These are uncertain times and many families are finding themselves playing the role of teacher for their kiddos. It’s not an easy task! You might be wondering how to make the most of your time or how you can best serve your kids all while maintaining your sanity.
My biggest piece of advice would be: remember to be flexible.
I’m aware…that’s easier said than done. However, there will be times when you will likely lose your cool. There will be other times when you just have no idea how to help them with their school work, which might lead you to feel incapable and frustrated. And, there will also be times when you feel grateful for this season and the extra opportunities you have to bond with one another.
Embrace those feelings and those moments. You are doing the best that you can!
As a teacher, I still have the opportunity to reach my students and their families virtually. It’s been a blessing to connect with them each morning and talk about their reading.
A number of parents have asked me for ideas on fostering literacy while they are at home. Parents, I have some suggestions for you, and teachers, there are some ideas for you to use to encourage your students and their families, as well!
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Here are some opportunities to build great reading habits for and alongside your children, as well as allow you to bond through the experience:
Start building reading stamina by grabbing a book and reading each day. You can do this by allowing your child to read to herself or you can read with your child, no matter their age!
If you choose to let them read independently, I would suggest creating a quiet nook, or even a fort, to steal away to each day. Allow your child to help make the area cozy with pillows and their favorite stuffed animals.
Then, you should find a place nearby and read alongside them. This is an excellent way to model the best reading habits: staying focused, staying in one spot, and reading quietly (put that phone aside for just a little bit!).
If you choose to read together, you might consider finding an audio book to enjoy. Currently, Audible has some great options available for free. There are a number of classics like the first Harry Potter book, Peter Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh, and Anne of Green Gables. The website has the books organized by age to help you identify something for readers of any level. (I have linked the printed text to purchase from Amazon in case you want to use them to read along with the audio book.)
Another great option for younger readers (that even my fifth graders love!) is Storyline Online. This website “streams videos featuring celebrated actors reading children’s books alongside creatively produced illustrations.” It’s a great resource if you are wanting to become more acquainted with quality authors and illustrators in the world of picture books.
Check out our library of book reviews or our recommended book lists for this summer:
2. Spend Family Time Together
The art of storytelling is a great way to be together as a family. Having children create their own stories by telling them orally is an excellent idea that will later enhance their ability to write them down. There are many ways to encourage this practice. One way is to simply share stories with your child. You can either make them up or tell them about some of your favorite family memories, maybe even something from before they were born.
To guide them in making up their own stories, pull from resources around your home or yard. Go on a “nature walk” and piece your story together based on objects that you have found…
Once upon a time there was an old, majestic oak tree that was filled with beautiful red cardinals. They often flitted about searching for rocks for their tortoise friend who lived in the burrow at the base of the tree.
Another idea to foster family time is to choose a great book to read together. Some of my favorite family books are The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis or Charlotte’s Web by EB White. After taking some time to read through these, set a time aside to watch the movies together, too. The new versions of the Chronicles of Narnia movies are great, but the BBC version holds a special place in my heart!
3. Learn a new skill
Now is a perfect time to learn a new skill! Use this extra time wisely by putting it to good use. Many public libraries allow you access to free learning websites like Lynda.com or Mango Languages with your library card. My husband and I have watched a number of the Spanish videos in hopes to learn a few phrases for traveling to Spain one day.
Besides languages, I have seen music lessons on these websites, too. Piano or guitar would be a great skill to begin working on with your kids. Justin Guitar is another resource with many free videos for any level of guitar playing.
The website, Creative Bug, offers daily challenges for boosting your creativity through art. (Our library also offers free access to this website with a library card. Maybe yours does, too!) There are a number of kid-friendly activities on here like water color, drawing, sculpture, and gardening. There are also many that would interest adults: sewing, calligraphy, photography and mixed-media art journals.
Dust off those old board games! During this pandemic, I have had the pleasure of learning to play chess! I’m not sure how thirty-five years have passed without my having played this game, but I’m thankful to know it now. I bet there are some great options that are tucked away on the top shelf of your closet. This is a resourceful way to boost conversation and bonding.
Be sure to check out your public library’s website for other options and ideas!
4. Follow Your Favorite Authors on Social Media
This may sound very basic, however, many children’s book authors are offering exciting incentives for following them during this Coronavirus pandemic. Instead of just promoting their books, they are sharing writing tips, reading aloud parts (or all!) of their books, and several are doing frequent giveaways.
My favorite author is Kate DiCamillo. She wrote Because of Winn Dixie and a wonderful trilogy about three girls all finding their place in the world called The Three Rancheros. She hosted a book talk about my all-time favorite book, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane in mid-April. It was exciting to hear her talk about the characters and her process during the writing. My students got to join in the chat, too. We all watched it virtually together! You can watch the video here.
Also, Kate DiCamillo is hosting a series of #WritewithKate videos through her publisher, Candlewick Press. She offers many tips and ideas if you are interested in writing your own book, or even just learning about the process she uses to write.
Gail Carson Levin has been reading a chapter each day from Ella Enchanted! This is an excellent fantasy novel about a girl who is cursed by a fairy. I guarantee many of you out there are nodding your head in agreement as you read this right now. The book is made even more exciting when you see the author sharing her own story.
The author of Among the Hidden, Margaret Peterson Haddix, is offering a number of book giveaways on Facebook in honor of the release of her new book The Deceivers. She is also reading the first chapter of several of her other books on YouTube.
You can also check out Chris Grabenstein’s many comical videos. He LOVES to interact with his reading audience. Ask him a question and learn about some of his attention-grabbing books like Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library!
Or, if you aren’t sure of who to search for because you might not have chosen a favorite author YET, go to your local library’s website (or find one from a major city) to learn more about featured authors who are sharing interesting activities for kids online.
If you are looking for other author or book suggestions, The Book Wrangler has a great post with links to authors reading books with themes of anxiety, worry, or fear. He shares some fantastic picture books for younger readers!
The possibilities are endless!
5. Learn to Draw From Your Favorite Illustrator
You have likely found that your child has a favorite book with one or two characters that they just can’t get enough of seeing. Check online for drawing tips so they can learn some basic steps of bringing that character to life.
Mo Willems is offering video tutorials on YouTube to learn to draw some of his most beloved characters like Pigeon, Elephant, and Piggy! The episodes are called “Lunch Doodles” and he also has suggestions to incorporate drawing into other activities during your day. For instance, lay down butcher paper on your dinner table so you can draw after you eat. Check him out!
The publisher, Candlewick Press is also offering drawing lessons of Mercy Watson and Eugenia Lincoln by Chris Van Dusen. If you haven’t read the Mercy Watson series, I highly recommend that you look into it for your little one.
6. Visit a Fun Place…Virtually
Since many of us have had travel plans interrupted or, if you are suddenly feeling the travel bug but can’t itch it, check out some of the museums and zoos from cities around the world.
Travel + Leisure recently published an article with links to some highly rated museums that you can virtually tour. From the National Gallery of Art in DC to the British Museum of London, there are some must-see options here.
This is also a great opportunity to check out your local museums online. Many of them thrive on community support and are looking for ways to continue to educate those in their area. The museum near us is showing pieces from their current exhibit for free on social media. They are also having a competition to create your own work of art that will be displayed at the museum once it opens again.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is challenging art lovers to portray a piece of art from their collection and tag your picture on social media with #MetTwinning. Even if you don’t do this, you should look through some of the submissions! They are very creative.
I would also recommend the Library of Congress’ online exhibit focused on the life of civil rights champion Rosa Parks. It is called “In Her Own Words” and looking through it will allow you the chance to dispel some misconceptions that are very common in regards to her story.
A great way to learn about wildlife is to visit the websites for some of our country’s wonderful zoos. The San Diego Zoo has a kid page with links to games, activities (including coloring pages), and all of their web cams so you can observe the animals from your home! I will never forget the day we left the panda web cam on in my classroom of second graders as we learned about the Chinese New Year. Every time that little guy moved, which was not very often, there was lots of cheering and excitement.
I’ve also enjoyed the videos posted by the Florida Aquarium with information about their animals that include feedings, habitats, and the penguins enjoying the park sans guests. It’s pretty funny! They have also included a regular reading by the marine scientist, Dr. Prager, of her book called Escape Galapagos.
7. Write a Journal Together
Writing a family journal is a special way to build a bond with your family members. There is no right or wrong way to do this, just go for it. Remember that when you are sharing something, it is very likely that others might have a different idea than you, but that’s okay. The end result is a goal for you to build memories and grow closer together.
One idea for writing is to focus on gratitude. There are a number of benefits to recalling events, people or things that you are thankful for each day. Writing them down will be a way for you to reflect back on those things.
Because we are currently living in such an unprecedented time, take a few minutes each evening to simply write about your day. Once life goes back to normal, you will have a crafted a memory book that allows you to look back on the interesting things you were able to do during this time that you might not have done otherwise.
If you do become stumped on what to write about, here is a great resource with 55 writing prompts. I thought a lot of the ideas were very creative and could lead to some interesting writings.
I also appreciated this post from Lil Blue Boo with inspirational ideas for writing in your journal. Some of her ideas include adding drawings, writing a collective story (one sentence and then pass it on), and using artifacts in your journals and then writing about them. Check out the post for more ideas!
A form of writing that does not include a journal would be to create a jar focused on one topic. You could write down thoughts or ideas on strips of paper and place them into the jar. You might choose to write down something you’re wondering: a question jar! Or, maybe each family member could write down a high point from their day. Choose a day each week to reread some of the items in the jar. This would encourage writing and allow for some great discussion each week.
8. Find Recipes that are Kid Friendly
Encourage your child to read and practice some of their math skills by cooking together. You might even consider letting them search for a recipe that includes some of their favorite ingredients. (This could be a good chance to practice using an index for some of your older kiddos. Search through the index to find all the recipes listed with chocolate, for example.)
Lately, I have been trying my hand at caring for a sourdough bread starter. It has been a lot of fun with some delicious results. We have used it to make pancakes, pizza dough, and some really beautiful loaves of bread. It’s required a fair amount of research, which could be another great opportunity to read (and reread!) together. The King Arthur Flour website has become a place I can navigate quite well as of late.
You might consider teaching them the meals that are on your heavy rotation in the kitchen. Then, when things go back to normal they can help with dinner during a busy week!
If you are looking for a great read to go along with this adventure, I would recommend the Next Best Junior Chef trilogy by Charise Mericle Harper. I read the first book, Lights, Camera, Cook!, a few years ago with my students. It is about kids who enter a cooking contest on a TV series. The book reads like a script, which was new for many of the students!
9. Read to a Friend
Technology has become increasingly important during this time that we are being asked to self-quarantine. It has given us the opportunity to keep in touch with those we are used to seeing on a regular basis. It’s also allowed people to be more intentional in reaching out to those they haven’t seen in a while. Use it to your advantage!
It would be a great idea to use one of the video chat platforms to read a book to someone you love. Choose from Google Hangouts, FaceTime, or Zoom to name a few. Grab your favorite book, schedule a time with someone you would rather be sitting close to, and start reading to them virtually.
Don’t forget there are also those right around you that would love to hear a good book. My cat, Fancy, always appreciates when I read aloud to her.
Reading out loud is an excellent skill for kids to do to strengthen their fluency. It is something you should practice to help increase their level of comprehension. Reading Rockets has some articles and information to support this idea.
There are numerous opportunities to expand your reading that are available to us. Be creative and remember, remain flexible! This time isn’t easy, but it could be just what we need to start some beneficial habits that will inspire a love for reading in your child. As an added bonus, it can bring the whole family closer together.