street signs for early literacy and math skill building

signs for early literacy learning

signs for early literacy learning

I’ve shared time and again the importance of using what is around you–environmental print–for early literacy and math skill-building.

Signs are everywhere, and they’re free.

And they can really help our little ones to become excited about reading.

Don’t believe me?

Try it.

I’m over at Scholastic Raise a Reader chatting about some ways you can use signs for your own little ones’ early literacy learning.  Check it out: Signs–Easiest Reading Your Kids Should Ever Do.

Want a little more?

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Street Signs For Early Literacy and Math Skill Building:

Check out these few posts about the same subject.


alphabet and reading on the roadAlphabet & Reading on the Road


street signs for learningSigns, Signs, Everywhere are Signs


street sign mathStreet Sign Math


Happy street sign reading!!

learning during read-alouds: improving fluency

help kids improve fluency

help kids improve fluencyThis is a re-post of a November 16, 2011 post because it’s totally worth revisiting.


Fluency is a tricky–but totally important–element of reading comprehension.

No. Question. About it.

And though research is funny about fluency’s roll in reading comprehension, I’m a firm believer in the fact that in order to fully understand what is being read, it must be read fluently.

Lately, improving reading fluency has been my focus for Maddy and Owen. And I’ve realized that there are a ton of ways to make fluency practice fun, and I’ve been reminded that what works for one kiddo won’t always work for another.

Here’s the skinny:

  • Fluency: Fluency is defined by Pikulski & Chard as ‘efficient, effective word-recognition skills that permit a reader to construct the meaning of text. . . fluency is manifested in accurate, rapid, expressive oral reading and is applied during, and makes possible, silent reading comprehension.’

Their definition is a synthesis of the definitions in the Report of the National Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000) and The Literacy Dictionary (Harris & Hodges, 1995), so it’s pretty solid.

I, personally prefer the definition of fluency developed by Mrs. Victoria and her second-grade class (as shared in Cahill & Gregory’s article): Fluency is reading like you talk, not too fast and not too slow, with expression and no sounding out.  It’s also important to understand what you read.

I like that definition. It’s easy and basic and sums up–in language that everyone can understand–the beauty and importance of fluency.

tips for improving reading fluencyModel, model, model fluent reading. We HAVE to.

Though there’s debate over whether or not fluent reading involves comprehension, I’m going to get bold and say I truly believe there has to be a link between the two.  You cannot possibly read fluently without understanding what you’re reading, and you cannot truly understand what you’re reading if you’re not reading fluently.  Right? Right.

There. I said it.

So a few months back, when I was chatting with Maddy about a book she had just read–a simple Junie B. Jones chapter book–and she was unable to tell me what happened, I kind of secretly freaked out.  As I watched and listened and watched and listened some more over the next few days, I realized that something was off.

Maddy was speed-reading and not comprehending.  She sped through each page–skipping words and misreading words and barely breathing or paying attention to punctuation in the least.  And I think that part of the reason was to try to get to the parts of her Junie B. books where Junie B. used the type of language that isn’t permitted at our house.  (Why we have these books in our house, I’m not sure, but that’s a whole other story. . . ).

So I decided that if I was going to practice what I preach and not scream SLOW DOWN!!! Stop! What does that say?! NO!! You’re wrong!! then I needed to do some thinking and moving. And fast.

tips for improving reading fluencyJunie B. books . . . hard for fluency practice.


Here’s what I did to help Maddy improve her fluency:

1.  I modeled fluent reading.  I read, read, and read some more. I read the Junie B. books that I can barely stand. The books I want to throw out the window.

And gradually I invited Maddy to read a page here and there, and soon it evolved into me reading every other page. And it’s fine.  It’s better.

tips for improving reading fluency

I still shake my head and tsk and tsk more when Junie speaks like a baby or uses incorrect English grammar, but it’s fine. It won’t be forever.

And as we’re reading different texts together at night, Maddy’s more inclined to read more out loud as her confidence is increasing.

2.  I had her re-read.  For passages that made Maddy really giggle and laugh and widen her eyes at Junie’s horrid behavior, I read the whole passage one time, and then I’d shut the book and pretend to totally freak out.

I can’t believe this. I cannot believe her, Maddy. What is she DOING? Please re-read this paragraph just so I can hear it again. I don’t believe it.

And she gladly re-read.  And if she was speedy, I’d say, remember how it sounded when I read it–make it sound the same way.

3.  We tapped our fingers.  At the beginning, after numerous attempts at modeling and having Maddy re-read only to speed through a passage, I had her tap her thumb and pointer finger together at the end of each sentence.

I said, Okay, I can tell it’s hard to stop reading because you love Junie so much, but I’m having a hard time keeping up. And remember that fluent reading should sound like talking–and we have to talk slow enough so that people can understand what we’re saying, right?So how about after each sentence, we pinch our fingers together–just for a second–to remind us that we need to stop and breathe a sec? Sound okay?

She was game. And after a few awkward sentences, sometimes too-long pauses, the tapping became more natural, more habitual, and eventually her pace slowed to a more natural one.

And now she usually starts out tapping but scraps it a few pages in.

4.  We mixed it up. We read shorter pieces–poetry, magazine articles, news articles, craft books–you name it.

I recognize that Junie B. books can be difficult for fluent reading because (thankfully!) Maddy doesn’t speak like she does, so I wanted Maddy to really hear herself reading short texts that she could read fluently and with ease.  Anything goes–cereal boxes, ingredient lists, photo captions in the newspaper, short magazine blurbs and poems.

And so far, she’s digging it.

5.  We celebrate successes.  When Maddy reads a passage really well–paying attention to text pacing, expression, and content–I try to point out exactly what she did that rocked.  Instead of saying something generic like, Oh that sounded great, or I like how you read that, I really get specific.

Maddy, you sounded exactly like Warren might sound when he said that to Junie.  You really made his voice sound sad.  Or Maddy, love that short pause when you saw the hyphen–that’s exactly what it’s there for–a break.

 how full is your bucket

fyi: This is just a starting point!   There are a bazillion ways to make fluency practice fun–and I am eager to try them out and share the other things we’ve been doing over here–but I needed to initially have Maddy slow down and pay attention to punctuation.  She needed to breathe. And slowly–slowly!–she seems to be engaging more with the text, remembering more, and paying closer attention to the concepts now that she’s paying closer attention to the words on the page.

We’ll see. . . .


 More of the skinny:

When I really took a step back and looked at what Maddy was doing as far as reading, I was surprised–and slightly taken–by the fact that she wasn’t able to adequately summarize (or even explain just a little bit!) the texts she was reading.  And she reads a lot.

Ever since she was teeny, Maddy went to bed with a huge pile of books.  And as she read them, we’d either hear a thump! clunk. thump. . . thump, as she dropped them from her bed to the floor, or we’d find a big pile of books next to her tiny body when we checked on her before we turned in for the night.

For a long time, I didn’t worry about Maddy’s reading; she made great strides in Kindergarten and again in first grade, and when she hung out on the same level for a few months last year, neither my husband nor I sweated it. It’s normal for kids to make quick level-leaps in the beginning (especially through Kindergarten and first grade), and often, once they reach a certain point–they kind of stay stagnant.

There are a ton of levels in Kindergarten and grade one; ideally, kiddos move from level A to J during this time, as they move through Early Emergent and Emergent Reader Stages while they’re learning the basic concepts of print, alphabetic principles, phonological awareness, and early phonics.  And then in grade two, the move can seem small–K to P–but the strides are great.   Readers slowly begin to tackle more difficult sentence structures, less repetition, more of a reading comprehension focus.  They hang out in levels for a longer period of time, which is why there is a larger number of books in these level ranges.

This is another simple but totally important reading comprehension strategies as part of my Read-Aloud Learning series. I am LOVING it, and thanks to the following *awesome* articles I used as a reference for this post:

Applegate, M. D., Applegate, A. J. and Modla, V. B. (2009), “She’s My Best Reader; She Just Can’t Comprehend”: Studying the Relationship Between Fluency and Comprehension. The Reading Teacher, 62: 512–521. doi: 10.1598/RT.62.6.5

Cahill, M. A. and Gregory, A. E. (2011), Putting the Fun Back Into Fluency Instruction. The Reading Teacher, 65: 127–131. doi: 10.1002/TRTR.01018

Pikulski, J. J. and Chard, D. J. (2005), Fluency: Bridge Between Decoding and Reading Comprehension. The Reading Teacher, 58: 510–519. doi: 10.1598/RT.58.6.2

reading, reciting, and memorizing poems

memorizing and reciting poems

post contains affiliate links


reading, reciting, and memorizing poems


For our tabletop surprise today, we rocked some major poetry.

Knowing that poetry reading is sometimes less intimidating than reading other texts and knowing that right now my Owen really isn’t into reading anything that doesn’t have the word ‘Skylanders‘ in it, I needed to think outside the box.

My kids usually dig poetry, and they have been digging the flexibility of our tabletop surprises and they totally dig getting in front of a few people and hamming it up.

So today? We did some reading, reciting, and memorizing of poems.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Reading, Reciting, and Memorizing Poems: That’s it.

That’s what we did.

reading, reciting, and memorizing poems

I put a handful of poetry books on the table, with a note that said:


1. Find a poem (or tw0!) that you love

2. Practice reading it over and over and over

3. Can you memorize it?

4. Read it to our family tonight!

And I let ’em at it.

I set out some of our favorite poetry books:

reading, reciting, and memorizing poems

We talked about ways to memorize things:

  • copying it over and over
  • reading it repeatedly
  • reading it line by line, and remembering it by sentences
  • recording yourself reading it and listening to it over and over
  • committing it to memory by one or two lines, and adding as you go

 But the emphasis was not on memorizing–that was only if they wanted to.  The emphasis was on reading the poem in the absolute best way you possibly could. To really ‘own’ the poem like it was your very own.


reading, reciting, and memorizing poems

No nursery rhyme books today. We went big. Or kind of.

The only rule was that everyone had to find a poem that had as many lines as his or her age.

That way, no one could grab a 2-liner and call it a day.  They had a total blast challenging me to find a poem with as many lines as my age, but we finally agreed that I could put a few together to add up to all of my years.

Whatever it takes, right?

reading, reciting, and memorizing poems

Cora carried her book around for most of the morning, reading and reading and reading her chosen poem.

Sometimes she’d read it silently, but most times she demanded that someone watch her and listen. Most of us gladly obliged.

When my husband got home from work, even he practiced a few poems.

And after dinner, we had our poetry recitation!

Maddy was the only gal who memorized hers. And proudly wore the Harry Potter robe she’s been sporting for the last week.  Owen copied his onto a connected stretch of Post-it Notes, and Cora read hers from the book.

reading, reciting, and memorizing poems

We clapped, hooted, and hollered when someone was finished, and we tried to give them meaningful praise for what they did well: You read that in a way that sounded just like you were talking! Excellent phrasing–we could really understand that long poem better when you read it that way! You said each word so clearly! No WAY you memorized that 10-line poem! Way to use your brain!

It was totally fun. So we’ll definitely do it again before summer’s end.

Excuse me while I head out to read some more poetry. . .


Why should we do this with our kids? Because teeny, little poetry packs a big punch. That’s why.

Lyndsay A. Gurnee, of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute says that “the use of poetry in the classroom is the best way to reach out to learners of different academic levels by activating the imagination of each individual student” and that is absolutely the reason I tried it with my crew (Gurnee, Lyndsay A.  Motivating Reluctant Readers Through Poetry, Yale University: Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, 8.6.13).

More on why poetry rocks:

Check out:

  • Reading Poetry in the Middle Grades because even though the poems may be a higher level for elementary school kids, I truly believe the concepts and methods for approaching the poems can be adapted for younger readers.


fyi: affiliate links are included in this post

how to help kids choose just right books

how to help kids choose just right books

how to help kids choose just right booksIt’s hard to watch a child struggle trying to read a book that is too difficult, especially when the kiddo is adamant about plowing through it.  Whether the struggles be with decoding the words on the page, with reading fluently, or with understanding what’s being read, it’s hard to watch.

Because though for many of us reading comes naturally and without thought, for others, reading is a continual struggle.  A long and laborious, difficult and painstaking process.

That’s why book choice is so important.

Muy importante.

Like really, really, really important.

Though children do need to be able to choose the books they read, if the child doesn’t choose a book that ‘fits’, it can really be downhill from there. He or she can get into a pattern of choosing books that won’t fit, making reading difficult and unpleasant.

But there are techniques and strategies that parents can employ to help guide children into choosing the ‘best fit’ books for their kids—books that match the child’s own strengths and abilities.

Nothing fancy or difficult, just a few quick reminders that your child can commit to memory that will ultimately provide him or her with skills that will make trips to the school library, media center, or book corner a whole lot more meaningful.

Here’s the skinny . . .

  • How to Help Kids Choose Just Right Books: I say it loud and clear right here. . .


And if you want the bookmarks to use for your own kiddos or classroom, please help yourself.

Best Fit Bookmarks: best fit books bookmarks

best fit bookmarks |

best fit books bookmarks |

I’d appreciate a pin, link back, tweet, or shout if you do choose to use them.  And if you have suggestions, I’d love to hear ’em!

(And if you choose to share them, which we hope you do, please link to this post instead of to the attachment page! Thank you!)

How do you help kids choose just right books? Let me know what has worked for you in the comments section below.

how to host a summer reading book swap event

summer reading book swap |

summer reading book swap Summer is almost in full swing, and for our family, there’s no better way to begin our summer fun than with a Summer Reading Kick-Off Party!

Each year, we invite a few friends over and turn it into an easy Backyard Book Swap.

It’s a great way to ease into summer and to remind kids that they still have to keep their brains moving over the long, hot months.

We always make it super-casual, and we always keep it fun.  This year, we kept it even more simple by having Maddy, Owen, and Cora walk home with some swim and dive buddies, books in hand, ready to swap.

The cool thing is that anyone can host a Summer Reading Book Swap.  And the par-tay can be done in the backyard, basement, or playroom. It can be in the beginning of the summer, middle, or even the end of summer–morning, afternoon, or evening.

All you need are some eager friends and a few books.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • How to Host a Summer Reading Book Swap: In my opinion, for any get-together, you only need a few necessities: food & fun people. That’s it.

But for the Book Swap, you’ll need a few books, of course!

We rarely send out formal invites–more of a quick email or phone call thing for us–but if you’d like, you can use the super-cute Summer Reading Book Swap invites below:

summer reading book swap invite

You can make your Book Swap a potluck where everyone brings something to share, or you can do what we did–provide snacks.

Our pals packed the main courses of their lunches (a sandwich or bagel) and we had fruit, veggies, chips, and drinks to share. And of course, we had freeze-pops for dessert!

summer reading book swap

Decorations? Easy. Big posters.

I’m a huge fan of graffiti walls, so we did what we could. A few posters where kids could write down their favorite books and characters. That’s it!

summer reading book swap

summer reading book swap

Kids ate lunch when they first got here, because hungry kids post-swim practice are no fun for Book Swaps!  So with full bellies, we were ready to move into the swap.

How do eleven kids actually swap without having the event turn into a big, awful brawl?

They draw straws!

summer reading book swap

 I cut a bunch of straws in varying lengths. Everyone picked one, and I told them to hide it once it was picked. Keep the size a secret.

Then I said, Okay, guys, we have to figure out who has the shortest and who has the longest and everything in between. So take a few minutes, figure out who has what and put yourselves into perfect straw-size order. When you’re finished, tell me by clapping three times together.

They were excited about it and got rolling right away–it’s a fun activity for a big bunch of kids and cool to see who steps up to organize.

summer reading book swap

summer reading book swap

summer reading book swap collage

It was a lot of fun.

Once the kids put themselves in order from smallest straw to tallest, I gave each child a sticker with a number 1-10.

Then I reminded them about how to choose “just right” books, and we talked about what it means to choose a book that “fits” you.

summer reading book swap collage

our ‘best fit’ bookmarks will be great reminders for the kids as they read

Then I called numbers 1, 2, and 3 up to choose their first book.

After the first group, numbers 4, 5, and 6 went up.

Finally, 7, 8, 9, and 10 hit the table to choose books.

We went through the groups a few times so that each child could grab 3-5 books, and if they really wanted another, after everyone went, they could grab another.

It worked out great.

summer reading challenge scholastic

summer reading challenge scholastic

Once everyone was settled with books, we chatted about the Scholastic Summer Challenge. My friends from Scholastic sent along some fun Summer Challenge goodies–books, bookmarks, pins, stickers, and tattoos!–so the kids had seen news of the Challenge and were curious.

Many kiddos had already grabbed a bunch of the Summer Challenge bookmarks and shoved them into each of their ‘new’ books.  I showed them that the bookmarks explained a little bit about the Summer Challenge and included a website where participants could actually track their time reading.

I also told them: scholastic summer challenge

  • The Scholastic Summer Challenge is a fun summer reading initiative that really makes it easy and fun for families to read. 
  • Scholastic is doing what they can to help kids prevent the summer slide–when kids forget what they learn during the school year–and to help kids read at least 11 books this summer–11 is the ‘magic number’ people think kids should read over the summer, but we know it should be more.
  • If you log your minutes read on the Scholastic Reading Timer, you can help beat Scholastic’s World Record from 2012 of over 95 million minutes read. Some schools are even doing it together and the winning school will get a visit from the author of Captain Underpants!
  • The Challenge runs from May 6th- September 6th, so there’s still a LOT of time to get involved!
  • Kids can log their minutes read each day and win prizes!

I showed them the Reading Timer on the iPad, and after our guests left, I registered Maddy, Owen, and Cora for this year’s Challenge. It only takes a few minutes to sign them up, and I know they’ll love logging their minutes. I tied their time to their school–so they’ll also love watching that time change throughout the summer.

Knowing how close we keep our iPads and phones, I know that updating the times will take no time at all. Cool incentive for our tech-savvy kiddos, too, to be able to log on and log time after they read.

And that’s it! Just a fun–hot!–Summer Reading Book Swap made so much more fun with great kids and a fab program.

Our summer plan:

What do you think? How do you kick off summer reading with your kids? Let me know in the comments!

fyi: Many thanks to Scholastic for sharing some sweet summer reading goodies with us.  This is an unsponsored post, written only as an honest parent and educator who is grateful and proud to work with such a great company as a writer for the Scholastic Parents Raise a Reader blog.

top 10 ways to talk to kids about books

talk to kids about books

op 10 ways to talk to kids about booksSometimes it’s all we can do to just read with our kids.

And honestly? That counts.  Big time.  So we should be happy if we’re reading with our kids. Woot!

But it’s also the talking with kids about the books that really packs a punch.  The payoffs are huge for kids in terms of reading comprehension skills, listening skills, speaking skills, and more.

Not to mention by talking to our kiddos about books, we’re helping them to develop a longtime love and appreciation for reading.  And we all want that, right? Right.

So here are the top 10 ways to talk to kids about books so you have them in one happy place for your summer reading pleasure.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Top 10 Ways to Talk to Kids About Books: Get ready. It’s life changing.

1.  Make connections.  Make connections between kids and characters in the book.  Make connections between what happens in the book and what has happened in your life. Make connections between what happens in the book and what happens in the world around you.

top ten ways to talk to kids about books connecting

2.  Make predictions.  Get kids thinking about what will happen in the book before they read.

3.  Activate schema. Use what kids already know to talk about topics in the book. Get their brains moving before the reading begins.

top ten ways to talk to kids about books predicting

4.  Ask questionsModel strong questioning by thinking aloud as you read.  Talk about your questions and show your child how asking good questions helps them to better understand what they read.

5.  Go on a book walkSometimes, reading doesn’t have to be reading every word on every page. Book walks are a great way to talk about the book–without reading it.

6.  Make inferences. Bring together big concepts by using what you know, what you read, and what you think will happen in the book.

top ten ways to talk to kids about books illustrat

7.  Think deeply. Kids can really surprise you if you aim high.  Show them how to think deeply about what they read by asking hard questions and modeling critical thinking.

8.  Look at the book’s printTalk about the print in the book, the layout, the words on the page.

top ten ways to talk to kids about books visual

9.  Talk about the picturesUse the illustrations to pull together ideas, discuss the illustrator’s craft, and to strengthen comprehension.

10.  Visualize. Make mind movies, images in the mind.  Visualizing is one of the key components of comprehension; if kids can visualize, they’re most likely understanding what they read!




schools out top 10 series by kbn

This post is part of the School’s Out: A Top 10 Series by KBN,  where over 25 Kid Bloggers from the Kid Blogger Network are sharing Top 10 Ideas to do with your children over your School Break!  Many thanks to Becky from This Reading Mama for organizing the series and to Kim from The Educators’ Spin On It for setting up the collaborative Pinterest board. Here’s the Schedule of what’s coming this week:

Sunday ~ This Reading Mama | The Educators’ Spin on It | Kitchen Counter Chronicle | Rainbows within Reach | Kindergarten & Preschool for Parents & Teachers | Monday ~ Train Up a Child Learn as We Go | Housing a Forest | Royal Baloo | Living Montessori Now | Tuesday ~ Toddler Approved | Play Trains! | 3 Dinosaurs | Wednesday ~ The Outlaw Mom | Teach Beside Me | Hands On as We Grow | Thursday ~ JDaniel 4’s Mom | All Done Monkey | Fantastic Fun & Learning | KC Edventures | Playing with Words 365 | Friday ~ Teach Mama | The Usual Mayhem | Nature and Play | True Aim Education | Saturday ~ Creative World of Varya | Craftoart | My Buddies and I

high-interest reading: the skylanders book series

high interest reading: skylanders books

post contains affiliate links



My boy loves his Skylanders.high interest reading skylanders books

So much so that if given the chance, his recipe for a life of pure happiness would be:

Skylanders + soccer + more Skylanders + Minecraft = bliss

For a teacher-mom who is interested in supporting her kids’ learning, you better believe that I’m doing what I can to capitalize on Owen’s loves and funnel this into some high-interest reading.  Yeah. I’m bad like that.

Getting kids to read–boys especially–isn’t easy.  So parents really have to jump on any opportunity available, finding some little niche of high interest and running with it.

Owen is a reader; he enjoys reading, but he likes playing his games even more.  I’m grateful that many nights we’ll read Magic Treehouse books or his Sports Illustrated for Kids together before bed.  But these Skylanders books?

He devours them.

Eats them for dinner.

Reads and re-reads them, and I love it.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • High-Interest Reading–The Skylanders Book Series:  First of all, Skylanders is a type of video game that combines an on-screen game and action figures.  The game comes with a portal, and by placing an action figure on the portal, you invite him (or her) into the game.

There are like a few dozen action figures that you can invite into the game, so kids love collecting them, comparing them, learning about them, and loving them.

owen brady skylanders

Owen’s Skylanders action figures surround a sleeping Brady.

Sound crazy? It is.

I’ll share why I actually dig Skylanders as a video game for kids in a bit. But onto the books.

The books, in Owen’s own words, are awesome because ‘It tells you all about their lives and gives them personalities. I like that there are some pictures mixed up in the pages.  And the books tell you all about Skylanders in the past, present, and the future.’

skylanders books

The first Skylanders book Owen read: Spyro Versus the Mega Monster

I get that.

The fab part of the books is that they’re allowing Owen to make connections between the game he loves to play and what he’s reading on the page.  And in order to become a strong, interested reader, we need to be able to connect with what we read.

We have only two hardcopies of the books,

but we have two on our Kindle:

We still need:

skylanders books

And the second: The Machine of Doom

skylanders books - 05

The books are written for readers aged 8 and up, so especially earlier readers will need support. However, it’s important to note that the game itself is for players 10 and up.  It requires strategy and critical thinking and tends to be a little violent.

What I like about the books is that there are illustrations throughout the text that support the plot, so readers can lean on them if need be.

I, as a non-Skylanders fan, really needed Owen to translate for me as we read; the books are clearly written for lovers of the Skylanders game. I needed a glossary for the Skylanders jargon: Chompies, Portal Master, Eon, Mabu, Drow, Nort, Skylands, and more.

skylanders books

Checking out the digital version of Gil Grunt and the Curse of the Fish Master

And it’s worth noting that though I was occasionally impressed with the higher-level of diction (word choice) in the texts, you’ll find the occasional ‘stupid’, ‘imbecile’, ‘losers’ mixed with some belching, drooling, and slobbering. All the kind of stuff that makes my boy laugh hard.

Though I don’t at all approve of this kind of language, during read-alouds, we talk about how we don’t use these words when interacting with others.
skylanders books

Checking out the Magic & Tech book

Are the stories and plots classic material?  Ahh, no.

Are we talking award-winning, rockstar content? Um, not really.

Know that I’m saying that in the kindest way possible. I was a high school English teacher. I taught the classics.

But what we are talking about is high-interest topics and texts that will get our kids reading.  And that, for me, is a big win. 

Stepping stone books. Gateway books. Books that will get kids into reading.

And I personally love the mix of hard copies and digital versions; that way, if we have the iPad or our phones but not the book, then Owen can pick up where he left off while we wait for Maddy at gymnastics.  It’s not always the iPad for a game.  The books is there, and it’s available, and he likes it.

So really? Worth sharing, I thought, because I am glad to have found a high-interest text–or series–that Owen loves and that he can connect to something he enjoys. 

We’ve been giving these two books as birthday gifts for his buddies, and I think their parents appreciate it.

Want to stay in touch with the author, Cavan Scott? Visit his site and find out when the next books will be released. Or tweet with him at @cavanscott 

Connect with author Barry Hutchison on his site or tweet with him: @BarryHutchison!

Do you have some high-interest reading worth sharing? Texts that kids can connect with and want to read? Please share!


fyi: affiliate links are used in this post

budgie and parakeet fun fact lunchbox notes: help kids find reliable sources online

budgie lunchbox love notes : helping kids find reliable sources online

budgie lunchbox love notesWe are now the proud owners of two budgies.

Or parakeets.

Or budgerigars.

Two budgies.  Two boys (we hope!).

Right. Apparently, all budgies are parakeets but not all parakeets are budgies.

So we have budgies AND we have parakeets.

And we’re learning as we go.

But what better way of having my O-man–who was home with a cough that lasted forever and ever and ever–get his brain moving than by doing some non-fiction reading about his new birds?

We practiced finding reliable sources online.  We did some reading of non-fiction texts.  And we summarized the information into happy little lunchbox love notes to take us through the end of the year.

So fun. Talk about high-interest reading for my three little budgie owners.

And talk about some cool lunchbox love note facts for any person who’s curious.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Budgie and Parakeet Fun Fact Lunchbox Love Notes:  We’d been talking about getting birds for some time now, but when we stumbled upon the gorgeous cage at a weekend yard sale, I thought it was a good sign that the time was right.

budgie parakeet lunchbox notes

Cora is cleaning the cage. . .

budgie parakeet lunchbox notes

. . . and we discarded old toys and replaced them with new ones!

Not in the least bit logical, I know.

We cleaned. We scrubbed and scrubbed our fancy $20 cage, and then we did some research over the weekend about what was the best kind of bird for kids.  We found our answer and hit the pet store!

Maddy, Owen, Cora and I are learning each day, taking small steps and doing our best to care for our new pets.

budgie parakeet lunchbox notes

Owen researches budgies. . .

budgie parakeet lunchbox notes 2 -

 . . . and together we make our fun fact notes!

Though I had parakeets when I was younger, there’s a bit of a learning curve from pet-ownership as a kid and pet-ownership as a parent.  It’s a lot of re-learning, a lot of Oh yeah. . . that’s right! moments.  Overall, it’s been fun to have birds in our house.

It’s been especially cool watching the kids’ eyes light up each time they learn something new about their birds.

budgie parakeet lunchbox notes

We have to watch our Bradyboy very closely with his new bird-brothers!

So to play on that interest and to teach the kids something along the way, Owen and I created our parakeet budgie fun fact lunchbox notes to take us through the end of the school year.

parakeet lunchbox love notes

parakeet budgie fun fact lunchbox notes

We decided upon a few websites: BudgieKeet, Ranger Rick, Budgie Care, and Budgie Love, as well as our budgie fact sheet from the store.  And we talked about what makes one site more reliable than another. We talk often about this, when we’re researching a topic, but it’s worth revisiting often.

These sites above are all worth looking at because not because they’re all awesome–they are not–but because they do provide a variety of reliability.  Some are clearly more worth your time than others.

budgie parakeet lunchbox notes

budgie parakeet lunchbox notes

We looked for reliable websites which:

  • are created by a valid source, and valid sources are experts in the field or people who have done their research;
  • provide true, real information;
  • focus on sharing information, so they are not covered with tricky ads;
  • are updated frequently so as to stay on top of the latest information.

budgie parakeet lunchbox notes

budgie parakeet lunchbox notes

Owen read passages from the sites we decided were reliable and worth our time.  And then we talked about the information and summarized it into fun facts for our notes. 

We did it together, and along the way, we even discovered something that makes our budgies so very happy: Happy Budgies on YouTube.  No joke they sing like little maniacs when it’s playing. Then Brady starts barking. And the kids start hooting. And it’s loud and crazy, but it’s all good.

Two happy (or really scared?) budgies, three happy kids, and one scared (or happy?) dog.

And one happy mom.

our digital kids

It was just a fun, quick way of rolling out the last few lunchbox love notes on a topic that I know my kids are eager to read.

And? More than a little sneaky digital learning for my O-man and a lot of budgie and parakeet learning for Maddy, Cora, and Owen during lunchtime.  Love it.

Want a look at all of our lunchbox looooove notes? Here they are:

how to help your child remember what he reads

what to do when your child can't remember what he reads

how to help your child remember what he reads

Some children are able to easily read the words on a page but cannot remember a lick of what they read.

Believe it.

Whole paragraphs, pages, chapters can sometimes decoded–words read, even fluently–but nothing.  The child remember nothing.  Frustrating right?  Believe me, it’s not all that unusual.

And you can help!

  • What can a parent do?
  • What can a teacher do?
  • What should the child do?

Fear not.  There is help, and there are a handful of strategies that really do support this kind of struggle.

I covered what to do when your child can’t remember what he reads over on the Scholastic Parents blog this week, and I totally think it’s worth mentioning here.

Don’t get angry about the jump from to Scholastic Parents. It’s totally worth it.

See you there!

Here’s the skinny. . .

See you there!

raising word conscious kids: a chat with Mando and Rosita of Sesame Street

word conscious kids

I can’t stress enough the importance of raising word-conscious kids. word conscious kids

Words are everywhere, all around us. Why not capitalize on the learning opportunities available to us everywhere we turn?

If we model a love and genuine interest in words, that will translate into our kids being more aware of words, being stronger readers, and being more eager to learn new things.


This week, I had the incredible opportunity to spend time at the PBS Annual Meeting.  As one of the PBS Kids VIPs, several parent bloggers and I had a behind-the-scenes look at new programming, new ideas, and even new characters on some of our family’s favorite shows.

It was incredible, and I’m thrilled about what’s in store for us–they’ve got some top-notch programming in the lineup, from early childhood through adult audience. Really great stuff.

I even had the chance to chat with two PBS Kids rising stars about one of my favorite topics–words!

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Raising Word-Conscious Kids– Chatting Words with Mando and Rosita:  Really. Meeting these two superstars and talking about words with them was an absolute dream.

Check it out:

How to raise word conscious kids: with Mando and Rosita of Sesame Street

chatting about words with Sesame Street’s Mando and Rosita


Though it sounds complicated and scary, ‘word consciousness’ is really the furthest thing.

It’s easy. Easier than you think.  We were all up in the word conscious action right there in that very video clip.

See? So easy–and pretty darn fun.


word of the day: get family involved

Word A Day: Get the Family Involved

Word consciousness is as simple as pointing out a word on a page during a read-aloud, and it can be a totally on-the-fly thing–you don’t need to have a plan.  When you’re word conscious, you’re learning along with your kids; you’re simply word aware.

You can admit to not knowing the meaning or pronunciation of a word. You can admit to confusing a word with another.  Word consciousness is:

  • talking about the way a word sounds when you say it;
  • playing with words;
  • discussing the meaning of a word;
  • noticing words;
  • talking about the way a word looks on the page;
  • trying different ways of using a particular word;
  • challenging each other to use a ‘new word’ later that day;
  • listening for ‘new words’ during other read-alouds and taking turns ‘catching’ them;
  • sharing ‘new words’ as a family, at the end of the day or at dinnertime;
  • keeping a family list of ‘Cool, New Words‘ or becoming ‘Word Wizards’ and making a ‘Word Wizard Wall’ of words you love. . .


word a day-- word happy kids

Word A Day: Word-Conscious Kids

Want a little more word-happy information?

And that’s it–just our not-so-sneaky way of celebrating language and words any way we can.  So many ways to play with words, but not enough time to do it!

What ways do you help to raise word conscious kids? Share your ideas in the comments–I’d love to hear them! 

Until then?  Happy word learning!

5 ways to get your kids psyched for summer reading

5 ways to get your kids psyched for summer reading

get psyched for summer reading Believe it—summer is around the corner.  Woo-hoo!

Around the corner!  As in like just a few weeks away!  It’s May! Pools open in May. Weather warms in May.  Swim team registration starts in May.  We buy bathing suits in May.

Wait.  How can we even talk about ways to get your kids psyched for summer reading when school isn’t even out yet?

Many of us still have assessments to think about, big projects coming though, and a whole lot that has to happen between now and the time those kids come running through the school doors screaming, No more teachers, no more books. . .

Getting your kids totally psyched for summer reading is easy.  Eeeeasy.

We’ve got be cool. We’ve got to be creative. And we’ve got to be careful.

But I’ve got the ‘how-to’ right here, and you’ll be surprised at how easy it is.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • How to Get Your Kids Psyched for Summer Reading: Five ways.

1. Start planning your Summer Reading Book Swap Party.  We do this every year, and every year it’s both a great way to say ‘good-bye’ to the school year and ‘hello’ to summer!

With just a wee bit of planning, anyone can throw a rockstar Summer Reading Book Swap or a Kick-Off Summer Reading Party or a Book-Lovers Book Bash any day of the week.

Send out evites, have your kids create simple invitations using an index cards and a simple ‘Come to Our Summer Reading Book Swap’ use a sample invite below:

summer reading book party invite by teach mama


2. Search for inexpensive or (even better!) free books.  For the next few weekends leading up to summer, go on a book search:

  • visit yard sales or garage sales
  • find local thrift shops
  • reach out to your local groups–church groups, MOM Clubs, playgroups
  • ask friends and family if they have books they’re ready to part with, and give them the ones you are ready to part with yourself.

Before you know it, you may have a whole new set of summertime books to call your own!


summer reading library


summer reading at library


3.  Celebrate the library.  Make sure your kids all have their own library cards.  If they are old enough to write their names, they’re old enough for their own cards.   And you know what? They will love, love, love having their own card.

Worried that they’ll lose their cards?  I get it.  Make special library card holders by punching a hole through a gift card envelope and threading a long piece of yarn through it.  Kids can wear them around their necks (as necklaces) or pin them to their shirts on library trip days.

 summer fun cards

summer fun cards

4.   Make book-happy Summer Fun Cards:  Another early summer tradition in our house is to make Summer Fun Cards.  We pow-wow after a picnic lunch and make plans for our long summer months.

This year, give your Summer Fun Cards an extra-special book-focus.  Challenge each child to include at least three cards outlining new and unusual places –or ways—to read their books.

summer book party

5.  Get in on a summer reading challenge.  Many kids need a challenge to keep them interested and engaged, and that makes sense.

Consider challenging your child to:

  • Master a series:  Pick a series of books, and see if through the summer, your child can read the whole thing, from start to finish. A book series exists for every single reading level, so don’t think that your child is too young or too old for this challenge!
  • Finish a list: Libraries, schools, and sites like Scholastic have entire reading lists to print and keep on hand.  Wouldn’t it be a riot for your child to read an entire book list from beginning to end?
  • Break a record:  Set a goal as a family for weekly number of books read, hours logged, or chapters read, and check in each week. Check in each week and evaluate how you’ve done in relation to your goal, and


Start scoping Summer Reading Programs.  We’ll be chatting all about Summer Reading programs tomorrow, and you won’t want to miss it.

Join us for:

we teach summer reading resource share


Join the Community Managers from the we teach forum for a Summer Reading Resource SHARE!

Hosted by:
–>+amy mascott(@teachmama)
–> +Bernadette Ortiz-Grbic(@Momto2PoshLilDivas)
–> +Jacquie Fisher(@KCEdventures)
–> +Kim Vij (@EducatorsSpin)

We will cover tips, tricks, and ideas for:
-making Summer Reading exciting, memorable, and FUN;
-engaging reluctant readers;
-kicking off the season with a Summer Reading event;
-including the whole family;
-keeping the momentum going all summer long;
-finding new books, free resources, and lists for every child. . . and more!

We would love to answer any of your summer reading questions! Leave them below, or tweet any of us with the hashtag #weteach and we’ll add your question to our program.  And if you can’t make it, NO problem!

The video from the live event will be embedded on our forum, and resources will be shared on a Summer Reading Resource page.


summer reading facebook chat: scholastic

Join the folks from Scholastic, and the writers of Scholastic Parent’s Raise a Reader blog, Allie McDonald of No Time for Flashcards and me (yay!) for an event to kick-off Scholastic’s Summer Challenge!

We will be focusing on keeping kids reading–and enjoying it!– all summer long! 

We’ll also talk about Scholastic’s Summer Challenge, why you want to try it, and how it can help your children maintain momentum throughout those long summer months.  Wondering about how to use digital books for your kids? We’ll chat about them as well!

Big prizes for the night? Personalized book packs for your family!

Please leave questions or concerns you have about summer reading on the Scholastic Parents Facebook page, and we’ll cover them during the event!


Here’s to a reading-happy summer, my friends! Looking forward to lots of great ideas and some serious resource sharing!

Please leave any of your Summer Reading questions, concerns, or super-awesome ideas below!