I was trying to decide what to call this section. English seemed too confining; Reading & Writing seemed geared only to younger kids. Since that is where I am aiming here at home, yes, this will have a lean in that direction, but there is more to this topic than learning the ABC’s – or how to diagram a sentence. I went to the 8th grade for several months (see What Are They Supposed to be Learning, Anyway? for more on that) and on opening day I didn’t have the foggiest idea what my English teacher was talking about when she asked the class what the eight parts of speech are. I had momentary panic, wondering how I would fare if I didn’t know the stuff they were merely reviewing from the previous year. As it turned out, I had a perpetual 99 in that class, and I realized what I hadn’t known was the trivia – the terms for all the things I had naturally absorbed from being raised in a very literate household. Reading was a favorite pastime for us growing up. Every two weeks we could be found checking out towering stacks of books from the local library. My dad encouraged any and all sorts of literature, from classics to magazines, so we could explore content and style. We were instilled with that wiggly-finger syndrome some get when the school supplies go on sale and mountains of paper and pens are shimmering all around as you walk in any store. There is that feeling of excitement and possibility that everyone should feel when opening a book or notebook to its first page, and everyone should have the ability to understand and be understood, whether through written words or speech. And that is literacy. So here we are!
Out in the Community:
- Does your library offer summer reading programs, bookmobile, digital resources, or canine reading buddies?
- Through a homeschool group, your library, or elsewhere, are there book clubs for kids?
- Does a local bookstore or library offer storytime for young children?
- Are there times or places – bookstores, festivals, coffee shops – where live readings or storytellings are offered?
- Go. Out. Anywhere – Park, woods, creek, water fountain. Read. Write. You can’t go wrong! Try sitting along a busy street, and jot down a paragraph about random people who pass by – imagine their story, where they are going. Another time visit a quiet, peaceful spot, and write a paragraph about what each of your senses can pick up on.
Lesson Building Blocks:
- Exercise your oral literacy and creativity by coming up with a wacky, Mad Libs-style story together with Impromptu Storytelling Tag, and try related activities with the Word Medley PDF download available through that link or on the Printables page.
- Create your own Mad Libs, either by creating your own original piece of writing or someone else’s and removing key words.
- Fill a grab bag with book genres or topics. Try a new one each week or trip to the library. Have everyone explore it at their own reading level and compare notes.
- Let them practice their literacy by helping you design their lesson plans. Decisions, Decisions is an easy one for kids to research and record, If I Were You.. can also be done this way; in fact, they may have some great ideas for more creative questions, and discussing their thoughts on both sides of the assignment will help them put their ideas into language and evaluate the merits.
- Get the creative side of the brain rolling around with the loose-parts art of Get Blown Away, then ask them to create a short story to accompany it. As suggested on the Take it Outside page, feel free to head out and use nature’s own loose parts for this exercise – I am always more inspired outdoors!
- Similarly, pick up a wordless picture book or non-story book (such as Imagine a Place or another from that amazing series) and create the story – either aloud, or written down. Sometimes it is hard to get your own ideas out, so it can be a good warm-up to try to explore someone else’s.
- Create a book club, no matter how informal. It can be a dinner- or bedtime version (two of our favorite times to read), audiobooks in the car, or a more elaborate version with friends. Alternate who selects the story or leads the group. Do you read aloud or on your own? Create a list of questions together that go beyond “So – what was it about?” Try more leading questions like, “Who did you most identify with and why?” “What do you think was the most important moment and why?” “If you could re-write any section, how would you do it?” “What might happen in a prequel/sequel?” “What do you think inspired the author to write this? What was going on in his life or the world at the time?”
- I have to admit – much as I loved to read, I hated book reports. When I got my GED, I had a perfect score on the science section, while my lowest grade was on reading comprehension. I dropped out of literature-based research in college. Twice. If you have a child that sounds anything like me, try going for a super-informal book-club-ish approach. After reading a few bedtime stories or even a chapter or two in an afternoon, ask a small number of questions – maybe between 1-3. Try things like: “Pick one book and tell me something anyone who hasn’t read it should know”; “Tell me your favorite and least favorite parts of what you just read”; “Give me a reason why this book should be read and a reason you think it falls short.” Over time, and especially with multiple people (be sure to include yourself and tell them how you evaluate your reading), a conversation may begin to develop, and as everyone reads, they’ll begin to evaluate the material with these talks in mind.
- Another way to tackle this is with the ideas detailed in Alternative Book Reports.
- Have penpals! My whole family had penpals growing up, both national and international – and entirely homegrown. My sister and I would write each other, then “mail” them by leaving the letters at some location where they recipient had to track it down – for added fun, create clues to a mystery location, or create codes for elements; you can’t use another language system without also better learning your own.
- Create an ABC storybook. Staple together pages and identify a word for each letter of the alphabet – draw or paste on a relevant picture so your story is illustrated. Then add a sentence or paragraph to flesh it out and tie each page together. This is a spin on the idea of Impromptu Storytelling Tag, and while it is a great way to work on the alphabet with littles, it is also a mind-stretching literacy challenge for all ages.
- Get a book you create printed. There are many kits you can buy – for many ages and genres – where you can submit your material and they will print an actual book. I personally used the Lulu Jr kit several years ago. It came with a really nice booklet to help kickstart the project, the paper, markers, and envelope to mail it back with (postage is included). I happened to keep an eye on the open-box offers (check any used offers for these) and got the kit for about $17.
- Learn the alphabet – and about anything else you can think up simultaneously – with the Letterboard Challenge.
- Print off a fold-&-go card design to inspire some writing practice.