All children like to read things they can relate to or that make them feel good. And the best children’s stories I “read” were those on the laps of my parents.
In order to write books for children of a different mold than our own, we need to know them. I grew up in a homogeneous environment. When my junior high social studies teacher inadvertently opened my eyes to the fact that youth around the world had many things in common, my interest was sparked.
My first goal achieved was learning the importance of communication. Not only in English, but in Spanish. I lived and studied in Spain, where I achieved fluency. It has served me well!
I taught Spanish and used Spanish language children’s books as motivators for my students.
I worked for the employment/unemployment office in Iowa’s capital. We had many Latino clients. I did much translating and interpreting to help communicate a concept difficult for many people in their native language.
Aside from this, I had many stories in my memory that I wanted to share with children and those reading to them. That is where my dream launched.
I wrote my first picture book, Mommy and Mikel Go for a Walk. It was a memory from the mid-1980s with my son Mikel. After writing it in English, I decided to tell it in Spanish, too. Working with many Latinos in the USA has taught me that Spanish in Spain is not the same as Spanish in the rest of the world. I was glad to know alternative words to use that would be more neutral help me communicate better.
I learned that not only native language readers liked each language, but learners of the other language.
My second book, Surprise in Auntie’s Garden! made me pause. I am blonde, as is most of my family. Many young people would not relate to blonde people in every book. I decided to use different race and ethnic characters in each book to include other young readers and parents. This time I used Latinas as the characters. My messages are universal, so this merely allowed different readers to see themselves in my books.
My first three books were published in pairs. One in English and the other in Spanish. I had requests to try publishing the stories as bilingual stories to include both languages in one book. I did this with Do It Again! and Lexi’s Special Tooth Fairy Pillow. The reception was wonderful.
During this time of writing, I also began working with Royal Promise, a mission that works with underprivileged children in Anun-Asikuma, Ghana, West Africa. This opened the door even wider. My new friends and the students loved my stories because they knew me and were eager for new literature. I feel very connected to them and feel the need to assist with their literacy opportunities.
It is important to include many aspects of childhood in the characters as well as the stories. Literacy is important to all people and gives them the confidence and initiative to seek and achieve new and unforeseen goals in life. Invest in our future and include everyone, at home and abroad.
How reading helps children learn social emotional skills
I am a lover of all things book and the written word. As a child, I was precocious and very curious. Thankfully, my father had a great passion for reading and ensured that I, along with my siblings, understood the importance of literacy and that it was something never to be taken for granted. “Many of our ancestors gave their lives for the right to read,” my father would often preach. I wanted to know what he was talking about. Why and how could this happen? In addition, my brain was alive with princesses, dragons, and secret gardens I got to meet often through what remains one of my greatest and most enduring loves, books.
Much of my advanced vocabulary, ability to articulate my thoughts and feelings, empathy for others, and sharp view of the world around me was a direct result of the abundance of books afforded me. I was a proud card-carrying member of the library! I loved checking out Puff the Magic Dragon with its accompanying record tucked in the back (yes, I am proudly dating myself), The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor.
These books and many others whisked this little Black girl from small city Portland, Oregon to unknown lands of epic trials and triumphs. The ability to read, write, comprehend, and decode the written word was just the beginning. The pure enjoyment of reading was the vehicle that aided me and will ultimately do so for our students today; expanding their minds to the immeasurable possibilities for connection with each other and the world around them.
As the Director of Content Development for Friendzy, a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) program for K-8 students, I continue my literacy evangelizing. After all, I am the daughter of a preacher! Research has shown that reading supports SEL. At Friendzy we frame our SEL literacy supports through five distinct frameworks:
Learning social-emotional skills.
Reading helps children gain a greater understanding of emotions, which can help them understand their own emotions and those of others.
Reading a story creates space for kids to imagine themselves inside the story. This allows them to develop empathy as they experience the lives of other characters and can identify with how they are feeling.
Reading allows children to learn about a wide array of people, places, and events that they may not otherwise experience.
Improve cognitive development.
Reading provides children with a deeper understanding of the world and fills their brains with a wide range of knowledge. They then use this acquired knowledge to make sense of what they see, hear and read.
Builds relationships and connections.
Reading brings a classroom of students together for a shared adventure. It also provides parents with an opportunity to have dedicated time with their children. Reading together provides kids with feelings of connection, attention and is nourishing to the soul.
These key components shift the literacy lens from simply learning to read to reading to learn with great enthusiasm. As an author and educator, I tell my students and the students I meet at school visits when you open up a book, you open up the world. I was given this gift early on and my job is to pay it forward!
For more information about Kids Read Now, contact us.
Learning to read opens different worlds to children – fantasy, mystery, funny, history – but it can also help them understand the things around them in everyday life that maybe they never thought to notice before. Here are four fun ways to incorporate reading into everyday activities!
Cereal boxes, labels, and cooking instructions
Whether you’re sitting down for breakfast in the morning with the cereal box on the table, preparing dinner with lots of different ingredients, or baking a delicious dessert from a scratch, ask your child to identify words on the boxes, labels, and in cookbooks. Sure, some ingredients are difficult for even the most proficient adult to pronounce, but most packaged foods have easy-to-read packaging and recipes help teach new words while sequencing different steps together.
Kids so often know how to get to their favorite places (school, grandma’s house, the park), but may not be paying attention to the signs on the way there. Ask them to and help them read the street and informational signs on the way to your next destination. Instead of turning left at the big tree, soon you’ll be turning left at the stop sign on Maple Street. This is also a great way for kids to learn short abbreviations such as Rd for road, St for street, and Blvd for boulevard. You can also take time to talk about the meaning of potentially new words like yield, U-turn, roundabout, and dead end. These contextual clues help kids remember the words by building on schematic theory.
Especially on longer trips, ask children to look out the window and choose any object they see. They can then say, “I spy something that starts with the letter ‘C’!”. Start naming things around you that begin with the letter they choose. In this case, “corn”, “cow”, and “clouds” could be what they’re spying! Who knows, maybe they’ve spied something that you’ve never noticed! Take turns spying and guessing. Not only is this a fun game to increase family engagement, phonetic understanding, to pass time during car rides, but it helps kids identify the first letter of familiar sights!
Many enjoy a little screen time every day, so turn screen time into reading time by simply turning on the closed captioning. There are many benefits to closed captioning, and your kids may not even realize they’re learning while enjoying the show. Closed captioning is completely free and oftentimes comes in several different languages if you’re wanting to really spice up screen time. With technological advances, there’s never been an easier time to enjoy and practice reading every day!
If you have any questions about reading every day, please contact us for more information.
Emotions. We all have them. We’ve felt the good, the bad, and the ugly. Happiness, sadness, anger, disappointment, guilt, love. Even though kids are small they can feel some huge emotions, and they should be normalized and discussed.
Building a Support System
Your child should feel safe to discuss emotions and feelings with family, friends, teachers, and other trusted adults like coaches and mentors. This forms your child’s support system. Sharing positive feelings can reinforce good behavior and help your child celebrate accomplishments. Sharing negative feelings can help take some of the burden from your child to allow him or her to be able to process and form a deeper understanding of him or herself.
Emotions are NORMAL
Having emotions is completely normal! It’s important to understand why we’re feeling what we’re feeling so we know how to move forward positively. Have you ever been angry? Did you ask yourself why you’re angry? Did you acknowledge your emotion as valid and real? How did you move forward and release that anger in a healthy way? You can ask and answer these same questions with joy and sadness, too. Girls and boys have big emotions, so don’t let society tell them their feelings are invalid. Girls can be tough warriors and boys can cry, so forget any societal norms that limit or stunt your child’s emotional growth.
Celebration and disappointment
Celebration and disappointment can be two of the hardest emotions to process. Celebration, you say? Yes! So often we don’t take time to celebrate achievements and small victories and go right on to setting the next goal. Take time to celebrate your child’s accomplishments and acknowledge his or her hard work! Celebrations, whether a huge family party or a mini dance party in the car to a great song, reinforce goal setting, hard work, and discipline. On the other hand, if you have a sensitive child, feelings of disappointment can feel all-consuming and overwhelming. It’s important to let your child know that as unpleasant as disappointment is, it’s a normal emotion to feel and it will pass. Disappointment doesn’t have to ruin everything.
Don’t repress emotions
What happens when you shake a pop bottle? The carbonation fizzes and if shaken hard enough, it could explode. There is a time to hold it together and a time to let it go— a time to be strong and a time to be vulnerable. Many adults have trouble knowing the difference, so our children absolutely deserve our support when dealing with big emotions. As adults we know that it’s not always appropriate to have our big feelings in public places, so reinforce your child’s emotions and set expectations for how to deal with those big feelings.
Positive ways to express and release emotions
Reading – read books with your child and discuss how the characters handle emotion, diversity, and conflict
Art – have your child draw, paint, collage, or sketch how he or she is feeling
Writing – have your child start a journal and write down how he or she felt throughout the day
Music – have your child pick a song that describes how he or she feels and turn the volume up
Talk – create a safe space at home where your child can tell you exactly how he or she is feeling, ask questions, and help him or her feel in control by coming up with a plan
Take a break – sometimes it’s best just to take a break and let your child’s mind calm down so you can have a thoughtful discussion when the time is right
How to get more books and build bigger libraries for your young readers
Parents always ask how they can expand the Kids Read Now summer reading program into the rest of the year.
Here are seven great ways to get more free or almost free books. This will keep your children building their reading skills whether school is open, they’re learning remotely, or it’s somewhere in the middle.
Ask your Principal to check out the Book Bridge program from Kids Read Now. With the Book Bridge program we will mail a book each week to your home for seven weeks. These books include fun and popular titles at your child’s reading level, and you get to get them forever!
Rent or check out books. Most public libraries are open to lend books; most have Kindle, Libby, or myON links that allow downloading eBooks to a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. Just call your local library! Like paper books, many favorite electronic books have a waiting list; but it’s easy to reserve books now and get them when available in a few weeks. Digital books from the library have a return date and will automatically vanish from your device when time is up.
Work with your Principal and/or PTO to have a book swap. Children bring in gently used books they have outgrown or are tired of reading, lay them out on tables, and swap for different books to take back home. This can be done with social distancing by having just a few at a time go into the swap area.
Visit used bookstores. They offer terrific titles for just a buck or two, and some even offer book-buy programs, so children can sell books they no longer want and earn money for new books! Find a list of those in your area here.
Scope out library book sales. Most local libraries have an annual book sale where a shopping bag full of books is just a few dollars! Here is a list of those sales in your area this season!
Little Free Libraries. Communities across the country have already established over 100,000 “Little Free Libraries.” These are sheltered bookshelves in public places where people are invited to leave-a-book, take-a-book. If your town doesn’t have these, it’s easy to start. Learn more here.
Barbershop Books. The barbershop book program is a new and innovative community program in cities and towns where libraries can be hard to find. Placing a set of books in barbershops aims to give young boys a safe and convenient place to get books and read with an adult (who is waiting for a haircut)!
More books at home makes a difference. Children from homes with 100 or more books are much more likely to go to advanced trade schools or college; they often go on to get high paying jobs from there as well. This is an amazing benefit just by spending a few dollars and an hour or two a month adding books to your home library. Help assure your child has books at home to practice reading skills learned in school and become a stronger, better, and more confident reader. If you have any questions about how to get more books, please contact us!
Pleasure reading and assigned reading are not mutually-exclusive activities
Have you ever taken pause to consider your personal literary history? I remember back to my senior year, an honors English class where I was asked to do this very exercise. It is remarkable how influential the very first pieces of text you consumed are. They can influence your life and relationship with reading. As a recovering perfectionist, I struggled to find the joy and adventure in reading. The fear of receiving a poor grade due to not recalling a piece of text often overshadowed the book in front of me.
I remember back to second grade and the textbooks that would weigh down my small backpack. I was terrified of the reading tests that would follow each chapter we read. It was at that point I began to associate reading with work or something I had to do. This struggle between associating reading with work or fun would continue throughout most of my K-12 career. Reading textbooks, tests, book reports, and presentations were not things I looked forward to as a child; however, there were several books that would eventually mean the world to me as I yearned to keep reading from being a chore.
The first book was Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. In fourth and fifth grade my evenings were filled with reading A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. In sixth grade we were asked to read a particular book that was accompanied by a lime green workbook. This book in particular caused me to resist reading. In high school, books like The Bell Jar and 1984 (though assigned reading) kept alive the joy of reading.
This pattern and struggle between reading for assignment and reading for pleasure persisted until a couple of years into college when I was truly able to let go of the idea that I would be graded or forced to recall the text I just read. I cannot help but think of the couple key books that kept my love for reading alive. The freedom to select books I wanted to read helped me overcome anxieties related to assigned reading.
Research shows, “Students who engage in pleasure reading experienced marginal average increases of .11% in English and 1.71% in science and higher increases of 4.43% in mathematics and 2.05% in history”. It is imperative we teach and model pleasure reading to the children in our lives regardless of our positive or negative past experiences. Recently, I have found a love for reading self and professional development books in addition to assigned readings. I have realized the two activities are not mutually exclusive. It took a while, but I have gotten to the point where assigned reading no longer replaces or interferes with pleasure reading. Have you given yourself the opportunity to read for fun regardless of your past experiences with reading?
Young kids love to read the same book over and over again. Their developing brains see new things in the pictures and better understand the story each time they read it. Plus, the consistency of seeing the same story unfold the same way each time helps children develop a strong sense of sequencing and process.
Sometimes the world can be a scary place for kids, especially when families are stressed by job, healthcare, and quarantine issues. Books provide a comfortable escape and a way to see that things work out at the end of the story. So, please, don’t feel badly if you’re bored as an adult reading the same story again to or with your child. You are helping your child learn to deal with the world!
Even the smallest child can memorize a dozen of their favorite books. This repetition also helps kids remember ‘sight words’, the many words that don’t conform to phonics or ‘sounding them out’, like DOUGHNUT, which a child might try and pronounce like DOO-G-NUT or THROUGH, which phonetically should sound like THROW-GH or KNIFE may sound out as K-nife. These are called sight words, where children need to see and hear them repeatedly to know them by heart.
Reading aloud lets children hear the words and (by pointing at the words when you read) see them and match them with the story. This builds their vocabulary, and they start to understand the many ways words are used in sentences and actions to describe what is happening. This can make for a richer, deeper understanding and love for the printed word. Perhaps the most important reason to read to your child is to create a strong bond; a lasting experience of memories reading together. Give your child a sliver of your time and a big piece of your mind.
What to read? Almost anything your child loves. The most requested books we gift to kids are those with a funny story, or those that talk about gross things!
Fiction lets kids see that imagination can take them anywhere
Non-Fiction teaches them about facts and fascinating subjects of all kinds
Poetry shows that words rhyme, and it is easier to memorize rhyming words.
Kids Read Now has many “read-to-me” books. Many of the words will be too big and hard for a learning reader to read on their own; but they will understand the story and the words, especially if you stop and ask questions such as:
Let’s look at this new word. What does it mean? Can you pronounce it?
What might happen next when I turn the page? Why do you think that?
Show me all the people and animals on the page.
Show me everything with two or more colors.
What is the name of that dinosaur? (surprisingly many first-graders can name a dozen different ones, because they LOVE the subject)
No matter whether your child reads alone, or you read to him or her, encourage reading every day. Building reading skills at home is the best way to reinforce those taught in school and will make your child a better reader and a stronger student.
It’s not enough to say that home libraries are important. We need to take it a step further and ask why home libraries are important and how we can help build your student’s home library.
Why a home library?
Let’s start with this: “Children growing up in homes with many books get 3 years more schooling than children from bookless homes, independent of their parents’ education, occupation, and class,” 20-year research study in 27 countries. That’s a three-year academic head start! The study also found that the effect is greatest on economically disadvantaged students. The Annie E. Casey foundation reports that 79% of economically disadvantaged kids are below proficient in reading by fourth grade. Compare that to the number of books found in their homes, and we have a pretty good argument for a concerted effort to build home libraries among our most vulnerable population.
Kids love to collect. They collect to own, organize, and prioritize – skills that will pay lifelong benefits. The impact of a home library is far-reaching. In fact, elementary teacher Justin Minkel found through his project called The 1000 Book Project, students who built home libraries actually transformed the family literacy culture.
Summer Slide – “The way we’ve always done it.”
I have had hundreds of discussions with educators on the best way to build a summer reading program. I learned that school districts have employed the same four ideas for many years, yet the results remain the flat 65% of fourth graders are below proficiency. These practices include:
The Book Bus: Seats are removed from a bus to create a mobile library. These are generally short-lived for two reasons: 1) It’s very difficult to sustain the logistics involved and 2) the kids who need it don’t come.
The Bag-O-Books: A bag of books is sent home on the last day of school with instructions to read them. Often there is no follow-up or follow-through and the bag gets set aside and forgotten.
Encouraging Library Visits: Access to transportation and the limited number of libraries is a hurdle for many.
Summer School: Traditional summer intervention is the costliest solution. Summer school can cost up to $3000 per student (Wallace Foundation) and those that need it most often stay home.
Learning loss elimination through home libraries – BEST PRACTICE
Mailing books to kids every 10 to 14 days removes many of the hurdles mentioned above and builds anticipation while also building home libraries. Allowing kids to choose the titles in their library creates ownership. Kids Read Now provides weekly resources to parents; this makes it easy for them to engage with their kids and increase comprehension. It can be as simple as a Discovery Sheet with four questions specific to the book. These best practices are all supported in current research on mitigating learning loss like this one from The University of Wisconsin – Madison. The power of a home library cannot be understated. If you build it, they will read.
In second and third grade, your child will be what teachers call “an emerging reader” — one who knows a bit about phonics, can sound out unfamiliar words, and has memorized a short list of sight words (the words that don’t sound out easily such as DOUGHNUT which a reader who hadn’t memorized that word, would probably try and sound it out and pronounce it DOO-UGG-NUT).
Here are some ways that you can help your emerging reader.
Pick text that has short sentences with lots of sight words. This will reinforce those words that can’t be sounded out.
Have your child read to you and when they come to an unknown word, try these three strategies:
Have him or her try to sound it out; help by asking these questions: “What is the sound of the first letter?” and “What is the sound of the first letter and the next few letters together…”
Skip the word, read to the end of the sentence or paragraph, and then go back to the unknown word and ask if it can be guessed from the rest of the sentence.
Look at the picture and see if the word can be guessed.
Always read the word and pronounce it and, have your child say it several times while pointing to all the letters.
If your child still can’t figure out the word, only then should you reveal what it is. A child who solves the puzzle of unknown words will become a stronger reader and be proud of this achievement.
It’s okay to admit the book is just too hard for your child right now. Here are some great tips on finding the “just right” reading range for your emerging reader.
Books that are too hard can be frustrating and can make your child sad, angry, or feel like he or she is failing. Reinforce the joy of reading by saying, “This has lots of hard words, let me read it to you;” or “Let’s read it together”. You can also set the book aside for a while. As emerging readers, children become better readers every month as they work with their teachers.
Books that are easy are great too! Think of easier books as a slow jog instead of running as fast as you can. Both jogging and sprinting are great exercise, but a jog is something you can do longer without collapsing. Encouraging an emerging reader is a marathon, not a sprint, and we want your child to enjoy reading more and more each day. This helps children reinforce the skills they have and get more comfortable with reading, which leads to reading for pleasure instead of feeling like reading is a chore.
If you’re a reader, you’re familiar with the pull of another world. You’ve slipped into other lives to become fairies and dragon slayers, adventurers, and heroes. Now you want your child to experience new adventures and far-off lands, while tucked safely in their beds at home. Opening the door for them shouldn’t be stressful. I promise—there is a book out there they’ll LOVE.
A fantastic way to start is to dive into a book you’ll both love! I have a long-time connection with audio books. I’d go on car rides with my aunt who would check out books from the library to listen to in the car— quickly becoming absorbed in the story, riding across an ancient tundra with Ayla of the Zelandonii or on the back of Saphira the sapphire blue dragon through the skies of Alagesia. The habit of listening to audio books has lasted well into adulthood for me, a supplement when I don’t have the time to get cozy and turn the pages myself.
This is a great option for any level reader, because all you have to do is enjoy and be swept away! Listening to a story adds another tool to your vocabulary belt; the reader doesn’t skip those difficult to pronounce words. You and your child get to hear the word pronounced and used correctly. Without hearing the name of the place out loud, you don’t know if Superman lives in Metro-polis or Met-trop-olis. Hearing the words spoken out loud has helped me, as an adult, increase my vocabulary and feel more confident in my word usage.
Most libraries have an extensive audio and eBook collection. Both formats can be used on a mobile device or computer. If your local library doesn’t have an electronic collection, a larger library will generally allow you to get a card online 24/7 and check out titles whenever you want. Your library will probably recommend an app for easier connection to their collection. I use one called Overdrive.
Once you have the means, try out some books! There are as many “types” of books as there are stars in the sky but don’t feel overwhelmed! Start with topics that you know your child likes. Do they like mystery, adventure, true stories? Let them help you narrow down the choices. Giving your child the chance to choose the story will help keep him or her more interested.
A few tips:
Look for a book with a main character around the same age as your own child, this will give them an immediate connection to that character.
Children also connect well to the viewpoint of an animal as a main character, as most children spend hours pretending to be one animal or another. My daughter thoroughly enjoys acting like a pterodactyl every chance she gets.
As you discover together which worlds fit the best, encourage your child to spend some cozy time reading. Treat books like treasures and search for gems together at garage sales and thrift stores. Give and receive books as gifts.
My last big tip is, if you don’t like the story, pick a different one! Found a book you like and want more? Ask your local librarian for books that are similar so you can start another journey.