Setting Up Students For Academic Success
Summer Vacation and Advancing Children’s Studies
Summer vacation is the prime time for fun, sun and a ton of reading! Vacation allows kids and families cherished free time. The much needed R and R, rest and relaxation, is a great opportunity to expand children’s minds. Kids can be found actively playing, reading, and joyously creating art. They can also develop their writing and photography skills by documenting summer memories in journals with photos. Parents and guardians can take advantage of the long recess by motivating toddlers, preschoolers, elementary-aged scholars and adolescents to read for enjoyment.
Tips For Building Lifelong Readers
Find these delightful and engaging texts that teach children about the value of reading during their summer holiday at www.biguniverse.com
What I Did on My Summer Vacation
What I Did on My Summer Vacation is the first funny poetry book about summer vacation, with over forty sidesplitting poems covering everything from the much-anticipated last day of school to family road trips, wacky days at summer camp, learning how to swim, dizzying roller coaster rides at amusement parks, fun-filled days at the beach, and finally, the dreaded first day back to school. These hilarious poems, written by “The King of Giggle Poetry” and his all-star gang of Giggle Poets, are sure to make any kid count the days until summer vacation begins!
Technology Can Help Students to Succeed In School
In the world today, technological advances occur daily. When used properly, technology can be a valuable tool that helps student learn!
Technology Ideas to Enhance Learning
Technology can be a powerful tool that enhances a school site or home school instructional program. Below is a helpful list of ideas that are easy to utilize.
Students can easily access thousands of books online. People of all ages love online books. Online books help books come to life! Vivid colors and a chance to interact with the book brings excitement to reading. Younger children can greatly benefit from read aloud books that often have funny voices or musical enhancements.
Find thousands of online books at www.biguniverse.com
2. The Internet
The internet is the information super highway. Children can use the internet to research ideas and find answers. They can also take reading comprehension tests or timed math skills tests online that are automatically corrected with the push of a button. This saves teachers and parents valuable time, as the quizzes are self correcting!
3. Technology Assisted Writing Programs
Using technology assisted writing programs motivates children to write. Children’s writing comes alive when they use online writing programs. Children can add pictures and artwork to their online writing projects.
Find an award winning writing program at www.biguniverse.com
4. Digital Camera
Children enjoy using a digital camera. They can even take pictures of their own artwork and insert it into their writing pieces or research report. Children can take pictures at museums, the beach, and family vacations. They can even take pictures of the ingredients when they are cooking with their parents. This helps children to develop a concept of measurement with real life experiences.
5. A GPS
A GPS, global positioning system can teach important mapping and coordinate skills.
Writing becomes exciting when students can send a receive email! How would grandma like to receive an email from her grandchildren?
7. I-pads, Tablets and E- Readers
Reading, researching, and listening to educational songs and music are all things that can children can do with these portable devices. Families can take these devices almost everywhere.
Important Information About Children and Technology
Children need to be closely monitored when using technology to meet their learning needs. Adults should first model appropriate procedures for using technology devices. In addition, websites and computer assisted learning programs should be age appropriate and the content should be previewed by an adult prior to letting the children use the program. Follow these rules of thumb to make the most of technology assisted learning.
Preview-Adults should preview online programs or games prior to letting the students use the program.
Instruct-To ensure success, direct instruction is needed. An adult should clearly explain how to use the technology device. They should also clarify the rules associated with the device. For example:
Guided Practice-The child practices the new skill with adult help and assistance.
Review-Adults should regularly review what the child is working on.
Great Reads That Help Children Learn About Technology
Find these informational texts that speak about technology at www.biguniverse.com
Connecting to The Common Core State Standards
Common Core Goals For Students
Student Goal-Use Technology and Digital Media Strategically and Capably
Students employ technology thoughtfully to enhance their reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language use. They tailor their searches online to acquire useful information efficiently, and they integrate what they learn using technology with what they learn offline. They are familiar with the strengths and limitations of various technological tools and mediums and can select and use those best suited to their communication goals.
Would you like some ideas on how to integrate technology into the classroom? Visit
Tips To Keep Families Healthy, Fit and Happy During The Holiday Season
Families can get moving! The holiday season is an excellent time to start a family exercise routine. Children enjoy seeing holiday lights and decorations. Walking around a different street each night offers children an opportunity to observe the illumination of holiday lights and ornamentation of family friendly neighborhoods. Families can implement a nightly 30 minute brisk walk during the holidays season that they can keep as a habit well into the new year. Children look forward to the sparkles and glimmer that adorn the neighborhood during the holidays. Families that walk together, talk together!
Books Can Teach Children About Healthy Foods and Good Eating Habits
Fabulous food is a part of almost every holiday celebration. Parents can encourage good eating habits by including a variety of dishes that include fruits and vegetables at every meal. Families can integrate reading, math and health into their holiday season by reading recipe books and cooking dishes together. Children can write down the recipes on self decorated holiday paper and display it next to the dish when it is served. One author even found a way to make fruit filled cookies a hit in the book, Cool Cookies. Parents can choose to make cookies with fruit ingredients such as banana-apple cookies.
Cool Cookies by Marilyn LaPenta (author)
Grab your apron and get ready for some fun and easy baking! Young chefs can choose from delicious recipes that include classic favorites, such as chocolate-chip cookies and lemon bars, and healthy treats, like banana-apple cookies and granola bars. Each recipe includes a nutrition tip and a fact box, as well as a list of tools and ingredients and easy, step-by-step instructions. Kids will learn about nutrition and healthy eating, sequencing and following directions, math and measuring skills, and kitchen safety. Best of all, it’s lots of fun!
Teach Children About Staying Clean And How To Prevent The Spread Of Germs
Children should be advised to learn good health habits at a young age. Good teeth brushing habits are one way children can learn to become squeaky clean. The Squeaky Clean Club, teaches about the benefits of hand washing. Winter brings the cold and flu season. Teaching children how to help prevent the spread of viruses by washing their hands, helps empower them to make healthy friendly habits at a young age.
Squeaky Clean Club
by Patricia Armentrout (author) © 2011
A fun and informative book about keeping your body clean and germ free. Great photos and illustrations.
Great Reads That Help Children Learn About Healthy Habbits
Find these informational texts that speak about healthy living at www.biguniverse.com
How our Earth and existence depend on plants is introduced in this title. Their uses for food, alternative forms of fuel, and everyday discoveries of how plants have a medicinal effect on curing diseases and promoting good health are all addressed. Introduces their role in preventing and reversing the important issue of global warming helps introduce students to just how important plants are.
Good food doesn’t begin on a store shelf with a box. It comes from a garden bursting with life, color, sounds, smells, sunshine, moisture, birds, and bees! Healthy food becomes much more interesting when children know where they come from. So what’s in the garden? Kids will find a variety fruits and vegetables, and a tasty, kid-friendly recipe for each one to start a lifetime of good eating. A “food for thought” section presents interesting facts about each fruit and vegetable, and a “how does your garden grow?” section explains facts about gardening and the parts of plants.
Would you like read additional information on health and nutrition? Visit
Children Can Learn About Art and Music By Reading Great Literature
Books open an entire world of knowledge to young children. Connecting the arts to literature generates excitement about reading and helps young children to foster a love of reading. In addition, students learn new vocabulary words related to the arts. Young children are thrilled to create art projects about the stories they have read. Parents can save the art projects and create lifelong memories.
Create Literature Related Art Projects
Children enjoy creating art projects after reading books. After reading, Music Around The World, children can paint a world map or create a clay map. After reading, Building Stories, students can make and decorate musical instruments using an unsharpened pencil, felt pieces, and other odds and ends. These are affordable art projects that students can create to help books come alive. In Every Moon There is a Face, children can create a moon with cotton balls or white paint on a piece of construction paper. Classrooms can do a gallery walk and try to find a face in each moon. Scribbles and Ink, is guaranteed to generate laughs and giggles. After reading this humorous book students can create their own art projects using scribbles and ink!
Summary of Building Stories: Captivating and unusual images that adorn buildings, from musical instruments to a pencil, and a big wheel with wings will invite children to look closely at buildings in their own neighborhoods and to want to learn more about them.
Connecting to The Common Core State Standards
When preparing students for college and career readiness, it is essential to teach students to read informational text. The Common Core State Standards prepare students to achieve this reading goal. Starting in the early elementary grades, student read informational texts and learn to write informational pieces. Educators can share well written information pieces and books with their students. The more familiar students become with informational texts, the easier it is for students to write these types of texts.
Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.K.10 Actively engage in group reading activities with purpose and understanding.
Key Ideas and Details
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.1.1 Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.1.2 Retell stories, including key details, and demonstrate understanding of their central message or lesson.
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.2.7 Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a print or digital text to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot.
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.7 Explain how specific aspects of a text’s illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting)
Online Books Can to Help Students Learn About The Arts
Big Universe Learning offers a wide variety of online literature books that focus on the arts. http://biguniverse.com
Christmas is an exciting time of the year for children. Parents and guardians can help children to foster a love of reading by reading a holiday literature book each day during the month of December. Christmas themed literature books help generate excitement about the holidays. Children can learn holiday related vocabulary and critical reading and comprehension skills by reading books.
Christmas Themed Literature Books
Up on the Housetop
by Kim Mitzo Thompson (author), Wendy Edelson (illustrator)
Children experience the joy and magic of the season with this festive holiday book! The classic Christmas song becomes a favorite children’s story!
Use a Calendar to Countdown The Days Until Christmas
Children can countdown to Christmas by marking the days on a calendar. They can also write down the title of each holiday book they have read during the month of December. This is a great way to incorporate both language arts and math skills. Families can even create their own book…Countdown to Christmas.
Read Online Books
Big Universe Learning offers a large variety of holiday books. Families can easily access several holiday related titles to read with their children. http://biguniverse.com
Children can read about holidays all around the world! Families can learn new recipes idea, children’s craft ideas and how other cultures celebrate Christmas. This helps children to develop a multicultural perspective of Christmas.
Many other holiday titles are available. Children can read about:
- The Christmas Eve Blizard
- A Christmas Carol
- Jolly Old St. Nicholas
- Down the Chimney
- The Twelve Days of Christmas
- Three Kings
- Santa’s Coming
Write Summaries of Christmas Stories
Children are thrilled to learn Santa is coming! Make good use of this enthusiasm by having children read a variety of holiday books. Children can read a Christmas story and then write a descriptive summary of it. They can also draw pictures of the story. Families can frame the written work and keep it for decades!
Document Holiday Memories
by Kim Mitzo Thompson (author), Jackie Binder (illustrator)
Baby’s First Books are perfect learning tools for your little one!
Families can document Christmas memories by making crafts, creating holiday cards together and filling their Christmas with joyful memories. Parents can help children gain beneifical literacy literacy skills by making reading holiday literature a tradition in their family.
Would you like more information on books and music that focus on Christmas? Visit
Tips For Homeschooling
Wondering Where to Get Started with Homeschooling?
Use These Helpful Tips
Know the Standards for the Student’s Grade Level
Planning ahead is essential in homeschooling. When homeschooling students, is is necessary to know the standards for the student’s current grade level. The Common Common State Standards for grades K-12 can be found online. Visit www.commoncore.org for more information.
The Common Core State Standards provide a guide that informs parents and educators of what students are expected to learn for each grade level.
In addition to the Common Core State Standards, each state in the United States has developed educational standards for every grade level. Parents should check the state standards specific to their state. Students should have mastery of the standards in their current grade level by the end of the academic year.
Use Technology to Enhance Learning
Technology can be very advantageous in homeschooling. Using technology students can:
- Read books from their computers and mobile devices
- Read online books
- Look words up in online dictionaries
- Practice math facts using self correcting timed math drills
- Use word processing programs to type and publish their work
- Utilize writing programs to create and publish their own books
Big Universe Learning offers thousands of online books for students to read. The site also has read aloud books for beginning readers. In addition, students are able to write their own books and publish them. Students may choose to make their books public for others to read. Students from all across the world can share books they have created with each other using this website.
Visit www.biguniverse.com for more information.
Create an Action Plan
Planning ahead and setting educational goals helps to provide the best homeschooling program for children. Setting target goals is important in establishing a successful homeschooling program. Use the state standards and the Common Core State Standards to assist in planning target educational goals.
Make a Weekly Schedule
Teaching students to create and follow a weekly schedule provides multiple benefits. Creating a weekly schedule helps students to:
- Create a plan and to stick to it
- Set and achieve goals
- Organize and manage time
- Get more work done. Students accomplish more when things are well planned and clearly outlined.
Create an Annual Outline of Expected Goals and Outcomes
It is helpful to create an academic calendar of expected goals and outcomes for the year prior to the start of the school year. Parents can buy a large wall calendar in August when many of the stores have back-to-school sales.
Using a large calendar that shows all of the months, families can chart the projects they intend to create, and the skills they intend to learn. This helps children to learn the months of the year, and teaches them to plan ahead.
Integrate Academic Subjects
Integrating academic subjects sparks students interest and enthusiasm in learning. It also helps in maximizing instructional time. Integrating music and/or art into standards based instructional lessons helps retain the information they are learning.
Teaching students to read using social science texts provides students with an opportunity to learn important historical concepts while reading expository text. Older students can sings songs to help them memorize the names of the presidents, or to help them memorize the states and their capitals. Integrating art and social studies helps students to create a visual picture of what they are learning. Students can create maps and landforms to help them learn geography, and new vocabulary words.
Using music and songs to teach important math skills actively involves students in learning. The students can sing songs that teach them how to count by 2s, 5s, and 10s. Songs about multiplication helps students to memorize their multiplication facts.
Families can take advantage of the perks of homeschooling by utilizing math skills in the kitchen. Students can use measuring tools to help parents cook. Using recipes, parents can teach students to use their math skills double the recipe. Students can calculate the cost of the family dinner by adding up the price of all of the ingredients.
Would you like to read more about homeschooling? Visit http://blog.biguniverse.com/tag/homeschool/
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.
- 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.
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.
Gamewright Hisss Card Game With this card game, kids learn sequencing, logic, and colors.
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!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.
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 …
- While you’re sitting in the airport playing Words with Friends or Word Drop;
- As you read the exit sign on the way to Grandma’s House;
- When you double check the recipe for the amount of nutmeg in the pumpkin pie;
- Listening to Uncle Joe tell that story about going fishing with Grandpa;
- And yes, even when you’re checking the TV for the football scores!
Whether you are just preparing to travel are or already gathering with family and friends, we wish you safe travels and a holiday filled with laughter, joy, plenty of pumpkin pie!
We also hope that you not only have a chance to enjoy all of the joys of literacy that permeate everyday life, but that you get to thank the people who made it possible!
November is National Adoption Month.
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.
Every year since 1984, when President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the first National Adoption Week, the US President issues a Presidential Proclamation that launches activities and celebrations to help build awareness of adoption throughout the nation.
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.
Dumplings are Delicious
by Deb Capone; illustrated by Stan Jaskiel
As Simple as That, 2005
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.
Tooth Fairy Tales
by Deb Capone; illustrated by Stan Jaskiel
As Simple as That, 2005
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.
If you’re interested in reading about other adoption-themed books this month, we have a collection at the Reading Tub. We’ve also done some research on children’s books about adoption on the Family Bookshelf.
We’d love to hear about the adoption and culturally diverse books you have on your shelves, too! So please share in the comments.