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Top 5 ways to make the best of snow days

Those of us on the east coast are bracing for (yet another!) winter storm that promises to close schools for several days and leave parents at home with wet gloves and bored kids! Here are a few suggestions for sprinkling some reading and writing in-between sled rides.

Learning from graphics

There's real value in spending instructional time helping kids decipher the information found in graphic form. Textbooks, nonfiction books, and magazines are chock full of diagrams, tables, charts, and graphs. Visual information used to be limited to bold words and captioned pictures, but nowadays infographics, maps, and interactive tools carry a lot of the content weight within a piece of text. Successfully navigating these graphics, especially in STEM and content-area subjects, will lead to greater comprehension.

Getting mind and body ready for school

It's a fact. Good nutrition leads to healthy bodies and to healthy minds — minds and bodies that are ready to learn (and grow and play and do everything else that children do).

All schools seem to be moving toward more healthful lunch and snack choices. Some schools use the notion of healthy food in ways to support the curriculum while building community. Last year, about 80 schools in Washington, D.C. had school gardens.

Books just in time for vacation

The weather says it is definitely summertime — often travel or vacation time.

Lots of families will take road trips; many will visit some of the wonderful national parks across the country. And a great time it is, too; after all, July is Park and Recreation Month.

In addition to summer pleasure reading, two recent books are must-haves on these excursions.

Poverty and planning skills

A recent study in the journal Child Development suggests a link between students living in poverty and poor planning skills that extends into several academic areas, including math and reading. Using scores from a strategic puzzle-based task that requires advance planning and tactical moves, researchers found that scores on the planning task in Grade 3 predicted children's reading and math outcomes at Grade 5, even while controlling for IQ.

No screen required

Many are best done outdoors while others are really intended for indoor use; some require special accoutrements, others none. They were once called "diversions" and although the names have changed, games are still around and in fact, have never gone away. (There is even evidence that ancient people in Greece, China, and even Sumeria played them.)

And summer is the time when there's more down time for children or even adults to learn or revisit games.

Travel journals AKA more dead guys in boxes

We're back from our big family trip to Germany, and it was everything we hoped it would be. One of my favorite aspects of the trip was how carefully Anna kept up with her travel journal. She's a writer at heart, so it feels very natural to her to capture her experiences on paper. She's been using the same travel journal for years, and it's really fun to look back at her first entries and appreciate how her writing has changed over the years (see below for entries from 2009, 2011 and 2013).

Preparing for a big family trip

We're heading off to Germany for some apple strudel, German soccer, apple strudel, and tours of castles and salt mines (and apple strudel). This is a big adventure for our family, and we've been prepping for weeks! It's been so fun for the girls to be involved in the planning and the excitement. I thought I'd share a few of the things we've done to get ready — most of these ideas could be adapted for a trip anywhere.

Making writing fun

Sometimes a new twist on an old assignment can change everything! Take a look at a birthday card for Copernicus, the mathematician and astronomer, written by a 10 year old.

The assignment: Research three facts about a historical figure. Incorporate those facts into a birthday card written by someone they knew.

The result: Searching for sources of information. Reading and discerning good facts to use. Choosing the "voice" for the speaker. Integrating facts in a meaningful way into a birthday card message.

Using technology to support parents

We recently wrapped up our 5-webinar series on Parent Engagement. We developed the series to support charter members of the Grade-Level Reading Communities Network, a key community-based effort of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. We've archived the entire Parent Engagement Webinar Series so now it's a free, permanent resource for all.

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"Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift." — Kate DiCamillo