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Business card front

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Business card back

I have been successfully volunteering at the North Beach branch of the San Francisco library. It is now time for me to take the plunge and go to the next part of my plan. I would like to volunteer at the nearby elementary schools in after school programs.

As these are public schools, I have been told it is complicated and more bureaucratic. Even if true, as soon as I get my new business cards, I am going to take a deep breath and introduce myself. Who knew giving one's time and art projects away would be so hard?

I am having fun at the library on a regular basis but the children are a bit young for some of my Color and Write projects. Some children have told me they wished I would be part of their after school program and promise to ask their moms to do something about it. Of course life happens and I don't hear back. So nothing ventured, nothing gained. I will keep you posted and hope to be soon posting pictures of happy children coloring and writing in after school programs!


Bookwormz June Coloring Page, by Elizabeth B Martin

Bookwormz June Coloring Page, by Elizabeth B Martin


As a child I remember the thrill of receiving a magazine or gift through the mail. BookWormz is a brand new company that posts enchanting boxes of books and a carefully selected gift to add to the excitement.
Each box contains a minimum of two expertly curated, age-appropriate books your child will love. BookWormz works closely with all key children’s book publishers in Australia to make sure they select the best books for their boxes and, because they select new titles, they minimize the chance of sending you something you already own and love.
Each box will fill your child with as much excitement as possible when they receive their box. As well as their brand new books to read and keep, they will also find a carefully selected gift, designed to spark their creativity. BookWormz also packs each box with materials to take part in their monthly coloring competition, as well as a parent card with activities and literacy tips related to each book, to help you get the most from reading aloud to your child.
This month, I have had the pleasure of contributing the image for the coloring competition. Please check out my site for my other illustrations in my gallery.

12 Steps for Parents to Improve Kids' Literacy Skills

Elizabeth B. Martin, Author & Illustrator
Elizabeth B. Martin, Author & Illustrator

During the course of my life, I met a young man who had experienced learning disabilities that were diagnosed when he was in elementary school.

Unfortunately, his father believed that the schools in California would provide the extra tutoring the son needed. Well, if you know anything about the public school system in California you know that they are horribly underfunded. I’m certain this is the case elsewhere in the United States as well.

By the time the boy reached high school, he couldn’t write himself out of a bag, as the saying goes. He didn’t know how to compose a complete sentence and although he and his parents were native Californians, as were his grandparents, his English was grammatically insufficient.

By the time he was in high school, he would say things such as, “That was the most funnest I had.” Obviously, the correct version of that sentiment would be, “That was the most fun I’ve ever had.”

Perhaps as a defensive strategy, he would tell people that high school didn’t matter. If he didn’t do well at his community college, well, that wouldn’t be disastrous either. But where he would need to focus his energy and time would be at a state college.

As you know, that wasn’t true. Our kids learn and learn to study at a very early age. By the time they graduate from high school, they should be well prepared for college, provided they don’t want to pursue the trades or a career in public safety.

Needless to say, the young man had to take his high school exit exam for English two or three times. The same was true for his math exit exam. When he arrived on the steps of his community college, administrators required him to take remedial English and math. He’s been in the community college system for five years and is still barred from entry into a state college until he can pass additional classes.

So he’s stuck, frustrated, and depressed. He wants to pursue a business career and perhaps get into graphic design but without a proper degree, he knows that his prospects are dim.

Do I blame the father? Of course not. As a single father, he did the best he could commuting to his job and caring for his son. By the time the father returned home at night from work and cooked dinner, he was exhausted.

Follow These Steps to Boost Your Child's Literacy Skills

So as I approach this topic of how parents can support their kids’ efforts to improve their reading skills, I understand that your time is restricted. You have the house and garden to care for, travel to and from work, and must attend to responsibilities for your parents. And you must spend time making sure your kids are properly bathed, clothed, and cared for. Just thinking about all of your responsibilities makes me tired.

But if you can, spend a few minutes here and there helping to improve your kids’ literacy skills. Here are some tips for you:

  1. Start as early as possible. As Timothy Shanahan explains in his post, he began reading to his children the day they were born. Now that might be a tad extreme but the point it to start early.
  2. Singto your children. It won’t matter to them if you sing off key. Well, it will matter to them once they reach their teen years, but before then it won’t matter. Help them to enrich their vocabularies by incorporating new words and helping them to understand unfamiliar phrases.
  3. Modelgood reading habits. Let your kids observe you reading the newspaper, cookbooks, and books. Take them to the library when you pick up new books to read.
  4. Take your kids to story hour at your local library.
  5. Teach your kids to read roadway signs.
  6. Run your finger under the line of text in a story you’re reading to your children. This simple act will help your kids begin to recognize certain words.
  7. Are you baking cookies? Incorporate your child into this activity as you read the recipe and prepare the cookie dough.
  8. Each week, turn off the TV for an entire day. That evening, everyone in your household should spend time after dinner reading.
  9. Once your child can write, prepare reminder notes for your kid and encourage your child to write a reply.
  10. Buy comic books and graphic novels for your children to read.
  11. Purchase joke books, such as knock-knock books for kids. There are numerous books of this type on Amazon. Here’s a page devoted to them. 
  12. Do you subscribe to Scholastic? You can pay for a subscription or ask your doctor or dentist’s office to give you the back copies instead of tossing them into the trash. You’ll find other books on this website as well.

How are you helping your children improve their literacy skills?

Elizabeth B. Martin is the author and illustrator of six picture books for children. You can view her books here for free and download a Free coloring book here

Want Deeper Discussions in the Classroom? Use Images

Elizabeth B. Martin, Author & Illustrator
Elizabeth B. Martin, Author & Illustrator

Introduction to VTS

Have you heard of visual thinking strategies? If you’re a teacher, you must be nodding right now.

For those new to visual thinking strategies, referred to as VTS, this teaching methodology builds on students’ knowledge and develops thinking skills that in turn use detail to enhance understanding.

Abigail House, a cognitive psychologist at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, created this teaching method. The purpose of it is to develop creativity and thinking skills in students.

According to the official website for VTS, this methodology

… provides a way to jumpstart a process of learning to think deeply applicable in most subjects from poetry to math, science and social studies. Art is the essential first discussion topic because it enables students to use existing visual and cognitive skills to develop confidence and experience, learning to use what they already know to figure out what they don’t; they are then prepared to explore other complex subject matter alone and with peers.

Success with VTS in Northern California

A Northern California school, located in Petaluma, implemented this strategy “to increase student engagement and encourage flexible thinking …” Principal Jeff Williamson says that due to the program, conversations in the classroom are deeper.

In the Petaluma case, the principal involved the parents in the teachers’ professional development training and teachers share ideas with each other on how to initiate higher levels of discussion with their students.

VTS in the Classroom

English Language Learner Kristina Robertson, writing for a website for educators, described in these steps for implementing VTS.

  1. Select a visual that relates to the topic of a story that students will read.
  2. Place the image on the overhead projector.
  3. Ask students to silently study the picture for a minute while asking themselves,
  4. “What’s going on in the picture.”
  5. Ask your students what they see in the visual.
  6. Once a student provides a qualitative response, ask for a deeper reply, such as, “What makes you say that?” The students will then likely justify their responses by pointing to evidence in the image, such as the presence of a dog, a child’s rattle, or other items.
  7. Ask the class if they agree with the student’s perspective.
  8. The discussion continues until students share all they can about the picture.
  9. The teacher summarizes the students’ comments.
  10. Next, the teacher can ask the students to write about what they saw and inferred from the image or to read a chapter or part of a textbook that’s somehow related to the image used in the exercise.

Free Images for Teachers

Where can you find pictures for free? There are a variety of sources.

Elizabeth B. Martin is the author and illustrator of six picture books for children. You can view her books here for free and download a Free coloring book here.

Great Indoor Activities for Your Toddler this Winter

What can parents and teachers' most vexing problem this time of year?

Keeping toddlers and other young children occupied while it's snowing, reading, or just too cold to play outside.

So if you need to keep your students or children occupied with activities they will enjoy, keep reading this post.

Activities to Develop Motor Skills & Entertain Your Kids

Teach the alphabet: For those children who do not yet know the alphabet, give them a copy and asked them to re-create it using Legos.

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Create an indoor scavenger hunt list.

Devise a string obstacle course. See more information about this fun activity here. This activity will help your children develop their motor skills.

Create an indoor obstacle course that will also help them to learn letter recognition.

In this post, a blogger describes a wonderful game for toddlers. She calls it the Color Shape River. Simply cut a few shapes of colored paper, tape them to the floor, and tell your child that some colors or shapes are not safe to step on. The goal is to reach a toy that needs to be saved at the other end of the river. It is quite imaginative. 

If you would like to help your child develop fine motor skills, have them try the baking soda and vinegar experiment. Simply sprinkle some baking soda into a roasting pan, pour vinegar into three small dishes, and add food coloring to the vinegar. Using an eyedropper, kids can extract the colored vinegar and squeeze some onto the baking soda. Try it and see what happens. To see more information and pictures about this activity, visit Hands On.

Another fine motor skill activity involves paperclips. Ask your children to create  chains using paperclips.

This blogger has also asked her children to create structures using spaghetti, marshmallows, and paper. There's a great image on this page

Another activity involves a colander and small pipe cleaners. Ask your children to insert the pipe cleaners into the holes in the colander. The pipe cleaners need to reach across to a corresponding hole.

For the budding mechanics and carpenters, give your children several knobs and screws and ask them to match them and screw them in properly. You can also use nuts and bolts for this type of activity.

Coloring books are also a popular activity. You can purchase or create a coloring book that also teaches children about colors.

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Pinterest Boards for Kids & Parents

Check Out These Pinterest Boards To Entertain Your Child:

I’ve have saved the best tip for last: reading! Simply navigate to my Pinterest pages to find plenty of books to keep your children busy while they need to be indoors.

Finally, if you would like to keep your child entertained while learning about sea creatures, the coral reefs, and fun videos, navigate to my Pinterest profile to find fun, educational, and entertaining pinboards.

Elizabeth B. Martin

Elizabeth B. Martin is the author and illustrator of six picture books for children. You can view her books here for free and download a Free coloring book here.