Post-Covid: Supporting Our Youngest Readers – Part 1

This month marks two years since Covid descended on our world, changing life and learning as we knew it. Students in every grade have suffered as parents and teachers tried their best to support their educational progress. Clearly, some of our most disadvantaged children are those who were in Kindergarten, first and second grade when the pandemic surged. Distance learning and irregular routines are not the ideal way to begin your education.

Over the year, several parents have reached out to me for help. Worried sick that their child isn’t making adequate progress, they confided in seeing not only frustration about reading, but a lack of confidence that sometimes led to behavior issues both at home and in school. What to do?

First, let me say that I admire the ability of these parents to face a problem head on and attempt to discover how they can best support their children. In the last fifteen years of my career as a reading specialist, I worked primarily with fourth, fifth and sixth graders. I also was trained in Reading Recovery, which allowed me to work one-on-one with struggling first graders. Once support began, first grade students soared, usually gaining the skills, strategies and confidence that brought them up to benchmark level within several months. Older students, on the other hand, moved at a much slower pace. Many of those children should have had support during the primary grades, so it was more difficult to remediate them and bring them up to grade level reading. My point is that determining early if your child needs reading intervention, is in everyone’s best interest.

No doubt your next question is, “What should I do to determine if my child needs reading support?” The first step is to set up a personal meeting with your child’s teacher that will allow you the time and space for an honest discussion. Here are some questions to guide that meeting:

What do you see as my child’s strengths as a student and as a reader?

What do you see as his weaknesses?

How does my child’s reading progress compare to same grade level students?

What is the benchmark for reading at this point in time?

Is my child on, above or below the benchmark?

What is my child’s independent reading level? (Ability to read text at 95% to 100% accuracy).

What is my child’s instructional level? (Ability to read text at 90% to 94% accuracy).

How would you rate my child’s performance in these areas of reading development: Letter recognition, phonemic awareness, comprehension, fluency, writing?

How well is my child able to decode difficult words in context? Does he use visual and meaning and sound cues?

Do you think my child needs additional support, either through school or through a private tutor?

Could the reading specialist test my child?

Come to the meeting prepared, not only with your list of questions, but with a list of things that you are seeing at home that cause you to be concerned. Trust the teacher, but be proactive. If you child is falling behind, finding the appropriate support as early as possible is key to his progress and well-being.

Seeing how the pandemic derailed the education of our youngest students, I’m convinced that parents need and deserve as much support as possible. I will be devoting every Thursday blog post for the next several weeks to this topic. If your child is in Kindergarten, first or second grade, these posts will provide valuable information and practical tips to get and keep your child on the road to reading success.

Feel free to ask any pertinent questions in your comments and I will do my best to answer them.

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Don’t Banish the Bedtime Story

It’s been a busy day, your toddler is overtired and won’t settle down. You lure him into his bed with the promise of a bedtime story. Tonight, you’ll reread one of his favorites. You soften the lights, just bright enough so you can see the words and begin. “Once upon a time…” The rhythm of the words combine with the comfort of his bed and your presence. Before long, his little eyes are closed for the night and your sure his dreams will be happy ones. 

Parents instinctively understand the power of the bedtime story for children. But perhaps, bedtime stories aren’t just for kids. Right after Christmas, my husband had Covid. Our bedroom is on the first floor of our townhouse, so I was relegated to the front bedroom upstairs for a week. It felt strange to sleep alone night after night, but I discovered that listening to Audible lulled me to sleep. Ironically, on January 1, 2022, the New York Times published an article about the popularity of bedtime stories for adults explaining that “in our never-ending quest to get a good night’s sleep, bedtime stories are the latest weapon in the arsenal.” 

Sleeping solo for a week convinced me that listening to a bedtime story does soothe your soul, settle your mind and entice you to relax and fall asleep. Now, using the devices at our disposal today, perhaps we should resurrect the bedtime story in our own lives  and even suggest that our teens give it a try. What do you think? 

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Where Does Literacy Hide?

Today, I want to continue to discuss family literacy. No doubt, family life has become even more stressful in the face of this pandemic that continues to rear its ugly head. The last thing parents and kids need are more “shoulds” in their life. In this post, I share a few simple ways you can engage in literate activities with your children simply by drawing them into ordinary routines and interests. Literacy can hide in so many enjoyable, engaging ways that are probably already happening in your family. Sometimes we don’t even realize how literacy plays out in our daily lives. Here are two examples:

Cooking with Kids: From toddlers to teens, most kids love to connect in the kitchen with other family members. Believe me, I’m not known for my culinary skills and with a large family, it was often easier to do it myself. In retrospect, I wish I initiated more opportunities to cook and bake with my children when they were young. Now I see that talking, listening, laughing, reading, and socializing are some of the magic ingredients that blend together and create a stew of positive memories that last long after the meal is consumed.

Obviously, reading and following directions is an important literacy skill. Let your child take the lead, reading each step aloud then either doing it on their own or with your help. Beyond this basic task, however, the speaking and listening components are key. Sometimes, a diversionary activity helps a child to open up, share a concern or ask a troubling question. The warmth of the kitchen entices us into sharing not only recipes, but family stories, personal experiences, core beliefs. Here are few book suggestions to help you cook up some great times in the kitchen with your kids…

Amelia Griggs has penned a terrific trio of books based on her personal experiences of cooking with her mom. Most children from ages three to eight would enjoy these rhyming picture books and be excited to follow the recipes. What’s more, Amelia has created two coloring and activity books that feature the same characters and provide fun and learning for kids from three to eight. Cooking along with Bella and Mia is sure to jumpstart fun in your kitchen.

First Book in the Mia and Bella series

For older kids, I’d recommend one of the many cookbooks on the market specifically designed for young chefs and teens. How-To Cookbook for Teens: 100 Easy recipes to learn the basic by Julee Morrison might provide a good start.

Playing Games: In the midst of our busy lives it’s easy to resort to television or computers when we’re stuck in the house with our children. Games, however, can provide a powerful alternative. Games not only provide an enjoyable way for family members to connect, but also offer a generous dose of strategic thinking, word or number skills, collaboration or competition.

Shortly after the pandemic began in 2020, my husband and I started playing Bananagrams. While we were quarantined for months on end, this became our “go to” activity. We kept the cute banana pouch on our kitchen counter and regularly reached for it after lunch or dinner. The nice thing about this game is that it doesn’t take long and no one has to wait their turn. You basically choose your letters and create your own crossword puzzle. The first one finished wins. Trust me, it’s addictive. There were days when we played six games in a row. This broke the boredom, kept our brains sharp and provided an enjoyable respite during those long days when we could not see our family or friends.

Dust off those old classic games that are living on a shelf and explore the many engaging new ones on the market. With a little effort, you can find games that offer fun for your entire family or those to play with just a few people. I’d recommend Zingo for kids ages four to eight and Upwords for elementary school children if your interested in word games that encourage reading skills. Have fun with your family and sneak in a little literacy while your at it.

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Open the Door to Family Literacy

Happy New Year, one and all. May 2022 hold lots of love and literacy for you and yours. Through December, frustrating computers issues along with the Christmas hustle and bustle, squelched my plans to blog regularly. Hopefully, I’ll remedy that as the 2022 begins and I offer several posts on the topic of family literacy.

As you can probably infer, family literacy refers to the ways parents and children embed literacy activities into the home, and more broadly, refers to the way adults and children in the community share literacy. For our purposes, over the next few weeks, I’ll share a variety of simple, but powerful ways to encourage family literacy in your home and share the long-lasting benefits it offers.

As I teacher, I have created thousands of lesson plans and realize that in-school learning is created and contrived to attain certain skills, strategies, and goals. Not so with family literacy. When adults in the family learn to use authentic situations to teach or enhance literacy, the experience enriches everyone in meaningful ways. Here are just a few of the perks that research conducted by Nancy Padak and Tim Rasinski from Kent State University have found:

• Families learn to value education (1, 5, 18, 26, 36, 38, 57, 59, 65, 67). This finding
has emerged from studies of children, parents, and families.
• Families become more involved in schools (1, 19, 23, 33, 60, 65, 67). Family
involvement in schools leads to better achievement for children (33).
• Families become emotionally closer (1, 5, 25, 30, 36, 44, 49, 50, 53, 63), which
creates a more supportive home environment (9).
• Families read more and engage in more literate behaviors at home (8, 25, 26, 27, 36,
40, 41, 52, 63, 64, 65, 88).
• Families build foundations for lifelong learning (12, 70).

Click on this link to read the entire article:

Two timely authentic activities that you can do right now with your children, involve writing together. As we all know, the start of a New Year is the perfect time to create New Year resolutions or aspirations. Those two words are a great start. What is a resolution? What is an aspiration? Talk about what those words mean. How are they alike? How are they different? This might sound corny, but what if you and your children took a piece of paper and few minutes to jot down your individual resolutions and share them with each other? Perhaps you could even gather as a family and create a list of family resolutions you will work together to achieve in 2022. You don’t need me to tell you what a potentially powerful experience this could be for everyone. Not only are you offering your kids an authentic way to engage in writing, you are also sharing yourselves in a unique way and shaping the future in a positive manner.

As a child, the week after Christmas involved writing thank you notes. My mom was adamant about this practice and there was no way any of her children would get away without crafting a heartfelt note to the folks who had come bearing gifts. Now, Mom was a smart woman and used a bit of psychology to entice us and make this an enjoyable experience. She would offer special stationary or cute little note paper, along with a variety of pens and pencils. She would encourage us to decorate our work and would remain close at hand should we need help spelling a word. Unfortunately, thank you notes are becoming a thing of the past (Don’t get me started), but I will share that my mom’s determination to teach us to “do the right thing” had far-reaching effects on my life. For one thing, I experienced the good feeling that comes with finishing a piece of writing and also expressing gratitude. Also, I carried on that practice with my own children. Even when they were young adults and interviewing for their first jobs, I pushed them to write a thank you note as soon as the interview was over and drop it directly into the mail. I like to think this allowed them to stand out from the crowd of other applicants.

With that said, expect to get some backlash when you want your kids to sit down and write. Although I always write thank you notes myself, I’ll admit that it’s easy to procrastinate on this task. Togetherness could be the answer. Picture yourself sitting at the kitchen table, writing your thank you notes along with your children. What a great model and dare I say, what a great opportunity to spend time together immersed in an authentic literacy experience.

Friends, I’d love to hear about ways that you and your family engage in literate activities. Please chime in and let’s encourage each other to open the door to family literacy this year.

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Start A New Tradition

Thanksgiving, 2021 is officially “in the books” and it’s time to move on and prepare for whatever winter holiday you celebrate. As the mother of five, I remember how hectic life could be during this time of year, but incorporating a family story time weekly or even daily, offers a wonderful way to slow down and reflect. Most traditional holiday tales offer beautiful language and opportunity for discussion. The longer stories can be shared a bite at a time and shorter ones read and digested in one sitting. Classic stories offer an opportunity to sooth frayed nerves and provide the closeness that is the true gift of the holiday season. A simple tradition this season, like family story time, offers rich dividends for everyone. Here are a few ideas to get you started…

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Set a Place at the Table for Literacy

No doubt, many of your Thanksgiving celebrations will include younger children. Why not arrive with a special story to share with them? The market abounds with a plethora of Thanksgiving picture books that delight the eye and ear, as well as evoking a generous dose of humor, compassion, friendship or love. Here are a few of my favorite Thanksgiving texts for kids from three and beyond. Enjoy!

Part of the “How to Catch” series, written by Adam Wallace, How to Catch a Turkey is sure to provoke giggles from kids as well as adults. Turkey, himself, narrates this hilarious rhyming tale. Turkey is set to appear in the school play, but when he develops a bad case of stage fright, things get out of hand as teachers and students try to catch him. Enjoy this unique picture book, along with your turkey.

Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson unites Bear with his forest friends who want to have a party. Everyone contributes, but Bear has nothing to give. This sweet, rhymed picture book features lovable characters, and highlights the theme of friendship and the various gifts we all have to share.

I Spy Happy Thanksgiving Book by Heather Laine is the perfect after-dinner activity. Let the little ones gather together and enjoy using the clues to figure out each puzzle. In addition to the activities, children will be delighted with the beautiful fall colors and cute illustrations.

The Story of the Pilgrims brings to life the first Thanksgiving feast. This historical fiction text will appeal to a children of any age. Author Carolyn Chock has crafted a book full of delightful illustrations and interesting facts making it the kind of text that may just slip into your holiday traditions.

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

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Deck the Halls with Literacy

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Hi, Everyone!

To past faithful followers of this blog along with any new people who are just discovering it, I say, “Welcome”. Since I began blogging several years ago, this is longest I’ve ever gone without reaching out via a post. Today, I am renewing my commitment and hope to craft informative, motivating and entertaining posts that encourage you in your journey to nurture the literacy development of your children, students or grandchildren. As always, I would love to hear from you. Many voices enrich the experience and provide support for all. Additionally, if you have an interest or expertise in Reading or any of the Language Arts and would like to write a guest post, please contact me at

Thanksgiving week is upon us and the hustle and bustle will begin. Amidst the holiday activities, it takes a conscious effort to find ways to embed literacy learning and support in our daily round. From now until the end of December, my posts will focus on offering gift ideas (books, journals, games and the like) that are related to literacy, as well as practical suggestions to keep kids engaged and entertained while advancing their literacy skills.

I’m lucky enough to have eleven grandchildren ranging in age from two to sixteen. Frequently, gifts from Mimi include a book. Over the next few weeks, I’ll suggest several books for each age group. Today, I’ll begin with the little ones. This is a magical time for children in the two to four age group. Seasonal books add to the magic and fun. At this age, it’s smart to be very selective when you purchase these books. A special holiday book, can become a cherished text that returns years after year and becomes a familiar friend.

Last year, stymied as to what to give our two youngest grands, I decided to purchase an attractive box for each of them, labeling it “Holiday Books”. Each week, I purchased one or two books related to the holiday season and took time to write a personal note inside each one. The boys loved receiving them, enjoyed them repeatedly with their parents and when the season ended, their Mom tucked them away in the special box. This year, I will repeat the process. My hope is to create a library of these seasonal books that they will enjoy, save and eventually pass on to their children.

Do you have any ideas for holiday gift giving, activities or games that give literacy a lift? Please share any and all good suggestions. Look for my next post where I’ll review a few favorite holiday titles for the little people in your life.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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Book Club Anyone?

Image result for book clubs

Hi, Everyone. Sorry I’ve been inactive over the last few weeks. Sometimes, life simply gets in the way. I’m hoping you are enjoying your summer in spite of Covid. This virus is like watching a scary movie. Just when you think the worst is over, the bad guy pops up again with more vengeance than ever. Like most people, we’ve relaxed the reins just a bit over the last month or so. When I came home from my annual check-up, hubby and I discussed the doctor’s recommendations and realized that we must keep our guard up and not open ourselves (and others) to this virus. Sadly, we all must make sacrifices and it’s not easy. In my heart, I do  believe it’s worth it. Like my husband says, if you roll the dice enough times, your luck will run out. Please be cautious and stay well. Okay. Enough for my PSA for the day.

Recently, I listened to two teacher/authors discussing the social aspect of reading. Reading is a social act. No doubt, kids are struggling as much as adults as they try interact with each other appropriately during this challenging time. These teachers brought up the idea of book clubs as a way to allow youngsters to enjoy the social aspects of reading. Obviously, kids could easily participate in book clubs virtually, which would be ideal right now. In addition to Covid, many people are away for periods of time during the summer, and a virtual book club could be the perfect way to motivate kids to read and enable them to stay connected at the same time.

If you and your youngsters want to organize a virtual book club, here are a few suggestions. Feel free to throw out any questions or ideas you may want to add:

  1. Limit the size of the group. Four to a maximum of eight would probably work best.
  2. Offer three possible book choices and let the youngsters vote on the one they want to read.
  3. Help the kids divide the book into appropriate sections to be read within the week or whenever they decide to meet again.  50 to 100 pages a week should be doable for most children in grades 4 to 8. The expectation is that each participate will read those pages prior to the next meeting so that they can discuss them.
  4. Choose a day and time that the club will meet.
  5. One adult should be the moderator and help set up the technology and get each meeting started.
  6. Start the process all over again for each book that the kids choose to read.
  7. Have fun with it!

This year, summer reading is more important than ever. When school opens, it will almost definitely be a combination of distance and in-person learning. Therefore, it’s imperative that students avoid the deadly “summer slide” and don’t start the school year behind. Regular reading is the best way to insure that reading skills remain sharp. Consider the benefits of starting a book club for your kids and their buddies.


Image result for shouting at the rain lynda mullaly hunt  Heartwarming and beautifully crafted tale of a young girls wrestling with changing friendships and questions of family. Perfect summer read for girls ages 9 to 14.

Image result for Everything KIds Football BookRecommended by my ten-year old grandson, this book explains the nuts and bolts of every aspect of football. It includes tips for both playing and understanding the game. A gem for any young (or old) football fan or even for grand mom’s like me who want to learn more about the game.

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Did You Know?


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Let’s keep talking and learning about reading aloud and it’s importance. After writing Tuesday’s blog, I decided to search out some recent statistics. Some were encouraging and others thought provoking. Although I’m not a “numbers girl”, I find statistics fascinating. Sometimes I find statistics a powerful motivator and other times a powerful source of shame. Today, I’ll share some of the statistics I found, simply to give you something to gnaw on. What’s your reaction? How do these statistics impact you personally?

According to the “2019 Kids & Family Reading Report” from Scholastic:

“Reading aloud is important, and it’s on the rise since the study started looking for it in 2014.”

“But reading aloud peaks at age 5 and falls off precipitously after ages 6 to 8. Parents say they stop or decrease reading aloud because children can read on their own.”

In 2016, a survey conducted by YouGov for the non-profit Read Aloud 15 Minutes found that, “fewer than half of parents read aloud to their children every day, and only 34% do so for at least 15 minutes. Fewer than one in 10 parents reported reading aloud daily for 15 minutes from birth, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.”

Additionally this survey determined that “fewer than half of parents read aloud to their children every day, and only 34% do so for at least 15 minutes. Fewer than one in 10 parents reported reading aloud daily for 15 minutes from birth, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.”

An article in Science News, April 4, 2019, provided this summary of research conducted by Jessica Logan, lead author of the study and assistant professor of educational studies at Ohio State University:

“Young children whose parents read them five books a day enter kindergarten having heard about 1.4 million more words than kids who were never read to, a new study found. This ‘million word gap’ could be one key in explaining differences in vocabulary and reading development.”

Your thoughts? Let’s have a conversation about reading aloud. I welcome your comments and will pick up this discussion in my next post. Stay well!




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The Secret Ingredients of a Successful Read Aloud

Sometimes, life hits you hard and it’s all you can do to get through the day (or week, as in this case). My beloved brother-in-law passed on June 6th. He fought through a multitude of health problems over the last ten years and due to his COPD, needed oxygen regularly for the last year. When he contracted Covid, again his fighting spirit allowed him to eventually test negative for the virus and leave the hospital to return the medical center of his care facility. That, in turn, allowed him to have several personal  visits with his wife and six children. We were lucky enough to “see” him on Zoom for a few minutes. By the time of his death, we were in the “yellow phase” and able to have a limited viewing, Mass and burial for Larry. We are so grateful that he did not pass alone in the hospital.

My sister is ten years older than me and I knew Larry since I was five years old. The relationship both my husband and I had with him, was close, influential and loving in. Although we prepared for his death, it still rocked our world. Needless to say, blogging was the last thing on my mind last week. Now it’s time to return to normal, bask in our wonderful memories and live out the life lessons Larry modeled for us. 

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I hope everyone enjoyed the previous post by Andrea Denish. It certainly got me thinking about fostering literacy in our youngest children. Of one thing I’m certain…if you want to raise a reader, reading aloud is essential. With that thought in mind, I reached for my worn copy of Reading Magic, by Mem Fox. When it comes to promoting reading in very young children, Fox’s text is the most powerful book I know on this topic. That’s why I include a copy with every baby gift I give.

As I once again picked through the early chapters of this book, one of the concepts that stood out for me was the importance of attitude and emotion when we are reading aloud to children. Fox writes, “the fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks between a child, a book, and the person reading”. The blending of these three elements lifts the read-aloud to a new level, reeling the child in and creating a meaningful, pleasurable experience. And what happens when we experience pleasure? We want more!

Reading these words brought me back to the bedtime stories I often read to my own kids. Let me tell you, they weren’t usually the “rollicking good time” Fox mentions, complete with  discussion, laughter, appropriate pauses and noticings that Fox suggests. Although I enjoyed that time with my children, often I was tired, skipped pages if I could get away with it, and felt anxious to finish the book, kiss the little one, turn out the light and call it a day. Ever feel like that? Nevertheless, I am totally convinced (much more than I was as a young mother) of the life-changing benefits of reading aloud. Furthermore, I am convinced that kids are never too old for a read aloud. If I had it to do over again, here’s what I would do to improve the experience and eck the most out of the time I spent reading aloud:

  1. Learn more about reading aloud. Sometimes we only need to improve a little bit. A few ideas can spark confidence and transform our approach. If you have young children, Mem Fox’s book will hit the mark. If you have older children, find other blogs and books that encourage and support you.
  2. Make anytime reading time. It’s a joy to visit the home of my son and his wife. They have two boys, ages one and two. Books that the boys love are everywhere. A basket in the kitchen, more on shelves in the family room, more baskets in their bedrooms and even some in the closets upstairs. When the two- year-old shows curiosity about a subject, they find a book to quench his thirst for knowledge. Although they do read bedtime stories, reading is not relegated to bedtime. Books permeate their day. They talk about books, the boys hold up books they love when we Face Time, and even at this young age, their the kids delight in receiving a new book. My Reading teacher’s heart just knows that these boys are on the road to a lifelong love of reading.                                                                                                                  It’s summer, kids are home and “the livin is easy”. What books will you read today? How will you capitalize on the time you spend engaged in reading aloud? Psych yourself up, approach it with zest. The attitude and emotion with which you read a story will have a positive pay-off.

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