Do graphic novels count as “real reading?”

When I started teaching in the classroom 10 years ago, one of my sixth graders was obsessed with Baby Mouse. At the time, I did not know a lot of graphic novels for kids and figured that comic books were the territory of older boys and young men who were into superheroes. Now I know of so many fantastic graphic novel series for kids of all reading levels! Graphic novels are great “gateway” stories to get reluctant readers interested in books.

Graphic novels can be an excellent option for reluctant readers, for kids who are not reading as well as their peers, and for any kid who is looking for a fun read.

But are graphic novels “real” reading?

Graphic novels are great for developing some parts of a child’s reading skill. Having pictures to go with the story helps to develop kids understanding of plot and graphic novels could start a lot of great conversations about character development. A good graphic novel can also provide illustration for challenging vocabulary by having pictures that show what unfamiliar words mean.

I learned the word chaos from a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episode on TV. I had heard the word before and I had read the letters c-h-a-o-s before but I never put the two together until a comic-book-style part of the show that had speech bubbles over the heads of Bebop and Rocksteady while they commented on the chaos caused by a battle in the street. It was a lightbulb moment for me to see the word in print and hear the character pronounce it. I never would have put together that letter combination with the sound of the word chaos.

Kids won’t necessarily learn to pronounce new words from reading graphic novels, but they will have the opportunity to see what the illustrator imagined when he or she read the words in the story. For that reason, graphic novels can be a great option for kids who are having trouble comprehending grade level books. They can also boost vocabulary by providing richer context than words on the page alone.

The Downside

But graphic novels don’t address all parts of the reading equation. Because they usually have short sentences of text, they are not a good way for students to develop reading fluency. For that, kids should be reading connected text on a page at their independent level or just a bit above.

Graphic novels are also not usually great text for practicing sounding out words. Too often, there are enough clues in the pictures to help kids guess at words they don’t know. This can be a great support for kids who have trouble getting through a story because it has too many words they can’t read. However, it can help kids avoid sounding out words if that’s something difficult for them.

So do I recommend graphic novels? Heck yes!

But they are the snack food in a healthy diet. Eating well means having a variety of foods and striking a balance between treats and leafy greens. Graphic novels do stretch a students reading skills, and they’re certainly not junk food. But a reading diet made up of only graphic novels is not good for your child’s reading health.

Ready to give graphic novels a try?

Here are some of the graphic novel series that are capturing my students’ imaginations:

  • Geronimo Stilton – Geronimo is a mouse in the newspaper business who solves mysteries and crimes with his friends. They are somewhere in between a graphic novel and a chapter book, with whole paragraphs of text, lots of illustrations, and fun fonts and text effects that emphasize the words. These are a great fit for second, third and fourth graders.
  • Captain Underpants – Ugh, not my favorites, but I’m not the one who has to read them. These are silly and kind of gross and may not be a fit for every classroom or family. But they are hugely popular. These books seem to hit peak popularity in second and third grade.
  • Dog Man – Another Dav Pilkey series
  • Big Nate – These seem to have content that appeals to older elementary (fourth-sixth grade) readers but are written at a level that second and third graders can access. I find that younger readers in third and fourth grade don’t get all the jokes, even when they can read the words.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid – These are one of the most popular series of graphic novels, especially now that there’s a movie. Like Geronimo Stilton, these have a mix of paragraphs of story with cartoon illustrations. Fourth grade seems to be the sweet spot for this series.
  • Amulet – This series is getting passed around by a lot of upper elementary students I know. It’s illustrated in the more familiar “comic book” style you might imagine when you hear graphic novel. There are lots of colorful pages and a fantasy setting and plot that seems to appeal to both boys and girls at the fourth and fifth grade levels.
  • Bone – Bone is a cute little guy who looks like Casper the Friendly Ghost, who goes on adventures through strange and engaging lands. It seems to appeal to third and fourth graders.
Do graphic novels count as real reading?

Do We Have to Read this Book Again? Yes, We Do

Read it again!

I’m so tired of re-reading the same books to my preschooler!

There must be hundreds of picture books in my house. There is everything from the classics of my mother’s childhood to brand new books by Julia Donaldson and Ian Falconer. We love them all! So then why, oh why, does my three-year-old only want to read Kermie, Where Are You?, a lift the Flap Book in which Muppet Babies characters play hide and seek in the nursery?

So do I have to read it again? The reading research says yes!  Just like my preschooler wants to watch the same Alvin and the Chipmunks Halloween movie over and over again, beginning when it hits Netflix in August, and tell me the same knock-knock joke over and over again until it makes my ears fall off, he wants to hear me re-reading the same familiar stories over and over again.

As exhausting as these repetitions are, they are what our young children need to become strong readers. By re-reading the same books over and over again, they are building an understanding of what language sounds like. They are learning to anticipate events in the story, which strengthens their comprehension. And they are strengthening their memory of the vocabulary they hear in the story.

I’m not saying they need to choose the story every time, or that you have to be re-reading the same boring book non-stop until they lose interest. I absolutely say to my son, “Not tonight. I find that book boring. I would much rather read something else now and read that one later.” I say the same thing about shows he wants me to watch. We have many interest in common, but I don’t need to be excited about all of his book choices, and he doesn’t need to be excited about all of mine. We often take turns choosing books or I suggest that he read a less challenging, more repetitive book to himself or to his baby sister. Usually, he remembers enough of the story to do it.

Give yourself a break

Another option for endless re-reading of books is narrated ebooks. Epic Books is one source that, with a paid subscription, lets your child choose from a collection of pretty good books. And many of them have built in read-aloud narration. Your public library might also subscribe to Overdrive, a collection of digital books. Many of the picture books, from Pete the Cat to Llama Llama can be read aloud by the app.

The light at the end of the tunnel

But at the end of the day, we often just need to suck it up and read Go, Dog, Go yet again. Just remember, this, too, shall pass. Someday, they’ll be reading by themselves. And maybe they’ll have a good recommendation for you!

Why do young children want to read the same book over and over again? Is it even good for them?

What Will Your Child Learn This Summer?

Are you looking back on your child’s school year and wishing things could be easier for them?

What if:What do you think would make your child's school year better?

  • Sunday night was a time for family dinner instead of scrambling to finish the weekend’s homework?
  • Essay assignments didn’t end in tears or frustration?
  • You didn’t have to spend as much time on homework as your child does?
  • Your child’s grades improved?
  • Your child went to school without feeling worried or afraid of what the day would bring?
  • You didn’t spend mornings looking for missing papers, lost library books, and pieces of clothing?
This summer, let’s work together to help your child get organized and prepared for school.

Does your child know HOW to study? I can teach them!I can help them:

  • Experiment with a planner or agenda book system to find one that actually make sense to them!
  • Learn note taking and study strategies that make it easy to get ready for tests.
  • Take the mystery and uncertainty out of planning and writing essays.
  • Make a plan for homework and stick to it to get a great start on the year!
  • Build vocabulary and reading strategies to help them read with confidence.

Contact me today for a no-cost 30-minute consultation to find out how I can help your child make next year the best school year yet!

 

5 Reasons to Give Audiobooks to Reluctant Readers

Some links in this post are affiliate links. I may earn commissions for purchases made through these links.

Getting books into the hands and brains of your below-grade-level or reluctant readers isn’t just a good idea. It’s essential. Over time, kids who read less fall further and further behind their average reading peers. Researchers have found that as early as first grade, average readers read up to three times as many words in a week as their lower performing classmates. They have called it “the Matthew Effect” because in reading, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. When kids miss out on reading all those words, they experience limited vocabulary, poorer comprehension, and slower growth in fluency. They fall further behind and become even more likely to avoid reading.

For this snowball of important reasons, it’s a great idea to give audiobooks to reluctant readers.

But isn’t reading an audio book cheating?

This is the number one question that comes up when I suggest audiobooks for reluctant readers. But is it cheating when you listen to the news on the radio instead of picking up the newspaper? Is it cheating when your best friend starts to text you a great story and you say, “Call me instead!”?

Audio books are a great tool for kids to use and they don’t replace learning to read. In fact, they complement it.

Here are five reasons to get your kids listening to audiobooks

1. Build vocabulary

Students can comprehend material at a higher level than what they can read. By listening to audio books at their listening comprehension level, kids can be exposed to vocabulary that they will not be able to read independently for a while. In turn, a better oral vocabulary helps with their reading comprehension and their ability to read those familiar words when they first see them in print.

2. Grow a love of stories

Listening to audio books can be just plain fun! Kids who struggle to read or get bored when they’re reading with their eyes may find it much easier to get into a story when they hear it. That doesn’t mean it’s cheating. Sometimes they are exposed to a story for the first time as an audio book, then later go on to read other titles in the series in printed form.

3. Replace screen time

Audio books can be a nice compromise to replace screen time, for long car trips, for example. Times when kids are “bored” are great times to listen to audio books. You can either choose a title to listen to as a family or have the kids put in earbuds and listen to their own choices on tablets or smartphones.

4. Promote independent reading

If you find yourself struggling with your child about independent reading time, audio books might be a solution that get them over the hump and help them create an independent reading habit. You might make a deal like letting the child listen to the book first and then having them reread it with their eyes. You could also set a schedule where Tuesday and Thursday are audio book nights and the other nights are for eye reading.

5. Practice comprehension skills

Just like vocabulary, comprehension can be improved by listening to audio books. Kids have the chance to listen to text that is more complex, and maybe more interesting, then what they can read independently. Understanding things about story structure and character traits will help them comprehend better when they do read text with their eyes. Plus, it gives them a chance to practice those story-level skills without feeling distracted by the mechanics of reading words.

Some kids avoid reading because it feels hard. These can be kids with ADHD, or with specific learning disabilities, including dyslexia. Other reluctant readers do not have disabilities, but for one reason or another would rather do other things and avoid reading. No matter the reason, audio books can be an excellent stepping stone towards a love of reading. Free audio books are available for download at many public libraries. You can also get books on CD from the library. Finally, a subscription to a service like Epic Books gives your child access to a wide range of children’s titles, many with audio narration.

No matter what option you choose, consider offering audiobooks as part of a “balanced diet” of reading.

One great source for print, audio, and read-along books for elementary readers is Epic Books. Sign up now and try Epic for free!

If your child is avoiding reading, they may be struggling with basic skills, which makes reading frustrating and hard. Tutoring can help. Contact us today for a free 30-minute consultation to find out how online tutoring can help your child be a more confident reader!
Audio books can improve kids’ vocabulary, comprehension and motivation to read!
 

10 Things to Say to Help Your Child Learn to Read

Reading together will help your child learn to read.

Reading with your kids has immense benefits. One of the biggest predictors of reading success is the amount of reading a child does. That means building fun, positive reading habits can help your child learn to read and have lifelong benefits.

Listening to beginning readers can be a challenge, though. They get distracted. They beg for help. They make mistakes.

You want to help, but maybe you’re not sure how.

When you are reading with your child and they make a mistake, what’s the best way to address it?

Telling a child to “sound it out” can be as confusing as telling a baby “get up and walk” if they don’t know how.

Often, I hear adults telling kids who get stuck on a word to “sound it out.” While that advice isn’t wrong, it’s kind of like telling a baby who wants to cross the room to “stand up and walk with your feet.” It is accurate advice but not helpful.

When a child makes a reading mistake or gets stuck on a word, it’s because something has gone wrong with “sounding it out.” They need some specific feedback and suggestions to get back on track.

Here are some things you can say to help your child learn to read when she or he makes a mistake while reading

  1. “I heard you say __. Did that make sense?”
    • Sometimes just drawing a child’s attention to the mistake is enough to cue them to fix it. Focusing on reading to get meaning from the text will help your child learn to read purposefully.
  2. What are the letters in that word?
    • Draw attention to a specific part of the word, like the first letter or the vowel, where they made a mistake. Getting a child to name the letters before trying the word again makes it less likely that they will guess.
  3. What sound does that letter make?
    • This is a reminder young readers might need, especially for vowel sounds. They often mix up the sounds of e and i, or o and u. Drawing their attention to the vowel (and making sure they actually know the correct sound) helps them correct vowel errors. You can help your child learn to read by making sure that they are using accurate letter-sound relationships.
  4. Let’s tap out the sounds in the word.
    • Use this technique if you hear the child leaving out sounds in a word (like saying cop for crop) or substituting sounds (like saying said for sat). This is what most people are thinking when they say, “sound it out.” Adding the step of tapping each finger to her thumb, or moving a block or penny on the table for each sound, helps a child focus on each sound and avoid leaving anything out.
  5. What would make sense here?
    • This question can help when the word in the sentence isn’t familiar. For example, if the sentence said, “When I heard the noise outside the tent, I was petrified,” the child might be able to predict that the speaker would feel scared. Depending on their reading skills, you might have to tell the child that the word is pronounced “petrified.” But figuring out the meaning is the other half of the equation.
  6. What’s the first syllable?
  7. Does this word have a prefix or a suffix?
    • This is a good question to ask students beginning in about second grade. Separating an ending like -ing or -es from the word, or a prefix like un- or re- helps with both pronunciation and meaning.
  8. That word is __.
    • Sometimes it just makes sense to tell a child the word they missed. If it’s something they haven’t learned to sound out, especially a non-English word (tamale) or a proper noun (Cincinnati or Lincoln). Telling them the word might be the quickest way to get the back into the story. Don’t overuse this tip, though. It can undermine a child’s confidence if someone gives them the answer every time they are unsure.
  9. Do you want me to take a turn reading?
  10. Please read that sentence again.
    • When a child has left out words or made multiple mistakes in a sentence, the whole thing might not make sense. Encourage him to point to the words as he reads them to make sure nothing is left out.

Any support you can give will help your child learn to read better and feel more confident!

All these steps might seem like a lot to take in. The idea of coaching your child through everything he or she reads might sound daunting and exhausting. Don’t let it scare you off, though. Any reading you do with your child is an investment in his or her future as a reader. And using any of these tips, even if you pick a few and use them sometimes, can help boost your child’s reading achievement!

 

 

Summer Reading Bingo!

Go read your book.

Did you read today?

You’re bored? How about reading?

How many different ways can you suggest, beg, cajole, or nag to get your kids to pick up a book this summer? We know summer reading is important because it helps student avoid “the summer slide” and maintain the skills they gain during the school year.

Whether your child’s school assigned summer reading books with a book report, gave a recommended list, or just said, “Make sure you read!” the burden of making them read falls to you.

Anywhere they will read is the perfect place

 

Research on learning and motivation shows that giving kids some choice of how they learn increases their engagement.

For kids in the middle grades, getting them to read one hour a day, and at least 11 books a year, raises their reading achievement. But external reinforcers, like prizes, can backfire by sending kids the message that reading is so boring or unimportant that no one would do it unless they got something out of the deal.

The same study showed that reading-related rewards improve the self-concept of middle grades readers who earn them.

So how do you get your kids to read this summer without driving them (and especially yourself) crazy? Try making a game out of it.

My FREE Summer Reading Bingo board has 24 reading-related activities that give kids ideas for where to read, what to read, when to read, and who to read with. Offer your kids a new book for scoring a bingo, or just foster a little friendly competition in the family. Either way, this game gets your child thinking about reading, and sometimes that’s half the battle.

Subscribe to my email list, below, to get your copy of the Summer Reading Bingo board (by email), as well as emails about blog updates and other tutoring news.

 

Get your free download

Is Reading to Our Kids Enough?

Some links in this post are affiliate links

Some kids do teach themselves to read. But that doesn’t mean all kids can.

How about those people whose kids just taught themselves to read? I saw a Facebook comment recently (because my vice is reading the comments on articles, even though I know I’ll end up angry) where a mom announced she simply “read to her kids and labeled everything in the house and the kids were reading by age 4.” Therefore, she concluded, what’s all the fuss about teaching reading? Clearly, all the other parents in the world just weren’t labeling enough things around their home.

Um, no.

For some kids, it does work that way. I’ve heard plenty of stories about kids whose parents “discovered” they could read instead of “teaching them” to read. As in, one day, little Susie picked up a newspaper and said, “Who’s Donald Rumsfeld?” But those magical stories stick out because they are not so common. Peter Gray’s article on Psychology Today’s website even claims that “The written word is not essentially different to them than the spoken word, so the biological machinery that all humans have for picking up spoken language is more or less automatically employed in their learning to read and write (or type).” However, the research shows that it’s quite different, and not intuitively learned. I guess my question is, if learning is as natural as people claim, how come it took until 3500 BCE for the Sumerians to come up with written language?

Some kids get left behind by classroom reading instruction.

Although U.S. elementary schools teach the nuts and bolts of reading beginning in kindergarten, and wrapping up, give or take, in third grade, kids don’t always move through the stages at the same pace. Public schools base their teaching on the belief that six is the ideal age to learn reading, but maybe that’s not true. In this article in Today’s Parent, Susan Goldberg talks about kids (some home-schooled) who learned to read anywhere between the ages of 4 and 9. And in almost all those anecdotes, they ended up successful readers who learned easily when they were ready. On the other hand, one turned out to have dyslexia. The real risk for a slowly-developing reader in a traditional classroom is that they will fall behind their classmates if they can’t read the material in class.

The wait-and-see attitude seems risky. Growing up a poor reader can have serious consequences for education, employment, and even health. By fourth grade, teachers have stopped teaching how to read, and are expecting students to use their reading skills to learn new information. That makes it much harder to catch up.

So if you are concerned about your child’s reading, don’t just wait patiently. Talk to her teachers. Listen to what they are doing in class, and find out what else can be done. Consider requesting testing for learning disabilities if your child is getting good instruction and not making progress.

In the meantime, what can we do at home, besides reading regularly?

  • Phonics games – Try this Superhero Phonics Game, or any of these spelling and reading games.
  • Sight word practice – Some kids do well with flashcards, but others need more in depth practice. Try pouring some salt in a shallow pan and having them write out the sight words, or write them with a stick in the sandbox, to help them make the connection between the shape of the letters and the word they make up.
  • Authentic writing activities – Some kids just aren’t interested in learning to read or write when reading instruction starts and they need to see what’s in it for them. One thing that helps is letting them see you write. Send postcards to friends, make a shopping list for their favorite meal, write a story about your last trip to the park and let them illustrate it.
  • Reading with a purpose – Another way to get kids engaged in learning to read is to move beyond the early reading books and have them read something important to them. Show them how to read recipes, or instructions for a science experiment. Hand them driving directions to their favorite places. Have family members send you texts and emails for your child.

These strategies are no substitute for good reading instruction. But if you pick activities that help your child feel confident and interested in learning, you can do wonders for their motivation and make that good reading instruction more effective.

When parents read to children, it enhances vocabulary and comprehension, as well as building positive associations with reading that last a lifetime!

Why “Go look it up” doesn’t help poor readers understand words (And what to do instead)

The dictionary can be daunting and unproductive for struggling readers

Some people would argue that kids need to learn to use dictionaries and so if they don’t understand a word in what they’re reading they should be responsible for looking it up.

While I agree that dictionaries are one important tool for language learning, they are often not the first line of defense for students who struggle with vocabulary, or for students who are reading difficult text. There are several reasons.

  1. Dictionary definitions are sometimes difficult to understand. –  A dictionary that is at too high a level for the student is going to overwhelm them with language they do not understand, and it’s unlikely to give them a definition that clears up their confusion
  2. Looking up a word takes a long time. – When a student does not understand a word in what they’re reading, the goal is to get them back to reading as quickly as possible. Getting a dictionary, finding the word, and making sense of the definition take up valuable reading or study time.
  3. Dictionaries do not help the child figure out what the word means in this text they’re reading. – A child without enough background information about a word will have trouble choosing the appropriate definition for the word. When they are reading difficult text, the wrong definition for a word can be enough to completely disrupt their comprehension.

So what can we do instead?

Pick the right books to help your child stay engaged and learn new words, without being frustrated and confused

  1. Choose books at the students instructional level. –   pick books with some difficult or unfamiliar words, but not too many of them.
  2. Help children understand the multiple meaning of new vocabulary words. –  Look up important words and make a point of connecting them to other words your child knows.
  3. Help your child look up a word. – Give them a child-friendly definition they will understand and remember. Help them reread the troubling sentence by substituting your definition for the difficult word.  
  4. Help your child generate examples and non-examples of the word to remember it longer. – If the word is important and likely to come up in lots of reading, it helps to have a rich understanding of it. You can ask questions like, “Would you feel reluctant to go outside on a cold morning?” or “Would going to brush your teeth be considered a mission? Why?” The yes or no answer isn’t as important as the explanation. Bring in the topics you and your child feel passionate about, like sports or music, to make these connections memorable.

Here’s what could go wrong with using the dictionary

Using the dictionary without support can leave kids confused and ready to abandon a hard book!

Child: “Mom, what does loafer mean?”

Parent: “Here’s the dictionary. Look it up.”

Child: “It’s a shoe?” *rereads sentence* “Oh.” *Puts down Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and gives up on reading for the day.*

Here’s what a vocab conversation could look like:

Child: “Mom, what does loafer mean?”

Parent: “Where did you read it?”

Child: “Here. ‘As it pulled up, one of the loafing men at the corner dashed forward to open the door in the hope of earning a copper, but was elbowed away by another loafer, who had rushed up with the same intention.’”

Parent: “This dictionary says, ‘a person who idles time away.’ Basically, it’s someone who hangs around wasting time.”

Child: “Oh!”

Parent: “So, when is a time you might be a loafer?”

Child: “Saturday afternoons when I watch TV.”

Parent: “Definitely!”

Child: *Goes off to finish reading book.*
It takes a little longer, but discussing and developing vocabulary is an investment in your child’s language skills that will last the rest of his life. The dictionary has its place, for sure, but it can be discouraging and distracting for struggling readers to tackle on their own.

When kids find words they don’t know, they need discussion and support to gain a rich, lifelong understanding of new vocabulary.

Fighting the Summer Slide

Have fun this summer, but don’t let learning slide!

This post contains affiliate links. If you buy something from a link in this post, we may get a small commission on your purchase.

The Summer Slide sounds like a lot of fun! Maybe it conjures images of a water slide, with its cool stream glistening in the sun. Maybe you hear giggling children and squawking seagulls.

But it’s not that kind of slide, and it’s really no fun. The summer slide is what educators call the pattern of academic decline that happens when kids take the summer off from school. Students, especially students who struggle to make progress during the school year, tend to lose some of those hard-won skills over the summer. Researchers have known about it for over 100 years and various experiments in summer schools and other programs have been tried.

Some teachers assign summer reading or summer homework in the hopes that it will help kids hold on to what they have learned. Some families tackle these assignments head-on in June and get them done. (Not my family, but I’m sure people do.) Others struggle through the summer, or finish them at the last minute, or not at all. Summer reading homework isn’t effective for many students, and it’s not enough for many of them.

Meanwhile, schools talk about personalized learning but there is only so much one teacher can do for a whole class of students, especially once they leave for the summer. Still, personalized learning has the right idea in mind, that the goal for all students should be mastering the material. It just might take some students longer than it takes others.

What are some ways to make the most of your child’s summer time?

How can you set your child up for success in September, without ruining their summer? Here are some suggestion to fit in summer learning without the battle!:

Play games
  • Scrabble – a classic board game that asks children to use think about the words they see, and then connecting new words to them. It is great for building vocabulary (as kids argue about whether their opponents’ words are real), practicing decoding, and reinforcing spelling.
  • Scrabble Junior – This variation on the classic game is geared toward 5-12-year-olds, but is most appropriate for kids at the younger end of that range. At its easier level, Scrabble Junior has kids using their letters to complete the pre-printed words on one side of the board. This is a great option for kids working on letter identification or basic reading or spelling. The reverse side of the board works more like traditional Scrabble, with players building words of their own with the letters they have drawn.
  • Boggle or Boggle Junior- In Boggle, players shake the covered tray of letter cubes, then find more words than their opponents in the connected letters that land in the tray. Boggle Junior simplifies the process with picture cards and a smaller number of letter cubes. Players use the letter cubes to spell out the word shown, either while looking at it, or with the letters in the word covered to add another challenge.
  • Try Q-bitz to strengthen visual problem solving – A Q-bitz pattern card gets flipped over, and each player tries to build that same pattern with the patterened, two-color cubes on their tray. There’s a Q-bitz Junior, too, with simpler patterns.
  • Sum Swamp or Equate for math fact practice – Sum Swamp is a simpler game in which players roll dice and add or subtract the digits on the dice. Equate looks a lot like Scrabble, but with numbers and operation symbols. To keep it simple, limit the tiles to add and subtract; or up the challenge by adding multiplication, division, or fractions!
  • Balderdash – a fun way to expand vocabulary. Each player hears an unfamiliar word and writes down a made-up definition for it. One player has the real definition, and the other team has to guess who is telling the truth. This game challenges students to use their knowledge of word origins and word parts (prefixes, suffixes, roots) to make up plausible definitions, and to guess what makes sense.
  • Trivial Pursuit or TriBond for general knowledge-building – Trivial Pursuit Family Edition has a set of cards for adults and one for kids, so everyone has challenging questions to answer. TriBond cards each have 3 words or concepts on them, and the player has to identify how they are connected to each other. It is a great game for building flexible thinking.
  • Make your own Memory cards with sight words or math facts and their answers (or equivalent fractions, the possibilities are nearly endless). 
Have reading adventures
  • Try audio books for the car
  • Discover a new author or series
  • Make reading a special treat: Read in a tent, in a blanket fort, in a hammock, or in a canoe
  • Cook food from your favorite books
  • Join me for a Summer Reading Adventure online for 6 weeks this summer
Build routines
  • Instead of competing for attention with video games or TV, create a family habit of always sitting down for some learning at a specific part of the day. For some, after breakfast, before he distractions start, works best. Others reinvent the siesta as a quiet learning break mid-day. Maybe the youngest family members nap in the afternoon, and everyone else takes a study break.
Set an example
  • Sit down with your children and learn while they learn
  • Try Duolingo to brush up on your Spanish, commit to reading today’s newspaper cover to cover, or check something new out of the library.
Try technology
  • Khan Academy is free, and it offers lesson videos and practice for math. I find this is best for middle school and high school students, and less engaging for younger children
  • Doctor Genius is a free math practice option for younger children, beginning with the skill of counting to 3
  • No Red Ink lets students practice grammar skills in a fun engaging way, and gives them feedback and teaching in their areas of need
  • NewsELA provides free news articles, which can be adjusted to different reading levels. There are quizzes to check for understanding and a wide range of interesting topics to read about
What if your child finished the year with gaps or weaknesses?

All of these activities provide quality practice and enrichment to reduce the chance that the summer slide will affect your child. But what if you, or their teachers, think they aren’t quite ready to start next school year? What if they finished with skill gaps, or didn’t meet the school’s end-of-year learning benchmarks? Carefully designed teaching from a qualified tutor can make a big difference. Unlike the school year, when there are many demands on your time and your child’s, the summer provides an excellent opportunity to focus on one or two areas of need and make the most of learning time!

Contact us for a free 30-minute consultation to determine if one-to-one, online tutoring in reading and writing is a good fit for your child!

Keep your kids from falling behind in reading with some simple, fun, activities

The Transition to Middle School

From what I remember about middle school, it could have been the sequel to Lord of the Flies. Except I vaguely remember some adults being in the building.

Basically, I spent 90% of my time thinking about where to sit in the cafeteria, and whether it meant something that Matt closed his locker and walked away as soon as I got to mine, and whether I had enough hair spray in my bangs. I guess I spent the other 10% thinking about academics, but frankly, that part is a little fuzzy.

Is it any wonder that these people, who were very recently children who definitely had monsters in their closets and needed timeouts, struggle to meet their teachers’ expectations in middle school?

So much changes in those last couple of pre-teen years. Physically, hormonally, cognitively, and emotionally, no one comes out of middle school the way they went in. For better or for worse.

Add to all this personal stuff the constant pressure on teachers to push academics down, down, down to younger students, and vulnerable middle schoolers are dealing with more pressure and stress than ever before.

So how do we protect our middle schoolers?

First of all: be there. According to this piece in the New York Times, even teens who seem to hate their parents feel better and have better outcomes when their parents are available regularly. The author, Lisa Damour, calls them “potted plant parents.” They are moms and dads who are just there, fading into the background. A study connected this parental availability with lower rates of behavioral and emotional problems.

Promote healthy habits like eating breakfast and lunch and getting enough sleep. As middle schoolers mature and get more freedom, they sometimes make short-sighted choices that affect them negatively. They may stay up too late, skip meals, or choose junk foods that affect how they feel and how they learn. Try for a family meal most nights of the week. Research shows that family dinners lead to positive outcomes for health and learning, but if you’re not home at dinner time, maybe you could sit down for breakfast?

Another important way to prepare your child for middle school is through teaching mindfulness strategies. This is one of the hardest practices to sell to adults and kids in our busy world, but I believe one of the most important. A growing body of research shows mindfulness training and practice is helpful for improving students’ attention, emotional regulation and compassion for others, while decreasing their stress and anxiety. It sounds counterintuitive that slowing down in this way is going to help your child make their way in the fast-paced middle school world, but these skills help teens learn to direct and sustain their attention, calm themselves when they feel anxious or upset, and understand their emotional reactions to challenges.

Preparing for academic success

Beyond health and social-emotional strategies, kids need some concrete strategies for dealing with the academic challenges of middle school.

  1. Organize in advance – Follow the teachers’ school supply lists in the summer. If they don’t use a specific system for color coding, create one. Give each academic subject a color and buy a folder, notebooks, and maybe a binder in that color.
  2. Get a planner – Some schools provide them. If not, look for a school year planner that fits your student’s needs. Make sure it has enough room to write assignments.
  3. Create a homework space at home – It could be permanent – like a desk in a quiet space, or temporary – like a file bin or supply caddy you can put on the dining room table, then clear away at meal time.
  4. Create a weekly and daily routine – Often, teachers spend class time teaching students to fill out their planner or agenda book with class assignments. Support this and supplement it by sitting with your child over the weekend to look at the week ahead. Is it a busy week of practices and rehearsals? Is there a big project due next Monday? Every day after school, help your child to look at their planner and plan for tonight’s homework. Someday, they’ll do this on their own, but if you can find a moment to call them from work in the afternoon, or have them sit in the kitchen while you make dinner, you will build a habit that will pay off for years!
  5. Clean and organize periodically – Depending on the child, binders and folders tend to get cluttered and lose organization over time. Take an hour on a relaxed weekend to spread out everything, sort it, throw out the junk, and file away important completed work, like things they might need to study for an exam later this year. Some kids might need this once a month, while others need a weekly check in, and some can make it to the end of the academic term without making a mess.
  6. Give them responsibility – You are providing tools and support for homework, but at the end of the day, the grades are theirs. The transition to middle school can bring a steep learning curve for parents and kids. Be careful to set boundaries you are comfortable with so your child knows she has your support, but she also develops skills and independence to succeed on her own.

When to get expert help

The transition to middle school can be challenging for even the most capable and mature students. For many middle schoolers, good habits established during these years will make them available during the school day to learn what their teachers are teaching. The best case scenario is they will experience some challenges, and some moments of stress, but their strong foundational skills will serve them well.

For other students, learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, or weak basic skills might make it very difficult for them to succeed in class. If you and your child have tried some strategies, but school is still not going well, you might need to consult with other professionals. Talk to your pediatrician, a guidance counselor or special education teacher if you think an educational disability might be affecting your child’s progress. A tutor who is knowledgeable about middle school curriculum, study skills and executive function can also be a great help.

Contact me to schedule a free 30-minute consultation today to see if tutoring is a good option for your child.

Middle schoolers need structure and support to meet the new challenges they encounter.

photo credit: Enokson <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/47823583@N03/8465390293">Comfortable Computing</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">(license)</a>