Raise a voracious reader

Source: sheknows.com

Are you a reader? Do you understand the importance of reading for children? Do you read to your child?

Reading to our children is Parenting 101, but sadly, many parents don’t do it, particularly after the child has learned to read himself. Reading to our children and encouraging them to read has so many benefits. They include:

• Developing the imagination. (Reading requires kids to imagine the stories in their mind’s eye. TV creates the images for them.)

• Setting a foundation for phonics and pre-reading.

• Learning life-long spelling and grammar skills. (The non-readers I know couldn’t spell if their lives depended on it!)

• Broadening the vocabulary, exposing the reader to words he might not otherwise encounter.

• Encouraging grammatically correct speech. (Read quality literature and you’ll never read sentences like “Him and I are going to the store.” or “Where are you at?”)

• Developing a life-long love for reading.

These benefits just scratch the surface. But based on these alone, we should be encouraged to raise voracious readers. So how do you raise a voracious reader? Here are some tips:

• Start reading from day one. I started reading to my kids when they were 4 months old. It’s never too early to start.

• Schedule reading times. At a minimum, read before bed. Also read during lunch and before nap. For older children who may be reluctant readers, make daily reading a requirement.

• Have a “sustained silent reading” time every day. This is time where you all just sit around reading books on your own. You read your book and your children read theirs.

• Allow even the littlest ones to hold books. But teach children to respect books by carefully turning pages (not tearing them) and putting them away carefully (not throwing them!).

• Go to the library, often. Go to story times, join the library’s summer reading program, and let your child choose as many books as he wants.

• Surround yourselves in books. Keep reading spots in several areas of the home (bathroom, by the child’s bed, in the play room, etc.).

• Encourage friends and family to gift books for birthdays and Christmas. Teach children that books are a treasured gift.

• Be a reading role model. Let your children see you reading books. This is something I need to work on because I do most of my reading when they are asleep. This is where sustained silent reading helps.

• Put the electronics away. Limit your and your child’s screen time.

• Don’t rely on schools to create a voracious reader. Reading happens first and foremost in the home.

• Get squirrelly boys to sit and read. Allow them to read graphic novels, comic books, joke books, and general information non-fiction books. Do you see your boy picking up rocks outside to find bugs?Get an “All About Bugs” book from the library.

• Use programs like BookAdventure.com and the library’s summer reading program to give children incentives to read.

• Use sites like GoodReads.com and ReadKiddoRead.com to find good books. GoodReads.com is my favorite new site. You can rate books you’ve read, and it will give you suggestions for books just like it. There are also lists created by others. I searched for children’s books that are in a series. There are several Indian in the Cupboard books. You can also search for Newbery and Caldecott award winners. (Look at all of these lists!) GoodReads.com is also social, so you can see what your friends are reading and what they recommend.

• Read to your child long after he has learned to read on his own. Reading aloud enables you to read books that are beyond the child’s reading level. The vocabulary, plot lines, and character development are much richer. Also reading aloud enables you to vary your tone for punctuation (quotes, exclamation marks, etc.) which makes for a more interesting story.

• Allow your child to read over your shoulder. William follows along as I read to him and will sometimes correct me if I read a word too fast! The other day, he commented on the word “ajar” wondering why it was squished together like that (assuming it should have been “a jar”). This only happened because he saw the word, and it gave me a great opportunity to introduce a new vocabulary word! With pre-readers and emerging readers, you might point to words (particularly sight words) as you read them.

• Encourage quality, not quantity. Rich books like the Indian in the Cupboard and The Cricket in Times Square (William’s favorites!) are better than “twaddle” like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. (Don’t get me started on Captain Underpants. It has intentionally misspelled words! Luckily, William was smart enough to notice.)

• Savor books. Don’t zip through them, thinking more is more. Savor them and immerse yourselves in the characters’ lives. Even if your child wants to read more and more, just stop. Leave him hungry for more, and he’ll think and talk about the book and will ask for more reading times.

• Allow a child to read from a black-and-white e-reader like the Kindle if the device will create reading excitement. While iPads, the Kindle Fire, and other tablets can be good for reading, I suggest you avoid them. The temptation to play games can be too great, and would require quite a bit of oversight.

• Supplement reading with books on CD. These are perfect for room time. But be sure to use these as a supplement, not a replacement for reading.

If you like these tips and want to know more about the importance of reading, pick up a copy of The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. Not only does it offer statistics about reading, but also it offers great suggestions for books. Nearly half the book is devoted to book suggestions.

Happy reading!

Cultivate critical thinking

Source: heartfireathome.blogspot.com

Last week, I encouraged you to put the flash cards away and trade rote academic teaching for imaginative play and virtue development. Some of you may have wondered whether parents could do both. Can’t we keep the flash cards out as long as we also work with them on important virtues that will serve them well in school?

This would seem to make sense, right? Sorry, but I still encourage you to put the flash cards away. Here’s why.

Abstracts concepts like flat numbers and letters limit our children’s ability to think critically, especially if they are introduced at a time when the child is not developmentally ready for them.

Critical thinking has become a rare commodity in our country. We can succeed in school as long as we ace the multiple choice tests, fill in the right bubbles on standardized tests, and memorize random facts that the schools deem important.

I don’t know about you, but I would much rather have a child who can read a piece of classical literature, analyze it for meaning, and write a critical essay on the topic. Yes, there is a time and place for absorbing facts, but if they have no meaning, they will quickly be forgotten.

The role of fantasy in critical thinking

I touched on the importance of imaginative play in a recent post. Supporting my thoughts, this article offers a great explanation as to why critical thinking is so important (despite the decline we now see) and how cultivating our children’s imagination or fantasy plays an important role. The author says:

“If fantasy is allowed to ripen side by side with thinking, these two faculties mature into creative thinking, a capacity to visualize not only how things are but also how they might be.”

This plays out in the world as a whole but also in school.

“Without imagination, one cannot picture an event in history, a verbal problem in mathematics, or the characters of a book. To approach academic subjects without imagination is a dull affair at best, and it is not surprising that children who are being educated without benefit of imagination at the elementary level find learning so uninteresting.”

Imagine the stress and burnout that arises from such uninteresting learning. How many teens do you know who truly enjoy going to school? How many adults do you know who enjoy learning for the sake of learning?

“At the elementary school level, one frequently hears about burnout among third- and fourth-grade pupils. After age nine, many children simply do not want to learn any more. In the high school, educators say that many students seem unable to think. Ask them a defined question that requires a true/false answer or a multiple choice, and they do all right. But ask them to think through a problem and explain their solutions, and many are at a loss.”

What does academic success look like?

Maybe this simple exercise will help. When you imagine your child succeeding in school, what do you think of?

Scenario A

  • She leaves preschool able to read all of the “-at” words and doing basic math (1+2).
  • She thrives on earning straight As.
  • She spends her free time doing worksheets.
  • She smiles when the teacher puts a gold star on her paper.

Sounds great, right? Well, think about this scenario.

Scenario B

  • She comes bounding in the door after school excited to get started on her science experiment. You have to stop her to eat a snack.
  • As she works on her homework, she makes a mental connection that you never expected.
  • You hear from the teacher that she told the kids all about Picasso. You then realize it was from the art exhibit you visited 3 months ago.
  • You see her acting out a play with her friends and realize all of the characters are from the classical novel you’ve been reading to her at night.

Which scenario do you think will encourage a life-long love of learning? Which scenario requires fantasy (and thus, critical thought)? Which scenario will prevent boredom? Which scenario sounds more fun?

Can’t we still teach them letters and numbers?

Yes, just not yet. There is a developmentally appropriate time for a child to learn how to read. In my experience, early reading begins around age 5, and if you let it happen naturally, it won’t be long (6 months to a year) before he reads fluently. As with potty training, if you start when they are ready and let it progress naturally, it will happen much more quickly and painlessly.

Some of you may even contend that your toddler wants to learn his letters and numbers. If this is the case, I ask you why you think he wants to learn them. What meaning do they have for him? I’m willing to bet that the joy he gets is seeing your smiles and hearing your praise. If you can give the same smiles and praise over more meaningful learning, he will be just as excited to learn.

Understand that it’s not just a matter of how much time you devote to learning. What you teach your child—and when you teach it—can affect his neurodevelopment.

Another article explains this clearly:

“Perhaps most disturbing is the potential for the early exposure to academics to physiologically damage developing brains. Although the brain continues to change throughout life in response to learning, young children undergo a number of sensitive periods critical to healthy development; learning to speak a language and responding to social cues are two such domains. Appropriate experiences can hone neural pathways that will help the child during life; by the same token, stressful experiences can change the brain’s architecture to make children significantly more susceptible to problems later in life, including depression, anxiety disorders—even cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Bruce McEwen, a neuroendocrinologist at the Rockefeller University, notes that asking children to handle material that their brain is not yet equipped for can cause frustration. Perceiving a lack of control is a major trigger of toxic stress, which can damage the hippocampus, a brain area crucial to learning and memory.”

I don’t intend for this to be a scare tactic. But given that teaching abstract letters and numbers has the potential to negatively affect your young child’s brain and his ability to process information—and that we prefer scenario B listed above anyway—why would you want to push early academic learning? Why wouldn’t you want to put those flash cards away?

I’ll leave at that for now. In my next post, I’ll give you some ideas on what you can start doing today to cultivate critical thinking and encourage life-long learning that has meaning for your child.

Let them play

Source: arlingtonmama.com

Are you one of those families who spends more time in the car than at home? Do you value extracurricular activities so much that you and your child are rarely home? Can you see yourself getting caught up in the activity madness in a few years? There are so many activities available to young children: piano, gymnastics, soccer, karate, foreign languages, abacus math, girl/boy scouts, Kumon, private tutoring, etc. You name it; it’s out there.

Before anyone convinces you that all of these activities are crucial for a child’s academic success, let me assure you, they’re not.

There are certainly benefits to playing a sport like soccer. The child learns the art of working with others, the skill of losing graciously, etc. But before you overload your schedule with activities, please understand the value of play.

The Ezzos have an entire appendix in Growing Kids God’s Way devoted to the topic:

“Seldom do we think about the importance of imaginative play. Yet in the life of children, it is a natural thing. In fact, various forms of play are one of the strongest indicators of healthy emotional growth and a significant component of a child’s orderly development. … One of the most active forms of learning is play.”

The Ezzos and I are not alone in understanding the value of play. A recent article in The Christian Science Monitor, titled “Toddlers to tweens: relearning how to play,” thoroughly discusses the value of play.

“In recent years, child development experts, parents, and scientists have been sounding an increasingly urgent alarm about the decreasing amount of time that children – and adults, for that matter – spend playing. A combination of social forces, from a No Child Left Behind focus on test scores to the push for children to get ahead with programmed extracurricular activities, leaves less time for the roughhousing, fantasizing, and pretend worlds advocates say are crucial for development.”

The absence of play is pathology
One researcher in the article takes it a step further:

“’Play is the fundamental equation that makes us human,’ says Stuart Brown, the founder of the California-based National Institute for Play. “Its absence, in my opinion, is pathology.’”

“Brown became interested in play as a young clinical psychiatrist when he was researching, somewhat incongruously, mass murderers. Although he concluded that many factors contributed to the psychosis of his subjects, Brown noticed that a common denominator was that none had participated in standard play behavior as children…. He saw a direct correlation between play behavior and happiness, from childhood into adulthood.”

Encourage play, then leave them alone
The article notes not only the importance of allowing kids time to play but also leaving them alone while they play:

“If a teacher introduces the toy, which has a number of hidden points of interest – a mirror, a button that lights up, etc. – but tells a child about only one feature, the child is less likely to discover everything the toy can do than a child who receives the toy from a teacher who feigns ignorance. Without limiting instruction from an adult, it seems, a child is far more creative. In other words, adult hovering and instruction, from how to play soccer to how to build the best LEGO city, can be limiting.”

Self-regulation from play boosts academic success
Other researchers note the depth of play. They say play can help language development and self-control. Those of you tempted by extracurricular activities to boost your child’s academic success take note:

“Self-regulation – the buzzword here is ‘executive function,’ referring to abilities such as planning, multitasking, and reasoning – may be more indicative of future academic success than IQ, standardized tests, or other assessments.”

True learning happens when kids are actively engaged in meaningful activities. Our educational system with its focus on standardized tests has diminished children’s creativity. Realizing this, other countries have shifted their focus away from test scores. Finland, which stands at the top of international rankings, has a policy of recess after every class for grades 1-9. This is in sharp contrast to many school districts that eliminate recess so kids have more time in the classroom.

Relearning play
Finally, researchers focus on children relearning how to play. Gadgets like iPads, iPhones, video game systems and even a toy with noises and blinking lights can be a detriment to play. Take away these toys and many kids don’t know how to play.

My advice: cut out your many activities and stay home to play. If your child seems not to know how to play without a gadget in hand, take it away nonetheless. Give your son a set of colorless blocks and challenge him to build a tower. Once he does that, encourage him to create a unique building. Give your daughter a few dolls and encourage her to have a tea party. Encourage the types of play you used to engage in.

Encourage them, and then leave them alone. The more practice they get at playing by themselves, the more imaginative they will become.


Create your schedule

In my last post, I discussed the many benefits of structuring your day. Here I will walk you through the steps of creating a schedule to establish peace and harmony in your home.

Look at my schedule
The following explanation will make more sense if you look at my schedule first. Got it? Now, back to reading.

Start with a blank document
Find a quiet time and sit down in front of the computer. Create a table in Word or Excel. If you’re comfortable with Word, use this document that I have created for you. (I use Excel, but WordPress wouldn’t let me upload a spreadsheet, so this should do.) If you’re using Excel or a piece of paper and pen, make three columns, one for the times of day, one for your child and one for you. Having a column for yourself is key to making your schedule work for you and keeping you on task. Add another column for any additional kids.

On the far left, write down the times of the day in 15-minute increments starting with the time you wake up and ending with the time you go to bed. Take heart, not every minute of your day will be scheduled, but starting with 15-minute increments will make it easier to create your schedule. If there is an activity that lasts an hour, for example, you can delete three of those 15-minute rows.

When filling in your schedule, you won’t go row by row. You will go activity by activity. Fill in your schedule in the following order.

Fixed activities
Start with any activities that have a fixed time, like school. Include the times your child starts school and the time he gets home.

Waking and sleeping
Your fixed activities might affect the time you need to wake up. So fill in the time you and your child wake up. Whether you need to be up at a certain time or not, waking up at the same time every day is key to making your schedule work. Be realistic. If you’re not a morning person, don’t set your wake-up time to 6:00 am. Wake your child at the same time every day if his wake time is inconsistent. Now fill in times for naps and bed. Allow your child enough time to get a full night’s sleep (9-12 hours depending on age). Make yourself go to bed at the same time, too. Again, keep these consistent.

Self care
Allow enough time in your day to shower and get your child bathed and dressed. You can either create separate rows for these activities, or just include them in your wake up time.

Meals and snacks
Next, fill in meals and snacks. Be realistic about the amount of time it actually takes you to eat. If you need to feed a baby, don’t schedule your own lunch at the same time. Also think about the 10-15 minutes it takes to make breakfast and lunch. Create a separate row (30-60 minutes) for cooking dinner.

Independent play
Independent play is key to creating quiet time for you and your child. Older toddlers and preschoolers will have roomtime and quiet sit time. Babies and younger toddlers will have playpen time and blanket time. Use these activities to your advantage. Make them happen when you need a shower, time alone on the computer, or if you want to make dinner without a toddler hanging on your legs. (I’ll write separate posts for independent play soon.)

Enrichment activities
This is where your proactive parenting comes into play. Fill in times to read to your child, teach him ABCs and 123s, music play and other enrichment activities. Schedule some one-on-one time for each child. And allow for some scheduled sibling playtime. Without a schedule it’s unlikely you would have enough time to fit all this in. Don’t let your child miss out on these activities.

Fill in when you and your child will do your various chores. You may have your child clean up after every play activity or schedule just one or two clean up times. Think about scheduling clean up time before TV time as an incentive to get it done.

Free play and TV time
Schedule time for free play and TV time. Without a schedule, your entire day might be filled with these two activities. Make them planned events in your day. Keep TV time to 30-60 minutes and plan it for when you need it most. For free play, encourage your child to play on his own.

Whether you work out at home before your child wakes up, take him to the gym or go for a walk with the stroller, include exercise in your day.

Mommy time
In your column, be sure to include activities simply for your own pleasure. Whether you enjoy reading, talking to friends on the phone, scrapbooking, blogging or any other activity, be sure to schedule at least 30 minutes. If you can allow more time, then great! Your child will benefit when he sees that you take some time for yourself every day and that you don’t spend all day every day catering to his desires.

Couch time
Schedule some time to connect with your spouse when he gets home from work. Couch time is a technique the Ezzos recommend to enrich your marriage and to show your child that your marriage is secure and that it comes first above all else.

Your schedule should now be complete. Delete any blank rows. Read through it to be sure that it will all actually work for you and your child. Make any adjustments.

Let your schedule serve you
For the first two or three days, do your best to stick to your schedule as it is. But have your schedule and a pen nearby to jot down any changes you’ll need to make. Make sure your schedule serves you, not the other way around. Don’t become a slave to it. And don’t follow it because I’m telling you to. Follow it because it will make your life so much more fulfilling. You’ll start seeing the benefits in just a day or two.

Schedule variations
You’ll notice at the bottom of my schedule, I included an alternate activity for when the weather is nice. When it’s nice, I’d much rather get my exercise by walking with the kids in the stroller and going to the park than going to the gym. This is also the time that I use for occasional activities like running errands and scheduling play dates. Also, if William went to preschool on just Tuesdays and Thursdays, I would have a variation for that. Think through any similar variations you’ll want to make.

Lazy days and weekends
I’ll be the first to admit that we don’t follow our complete schedule every day. Sometimes, we’re just feeling a little lazy. Weekends are also invariably a little lazy. But you don’t want to toss your schedule out the window entirely. Meals and naps still need to happen at the same time or you’ll all pay for it. Either create a new schedule for lazy days or bold the items in your daily schedule that you’ll stick with on your lazy days or weekends. Here is my lazy day schedule. (You’ll see that I’m not much of a morning person, but the rest of our day is pretty much the same.) My only caution is to not fall into making every day a lazy day. Encourage yourself to do all you can with your days.

Free play activities
At the bottom of your schedule, jot down ideas for your child’s free play. It will be nice to have them in a handy place so you can get your child started on one when he comes to you for entertainment. Play with him for 5 minutes to get him started and encourage him to finish on his own.

Post your schedule
Print out your schedule and post it in the kitchen. The refrigerator is a great place, or tape it to the wall or a cabinet. Make it visible. Think about printing a second copy for your bathroom or other spot in the house. Show it to babysitters when they come.

Make your schedule a living document
Allow yourself to change your schedule whenever you need to. Revise it when your child drops a nap, when school is out for the summer, etc.

It will all be worth it
If this all seems like a lot of work to you, go back to my post on structuring your day to remind yourself of the benefits. Remember that not only will it reduce the opportunities for your child to misbehave, but it will also allow you and your child to have quiet time and quality time. Your child will have a greater respect for authority and improved focus and concentration skills. And you can be more proactive with your parenting and more easily accept new members to the family. Trust me, it will all be worth it.

Structure your day

Structuring your day is one of the most effective yet simple techniques you can use to prevent behavior problems in your child.

“Young children not only need, but they also crave supervision, direction, and encouragement. Random acts of parenting aren’t good enough to get through the day with one’s sanity intact,” (On Becoming Preschoolwise, p. 85).

Here are some signs that you might need more structure in your day:

  • Your child whines and complains constantly and you’re never quite sure if it’s because he’s hungry, tired or bored.
  • Your child wanders aimlessly throughout the house.
  • Your child plays with anything and everything in the house.
  • Your child has very little attention span, flitting from one toy to the next.
  • You feel like all you do is chase your child around the house.
  • Your child hasn’t learned how to entertain himself. You are his personal entertainer.
  • You’re never quite sure when you will fit in a shower or do the dishes.
  • Your toddler hangs on your legs when you’re trying to cook dinner or do laundry.
  • Exercise? What’s that?
  • You feel guilty about the amount of TV your child watches. But how else are you going to get anything done?
  • You feel like you never get anything accomplished even though you’re home all day.
  • You never have enough time for yourself or your spouse.

Reduced opportunities for misbehavior
Something as simple as adding more structure to your day can resolve these issues. Huge, isn’t it? Many people (myself included) don’t like to live by a schedule. But when you realize the peace it will bring to your home, you will be motivated to stick with it.

“To have routine, order, and structure is to think ahead and plan. Structuring your preschooler’s day will eliminate a big chunk of stress on Mom because it reduces random opportunities for misbehavior. With thoughtful planning, Mom is proactive instead of reactive, meaning she can plan the day rather than react to each situation as it arises,” (On Becoming Preschoolwise, p. 86).

When your child is scheduled to spend 30 minutes in his room every day for roomtime, that’s 30 minutes that he won’t be getting himself into trouble. When you eat meals at the same time every day, you’ll ward off meltdowns due to low blood sugar levels. And when you schedule time every night for couch time, your child will take comfort in the security of your marriage. All of this leads to fewer behavior problems and a reduced need for discipline. That alone is reason enough to add more structure to your day. But there’s more…

Respect for authority
When you decide how your child will fill his day, an important attitude shift takes place. Your child will respect your authority. He will be less likely to develop a “wise in his own eyes” attitude where he has too many freedoms and too much control.

Focus and concentration
With structured play, your child will develop better focus and concentration skills. Whether he is asked to sit and read books for 30 minutes a day or simply stay in his room and play with a toy chosen for him, he will learn self-control. He will also learn that sometimes he must do something he doesn’t want to do, a skill that will serve him well in school.

Quality time for your child
You likely spend plenty of time with your child, but how much of that is good quality time? If you followed Babywise with your infant, you established a routine because it allowed him to get good quality sleep. You could have let him sleep anywhere any time, but you would have ended up with a demanding, sleep-deprived baby. The quality of a baby’s sleep is important. The same is true with the time we spend with our kids. Quality time should be your goal. Even if your new routine has you spending less time with your child overall, making sure it is good quality time is what’s important.

Quality time for yourself
By structuring your day, you’ll be able to set aside some quiet time for yourself. Not only will you get to shower every day (what a concept!), but you will have a chance to exercise, read a book for pleasure, cook dinner at a leisurely pace, or whatever else satisfies your personal desires. Realize that your child will be happier and better adjusted if he sees that mom devotes time to herself every day, even if it’s at his own expense.

Managing multiple children
Some parents shudder at the thought of having more than one or two kids because they can’t imagine how they would juggle the needs of every child. When your day is structured, welcoming a baby to the family can be as simple as shifting your daily routine around to make room for everyone.

Proactive parenting
Think of all the time you waste chasing after your child or watching him wander throughout the house aimlessly. Realize that by having more structure in your day, you can accomplish a lot more with your time.

“Managing your preschooler’s day enhances good organization, time-management skills, and provides an orderly environment for your children to optimize their learning experiences. It also helps Mom achieve personal and parenting goals while reducing the need for corrective discipline,” (On Becoming Preschoolwise, p. 86).

When you structure your day, you do more than just make it through the day. You schedule learning time for your preschooler. You schedule time to read books to your toddler. You schedule time for the gym. And you can do it all stress-free with minimal behavior problems.

Start thinking through how these ideas can affect your family. In my next post I’ll walk you through the steps of creating a schedule that will allow you to create a peaceful, structured environment in your home.