Not goodbye, but see you later!

It’s impossible for me to believe that I started blogging for Reading Rockets in January, 2007. My girls were 5 and 7 then, and our days were filled with preschool celebrations and I Can Read chapter books. Fast forward 7 years and we’re firmly entrenched in middle school and more dystopian and realistic fiction than I could possibly read.

Throughout it all, I’ve tried to remain true to my belief that everyone — kids, parents, teachers, librarians, principals — is working harder than ever to raise our next generation of readers. Together on this blog we’ve discussed many important issues and laughed along the way. You gave lots of great advice as we debated whether to send our summer birthday to kindergarten in the fall, suffered with me through the jokes and riddles stage of second grade, and joined me in bemoaning the daily reading logs that threatened to squeeze the life out of my readers. Throughout it all, we treated each other with respect and care. Thank you for that!

My career is taking off in a different direction now, but I know I’ll continue to pore over my Reading Rockets newsletters, the daily blasts of news, and the terrific blog posts written by others. Reading Rockets has always been — and will remain — the friendliest and most authoritative source for news and research-based information about raising young readers. So, it’s not good-bye, but rather see you later!

With my best wishes,


Top 5 ways to make the best of snow days

Those of us on the east coast are bracing for (yet another!) winter storm that promises to close schools for several days and leave parents at home with wet gloves and bored kids! Here are a few suggestions for sprinkling some reading and writing in-between sled rides.

  1. Getting ready for any winter storm usually includes a trip to the grocery store. Use these simple ideas to focus on vocabulary and math skills at the grocery store.
  2. Do you subscribe to a newspaper? If so, dig out the paper from the snow, and try a few of these newspaper ideas for learning letters and words or for ways to focus on writing. It might be fun to write a review of your favorite sledding hill or creating a recipe for the best hot chocolate.
  3. Time on your hands means a chance to take a fresh look at your home library. Spend an afternoon with your child sorting through books and organizing them in a meaningful way. Donate any books they’re ready to part with and make some room for new ones!
  4. Ready to get creative? Let your creativity flow by thinking like an inventor. Being curious and making mistakes are all part of the fun.
  5. Last, don’t forget to spend time reading aloud. This one activity can make a huge difference in your child’s literacy growth. Remind yourself of some of the simple yet powerful things to do while you read aloud.

Preschool in the news


President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union speech put preschool in the spotlight. Obama challenged Congress to build on programs that exist in 30 states to provide high-quality preschool for every child. “Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education,” he said. “And as Congress decides what it’s going to do, I’m going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K they need.”

Daniel Willingham, a UVA professor of psychology and author, (and also friend to the Reading Rockets project) and his colleague David Grissmer wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times, How to Get More Early Bloomers which describes some of the challenges and truths about high-quality preschool programs.

In their piece, Willingham and Grissmer frame their statements with an understanding of what we’ve learned from large-scale studies of programs like Head Start, the HighScope Perry Preschool Project, and The Abecedarian Project. From years of study of preschool programs, we know what doesn’t work: programs that focus solely on social activities or strictly academic skills.

What does appear to work? High-quality preschools provide experiences that build important foundational skills. This includes lots of exposure to stories, words, rhymes, and songs. They use these experiences to broaden a child’s understanding about their community and their world. Interesting words and ideas lay the groundwork for understanding more when the kids start to read. Good preschools provide social experiences where kids learn about sharing and collaborating, skills that are used throughout the lifetime.

Want to learn more about quality preschool programs? We’ve got lots of terrific resources in the Preschool and Child Care section of our website, including video, parent tip sheets, and articles written for parents and teachers.


Kids and educational media

A new report from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center provides new insight into young children’s (ages 2-10) use of educational media at home. For the purposes of this study, educational media is identified as content that “is good for your child’s learning or growth, or that teaches some type of lesson, such as an academic or social skill.”

There are lots of interesting results to be discussed, and I’ll put just two here:

First has to do with the trends in educational media use as kids get older. Parent reports suggest that as screen media use goes up (that is, kids interacting more frequently with mobile devices and less often with TVs and DVDs) the proportion of time interacting with educational content goes down.  It appears that the apps that consume much of kids’ screen time aren’t providing the same educational bang for the buck as an episode of Sesame Street or Dora the Explorer.

Second, it’s interesting what parents say their child has learned through educational media. According to the report, "There are differences in what parents say their children are learning from educational media. More parents report that their children have learned a lot about reading (37 percent) and math (28 percent) from educational media than science (19 percent) or the arts (15 percent)." That finding isn’t surprising, but it’s clear that we need more good science-based educational media!

I encourage you to read the full report, which can be found here.


Working through online issues

I shouldn’t be surprised – but I am – by some of the online issues we’re facing around our house. I’m wondering if any of you have faced these questions, and how you’re handling them? Please comment in to let me know!

  1. "What’s the password to your wireless?" This is the question I’ve been asked during the past couple of sleepovers. My daughter’s friends bring their devices (mostly iPod Touches and iPhones) over with them, and want to get on our wireless access point. For some reason, it feels like an obtrusive and sort-of-private question to ask! How do you handle it? One friend set up a "public" network at her house and lets kids on that one but she keeps her devices on a more secure one. I’m wrestling with doing something like that.

  2. "How much screen time have you had today?" I find myself asking Molly and Anna that question almost daily. I read with interest In Praise of the Timer as one family’s solution to monitoring screen time. In that house, the timer is the one who gets blamed for kicking kids off their devices, not Mom or Dad. While that’s tempting, in our house screen time isn’t as much about uninterrupted time as it is being on and off their screens all day. I’m not sure I could keep up with the timers!

  3. "Can I get a ______ account?" (fill in the latest social media craze, whether it’s SnapChat, Instagram, Vine, etc). My girls swear they are the last ones in the universe who don” have any social media accounts. I know this isn’t true, but it does feel like most of their friends have at least one account (and for the most part, those parents monitor their child’s use daily, and its been without issue).

I love the concept of digital citizenship (see some resources from Common Sense Media on the topic) and we are working hard to create good digital citizens at our home. But I feel like we’re drinking from a fire hose when it comes to what’s out there and how available it all is to my kids. How about you?


Can teaching grammar benefit reading comprehension?


Is there a relationship between grammar and reading comprehension? Yes, says Timothy Shanahan on Shanahan on Literacy. In summarizing the research, Shanahan suggests “as students learn to employ more complex sentences in their oral and written language, their ability to make sense of what they read increases, too.”

Specific methods for teaching grammar appear to have an affect on comprehension. Strategies that teach sentence combining, a longtime favorite within the special education literature, appears to help students understand what they read, probably because it helps students understand how sentences work. Other research suggests that being familiar with the vocabulary of grammar (noun, adjective) benefits students’ understanding.

Shanahan provides a good example of a meaningful way a teacher can “untangle” a complex sentence for students, in hopes that experience with more complex sentences will help them decode them more successfully when they’re reading independently. As Shanahan writes, “It is pure romanticism that assumes that children will just figure this kind of thing out without any explicit instruction (and it is even more foolish to assume that English language learners will intuit these things without more direct support).”


Don’t forget the book on the bed!

This is our family’s fourth year for “a book on every bed,” and it’s one part of my shopping that I really look forward to!

Three years ago, the Family Reading Partnership and Ask Amy from the Chicago Tribune launched a homegrown, grassroots literacy campaign with a goal to raise a generation of readers. The idea was inspired by the author David McCullough, who says he woke to a wrapped book at the foot of his bed every Christmas morning during his childhood.

Here’s how it works:

Choose a book.

Wrap it.

Place it on a child’s bed so it’s the first thing the child sees on Christmas morning (or the morning of the holiday you celebrate).

That’s it.

"A Book on Every Bed" is an appeal to spread the love of reading from parents to children. It also encourages families to share books by reading aloud.

As I’ve written, one of my favorite aspects of this tradition is that the book can be new or it can be a beloved copy of a childhood favorite. In the past, we’ve given our girls our much-loved copies of The Giving Tree, and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. The books belonged to me and my husband as children, but now our girls are proud owners of those treasures. I like to think that someday they’ll be wrapping up those same books for their own growing readers.

While those choices were highly sentimental, this year’s choices reflect their busy schedules. With limited time to read and the demands of their school reading, our older daughter will wake to some Garfield (who doesn’t love Garfield?) We went with a three pack to extend the fun a bit. Our younger daughter will read and reread National Geographic Kids 125 True Stories of Amazing Animals. She loves that sort of book!

Every year I hope the book on the bed will keep them in bed just a little later on Christmas morning. So far that hasn’t happened, but it has been nice for them to have a new book to curl up with once the bustle of Christmas morning has passed. Happy Holidays to you and your family. I’ll see you again in 2014!image


Making a list? Check these twice!

If you’re like me, you’re scurrying around looking for the perfect gift for a child in your life. Below are some helpful gift suggestion lists I’ve come across. Maybe you’ll find just what you were looking for!

A treasure trove of resources from Jen Robinson’s Growing Bookworms Newsletter. Be sure to look through the links she shared on Twitter. Lots and lots of book suggestions!

Parents’ Choice offers children’s media and toy reviews, which are sortable by age, price, and award. You may want to take a peek at their awards for Toys, Mobile Apps and Magazines.

Common Sense Media offers up a Holiday Gift Guide with over 100 holiday gift ideas “hand-selected to inspire, educate, and entertain kids of all ages and stages.” I got several good ideas from the list, but don’t tell my girls!

For the adults on your list, how about a banned book bracelet or a Shakespeare pill box? Those are just two of the ideas from this fun list of 10 unique gifts for book lovers.

And don’t forget our very own 2013 Books as Gifts Buying Guide. Lots of things go away quickly. But stories and books have sticking power and can be shared time and time again. Try a new story, revisit an old favorite. How about a story of fact or perhaps a fantasy? Stories can be read alone, together, aloud or quietly. Pick up a book for yourself and your favorite child this season.image



Three million jobs and no one to fill them.


Three million jobs and no one to fill them.

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How Comic Strips Help Kids Read and Learn

The key to getting your child excited about reading might be in the comics section. Plus, get tools to help your kid make a comic strip!
The key to getting your child excited about reading might be in the comics section. Plus, get tools to help your kid make a comic strip!