There is no way it can be stressed enough: the benefits of having books in the home are crucial to future reading success. Think about your children’s toys. If there are toys in the house where children have access, they are going to play with them. The same holds true with books. The easier it is for children to access books, the more likely they are to read and interact with them. And the more they get used to them being around the home, the more they will ask for them.
Building your own home library can be intimidating. Books can be expensive; you cannot always be sure of what your children will like, and there is the big question – how do I afford to get all of these books? This is especially important since many studies show that low-income families benefit the most from home libraries. Such libraries give children easier access to books.
Many parents of low-income families work multiple jobs and odd hours. This makes it difficult for them to get their children to libraries or other places that may have free access to books. School libraries help, but only if students go there frequently. Having a robust library in the home means that there is access to books all of the time. All your child needs to do is grab the book he or she likes, find a comfortable spot and start reading!
What are the best strategies for building a home library? Here are a few:
- Create a space. If you are going to fill your home with books, you are going to need space to put them. Most houses have at least one corner where a bookshelf and a chair will fit. Ideally, this is in a quiet area where the child can focus on the book. A spare closet can also be used as a nook if there is little room in the home, but you have extra closet space.
- Be thrifty. Books can be expensive, but they do not have to be. There are many ways to fill a home with books and not break your budget. The public library is still a good place to start; it will periodically sell off its books to make new room in its collection. The library’s books may be older, but they are still ready to be read! There are retail stores, like Half-Price Books, that sell children’s books for low prices. You can look for deals there as well. Many thrift stores have sections for used books as well.
- Start a book swap. Your children’s tastes are going to change over time. That means some of the books they loved just a few months ago could end up on the shelf collecting dust. Having a book swap amongst friends and neighbors is a great way to get rid of some older books and keep the home library fresh. New materials to read will keep your children going to the shelves over and over!
- Let them guide you. Allowing children to select their own books is a major way of ensuring they will want to read. Shelves of books you choose for them because they are the “right” books to read are not going to have the same draw. Let them fill their shelves with the things they want to read. This will give you a better idea of what books and topics they want to read. You can suggest a few titles you would like them to read based on their own selections.
- Keep it organized! Work with your children to establish a way of keeping the books organized. It can be by title, subject, author, or even book color! This will keep them engaged with the collection even when they are not reading. Giving them their system means that they know where the books they want are, when they want them.
A house with books in it has a long-term impact on building lifelong learners. They gain grade levels over time, improve their literacy, and are shown that books are not just for the classroom or homework. But compiling a library of books is not something that can be done overnight. With patience and a keen eye for a good deal, you can have a home library your child will be able to gravitate to when looking for a good book to read. And you will be helping to build the love of reading in a student.
Much of our current educational system maintains the late 19th- and early 20th-century methods that build it. At that time, students learned the basics, preparing them for urban life which translated into a job in a factory. The industrial model became more efficient by standardization, which then emerged in the schools. Better students became better workers and citizens. This common goal meant that all students were taught the same thing in the same way.
Today we are faced with a new revolution, one where massive amounts of data are becoming the key feature. This flood of data is improving the industry in ways that the people of the early 20th century could not dream. It is leading to the personalization of many sectors, with Netflix and Amazon being two significant examples. Both of these platforms utilize data from the people using them to customize their experiences. Such data collection now affects every aspect of life in the 21st century, including education.
With computers being used more and more frequently in the classroom, it is becoming more feasible to gather data about how students learn best. This data comes from both the programs the students are interacting with and the observations of teachers in the classroom. Many educational management systems, like Google Classroom and Blackboard, allow teachers to see how often students communicate. Other programs adapt to what students are learning, and how fast they are learning the subject matter.
These technologies provide data that educators can use. This data can be recorded, stored, and used by teachers in future classes to develop plans that adapt to student learning needs. Not only can they adapt to the pace, but they can also adapt to topics that students find more engaging. On a larger scale, districts can use this information to see what curriculum is effective, and what is not. This can help them keep what the students are learning more relevant, and therefore keep them more engaged.
On a larger scale, data collection improves when students learn. There is an experiment going on in California right now that pushes the edges of how data can impact student learning. Information gathers via through Fitbits, cameras, and a variety of other tracking mechanisms and uploaded to a cloud. There, engineers access the data, analyze it, and report it back to the school. Should we teach math before or after lunch? How can we address the restlessness in class that happens at 10 AM every day? These are questions they are trying to solve to see if they can create the ultimate in customization of the educational experience.
Gathering information plays a big part in the Kids Read Now program. The data we collect helps districts see who is participating during the summer, what they are reading, and how that reading affects their test scores. What we have provided shows the impact of our program over time on students and on their ability to read.
The amount of data in a classroom is vast. Utilizing data to improve educational outcomes is being explored at the dawn of the 21st century. Much like industry affected the 20th-century class, data and customization are impacting education in the 21st century. Not only will the collection and customization of data improve state and federal educational metrics, these processes also will optimize the learning experiences for students. The information is all there, just waiting for schools to use.
The beginning of the school year is a busy time. There is work to be done, from getting the classroom and lessons ready to welcome in the new students. Though the first few weeks are hectic, reaching out to parents is an act that can have a major impact during the school year. Parents can provide insights into the best ways to reach certain students in the class. They have the ability to extend your lessons, showing students the work done in the classroom has applications in other places. Parents are also going to be the ones that have the most investment in their children’s success!
Building relationships with parents does not have to require an enormous time commitment. There are small actions that can be done at the beginning of the school year to start building your rapport with them:
- Establish connections early in the year – Parents will always be anxious at the beginning of the year, whether it is the first day of kindergarten or the first day of senior year. Hearing from their children’s teachers early opens the channels of communication on a positive note. These initial contacts establish that you are interested in helping them educate their children.
- Introduce yourself to them… – As part of this early connection, give parents of your students some insight into who you are as a person. Tell them about some of your favorite vacations, books, and things to watch. Give them a rundown of what you have planned for the year, so they know what to expect and when.
- And ask questions about their children – Getting to know your students is another step in building trust with parents. They value your interest, and the knowledge you gain in the classroom helps tailor parts of lessons to what the students like. To learn more about the children, you can send home short surveys or develop online versions through tools like Survey Monkey or Google Forms. The questions should be easy to fill out.
- Communicate with parents often – The only time they hear from you should not be when their children are struggling, either socially or in their education. Let them know some of their children’s activities or what the class does together. Give them a window into a day in your children’s classrooms.
- Invite them to participate – There are many ways parents can help you in their children’s classrooms. They may have specific skills that would demonstrate lessons. They may be able to help with parties or events, or they may have some ideas on improving the classrooms or communicating with students. Listening to what they have to say is important for communication, even if it is not implemented.
- Offer resources to help – Many parents are very eager to help their children succeed. They are simply unsure of how to help or where to find the resources to do so. Share the resources you have with them, whether they are digital ones or something they can find at the library.
Parents are excellent partners when it comes to providing extra help to students. They invest in their children’s success, providing the ability to reinforce the lessons you give in the classroom at home.
Opening lines of communication and developing partnerships with parents benefit teachers for the school year. However, they benefit the students through their educational careers. Building such relationships is worth the investment.
Reading and writing are skills that go hand in hand. As children develop, they learn to speak first. Reading follows, and then the ability to write in their language. Writing is a great way to reinforce the lessons they learn from reading. They start to mimic writing the words they see, much like they mimic hearing the words they hear on a daily basis. Introducing children to writing is a task that should occur early. It can start with items as simple as crayons and some paper.
Providing the opportunity to draw at an early age is one way of encouraging writing. Much like ancient cultures drew images that morphed into letters, the pictures that young children draw are their way of communicating. Getting them to put markers and crayons to paper is a way to encourage early writing skills. When they complete their drawings, you can have them tell you stories about them. As they get older, you can teach them that writing is very similar to drawing.
This playful approach to writing can be the perfect introduction to associating letters with sounds. Children can start practicing associating letterforms with sounds and words as early as the preschool years. During that time, they begin putting sounds together with the words they hear. They are starting to understand the connection between the letters they see and the sounds or ideas they represent. Picture books emphasize this connection as well, helping children to associate the images of the words with pictures.
As they become more familiar with what letters look like, those letters may start to emerge in their drawings. The letters will be random at first. Mostly they will be working on consonants and a few vowels. Each time they write down letters spend some time talking about them. What sounds do the letters make? What words are they part of? When the letterforms start to develop, they will eventually mimic the words they see in books. This is an opportune time to continue to teach them more about the words they are seeing as they begin to write them out.
Another way that young children are encouraged to write is by seeing their parents write. Children like to repeat what their parents are doing. Before computers became such powerful communication devices, there was more writing done at kitchen tables around the country. With fewer letters and checks written, it is essential to take time out of the day to show your children that you write. This is also a chance to teach them the importance of things like thank you letters, as well as their own creative works. When children tell stories about their drawings, write them down for them. Then have them read the stories back to you. They have created their own stories to share with your help!
Developing writing is a way to reinforce what they are learning when they read. They are learning the building blocks of reading, letters, and words, while they connect what a letter looks like to how it sounds. It starts with something as simple as drawing pictures, eventually turning those pictures into full-blown stories.
Back to school time is here! Sales are in full force, teachers are getting their classrooms ready, and families are taking their last trips and vacations. The start of school means that late nights are over, as well as spending excessive time playing video games. It is back to early mornings, gathering homework, and getting everyone out the door on time. It can be stressful for families to make this transition without the right planning.
Putting the whole family on the school schedule does not have to be Herculean labor. Nor should it be something that is expected to work suddenly. Over time, the following strategies will help you get your family off to school and ready for a full day of learning.
Plan out a daily schedule – When school begins, schedules can get complicated. Having a master schedule for both parents and children will help keep everyone coordinated when the days get busier.
Plan out wardrobes – Scrambling for clothes in the morning can be time-consuming. Not just deciding what everyone is going to wear, but finding all of the clothing items and making sure they are clean.
Create a lunch schedule – It takes time to prepare lunches in the morning. Working out a monthly or weekly program of lunches allows you to take time on the weekend to do the shopping and preparation. That way, on a busy morning or before bed, putting together meals to go happens in no time at all.
Organize a space for school work – With a school routine comes homework. Even in a small space, a dedicated area for doing homework can exist. It allows children to set a routine while giving them a quiet place to do their work. It could be a small desk in their room or a corner of the kitchen table you set up just for them.
Start to set a regular bedtime – Getting into a schedule is critical for students. That includes having a regular bedtime. During the summer there can be some flexibility, but it is vital that during the school year they get enough sleep. Experts recommend that school-aged children have between nine and eleven hours of sleep a night. They should be getting at least eight. Lack of sleep can cause a multitude of issues, from children not remembering lessons to behavioral problems.
Start getting your morning routine ready the night before – As a parent, you are going to have some time after your children go to bed to get your morning routine ready. It is going to be very similar to your child’s routine – getting your lunch ready, choosing your outfit, and preparing all the things to get you prepared for the day. Mornings are going to be busy, and prepping in the calm of the night will help.
Create a School Organization Station – Many homes have family organization stations. They are locations where children find everything they need for their day. Schedules, backpacks, homework, books, and any accessories required for the day. Locate it near a door where everyone leaves, so it is convenient for the family.
Have a fun activity planned after the first day – Even though the first day is typically not very stressful, it is nice to have something fun for children prepared when they get home. It can be playing one of their favorite games, reading a favorite book, or letting them choose a favorite dinner. It is a little thing they get to look forward to at the end of the day.
Over the first days and weeks of the school year, there will be glitches in the system. Your children become used to putting their bags at the organization station, working on their homework, and getting to bed at a reasonable hour. All this extra planning makes the transition back to a regular schedule much more comfortable for younger children, making it easier for the family to get into the back to school mode.
No longer required to be in a classroom for hours every day, students spend their summers relaxing and trying to pack all the fun in they can before fall. While they have certainly earned a break after nine months of school, taking a full summer off from learning is dangerous. It can lead to the summer slide and being a month behind their peers when classes resume. As tempting as it is to allow them to take the whole summer off, it is essential for parents to promote summer reading and learning.
Having children sit for an hour or so a day is not going to work. Too many other options beckon, from playing with friends in the neighborhood to playing video games. Integrating reading into summer activities is a fun way for them to learn while they still participate in their favorite pastimes. Parents don’t have to spend hours considering lesson plans or developing special activities. The activities children naturally gravitate to, with little extra planning, can be springboards into secret summer lessons.
Consider the following summer favorites for learning moments:
- Find a favorite recipe and make it – We all have a food we love. It could be anything from a favorite flavor of ice cream to a dinner on a special occasion. During the summer, you can head to the library and find the recipe for the foods your child loves. Making it together helps your child not only with reading, but with math and following instructions. There also is the opportunity to learn about the history of the dish as well in other books!
- Learn about your vacation – Most families are going to travel for vacation. According to the AAA, over one-third of families will travel over 50 miles this summer on a trip. This is an excellent chance for your child to explore the library before you hit the road! Read some books about the place where you will be going or a landmark of some significance. Maybe allow your child to help you plan part of the trip!
- Learn about your home – Not everyone will be traveling. Some people will be busy at home, taking a staycation. There is still plenty to explore in your town! Take a tour of some of the historic buildings associated with famous people who came from the area. You can help your child read the building markers, and then later find some books about those people and their lives.
- Draw a book cover – Part of reading is understanding the story. After your child is finished reading each book, grab some crayons, pencils, and markers and help draw a new cover for the book based on what was read. Talk about the picture as you are both working on it. Being creative makes the story more fun, and helps it come to life in the mind of the child!
- Reading picnic – Get some sandwiches and snacks together, grab some summer reading material, and head out to the nearest park! This is a great event for your family and a group of other families, or just some of your child’s friends. The children can take turns reading from their books, running around the area, and enjoying a day outside. Have other books on hand in case they finish theirs, or they want something different.
- Read the book; see the movie – Summer is the time when the biggest films of the year come out. Many of the books your child loves to read develop into full-length movies or cartoons. Once your child is done reading the book, pop some popcorn and find the movie on a streaming service or rent it from the library and watch it. Discuss what was the same in the film and the book, and what was different. It is an excellent opportunity to show your child how things vary when one changes to the other.
There are many other ideas to promote summer reading, like the 100 place challenge, coupons for the books a child reads, a summer reading bingo sheet, and others all around the web. With a little extra time, you can make what could be considered a homework assignment into a fun way to spend a summer. All it takes is imagination to have your child wanting to reach for a book instead of a game controller or remote!
The school year is over. The paperwork is complete, grades are processed and submitted, and your classroom is clean and ready for next year. Time for a well-deserved break!
Spending long hours in the classroom grading and carrying out all of the extra activities that are part of a teacher’s daily routine can make the school year a challenge. There are times to take breaks during the year, but summer offers the unique opportunity to unwind. Summer offers a chance to take care of yourself. Spend some time on hobbies and interests that were neglected during the school year.
There are roughly two months from the time the final grades are turned in to the time you come back to the classroom to start planning for the new school year and to get your classroom ready. There is a strong temptation to spend time getting ahead in planning and assignments, but resist that urge!
Spend time during the summer preparing in a different way: relaxing!
- Limit the Amount of Work You Do – Getting to summer break, with all of the finals and grading and end-of-the-year festivities, requires a certain level of destressing. Being an excellent educator and knowing that the next semester is coming, you want to start to get ready for it. Put some limits on how much time you will spend over the break preparing for the fall. Spend a few hours a week on school-related functions, and then head out into the sunshine.
- Turn Off the Alarm – Unless you need to be up to get to the pool or an excursion on a cruise, there is no need to wake up early. Indulge in a little extra sleep each day to recharge.
- Read…for Yourself – There is a stack of books, either on the bookshelf or in the e-reader, that you have meant to read for months. Now that you have the time, turn off the phone and lose yourself in as many books as you can over the break. It is a great way to relax, and you may even find some inspiration for the coming semester.
- Spend Time With Family and Friends – They may be missing you as you were working on lesson plans, grading, and sleeping since the beginning of the year. Make some dates with the people that are closest to you and give yourself time to enjoy them. It may not be until spring break when they see you again.
- Reconnect With Hobbies – Whether you make artisanal home goods for your Etsy shop or binge-watch Netflix and Amazon Originals, the hobbies you love may have been collecting dust over the last few months. Reconnecting with them recharges the creative batteries and get inspired for the upcoming year.
- Have New Experiences – Go for a walk in the woods. Have a night out at the theater. Take the family on a trip to a place you have meant to head to for a while. And take the long route to get there. In a world where we emphasize things, it is the experience we have that we will treasure.
We know that teachers are hard workers and committed to the success of their students. But even high-performance machinery needs some downtime for recharging and repairing. Take this time to have some adventures and prepare for the new year. Your students will appreciate the energy and new ideas you will bring back to the classroom.
April is National Poetry Month! While many of us lose our love of poetry over the years (only 9 of 10 Americans say they enjoy poems), when children are developing reading habits poems have some substantial benefits.
But where to begin? There are hundreds of books of poetry out there for children. There are well-known names like Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel and Mother Goose that are well known and incredibly popular. Shel Silverstein, of “Where the Sidewalk Ends” fame is another author that is easy to find and a joy to read to children. There are many other poets, both contemporary ones, and ones from the past, that have written poems that children love.
- Bill Martin Jr. – He has been a fan of poetry since it was his gateway to reading in college. After he started to see the impact reading it to his students had on their love of reading, he began to write his poems. One of those poems, I Love Our Earth, is on our Wish List this year!
- Francisco X. Alarcón – A prolific poet for both children and adults, his books of poetry are often bilingual. His inspiration comes from his strong attachments to his Latino heritage and love of the communities that raised him. He is known for his Magical Cycle of the Season series, poems that embrace the uniqueness of each season.
- Jacqueline Woodson – A native of Columbus. OH, she was also selected to be the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. Her best-known book of poems, Brown Girl Dreaming, is for slightly older readers.It discusses growing in Ohio and South Carolina, and the differences she experienced there. She also writes picture books for younger readers.
- Jon Scieszka – Embracing his odd sense of humor and love for education, Jon started to write tales for children as a teacher in New York. His poetry books include Science Verse, The Book That Jack Wrote, and others. One of his books, The Stinky Cheese Man, is part of our summer Wish List!
- Robert Lewis Stevenson – Adults know his writings through tomes like Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde. He wrote A Child’s Garden of Verses, a highly regarded book of poetry for children. He uses his poetry to relive the experiences of his childhood, running outdoors and exploring the world!
- Jack Prelutsky – The first Children’s Poet Laureate appointed by the Poetry Foundation, Jack’s work is heavily influenced by his love of music. He writes poetry about every subject, from the size of a hippopotamus to the problems of being a dragon. You can start with one of his most famous books, The New Kid on the Block, and explore his work from there!
Reading poems aloud to students can do more than show them the wonders of poetry. It can bring back a love of poetry for the adults who may have put it down years ago and never picked it back up. If you would like to explore some poems and authors on your own, Poets.Org has a wonderful page full of brilliant poems for children. Enjoy a month full of getting to know poetry with your students!
As we are getting to the final months of the school year, it may become more of a challenge to keep students engaged in learning. This might be the perfect time of year to introduce some activities that will challenge your students to explore new books, or to spend more time reading and less time looking out the windows during sunny, warm days.
One thing that many educators and researchers have found is that play helps students want to learn. Tell them they have to spend time reading every day and they may have a difficult time committing to it. Turn it into a game where readers get rewarded for the amount they read, or bring in surprises for certain milestones, and they will want to do the reading.
Stuck for ideas? We have looked around the internet and found a few thought starters for you:
- Musical Books! Put all the chairs in your classroom in a circle, with a different book under each chair. Play music while the students walk around the ring of chairs. When the music stops, the students sit down and read whatever book is under the chair. After the game is over, place all of the books you used in the game on a separate shelf so students can read them later.
- Read-A-Thon! There are two ways to accomplish this one! The first is to set a number of hours for students to read over a week or a month. Encouraging them to read at least fifteen to twenty minutes a day is the ideal. For a week, that would mean about two hours of reading. Or set aside one full day of class time and read as much as you can in the one day. Cover the subjects you would normally cover over that time, but spend the time reading and discussing the books read. You can even encourage parents, teachers, and other school officials to come and join you!
- Reading Puzzle! Divide a picture into the exact number of pieces as students in your class. Then have them all select a book, either randomly or one that they want to read. Once they finish the book, they can add their puzzle piece to the picture. You can also make it a class assignment by letting them know the number of books they have to complete to see the whole puzzle, and offer a small prize to the ones who read the most books!
- Set up a reading scavenger hunt! All of your students have different interests, from sports to science. Building a reading list based on all the interests of your class is a way to get students to learn about a wide variety of subjects. Ones they may not have had thought of before, or thought they would like!
- Choose a subject! Children can get focused on a subject and really dig in deeply. They will discover a topic and read every book they can about it in the library. One way to mix up the books that they read is to introduce some chance. Have them roll dice or select cards, with each number related to a different topic. When they finish a book, they get a new opportunity!
Turning reading into a game, or some other challenge, can be a way to encourage students to get out of their reading comfort zone. Brief glimpses at new books could open up whole to worlds to the right student. Providing the spark in a safe, fun way allows the students to try something they may not have considered exploring themselves.
If you need suggestions for books, reaching out to involve the parents or speaking to the school librarian can help you find the right books to have your class read. Of course, asking the student can also provide a wealth of ideas for what they want to read. Now begins the challenge of creating the event for your class!
Ah, Valentine’s Day!
A day in which we show the people who are important to us just how much we care for them. Much of that affection is shown through red and pink gifts of candy, cards, and maybe a trinket or two to play with, but the best gift you can give a child is time.
From birth through the time children go to college (age 18), there are 936 weekends. That sounds like a lot of time until you consider that when they start hitting middle school years, they will have activities, sports, friends, and all manner of other entertainments to occupy their time. Those weekends can go quickly, and when you think about how fast that time can fly, it’s easy to see the value of sharing time with your child whenever possible.
The gift of time relies on the quality of the time and much as it does the quantity. Being in the same room together doing different activities is not the best gift you can give; focusing on the child is the real gift. The importance of time spent focusing on children holds true in school as much as it does at home.
Countries like Finland, considered the gold standard in education by many, spend roughly 700 hours in front of students, while in the United States we spend nearly double that. Spending time does not have to be hours on end. It can be playing a tabletop game or cooking a meal together. Reading is a fantastic way to spend a little time together.
Selecting the right books can be a springboard for other activities through the year; as your child asks questions, you can plan events to help them answer them. As a teacher, you can develop lessons in the future that address student questions while still fulfilling state requirements.
What other gifts can spending time with books provide?
- Building a love of books – Young children will mirror the activities of the people around them that they love. If they see their favorite teacher, or parent, enjoying the time they spend reading, they are more likely to pick up a book for pleasure.
- Expanded vocabulary – The more children read, the more they are going to have to learn the meaning of the words in their favorite books. Instead of sitting down and teaching them words, they organically build their vocabulary. This will also lead to…
- A curiosity about the world around them – It is a big world out there, full of dinosaurs and families and stories about raining food! One way to get to explore it is through books. Journeys can be started at the library and continued at museums, stores, and even in the kitchen.
- Improving social skills – Being quiet while a parent or teacher is reading is a polite way to enjoy a book. Waiting until someone else is done talking to speak is an important skill to develop. And the only way to enjoy a book read by an adult is to listen intently. While children become engrossed by tales of cats in hats, they are also learning valuable social skills.
- Better behavior – Children do not always know how to ask for what they want. If they feel they are being neglected, or are frustrated, they may act out to get the attention they crave. By giving that attention without asking, it will keep them better behaved at home and in the classroom.
Sitting down with a child to read a book shows you love them in a variety of ways. You are spending quality time with them (which they love!) while teaching them skills that are going to help them in school. It provides benefits they may not appreciate when they are young, but they will as they grow older. Along with the card and some sweets, plan on giving them a book and spending some time with them. It is a Valentine’s Day gift they will treasure forever.