Fun with Learning Blog

Fun with Learning at Scholastic Parents Toolkit

Scholastic Learning Toolkit PostsAs I told you in Hanging with the Big Kids, I’ve been writing for the Scholastic Parents Learning Toolkit. I thought it might be useful for readers to link to my articles there so far. By browsing below, I hope you’ll find ideas to help you augment your own parenting toolkit.

Can Parents Help Kids’ Dreams Come True? by Susan Stephenson
So what can parents do to help? The number one thing is to read to our kids, right from when they’re babies.

Helping Kids to Write by Susan Stephenson
It doesn’t matter when we fit reading and writing into each day, so long as we do.

Websites to Plunder by Susan Stephenson
There are lots of websites we can add to our parenting toolkit to help our children love to read.

Holiday Fun With Learning by Susan Stephenson
Here are some ideas to make the holiday season even more special for you and your kids.

Hunting for Words by Susan Stephenson
By encouraging our children to play and have fun with words, we’re helping them develop both reading and writing skills.

Let’s Make Wide Reading Part of Family Life by Susan Stephenson
Helping our kids love to read and read widely gives them the very best start in life.

Celebrating International Book Giving Day by Susan Stephenson
Books or chocolate? Tough choice some would say, but not if we think of it like this: Candy is gone in a bite, but the gift of reading lasts a lifetime

Games That Support Literacy by Susan Stephenson
Get to know these games that help your children develop and practice literacy skills.

Writing Fun for Kids by Susan Stephenson
Linking writing to reading we’ve shared with our children is a wonderful way to extend the literature experience.

Tools to Help Kids Create an Avatar by Susan Stephenson
By introducing kids to such projects as making an avatar, we get to discuss issues of cyber safety in a natural and creative way.

Resources to Help Kids Learn About the Alphabet by Susan Stephenson
The best way to help kids learn the alphabet is, in my opinion, via fun and games. Here are some resources you might like for your youngsters.

Storytelling with Children by Susan Stephenson
Oral storytelling itself is a great way to improve children’s oral fluency and help them understand concepts that underpin literacy and literature.

Can Comics Develop Children’s Literacy Skills?

Comics and Literacy SkillsI love to find ways for kids to enjoy what they learn and to express themselves. Recently I was interviewed by freelance journalist, Rashida Tayabali, for an article published at Essential Kids: Using Comics to Develop Literacy Skills in Children. In the article, you’ll read why I think comics are great for reluctant readers and writers. You’ll also see that I believe creating comics can give lots of opportunities to develop thinking and visual literacy skills.

If you’d like to find out more about comic editors, why not download my free PDF, Using Comic Editors with Kids.

International Women’s Day 2014

International Women's DayToday I’ve been thinking about International Women’s Day, and also about being a woman. I’d like to share my thoughts with you.

In 2014, 70% of the world’s poor are women. Although women perform 2/3 of the world’s work, they earn less than 10% of the world’s wages, and own only 1% of the world’s property. Women are far more likely than men to live in poverty because of discrimination and lack of access to education, employment and financial services.

In Australia, 1 in 3 women will experience physical violence in their lifetime. In Australia, only 2% of the CEOs of major companies are women. In Australia, women retire with half the superannuation savings as men. In Australia, women earn 17 cents per dollar less than men. In Australia, older women are 2 1/2 times more likely to live in poetry than men. (Those statistics are from UN Women.) Incredibly one woman dies every week from domestic violence in Australia in 2014. (Sydney Morning Herald, Time to Act on Domestic Violence.)

In some respects, it seems to me we’ve come a long way. Yet many doors are closed against women. Girls and women all over the world are disempowered and live in fear of violence. There’s still so far to go before these issues can be resolved fairly, before we have equality and respect for all.

And yet, today, I’m glad to be a woman. I am delighted to belong to the sisterhood, if you will. When travelling overseas and at home, I’ve learnt that other women have much in common with me. We’re the carers, the wives, the mothers, the helpers. We’re the ones who do our best to raise our boys and girls to be happy, resilient and respectful adults. We’re there for our friends when they need us- lending a hand, sharing a meal, listening to their problems.

When our eyes meet those of a new female acquaintance, we know we probably have a shared understanding of what it’s like to grow up female in our society. We see a mother rocking from foot to foot ahead of us at the supermarket queue, and somehow, we’re rocking too, even if all we’re holding is a bag of oranges. We smile politely at other women waiting their turn to be squeezed into a mammogram vice, and hope for a positive result for us all . We meet and read about women losing children, husbands, their own lives, and we swallow a lump in our throats. We learn of the violence perpetrated against women even in our own towns, and we choke back tears. What hurts one of us, hurts us all.

Where International Women’s Day is about remembering the plight of women in many countries, including our own, it’s about so much more. International Women’s Day is also a time to celebrate being a woman. It’s a time to remember that we are one with other women, whatever their race, creed or circumstances. It’s a day to resolve that in small or big ways, we’ll do our best to help other women reach their full potential. We must also teach our boys and girls to respect themselves and others, and explain to them the importance of International Women’s Day. Respect is the key.

Coming Soon: World Read Aloud Day

World Read Aloud Day March 5

World Read Aloud Day March 5

World Read Aloud Day is coming soon; March 5 to be precise. It’s a special day most worthy of celebration, but first I want to share a secret.

Reading aloud to kids is one of the greatest pleasures I know. Without doubt it’s of HUGE benefit to children, setting them up for enjoyment of reading and giving them many of the skills they’ll need to read, write and spell. But the truth is I mostly read aloud because I love it. The light in children’s eyes, the joy and excitement they share over a great story transports me back to my childhood. That wasn’t when dinosaurs roamed the earth, but it was a very long time ago. Yet the simple act of reading aloud enables me to feel what the children feel. Instead of taking reading very much for granted, I remember my own joy in reading, the dizzy delight in a new book, the despair when a character met a problem. As I look around me at the little people with wide eyes and open mouths, I know what they’re feeling and I feel it too.

When we read aloud to our kids from when they’re babies, we help them absorb all the cadences and nuances of our language. They learn new vocabulary, begin to understand lots of story structure and internalise not only language but syntax too. Soon they begin to memorise oft read books, then they move into the stage of “pretend” reading. Next they begin to use all sorts of phonetic and contextual clues to decode words until one day we realise they are reading independently. Oh frabjous day! They are well on the way to a lifelong love of reading.

I am a lifelong reader, and my intention is to do my utmost to share my love of reading with anyone I meet, particularly the children I meet.

I’ve been reading the blogging challenge prompts at the lit world website, and I thought I would finish off with showing you a snapshot of the reading I do. Much of it is children’s literature because I review books at The Book Chook, but I thought I’d include a random sample of the grown-up books from my shelves too.

Reading Snapshot

How about you, what do you think makes reading aloud special?

Coming Soon: International Book Giving Day

IBGD posterThere’s nothing much more important to me than getting books into kids’ hands. That’s why I’m very happy to lend my support to International Book Giving Day. It takes place each year on February 14, a special day where many people give cards or chocolates. How exciting instead (or as well) to give a book! I love that it’s so simple and achievable.

International Book Giving Day, 14th February, is a day dedicated to getting new, used, and borrowed books into the hands of as many children as possible.

We can celebrate by:

1. Giving a Book to a Friend or Relative.

Gift a book to a child who would enjoy receiving a book on February 14th. A perfect alternative to overpriced chocolate and roses … although chocolates still make a good present!

2. Leaving a Book somewhere …

Choose a waiting room where kids are stuck waiting. Purchase a good book, and deposit your book covertly or overtly in your waiting room of choice.Try leaving them in playgrounds with our downloadable bookplates or bookmarks tucked inside! The goal here is to spread the love of reading to kids.

3. Donating a Book.

Donate books to a school library, children’s hospital, or nonprofit organisation working to ensure that all kids have access to books. A list of some of these organisations can be found on the website.

Want to join in the fun?

Use the hashtag #giveabook on Twitter to share your IBGD activities.

Add your name to the list of participants via the IBGD website.

Download the 2014 IBGD poster and help spread the word about this wonderful initiative.

What will you do for International Book Giving Day this year?

Writing Advice from Kids

AdviceforWritersChildren who love to read often have very decided opinions as to how authors should write. I asked some primary school kids to tell writers how they should go about their craft, and used that research in my article published at Castelane today: Every Writer Should…

If you’re at all interested in writing, especially writing for children, or interested in what kids think – evil overlords and mutated humans, anyone? – I hope you’ll link through to read my guest post at Castelane. Take a look around while you’re there. Castelane is a brand new and affordable suite of marketing services for writers. I’m particularly impressed with their book trailers and book covers, in fact you can see an example of one of Kim’s book trailers here at my website.

Encouraging kids to think about what they read, and to share opinions about books, writing styles, and what makes a book great are so beneficial. As parents and teachers we sometimes forget to listen to our kids with the respect they deserve. By assuming our kids are both readers and writers, and treating them that way, we are contributing very powerfully to their future reading and writing success.

You might also like to read Nurturing Readers and Writers and Boost Children’s Literacy by Linking Reading and Writing.

Hanging with the Big Kids

Hanging with the Big KidsBlog posts here at Fun with Learning have been scarce lately. One of the many things that’s been occupying me is negotiating with Scholastic Parents to become a blogger on their Scholastic Parents blogs, Learning Tooolkit and Raise a Reader. I look on this as a tremendous honour, partly because I’m the first Australian to be invited, but also because it means I get to hang with the Big Kids.

Just who are these Big Kids? They’re bloggers already writing for the Scholastic Parents blog. Some are writers for whom I already have tremendous respect – for example Alison McDonald from No Time for Flash Cards, Amy Mascott from teachmama, Amy Kraft from Media Macaroni and GeekMom. Others are bloggers new to me that I’m looking forward to getting to know – from what I’ve seen, their articles are conversational, honest and really useful to parents and teachers.

I’m impressed with what Scholastic Parents: The Learning Toolkit offers parents. There are short tips for time-starved folks (like Top 5 Teacher Tips for Parents to Jump-Start the Best First Day of School) and an intriguing mix of longer articles like this one that includes video: Make It: Newspaper Chair How-To.

Here’s a description of the Learning Toolkit: “Scholastic Parents is a trusted source of expert advice on reading and learning. In the Learning Toolkit blog, get quick and easy tips on how to support your child’s learning at home. From playing a fun game of creating new words during dinner to solving bedtime math stories and using easy tricks to try with homework problems, this blog offers simple suggestions for supporting your child’s development at every age and every stage.”

Teachers will find great ideas here too. The newspaper chair project mentioned above would make an excellent inclusion in a Maker Activity Session. Kids will also love to learn cyphers in Writing Secret Messages Using Ciphers by Kevin Goodwin. You can filter according to children’s ages and topics, find printables, sign up for a newsletter or just browse for a few hours!

While the Learning Toolkit is more general, the Scholastic Parents: Raise a Reader blog targets reading. “Find reading help for kids of all ages, including reading strategies, tips for developing reading skills at home, book recommendations, reading activities, and more great ways to support reading for kids.” You’ll find some advertising for Scholastic products on website pages (this is a major publisher after all!) but the ads are not overwhelming or intrusive.

In all my dealings with Scholastic so far, I’ve been impressed by the fact that the people who work for the company are just as passionate about children’s literacy and learning as I am, and as you are. Have you heard about Scholastic’s Global Literacy Campaign? Read Every Day: Lead a Better Life is such a great motto. You can find out more, including download some wonderful PDF reading posters, at the website.

I hope you’ll join me as I hang with the Big Kids. I know I plan to learn lots from the Learning Toolkit and Raise a Reader blogs. And through Scholastic, I look forward to reaching out to a wider audience – to share lots and lots of learning fun.

Update: Here’s my first post for Scholastic Parents: Can Parents Help Kids’ Dreams Come True?

How to Make Writing Enjoyable for Kids

WritecaptionsforimagesIf you want your child to enjoy writing, it helps to make writing a natural, observable and shared part of family life. Make writing a regular short daily family activity, not a chore, from before kids start school. Just as we need a daily read aloud time, so we should have a daily writing time. Kids learn so much from seeing their parents do all sorts of different writing – from shopping lists to notes for a friend.

Consider ‘thinking aloud’ about your own writing, so kids can hear your writing process. Let them see/hear what you do when you’re not sure of how to write a word. Sharing the way you change your mind, switch words, start again, play with words, add salutations to a letter – all these processes will be great models for children’s own writing.

Make writing a ‘have a go’ time. Writing doesn’t need to be correct spelling or letter formation. Encourage kids to scribble, write, draw or dictate what they want to say.

Explore different ways to write. Consider getting cute books or stationery, interesting pens and pencils, even chalk and paint. Kids can have fun writing with coloured water and an adult paintbrush on walls or footpaths. For something different, suggest they ‘write’ with letter blocks or magnet letters.

Don’t forget digital writing! Creating a story and picture is fun on a phone or tablet. Check out the word-processing programs on your computer and share them with your kids. Suggest kids add captions to interesting images, or play with online comic editors and apps. (Check out my free PDF, Using Comic Editors with Kids.)

Link writing with reading. When you’ve finished reading a book aloud, take a few moments to look at what the author did, or notice some interesting words in a story. Kids might like to keep a record of books you’ve shared, or write a list of their favourite books. They might even be inspired to write a similar story of their own, using one book as a model.

If older kids want to write, but are stuck for an idea, encourage them to look for a great photo as inspiration. Author Sandy Fussell wrote an article about this at The Book Chook, Becoming a Story Detective. 

Making writing enjoyable means being alert to any opportunity for your kids to write. Do they like to win prizes? Perhaps a writing contest might motivate them. Have they just invented a great paper aeroplane? Suggest they write messages to you or their friends, and send them “airmail”, the way Joyce Grant and her son did.  Maybe today is a perfect time for writing teeny tiny letters to a fairy and posting them in a gum nut or acorn cup. Adding any of these activities to everyday family life helps writing become both a habit and a pleasure for kids.

Give Kids a Head Start on Reading

Head Start on ReadingThis week is Children’s Book Week in Australia. Excited children all over the country are participating in wonderful literature and literacy activities, comparing their own choices with the actual winners of the CBCA Book of the Year, and generally celebrating books and reading.

Not all kids love reading. A while back, a parent wrote to me, concerned that her daughter hated to do the Phonics Work Books that Mum had bought. She wanted to give her child a head start on reading before she began school. The books were colourful, with cute clip art and asked kids to practise making and writing sounds/letters as the building blocks of reading. But the little girl actively resisted taking part in the lessons.

You know, I think giving kids a head start on reading is a wonderful idea. I think we should begin when children are babies. BUT, the very best way to do this is read aloud to them regularly from great children’s literature. If you want some suggestions for books to try, there are wonderful blogs all over the kidlitosphere that offer reviews, and list books suitable for various ages. Or check The Book Chook blog archives for children’s books I’ve reviewed and loved.

The great thing about sharing quality books like this with your kids, is that it teaches them almost unconsciously. They learn to love stories. They absorb the rhythms and rhymes of language. They learn to predict, use contextual clues to find meaning, and delight in repetition and surprise. Read aloud time is an opportunity to have a beloved parent close and all to oneself, while being entertained by the magic of reading. There’s little whining or dragging of feet.

Phonics is a system we can use for helping readers work out words. Once kids understand that the squiggles on a page are letters, and those letters correspond with various sounds, they are beginning to build one method of decoding or ‘reading’ an unknown word. It helps kids with writing and spelling, too. When children are ready to start reading independently, parents and teachers help them by referring to letters and the sounds they make. If a child wants to work out a word, sometimes identifying the sound/letter combinations can help eg with the word “catapult”, “Oh look, there’s ‘cat’ at the start of that word, then ‘a’, then ‘p-u-l-t’.”

However, because we want kids to love reading, and be motivated to read, I am very reluctant to advocate any explicit teaching of reading before a child shows readiness. Surround your child in print, sure. Literacy activities in the form of games and fun activities are fine. Reading aloud and modelling reading yourself are just wonderful. But buying workbooks for your child who doesn’t want to do them seems to me fraught with the danger of turning a child away from reading.

And that would be a tragedy.


My Recent Article Published

ThingLinkAvatarI have just had an article, Make Presentations Pop with ThingLink, published in Connections, a newsletter for school library staff. The article discusses way to involve kids in using ThingLink as a method of embedding content in what they present.

Connections has excellent articles and resources not just for those who work in libraries, but also for the wider community of those interested in children’s literacy. It’s available to read online, and is published quarterly.