My favorite Grow a Reader practice in the whole world is (drumroll please!) . . . PLAYING! Goofing off. Clowning around. Kicking up your heels.
But shouldn’t a pre-literacy practice require, oh I dunno—something like . . . practice?
Of course, playing comes very easily to most children. But don’t be fooled into thinking that because it comes naturally, playing doesn’t have value. Playing gives kids practice at thinking symbolically and using their imaginations. And, since words are basically just symbols for objects, actions, and ideas, learning to think symbolically is a priceless pre-literacy skill.*
“Bouncing, bouncing, panda on my knee; bouncing, bouncing, 1-2-3!”* I peeked around the doorframe to see my 3-year-old daughter with her stuffed panda, singing it a song I had sung to her and her brother over and over and gently bouncing it on her knee. I was delighted! Not only was she singing, she was playing with the lyrics, making them her own.
Fast forward two years, and I overhear my son singing while he’s playing with LEGOs, “Rain, rain, go away, Mia and Eli want to play…” We are definitely a singing household. I grew up learning folk songs as Dad accompanied us on guitar. My mom sings Christmas carols year-round while she does chores. The kids and I sing songs anytime we are driving in the car. They often request that I play songs by title.
“My dad works at an advertising agency and my mom anchors the local evening news. They are both very good-looking for old people, and I’m not being arrogant but just stating a fact when I say I inherited the best from both of them.” – Ashley, We Are All Made of Molecules
Ashley is the best-looking and most popular person in high school. Stewart, not so much. Stewart is a certifiable genius. Ashley? Well, let’s just say she’s a few fries short of a Happy Meal.
To open a book illustrated by Floyd Cooper is to be drawn into a world of warmth, bravery, and joy. His drawings are as essential as the text itself in illuminating the world of childhood, often of the Black experience.
He was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1956. Early on, his family lived in the projects and had little money, but his mother was able to give him a sense of self-worth that he has carried with him always. She also shared stories with him, helping to build his imagination.
Best known for her Newbery Award-winning books, Jacob Have I Loved, as well as Newbery Honor winner, The Great Gilly Hopkins, Katherine Paterson's very personal style of storytelling strikes nerves with her readers, who are able feel her characters' emotions, giving them practice for dealing with life's sorrows. What keeps her books from being simple studies in misery is her ability to find the humor and grace in any situation.
Gather your family together for an hour or two of face-to-face gaming with a twist: you can make the games yourselves to match your family's interests.
The Blessing Cup, by Patricia Polacco, is a wonderful story for anytime, but especially during the holidays when family gathers close for this is a family story. Patricia Polacco’s great-grandmother Anna and her family came to America from Russia after the Czar ordered all the Jews to leave the country. Just like that, they had to leave behind everything they couldn’t carry. Momma and Papa packed the sewing machine, their menorah, the shofar, his tallis, and holy books. But also precious to them was the tea set they were given when they were married.
Faith Ringgold is an artist who uses different materials to tell the stories that are important to her family and her people. Whether working with quilting squares, African masks, paint and brush, or her own words, Faith gives the rich colors and textures a life of their own. There's motion in her work, a striving upward and pushing at the edges of her world.
All it takes is one picky toddler to make parents pull their hair out at the dinner table. If there is one topic that worries us the most, it’s our children’s health and what they’re eating (or not!). As a result, there are countless books on the market touting the best way to get your kids to eat more foods. From The Sneaky Chef, which advocates putting veggie purees in brownies, to 201 Healthy Smoothies and Juices for Kids, to What Chefs Feed Their Kids where chefs share their gourmet secrets, there are more than 60 titles to choose from just in our library system. Parents who are at a loss as to how to get their littlest ones (and often, their big ones!) interested in a plate of carrots can easily become overwhelmed with the advice. With the additional goals of trying to feed families with increasingly less time and high grocery bills, it’s enough to make many of us revert to pasta every night of the week.
The newest addition to the collection, however, might just change not only how you feed your kids, but also yourself. French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon is the story of one Canadian mother who moved her young family back to her husband’s native Brittany, on the coast of France. As you can surmise by the title, she discovered why French kids associate chocolate cake with pleasure, not guilt, and why they have astonishing lower rates of childhood obesity (20% in America, just 3% in France (p. 140)). She discovered why nearly half of French children eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables each day, while barely ten percent of their American counterparts struggle to eat the same amount (p. 117). Even their daycare menus resemble gourmet menus. One day’s lunch at her daughter’s preschool was listed as: beet salad bolognaise, roast turkey with fine flageolet beans, goat cheese buchette, and organic pear compote (p. 36). “By the time they are two years old,” Le Billon discovered, “most French kids have tried (and eaten) more foods than many American adults” (p. 120).
May is the perfect time to visit a zoo. It's not too hot or crowded, and the animals are at their springtime best. If your kids are begging for pandas, then the National Zoo in Washington is the place to go, but there are some places about an hour's drive from our area where kids can get a different kind of beastly experience.