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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!

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.

What’s the Fuss about Cursive? New Studies Link Cursive to Literacy

Have you seen BIC’s “Fight For Your Write” ad campaign? Yes, the corporate executives behind BIC pens hope to save handwriting.

Okay, so maybe their pitch is completely altruistic or maybe it is; that’s beside the point.

What is the point is that BIC -- the maker of BIC pens -- is helping everyday Americans learn about the connection between handwriting and literacy so that they can improve their children’s literacy.

And that’s huge.

After all, it was Oscar Wilde who said, 

If you cannot write well, you cannot think well; if you cannot think well, others will do your thinking for you.

Litworld Founder Pam Allyn Joins with BIC

What Wilde didn’t know back then is that if you can’t write well you won’t be able to read well. What a tragedy that would be.

The reason I’m interested in this campaign is because Pam Allyn, the Executive Director and founder of LitWorld – a global organization that shares best practices in literacy for all children worldwide – is the expert associated with BIC’s huge campaign.

Download a FREE booklet for your children now and help them write their own story to accompany these Halloween-themed images!

Free Download from Elizabeth B. Martin, author and illustrator

Allyn is also the Executive Director of LitLife, a national organization dedicated to improving academic achievement outcomes in literacy. And she’s the author of the award-winning Your Child’s Writing Life and other acclaimed titles for teachers and parents.

Allyn’s influence is wide, from The Today Show, CNN, and Oprah Radio, to The Huffington Post and The New York Times. In 2013, she was the recipient of the Scholastic Literacy Champion Award.

Who wouldn’t take BIC seriously with support like that? Allyn’s only interest is to improve literacy among our children, and that’s admirable.

This is how BIC explains the mission of this huge campaign:

Writing is an important vehicle for communication because it distinguishes us and promotes individuality. Did you know that writing is also a critical learning tool for children? Writing helps kids become better readers, boosts their confidence and sparks their creativity. 

Documented Connection Between Handwriting and Literacy

What’s behind all this excitement about handwriting’s connection to literacy?

As reported by Handwriting for Literacy, some time ago Maria Montessori wrote that children who excelled at handwriting alphabet letters have no trouble reading. 

Other literacy experts have long touted the connection between handwriting and cognition. There are even brain scans to substantiate the studies.

What’s sad is that Common Core education standards – something teachers haven’t widely supported – dictate that cursive won’t be taught in elementary schools.

Fortunately, schools are fighting back. California, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Utah—are taking on the battle to keep cursive in the curriculum. 

Advocates promote the belief that "more areas of the human brain are engaged when children use cursive handwriting than when they keyboard."

It makes sense to me.

This concept of handwriting and literacy isn’t new. Studies conducted as far back as 1993 and 1995 connected students‘ ability to read words is interwoven with their ability to write letters and words. 

And there have been plenty of studies since that time to prove that handwriting isn’t just a motor skills exercise. The issue is much deeper and more important.

Does your child's school teach cursive? If not, join BIC’s campaign and contact your school to add your voice to the Fight For Your Write to learn cursive.



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



Need Help with Your Classroom or Preschooler? Check Out Pinterest

Social media experts refer to Pinterest as a social media network.

The developers of Pinterest, however, don’t agree. They say it’s a browser, similar to Chrome and Safari.

What do I think? I say it’s a wonderful resource for parents and teachers.

Why? Because if you visit this website you’ll find a plethora of information that parents and teachers can use.

Well, first you’ll see images. But the images are primarily from informative blog posts with wonderful tips that parents and teachers can use with their families and classrooms.

If you’ve never used it, don’t worry. It’s easy. Just open an account and start searching for topics you’re interested in by typing certain words in the search bar.

Then you can find images you like, visit the website for the information, or simply start gathering the images into groups called pinboards.

My Pinboards Organized for Teachers and Parents

Here are some of the pinboards I have that might appeal to you:

Discover New Resources Though Pinterest

Why types of blog posts have I discovered. Let me just name a few.

Meet This Reading Mama: A beautiful image that I added to my How to Teach Kids to Read led me to This Reading Mama’s blog. Becky Spence homeschools her four kids and writes about literacy as well as provides free reading curricula. 

Support for Middle-Grade Teachers: I found an infographic on Pinterest that I thought was interesting. The theme is how not to let the kids in your classroom sabotage your day. Jennifer Gonzalez is the author of Middle Web, which focuses on helping middle school teachers. 

Crafts for the Younger Set: Stacey (no last name provided) is the author of Glue to My Crafts blog. One day she provided the idea and steps on how preschoolers or kindergarteners could use a paper plate and colored paper to create seahorses. It’s a pretty cool activity for young tykes in your classroom or family. 

More Projects for Toddlers: I found images on Pinterest that led me to the blog called Lil’ Scholars University’s Blog Spot. You’ll find all sorts of activities here from torn paper rainbow to learning how to count with colored cheerios.       

If you’re looking for ideas for your students or young family members, you are bound to find activities and support on this colorful website.

Illustration 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.

Your Child's Literacy Starts Now

How young was your child when you started teaching him or her to read? The benefits of early literacy are significant.

Studies have found amazing results among those children who learn to read at a very early age. Here are just a few of the findings:

  • Children who learn to read at a young age reach higher levels of scholastic achievement.
  • Early literacy is associated with reduced incidences of juvenile delinquency.
  • Children who learn to read at a young age have higher graduation rates.

Oral Language as a Foundation for Literacy Development

In our quest to increase literacy among our children, let us not forget about the important role of oral language.

Studies indicate that when children are raised in families with oral traditions, "rich language,” and literacy support, the children do better in school.

Exposing children to sophisticated vocabulary helps boys and girls enrich their vocabulary as well.

In addition, when a child understands a more sophisticated vocabulary, their skills will translate into more advanced reading skills.

When to Start Teaching Your Child to Read

There is a fallacy that reading begins in kindergarten. This couldn't be further from the truth.

Studies show that introducing toddlers – and even those younger – to picture books is an important first step.

Experts now know that language and literacy developed concurrently, and the can actually influence each other. Vocabulary a child here is in discussions will help the child when they find that vocabulary in their reading materials.

When children fall behind in oral and literacy development, it can take years for them to catch up.

Parents play a very special role in their children's scholastic achievements. Literacy does not begin when the school bell rings. It begins much earlier.

Childhood Benchmarks

From a child's birth to age 3, toddlers should be able to make sounds that imitate tones and rhythms, respond to gestures and facial expressions, begin to associate words they hear with their meanings, recognize books by their covers, pretend to read books, understand how to handle a book, talk about characters in books, listen to stories, asked to be read to, and scribble.

Between the ages of three and four, most preschoolers should be able to:

  • Enjoy listening to and talking about storybooks.
  • Understand that letters printed on a page forms words and carries messages.
  • Make attempts to read and write.
  • Identify some letters.

At age 5, the majority of children can:

  • Enjoy being read to.
  • Retell simple stories.
  • Use descriptive language.
  • Begin to match spoken words with written words.

All of these benchmarks depend on the parents. So introduce books to your child as early as possible. Let your children play with books, thumb through books, and even scribble on books.

Help your children to enjoy books, to look forward to story time, and to yearn to learn to read on their very own.

For more information on these topics, I encourage you to look at the Reading Is Fundamental website as well as the Reading Rockets website, where I found some of the data for this blog post.

Izzy plan on board_3

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