Getting Kids To Read Over the Summer

Elkhart girl readingI was on vacation at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin and visited one of my favorite vintage shops, “Three Gables Consignment,” partly because they have a sign that says, “Open” on one side and “Shut” on the other. As I was browsing I heard a child reading and turned the corner into the next room and found a little girl curled up in a chair, reading to herself out loud. She held a large book called, “Rapunzel’s Revenge,” and was completely absorbed in her book, unaware of my presence. I was so excited to see a child loving a book and soon found out it was the shopkeeper’s daughter. Mom reported that her daughter had made three trips to the library that week alone.

So how do we keep kids reading over the summer?

  • Keep reading TO your child, even though they can read independently. There are great read-alouds for older children with far more intricate stories than what they are capable of reading themselves.
  • Allow your child to select what they find interesting. There will be a better chance that they will pick up the book if it is of interest to them. (Aren’t we the same way?) I have to laugh when I arrive at homes the day kids visit their school book fair. They come home with some very unusual titles but the choices are theirs, which makes them special. The kids can’t wait to crack them open when they get home.
  • Offer some books around the theme of what your family might be doing this summer–visiting a national park, going to the beach or exploring a city.
    This strengthens the book-to-life connection and will be fun for the family.
  • Suggest some series that might interest your child and get the first book. If she makes a connection and enjoys the book, she has several more to read.
  • Make regular visits to the public library which often has fun incentive programs for summer reading.
  • Engage in conversations about the books your child is reading as well as yourself. Think of it as your own book club between the two of you. I have heard of moms organizing a book club with their daughters which turned into a lot of fun!


Posted in 10 and up, 12 years and up, 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, 8 years and up, Books, Reading, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | 3 Comments

Happy Fourth of July

Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

Happy Fourth of July to you all!

May you have a wonderful day with family and friends celebrating the freedoms we enjoy in this great country of ours!

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Summer Reading Ideas For Kids, Balloons Over Broadway


“Make Stuff” from illustrator Melissa Sweet’s website

There is a freedom with the end of school for parents as well as teachers. No wonder a mom’s blog, “Worst End of School Year Mom Ever,”  struck a cord with so many parents! I find that after parents breathe that sigh of relief, it’s  not too long before they are setting up some routine to keep their kids reading over the summer.

In this blog I want to address reading TO young children, continuing to engage them in great stories so they develop a love for books and reading. Many local libraries have special sections set up with recommended books by grade level, including preschool which I find to be great lists with lots of variety. Reading picture books is great but why not expand on the book since summer affords a little more time for relaxed learning?

I received a new book by one of my favorite illustrators, Melissa Sweet (Spike the Mixed -Up Monster) which drew me to her website. Under “Make Stuff,” she lists 12 books she has illustrated with games, puppets and activities to do as followup to her books. Balloons Over Broadway, The True Story of The Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade,  ”tells the amazing story of Tony Sarg, the incredible puppeteer and marionette master who created the first Macy’s larger-than-life parade balloons in 1928. ‘With a marionette, the controls are above and the puppet hangs down, but what if the controls were below and the puppet could rise up?’ Tony thought. And everyone’s favorite Thanksgiving tradition was born!” The illustrator’s activity kit includes the plans to make a lion, puppy and dragon paddle puppet, as well as finger puppets and a special box to store them! What could be more fun than listening to a story about puppets and then making your own to create a show? For parents who want to go deeper with older children there is an educator’s guide which goes into depth about further research about the artist, puppets and storytelling, the people behind the puppets and puppetry across cultures.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Reading, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Disney Eye Found It! Hidden Picture Game Encourages Language

disney-eye-found-it-lifestyleEvery now and then I test out a product and kids start talking fast and furiously starting with looking at the box! Such was the case the other day with “Disney Eye Found It! Hidden Picture Game” by Wonder Forge whose game board unfolds to reveal 12 scenarios illustrating Disney stories from Alice In Wonderland to Pixar Cars. My little testers jumped from one scene to another, describing how that fit into the movie’s story identifyling who were the good and bad guys. Playing the actual game involved lots of language association skills as kids searched collaboratively to find sets of objects. Here is my full review:

Kids raced to open the box of the Disney Eye Found It! Hidden Picture Game. As they unfolded the six foot game board one friend couldn’t contain himself,  ”I love it! Is it all the games together in one? The whole world?” Yes, much of the whole Disney “world” is pictured in intricate and inspiring detail from 12 favorite stories including Winnie the Pooh, Cinderella, Pixar Cars, Phineas and Ferb, Peter Pan and Beauty and the Beast. Our friends were full of conversation as they examined the scenes on the game board, identifying “That’s the skull where the bad buy, Captain Hook, took Tiger Lily” and pointing to Alice in Wonderland, “She is huger than all the rest!” Take turns but you’re working together to arrive at Cinderella’s castle before the clock strikes midnight. Everyone can win in this collaborative game where the fun is in the journey. Spin a number to advance, a clock to tick the hand ahead or Mickey Mouse ears to “search” for a category of objects pictured. Search is everyone’s favorite outcome. Our Eye Found It! team examined the board for fire hydrants (look along the roads), stairs (look for entrances to buildings), tables (is anyone eating?) and balloons (Where are they having a party?). When a category card was drawn, the kids started to chatter about what scene might contain the objects. Kids used their language association skills to search for the objects, reasoning that Ariel was mostly underwater so let’s not look for balloons there. Add up all the objects found and every player advances that many spaces. Kids are so engrossed in the game, they don’t realize they are exercising their language association skills, visual scanning and discrimination, and working together to attain their goal. Sounds like they are preparing for the real world!

Available at Wonder Forge: Click here


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Take The Language Play Outside This Summer

Will Ben biking helmetsLast week I drove down the street and watched kids make up games of catch through hula hoops, ride their mini cars to fill up with gas, and take off to the pond with nets and buckets in hand.  Creative kids walk outside and see bushes, creeks, trees, sticks and dirt as perfect props for language play.  I interviewed a few of my favorite Moms and Dads to see what their kids created or discovered when they play outside. Katie told of 6 year-old Will racing into the house, gathering his rain boots and fireman’s hat to go outside and “put out fires” with the garden hose. Kim said her three girls, 4, 6, and 8, just made a home for a frog with sticks and a rock castle for a slug. Andrew’s kids love to participate in the family composting, learning that “what we don’t eat, the plants can eat.” Looking up sites online and following the progress of the materials makes for lots of discovery and conversation.

However, kids differ in their level of interest in the out of doors. Some need no suggestions and others can use a thought or prop to get the play going. One dad said, “Sometimes our kids need a task to stay outside like ‘Find the biggest weed,’ check on the progress of a plant, or take a picture of a leaf and identify the plant through an app. He’s learned that offering some suggestions to start play or adding a prop to their play can help kids take off and lead their own play. More language learning occurs when the child is directing the play, learning skills of problem-solving, negotiation, dialogue and collaboration–all valued in later academic pursuits and future employment! In addition, encourage your kids to start a summer journal, illustrating their day and writing captions of their pursuits. Practicing reading and writing is a lot more fun when tied to an interesting experience like collecting rain drops or sailing a boat down a stream.

Even the most inventive, creative kids can use an idea from us now and then to amuse themselves on a summer day. Here are some great language learning toys to take outside for fun discovery:


Grab Jumbo Bananagrams, the super-size version of the popular Bananagram word game, with 144 waterproof 3” square letter tiles and weave a web of words at the beach, in the backyard or poolside with several suggested versions accommodating up to 8 players. Keeps your body and brain active for sure! imgres   Take Ferry Boat by Green Toys for a trip across a creek, in the pool or just pretend on dry land combining three favorite children’s play themes–cars, boats and water! Come aboard with a special pull out ramp to glide the two cars onto the ferry and then slide the ramp back into the boat for take off. 41lTBxHQbfL._AA160_ Explore the out of doors to gather leaves, mini pine cones, feathers, or pond water to examine with the new Nancy B Science Club Microscope and Activity Journal by Educational Insights. Kids love to prepare their slides, examine specimens 400x the size, and record their activity in the companion journal. Listen to the language learning in this scientific tool as children learn, describe, problem-solve, infer and write their conclusions. imgres-1 Fill a bucket of water and bring along Stack ‘n Squirt Pals by B kids, fun loving rubber blocks that stack on land or float in the water. Get ready to be the target or squirt big or little friends while water shoots out the top of the whale, in front of the octopus or the edge of the seal.  Clever faces and familiar animals encourage nice conversation as new pals enjoy some water play. Win Green Gingerbread Cottage Girls need a little privacy for a tea party, I was told, as they skipped into Win Green’s Gingerbread Cottage Playhouse and closed the curtains. This quick set-up house of embroidered and appliquéd cloth and metal pole support serves as a getaway outdoors on a sunny day, inspiring kids’ imaginations.

Posted in 10 and up, 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | 2 Comments

Teaching Inference With Political Cartoons

http___www.teachingushistoryI really enjoy the variety in my caseload, from getting an 18 month old to talk to working with an 8th grader with language learning disabilities. It’s kind of fun at the end of the day to sit in an adult chair and talk about the Cuban missile crisis or the Vietnam War and it’s implications, after a day with Playdoh. I use the student’s curriculum for social studies as well as science to teach inferential thinking as she is required to know the “why?” behind certain political decisions throughout history and how these decisions have influenced people as a result.

I noticed that one of the areas that she did poorly on her social studies tests was interpreting political cartoons. She even told me that was hard for her. So we searched the internet and found some great sites with cartoons and their explanations regarding the Vietnam War.

This site has “Vietnam War: Sacrifices and Outcomes” containing 6 political cartoons followed by 4-8 questions helping the student get at the meaning of the cartoon. First we examined the cartoon and talked about it in the literal sense. In one cartoon, Uncle Sam is in a boat fishing outside the rings of a whirlpool whose outer ring says “Vietnam” and as it gets closer to the middle, “Still Deeper Involvement in Asia”. We talked about a whirlpool and what happens as you get closer to the middle and then moved to the facts about involvement in the war and what is inferred by this cartoon? The 4 questions following the cartoon, help the student get at the meaning and ultimately give their opinion on the issue:

1.  What do you see in this picture?

2.  Describe the demeanor of the man in the boat- does he look concerned that he’s approaching the whirlpool?

3.  Once you get pulled into a whirlpool you can’t get out.  Why could “deeper involvement in Asia” be considered a whirlpool?

4.  Knowing that it would be difficult for America to leave Vietnam once they were “sucked in,” should we have entered this conflict?

Another excellent site,, “Analyzing Attitudes on the Vietnam War Through Political Cartoons, also shows several cartoons with a thorough explanation of the political events behind the cartoon.

Taking a little time to show how to examine a political cartoon and interpret it, gave my student a new confidence in taking her tests.

Posted in 12 years and up, 14 years and up, Language, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Break Out Summer Learning With a MoonScope, Microscope or AquaScope


Thanks to Bob Artemenko for today’s guest blog. Bob is the other half of our PAL Award team, CMO, as well as a pilot and star gazer. 

Of all the kid’s activity-series you might consider this summer, Educational Insights’ Exploration Tools and Activity Journals, under the banner of “Nancy B’s Science Club,” is a must have. There are five tools in all, and while most may not own all five, great experiences will drive many to seriously consider a second or third. Reasonably priced, good quality, and drawing on a uniform  approach to instructions, scientific method and journaling, the set consists of:

  • 400X dual light and dissecting Microscope with dozens of activities and a bundle of accessories that will keep your budding Madame Currie occupied for weeks
  • 90X MoonScope Telescope with two glass eyepieces, a moon filter, tripod and red LED that allows you to journal while protecting your night vision
  • 5X AquaScope with three bright LEDs allowing young Cousteaus to peer into the murkiest ponds to detect the germ-y, the worm-y and the squirm-y
  • …and also Wildlife Binoculars and a Forensic Crime Solver Scope, both with instructive activity journals

Where to begin. I keep wanting to go to the overall ingenuity and uniformity of this great series. Each set has it’s own tool which is well constructed, described and accompanied by instructions which explain its usefulness to the scientific method. Ah “method,” that is the unique element of this series. Each set informs young explorers in a readily understandable and documented manner how to use these tools to learn more about the world around them. Whether looking at craters and mountains on the lunar surface, the backlit beauty of salt crystals or mosquito larvae swimming in a backyard puddle, the richness of this whole series is tied to the way scientist Nancy B. uses words. She uses them to describe how interesting, exciting and fulfilling it is to inform yourself with these unique gadgets. Having completed exercises and experiments, you then use words and language to record your learnings. Multiple observations evolve to discovery, sparking  understanding, leading to better informed and competent people, and maybe some day, preparing a young scientist to pass knowledge along to others!

All five tools deliver on “discovery” sparks, but the microscope and telescope I found most compelling. So much of our world is accessible to the magic of the microscope’s gaze. A piece of wool, granules of sugar, a grasshopper leg, an engraved letter on an invitation or a tomato seed all invite exploration. These new sights generate excitement giving off lots of descriptive language and opportunities to learn and use new vocabulary. While the Moonscope is mostly a nocturnal exercise, the mysteries of the night sky have always called man to closer inspection, and while it’s hard to go beyond spotting the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter – be ready for some merrymaking-with-the-moon. Identify specific features, see where the lunar module landed back in 1969, work in your journal to record the phases and changes in the moon over the month. Intently studying our nearest heavenly neighbor builds the interest, skills and patience to then move to more delicate journeys across the sky. Soon it will become time to view constellations and then, likely with some adult supervision, investigate stellar phenomena highlighted on the internet and in local print media. For example, during this June, 2013, Mercury, Venus and Saturn are all visible for about an hour after sunset. WOW! Sorry kid, back away from the Moonscope, I gotta see this !

The opinions above are solely those of the author. The Nancy B. Science tools were provided for review by Educational Insights.


Posted in 8 years and up, Language, Strategies to Encourange Language Development | Leave a comment

Auditory Discrimination Lessons in Articulation Therapy

Articulation station thSoon after I get into articulation therapy with a child and they can make their error sound correctly, I find myself playing little games to improve their discrimination between their error and correct sounds. Today was a funny one. My little guy has been working on /l/ and is pretty consistent in producing it correctly in sentences, but lately has been generalizing it to all his /r/ and /w/ sounds which really diminishes intelligibility! So, I wrote the letters R, L, W across the bottom of my paper and asked him to point to the letter that represented the sound in the word I said, “witch, rake, like, etc.” I was surprised that he was able to get them all right. Interestingly enough, he stopped generalizing so much after that. Another technique I use is I tell my articulation students if they correct their error sound during a lesson, they get 5 √’s instead of the usual one. (I usually use the iPad app, Articulation Station, where you tap a √ or x after a response and hear a positive or negative sound.) It really excited the kids and gets them monitoring their responses. I thought I was really making progress today while working on/th/ when my student asked me the difference between the sounds in “thank” and “this.” I said, “Good question!” and had him hold his hand to his neck to feel the vibration and silence for the two sounds. Then he said, “I know, the thank sounds like /f/ and the this sounds like /d/!” He just described his system of substitutions, and I thought I was teaching him the difference between voiceless and voiced consonants. I had a good laugh.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Articulation | Leave a comment

What Constitutes A Good Language Toy?

BJT021-1I’m constantly teaching parents and toy manufacturers what constitutes a good language toy. I demonstrate good and bad options and today I want to share a toy to which I just awarded the PAL Award for its language learning potential.

The “Rural Road and Rail Set” by Bigjigs Toys gathers kids in with the 3 car magnetic train and tracks as well as road track for wheeled vehicles but it is the props that generate play across many themes. A lake, policeman and traffic signs, farm animals, fence pieces, hay, milk truck and tractor,  nurse and children, and mechanic invite story lines across many themes that can intersect or take on their own direction. My little friends fenced in the animals, transported the hay for feeding and held the cow over the milk truck, pretending to squeeze and declaring, “There’s no more milk!” before the truck left down the roadway.

Great language toys have flexible props that start the play but don’t dictate it by being too closed rather than open ended. Our nurse treated the sick animals and mechanic fixed the train as well as the farm’s tractor. Here is my full review:

Get your engineer buddies and hop on board this new Bigjigs Rural Road and Rail Set chugging into town.  The 80 pieces of fun include roads, trees, buildings, street signs, fences, characters,  animals, a lake, and of course trains and vehicles.  Children loved assembling the winding track so the magnetized locomotive cars could race over the elevated bridge and through the crossing before the gate closed. Intersecting roads allow the ambulance to rush to the hospital, a dairy truck to deliver milk from farm to market, and cars to drive about. Colorful accessories stimulate creativity and category thinking  about farms, hospitals, towns, police and transportation which spawn story lines on many levels and themes. Great dialogue is sourced from a broad cast of characters – a conductor, nurse, police officer, and children. Wonderful pretend play iterates and evolves as kids move them about the set,  rearranging the props, using their imagination to design a community. Our three and six year-old girls enjoyed bringing the horse, pig, and goat back and forth to the nurse via the railroad cars for a little tender loving care, while a little boy held the cow over the milk truck and squeezed to load it up for delivery!  One friend exclaimed, “When will I be able to play this again?’ Mom got in the act commenting,  ”It’s kind of like a dollhouse, as you get to play with the characters and change up the story.”

Available at Bigjigs Toys: Click here


Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Language | Leave a comment

Easier To Raise Math Than Reading Scores Teachers Say

Smartimals DuncanIn a fascinating article in the New York Times last week, “In Raising Scores, 1 2 3 Is Easier Than A B C,” the author quotes several teachers who find bringing up math scores is a lot easier than doing the same for reading, as kids reach the middle school years. Teachers felt it was easier to assess where kids needed work in math, while more difficult to assess and teach the complex concepts of language such as vocabulary, sentence length,   comprehension  etc:

“Is it a vocabulary issue? A background knowledge issue? A sentence length issue? How dense is the text?” Mr. Peiser said, rattling off a string of potential reading roadblocks. “It’s a three-dimensional problem that you have to attack. And it just takes time.”

Studies show that teachers have a greater impact on math test scores than English test scores and the answer might be back at the beginning when kids were preschoolers. We know the importance of early language learning and its impact on later reading comprehension, so when kids get behind in the first years of life, it is harder to catch up in reading than math.

“Teachers and administrators who work with children from low-income families say one reason teachers struggle to help these students improve reading comprehension is that deficits start at such a young age: in the 1980s, the psychologists Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley found that by the time they are 4 years old, children from poor families have heard 32 million fewer words than children with professional parents.”

I’m glad that language and reading is finally getting the attention it deserves as an important bedrock for all learning. As science and math curriculums require more and more collaboration, journaling and inferencing, language proficiency affects outcomes.

Maybe everyone will listen a little closer now to the message of the importance of language learning and play in our children’s early years to build essential skills to later academic success.




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