Keep Reading to Your Kids…

Jun 01

I feel fortunate that I have three boys who love books.¬† They read well above their grade level at school and think nothing of grabbing a book to read while they’re eating lunch or just hanging out in the house.¬† It helps, of course, that I’ve been reading to them daily since they were babies and that I severely limit their video game playing.¬† And, thankfully, there are so many great books that cater to boys’ interests.

Now that my oldest boys are able to read independently, they have control over what books they peruse.¬† Thanks to never-ending scholastic purchase orders and regular visits to the library, our house has a steady pile of books on almost every table and shelf.¬† Generally, I am just happy to see them reading – whether it’s a kids’ magazine or a book about an army of toilets.

There are a number of chapter book series that they return to over and over again.  The most popular books in our house have been from the following series:

  • Captain Underpants
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid
  • And Then It Happened
  • Geronimo¬†Stilton
  • Flat Stanley
  • The Spiderwick Chronicles

I still read aloud to them every night either from one of their favourite chapter books or a picture book (they still enjoy those quick and easy reads, too.)  Even though my oldest has been reading on his own for over three years, he still loves to snuggle in bed with his brothers and relax as I read. 

Lately, I’ve taken this opportunity to introduce them to some of the more difficult novels that they have been unable to get through on their.¬†¬†This is how I finally got them interested in reading Harry Potter.¬† I began¬†The Philosopher’s Stone at bedtime over¬†a month ago and they’ve all been hooked to it ever since.¬†¬†I try to get through a full chapter (minimum 20 minutes of reading) every night, yet they still beg for more when I’m done.¬†

Other books I’ve read to them include Pinocchio and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.¬† Besides the fact that they’re being exposed to great literature, I love that they know the characters from the original books not just blockbuster movies.¬†So -¬†if you can’t get your kids to read¬†a great literary treasure, do them a favour.¬† Read¬†it to them.

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Need to Convince Your Son to Get a Book?

Jan 27

If you’re a parent of boys, you likely have experienced exhaustion in your efforts to convince your son(s) to pick up a book.¬†¬†If you’ve run out of reasons, here’s one more that¬†I’ll bet you’ve¬†never thought of…¬†


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Will Hard Times Mean an Old Fashioned Christmas? Not Likely.

Dec 22

If ever there was an excuse to be Scrooge during Christmas, this year’s recession is it.¬† While Stephen Harper’s government (at the proverbial gunpoint of its opposition forces) shops for a pricey stimulus package that will placate the panicked cries of financial doomsayers, regular Canadian folk are left figuring out how to make fewer dollars stretch enough to cover the tree, the turkey and the kiddie gifts.¬† It seems inevitable that dickensian scenes be played out in homes across North America – less electronic games with animations that lull hyper tots into hypnotic states, more old-fashioned books with words on pages to fill young minds with tales of fancy.¬† Families will gather ‚Äòround the hearth singing carols between bites of bonbons and Father will read some C.S. Lewis (perhaps as he puffs on a pipe.)¬† Ah yes, recessions will teach us the merits of old-time family values as more of us eschew the digital-laced holiday (maximum two players!)¬† Well, better hold off on the Christmas pudding.

The latest figures on video game sales indicate that Canadians are set to spend more than $2 billion on video games in 2008.  According to the NPD Group, national sales on hardware, software and accessories were $1.6 billion through November Рa 36% increase from the same period in 2007.  So what gives?  While the government faces a coup from its opposition on the basis of the suffering Canadian masses, who they say are crippled by economic ruin, parents are racing to Best Buy and Toys R Us to get the Wii.  In fact, Nintendo Wii sales are up by 40% this November as compared to the same month last year. 

And as for family time by the hearth?¬† Most families will be lucky to fit in a game of Scrabble as their kids vie for a turn at “Gears of War 2″ (the highest in game sales, followed by “Call of Duty: World at War”.) ¬†Nothing like a good ol’ game of shoot to kill just before dinner.¬† And, what is for dinner anyhow?¬† With less money to spend, perhaps it’s the turkey that families have sacrificed for a tin of ham.¬† Certainly, books haven’t become the cost-conscious alternative to the pricier electronics.¬†

According to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks book sales for 75% of the U.S. retail book market, sales of books are down by 7%, as compared to last year.  The biggest dip has been in adult nonfiction, while incredibly, juvenile fiction has shown a 24% increase in sales this year over last.  The bad news is that parents seem willing to forgo their own intellectual growth, but the good news is that kids will be unwrapping books alongside their Wii. 

My own children will be receiving one new DS Nintendo game each (cost: $80) and a total of about ten books (cost: $160).¬† The Wii was top on their wish list, but I quickly lowered, I mean managed, their expectations by explaining that they will NOT see that particular¬†present under the tree this year (and, no, Santa does not give Nintendo Wii’s for Christmas.)¬† So – based on my sales figures, books are twice as important as video games – whether my kids will spend twice as much time turning pages on Christmas morn as they will clicking their DS games is, hmmm, unlikely, at best.¬† But – we will find time to play Scrabble (Junior.)

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Aug 15

Throw a ball to a boy and he’ll probably fire it back and launch a game into action. Hand that same boy a book and he’ll probably fling it aside for a more compelling activity.

Sound like a cliche? Maybe not.

The 2006 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) of fourth graders found girls outperformed boys in all 40 countries, including Canada. Recent studies in Canada and the U.S. have shown similar results. While numerous school initiatives across Canada try to close this gap, Jo-Anne Coughlin, a teacher with more than 20 years of experience and Early Literacy consultant from 2001 to 2006, insists parents are always the first educators. Sitting comfortably in a pint-sized chair in her grade 2 classroom, she offers insights into the challenges facing parents with the familiarity of a seasoned mother, she has five (now grown up) sons.

Giving a boy choice in what he reads will help feed his literary appetite. Ms. Coughlin says parents can help by tuning into their son’s interests and providing a range of literature that fuels his inquisitiveness. But don’t focus on storybooks alone; boys are likely to seek out less conventional reading material, such as trading cards, magazines, and reference books. That’s okay, concedes Ms. Coughlin, these sources build literacy skills and are a valuable part of a boy’s scholastic backpack.
She recommends fact-based reference books to hook reluctant readers,”They enjoy the bite-size pieces of it, photographs, captions, headings, and they have choice in terms of where to begin and end in reading.”
Publishers are responding to the unique needs of boys by offering factionals, books that combine fact and fiction, such as the Magic Treehouse Series which embeds historical and geographical facts within an adventure story about two children who travel to different times and places.

Boys like to know their purpose for reading, says Ms. Coughlin, and they’re less likely than girls to read for sheer pleasure.

They dig through their source for useful morsels of information that they can store in their pocket of knowledge for later use. Boys want to engage others in their reading experience by sharing the ideas and facts they’ve discovered. A publication that includes instructions on how to make a craft or perform an experiment gives him a purpose for reading and provides an opportunity to share the experience with a friend. Ms Coughlin encourages mothers and fathers to find books that provide them opportunities to work creatively together.

Parents should set aside time to read, without distractions like TV and video games for both themselves and their child.  Mom and Dad model the values they wish to instil in their children when they read in their presence. But don’t underestimate the importance of time together, engrossed in a book or discussing the latest read because, says Ms. Coughlin, “Anything a parent does one on one with a child and takes seriously, makes him think it matters to them, so it matters to me.”


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