Doing More With Less Since 1972

Category: In The News

Children’s Books Now Available on Kindle!

Here’s some great news!

There are over 1,000 new titles available, with support for pop-up text and highlighting the artwork in individual panels.

Ana and I were just talking at lunch today about how to keep one kid occupied while another is having one-on-one school time, and one of our main options is to use a tablet and some apps for some self-directed educational endeavors. Now Kindle with children’s books is a great option!

I loved my Kindle Touch with e-ink (until it got misplaced), but never really cared much for the Kindle apps for mobile devices. The way e-ink is so easy on the eyes was the big seller for me personally. But for children’s books that are heavy on illustrations, iPads and Android tablets are absolutely perfect and intuitive for kids to use.

We may have to get another device now! The Kindle Fire is pretty reasonably priced, and there are some other options out there like the Archos Arnova Child Pad that are both cheap and kid friendly.

Some Programming Notes

Some of you may have noticed the pace of new posts has slowed (even more) over the past couple of months. We’re very happy to tell you that the reason is that Ana is in a family way once again. For those of you who aren’t from the Southeast–she’s pregnant. Unfortunately for Ana, that means 20 weeks of extreme illness, 24 hours a day.

So for the past few months we’ve been in “survival mode” around our house, and that means housekeeping is at a minimum, much less blogging. The homeschool co-op had to go on a hiatus as well. The good news is that she experienced the same thing with the first two pregnancies, and the kids were both born healthy, so we’re hoping that bodes well for this one too. The other good news is that we are almost out of the woods…the nauseas has mostly subsided, and now she’s building her strength back up.

On a less happy note, we learned this past week that our dear friend Coupon Katie has been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Many of you know Katie and/or follow her blog, so you already know what a great, strong, and inspirational person she is. On top of that, she can tell you how to get a bunch of stuff for free at Walgreens and end up having them give you money. Please keep Katie and Shawn (the Coupon Koala) in your thoughts and prayers as they overcome this obstacle.

Newest Carnival of Homeschooling Is Up!

Thanks to Christine at Our Curious Home for hosting this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling and including us!

There are so many good articles in this week’s edition, and these are some of our favorites so far…

Montessori Print shop has some good tips on getting started with Montessori at home. We are a far cry from full-blown Montessori style learning around our house, but it’s nice to have a little area set up for the kids to come and do self-directed activities they enjoy.

Robin at Crack The Egg has a great idea on creating and using a robot book. This idea can be used for whatever subject your child is interested in. For us, that would be a flower book. Two of them.

And finally, some advice on dealing with people who are hostile to the idea of homeschooling from The Common Room. Bottom line–everybody has to do the best for their particular families based on their particular situation. In the end, you may not be able to help them see why it’s the best decision for your family, but it may help  you understand why they react the way they do.

Cutting Back on Screen Time

From today’s Tennessean, Dr. Frank Boehm calls for replacing t.v. time with book time:

If we began to encourage our children to replace screen time with reading books, they would be more able to counter ignorance in themselves and others by being able to enter conversa­tions with real facts rather than sound bites from television programs and the Internet.

I won’t pretend our kids don’t watch any television. They do. But we’ve found it easier to limit their tube time by getting rid of cable and only using a Roku player to stream Netflix. This allows us to limit what they see to very specific programs and zero commercials. An added benefit of using only a streaming player is that when a show ends, it’s over. There aren’t any “Coming up next…” announcements. Pea usually gets up and turns the television off when her show ends, saying, “We don’t watch t.v. all day.”

It’s been good for us (the parents) as well. We watch considerably less television now. Gone are the days of flipping through channels looking for something to watch. The only time the television is on at our house is when we sit down to watch a specific movie or an episode or two of a television program we’re streaming after the kids’ bed time. If you thought DVD was the best way to watch a series, you should try streaming it!

Again, no commercials, and we spend a lot more time reading and talking than we do staring at a screen.

We’re also saving a ton of money. For the cost of one month of cable we were able to buy the streamer to connect to the television, and Netflix is less than $10 per month. Cutting cable completely may not work for every family, especially if you like to watch sports live, but we love it!

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Celebrate The Freedom To Read What We Want

It’s that time of year again…the time to celebrate Banned Book Week. Held every year on the last week of September, BBW celebrates the freedom to choose or to create books that may sometimes be viewed unorthodox or controversial by some. Their goal is to promote intellectual freedom.

I remember one year in Florida there was a lot of buzz about a certain book that was being banned in all schools county by county. Guess what happened? EVERYONE wanted to read it…and just about everyone did. It’s still one of my favorites! It’s funny how banning books has that effect, no?

So go check out what it’s all about and also to see what titles are creating buzz this year. Enjoy your freedom!

Start Your Kid’s Day With Cheerios and a Free Book!

They’re at it again…Cheerios will be giving away free books this fall for their Spoonful of Stories Program!

If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a program that works to donate books to kids who need them. From Cheerios:

In celebration of the 6th anniversary of the Spoonfuls of Stories® program, First Book and Cheerios® are distributing 100,000 children’s books by John Lithgow to programs serving children in need across the country.

The book titles for this year haven’t been released yet, but they will include 5 award winning books inside each Cheerios box. They will even be printed in English AND Spanish – can’t beat that! Although I prefer the honey nut variety, I’ll definitely be picking up a couple of boxes this fall!

Literacy On the Web

One of the issues we’re already concerned about is setting a good reading example for our kids. We feel like it’s important to not only read to them, but for them to see us reading on our own as well. Ana is much more apt to read books than I am. I’ve always been a pretty voracious reader. I’m constantly reading, but 90% of my reading now occurs online. I feel like I need to make a conscious effort to read books when little ones are around because I’m afraid they’ll associate a computer as some type of toy and won’t understand that what I do with the computer is actually reading. But even if they realize that I’m reading, is that the kind of reading kids need?

Yesterday’s New York Times has an excellent article discussing the changing face of reading and how it affects literacy. Reading online is increasingly popular with young people, and the experience of reading online resembles more of a zig-zag-bob-and-weave than the linear beginning, middle, end type reading most of us grew up doing in books, magazines, and newspapers. When I was a kid, I was big fan of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books because they offered a little bit of control over the story, and the story could change. One of the reasons I love reading online is because the experience is similar, and it offers many more tangents. The difference is that those books I loved so much still had a beginning, middle, and end to their stories.

From my own experience, I think the big issue with reading online is that I don’t tend to get as much granularity as I would from a book. I use my online reading as more of a macro view of a subject. Although I can get many more vantage points on a subject, I tend to miss out on the details. I tend to use what I read online as a guide to what I want to read more about in a book; the overview that I get online helps me decide what I’d like to learn about in detail. But, just as the article suggests, I think the way my brain works has definitely been changed by the availability of information we now enjoy.

I think it’s interesting that for kids born in the last ten years or so, this way of getting information is perfectly normal, and for the generation before mine (at least a large number of them), they haven’t really transitioned to life online the way many in my generation have. It’s definitely a strange spot to be in, having experience “extreme reading” both before and after the presence of the web.

Still, I tend to agree with this statement from the article:

Even those who are most concerned about the preservation of books acknowledge that children need a range of reading experiences. “Some of it is the informal reading they get in e-mails or on Web sites,” said Gay Ivey, a professor at James Madison University who focuses on adolescent literacy. “I think they need it all.”

What do you guys think? Does reading online really count as reading?

Reading Phailure?

USA Today has a pretty scathing criticism of Reading First in its editorial section. The crux of the argument is that the system has been duped by textbook publishers into wasting a lot of money on a program that has no value. But does that mean the research is wrong? Is the problem with the research or the implementation?

…the studies the panel reviewed show that intensive phonics has little to do with students’ ability to understand what they read. Distinguished literacy experts Frank Smith and Kenneth Goodman have provided compelling evidence that comprehension is the basis for learning to read: We learn to read by understanding what is on the page.

But what happens after we learned to read? How do we learn to stretch our skills? What about reading to learn? Shouldn’t our goal be to eventually learn to understand by being able to read what is on the page? Mr. Krashen’s solution to literacy ills is the mere presence of books.

Instead of wasting billions of dollars more on Reading First, let’s invest much more in libraries in low-income areas. Let’s make sure all children have access to books, and solve the real literacy crisis forever.

Great. Now what do we do about the kids who don’t live next door to the library?

Whether taught at school or at home, with books paid for by the parents or provided free for loan by libraries, using researched based techniques or trial and error, children are ultimately going to be affected more by their parents’ attitudes toward literacy and reading than anything else.

COH Issue For June 10

The Carnival of Homeschooling is up–thanks to The Common Room for hosting! Just a few of the interesting posts that caught our eye here at RCO:

Hands on ABC Order — some activities you can do with your child to exercise their alphabetizing skills.

First Grade Curriculum Review — great insight from a first year homeschooler on several subjects (not just reading)

There’s More to Education Than Smarts — an interesting post about the social responsibilities that come with an education.

And take a look at the test Phil gave his 4th grader.

There are several other great posts in the carnival for homeschoolers–check it out!

Age Guidance For Children’s Books…No Thanks!

That’s what Philip Pullman and over 80 other authors, illustrators, librarians, and booksellers are saying in their petition against the proposed age banding for children’s books by leading publishers. This proposal looks to add suggested age ranges on children’s books (such as ages 5+ or ages 7-9) in order to help parents, teachers, and kids tell which books are appropriate for children to read. This has sparked much debate amongst those involved with children’s books. The publishers claim that this will be very helpful to parents when choosing books for their kids at bookstores and for teachers selecting material for their students.

Is this really necessary? Has there been some sort of epidemic of concerned adults wandering the aisles at bookstores and libraries unsure of what material is appropriate for their children to read? I don’t think this age banding proposal is a good idea and here are a couple of problems I see with it:

  • Not all kids are the same: Every child reads at different levels at different ages! Parents who homeschool have much more control over letting their child read out of the “appropriate” range that will appear on a book’s cover, so I’m sure we will continue to make decisions that best suit our children rather than allow an unnecessary age range deter us from purchasing a certain book. Yet will kids who attend schools still have the freedom to choose the books they wish to read? Will the advanced 7 year old (like this one) who devours chapter books deemed for older kids be allowed to read them at school?
  • It may discourage readers or embarrass others: A child who is interested in dinosaurs may excitedly pick up a book about them only to put it down quickly once he realizes it’s a “baby book”. There’s no telling how much he could have learned or how much fun he could have had reading it because he never even gave it a chance. And trust me, kids don’t want to be caught reading books that are considered too young for them! So what about the kids who read below their current grade or age level? How would an 11 year old who reads at a 3rd grade level feel when they are given a book that says it’s for ages 8-10? My guess is that child would not want to read that book…or any other that reminds him how behind he is. Pullman says it best:

“…Everything about a book should seek to welcome readers in and not keep them out.”

I really hope that these publishers take to heart the wishes of the petitioners and decide against including these age ranges on their books. Parents, educators, and kids should enjoy choosing books based on interest and curiosity without such limits!

Where Does Literacy Begin?

Well, according to Esther A. Jantzen’s article in the LA Times, literacy begins at home, and I couldn’t agree more. She had this to say about the study which found that Bush’s Reading First program is not working:

I doubt if anyone with experience in urban education is surprised at the announcement. We’re disappointed that, once again, a generation of public school kids didn’t get whatever is needed in order to learn to read well.

But we’re not surprised. We’ve been barking up the wrong tree a long time.

I’ve actually been watching and waiting for the inevitable finger-pointing that was bound to happen once the news spread about the lack of success the Reading First program has had in improving student performance in urban schools. It should come as no surprise that the blame be tossed around and passed down from office to office before finally landing in the laps of the schools and teachers. While I knew the finger would also eventually be pointed at parents, I didn’t expect it to be done this quickly.

Although I think some blame belongs to the schools and the administration of the program in general, I completely agree with the author’s views in regards to the importance of starting literacy in the home. She goes on to share the findings of an eye-opening study that was done on children’s vocabulary and literacy; an important one that most parents (and many educators) are sadly, unfamiliar with:

They found that by age 3 children of welfare parents heard 10 million words, those with working-class parents heard 20 million words, and those with professional parents heard 30 million words. In addition, with children 13-18 months old in welfare families, almost 80% of the feedback to the child was negative, in working-class families about 50% was negative, and in professional families more than 80% of feedback to the child was affirmative.

It turns out that verbal development is not so much about IQ, parental love or socioeconomic status. These skills are related to how much a child is talked to and the tone of the communications. Literacy is founded on words heard and words used. What this means is that the critical place that literacy develops is the home, not the school, and that the crucial intervention period is very early in the life of a child.

This is powerful information for any parent to have and act on! I wish every parent would make it his or her personal mission to assure that their child gets the best start possible by simply following what this study suggests: talking and interacting with your child in a positive manner as much as possible! Jantzen goes on to supply several realistic ideas for parents, companies, and the community at large to make this change happen in homes across the country. Having worked at a couple of urban schools myself where parental involvement meant calling a social worker, I can only hope that her message is heard.

I can at least help by spreading her word and by providing parents the knowledge to teach their kids to read at home through our site! Read the whole article here to find out more about her ideas.

Kids Prefer To Read Classics

According to a Washington Post survey, kids still prefer to read the classics when given the choice.

Children have welcomed the Harry Potter books in recent years like free ice cream in the cafeteria, but the largest survey ever of youthful reading in the United States revealed today that none of J.K. Rowling’s phenomenally popular books has been able to dislodge the works of longtime favorites Dr. Seuss, E.B. White, Judy Blume, S.E. Hinton and Harper Lee as the most read.

I remember reading many of these authors when I was growing up and I also read them to my classes when I was a teacher. There’s something special about kids and these classics that go together like green eggs and ham. They never seem to get old as they transcend generations and continue to be young kids’ favorites. It’s nice to see the cycle created by great writing and comforting stories. It’s also pretty cool to know that we’re not too old to relate to something our kids like!

In honor of these cool findings I’d like to share my top favorite books from some of these classic authors. Here they are in no particular order:

Dr. Suess’s There’s a Wocket in My Pocket: I actually didn’t know how to speak English when I was first introduced to this book (2nd grade), but I remember how much I loved the silly creatures and the way the words sounded. I still smile when I read this book as an adult for the same reasons.

E.B. White’s Charlette’s Web: I think this book will always be a favorite! I never thought I’d care so much about a spider…or a rat.

Judy Blume’s Freckle Juice: This was a tough choice for me because I have a couple of other favorites (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and SuperFudge), but this one won out because I made the most connections with it. I always wanted freckles because my mom and siblings had them and I didn’t have any! So it was easy for me to relate with Andrew’s fervent desire for these spots.

Maybe you can share them with your child (if you haven’t already) and keep the cycle going!

‘Reading First’ Not Working…Why Not?

The Reading First initiative is a federally funded program that aims to raise student performance by improving reading comprehension (as measured by state tests). The program has very strict guidelines that states and districts must follow in order to receive and maintain funding. Some of these guidelines include:

  • Having a reading coach – a person that works to train teachers and make sure they are up to date on the latest research on teaching the five components of reading. This person is to work side by side with teachers in and out of their classrooms to help them accomplish these goals.
  • Using approved scientific research-based curricula
  • Provide students with an uninterrupted 90-minute reading block each day
  • A set amount of time for teacher professional development in reading instruction

You’d think all of those efforts should pay off, right? Well, according to a preliminary report published by the Department Of Education, students who attend a Reading First school have shown no more gains than those whose schools lack the program. The program weighs in at about $1 billion dollars a year so far (for a total of $6 billion), so you can see why this would be disturbing to some. A final report that looks at the effects of the program guidelines on student comprehension is due out in late 2008.

So why is the initiative not working as intended? I don’t think it’s because of faulty research. I suspect the reasons why it’s not working as anticipated are due to the implementation, management, and expectations of the program. My experience as a reading coach in one such school lends me a bit of insight into the matter. While I definitely don’t think the following applies to all schools, it may still be true for many. Here are three reasons why I think Reading First may not be working to its full potential:

  1. Misuse of resources at the school level: I found that my time as a reading coach was not used effectively by the administration. Much of my time was diverted towards taking care of discipline issues instead of working with teachers.
  2. Lack of teacher “buy-in”: Teachers oftentimes need to buy into and feel like they own ideas in order to change. I found that many teachers were so bogged down with the other guidelines they were placed under (NCBL, state, and district mandates) that they simply couldn’t find the time to change and grow professionally, or, in a few cases, simply didn’t want to.
  3. Unrealistic expectations: Many of the children being served in the targeted public schools come in with such limited language and literacy skills, that it’s really hard to catch them up to “grade level” in a couple of years (at least to the point where they score well on state tests) . These kids would likely make great gains quickly if they had individual instruction on a daily basis, but that’s just not realistic in today’s schools.

Could this be the beginning of the end of The Reading First initiative? Surely people will not stand behind something that costs that amount of money with no proven results, but it would be a shame if the instructional methods of Reading First are dismissed as being ineffective. I truly feel that the research that has been done to support the program and reading instruction in general is solid and strong. I’ve personally seen it work and make a difference in helping many children learn to read. I guess we shall have to wait and see how it all plays out!

We Love Free and We Love Spanish

I love it when big companies reach out to help communities and make resources available for free! To honor El Dia de Los Niños – a Latin holiday that celebrates children as the center of the Latino family, the NCFL (National Center for Family Literacy) has released a new Spanish version of their magazine Cultivating Readers (Cultivando el hábito de la lectura). The magazine gives parents activities, ideas, and support to help their kids learn literacy and language skills.

“Parents are in the best position to instill in their children a lifelong love of learning,” said Sharon Darling, president & founder of NCFL. “Studies show that children who spend time reading with their parents are more likely to become accomplished readers themselves. This magazine will help parents incorporate effective, research-based literacy and reading activities into their daily routines. Many Hispanic parents need information in their native language, so that they can fully understand the reading continuum and become comfortable with the information without worrying about translation.”

The 16-page magazine includes activities and strategies to increase the reading readiness and school success specifically for three age groups — infants and toddlers, preschoolers, and students from kindergarten through grade three.

I think this is a wonderful thing and I hope many parents take advantage of it! Read the whole article here.

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