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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

10 Ways to Enhance That Summer Reading

When your kids were small, you read to them. That’s just something parents do. At first, it’s a good bonding experience. Then you begin to really understand what a good learning experience it is. Reading to a child clearly helps with language development, phonemic awareness, listening skills, comprehension skills, general learning and obviously learning to read.

So why should this stop just because they are older? OK so maybe they don’t want to curl up on the couch with you to read anymore but there are ways to enhance the reading skills of older children.

1. Show interest in what they’re reading. Make sure you know the types of book they like, subjects that interest them. Ask questions and encourage discussion.

2. Every once in awhile read the same book as your child. That way you can talk with your child about the book. Expand your questions to include character, setting, plot, conflict, climax and ending. Don’t read every book they read because they will see that as an invasion. Summer reading is perfect for this because during the school year, teachers guide them through books (almost too much sometimes to the point where they end up hating the book, another subject for another time) so some kids might need a little extra help or encouragement to get through a book on their own. Summer reading book are usually books they are not their choice therefore not real personal to them.

3. If the summer reading book is on audio, get it. Fill those long car rides to and from summer activities listening to something productive. Make sure is it the unabridged edition. And check out the library. That way is doesn’t cost you and arm and a leg.

4. Just like homework, you have to provide an atmosphere that is conducive to reading. If you have a child who is obsessed with video games, computers or TV, cut them off. Put limits on those things. Kids need structure just as much in the summer. However, don’t make reading time too formal or they might balk at it. The idea is to make reading more natural rather than forced.

5. Encourage fun summer reading. This includes magazines, newspapers, comics and internet articles. All reading has value even some of the most questionable material such has Mad (which I personally love for older middle schoolers) or superman comics. You want to child to read challenging material that will improve their vocabulary but reading mindless material is ok too. We all pick up People Magazine in the doctors office every so often, it’s a quick easy read.

6. Set a good example. Let your child see you reading.

7. Drag them to the library or bookstore several times over the summer. Encourage them to pick out something that they are interested in. At the very least, you are exposing them to a library/study/research atmosphere. Knowing how to behave in and use a library properly is a skill they will need for success in high school and college.

8. Have your child bring books with them so whenever there is down time they're able to read and get something productive done. Some suggestions are: car/plane/train rides, trips to the beach, while waiting to pick up your other children at activities, rainy days

9. Try to get through the assigned reading early in the summer so they have time to make some fun summer reading choices. This also alleviates stress at the end of August when the reading/projects are not complete.

10. Hit the used book stores, used book sales and even garage sales, looking for used books. Sometimes you can pick up a bag of books for a buck. Even if your child only looks at on book in the bag, you’ve gotten your money’s worth. It can actually be a lot of fun perusing old books. This also adds a nice variety to your library.

If you don’t think the books are appropriate for your child in terms of reading level or topic, speak up. Talk to the teachers about alternatives immediately. However, if teacher’s choices are just books that you or your child don’t like, do your best to help them get through the books (and follow up paper or project “aggggg” if there is one). Do not put down the teachers choices in front of your middle schooler (or even younger child). In high school and college they will have to read a lot of things that are not of interest but important. Reading challenging and varied material is how children continue to develop their adult vocabulary.

Summer reading should be enjoyable, relaxing and somewhat natural. Some kids will just not want to read. Try to find out why reading isn’t coming easy for them and see what you can do about it. However, make your expectations clear. Summer reading is important and it is their responsibility.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Essential 55

I’m always on the look out for common sense ideas that enhance more than just academics. In my field of Speech Language Pathology, pragmatic skill development is as important to us as receptive and expressive language development. Pragmatic skills are the social speech skills that help us become effective communicators, critical thinkers and problem solvers. People who are not strong students academically can do well in life if pragmatic skills are well developed and expectations are high.
I recently picked up the book The Essential 55, An Award-Winning Educator’s Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child, by Ron Clark winner of the 2001 Disney Teacher of the Year Award. The title caught my eye, I see so many kids that are bright but seem to be lacking the tools for success. In the Essential 55, Ron Clark gives his opinion on the 55 rules that can make every child successful as a student. His rules are not on the order of study more, read more or stay after school for help. Clark’s rules are rules for life. The focus of the rules is on enriching pragmatic awareness, improving pragmatic skills and expecting basic etiquette. Not to mention his rules make sense.
The Essential 55 also focuses on providing clear cut expectations for a child. If you read my blog, you know I am BIG on providing expectations for children. Six of The Essential 55 that I like best are:

#1 Responding to Adults
Mr. Clark suggests that you tell/expect children to say, “Yes sir” and “no ma’am. He says it set the tone for the kind of respect he expects from his students. For him a nod of a head or a “yeah” is not good enough. I sometimes feel the child/adult relationships, especially in schools, are too casual. This is great tool for kids to have, saying, “yes sir” and “no ma’am” usually makes a very good impression on others.

#2 Eye Contact
Eye contact is so important in communication. When you make eye contact, you are attending to and acknowledging the speaker. From my perspective, eye contact is also important because without eye contact you miss many of the non-verbal cues that clarify messages. Plus it’s polite. When a child’s disability effects their ability to make good eye contact, I spend a lot of time trying to get eye contact to the best level possible.

#6 If you are asked a question in conversation, ask a question in return
This is an excellent habit to get into. Again, it shows people you are listening and interested. This is a good foundation for developing good conversation skills.

#11 Surprise others by performing random acts of kindness
This is an excellent suggestion and should jut go without saying. However, we all need reminders to do this from time to time. How many times have you said to yourself “I should have helped……..”, when regretting that you did help someone out. This one goes in effect at my house today. We all seem to be lacking in that lately. Recently, one of my very disabled students in the middle of a tough moment said to me “Stop being nice to me!” When I responded with a smile “No, I can’t do that, I am just a nice person”, he was so taken back by my kind response he calmed down almost immediately. A little kindness actually made a tough situation easier and almost humorous for me.

#15 Do not ask for a reward
Mr. Clark rewards his student’s often but asking for a reward is out of the question. He feels students should strive to do their best all the time not just for a reward. He states that in the real world rewards are not always given for a job well done. He feels that that this rule helps kids appreciate their efforts over their rewards.

#48 If anyone is bullying you let me know
He wants the kids to feel safe in school and know that he will stand up for him. Kids should never have to put up with bullying in school (we would not expect or put up with bullying at work). A big step to preventing bulling is to empower children to report bullying incidents since most happen out of earshot or view of adults.

If you notice Ron Clark’s rules are not just school or student rules they are rules for life. It was hard to pick just 6 to highlight. I would like to tell you more of them but you will just have to pick up his book.
With the Essential 55, Ron Clark has developed a “hidden curriculum”. A “hidden curriculum” is defined as the rules we all know but are never taught. I could see his Essential 55 presented weekly or expanded and presented daily at announcements instead of (or in addition to) “word of the day”.
This is a good read for both teachers and parents. The reality is if you expect good things from kids and are willing to teach them, they usually deliver.