Encourage Your Children to Read More by Building a Fort

The Christmas and New Year’s holidays will soon be here and our children will have many days off from school.  I often like to think about creative ways for parents to encourage their children to read and develop active readers from a young age.  Why not consider building a fort in a child’s room or family room as a unique, cozy, private place to read?

In building a makeshift fort, let your children take the lead in researching what types of forts can be built, planning what is needed, and actually building it.  After all, it’s “their” fort.  I recommend starting out by searching the internet for pictures, articles and ideas.  There are also many books that give step by step instructions on building all types of forts. 

A fort can be simple and just made with a few chairs for walls and a blanket thrown across the chairs for the roof.  Or, it can be more elaborate.  What is important is that everyone participates in the decision as to what it will look like.   Be sure to make it big enough so that you can join your children in the fort.  A fun activity is reading to them inside the fort!

This project will definitely be one for the memory books!  And, importantly, you and your children will have a fun time bonding.

Fun Indoor Activities for the Winter Months

If you are reading this, that probably means you are recovering from all the outdoor fun that was discussed in last week’s article.  Even with all the fun you had in the cold outdoors, it feels nice to get inside in the warmth for a bit. Besides, the fun can continue indoors, as there are many great winter activities that can be done inside the house!  Here are a few:

1.    Scavenger Hunt. Hide objects around the house that your little ones can find.  Give them each the same number of items to find and put a time limit on the hunt.  Whoever comes back with all his items first, wins! For single child families, time your child while he searches for the items. When the time is up, have him come to you with any items he has retrieved.

2.    Make Snowflakes. We have all seen those snowflake decorations with the intricate designs on paper.  Have your children help you make some as all children love crafts!

There are hundreds of tutorials across several online platforms with step by step instructions for these and other winter decorations.  They do not have to be difficult either.

You will be amazed at the creations your children come up with. The whole family could get so occupied in all the fun you are having that the inside of the house ends up looking like the outside, covered in snow!

3.    Cook. This may not be a winter specific activity, but it is a great way to warm up and pass the time together. The best thing about this is that it gives the parents and children so many choices. You can choose a dish that takes 15 minutes to cook or one that takes a few hours.  It is all completely up to you. Children love helping out, so make these meal preparations fun and enjoyable for them.

What they do not know is that cooking also assists them with reading and comprehension skills.

If you want to give the experience that extra winter touch, you can make winter themed treats like snowman pancakes or gingerbread cookies. Delicious!

4.    Build a fort. There is nothing quite like the memory of building a fort to bring back the nostalgia of childhood for adults. Bring out your inner child and help build a fort big enough for the whole family. All you need is a large bed sheet, a few pieces of furniture to place it on, and some pillows to make it a little more comfortable to lay on the floor.

Try to remember that this is an activity for your children to take the lead on. It is easy to get caught up in the wistfulness of it all and take over. Try not to do that.

Once the fort is built, everyone can get in and tell stories, watch a movie, or simply relax and bask in each other’s company.

Not only are these activities wonderful fun for the family, but they also require lots of energy and you know what that means … sleepy kids!  After a day of fun, all your children will want to do is go through their bedtime routine and then sleep.

Fun Outdoor Activities for the Winter Months

Snow and cold temperatures have come again and do you know what that means? The entire family is inside, huddled around the fire waiting for the temperature to rise. Just because snow is covering the ground does not mean that fun cannot be had. Here are a few enjoyable and affordable outdoor activities in which the whole family can join this winter:

  1. Play Capture the Snow flag! If you are familiar with the original “capture the flag” game, you are going to have to unfamiliarize yourself because this is nothing like that. In this game, it is important to keep your eyes peeled because a white flag is to be tied to a wooden spoon and placed in the snow so that only the cloth is showing. Spotting a white cloth among a sea of snow is as difficult as it sounds and it is a fun way to enhance a child’s visual and recognition skills.

    Try to hide it well because whoever is able to hide his ‘flag’ for the longest period of time is the victor!
     
  2. Make ice bubbles! This one is pretty simple. Take an ordinary bottle of bubble solution and blow only hard enough that a bubble forms but does not leave the wand, then watch the magic happen. Watching the bubble freeze before a child’s eyes can be so exciting, and you can give him/her a little lesson about the freezing point of water in the process.

    To make this activity feel more like an experiment, look at the differences between bubbles formed by blowing with the mouth versus bubbles formed by waving the wand in the air.

    It is important to note, though, that this will only work in temperatures of 19-Fahrenheit and below.  Burr!!
     
  3. Make a winter bonfire.  Who ever said that s’mores were just for the summer has never had a winter bonfire.  The crisp, cold air matched with the warmth of the fire is a delightful combination.

    It is winter so outdoor camping is probably not an option right now.  Try instead to set up the fire in your backyard.  Ask your children (if old enough) to help you build the fire. You will not believe the sense of fulfillment they will feel having helped you out.

    You can even make this a big affair by inviting family and friends to participate. Bonfires often provide memorable bonding experiences, so why not share it with everyone you love?

There are so many amusing and inventive ways to enjoy being outside this winter.  You can also come up with your own ideas or use these and other activities that can be found online. So what are you waiting for? The outdoors is calling!

You can find more outdoor activities by CLICKING HERE.

Finding the Balance between Your Children’s Activities and Their Well-being

In a prior blog post, I wrote about the importance of having your children participate in a variety of after-school activities and the benefits that doing so provide.  Today, I would like to extend a cautionary note that those activities should enhance their childhood experiences, not inhibit them.  Children who are overexposed to activities can suffer from headaches; feel tired, anxious or depressed; and suffer a drop in their grades.  Here are a few tips on how to have your children involved in extracurriculars, while still giving them the chance to be children:

  1. Time: According to most experts, children should not spend more than 10 to 20 hours a week participating in out of school activities. If they spend any more time than this, they will not have enough time to do their homework, adequately prepare for tests, and be with their families. Choosing activities that meet bi-weekly or monthly could be healthier options for children, rather than those that meet once or several times a week.
     
  2. Request: Before enrolling your children in an extracurricular activity, it is best to ask if they want to join in it. This way, it will be an activity that they want to do, not an activity that they are being forced to do. Also, try not to pressure your children to outdo themselves or anyone else in their respective activities. Never compare what they are doing or not doing with other children.
     
  3. Your schedule: Ask yourself whether you or your spouse have the time to drive them to and from each activity.  Adding too many activities can wreak havoc on your schedule too and cause a lot of stress. 

The balance between school, homework, play, and family time can be difficult.  The important issue is that you try to balance all four, with an emphasis on what works for the family unit as a whole.   No activity should take the place of spending quality time together as a family or put too much stress on family life.

Extracurricular Activities Ensure Excellence In and Out of the Classroom

Study after study has shown that extracurricular activities provide many benefits for students.  These activities have been known to not onlyprovide children with a break in the day from the stress and anxiety that comes with academics, but also to assist them with copingwith all of the many different things happening in their lives.

Programs such as a language club or a debate team reinforce many classroom-based skills, while sports and musical programs have been known to ‘wake’ the brain up.  Additionally, these type of activities give children a sense of routine, and by allowing them to choose activities they are interested in, parents will inspire them to continue with these routines throughout their adult lives.  Moreover, students who participate in these sorts of activities have been shown to earn higher scores on college admission’s exams.

After-school activities have actually been found to give children energy and help them thrive within their social groups.  All of this is added impetus to later doing homework as well.   On the other hand, students who are not involved in any after-school programs have been known to go through periods of sluggishness, making it difficult for them to even get started on their homework. 

An additional benefit is being able to provide constructive information on a college application.  Colleges are looking for students who are well rounded and sociable, and who will likely survive a rigorous academic schedule.   When your children are able to show what they have done outside the classroom, they will be able to establish their good character, social worthiness, and academic stamina. 

To learn more about the benefits of extracurricular activities, click here.

Have the Entire Family Commemorate Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day.  It is a day that has been set aside for us to honor those who have died in the fight to serve and protect our wonderful country. While it is always fun to dust off the grill and invite friends and family over for one of the first barbeques of the season, let us not forget the important sacrifices behind this holiday.

Teach your children about why Memorial Day is celebrated. If explaining the holiday in a child-friendly manner seems difficult for you, there are several articles online that you can use for assistance.  Also, libraries and bookstores have many age appropriate books.  Once your children understand the reasons behind the holiday, participating in activities will be more memorable and heartfelt.

Here are a few examples of activities that the whole family can participate in before or even after you fire up that grill:

  1. Children love crafts. Encourage them to make letters or cards for veterans and families of fallen soldiers.  They can then deliver them to the people whom you know, to veterans’ hospitals or Veterans Affairs offices. Feel free to join in on the fun. Crafting can be a great bonding opportunity and give parents the time to address any unanswered questions about the day and any other activities that are planned. 
     
  2. Visit monuments of fallen soldiers. Some of the most famous in the country are found in Washington D.C.  However, if visiting the nation’s capital is not an option, you can always find graveyards and memorials in or around your town to visit.
     
  3. Carry flowers to honor the fallen.  One of the most appropriate flowers used to pay homage are poppies. In the poem In Flanders’ Fields, poet John McCrae venerated the sacrifice made by those who lost their lives in service during the First World War.  He wrote about poppies being in the fields.  The flower has been associated with war and remembering the fallen.  Explain to your children the history behind the flower and take some to a veterans’ graveyard, memorial, or even to a veteran.
     
  4. Go see a Memorial Day Parade.  Parades can be such fun to watch.  They are not only an excuse to get out of the house, but also a wonderfulopportunity for the entire family to experience a town, city or county coming together to honor and commemorate truly extraordinary people, people who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
     
  5. Observe the National Moment of Remembrance. Since December, 2000, the National Moment of Remembrance has been set to begin at 3 p.m. wherever you are in the country. This is a time to for you to stop whatever you are doing and pay your respects.

There are countless other activities that can be done today.  What is important is that you participate in them together as a family and give honor to those who first honored us.

Include Attending Book Festivals as Fun, Family Activities

    There are so many book festivals throughout the year.  These festivals celebrate authors and books – for all ages – often at no entry cost whatsoever.  Many festivals are just for children’s books or have sections dedicated for children, with children’s authors and their books featured and available for sale.  A variety of fun children’s activities also are held, such as face painting, children’s crafts, musical performances and exhibitions geared for children. 

    Not only will your children learn about new books, but they will also have the opportunity to actually meet and speak with children’s authors.  Have the authors autograph their books for your children.  This will make the books more personal and special.   Some festivals have “Read to Me Corners” where authors read their books and speak about their love for reading and writing.  

    Search the internet for book festivals near you.  What a wonderful way to spend a day with your children!   They are sure never to forget their experiences. 

    Please join me on September 3 and 4, 2016 in Decatur, Georgia at the Decatur Book Festival.  I’ll be at booth #629 in the children’s area.  I’ll also be at the Miami Book Festival on November 19, 2016.  I would love to meet you and your children and autograph books.

What are Some Interesting and Fun-filled Summer Activities for Children?

    It’s summer.  Are you wondering about what to do with your children?  You have a lot of work at the office, but your children need summer activities to fill their time.  I came across this online article by Jen Hatmaker discussing 10 summer activities to do with your children.  She’s a wonderful writer and has come up with many fun and creative ideas.  

    Some examples are:

  1. Let your kids make videos or movies with a smart phone.  There are many free apps out there to help.
  2. Do “Mystery Thursdays” (or any other day of the week that fits best with your schedule).  The kids know that the family is going somewhere that is fun but it’s a complete surprise.
  3. Go through your children’s closets and toy bins and donate what they do not use anymore or have outgrown.   Try connecting with a needy family.
  4. Cook some very special meals with them.  Take out those cookbooks and search together to find the best recipes.  Have fun buying the ingredients, following the recipes, and then cooking.  Ms. Hatmaker mentions that she and her daughter cooked some meatball subs that were so delicious that they couldn’t stop talking and bragging about them. 
  5. Have a family boot camp and exercise together. 

To read her article and more of her ideas, CLICK HERE.

More Summer Reading Programs for Children

    I can’t write enough about the importance of having your children read during the summer.   The diagram with this blog today illustrates how children can actually drastically lose reading skills during the summer months if they do not have access to books.  For children in high and low income households who read during the summer, their reading skills improved up to 25%.  For children in low income households who do not read, their reading skills actually dropped by almost 10%.

    On an online article, Liz Haskins lists 10 free summer reading programs.  She also explains how to access free books on a Kindle or E-Reader.  Read her article by CLICKING HERE.  There is no excuse for not having your children read, and read, and read this summer.  Your child’s performance in school during the coming year depends on it.  

Biographies are Wonderful Books for Children

I truly like this statement: “Every hero has a story”.   Who are your children’s heroes?  Have them read about their heroes’ stories.  If they don’t really have any yet, introduce them to heroes.  Your children will learn about the lives of different famous persons, the obstacles that they had to overcome, and what made them heroes.  They may even aspire to become like them!

Are your children interested in wars or major battles?  Have them read about famous generals and important battles.  Are they interested in famous writers?  Help them research about different authors and read their biographies.  Are they interested in sports figures?

There are many books about famous athletes.  Are they interested in the presidents of the United States?  Children’s books have shortened versions of these biographies.  I could go on and on.  If there is a person whom your child admires, try to find that person’s biography.  Inspire your children to learn and dream. 

Let Your Children Help Plan Summer Vacation

As with any and everything having to do with your children, I highly recommend planning your summer vacation with them.  Are you considering traveling with them or just taking time off from work to spend a few days with them?  If your children are old enough, allow them to assist in planning.   
    
An article on the website www.schoolfamily.com actually recommends that parents let their children do the planning because they will learn many life skills.  First, sit them down and explain to them what is involved.  Give them a budget and have them come up with the plans.  Will it be a family road trip or a cruise or something else?

Second, give them a deadline within which to come up with their plan and then have them present it to you.  Third, have them get travel brochures and maps or print off the internet information about the various destinations and types of trips.  At the destination they select, ask them to develop an itinerary – what will the family do each day?  After the trip is selected, assign tasks to each child.  For example, have one child be the photographer and another child keep a written journal.  

There are unlimited ideas that parents can adopt to help make this summer vacation memorable. To read the article, click here.

Cook with Your Children and Promote Reading at the Same Time

What does cooking have to do with reading?  A whole lot because reading recipes is involved!  Encourage your children to help out in the kitchen with cooking and have them read from recipes and other items at the same time.  And, have a lot of fun while you are doing it too!

There are a variety of excellent cookbooks for children available.  Or, you may have family recipes that you have collected over the years and written down on index cards or typed out.  The goal is to have your children read.  Start with the ingredients.  Let them read and then collect the items that are needed.  After that, continue on to the instructions.  What is step 1?  Step 2? Ask them questions about what they have read to make sure they understand what is involved.

Above all, be patient and understanding.  If egg shells get in the bowl, show them how to remove them and what to do in the future.  Help them read the numbers and then set the temperature on the oven.  Then, set a timer on a clock for the correct cooking time.   I guarantee that if you involve your children in cooking, you will create life long memories!

Teachers Play a Critical Role in Advancing Literacy

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

― Henry Adams

My blog centers around promoting literacy.  Most of my writing is geared toward what parents, grandparents and other adults can do in the home.  What about outside the home?  Teachers are the ones who spend approximately 7 hours a day, Monday through Friday, with our children.  They not only teach, but also are role models and motivators and as such, they are vital to our children’s ability to read and development of the love of reading.

When did you last speak to your children’s teachers about the importance of reading?  When was the last time that you visited your children’s classrooms? What type of books are in the classroom?  How often do the children visit the library?  What can you do to help these teachers to promote reading more?
    
Teachers often are overworked and have many different lessons to cover during a school day.  However, they understand the importance literacy plays in a child’s education and overall life.  Try volunteering at the school to assist.    Donate books to the classroom, especially books that your children have already read.  Then, they can be the ones to tell their friends about the books.  Helping your children’s teacher to be better teachers benefits your children and others. 

Using Toys to Promote Reading

Using Toys to Promote Reading

I’m certain that your children have a lot of different toys around the house.  Try incorporating those toys during their reading time to make the stories come to life and to further develop their creativity. My two sons loved to read about dinosaurs, and we must have had every type of dinosaur toy in our home...

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Make Reading Fun By Adding Hand Puppets

Make Reading Fun By Adding Hand Puppets

I know what you may be thinking after reading this heading for my blog today.  “Why should I add hand puppets to reading time?”  “Hand puppets – where do I buy those?”  “Help!! Can you give me some ideas?” If there is one thing that I know well about children- it is that they love to laugh...

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Reading Mystery Stories Can Also Teach Important Reading Skills

Reading Mystery Stories Can Also Teach Important Reading Skills

A good mystery story can keep you spellbound for a long time.  You do not want to put the book down until the mystery is solved and you know who has done it.  You read and try to pick out all the clues.  You try your best to figure out the ending.  Did you get it right after all?  If not, what clues did you miss? Children love mystery stories as much as adults...

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Children Playing Video Games – The Pros & Cons

I’m certain that many parents purchased or friends and relatives purchased video games for their children or other young relatives as gifts this past Christmas.  As the mother of two sons, I know well the desires that children have to play video games, especially boys.   

Many parents ask – can playing too many video games really hurt my child?  According to developmental psychologist Douglas Gentile, the answer to that question is “Yes”.  He gives the following reasons why:

  • Kids who spend too much time at the computer are missing out on other activities fundamental to their physical, social, intellectual, and emotional development. Time spent in front of the computer or game console is time taken away from playing with friends, reading or doing a project with you, and other activities.
  • Kids usually play video games alone, and too much time spent alone can foster social isolation.
  • Children who watch more than ten hours of TV a week don't do as well in school as kids their age who watch less. When setting limits, it's important to consider the total amount of time your child spends in front of all electronic screens — TVs, computers, movie screens, etc.
  • Bad habits can become ingrained and are more difficult to change as children get older. (According to research, the average American 4th-grade boy spends 9.5 hours each week playing video and computer games, in addition to other screen time.)
  • If your child regularly plays games with plots based on violence and aggression, research shows he is at risk for increased aggressive behavior.

There are pros to video games, though.  He recommends quality games that give children the opportunity to practice problem solving and logic skills. They help the development of fine motor and coordination skills and also help children become familiar with information technology.  He strongly suggests playing these games with your children as special bonding time. 

Are Books Among The Most Important Objects In Your Home?

Are Books Among The Most Important Objects In Your Home?

When I walk into a person’s home, I can immediately know what is important to that person.  Is there music playing and music paraphernalia all around?  Are there toys and play areas for children in different spaces?  Is there a large tv screen with surround sound and other modern equipment to make tv viewing an experience?  I’m not being judgmental – simply stating facts.  

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Promote Literacy By Having Your Children Read to Pets

Promote Literacy By Having Your Children Read to Pets

Pets are a very important part of a family and can also be a creative way to encourage your children to read.  Some children read to dolls or other inanimate objects as part of their play time.  What about having them read to their pets?  In fact, some organizations have programs where children come in and read to shelter pets.  These programs encourage children to practice reading out loud and provide much needed attention for pets who are in the shelter.  What a wonderful way to promote literacy!

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Did You Know That Singing Helps Young Children Develop Reading Skills?

Did You Know That Singing Helps Young Children Develop Reading Skills?

Singing can be such fun!  When was the last time that you sang in the shower?  Or with your children? Did you know that singing is a wonderful way to help your younger children develop good reading skills?

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