Choosing Books for Every Age

Babies

  • Board books or indestructible books  so you won’t have to worry about baby tearing it up
  • Black and white or bright colors for babies developing eyesight
  • Short books for little ones with short attention spans
  • One word per page to identify objects
  • Simple rhyming books such as Mother Goose
  • Large faces in the illustrations…better yet, make your own book with pictures of family members

Toddler and Preschooler books

  • Board books or stiff paper books are easier for little fingers
  • Texture or lift-the-flap books with things to touch
  • One word per page to identify objects
  • Mother Goose or other rhyming books
  • Simple stories with a beginning, middle, and end
  • Alphabet, color, or number books
  • Books about an area of interest: trains, favorite animals, princesses, etc.
  • Non-fiction books that relate to their life:  animals at the zoo, how to make cookies, new baby in the family, etc.

Elementary books (K-3)

  • Books for beginning readers- fewer words, rhyming words, repeating words
  • Simple stories with a beginning, middle, and end
  • Fairy tales
  • Longer books for read alouds
  • Books about an area of interest
  • Non-fiction books that relate to their life:  subject studying in school, family vacation, hobbies, etc.
  • Chapter books for advanced readers- Check to make sure subject matter is appropriate for their age-level.

Upper Elementary books (4-6)

  • Chapter books
  • Picture books with complex plots or subject matter
  • Non-fiction books: subject studying in school, area of interest, biography, etc.

The best way to choose a book is if it makes you or your child happy.  Start with books that you enjoyed when you were little.  Then ask friends with kids to recommend some good ones.   For older children, ask their teacher and librarian which books fit your children’s reading level.  But don’t let that limit you.  Maybe your first grader is reading on a second grade reading level.  That doesn’t mean she wouldn’t enjoy reading first grade or even kindergarten books every now and then.  And it doesn’t mean you can’t read a third grade chapter book together before bedtime.  Remember, your job is to provide your kiddo with lots of book choices, and let them make the final decision.

Happy reading!

What Should a 4 Year Old Know?

With Back to School season upon us, I’ve been seeing “What Should a 4 Year Old Know?” posted a lot on Facebook.  The author states parents shouldn’t be so concerned about their preschooler doing a checklist of skills.  Instead, they need to let children be free to explore, make a mess, and have fun.  I agree.  Parents need to calm down, put away the flashcards, and go have fun with their kids.  After all, everyone learns in their own time.  They are only four-years-old once.  Worry less, and play more.

However, I also think most parents that ask “What should a 4 year old know?”  have their hearts in the right place.  They don’t want to get their kid on Leno for memorizing all the names of the presidents.  They just want their kid to feel smart when they start kindergarten.  They want the best for their kids.  Nobody wants their child to begin their school career feeling confused and left behind when everyone else knows how to count to ten. Those feelings stick with kids.

I think there is a middle ground between constant unstructured free time and constant drill and practice with flash cards.  I agree with the author that learning should be worked into life naturally.  How about spending time with your kids and finding some teachable moments in fun activities?  You can count how many cups you need while cooking or how many elephants you see at the zoo.  You can find letters in signs as you drive.  You can do a shape hunt at the playground or write letters in the sandbox.  They get the benefit of having fun with you AND they learn academic skills.

I have a 4 year old.  She is not going to preschool at all this year.  She will start kindergarten next fall.  My plan is to have fun and make some memories (probably mostly mine) of this last year before she starts school.  And the learning?  I think this will prepare her enough for kindergarten.

Food Smart

I have an embarrassing confession.  I am not a healthy eater and I don’t even know what most vegetables look like.  As a twentysomething I was eating a salad (a big achievement for me!) and someone commented about my spinach.  WHAT?!  I was eating spinach?!  I honestly thought spinach was yucky, slimy, green stuff in a can.  It never occurred to me that it was a leaf.  Ridiculous.

I am determined for my own girls to grow up healthier and smarter.  Okay.  I’m not going to get all crazy and never go to McDonald’s again.  Trust me.  I still want to eat cheeseburgers.  I just want them to know about other foods, too.

Besides being good for your body, trying all kinds of food also gives you general background knowledge that aids in reading comprehension.  You will understand a lot more about a book about pineapples, for example, if you have a background knowledge of what a pineapple looks like, tastes like, and how it grows.

So what can we do as parents?

1.  Let kids see food in their natural form as much as possible.  Yes, you can buy corn in a can.  But show them what an ear of corn looks like in the grocery store.  Or better yet, look at a corn field.  It seems like common sense…but if you don’t show kids, then they don’t know (ie my spinach story).

2.  Try it!  Make trying new foods part of your routine.  We have a “Try One Bite” rule at our house.  After that bite, everyone is free to say “no thank you” and eat other things on his/her plate.

3.  Grow it!  Kids are much more likely to try something if they have invested their time in growing it.  Start small with a just a seed and a pot or do a whole garden in the backyard.  And check out these garden resources from the USDA:  http://teamnutrition.usda.gov/garden.html

4.  Pick it!  Look for farms where you can pick your own strawberries, blackberries, peaches, apples, etc.  This is a great experience to see how food is grown, harvested, and (if you are ambitious) used in cooking.

4.  Make it a fun game.  Slice up a few different fruits and kids close their eyes and guess which fruits they are tasting.  Or try a few foods and put them into categories of fruits/vegetables or yummy/yucky.

5.  Make it a family goal.  Maybe pick out one new fruit or vegetable each time you go to the grocery store?  After reading Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert we set the goal of eating everything in the book.  As you can imagine, I’ve never even seen most of them.

Idea Jar

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Okay, so this isn’t so much about learning.  It’s more about beating boredom and having fun with your kids.  When I realized we were playing the same handful of games over and over again, I had an idea….for a jar.  Idea jar.  Ha.  I cut up some colored paper and then went around the house writing down every game, toy, and activity.  Then I put them in a jar.  Whenever the kids are bored, we pull one out and do whatever it says.  It could also be used as a reward jar.

I made our jar with ideas that could all be done inside (in case of rainy days) and could be done as a family (some games that we have are too complicated for our two-year-old).  What’s that you say?  You don’t want to stay inside?  How about an idea jar for things you can do in your backyard?  Or field trips to places you would like to go on the weekend?  Or how about activities older kids can do by themselves for 10 minutes so you can have some time to check Facebook in peace?  You could even (gasp) make an idea jar for chores.  Everything is more fun when you draw it randomly out of a jar, even doing the dishes, right?  Well, it’s at least worth a shot.

Materials:

  • jar or container
  • paper
  • pen

Time investment:  about 15 minutes

Difficulty:  As easy as writing your name.  Literally.  It is just writing.

Three Easy Ways to Make Your Kid Smarter

A big part of “intelligence” is really just life experience.  As parents, it is our job to give kids those learning experiences that will enrich their cognitive development and boost their self-confidence.  The earlier the better!  The brain grows rapidly in a child’s first years.  Here are three ways you can make your kids smarter.

1.  Everyday routines inside the home

Household chores don’t seem like learning opportunities.  Yet, this is where learning begins.  Babies can learn by feeling textures and shapes.  Toddlers eager to imitate parents can practice gross and fine motor skills and feel “grown-up.”  Preschoolers learn how to follow multi-step directions, sort by size or color, and develop self-worth by being a helpful part of the family.  It is always easier and faster to do a household chore by yourself, but slow down and involve the kids.  Little ones can help sweep, cook, organize toys, sort laundry, put away dishes, and the list goes on.  Never do for them what they can do for themselves.  Even cleaning up a spill is a problem solving opportunity.

2.  Exposure to new things outside of the home

Taking kids on “field trips” outside the home is a little more difficult, but it is so worthwhile.  Again, involve them in every day errands: shopping for groceries, mailing letters at the post office, shopping for clothes.  These places seem mundane to adults, but they are all experiences that should be part of kids’ background knowledge.  When they hear the word “grocery store”, every kid should be able to mentally picture what it looks like and what people do inside.  But smart kids know how grocery stores differ from farmer markets or what their food looks like growing on a farm.  Make it a priority to explore a new place or try a new activity.  They don’t have to be expensive.  Try ethnic restaurants, farms, festivals, nature walks, museums, sporting events, and plays, just to name a few.  Then have conversations with the kids about what they liked and didn’t like or how it compared to another place.  Your kids will be learning new vocabulary as well as practicing higher level thinking skills.

3.  Read

Of course, you can make sure your kids have first-hand experiences with making cookies and going to a soccer game, but seeing the ocean might be a little tricky if you live in Kansas.  When you can’t see something yourself, you can still gain knowledge about it through books and videos.  Do you regularly use words like octopus, sea anemone, and submerge?  Reading a book about the ocean will expose kids to new vocabulary and ideas that they wouldn’t pick up in everyday conversations.  Reading will stimulate their imaginations.  Early exposure to print and reading will make them better readers in the future.