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. http://classroommagazines.scholastic.com

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

How to Encourage Creativity in Toddlers

kids playing
kids playing

Creative play and imaginative arts experiences play a central role in toddlers’ learning and development. You can encourage your toddler and support her creativity with free-flowing creative activities. Here are some ideas. Source: Raising Children 

Polymath: someone who knows a lot about many different things. Source: Merriam-Webster

I read a post titled Why the 21st Century Economy Needs More Polymaths on the Fast Company blog and it got me thinking about kids. http://www.fastcompany.com/3056140/why-the-21st-century-economy-needs-more-polymaths

What if you could raise the next Picasso? Picasso is considered the last Renaissance man. He was a painter, sculptor, and poet. Best known for his painting Guernica, he first learned the rules of painting and then had the confidence and creative urge to break every one of them.

Leonardo Da Vinci was another polymath. He was a painter, sculptor, architect, and inventor.

Emilie Wapnick and Multipotentialities

In a great Ted Talk, Emilie Wapnick also addresses this issue. But instead of using the little-known word polymath, she refers to this attribute as multipotentialities.

Now, I’m the first to agree that this is all heady stuff, isn’t it? By now you must be wondering how can all these highfalutin theories apply to your life with a toddler or kindergartner running around the house.

Well, it can. Just take baby steps.

Ideas You Can Start Using Today

Raising Children has these suggestions:

  1. Encourage creativity when your kids play. “For toddlers, creative play is about the process of creating. There’s no right and wrong in how toddlers create and respond to art.”
  2. Don’t criticize your kids’ efforts or misadventures in what they color or create. Instead, always offer praise and encouragement.

Here are some additional ideas from Becoming Mamas:

  1. Does your child want to wear mismatched socks or a striped top with plaid pants. Or, are their color combinations in the clothes they select for themselves a tad garish? Let them experiment. It’s okay.
  2. Visit art museums with your kids. Start with a children’s museum if you have one in your community. Take them to the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Northern California where they can see the late cartoonist’s drawings and get involved in activities for kids. If those two activities aren’t available to you, visit any museum located in or near your city.
  3. Does your child play without using toys? This is wonderful for the development of their imagination and creative skills.
  4. As soon as it makes sense, based on your judgment, encourage your kids to solve their own problems.
  5. Suggest that your children play with random items and see how they connect them and create a unique play experience for themselves.

Activities to Promote Creativity in Your Kids

Looking for specific activities for your children? Here are some ideas.

Merriam-Webster defines creativity as “the ability to make new or think of new ideas.” What can you do to promote creativity in your kids’ lives?

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.

[bctt tweet="Help your child develop fine motor skills w/ indoor activities http://www.elizabethbmartin.com/?p=1086"]

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.

[bctt tweet="Pinterest Boards To Entertain Your Child http://www.elizabethbmartin.com/?p=1086"]

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.


Forgo the Black Friday Frenzy - Give the Gift of an Experience

Black Friday is around the corner and you know what that means: It’s the start of the mad rush to purchase Christmas or Hanukkah gifts for friends, teachers, grandparents and kids.

What if you don’t celebrate a major holiday at this time of year? No problem. Keep reading because this post will apply to you as well.

Your kids may be busily writing letters to Santa Claus attesting to their good behavior and asking for the newest video game, bicycle, or jacket.

A child’s vision of a perfect holiday or Christmas can sometimes be a tree surrounded with large packages just for them -- or a Menorah with the promise of gifts.

But is that your ideal for the holiday season? Is it really spending Thanksgiving evening looking for Black Friday deals? Why not REI's lead this year and forgo the Black Friday frenzy.

[bctt tweet="Follow REI's lead; forgo the Black Friday frenzy via @ebmartin70"]

Whether you light 9 candles or a Christmas tree, and whether you celebrate both holidays or just one of them, you may want to rethink your gift giving strategy.

Am I suggesting that you forgo gifts entirely? No, because that prospect would disappoint your children. But I do have a solution to help you end the madness.

Give the Gift of an Experience

What if you could give a gift that your children would remember for the rest of their lives? This type of gift isn’t a tricycle or a game; I’m talking about the gift of an experience.

Book-of-the-Month Clubs for the Kids in Your Life

The parents of a friend of mine still recalls that as a child her parents subscribed to a book-of-the-month club.

Every four weeks on a Saturday, a biography would arrive of some legend in American history and she would crawl up in her mother’s rocker and spend the day reading.

She still recalls those Saturdays and the books that fueled a lifelong interest in reading biographies of leaders throughout history.

You can do the same thing for your children and boost your child's literacy and spelling prowess. In fact, here are some sources for book-of-the-month clubs for your children:

  1. Highlights – This well-recognized publisher offers stories and puzzles for children. Perhaps you’ve seen them in doctor’s offices. Well, now they can arrive at your doorstep.
  2. GiftLit – This is another wonderful source. And GiftLit offers books geared for children from the age of 2 to 14.
  3. Spellbound – On this website you’ll find books for babies and toddlers all the way to the young adult fiction lover in your house.
  4. Lollipop Book Club – This is another popular book club with books for the baby in your life or kids up to age 12. You can even find books by themes here.

[bctt tweet="This holiday, give your kids a book-of-the-month subscription #literacy "]

Gifts that Produce Wonder in Your Kids

There are gifts that provide more of an immediate experience as well. Yes, I’m talking about trips. These trips don’t need to cost a fortune. Here are some ideas.

  1. Instead of taking your kids to Disneyland and dealing with the long lines for the most popular rides, take them to a nearby zoo or aquarium. In Northern California, we have the San Francisco Zoo. In Central California, there’s the amazing Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, and a lovely path along the bay that’s perfect for a family bike ride or walk.
  2. If you live near Santa Rosa or don’t mind spending the night in a nearby hotel, Safari West is a perfect Christmas or Hannukh gift. At Safari West, you’ll ride around in a safari jeep and have an opportunity to get up close and personal with a variety of exotic animals. They even have a giraffe that likes to lick toes. If you are feeling flush or would like to really splurge, you could even spend an evening right on the grounds.
  3. What if you don’t live in Northern California? The San Diego Zoo is perhaps the best in the country. Traveling to the Zoo would definitely create a memory no child would ever forget.
  4. In the Midwest, Indianapolis has a Children’s Museum.
  5. Iowa is home to the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.
  6. If you have car enthusiasts in your family, Michigan is home to the Henry Ford Museum.
  7. Michigan has the Lake Superior Museum.
  8. Ohio has the Franklin Park Conservatory and the Jack Nicklaus Museum for your golf lovers in the family.
  9. Live in New York? Visit the American Museum of Natural History.
  10. If you live near Maryland, you can visit the National Children's Museum.
  11. In the south, you can take your kids to the EdVenture Children's Museum.

[bctt tweet="Instead of buying gifts, take your kids to museums, zoos and parks via @ebmartin70"]

Can’t Afford an Overnight Trip? Try These Ideas?

  1. Spend your holiday on a picnic and hike.
  2. If you live near the beach, spend the day running into the waves, checking out tide pools, and spooning up clam chowder.
  3. Are you kids too young to hike? Visit local amenities. Every town has some claim to fame.
  4. Spend a day walking neighborhoods that teach your kids about local landmarks or the history of your town.
  5. Invite your child to spend a day at work with you.

It might be an adjustment for your children not to receive large, gift-wrapped packages, but they will appreciate time spent with children and experiences that create memories they’ll never forget.

Forgo the Black Friday Frenzy and Give the Gift of an Experience and Literacy by 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.