There’s just a special kind of vibe during the summer. The laid-back atmosphere allows our minds and bodies to relax and take a break. Kids of all ages take this opportunity to go swimming, hang out with friends, and not worry about the pressures of school.
However, while it’s important to take advantage of this time to rest and re-set, it’s just as important to keep kids academically engaged to some capacity.
The summer slide is a term used to explain learning loss that takes place over the summer.
Each family and child is different, so luckily there is no one way to avoid the summer slide. When choosing learning activities for your child, there are a few ideas to keep in mind.
What are some areas of weakness that my child has?
What is my child interested in doing?
How much time do I want my child to spend doing “school work”?
Do I want a specific schedule?
Do I want to do activities with my child?
Do I want my child to do activities independently?
Do I want to invest in workbooks, books, camps, tutors, etc.?
Are there local learning opportunities near me?
Some parents choose to do “school” in the mornings Monday-Friday, while others choose to do weekly tutoring sessions (for more information on tutoring check out Virtual Tutoring Services). Kids of all ages should spend 20 minutes each day engaged in learning activities.
Once you get a better idea of what you want for your child, it’s time to pick some activities!
Activity Books. These are fantastic go-to products for parents because there is no prep work involved and there are answer keys :). There are TONS of options for parents to choose from so you can find exactly what you’re looking for. I always recommend that parents get workbooks for the grade their child was just in. Why? To ensure there are no learning gaps and to prepare for the upcoming year. Of all the different workbooks out there, the following three are my personal recommendations.
Spectrum. I’ve been using these books with my students for the last decade. They are easy enough for kids to work independently and cover all the skills required for each grade level.
Flash Kids Editors. I’ve seen this series for years, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I really took a close look at these workbooks. I really like that these activities are more application based, so students are using a variety of skills on each activity, especially for writing. They are also available as individual subjects, whole curriculums and test prep, so there are options for P-8 students.
Summer Bridge Activities. These workbooks are geared towards helping students make the transition to the next grade during the summer. The activities are meant to be 15 minutes long so the tasks don’t feel overwhelming.
Summer Reading Assignments. For older students, there are usually school assigned activities that need to be completed before the first day of school. Many times this includes reading a book, taking notes, writing an essay, etc. Summer assignment information can usually be found on the school’s website. My best piece of advice with summer assignments is don’t wait until the last minute! Sometimes the book choices can be challenging, so it’s important that students have enough time to read and complete any tasks. Reading the SparkNotes versions of the texts aren’t usually enough to complete assignments.
Vacations. One of the amazing aspects about literacy is that it’s everywhere! You just have to know where to look for it. Instead of using GPS, spend some time showing your child how to read a map and help he/she plan your route. If you’re going to a place like Gettysburg, do some research as a family about the area before you get there. During road trips, playing the Alphabet Game is fun ways to practice letter recognition skills.
Day Trips. Taking the time to go to different places helps build a child’s background knowledge that will be used the rest of his or her life when it comes to reading. Local towns have historical landmarks, festivals, and events throughout the summer that kids of all ages can learn from. There are also destination locations that can be fun and educational. For instance, growing up we went on a day trip to Crystal Cave and learned about stalagmites and caves. On these outings, read any information you come across (plaques, brochures, etc.) and listen to the tour guides.
Independent reading. This is the easiest go-to avoid the summer slide activity. Kids can read anywhere, so always make sure to pack them a book. When choosing a great summer reading book for kids, take advantage of lists provided by local libraries or ones created by teachers. I’m currently LOVING book lists by Imagination Soup because of the different search options and book descriptions. Libraries and companies like Scholastic have summer reading challenges that add an extra layer of fun.
Read-aloud. I’ve always been a fan of read-alouds, in my classroom and home. With the flexibility of summer, reading aloud can happen anywhere and any time. Take a blanket into the yard and have a picnic while reading a chapter or two. While waiting in traffic, have your child read to you from the read-aloud book. Audiobooks are fantastic for family road trips.The reading possibilities are literally endless. For read-aloud ideas check out Reading Aloud Resources for Parents.
Whatever activities or learning opportunities you and your family participate in, remember to still use summer to have fun and relax.
Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading, writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to my website.
Reading comprehension is understanding what is being read. The reader is able to grasp information from any kind of text (fiction or nonfiction) and demonstrate knowledge of the piece by answering questions, discussing aspects or completing an activity.
Why is reading comprehension important?
Reading comprehension is important because everything is text-based in education. Students are expected to read articles, novels, directions, discussion responses, essay prompts, lab reports, and more. Once they read these works, students are then expected to do something with the information- participate in discussions, complete a homework assignment, fill out note sheets, etc.
Whether we realize it or not, reading comprehension is the crux of what students need to be successful in education.
There’s typically a shift in English/Language Arts classes when a student enters middle school. They not only have five different teachers, but they are expected to read and interact with texts in all of these classes. There is no Reading class where students practice decoding or have phonics lessons. These are some HUGE adjustments for young readers, and the need for strong reading comprehension is crucial.
So, what do we do if a student is having difficulty with reading comprehension?
Over the last ten years I’ve worked with thousands of middle and high school students and have figured out some really awesome tips for improving reading comprehension.
Tip #1- Activate prior knowledge.
When introducing a new text, tap into a student’s knowledge on an aspect of the text. It can be historical knowledge, a connection (text to self, text to world, text to text, text to media) or an experience.
Last month I had my students read an article about the history of education in the United States. To activate prior knowledge, I had students talk to their parents about what high school was like for them. What clothes did they wear? What did they eat for lunch? What did they do for fun? How was your parents’ school life different from your school life today?
The purpose of activating prior knowledge is to prepare student for what’s ahead. I like to think of it as giving my kiddos a “heads up”. They are able to focus on a specific concept and will be on the lookout for this idea while reading the text.
Tip #2- Provide necessary background information.
This is honestly one of my favorite pre-reading activity, that totally lends itself to reading comprehension. Author’s always use some sort of inspiration in their personal lives in their writing and this can typically influence the author’s purpose. Some teachers LOVE to give pre-reading information about the author, which is never a bad idea, but I personally prefer to dive into the historical aspects of a new text.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle is legit one of my favorite novels to read with students. Before I start this classic piece of children’s literature, I spend time going over the timeline of events during the 1960s, since this is when the book was written. The Space Race and Communism are underlying themes and concepts in the novel, so it’s important the students are familiar with these ideas before we read.
I’m currently reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde with 8th-10th graders. Before we even opened the text, we spent about a week learning about the Victorian era and watching parts of Oliver! to help students visualize the setting. For the record, this musical has superb costumes and sets that really capture London during this time period.
Providing background information helps students become familiar with time periods, historical events, the author, or concepts they will be reading about. It can also help with visualizing (one of the reasons I showed Oliver!).
Tip #3- Introduce new vocabulary
So many times students glaze over an unknown word and continue reading. Why? Because it takes extra time to try and figure out how to pronounce a new word, let alone try and figure out the definition. This typical strategy tends to cause some problems with reading comprehension because one word can change an entire sentence, paragraph or part of the plot.
Listing new vocabulary words for students before they start reading, will remind them that these are new words they will encounter in the reading. These words can be right from the textbook or hand-picked by the teacher. Some teachers also go ahead and give students the definition of the vocabulary words to make it even easier for them. As an English teacher, I usually have my students define the words on their own.
Tip #4- Provide a summary
SparkNotes are amazing. I can honestly say that as a student AND as a teacher. In college, to help with my understanding of various Shakespeare plays, I would read the SparkNotes after I finished reading a play. This worked really well for me because I would often miss concepts since Old English always threw me off.
As teachers, we usually think to summarize a text after we read it to fill in any gaps with reading comprehension. Whether it’s a teacher summary, SparkNotes or a video, there are plenty of options for providing students with a condensed version. My kids are really loving chapter summary videos from Course Hero on YouTube.
It’s okay to give students a summary of the text beforeor after they read.
Recently, I started giving a summary of the chapter before I read it with my classes, and it’s been an awesome game changer for my special education students. I’ve read the SparkNotes for the chapter to highlight the important plot points for my kiddos and it has been quite helpful. I will also point out key information while we’re reading and at the end, but adding that extra at the beginning is a new favorite technique of mine.
Along with SparkNotes, other websites like CliffNotes and Shmoop are also great resources to use for summaries. Personally, I like the sense of humor with Shmoop, especially for high school students.
Tip #5- Listen to the audio version
I will admit that I was never an audio books fan until about two years ago when I came across Jim Dale’s version of Harry Potter. (Which, for the record, is AMAZING and I’m totally addicted to listening to it).
So, how exactly do audiobooks help with reading comprehension? When a student listens to the audiobook version of a story, it helps relieve the pressure of decoding. He or she can just focus on what is happening in the story without stressing about how to pronounce a word.
While I LOVE my Audible app, when I want to post the audio version for my class of students I generally use YouTube. Teachers have been so kind to post themselves reading full novels aloud for free and there are also some professional readers on there as well.
Bonus tip: one audio version for Dr. Jekyll and Hyde was too slow for my kiddos, so to keep them engaged I sped up the video. In YouTube, simply click on the gear (settings), go to Playback speed and change it up.
Tip #6- Read the eBook version
Nowadays, kids are used to reading from screens whether it be tablets and Chromebooks, so why not take advantage of this technology? While some students prefer to read a hard copy of a text (as do I once in awhile) there are quite a few perks to reading an eBook.
–Students can change the font. Whether you’re reading on a phone or tablet, iBooks and the Kindle app offer this feature, which is great for students who are visually impaired.
–Students can look up unknown words. Ebooks have this amazing quality where with just a few finger taps a reader can look up an unknown word. As we discussed with Tip #3 , defining new words plays a huge role in reading comprehension, and these nifty pieces of technology make this task super simple for readers.
–Students can highlight and record notes. One of the drawbacks about having a class set of novels/texts, is that students aren’t allowed to write in the books. Many teachers, including myself, rely on the Post-it method for notes. However, eBooks allow students to highlight and make notes right on the text. Students can truly make notes their own, while interacting with the information.
–Students can read anywhere at any time. I LOVE the portability of eBooks. I have the Kindle app on all of my devices and rely on iCloud to save my place as I switch back and forth. It’s no big deal if I forget to bring a book because I have a whole library in my pocket. In addition to Kindle, apps like Vooks, Epic!, Raz-Kids and ABC Mouse offer incredible eBooks (many with audio versions) for readers of all ages. For more information on ABC Mouse, check out my review on this online learning program.
Bonus tip: For my auditory learners and special education kiddos, I always recommend listening to the audio version and following along with the text of the story. Many prefer to use their phones or tablets so everything is in the palm of their hands.
Tip #7- Covering the basics
This is the go-to for every teacher, regardless of what grade or subject we teach. Guided notes or just straight reading comprehension questions require students to DO SOMETHING with their new knowledge.
In my early years of teaching, I tried to get away from this “traditional” method of teaching. During literature circle discussions, I found that I had some students missing key plot points. Now, learning from this, I ask some of the basic questions (describe this character, discuss the main conflict, etc.) but I will also throw in higher order thinking questions focusing on quote analysis. This allows me to touch on those basic points while also hitting making inferences and drawing conclusions.
Other than using reading comprehension questions, there are other ways to cover the basics:
–Students can bullet point important key information from the text. To differentiate this, the teacher can provide a template with headings to help students navigate the text and note sheet
–Students can complete Cornell Notes. This website offers a bunch of different templates students can use.
–Students can draw a picture with captions. I really like this idea for breaking down chapter events, even for older students. Students can either physically draw or they can create a Google doc and copy and paste pictures from the web.
Along the lines of having students do something with the new information they read, it’s just as important to talk about what is read.
Whether I’m tutoring one-on-one or teaching an English class, at the end of every chapter we read, I ask students to share their thoughts, comments or questions. This encourages students to reflect on the reading and evaluate their knowledge of the chapter. When kids ask questions, I’m able to determine if I need to re-teach or summarize the chapter. If a student says the almighty, “I don’t know.”, I often ask what the purpose of the chapter is. Is it a fluff chapter that is just there to connect the plot events? Does it move the plot along? Why?
When in a class, I tend to use Think-Pair-Share (turn and talk) with kids for this part. I then take volunteers at the end so every student can hear other thoughts, comments and questions. Why? You never know what a kid misses during a reading. They may go to the bathroom, day dream, or get distracted, etc. This is a quick strategy that allows all students to get filled in.
Tip #9- Encourage connections
The first few weeks of sixth grade are always the most challenging as a teacher because we are helping kiddos transition from elementary school to middle school. For those that have taught this age group, we all have stories where we mention a dog as a character and we get hands waving frantically for kids to tell us all about their dog. Kids love to talk and make connections to things we say all the time.
So, why not encourage students to make connections with the various texts they read?
This not only increases student engagement, but it also helps kids interact with a text. Connections (text to text, text to self, text to world, text to media) will not happen with every reading, but suggest for kids to make connections whenever possible. Also, make sure you take a few minutes here and there for students to share their connections.
Tip #10- Keep communication open
It’s very rare that a kid will approach me and say they don’t understand something. A student will sit in silence, skip quiz questions and not complete homework because they are struggling.
As teachers, we need to create a system of communication that works for our classrooms.
When I taught in brick and mortar schools, I created Communication Cards. I took red, yellow and green index cards, fastened them together and had kids “show me your color” during lessons. Sometimes I had kids hold up their cards, but mostly I had them lay the card down on their desk. Red cards meant a student needed help ASAP, yellow meant they wanted to chat and green meant they were good to go. I would approach red cards first to see what they needed from me before moving onto the yellow cards. It’s amazing how honest kids were when they knew they didn’t have to ask questions in front of the whole class.
In my virtual classrooms today, I encourage kids to private chat me in Zoom or send me an email. This year more than ever I have had kids ask me specific questions about assignments and advocate for themselves. I also text my students A LOT because I know they hate talking on the phone. Many of them will send me a quick text with a question and then they are able to get right back to work. Keeping that chain of communication open is incredibly important.
Involving parents in supporting reading comprehension.
Every year I have parents reach out to me asking about how they can support their learner at home, especially in middle and high school. My usual suggestion is to read our class novel together at home while we are reading it in school so parents can talk about it with their student.
In addition, I also recommend doing family read-alouds a few times a week and asking some reading questions. I developed this FREE list of reading questions for parents to use in this exact situation.
Reading comprehension is necessary for all classes, not just English. It is never too late to introduce students to new tips and strategies for improving reading comprehension.
Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading, writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 6-12. For more information head to mywebsite.
Lizzie Loftus and the Messy Mums: A Science Method Mystery, written by Ruth E. Propper, Ph.D., and illustrated by Tanja Vacelija, is a great easy to read science chapter book that enforces the importance of experiments to young scientists.
Our fantastic trio is back (Lizzie, Joule and Robert) and they have another mystery that needs to be solved. Robert’s mom accuses him of playing basketball in the front yard and ruining the mums that were just planted. Unless Robert can come up with an alternate hypothesis before dinner he will be unable to go to the big basketball game.
Joule guides Lizzie and Robert through the scientific method to create Robert’s alternate hypothesis. She really makes it a point to follow the process in order and readers see first hand why Joule is right. The situation gets even more complicated when Daniel, the 7th grade neighbor, stops by and gives his own thoughts, which Joule believes instantly.
One new aspect of the this story that really stuck out to me was the underlying theme of seeing is believing. The theme first emerges during a conversation between Joule and her mom. Joule is trying to convince her mom that wind, moles, and sticks had a hand in the messy mums, but her mom points out many holes in the story.
“Just because someone older, or more mature, or even someone you respect, tells you something, it doesn’t make it true. When in doubt, believe what you see, not what someone says. You have to think critically, kids. That means trying to figure out why something might not be true” (46).
Mom’s words can be applied to so many situations involving peer pressure, science experiments, etc. I LOVE this quote and the point that mom is trying to make to the three scientists.
As with the first book, the characterization in this story is spot on. The attitude that Joule has is just enough sass to make readers roll their eyes, but not dislike her. Robert is truly an eight year old boy in how he acts and speaks. Propper really captures the essence of little boys with Robert in the very beginning of the story. Lizzie is still a sweetheart that truly wants to help her friends.
As a reader, I am always looking for clues and moments of foreshadowing. There was a smidge of foreshadowing in the book, but the plot events did surprise me, which I enjoyed. The creativity of what really happened is realistic and will make readers smile.
And in true Lizzie Loftus books fashion, there are bonus sections! The author includes a glossary of terms with reading comprehension questions to help readers explore the scientific concepts in more detail using the text. There is also a hands-on activity that includes a recipe for spaghetti and meatballs. The teachermom gets excited that readers can go beyond the text in fun and educational ways.
I recommend this book for readers/scientists ages 5-12 for a home or classroom library. It is also a great text for a science teacher or homeschool parent to use when teaching the scientific method or looking for STEM activities.
As a mom, I love that picture books have the power to teach young readers life lessons. With so much negativity, it’s important to remind our children that the actions and words used truly impact others.
Share a Little Kindness, written and illustrated by Colleen Brunetti, is an inspiring picture book that teaches readers the importance of different types of kindness.
As a reader, I felt as though the narrator was speaking directly to me with the use of the word ‘Love”. The narrator feels like a guide and mentor for young readers, explaining how to approach challenging situations and how to properly react. It made me feel calm and relaxed as it reminded me to listen more, spend time in nature, and use my imagination. In truth, I can’t remember a time when a text made me feel inspired and empowered, yet calm and reflective.
The layout of the text was just right, with the text on one side and the pictures on the other. The simplicity of the text with a smooth rhyme scheme makes it an easy read aloud for even the youngest of readers to enjoy. I like that Brunetti didn’t use sophisticated vocabulary, but chose to keep the word choice simple to match the feel of the flow. I really liked how the pictures focused on different animals to support the text instead of humans acting out the messages. It added to the calming feel and made the text even more memorable.
I really enjoyed that each page focused on a different aspect of kindness. Usually when kids think of ‘kindness’ they picture sharing and being nice to one another. This book dives deeper into what kindness is and looks like. And I may be a little bias, but I got excited to see the power of reading and imagination mentioned, featuring a creative picture. I also appreciated that Brunetti brought in experiencing nature by listening to the waves or playing outside. This reminder to take a break from technology is important for young readers and for parents (myself included).
However, a page that stuck out to me was, “Be strong and brave and speak your truth. Because you are in charge of you.” As a teacher, I have seen many students follow the crowd because they want others to like or accept them. This page speaks volumes to those students, reminding them to speak up and their voice matters.
I would recommend this book for readers 0-8. I think it would also be a great text for character education lessons about kindness, as well as a classroom and home library.
For some, getting kids to read is a battle. Last week I shared 5 Effective Tips to Help Kids Read More. But, once we start to get kids reading, what should parents do next?
One of the easiest and most effective ways to help readers of all ages understand and engage with a text is to talk about it with them. Depending on the child, this is easier said than done.
For those students who may need some prompting, asking questions is a great strategy for parents to use. “What did you learn?” ” What was your favorite part?” These are examples of great starter questions, but in order to engage in meaningful dialogue about the text, try to ask more specific questions.
Little Reading Coach has created a FREE resource with different types of fiction reading questions for readers in grades 3-8. The questions are broken into categories (general, reading comprehension, character, setting, conflict, and higher order thinking questions). Click here to access the free resource.
Parents can pick and choose which questions to ask their reading, depending on age, type of text being read, etc. They can just be discussed verbally, or students can write or type responses.
To check out more products from Little Reading Coach, click here
Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.
This is probably the number question a parent asks me, if their child is seven or eleven.
There is plenty of research to support the positive effects of reading, so it’s no wonder that parents are concerned about their child’s reading time. With video games and other screen activities captivating readers of all ages, getting kids to read more has become increasingly harder.
Every reader is different. What works for one child may not work for his or her sibling. Some kids just need to find that one book that makes them fall in love with reading (see my post 7 Books That Turn Tweens into Readers) But, I have found that the best way to get a kid reading is to find the perfect texts. Why? If a reader can find texts that they find interesting and engaging, he or she is more likely to want to read more texts. Below are some of my personal approaches to matching texts to readers.
There are different ways to read. In my personal experience as an English teacher and Reading Specialist, this seems to be the trick that gets my students reading more. It is still reading if a student listens to an audiobook or a read aloud. Apps, like Audible, are amazing because they allow readers to listen anywhere at any time on their mobile devices. I would suggest having a reader listen to a book they’ve already read before so they can get used to listening to a text if they are new to audiobooks. Some students also prefer to read along with an audiobook so that can always be added to the mix. Read alouds can be done by anyone in the family at any time. While driving on vacation, after dinner around the kitchen table, or ten minutes before bed every night, whatever works best for the reader and the family.
Movie/video game books. I see this more with kiddos in grades 4-6 who are in between the easy chapter books and middle school books. A few years ago, Minecraft books were super popular among this age group. Video game and movie companies often times put out a line of guide/companion books, spin off stories and more to get the attention of young readers. Some popular ones right now are Lego, Fortnite, and Animal Crossing.
Find out what’s popular. Sometimes kids like to be surprised with a recommendation. Knowing what other kids are reading can be very powerful, so spend some time doing a little bit of research. The majority of this research can be done online with Facebook groups, Google lists, blogs, etc. However, if you’re like me and LOVE going to the library, check in with the children’s librarian. I’m blessed to say that my children’s librarian is an incredible woman who has been my go-to since I was in college. These book lovers have immense knowledge about genres, authors and specific titles for literally every type of reader.
Ask them! One of my favorite things to do with kids is to talk about books. When that dialogue is opened about books, themes, topics, etc., it’s amazing what kids will say. There’s nothing wrong with sitting down and having an honest and open conversation with your reader about reading. Don’t be afraid to ask your child why they don’t like to read, or what they need to read more. Keep those conversations about books going because it will encourage kids to read more. During these chats, ask your child what he or she wants to read. It’s super important to note that reader choice is HUGE in helping kids develop reading habits. Give your child options during these talks and ultimately let them choose.
Set an example. I grew up with my mom reading magazines. Literally she always had one ready to go (and a massive stack next to her bed). Kids mimic their parents constantly, so if you want your child to read more set an example. Instead of scrolling on your phone at night while sitting in the living room, pick up a book or an e-reader. If you want your kids to talk to you about books, start the conversations. It’s okay to say, “I read this article about….”. It may not happen overnight, but you will see kids mirroring these reading behaviors.
Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.
Summer reading is a pretty popular term. Schools encourage young child to participate in reading contests, high school students usually have to read a book and complete an activity. However, many families are unsure how to structure summer reading at home because there are so many different options.
But, what if I told you there is an all inclusive guide available for families to use right away?
One of my amazing book friends, and my Usborne Books & More consultant, Lis Moriarty has created an absolutely incredible Summer Family Bookish Guide.
This guide can be followed exactly like it’s outlined, or parents can pick and choose which parts to use. The guide includes a table of contents to help direct users and is super user friendly.
One of my favorite pages is the Daily Summer Themes. This is a fabulous option for those who have kids home all summer long and want to provide some structure. Each day has a theme, such as Make it Monday, and includes a handful of ideas that can be done with the whole family. Some of the ideas includes: virtual field trips, trying a new recipe, and go on a scavenger hunt.
If you’re a planner, this guide has printable templates that can be filled out in as much detail as you like. You can literally plan your entire day and week in a manner of minutes. Post your schedules on the fridge so kids can see what’s coming up.
As a Reading Specialist, I get excited when I come across materials I can share with families that encourage kids to talk about what they’re reading. This fantastic guide includes so many conversation starters for parents to have with kids of all ages. Also, for those who love to read aloud, there are ideas for how to keep kids engaged during this precious reading time.
This guide puts a TON of emphasis on making reading fun! Summer Book Bingo provides some great opportunities to read different texts in some different ways and places. I really like the square to read with a flashlight.
Finally, this guide provides printouts to record books to read and books read. Book tracking forms helps provide kids with a visual to see how much they have really read over the summer months. It also includes so great book suggestion lists that literally has something for every kid.
For more information about this incredible summer guide click here.
Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.
With Molly in preschool, I’ve really been trying to boost her home library with alphabet books. She can sing the alphabet, but we’re still working on letter recognition. So when I came across a Facebook post from a mom who wrote an alphabet book I had to reach out.
Nikeriff, by Natasha Barber and illustrated by Rayah James, is a heartwarming and lovable alphabet picture book that takes readers on an adventure.
First, I have to address the name Nikeriff. Barber starts off the story with a note to readers explaining that her autistic son came up with the name. Right away I thought this was a fabulous personal touch and made me feel connected to the author as a mom.
Readers are introduced to the little monster, Nikeriff, who is having a difficult time remembering the letters in the alphabet. He asks his mom and dad for help and they give him the supplies he needs for a scavenger hunt. Nikeriff spends the rest of the story with his trusty teddy bear going through the woods and collecting different elements from nature (animals, insects, plants) and practicing the letters of the alphabet.
What grabbed my attention right away was the more complex sentence structure. Usually when I read alphabet books the sentences are simple and short, with the letter bolded and enlarged, usually in a brighter color font. This picture book includes more complex sentences, which makes the story feel less babyish. The letters are bolded and enlarged, but don’t really distract the reader from the rest of the text or pictures. Personally, I LOVED this writing style because it means the book can be used with older kids who may need support with alphabet work. Since I work with lots of special education students, this is super exciting for me because finding texts like this is quite challenging.
Similar to the sentence structure, I also found the animals and insects added to the sac to be super creative. I love that it included critters such as the “Underwing moth” and “Queen Butterfly”. While there were some traditional ones included, like ants, this hint of creativity not only helped the flow of the story, but it was incredibly engaging.
I was also a huge fan of the idea of a scavenger hunt, especially that it took place in the woods. Many kids are fascinated by animals, bugs and the outdoors, so the setting of this story can really engage readers who gravitate towards those topics. This also allows the book to be utilized in schools as a cross curricular text for science, specifically in preschool and kindergarten.
Finally, the illustrations were absolutely spot on! I truly enjoyed looking at each picture and felt that they matched the feel of the text. I love that they look like they were drawn with crayon, especially after the author’s note in the beginning. It just made me feel like i was reading a book imagined by a child, which leaves me feeling all warm and fuzzy.
I highly recommend this book for kids ages 0-8, but it can be used with older students working on basic reading skills.
When schools shut down in March no one knew how long it would be before students could go back to their classrooms. Teachers, in many cases, were given merely hours to prepare as many online activities and lessons as they could, not knowing how many were needed.
Each district and each school had their own expectations with e-learning. Some had a rigorous schedule that mirrors the typical school day, complete with daily live lessons. Others posted assignments on Monday and had them due on Friday. And, in some cases, teachers were still driving to school to make copies of assignments to send home packets to students.
The world of education was turned upside down literally overnight. Parents scrambled to keep their kids learning from home with distractions, technology issues, and living through a pandemic.
Now that the school year is over, or almost over, it’s time to take an honest look at where our students are academically.
Pandemic Regression is when students have not progressed positively with their academics due to the disruption of pre-pandemic instruction.
Many schools went to pass/fail for fourth marking period grades, did away with finals and other end of the year assessments. This is without a doubt what is best for students, however, it leaves families and educators not knowing where students are in their learning. This, coupled with pandemic regression, really leaves us in uncharted territory.
So, what can parents do to combat pandemic regression?
Get as much information from teachers as possible. As previously stated, teachers don’t have final assessments to determine if a student has mastered skills over the last few months, so parents should reach out to individual teachers to get some feedback. It’s also important to note that you should request feedback from September to now so you have a better idea how the pandemic has impacted your student’s learning.
Spend time working on material at home. Put time aside each day to focus on skills from this past school year. There are TONS of resources out there for parents right now from workbooks to online programs that can be used at home to help support learning. My personal favorite at home resources are Usborne Books & More. These books and activities are superior in quality and are super engaging for kids of all ages. (Click here to check them out)
Read. Reading is always a fantastic and easy option for helping students grow academically. Don’t be afraid to have kids use reading apps and online programs, such as ABC Mouse and Reading Eggs. (Click here to read my review of ABC Mouse). Reading aloud to kids of all ages is another great summer activity (take the reading outside, to the beach, etc.).
Work with a tutor. If you feel your child needs more support geared towards specific skills, hire a qualified tutor to come up with a plan of action. Tutors can provide incredible insight and customize instruction so that your student gets exactly what he or she needs. Many tutors offer online sessions, but as time goes on, some are starting to offer in-person sessions as well.
By using the summer months to catch up, kids can start the next school year feeling confident in their skills and ready to learn.
If you’re looking for a qualified virtual reading and writing tutor, Little Reading Coach can help your student catch up on skills. As a Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) with over ten years of experience, LRC provides the following services:
*assessments to determine reading level, comprehension and writing skills
*distance learning support (homework help, organization, etc.)
*additional reading and writing activities
*multi-sensory writing for grammar and sentence structure
Literacy in the content areas is a topic I’ve been interested in since college when I had to take a class on it (with one of my favorite professors). I love coming across books that will spark the interest of a reader who has a love of science, math or history.
Lizzie Loftus and the Missing Peanut Butter Cookies: A Science Method Mystery, by Ruth E. Propper, Ph.D., and illustrated by Tanja Varcelija, is a delightful story about using the scientific method to solve a real life mystery.
Lizzie’s mom just baked a batch of delicious peanut butter cookies, but unfortunately a bunch have gone missing. Lizzie asked to have a cookie, but she listened to her mom and did not take one. She went outside to play with her neighbors, Robert and Joule. Lizzie’s mom thinks Lizzie ate the cookies, and has given her daughter an hour to explain what happened to them. Robert, Joule and Lizzie use the scientific method to create a hypothesis and design an experiment to show Mrs. Loftus what really happened to the cookies.
The format of this book is fabulous! Each chapter is a few pages long, which are filled with dialogue allowing the story to flow really well for young readers. The conversations are extremely realistic and allow readers to truly get to know the characters. The illustrations are adorable and can be used to help aid readers with comprehending the text.
Two of my favorite components of this story are the characters and the explanation of the scientific methods.
The three main characters are Lizzie, Robert and Joule. Robert and Lizzie are in second grade, and Robert’s older sister Joule is in fifth grade. Even though the story is about Lizzie’s situation, Joule’s character definitely steals the show! Joule is a know-it-all, with a big personality. She likes to remind Lizzie and Robert that she learned all about science and experiments “last year in fourth grade”. She is the driving force behind Lizzie finding out the truth about the missing peanut butter cookies, and truly moves the plot along.
For the record, science was in no way one of my best subjects growing up. I remember learning about the scientific method and having to use it in class, all while thanking my lab partner for getting me through.
This book not only does a marvelous job explaining and defining the different parts of an experiment (hypothesis, designing an experiment) it also provides clear examples in a real life situation. Joule spends lots of time teaching Robert and Lizzie about science in this short text, but her explanations are kid-friendly while using the proper scientific terminology, which I loved. There is no watering down of ideas and concepts, but rather a dialogue between characters that helps readers comprehend the ideas. For instance, Joule spends lots of time discussing hypothesis with the two other kids. She corrects them and explains why their ideas are incorrect, and provides guidance to the right way of thinking.
There were also some nice little surprises at the end of the story. The teacher in me always gets excited when an author includes extra educational activities that correlate with the story, and this author definitely got me excited!
Not only did she include a glossary of the scientific terms mentioned in the story, she included comprehension questions based on each term and the story! Truthfully, I have never seen it done this way, and I think it’s great! It adds an extra layer of skill building in a way that doesn’t feel overwhelming for young readers.
And in true saving the best for last fashion, there is a recipe for peanut butter cookies! The illustrations of the ingredients make the recipe very kid-friendly, and the references to the story in the directions just add that little bit of extra.
I recommend this book for ages 5-12. It would work really well as a cross curricular activity with science and reading for students in grades 2-5. It is a must have for any kid who likes science or mysteries.