big Universe: Celebrate Christmas with children's books!
The Mazza Museum: International Art from Picture Books in Findlay, Ohio, received an early Christmas present. They just got 150 signed copies of “The Magical Christmas Horse,” a brand-new, beautifully illustrated picture book for children.
The holiday book is a collaboration between best-selling suspense author Mary Higgins Clark and noted artist Wendell Minor. The museum’s copies will be passed on as holiday gifts to patrons of “the world’s largest museum devoted to literacy and the art of children’s picture books.” The Mazza Museum – “where art from children’s picture books is taken seriously” – has more than 2,300 original illustrations. (The museum’s earliest piece dates from 1884.)
I love giving books as gifts too. They always have been my go-to present for birthdays, baby showers, teachers and holidays. The fact that “The Magical Christmas Horse” is wonderfully illustrated and celebrates the beauty of rural America, family time, traditions and redemption makes it a sure thing.
See the video clip below of a two-minute interview with Ms. Higgins Clark and Mr. Minor.
BigUniverse.com also is a champion of beautiful children’s picture books. This online treasure houses a growing library of digital fiction and non-fiction books in many languages, making it a valuable resource for classroom teachers, parents and homeschoolers. To date, Big Universe Learning has more than 3460 premium publisher books that have been read more than 2 million times. The number of member-created books grows daily.
The books showcase great narrative and stunning artwork, making them perfect for white board use or at computer stations in the classroom. There also are 1800-plus books that can be read on iPad, using the Safari web browser.
Here are 10 books from Big Universe with some of my favorite illustrations. The first two are Christmas books, so happy holidays!
NOTE:To learn more about “The Magical Christmas Horse,” its author and illustrator, or about Mazza Museum, read Douglas P. Clement’s very thorough article in Connecticut’s Litchfield County Times on Nov. 29. “The Magical Christmas Horse” is published by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books and is available at your local book store or online. Click the following link to go to a page where you can listen to an excerpt read from the book.
BigUniverse.com picture book offers turkey trivia just in time for Thanksgiving.
I picked up two turkeys today. One was a frozen 23-pounder from Publix, and the other was roosted nicely on BigUniverse.com.
I’ll have to wait a couple of weeks for the first one, but I got to consume the other in one short sitting. The big guy will take hours to roast, but should suffice when it’s time to feed my 22 Thanksgiving dinner guests. The other one is a year-round treat – a particularly tasty morsel for the younger set just learning to read.
“Turkeys” is a Bellwetherbeauty, written and illustrated for K-2nd Graders (F&P GR: G ATOS: 1.5 AR Points: 0.5.) It’s a Level 1 Blastoff! Reader with particularly crisp and colorful photographs, a handful of good vocabulary stretchers and an online reading quiz (AR Quiz: 118106). I think I will share it with a niece and nephew, whom I get to meet for the first time this Thanksgiving! Family time and reading go together like mashed potatoes and gravy.
For the older kid in all of us, I put together a turkey trivia quiz, plus a list of turkey-themed activity links. If those don’t get your gobble on, there’s always turkey bowling….frozen of course.
Turkey Trivia Quiz
1.) What do you call a grownup male turkey?
A Tom Turkey
A Coattail Turkey
A Turkey Cob
Answer: No tricks here! A male turkey is called a “Tom Turkey.”
2.) What is a baby turkey called?
Answer: Juvenile male turkeys are sometimes called “jakes,” and juvenile females turkeys are sometimes referred to as “jennies,” but very young baby turkeys are called “poults,” so the answer is B.
3.) Male tom turkeys have these anatomical features:
Spurs, beard and horn
Beard, wattle and crest
Snood, caruncles, spurs
Answer: Male turkeys have lots of interesting features, especially their beautiful tail plumage. They also have spike-like spurs on their heels, a beard of skinny feathers dangling from their chests, a flap of skin called a “snood,” hanging over their beaks; “caruncles” – very bumpy wart-like skin – on their “bald” heads; and floppy skin under their necks, called “wattles” or “dewlaps.” So, the best answer is C.
4.) How many turkeys were raised in the United States in 2011?
Answer: Turkey production was up 2 percent this year compared to the 2010 season. In 2011, 248 million turkeys were raised, according to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). So, the answer is B.
5.) Which state produces the most turkeys?
Answer: The top turkey producer in the United States is Minnesota – with 46.5 million gobblers raised this year, says the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. The five other top turkey-farming states are North Carolina and Arkansas (both with 30 million), Missouri (18 million), Virginia (17.5 million) and Indiana (16 million).
6.) What month is the official Turkey Lovers’ Month?
Answer: Most people would assume that November is Turkey Lovers’ Month, but it’s June. Although 95 percent of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving, June is the official month to promote turkey consumption.
7.) How long does a wild hen turkey sit on a clutch of eggs before they hatch?
Answer: The average incubation period is between three and four weeks, or 26 days, but may range from 25-29 days, according to the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game. This depends on the number of eggs in the clutch, how long it took the hen turkey to lay her eggs, and when she decides to abandon her nest after her first eggs hatch.
8.) Which of the following statements is false?
Wild turkeys are too heavy to fly.
Wild turkeys can fly as fast as cars on a highway.
Wild turkeys can fly by the time they are 10 days old.
Answer: Wild turkeys prefer to run when startled, but learn to fly into trees to roost when just over a week old. They are best at gliding downhill, but can fly up to a mile when necessary. So, Answer A is false. Even though some adults reach 25 pounds at their heaviest, they can fly 50-60 miles per hour over short distances. Domestic turkeys, however, no longer have the capacity to fly.
9.) The turkey’s natural eating habits make it a/an:
Answer: The wild turkey loves to eat seeds, insects, acorns, salamanders and grasses, making it an “omnivore,” so Answer 3 is the best choice.
10.) How long does it take to thaw a 12-pound frozen turkey in the refrigerator?
Answer: Your frozen turkey should go in the refrigerator on Monday, three days before it goes in the oven. The Butterball Company recommends that you “allow one day of thawing for each 4 pounds of turkey. (12 divided by 4 is 3.) A thawed turkey may remain in the refrigerator for four days before cooking.” (This means my 23-pound turkey needs to come out of the freezer and go into my refrigerator about six days before Thanksgiving.)
Reading Christmas books is as much a part of the season’s traditions as hanging ornaments, baking cookies and getting new pajamas on Christmas Eve. So, I am always looking for new ones to add to our family library. None can rival the original Christmas story, but they do add to the festivities and enhance family time.
Illustrator Tara Larsen Chang brings a traditional 12th-century French Christmas song to life in her inviting rendition of “The Friendly Beasts,” a children’s picture book featured on the Big Universe website. Although the text is old, the pictures are charming and bring the words to life. In this tender story, a donkey, cow, sheep and camel bring gifts to a special baby, expressing the art of giving in their own unique way.
Ms. Chang is a gifted artist, sharing a creative bent that has been with her since childhood. “From my earliest memories I’ve been captivated by the illustrations in fairy tales and children’s books,” she says on her website. “And (I) couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather do when I was grown up than create my own.”
(You can see additional samples of her work on her website.)
Burl Ives sang the words in this book on his 1952 album “Christmas Day in the Morning.” Other singers have recorded the song, including Harry Belafonte, Johnny Cash, Sufjan Stevens and Garth Brooks.