"It's Not a REAL Book" 


I was working in an elementary school a few years back and popped into the book sale - because who can resist looking at and touching all those new books? I was looking at new chapter books that might interest my son when I heard a mom and her son arguing.


"No, you can't get that. It's not a real book." she told him.

"But, mom," he replied, "I promise I'll read it!".


I casually maneuvered my way around the racks to see what this "not a real book" was that the mom was opposed to buying. It was a graphic novel.


The graphic novel has gained popularity in recent years and is an upgrade from the comic book of years ago. I knew that some boys liked the fast pace of the graphic novel, the high quality illustrations, and the adventure stories usually associated with them. I silently started chanting: "Let him get it. Let him get it." All the while having the internal conversation with myself about whether, as a reading specialist, it was appropriate for me to but in!


I let the mom in me (nobody wants unsolicited advice in front of their child) get the better of me and I kept silent. I was crushed, however, when she drew the line in the sand and said: "If that's the only thing you want then we are leaving and you're not getting anything." And so they did. Ugh, I regretted not saying something.


While a graphic novel may not be every parent's idea of great literature, if it interests a child, and it's in line with the content you approve, then let him read it! I once had a second grader


I was tutoring who was behind in reading and truthfully did not want to read or practice reading. I desperately needed to find him reading material so he could practice. I talked with him until I found something he was interested in, we visited the school library together, and we found him an armful of Calvin and Hobbes books to take home. His parents were thrilled that he was reading at home and that practice moved him forward in his reading skills.


Many experts will recommend that you start with phonics readers only, move to I Can Read books, short chapter books, and then on to classic children's literature. I say, include all of the above AND anything your child is interested in reading or learning about! And don't forget joke books, and magazines, and encyclopedias, and websites, and poems too! 


Read, read more, read more often.  Mary 


The Rights of the Reader

by Daniel Pennac

Do you wonder if you should allow your child to reread favorite stories, or on the other hand, if you should allow them to choose their books? What about silly books like Captain Underpants - is that type of book really helping your child become a reader? And what if he's bored or hates the chapter book all the home-school curriculum suggest is good, classic literature? 


When it comes to what's best for your readers we want to respect and abide by some basic guidelines we would give our adult selves. Some guidance and best judgement is recommended here but basically don't force your child to read something they find dreadfully boring unless it is necessary to fulfill a different purpose, and then provide ways to make it engaging: allow them to listen to the audio book or use it as a read-aloud or paired reading activity.


If your child chooses a book from the library and does not want to finish it, don't insist that he does. Life is too short to read books that aren't good and sometimes the best cover disguises the fact that a book just isn't our cup of tea. Now, don't let him get into the habit of never finishing a book because that is not good for habit development. Again - use your best judgement and think how you would handle the situation as an adult.


And those silly books and graphic novels? They are okay in moderation and they are preferable if your child is otherwise unmotivated to read or is overcoming a reading deficit. Interest will always propel a child to read more and try harder than a book he does not like.


I often hear parents ask if graphic novels are "real books". My answer: they are if they help your child become a better, happier reader! 


Allow your child to explore different genres. My son always made a beeline for the nonfiction section in the library and try as I might I could not get him interested in the pictures books no matter how lovely the illustrations.


In short, we want children to love books, love to read, and become independent readers who feel empowered to make choices about their reading. Reading should be something they choose to engage in not something done to them or imposed on them.


Read, read more, read more often. ~ Mary 





Free Facebook Group!

In case you haven't heard! We now have a Facebook group to help you implement the strategies and methods we outline in the book. Everybody gets stuck once in a while and wouldn't it be nice to be able to post your question and get immediate help? I've learned one thing over the years: if you're stuck on something it will keep you from making forward progress. Don't get stuck - just ask. 

Other things happening in the Facebook group: Live videos answering your Top 10 Questions. FREE resources! Need a quick and easy phonics package? We've got that! All you have to do is download. 

Need some help determining if your child is making adequate progress? You'd be surprised how much a short video of your child reading can tell me about his reading skills. I'm happy to take a look and give you a strategic plan to move your child forward. 

There is more happening inside the group but you have to join to take advantage of it all. 

See you on the inside! ~ Mary 






"Is This a Full Phonics Program?"

We recently received this email question from a parent:


I am looking at curriculum for next year for my sons who will be in Kindergarten and Grade 2. My Kindergarten child hasn't learned to read yet, and my other son is reading at a grade one level now. Would this book be appropriate as a full phonics program for the both of them? Or is it meant to supplement phonics/spelling? What would your recommendation be, to use this as a whole LA program, or would additional programs be needed as well? Thanks! 


Our reply:


Thanks for your interest in Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books. Although we wrote the book from the perspective that a child can learn to read without the need of a sequential intensive phonics program, it can be used in conjunction with such a program. In the book we express our concerns with intensive phonics approaches, specifically that children who are taught to focus primarily on memorizing rules and sounding out words can, sometimes, fall into a pattern where they are reading like a computer and not reading with fluency and comprehension. If you feel the need to use a packaged phonics program, perhaps the incorporation of the principles we share in the book will help you, as the child's teacher, to avoid these pitfalls and to emphasize fluency and comprehension.

Another potential negative by-product of an intensive, packaged approach is the tendency for these approaches to be boring, and to give the child the impression that "reading" is only about memorizing rules and sounding out words. So, if a grandparent asks the child "Do you like to read?" the child may respond with an enthusiastic "NO!" because s/he associates reading with endless memorization drills and meaningless robotic exercises. A child who learns to read using a balanced approach incorporating lots of enjoyable children's literature will, most likely, love the learning to read process.
Regarding the older child, it never hurts, and is always helpful, to incorporate great children's literature in the form of storybooks into the reading program. So, yes, I believe the older child will certainly benefit by the principles and resources we share in the book.

We wish you the best as you teach your children!






Will your child say "I LOVE to read!"?

Recently, I received an email from a mom who has just started reading Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books. Her child is currently in kindergarten at the local public school, and she explained what she is noticing:


"I have just started it and am finding it really insightful. I have been working with B. on reading, and I have noticed in school that what I think they are teaching is basically the phonics approach. I see their point, but am finding it taking away from the reading and understanding point for B. Right now she is okay learning and memorizing new words, but I can see the enthusiasm is waning for her. When we read at night she picks a book and we read it together. I find she likes it alot better. Today I told B. when she got home from school that we had to go over her sight words and she said "I know, I know. We have to do them." She sounded like "Oh no, not again!" I think that is what you are talking about in the beginning of the book. I can see it and need to have her like this stuff again. She is learning to read and likes that."


I'll relate what this mom is saying to another school subject, science. It bothers me a lot when I hear students say "I HATE science!" No one hates science. We all are thrilled by the wonders we see around us each day, both in the created world of nature and in the man-made world. We love to take in the beauty, and we are amazed by the advances we see in technology. When students say they hate science, what they are really saying is they do not like the boring, uninspired, and shallow ways they've been taught the subject of science in school settings.


Do not let this happen with reading instruction! There is no requirement that learning to read, by definition, has to be a process that is primarily one of sterile "drill and skill" rule memorization. Young children delight in learning when they can engage the process in ways that are rewarding, that take advantage of their built-in delight of language, and when being guided by someone who loves them and loves reading great books together. Instead of doing loads and loads of worksheets, read loads and loads of appropriately leveled books together (using the strategic methods we explain in Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books. Your child will happily tell the world "I LOVE to read!"








Forming Letters Correctly

My kindergarten-age granddaughter is schooling at home, and I had the wonderful opportunity to help her all day with her schoolwork. As she was practicing writing her name on paper, I was reminded of a common problem that would be good for anyone helping a child learning to form letters correctly.  Frequently a child will hold a single sheet of paper (with her non-writing hand) at the bottom of the sheet.  This can cause the child to make letter strokes from the bottom up instead of from the top down. If the child starts forming a down stroke from the top, and the paper is being held on the bottom, the paper will crumple or slide. Unless the child is instructed to hold the paper on the top instead of the bottom, she will naturally start making the strokes from the bottom up instead from the top down. Break this unhelpful habit early on before the child becomes locked into forming all her letters incorrectly.






Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books Makes Duffy's Top 101 Picks!

Cathy Duffy is a respected reviewer of products for home schooling families. Her book, 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, has been a top seller and frequently cited book since it was published in 2005. The press release for the new version of her book (renamed 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum to distinguish it from the earlier version) explains "Great new products have been introduced since the 2005 edition that was titled 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum—some so great they have bumped previous Top Picks out of their slots!"


Well, Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books is one of those "great" products! You can read her review by clicking the link on the top right corner of this web site. Cathy's book will be released in mid-July 2012.






A Wonderful Testimonial

This unsolicited letter from a grateful mother has been on our testimonial page for some time, but it deserves to be highlighted.  As you read her words, notice the enthusiasm that exists in her home about the joy her children have found as they have learned to read:


"I wanted to thank you for your book. I have been using the 3rd edition for many years now in homeschooling my children. My now 11 year old son was my first to learn to read. Using your approach, he quickly took off and felt successful from the first day. By the age of 6 1/2 yo, he had read the first four Harry Potter books and is still a voracious reader who comprehends with ease reading now at a college level. My second child is now 9 yo, and is much the same. His fluency increased a bit later but he quickly caught up to the older child. He is reading at a middle school or higher level and loves it. The original Pilgrim's Progress is a favorite with him even! My third child, a girl, also took off with you method just over age 6. She recently turned 7yo (ending first grade) and has read not only Harry Potter books, but all of E.B. White and many others. My fourth child has been begging me to teach her to read. Since she recently turned 5 years old, we have now started by cementing all the prereading skills (knowing all letters and sounds, for example). She is so excited and I am again rereading your book to remind myself of all the methods. I know she will learn to read well as will my two younger sons (ages 3 and 19 months) when their time comes. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for an easy to use, realistic, enjoyable and successful method of instructing our children in their most important learning skill."


Certainly this mom has provided an excellent example herself of the joy that is to be found in reading great books, and she is to be commended for creating this environment in her home.  Thankfully, the methodology and philosophy promoted in Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books complimented this positive atmosphere.  If you are finding that your children dread your learning to read instruction, could it be you are using a boring approach that focuses on rules to memorize and skills to drill?  There is a better way!  Check out Chapter 5 on the left menu, read some other testimonials, then order your copy Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books of today!






When Is a Rule Not a Rule?

Proponents of intensive phonics approaches to reading instruction promote the memorization of rules that guide the way words should be pronounced based on the arrangement of the letters within those words.  They discuss these rules as though they are virtually infallible, implying that children simply need to learn the rules, then apply them at the appropriate times while reading.  This "exploding" of the "code" will lead to accurate reading and good comprehension.  The skills involved in decoding words are described in almost mathematical terms, as predictable in outcome as an equation like 2 + 2 = 4.


But there is a problem...often times the actual pronounciations of words do not follow the rules.  For example, the word appearing more often in print than any other - the - is not pronounced phonetically because the e at the end is typically pronounced with the short u sound, a pronunciation which the rules would not predict.


In a now classic research piece by Theodore Clymer frequently referenced by reading instructors, the author looked into the usefulness of various phonics "rules" (now called generalizations because of their frequent inaccuracy) in early reading instruction.  He discovered that many of these generalizations were inaccurate 50% or more of the time in primary grade level words where the rule should be applied.  For example, the most popular generalization among phonics teachers is the one that states "when two vowels are side by side in a single syllable, the first vowel is long (says its name) and the second is silent."  Often this rule is taught as a rhyme which goes "when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking."  Clymer showed that this "rule" only proved to be accurate in 45% of the applicable words in the reading instruction books used in primary grades!  Another rule states "when there are two vowels in a single syllable word, one of which is the final e, the first vowel is long and the second is silent."  This generalization was true in only 63% of the applicable words.  Many other commonly-trusted phonics rules did not fare as well as these.  When is a rule not a rule? 


Certainly, no one would argue that knowing letters and letter combinations, and using them to pronounce words, is not important.  But a strong approach to reading instruction needs to be balanced, promoting the use of other cues in addition to the letters on the page.  And this is exactly the methodology recommended in Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books.  We invite you to read Chapter 5 and to explore some of the testomonials linked in the menu on the left. 


A final metaphor might help to illustrate the point of this article: a hammer is an extremely important tool for a builder to use while constructing a house.  But it certainly is not the only one he uses!  If your only method in teaching a child to read is to teach "rules," then to say "sound it out, sound it out" when the child encounters difficulty while reading, you are like the builder who is trying to build a house with a hammer alone.  And to make the metaphor even more accurate, suppose the hammer he is using only hits the nail on the head 45% of the time.  As a rule, he's probably not going to be very successful!








What Curriculum Did You Use to Teach Your Child to Talk?

At a recent homeschooling conference, many parents stopped by our booth to ask questions and, sometimes, to challenge the idea that there is a viable approach to reading instruction that is not based in a highly sequenced and regimented phonics package.  As I spoke with several apprehensive parents, I found myself asking, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner, "So, what curriculum DID you use when you taught your child to talk?"  Of course, they all smiled and gave the same answer.  No one uses a package curriculum to teach young children the basic elements of our spoken language.  The vast majority of children learn to talk very fluently by the time they are 3 years old through a total immersion yet casual process that seems to come naturally to loving parents/grandparents/caretakers of preschool children.


Think about this for a few minutes.  A baby, in the womb, can probably hear her mother speaking and, even though there is absolutely no comprehension taking place, the fetus becomes familiar with her mother's voice.  She can, most likely, hear other voices and sounds as well.  After the trauma of birth, the child is comforted by those familiar voices.  Soon the baby begins to associate sounds and maybe even words with important events...like taking nourishment from her mother, and being embraced by loving family members.  She learns that the sounds she makes can cause the desired reactions from the adults in her life.  It's a give and take world!


Without going through every stage in her development through infancy and toddler-hood (we do go into more detail in our book), I think you can see where I am going with this discussion: the child, through a very simple hypothesis testing approach, soon discovers how to get what she wants through speech, and how the language of others is guiding her to an understanding of the basic yet important concepts about life.  A young child is hard wired to learn language.  The natural language-learning process is very efficient and effective.


Now contrast this with a fictional mother who, from the childs earliest days of her newborn's life, thinks she needs to use a packaged speech learning program designed for infants.  The creators of this hypothetical curriculum caution the user that the program's scientifically-based sequence MUST follow the prescribed order of learning to a tee to maximize the benefits.  This packaged speech learning program comes with cutesy phoneme people and trinkets to be used as rewards when the child "says it just right" during each daily lesson.


Of course this is silly, but I use it to demonstrate an important idea: your child learned to talk through total immersion in a speech-rich environment.  The best thing you can do as your child is learning about print is to immerse her in print.  Respond to her questions about books, and enjoy lots of fun stories together.  Play with magnetic letters and printed words in increasingly purposeful ways (we show you how).  At a reasonable point in time, these fun, casual experiences can morph into more purposeful and directed reading lessons...without losing the joy that comes with sharing books and other print-based resources together.


In short, it may not be as "natural" as learning spoken language, but a learning to read process that has real books as the core of the approach is a very doable, enjoyable, and successful way to teach a child to read. 








Rocket Science vs. Common Sense

Mark and I had the privilege of meeting some dedicated homeschooling parents at last week's Midwest HomeSchool Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. We were energized by the conversations and feedback we received from those of you who want to give your children the best possible education. We were touched and grateful for those of you who took the time to tell us that you have read Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books and how this "common sense" approach to teaching reading worked for your children. Some of you even expressed how you had tried "everything else" and then found our book and that is when reading instruction started to make sense!

But many of you talked with us and we sensed the apprehension in your eyes, the reluctance to venture out and make critical decisions about reading instruction without a scripted guide and planned lesssons. To you we say: read the book and you will see that this is something you CAN do. There are reading "experts" who say that teaching reading is rocket science. If that is true then very few people are qualified to teach youngsters how to read - including public school teachers. But Marilyn Rockett of Homeschooling Today magazine calls our approach "commonsense" and that is something you all possess.

In Teach a Child to Read With Children's Books we give you the understanding of what all children need in order to have a foundation that will ensure reading success. We then give you the basics of a comprehensive approach to literacy that helps you guide your child through all components of being a good reader based on his or her needs, strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies/attitudes toward print. We empower you to make daily and ongoing decisions about the books your child will read, the strategies your child needs, and the choices you will make in order to immerse your child in print and provide a literacy-rich environment in which your child can thrive as a reader.

Do not be intimidated by those who promote their reading program as the only way to teach reading. Do the research and you will see that there is not one single packaged reading program that shows significant gains in reading abilities when used exclusively or without the foundation of a literacy-rich environment.

Teaching reading is not rocket science but weeding through the facts vs myths about reading and the advertisements for "magic" reading programs can be! Here are two resources to help you find what really does work. http://www.bestevidence.org/ and http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/reports/

We think once you do your research you will see that our approach is one that combines the love of reading with proven reading strategies and quality children's literature to give you the support you need to get your child on the path to literacy.






Reflection Vs. Resolution

     As a new year starts, many parents will make resolutions. We all know that these well-intended resolutions oftentimes fall by the wayside despite our best efforts. This year, instead of resolutions, why not choose to reflect first? For how can we know where we want or need to go if we don't reflect on where we've been?

     Certainly one of the most important areas worthy of reflection is our childrens' education and progress toward reading. Where was your child this time last year in his reading progress or readiness? Where were your thoughts about reading and how has your philosophy of learning to read evolved over the course of 2010? Has your personal library grown, have your bookshelves filled with books that draw your child into special worlds of wonder? Did you find time to visit the local library weekly and teach your child to choose books? Did you commit to daily read-alouds with your child despite the busyness of life? Are there some things that ate up your time that could have better been spent reading to your child?

     Perhaps you have just started to think about reading for your child, or your children are just babies and you want to "be prepared." No need for resolutions, but you can reflect on your attitudes toward reading and even your own personal experience as a reader. Do you worry that your child will have trouble learning to read because you had some negative experiences as a child? Are you willing to help foster the love of reading in your child but concerned that you are not "qualified" to do so? Do you hesitate because you are not sure of the "right" way to teach your child to read?

     We invite you to browse our blog or the sample chapter on this site to see if Teach a Child to Read With Childrens Books is something that will help you and your child in 2011.

     As for me, I am looking ahead to 365 more days that I can read all those books still waiting for me to find them!

     Happy New Year and Happy Reading! -Mary






It's Not Your Mother's Read-Aloud

I learned to make homemade Italian spaghetti sauce from my mother, who learned from her mother, who learned from her mother...well, you get the point. With each generation, traditions change and evolve slightly based on personal preferences, health concerns, or availability of ingredients. My mother believed that the best sauce was made with pork, or at least a combination of pork and beef. She particularly liked to use the neckbone of the pig. While I believe she was right about it making great-tasting sauce, I have personal reservations about using pork in my sauce. I use beef instead, when I use meat. My family thinks my sauce is superb and I am glad! I have also gone one step further with my sauce to make it a healthy meal: I finely chop up vegetables and add them to the sauce. Squash, zuchinni, peppers, and eggplant add nutritional benefits my family isn't even aware they are getting! It also makes a nice thick sauce that really sticks to the pasta.

You probably have traditions similar to this that you have altered over the years to suit your family's needs. The read-aloud can also be once such tradition that you can jam-pack with healthy reading benefits that your children won't even be aware of - they will think they are just enjoying a wonderful tradition of storytime!

In order to make the most of your read-aloud time, here are some things you can do:

  • Involve your child in the book selection: even babies can learn to choose books that they enjoy or are drawn to; this develops in your child the sense of being an independent reader and one who makes her own choices about reading.
  • Talk about the pictures and the cover and what the book might be about. This helps to teach your child about predicting - a strategy that good readers use often.
  • Talk about new vocabulary words that you encounter. Encourage your child to stop you when you read a word they don't know so you can explain it. You may even want to look up the word in a dictionary or use an online dictionary such as dictionary.com to teach them this valuable life skill. (I have the dictionary app loaded on my Blackberry and keep it with me when I read so I can easily access new words that I encounter even when I am cuddled up under the covers!)
  • Talk about characters and setting and which characters or incidents in the story your child can identify with in order to help her become an active and engaged reader. Avid readers constantly find connections to what they are reading and people, events, or memories from their own lives. "Remember when we went to visit that dairy farm and saw the cows getting milked? How is this farm in the book like the farm we visited?" Creating dialogue around books is a wonderful way to help your child make connections.
  • Help your child begin to recognize common sight words as you read. Words such as: the, and, is, in, said, etc, comprise almost 75% of the print a young reader will encounter, so the sooner they learn to recognize these words the better!
  • If it is a book you have read often and your child has favorite parts memorized, go ahead and let her recite them! This develops a sense of being a real reader. Don't worry that she is not really sounding out words, that will come later!
  • Even books for young readers have themes that the author has woven throughout the story. Talk about these themes, whether they are "be nice to animals" or "everyone needs a friend" or something a bit meatier such as: "good versus evil." The sooner your child understands that every author writes for a purpose and that readers can discover great messages in books, the more natural it will be for her to discover the author's message when she reads on her own.

Certainly you don't want the read-aloud time to become a reading lesson - trust me - your child will see right through that! Just as if I were to put large chunks of vegetables in the sauce, my children would reject the sauce all together and I would have ruined a great tradition as well as deprived them of a healthy meal. Don't overload the read-aloud with large portions of "teaching" - make it natural. With a little practice and discretion, you can make the read-aloud a staple in your child's life and the foundation for becoming a successful reader!






Read, Baby, Read!

We've all seen those ads and infomercials on TV about teaching your baby to read. And, if you have a baby or a grandchild, of course you have asked yourself: "Should we be doing this? Is my child or grandchild missing out on an opportunity to get ahead in life?"


I have to admit, even as a reading teacher, these ads sound tempting, and the testimonials are convincing! But, common sense urges me to go back to what we know about reading. What does research tell us, what have the experts and researchers found to be true about learning to read?


It's no surprise to find out that there is no scientifically based research behind these "magic" reading programs. As we talk about in chapter 2 of Teach a Child to Read with Children's Books, there is no magic reading program, and certainly not one that teaches babies to read!


Of course components of the baby reading programs do work, and yes - some babies are recognizing words by sight, giving the appearance of "reading." But the facts and the research hold true: a baby's brain is just not developed appropriately to learn the key skills needed to decode and decipher patterns of written language. Furthermore, teaching only sight reading, as we have learned over the decades, sets children up for failure in reading success.


So, save your money on baby reading programs, but DO invest in good literature and time reading to the precious babies in your life! That is an activity that research does support.


For more information on baby reading programs, here is a well-written article by  Sharon Linde, Education Blogger for SmartParenting








Zumba and Learning to Read

Have you heard about the new phenomenon, Zumba? It's the latest workout/dance craze and you're probably wondering what it has to do with teaching your child to read! Well, it has to do with modeling. I recently started attending Zumba workout classes to get in shape and have some fun. As with anything, if it's not fun, the likelihood of one sticking with it is greatly diminished. You can probably attest to this by the dust-collecting workout machines in your basement or the long-forgotten DVDs sitting on a shelf somewhere. The fact that Zumba is fun is one of the things that makes it work, and we can relate this to learning to read. If your child experiences pleasant and positive experiences with books and reading, he is more likely to want to read and come to the learning-to-read experience with a positive attitude.


But, let's take the Zumba analogy a bit further. When I started Zumba, I realized it would be a challenge. I have never had dance lessons and don't consider myself to have "natural" rhythm. I started out in the back of the room so as not to embarrass myself, but soon realized I needed to move up closer to the instructor so I could see her feet and replicate what she was doing. Since Zumba is so fast-paced, it is impossible for the instructor to cue us on her every move, so the best way to learn is to watch and do. This is why it is so important for you to read aloud to your child and to let him see you read often. Your child is watching and imitating. In fact, this is not just good practice, but scientific fact. Here's what Brenda Power, Editor of Choice Literacy has to say about the power of modeling. (www.choiceliteracy.com)


"Scientists have recently been decoding how "mirror neurons" in our brains work. They've realized humans are wired to connect with others, to live vicariously through others' experiences, in much stronger ways than we once thought. The brain doesn't differentiate much between watching someone do something, and doing it yourself - which is why there are so many obsessed sports fans in the world. Most important for teachers, these mirror neurons are also a key to how we learn. Just watching someone read a book teaches us more than we ever realized about the reading process. And we use our emotions to readily connect those experiences to other related tasks (either physically or emotionally)."


Sure, the Zumba instructor could spend the majority of our class time breaking down all the moves step-by-step for us, or she could put big diagrams on the walls depicting all the moves in each routine, and then ask us all to "try" it; but that, in and of itself, will not teach me how to Zumba. It's watching and doing and practicing and practicing and practicing that will make the difference. And when I watch my Zumba instructor and I am following her fancy footwork or the elegant wave of her arms, I believe I can be like her, in fact, I think I look just like her until I look in the mirror and realize I still have a ways to go! But, she never tells me I can't fully particpate in the class until I master the basics of the salsa or demostrate proper posture. No, she encourages all of us at whatever stage we are and she continues to model the ideal while giving instruction as we dance


How critical all this is in the teaching of reading. Children should not have to wait until they have mastered each individual skill of reading before they can participate in the joy of reading real books! Use the reading time to model, encourage, give instruction at teachable moments, and allow your child many, many oportunities to practice reading. When your beginning reader is reading, he does know he is a "beginner", he thinks he is doing exactly what your are doing. With encouragement and practice, practice, practice, he will become a successful, mature reader. I know if my Zumba instructor told me everyday all the mistakes I made I would not return to her class and would be afraid to try. Be very careful about praise versus correction when reading. Developing readers need to take chances, and if a child is fearful of making mistakes, he will not take chances and not take ownership of his own learning to read. A dependent reader is not a successful reader.  


So, make sure you are modeling and having fun with reading. Maybe there is even a way to burn calories while reading? That would be a dream come true!


Mary Gallagher









Growing Healthy Readers

Growing Healthy Readers:


How to Motivate the Reluctant Reader



How many times have you heard “I don’t want to read” or “I hate reading!”? If you are working with a struggling or reluctant reader, or maybe a child who reads well but is unmotivated to do so, these words may be all too common in your home. In addition, these words may be hard for you to hear and cause thoughts of anxiety about your child’s future. You may find yourself asking questions like: “How will he succeed in life if he is not a strong reader?” “I love to read, why doesn’t he?” or even, “What am I doing wrong?”


First of all, don’t blame yourself. Secondly, don’t give up. And lastly, remember, growing a reader is like growing a garden. There are some steps you must take to ensure a successful garden. As well, there are things you must do to grow an avid reader.


Prepare the Soil: The sooner you start this process, the better. Start by reading aloud to your child on a daily basis. Read books he enjoys. Choose topics that interest him. Fill your house with reading material of all kinds: classic novels, comic books, coffee table books, picture books, magazines (for you and the kids), newspapers, books on tape or CD. Visit the library regularly. Expose him to all types of books: the classics, non-fiction, joke books, picture books. Be an example to him – let him see you are a reader and that you value reading. Be excited about reading – share with him or read aloud to him a funny or interesting tidbit from something you are reading.


Pick the right plants: Just as cacti will not grow well in a wet, northern climate, children will not grow to love reading if they find it tedious or boring. With the vast array of printed material available today, there is something for everyone. Match your child’s interests and reading styles to the type of reading material you choose for him.


Some suggestions include:


Short attention span: Try comic books or graphic novels. The classics like Robinson Crusoe, The Hobbit, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea are now available as graphic novels.


Animal Lover: Non-fiction books and magazines like Ranger Rick abound, covering any animal that fascinates your nature lover.


Sports: Try biographies of famous players or Sports Illustrated for Kids. Dan Gutman’s baseball card adventure series can jump-start any sports fan! Other authors that write in this genre include: Matt Christopher and Mike Lupica.


Mysteries: From Nate the Great (for young readers), to Jigsaw Jones, Nancy Drew Mysteries, and The Hardy Boys, there’s plenty here to choose from. Give those I Spy books a try!


History Buff: You can find historical fiction as well as biographies of historical figures like Harriet Tubman and George Washington at any reading level.


Be creative. Ask your librarian or teacher for suggestions.


Nurture: Water and Feed Daily: Read together on a daily basis. Cuddle and make it such an enjoyable experience that your child will come back for more. Be positive, encouraging, and supportive when he ventures on his own to read. Surround him with books. Listen to books on cassette or CD in the car. Pack magazines for doctor’s visits. Reward him with the video of a book you’ve just finished reading together. In the last few years we have seen a plethora of movies based on books. To name a few of my favorites: Because of Winn-Dixie, The Chronicles of Narnia, Bridge to Terabithia, and Where the Wild Things Are.


Weed regularly: Just as plants can’t grow when choked by weeds or riddled with bugs, readers cannot grow when the weeds and pests of life tangle them up or distract them. Limit the amount of time your child spends in front of the television and playing video games. These things are not invaluable, but too much of them can eat away at time for reading, as well as, shorten attention spans and weaken imaginations, both of which are necessary for enjoyable reading times. Suggest he listen to a book on tape while falling asleep instead of watching TV. Be disciplined yourself and turn off the TV and invite him to read with you.


Be patient: Plants will grow if given the necessary requirements, so will your reader. Don’t give up when you don’t see immediate results. Keep watering with good books, sprinkling the fertilizer of encouragement, and plucking out those weeds and you will see a harvest. Gardens do not spring up overnight, nor will you grow an avid reader instantly. But, with the right motivation, your reluctant young seedling will sprout up and branch out into a strong, healthy reader. And that’s the kind of fruit that will last a lifetime.


Mary Gallagher






First Things aka "Big Rocks" 



One of my favorite quotes is from C. S. Lewis.


"When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased."


To me, this speaks to all areas of life. It's like the illustration where the speaker tries to fit a bunch of big rocks, sand, and pebbles into a glass jar. Have you seen this? 


When he places the sand in first, followed by the pebbles and last the rocks, the big rocks do not fit. Try as he might, the rocks stick out or cannot all be placed into the jar. But, when he puts the big rocks in first, he can then pour the pebbles in, followed by the sand, and the pebbles and sand fall in and around the big rocks filling all the space in the jar. He can even add water to the jar because he's adding things in the correct order. 


This illustration shows us that it's important to first identify our "big rocks" in different areas of our lives. 


When it comes to teaching reading, a big rock should always be read-aloud time. When read-aloud time is not negotiable and becomes a daily habit, there will always be time for other activities. The read-aloud is the cornerstone of literacy instruction and should always maintain its big rock placement. 


The "second things" like flashcard practice, letter and sound activities, and handwriting development, will all fit better when the big rocks are in place. 


What are some other big rocks when it comes to literacy instruction and foundation in the home?


  • In addition to read-aloud time, children need time alone with books that are easy for them to read. We need to provide children the free time to get lost in a good book. This is unstructured time when children can pick books they enjoy that are easy-reads for them. They can choose favorites they read over and over or new books. This time allows them to develop as independent readers, gives them ownership and choice over what they read, and sets the foundation for becoming a lifelong reader for pleasure.



  • Time for writing – even if it is the very early foundations of writing for a preschooler – is also a big rock. Writing should be seen as the glove to the hand of reading and when young children are exposed to free writing time they will not develop the fear of writing we see in many school-age children and even in adults. Allow children to draw pictures about what you’ve read together, create their own stories either independently or with your help, and encourage them to read these stories to others, thereby creating an awareness of themselves as storytellers and writers.


  • Another big rock you will want to embed for literacy instruction is the daily guided reading time with your child. Guided reading time is when you model a new book or the next level of reading for your child and then read the selection together. You will want to check out chapter 10 in Teach a Child to Read with Children’s Books where we model for you what a typical guided reading lesson would look like.

One thing I am confident about is when you read-aloud to your children daily, help them to gain confidence as writers, support them as independent readers, and give them supportive guided reading instruction, you are laying a strong foundation for capable, lifelong readers – using all the right rocks, of course!