5 Unique Ways to Practice Reading With Your Child

Photo by Mark Zamora on Unsplash

5 Unique Ways to Practice Reading With Your Child

By Paige A. Mitchell

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘practice makes perfect’ and for young children, learning to read is no exception. Research has shown that children who regularly practice their reading skills, even for as little as 15 minutes a day, can see great improvement.

Unfortunately, getting your child to sit down and focus on reading isn’t always an easy thing to do. But with a little creativity, you can help your child learn to enjoy reading while also improving their skills.

Keep reading to learn five unique ways to practice reading with your child.

1. Create a cool reading area

If your child likes to feel comfortable and relaxed while reading, having a cool distraction-free reading area could help make reading more fun.

This reading area can be a simple section in your living room with pillows and all of your child’s favorite books, or it can be an elaborate reading nook filled with color and unique furniture.

If your child has a special place that’s dedicated to their favorite books, reading may become an activity they look forward to instead of dreading.

2. Take turns reading

Many kids are motivated by the examples set by those around them, especially their parents. One of the best ways to get your child engaged in reading is to practice shared reading.

You can start by reading a paragraph aloud and then asking your child to read the following paragraph. Once your child starts feeling more confident, you can take turns reading longer sections, which might turn into chapters and then full novels.

3. Find books with characters your child can relate to

Getting through a book that you have absolutely no connection to can be tough for anyone. Children (and even adults) are more likely to be interested in stories centered around characters they can relate to.

If your child is a big fan of sports, it may be a good idea to practice reading with books about sports and athletes. Or perhaps they’re animal lovers. Then, choose a story with talking elephants and flying pigs. This can help children sharpen their reading abilities while also helping them learn more about things and people that interest them.

4. Ask for help with household chores

Have a DIY or home improvement project coming up? This could be the perfect opportunity to get some quality time with your reader-in-training.

Encourage your child to sound out words in instruction manuals for installing an appliance or repairing a car. They can read reviews of services and products and help you sort through junk mail. This can be a great way to get your child involved around the house while also allowing them to practice reading.

You might remember this tip from the TV show, Parenthood, when Zeke helps his grandson, Victor, learn to read by rehabbing a retro car together. Victor later goes on to write an award-winning essay on the experience. Hurrah!

Grocery shopping and cooking are other chores kids can help with while practicing reading. Let them write a grocery list before leaving the house and ask them what’s next on the list while you’re at the market. Then, let aspiring young chefs help in the kitchen by reading recipes step by step as you prepare dinner.

5. Read books that were turned into movies

If your child loves movies, reading books that have been made into films can help them stay motivated.

Once your child has finished the book, the whole family can watch the movie together as a reward for finishing another book. You can even discuss some of the differences and similarities between the book and the movie to ensure your child has picked up on important details.

By making reading fun, you can take the frustration out of the learning process. Practicing reading with your child is one of the many steps to helping develop the skills that’ll be necessary to succeed in school and in life.

 

How to Create a Distraction-Free Learning Zone at Home

A guest post by Paige A. Mitchell

 

Designing a space at home for concentration can be beneficial to everyone, whether you’re a parent who’s trying to create an A+ learning environment for your child or if you, yourself, could use a quiet home office. Here are four clever ways to improve your at-home learning zone by minimizing distractions (and no, the answer is not a fidget spinner).

Ditch the devices

In our digital age, we all have the tendency to turn to our technology after a hard day’s work. Kids rush to the TV straight after school while adults scroll through social media as soon as they get a chance to sit down. This 20-minute break quickly snowballs into an hour-long break and soon you’re rushing to get dinner on the table and kids in the bath and no one gets as much sleep as they should.

Instead of taking a break as soon as they get home, many children will find it easier to stay in a studious mindset by getting started on homework before they’re allowed TV or tablet time.

Making this shift won’t be easy, but parents can make it a little more bearable by arranging a vibrant but nutritious after-school snack, like ants on a log. Introducing a star chart from which they’ll reap rewards after five consecutive days of homework completion is also an ace of an idea. This digital detox may be easier if the whole family gets on board. Use a multi-device charging station to dock all devices in one central place during study hour.

Organize your workspace

Eighty-four percent of survey-takers reported feeling stressed at home due to disorganization. Clutter causes a slew of health issues from increased anxiety to unhealthy eating habits. The New Year is always a popular time to declutter, but it should remain an important part of your routine throughout the year.

You can start small by keeping your workspace clear at all times—whether that’s the kitchen table or an office desk. Toss junk mail, keep food and grocery lists off the countertop, and invest in a basket for corralling toys.

Address annoying sounds

Perhaps the most torturous thing a parent could do to a child who does not want to come inside, sit still, and do homework is forcing your child to listen to other kids playing. First, position work surfaces (be it a desk, countertop, or kitchen table) out of sight from the playground or backyard. Then, shut windows if neighbors are playing outside and enforce quiet time if you have other children who do not have to endure homework.

For parents or hypersensitive children, listening to a dishwasher continuously clank or your old washing machine rumble through its spin cycle can get under anyone’s skin, let alone someone who can’t concentrate in noisy environments. Nip these noises in the bud by making it your personal project to see to it that broken appliances get fixed this weekend.

On the other hand, silence may be too stark for someone to produce high-quality work. White noise or music on low volume may actually stimulate a learner’s mind. Classical music, especially, has been used as a productivity tool inside and outside of the classroom.

Encourage a healthy lifestyle

Some distractions also lie within. Snack cravings, hyperactivity, and sleep deprivation can be just as distracting as the noises, clutter, and devices around us. Preparing healthy, after-school snacks will hush growling tummies until dinnertime.

Encouraging kids to play outside after homework is done is also a way for them to finally release the energy that’s been building since recess. Playing fetch with the dog or going on a walk with the family is not only good exercise, but you’ll all get a healthy dose of fresh air and Vitamin D from sunlight.

After fueling up with fruits and veggies and blowing off some steam, the last ingredient to a healthy lifestyle is a good night’s sleep. Seventy-five percent of high school students alone get less than eight hours of sleep at night, according to the American Academy of Sleep. Inadequate sleep can wreak havoc on a developing body and cause memory issues, a lack of attention, and mood swings. The National Sleep Foundation reports students ages five to 10 should get 10 to 11 hours of sleep per night.

 

Photo from Unsplash

Yes, I Am Challenging Your Kid

The following is a guest post by Eugene Eaton.  Eugene is an Australian-based blogger for CareersBooster, who is into stand-up comedy. His favorite comedians are Louis CK and George Carlin. A good morning laugh is what keeps Eugene upbeat and motivated through a harsh day.

Dear Parents, I Am Challenging Your Kid

Education has always been a controversial topic. Parents want the best for their children and teachers try their best at the same time. A problem arises when kids don’t accomplish what their parents expect of them.

Their struggle leads parents to misunderstand what’s happening and approaching the problem from the wrong direction. Instead of working things out as a family, they sometimes blame the teacher.

Even when they have a chance to converse normally, they ask uncomfortable questions. Amongst them is an accusation that teachers don’t “challenge” their child. This elephant in the room causes rifts in parent-teacher relationships.

The parents’ perspective

When they raise their children, parents get to know them and learn their habits perfectly. However, this is in a limited environment, without too much proof of the child’s character. The moment school starts, parents expect more from their kids, but from the education system as well.

Expectations are the wrong way to look at their child’s intellectual growth. Instead of bringing joy and success, parents tend to get mad or disappointed when their expectations aren’t met.

Jeremiah Matters, a pedagogy and psychology specialist at CareersBooster, says, “Parents go through a lot of pressure because they want the absolute best for their child. They try so hard that they sometimes end up venting their frustrations the wrong way. Unfortunately, teachers are the ones who suffer because of their children’s shortcomings. The most uncomfortable thing they do is question the work ethic of teachers.”

During parent-teacher conferences, some parents want to know if the teacher is doing everything he or she can to educate their child. All they think about is results, instead of looking at the whole picture.

The parents think the problem is because the teacher doesn’t challenge their child enough. Even posing this question is insulting. As a teacher, I will give you an analysis of the educator’s perspective.

Unnecessary questions

We teachers take our job very seriously and work on even the most basic things. Amongst these facets is the best possible teaching method – posing a challenge to students. A class is structured precisely this way. I teach math to high school students, and I follow one of the most efficient teaching methods. Here’s how it goes:

  • I explain the lesson and everything connected to it.
  • In between different explanations, I pose questions to cause students to become more curious.
  • As they become more curious, they become more involved as I explain the rest of the lesson.
  • Once the lesson is done, I explain problems.
  • Simple problems give children confidence.
  • After we’re done with simple problems, I give them the opportunity to solve the harder ones.
  • As they solve the harder ones, I ask them additional questions and challenge them to give their best.

Education in itself is a challenge. We give our students the tools to solve seemingly difficult tasks. When they feel challenged, they are motivated to give their best and succeed.

In the classroom, we only want the very best for them. So yes, your child is being challenged, and not a single lesson is an exception to this way of approaching students. What’s the problem, then?

Where the problem appears

Some might not realize, but we further deepen the challenging part of our classes. Every day, I do all the following things to help your child become better:

  • Give them a challenging task and allow them to engage
  • Encourage them to solve the problem by establishing a healthy and competitive environment
  • Give them the opportunity to think deeply about the crux of the problem
  • Offer the students an opportunity to teach each other through group assignments and working in pairs
  • Stimulate their love for the topic

Not only do I teach your child everything they need to have an A+ in math, but also everything they need in life. A problem appears when the child doesn’t have good enough marks or if he isn’t motivated.

At this precise time, you should talk to your child before you talk to me. No matter how much I challenge my students, there will still be factors I cannot influence. Through talks with your child, you can learn so much.

Understand your child

Childhood is the most difficult period in everyone’s life. In a little more than one decade, children have to learn so much, about a variety of topics. Even if your child is incredibly intelligent, he can still feel fatigue.

Sit down with them and talk. Don’t be afraid to come over and have a talk with me together. My job isn’t done after the bell rings. Your child is a person, and I want them to grow into the best person they can be.

As a teacher, I encourage all of my students to tell me if I’m making a mistake or if I can do something better. However, you cannot say I am not challenging them enough. That is the basis of my entire profession, and I dedicate every moment of my work to bringing out the best of my students.

Parents and teachers aren’t enemies. We have to work together, and I am always available for cooperation.

Your child may not like math, and that’s okay. Encourage him to speak to me, but please don’t think he or she is not challenged enough. Instead, let us work as a team to make them the best person possible.

Concluding thoughts

A child is going through a turbulent period in their life, and we’re here to help them. Talking resolves all problems, and I’m sure we can come to a solution. Teachers are human too, and we would love if you stopped thinking we’re not challenging your child. Every day, we give our best to provide challenges for the entire class, and we’re never going to give up. Instead of accusing us, talk to us and allow us to get to know your child. Let’s build a relationship.

The Best Parent-Teacher Conference Advice

I don’t remember much from the year I spent as a student teacher. It was in a fifth-grade classroom. The kids were mostly well behaved. When I took over lead teaching, I had the idea that I would run a classroom where students didn’t need to raise their hands. My mentor teacher looked at me askance, but to her credit allowed me to fail on my own. Most of the time, I was trying to keep my head above water. I learned most by failing, but there were a few things my mentor teacher did that I took with me to my first job. Some of the most enduring lessons were on how to conduct parent-teacher conferences. After 18 years in the classroom and an estimated 450 conferences, here are my five best pieces of advice:

Let the Parent Go First

Here’s how my mentor teacher put it before the very first parent walked in on our first night of conferences: “Always start by asking the parent if they have anything they’d like to talk about.” Most parents will come in and be content to hear what you have to say. But there will usually be a couple who have a burning issue they’ve been waiting to address with you. If you start in with your prepared remarks, or student artifacts, or the progress report, these parents will not be listening. They’ll be thinking about what they want to say, just like you do when you’re pissed off in a staff meeting and can’t wait to vent while your principal blathers on about something you care not a whit about.

If a parent walks in with student work in her hand, you can bet that’s what she wants to talk about. Start your conference with these words: “Hi, thanks for coming! Now, before I get into what I’m going to say, is there anything you’d like to discuss?” Then shut up and listen.

Show That You Understand Their Kid

You spend seven hours every day with your students. Their parents spend less. More than wanting to know how their child is doing in school (they usually know) and whether or not they behave during class (they have a pretty good idea about that, too), parents want to know if you get their kid. They want to know if you respect their child enough to get to know them and accept them for their differences. They want to know if you see the children in front of you as individuals.

Say at least one non-judgmental thing that shows you understand each child.  Even if your observation is a less-than-desirable characteristic, the fact that you’ve noticed their kid is important to parents.

Be Honest 

A former colleague interviewed for a teaching job with another district but didn’t get it, even though she thought it went well. During the call where she learned she wasn’t getting the job, she asked what she could have done differently. She was told she was a “model candidate” and received no constructive feedback. She asked what she could do to improve and was basically told nothing.

People crave feedback. We don’t mind being told hard truths if it will help us get what we want. Parents want their children to succeed, and to do so they need to know what their children can do to make that happen. Telling parents that their child “lacks motivation” when in reality they don’t do any work in the room at all is a disservice. Reporting that a child creates a lot of “interpersonal conflict” is hiding behind jargon. Just say they don’t play well with others and that in most of the cases, you’ve observed their child to be the instigator.

Don’t be a jerk, but do be honest.

If Jimmy doesn’t focus on his work and gets little done in class, say so. If Susan acts without thinking and her impulsivity regularly interferes with others’ learning, let the parents know. If Quentin is reading behind grade level and you’ve witnessed him on many occasions doing everything he can to avoid reading, explain to his mom and dad that he’s not going to improve unless he actually reads.

Parents can’t help their kids get better if they don’t know what to work on and you’re in the best position to know what they need to work on, so tell them.

Describe, Don’t Diagnose

Teachers aren’t doctors and shouldn’t pretend they are. We don’t know the causes of what we’re seeing and even if we’ve seen it ten times before, we should stay in our lane. If pushed by parents — I sometimes have parents who come right out and ask if I think their child has ADHD–stick to what you have observed.

“He has a very hard time focusing. He rarely finishes assignments. Yesterday, he completed the first three problems in three minutes, but then completed only one more over the next fifteen minutes.”

“He doesn’t get work done and he bothers others during work time.”

“Whenever he doesn’t get his way, he throws a fit. Other students have noticed and they avoid him.”

Telling parents what you’ve seen puts you in the position of simply being a reporter. If pressed, stick to that role. You can even add, “I’m just telling you that this is what I’ve witnessed in the classroom.”

Let There Be No Surprises

A good way to have a disastrous conference night is to never tell parents anything until they’re sitting right in front of you and then unload all the bad news at once. They feel ambushed, and you come across as unprofessional. You have all the knowledge, you’ve kept it to yourself, and then you’ve sprung it on an unsuspecting victim in a public place where they can’t just get up and storm out without looking like horrible parents. Save yourself a lot of trouble by letting the parents know, at the earliest date, about any problems their child is having at school. If a parent is surprised at any point during the conference, then you haven’t been communicating enough. If you’ve dropped the ball in this regard (and I have), admit it.

Say: “I’m sorry. I should have called,” or  “I should have sent home more student work.” Ask them how frequently they would like to be updated going forward. Then promise to do better.

A good conference is about the teacher first listening to any concerns the parents may have and then communicating the information parents need to know so they can help their children succeed. Do the above, and your conferences will be productive.

 

Drawing Lines in the Sand

The beginning of the year can be a dangerous time for teachers, especially those starting their careers or starting over in a new building or district. You’re refreshed from summer and raring to go. The positivity among your colleagues is contagious, and everyone wants to put their best foot forward.  You want to be a team player. You want to impress the people you work with and for. You want to do whatever it takes. In such an environment, it’s easy to agree to things that you will later regret.

The choices you make in the first few weeks of the new school year will affect how stressed out and exhausted you will be later in the year. No matter if you’re starting at a new school or just starting a new year in an old one, the beginning of the year is the time to draw lines in the sand that will protect yourself for the remainder of the year. These lines are for you, but they’re also for the people with whom you will interact from September to June.

I recommend drawing four lines, one for each group of people who have the potential to dampen your enthusiasm, stress you out, and drain your energy.

Draw Lines for Administrators

Nothing will frustrate and exhaust you faster than committing to a bunch of extra work that won’t make a difference for your students. How you respond to early requests of your time will set the tone for the rest of the year and beyond. It’s not enough to say no to an early request, although showing that you’re willing to do so will go along way toward earning your supervisor’s respect.

The problem with a single no is that it’s easily defeated. Come up with an excuse to not sign up for the science committee and you invite negotiation. Your principal may offer to send a sub in your place for those two dates you claimed had a conflict. Or he may return with the offer to join a different team, at which point, having already turned him down once, you’ll feel obligated to join.

Claim you can’t make it to math night and your principal will attempt to guilt you into attending a different after-school event, using your colleagues’ willingness to volunteer against you.

Instead of saying no, draw a line in the sand at working for free. Instead of “no,” say “I don’t.” It’s more powerful and leaves you less open to arguments and follow-up requests.

Read more about saying “I don’t.”

If you’re worried how this line in the sand will be received, then you may need to elaborate. Say something like this: “I’m fully committed to being the best teacher I can for the kids in my room and I vigilantly protect against stretching myself too thin because that will harm my teaching. That’s why I don’t do unpaid committee work.”

Read: Do Not Join That Unpaid Committee

Draw Lines for Colleagues

If you want to get home at a reasonable hour (and you should, read this and this) then you are going to have to take full advantage of every minute you spend at school. This means coming in a little early and it means maximizing whatever planning time you have. It also means not squandering that time by chatting with colleagues.

Draw a line in the sand with colleagues by closing and locking your classroom door when you’re inside working. Hang a Do Not Disturb, Planning in Session sign on your door so they’re sure to get the message.

That may seem anti-social, but it beats the alternatives, which are being annoyed that you’re being interrupted and not fully participating in conversations, while hoping to bring them to a quick close, or being perpetually waylaid and consequently having to spend more time on work after school, which will eventually lead to a whole host of other problems.

It’s important to socialize and build relationships with your colleagues. Teachers who make connections with other adults are generally happier at work. Use lunch for that, not your planning time.

Read More: Optimize Planning Time

Draw Lines for Parents

Give some parents an inch and they’ll take a mile. Decide right now when and how you’d like to be contacted. Tell parents up front what they can expect in response. Just as you do with students, set expectations early, explain them clearly, and then do what you say.

If you’re sharing your cell phone number, be clear about how you would prefer parents get in touch. Let them know if you’d rather be texted or called. Tell them if you won’t respond over the weekend. Draw a line at how late you’re willing to reply.

If you’re not sharing your cell number, then be clear about the best way to get a hold of you and how quickly they can expect a response. We live in a world where everyone is immediately available. But teachers can’t just stop teaching to answer a call. Unlike many professionals, most of us spend very little time at our desks. Explain the reality, that you will likely not see their emails for hours, and tell them to call the office is their message is time-sensitive. Don’t assume parents understand how busy teachers are; tell them up front what to expect when it comes to communication.

Draw Lines for Students

While teachers like to say that the things that really frustrate them are factors outside of the classroom walls, the reality is that the kids can ruin your school year. Behavior can drive teachers from the classroom, so you’ll want a good handle on classroom management. But you also don’t want to be the only one in the room doing the work. In his book The First Days of School, Harry Wong describes an all too familiar situation:

“The reason teachers are so tired at the end of the school day is that they have been working.  If I worked as hard as many teachers do, I’d be as tired too.  But have you ever noticed what happens at 3 o‘clock when the students leave? “Yea, yea, yea!’  Why are they so full of energy?  Because they have been sitting in school all day doing nothing while the teacher does all the work.  The person who does all the work is the only one doing any learning!”

The kids are there to work, so draw a line in the sand with students early: You will not help them the second they ask for it. Let them struggle a little. That’s when learning happens.

It’s important to send this message early. This past week, a number of my students wanted help on a math assignment and raised their hands. When I went to check on them, they hadn’t even attempted the problem yet. So a rule was instituted: You cannot ask me for help unless you can show me how you tried to solve the problem. Kids are smart. They can figure stuff out if we aren’t there to bail them out the second they encounter a snag.

Protect Yourself

Every year, teachers burn out. Some walk out the door, never to return to education. Others press on, subjecting students to uninspired teaching for years. Teachers must get better at protecting themselves and it starts with being clear about what you will and won’t do.

Draw lines in the sand that you refuse to cross and that send clear messages to others that you are in control of your career, and that you will do what it takes to ensure you remain effective the whole year and for many years to come.