7 Surefire Ways to Raise a Reader

Tips to improve literacy for every age group, from newborn to University-bound

7 Surefire Ways to Raise a Reader

Photo Credit Tim Pierce
January 27th is Family Literacy Day in Canada. Developed by ABC Life Literacy Canada in 1999, Literacy Day aims to celebrate families learning and reading together. There is no doubt that families are kids’ first and best teachers and no amount of schooling in the world will ever impact your child to the extent that you will.
By reading with kids and engaging in fun literacy activities, parents are encouraging lifelong learning. I could bore you with the countless studies that link reading to your kids to their future success in school and life, but I’m sure you’ve heard it all before. 
Instead, let’s talk about how to actually fit some useful family literacy into your busy life! I promise, there's no need for Pintrest-worthy flashcards, homemade organic alphabet biscuits, or endless hours reading Shakespearean sonnets to your unborn child - you can fit a little learning into everyday life.
Here are tips to help you explore literacy together,  at every age group:

Birth to One Year  - TALK, TALK, TALK

The very best thing you can do for your baby’s literacy development is just keep talking. Some smart researchers have determined the optimal number is for infants to hear about 2000 words an hour. Oh, and those words have to come from a live, interactive human - no technological stand-ins at this point.  So go on, sing to your bubba.  Narrate your everyday tasks “Now we will change your diaper.  First we take off your striped pants…”  Not blessed with the gift of endless chatter? Read board books, or read your squirmy little bundle blogs, magazines, or your latest novel. Point out pictures in the latest grocery flyer. The more new and interesting words, the better.


One to Three Years - RHYME TIME

Songs, poems, and chants are fabulous for this age. There is a reason that nursery rhymes have stood the test of time - the rhythm, cadence and rhyme scheme of the words are great for building memory and vocabulary in your kids.  And repetition is key, so don’t feel pressure to come up with an endless stream of new material.  

Three to Five Years - ALPHABET SOUP

Letters are everywhere and this age group is eager to know about them. Start with the first letter of their name -kids usually feel a special connection to this one. Point out the letter while shopping and walking.  “Look, there is “S” just like “S” for Sam.” Throw the magnetic letters at the bottom of the fridge (think their eye level, not yours) and talk about letters while you cook.  Once the kids are great at finding and identifying the letters they see, begin asking them questions.  “C is for…? What’s a word that starts with D?  What sound does a P make?” 

Five to Eight Years - WORD GAMES

This age group has moved beyond letter recognition and are ready to have some fun with words. Play games that keep them growing their vocabulary. Use adjectives to play I Spy: “I spy something curvy. I spy something enormous.” Pick a category and play the alphabet game: the first player says a food (or name, or band, or country - whatever gets them interested) that starts with A, the next person one that starts with B and see if you can get through the whole alphabet. While standing in a line, or waiting for an appointment with your kids, ask them a “how many” question, such as: “How many things can you name that fly? How many fruits can you name that are red? How many book titles can you think of?”  These games are all about keeping kids thinking, talking and interacting with words.

Eight to Eleven Years - WRITE RIGHT

Now is the time to make writing fun. I find that a resistance to writing, especially in boys, often rears its head around this time. The secret is to cash in on your kids' interests. No one enjoys sentence dictation. The weekly journal that some teachers continue to use often becomes a tedious and hated chore.  So how do you keep them writing without telling them to copy out their spelling words three times?  Let the kids write how they want! It's all about using words to get their message across. Let the kids write emails to you, other family members and friends (I’d suggest keeping track of their passwords so you can check in and make sure they are safe). Let them type a few texts to your spouse from your phone. Have them create their own birthday invitations, get them to help you make a shopping list (even better if they get to chose a recipe to make and create the list from there). Just keep writing fun, quick and practical. Lots of kids this age enjoy writing stories and accompanying them with pictures, but if yours isn’t one of them, don’t worry! However your kids chose to express their written messages, it is a step in the right direction.


Keeping literacy alive at this age requires valuing your child as an individual and letting them make their choices. I’m not advocating a free-for-all, no parental control foray into the world of literature - you still need to keep them safe - but let your child lead the way with their reading choices. They only want to read sports’ magazines. No problem!  Comics? Good!  Fashion blogs? Sure! Discovering cheats to their favourite video game? Why not? Let your young adolescent find and follow their interests and then you take an interest in it too, so you can connect. Many a parent has been forced to learn countless breeds of dog or the top-rated surfers in order to relate to their child’s literacy. Let them teach you about what they are reading.    


Ah, the teenage years. It’s all about these kids trying on different personas until they find the one that fits. This is a period that is all about self expression - even if often that expression comes in the form of grunts and slammed doors. And, while they are busy trying to declare their independence and individuality from you, teens are highly influenced by the interests of their peers. So let them stay connected with friends! Social networking, texting, blogging and reviewing music, movies and books are all great ways to keep your teens writing. Is your teen a passionate supporter of a favourite band? Encourage them to write a review of their latest release and have them share it with their friends. Help your teen to stumble upon the latest hot teen read (there are lists all over the internet to help you). Point out some others teens opinion and ask them if they agree.  Keep them talking, writing, and sharing their opinions - in whatever form it comes.
No matter what age your children are, you can foster literacy by connecting with your kids.  Keep them talking, let them follow their own interests and make literacy a part of everyday life - without making it a big deal.
For more information on Family Literacy Day, see abclifeliteracy.ca
Image Source: Flickr (Tim Pierce)

You're Huge! And Other Fun Things Kids Say About Pregnancy

Pregnancy through the eyes (and mouths) of kindergarten students

You're Huge! And Other Fun Things Kids Say About Pregnancy

We aim to teach a lot of things in kindergarten.  There is a focus on students gaining independence, making friends, gaining the basics in literacy and numeracy.  However, tact and decorum do not make an appearance on the kindergarten curriculum.  Subtlety is not big amongst your average gang of four and five year-olds.

The Failures Of Full Day Kindergarten

Throw an ever-expanding, pregnant teacher into the mix and you get a whole slew of wonderful, curious, completely unfiltered observations.  As I waddle my seven month pregnant form into the classroom each day, I’m never sure what inquisitive comments will come my way.

At least three times a day, I get some variation of, “Ms. Chawla, your belly is getting so giant!”  Luckily, this provides a great educational opportunity to grow their vocabulary, as in, “What’s another word for giant?  That’s right, gigantic or super-sized are also good describing words.”

Yesterday I was told, “Your little sweater doesn’t fit over your big belly.”  In my defense, I did have an extra long t-shirt underneath that covered every inch of the baby bump and the student was sitting practically on my feet as I was teaching.  I do ensure my belly is fully clothed before going to work.

I get lots of advice regarding naming the sweet baby.  Often, the names are based on the student’s own monikers, but some other great options have included Spider Man, Princess Sparkle and Fluffy (kind of hoping my newborn won’t suit the name Fluffy - just saying).

When I let the kids know that the doctors say the baby is a girl, one confident student nodded sagely and pronounced, “Yes, Ms. Chawla, because you’re a girl.”  I like the logic, although I do wonder if that kid believe there are pregnant men wandering about populating the world with boys.

5 Important Questions To Ask Your Kindergarten Teacher

And then there are the questions.  These young eager minds are trying to make sense of the world around them, including their ever-expanding teacher.  As an educator, I am a big believer in helping students find the answers to their pressing question, but I have to admit, when one sweet little girl innocently inquired, “Ms. Chawla, how did the baby get in there?” I did respond with, “You should ask you mom.”  Weak, I know, but that’s what the old pregnancy brain came up with at the time.

Other winning questions have included:

“Did you eat the baby?” (a sensible conclusion to the whole baby in the tummy thing - I have not tackled the difference between a uterus and a stomach at this point in the year).

“Will the baby also be named Mrs. Chawla?”

“Does the baby cry inside you?”

“Is she wearing diapers right now?”

“When the baby is ready, will it come out of your mouth?”

With a couple more months to go, and a few more sizes to grow, I’m sure my students will keep me smiling, and thinking on my swollen ankles, for weeks to come.