Confessions of a Book Lover: The Early Days

As a self-proclaimed book lover, I pride myself on my love of reading and all things book related. When I was very young, my parents introduced me to interactive, picture, and digital books (I still have my LeapPad to this day). While I admittedly can’t remember an exact instance or moment when, transfixed by the jumble of words and illustrations in front of me, it became clear that this activity would become a lifelong hobby, I do know that I always felt strangely entranced by magical tales of beautiful princesses, handsome princes, and faraway lands.

I was constantly reading these picture books but, at the age of 5, I realized I wasn’t fully satisfied. While picture books painted vivid pictures of distant kingdoms and lifelong friendships, I wasn’t fully convinced that this was an accurate representation of the world; there had to be something more.

That evening, for the first time, I picked up a copy of The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, which was 154 pages long. Seated on the couch, with my mother on one side of me and my father on the other, I began to read it aloud. Throughout the story there was a constant clash between good and evil, right and wrong. Along with reading and discovering this book came a newfound feeling of independence and confidence in my ability to read. I started to look for more and more chapter books to spend my afternoons reading, digesting, and absorbing.

The transition, though, was not easy. To go from reading 15 to 20 page books to reading one that is 154 pages in length (depending on the copy you buy, of course) was a big leap for me and daunting at first. Will I even be able to understand it?

How long will it take me to read? What if nobody else is reading chapter books now? These were all questions that ran circles in my mind as I was making my decision. Eventually I talked it out with my parents and realized that the decision to read chapter books would only make me a more informed and better educated, individual—and who doesn’t want that! At that point, my classmates at school were also starting to explore more challenging books; some were even reading chapter books like me. This did make me feel more comfortable making, what I thought at the time was, a drastic leap.

Although challenging ourselves to read more complex, lengthy books is important, children do not transition from picture books to chapter books, never to return. We live in an age of visuals; picture books teach visual literacy like no other teaching tool and every child should always have picture books on the go. Picture books should be read from birth to adulthood, and nowadays publishers cater for this with a plethora of picture book choices for all ages and stages. I started out by reading The Wizard of Oz, but there are so many wonderful options to choose from to make your chapter book debut, and with this in mind I have compiled a brief list of some great books to check out:

The Wind in the Willows (Easy Reader Classics)

by Kenneth Grahame

Mole, Water Rat, Badger, and, of course, Toad of Toad Hall: these characters have captivated young minds for over a century. Kenneth Grahame’s classic cast of animal friends enjoy life on the river, hit the road in Toad’s brand-new cart, get lost in the dark, and have adventures in the Wild Wood. These enchanting and humorous tales provide timeless enjoyment for all ages.

Paddington Novel Series (Love from Paddington)

by Michael Bond

Told through Paddington’s letters to his aunt Lucy back in Peru, this novel written by Michael Bond offers Paddington’s own special view on some of his most famous adventures. From stowing away on a ship to working as a barber, Paddington shares his charming, and hilarious, take on the world.

Charlotte’s Web

by E.B White

This beloved book by E. B. White is a classic of children’s literature that is just about perfect. Charlotte’s spider web tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his litter. E. B. White’s Newbery Honor Book is a tender novel of friendship, love, life, and death that will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.

7 Canadian Books from 2017 for Middle-Graders

The holidays are always a great time to encourage kids to read. They have a lot of time on their hands and though the holidays are about spending time with the family, sometimes mom and dad just need a few minutes (like 2 or maybe 60!) to prepare a meal or relax. So here are 7 Canadian books, with varying themes, published in 2017 that you can stick in front of your children whether they are avid readers or not.

The list was inspired by bestselling lists, award lists, lists of the best books of 2017, and our KW4K authors. All recommendations are middle-grade reads except where indicated. Enjoy!

1. Knock About with the Fitzgerald-Trouts

by Esta Spalding (Author), Sydney Smith (Illustrator)
Genre: Adventure Fiction

This is the second book of the Dahl-esque series about the Fitzgerald Trout kids who have to fend for themselves as they can’t trust the grown-ups to do what needs to be done. Though this book is considered middle-grade, it seems to do well being read out to younger crowds as well. So if you have a child in middle school and another in elementary, this might be a good book for them to read together.

Book synopsis:

“Witty, full of heart and genuinely fun to read…a wacky, lighthearted romp.”–The New York Times Book Review

Welcome to the further adventures of the plucky Fitzgerald-Trout siblings, who live on a tropical island where the grown-ups are useless, but the kids can drive. In this second installment, the delightfully self-reliant siblings continue their search for a home. This time, their pursuit will bring them face-to-face with a flood, illegal carnivorous plants, and the chance to win an extraordinary prize at a carnival. Will they finally find a place to call home?

2. Shadow of a Pug (Howard Wallace, P.I., Book 2)

by Casey Lyall
Genre: Mystery

This fun detective story can be found on a few favourites lists around the internet and is sure to get kids minds buzzing with ideas as they solve the mystery along with Howard Wallace, P.I.

Book synopsis:

Middle-school detectives Howard Wallace and Ivy Mason are itching for a juicy case.

But when their friend and cohort Marvin hires them to prove his nephew— über-bully Carl Dean—didn’t pugnap the school mascot, they’re less than thrilled. To succeed, not only must Howard and Ivy play nice with Carl, they’ll have to dodge a scrappy, snoopy reporter and come face-to-face with Howard’s worst enemy, his ex-best friend Miles Fletcher. Can Howard deal with all these complications and still be there for Ivy when her life is turned upside down? Or will he once again find himself a friendless P.I.?

3. The Artsy Mistake Mystery: The Great Mistake Mysteries

by Sylvia McNicoll
Genre: Mystery

The Artsy Mistake Mystery is the second installment in The Great Mistake Mysteries series. It’s a fun read for parents and children alike and is especially nice for kids who are just a little different from their peers. This is also definitely a good way to remind kids that making mistakes is okay. (For more on what kids would love about this book, take a look at this insightful review.)

Book synopsis:

They say he’s been stealing art. But is Attila being framed?

Outdoor art is disappearing all over the neighbourhood! From elaborate Halloween decorations to the Stream of Dreams fish display across the fence at Stephen and Renée’s school, it seems no art is safe. Renée’s brother, Attila, has been cursing those model fish since he first had to make them as part of his community service. So everyone thinks Attila is behind it when they disappear. But, grumpy teen though he is, Attila can do no wrong in Renée’s eyes, so she enlists Stephen’s help to catch the real criminal.

4. The Explorers: The Door in the Alley

by Adrienne Kress
Genre: Mystery/Adventure Fiction

Here’s a book with a big sell that is sure to be a hit with your child. It’s the first in a series and has been optioned off to be turned into a Disney film. It has the excitement and thrill of adventure plus the wackiness of a free roaming imagination. It’s good for kids to continue to keep their imaginations active. And according to Book Riot, it’s an excellent book for reluctant readers!

Book synopsis:

Featuring a mysterious society, a secretive past, and a pig in a teeny hat, The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is the first book in a new series for fans of The Name of This Book Is a Secret and The Mysterious Benedict Society. Knock once if you can find it—but only members are allowed inside.

This is one of those stories that start with a pig in a teeny hat. It’s not the one you’re thinking about. (This story is way better than that one.) This pig-in-a-teeny-hat story starts when a very uninquisitive boy stumbles upon a very mysterious society. After that, there is danger and adventure; there are missing persons, hired thugs, a hidden box, a lost map, and famous explorers; and there is a girl looking for help that only uninquisitive boys can offer.

The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is the first book in a series that is sure to hit young readers right in the funny bone.

5. Masterminds: Payback

by Gordon Korman
Genre: Science Fiction/Mystery

Gordon Korman’s books come highly recommended from one of our KW4K authors, Christopher Smolej. Plus, this is the third (and possibly final) book in the Mastermind series so it’s a good time for the kids to read the whole series at once.

Book synopsis from HarperCollins.com:

The thrilling finale to the New York Times-bestselling Masterminds series from middle grade star author Gordon Korman. Perfect for fans of Rick Riordan and James Patterson.

After a serious betrayal from one of their former friends, the clones of Project Osiris are on the run again. Now separated into pairs, Eli and Tori and Amber and Malik are fighting to survive in the real world.

Amber and Malik track down the one person they think can help them prove the existence of Project Osiris, notorious mob boss Gus Alabaster, also known as Malik’s DNA donor. But as Malik gets pulled into the criminal world—tantalized by hints of a real family—his actions put him and Amber into greater danger.

Eli and Tori get sucked into even bigger conspiracies as they hunt down Project Osiris’s most closely guarded secrets—who does Eli’s DNA come from? With a surprising new ally and another cross-country adventure, the four will have to work together to overcome the worst parts of themselves if they are going to end Project Osiris once and for all.

6. Those Who Run in the Sky

by Aviaq Johnston
Age Range: 12+
Genre: Adventure Fiction

Those Who Run in the Sky is inspired by spiritual aspects of Inuit culture and is a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for young people’s literature (— text). Sharing this book with your child is a good way to continue to expose your child to different aspects of Indigenous culture.

Book synopsis:

This teen novel, written by Iqaluit-based Inuit author Aviaq Johnston, is a coming-of-age story that follows a young shaman named Pitu as he learns to use his powers and ultimately finds himself lost in the world of the spirits.

After a strange and violent blizzard leaves Pitu stranded on the sea ice, without his dog team or any weapons to defend himself, he soon realizes that he is no longer in the word that he once knew. The storm has carried him into the world of the spirits, a world populated with terrifying creatures—black wolves with red eyes, ravenous and constantly stalking him; water-dwelling creatures that want nothing more than to snatch him and pull him into the frigid ocean through an ice crack. As well as beings less frightening, but equally as incredible, such as a lone giant who can carry Pitu in the palm of her hand and keeps caribou and polar bears as pets.

After stumbling upon a fellow shaman who has been trapped in the spirit world for many years, Pitu must master all of his shamanic powers to make his way back to the world of the living, to his family, and to the girl that he loves.

7. The Winnowing

by Vikki VanSickle
Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy/Science Fiction

This is for all the sci-fi fans out there. Vikki VanSickle presents a fantasy/sci-fi world that the author herself heralds as inspired by The X-Files. But this book is also explores the themes of friendship, loyalty, and the courage needed to grow up.

Book synopsis:

In a world where the familiar has sinister undertones, two friends are torn apart just when they need one another most. Can they both survive?

Marivic Stone lives in a small world, and that’s fine with her. Home is with her beloved grandfather in a small town that just happens to be famous for a medical discovery that saved humankind — though not without significant repercussions. Marivic loves her best friend, Saren, and the two of them promise to stick together, through thick and thin, and especially through the uncertain winnowing procedure, a now inevitable — but dangerous — part of adolescence.

But when tragedy separates the two friends, Marivic is thrust into a world of conspiracy, rebellion and revolution. For the first time in her life, Marivic is forced to think and act big. If she is going to avenge Saren and right a decade of wrongs, she will need to trust her own frightening new abilities, even when it means turning her back on everything, and everyone, she’s known and loved. A gripping exploration of growing up, love and loss, The Winnowing is a page-turning adventure that will have readers rooting for their new hero, Marivic Stone, as they unravel the horror and intrigue of a world at once familiar but with a chilling strangeness lurking beneath the everyday.

Bonus:

Stock up on some stocking stuffers with these short reads by our Kids Write 4 Kids winners that are sure to inspire your kids to do some writing of their own.

How to be an Abbott

by Olivia Simms (2017 Kids Write 4 Kids Winner)
Age Range: 8-14

Here’s what award-winning author Karen Bass has to say about it: “A tale of belonging with unforgettable characters. I loved discovering How to be an Abbott.

Book synopsis:

Noah Thompson feels like no one really understands him. But when he meets Evan, he learns a thing or two about friendship, belonging, and family.

Summon The Magic

by Emily Little (2017 Kids Write 4 Kids Winner)
Age Range: 8-14

Karen Bass, award-winning author says, “Summon the Magic casts you into a fantastic world of imagination and adventure. I relished every twist and turn.” We think your kid will too.

Book synopsis:

For six teens in the small town of Hillside, the start of a new school year is anything but ordinary. It brings the discovery of strange powers, dragons, and a mission to save a whole other world.

Once your middle graders are done reading, if they want to do some writing of their own, don’t forget to get them to submit their creation to the 2017-2018 Kids Write 4 Kids writing contest. Submissions end on March 31, 2018. Go to this online form to enter.

 

My Experience in a Classroom Book Club

Becoming a book club member, whether at your school or in a local group within your community, provides opportunities to listen to others, meet new people, and explore new things. In my freshman English class, I was involved in a small book club assignment. The class was divided into four groups of approximately six people.

As a member of one of these groups, I was able to observe some of the great things that one can experience and learn when involved in an activity such as this.

1. Listening to Others

Since the core purpose of an exercise such as a book club is to get people to think about and share their own interpretations and questions regarding the book they are reading, you are bound to hear the perspectives and opinions of others in your group. This in turn expands your worldview, exposing you to ideas you may never have considered before and brings you closer to those involved—more on that later. The basis for our discussions when we congregated for book club stemmed from things we’d discovered while fulfilling the duties of the “roles” we’d been assigned, and which we rotated at each meeting. One particular role, which really got my creative juices flowing, was Discussion Director.

As the name suggests, whoever happened to be the Discussion Director would think of questions (usually 10) relevant to the book and the specific chapter being read. When I assumed the role of the Discussion Director, I posed these questions to everyone, and directed the general ebb and flow of the conversation.

This led to a lively discussion where my peers would bounce ideas, theories, and even more questions off of each other. Feeling oddly satisfied that I had stimulated my peers enough to have them actually shouting animatedly at each other over the table about what a character’s intentions really were, I’d even contribute a few ideas of my own and then proceed to the next question. If you can get people talking with one another, there is no limit to the ideas you can discover!

2. Getting to Know the People around You

Chances are that the book club you have joined (or are considering joining) is in your school or community, so wouldn’t it follow that these are people you would be seeing on a day-to-day basis? If so, wouldn’t you like to get to know them better? If the answer is yes, then book club is the activity for you! As a freshman in high school, I sometimes felt like a small fish in a huge pond. It’s in moments like that where you feel that the more people you know and can call friends, the more at home and comfortable you are. However, there will always be people that you wouldn’t naturally be drawn to or would consider being friends with. Personally, I had good friends in my English class, but there were some people I had never even talked to before. Luckily, some of these people ended up being in my book club group.

It was an amazing experience, getting to know them in non-traditional way. Instead of discussion about background, family, life goals, and hardships, I got to know them through the ideas and opinions they put forth in discussion. I found this to be the most intimate way to get to know someone and the most rewarding.

3. Exploring Different Genres

Being randomly assigned books, as many book clubs do, is a great way to branch out and read novels in genres you might never have considered reading before! Personally, I’m more drawn to classics and heavier books, such as Vanity Fair or Great Expectations. I have never been picky about the books that I read, however, so I’m always open to new things (this summer, for example, my aunt introduced me to science fiction, and it was great fun—looking forward to reading Ender’s Game soon!).  For my particular book club group, we read a book called Unwind, which falls into the genre of dystopian fiction. This is not a genre I would naturally pick off a shelf.

Consequently, I was exposed to new writing and new ideas. Plus, dystopian fiction really gets you thinking a lot about what ifs in regard to the systems of government we have in place, the way social rank is determined, the ways that we entertain ourselves, etc. In this way, I explored a new genre and had fun doing it!

4. Broadening your Vocabulary

Expanding your vocabulary, as well as your knowledge of figurative language, is yet another unique advantage of participating in a book club. This will help you to express thoughts, opinions, and ideas more clearly (in conversation or on paper) and strengthen your communication skills—who doesn’t want that!

In our book club, we had the role of Literary Luminary to thank. As the name suggests, the Literary Luminary picks specific, strange, or singular words from the book, researches their meaning, and shares it with the group.

Another part of the role is discovering different ways that the author of your chosen book uses figurative language within the text (things like metaphors, similes, and hyperbole), why they do it, and what effect it produces. It’s quite fascinating.

5. Make Better Connections with the World around You

Being able to make meaningful links between the books you read and your everyday life gives what you read more significance, and—at least I found—it becomes more enjoyable. When a substantial connection is made between your life and what you are reading, the book stops being a random made-up story that someone just came up with and starts to seem like a more thoughtful, meaningfully worded and depicted story. Believe it or not, there is another book club role for this!

The person assigned to this role is the Connector. They are responsible for trying to find as many links as possible between what the group is reading and things occurring in our world today (for example: stereotypes, government policies, controversial topics, and even our own lives).

They then relate their findings to the group for discussion; some people may agree, some may disagree. Either way, there is always lots to talk about with this one.

Hopefully, with a small dose of my experience, you have learned a bit about what book club involvement is like and why it’s so great!

How Kids Write 4 Kids Winners are Chosen

Over the last five years, I’ve been asked many times how winners of the Kids Write 4 Kids contest are selected. Let me start by saying I’m actually not involved in selecting the winner.

We have a judging panel that consist of twelve people. Of the twelve, six of them have been on the judging panel since the inception of Kids Write 4 Kids in 2012. They all come from different professional backgrounds – writer, marketer, lawyer, doctor, director, and a production artist. But the one thing they all share is that they all read a lot of books–as much as one a week–and to me that’s very important. You need someone who has read a lot of books to recognize originality and what’s consider a good story. The rest of the panel is made up of guest judges that changes year after year.

They consist of previous Kids Write 4 Kids winners, accomplished published authors, such as Karen Bass, Margriet Ruurs, and Joyce Grant to name a few, and people in the publishing or education industry. You can visit our website to view profiles of our recent judging panel.

It’s with this mix that I believe we are able to select the best story for the masses. To date we’ve published ten titles and all of the stories are very different, ranging from murder mystery, humour, fantasy, fable, and even a collection of poetry.

The judges don’t actually read all the entries, only the top ten stories. We have two very important ladies that go through all the entries to identify the top ten stories for the judges. They are professional editors that work for a big publisher so they know what they are doing! All the stories go through a checklist that we also include as part of the entries submission. Here’re story checklist items:

  • Does my story have a title?
  • Does my story have rising action, a climax, and falling action?
  • Does my story make sense when I read it out loud?
  • Are my sentences complete? Have I checked the spelling and punctuation and grammar in my story?
  • Is my story consistent? Are places, people, and things described in the same way throughout?
  • Is my story fiction or a collection of poems?

Once they have identified the top ten stories, each story is formatted in Times New Roman font, and blinded (that is, all author information removed) with only the title included, so that all the stories are presented in exactly the same format. This is to ensure there is no bias on whether this was written by a 9 year–old-boy or a 13-year-old-girl.

When all the judges finish reading the top ten stories, each judge rates the story online. The judging panel never meets to discuss the stories, so no one is influencing one another.  Each story is rated based on three criteria:

  • Creativity and originality of plot and/or themes – 40%
  • Story structure, characters, and setting – 40%
  • Style and tone; the quality of writing – 20%

All the scores are then entered into an Excel spreadsheet with a formula that allocates the percentage from each of the criteria to produces an accurate score. The story with the highest score wins and gets published. Over the past two years, we’ve published the two titles with the highest scores.

Official winner announcement is made on June 1st and it’s posted on our website. This year, the two winners are Summon The Magic written by Emily Little, a grade six student from Northport Elementary School in Port Elgin, Ontario and How to Be An Abbott, by Olivia Simms, a grade eight student from Glashan Public School, Ottawa, Ontario. We also post the list of runners up to encourage these kids to continue their writing journey.

As a not-for-profit organization, we are 100% volunteer run so all of our judges and editors give their time without any compensation. There are no words that can express our gratitude for their contribution. If you are a published author or someone that works in the educational industry and are interested in being part of our judging panel for 2017-2018 Kids Write 4 Kids Creative Challenge, you can reach out to me at ivy@ripplefoundation.ca

About Kids Write 4 Kids

Kids Write 4 Kids is an annual writing contest that celebrates the best creative stories written by grades 4 – 8. The winning stories are published both in print and digitally for the world to read. All the books are available at Amazon, Apple iBookstore, and Kobo. To support youth literacy in communities across Canada, Ripple Foundation has committed to donate the annual proceeds from book sales to that year’s winner’s schools. For more information, visit our website and sign up to be notified when the next contest start.

 

 

Why The Library is an Important Resource for the Whole Family

In today’s age of instant gratification and Internet accessibility, a valuable resource is often overlooked: the public library. While the Internet is an undeniably wonderful tool, and yes, going to the library will require leaving your house, there is a certain magic to exploring rows and rows of paper-bound information “in the flesh.” Below are some of the many reasons why libraries are so important and how you can make them a part of your family’s life.

Libraries Have Books

Quite obviously, libraries have books. While this is common knowledge, many of us have likely not taken the time to consider the significance of having such a wide range of books available for free use. Libraries contain everything from fiction to non-fiction, classics to undiscovered hidden gems. As a result, these books can provide everything from entertainment, teaching a new skill, and information on just about every topic under the sun.

Libraries Provide Opportunities for Learning

The vast range of books at the library provides near-endless opportunity for learning. Be it an informative non-fiction book, a biography of an important historical or public figure, or a fictional story with an important message, there is a wealth of knowledge available at the library. This knowledge can be helpful for kids’ schoolwork, can assist us in becoming more aware of our surrounding world, or can guide us in the learning of a new skill. Does your child have a research project to complete? Take them to the library to find some original and fascinating information that will set their assignment apart. Are you or one of your family members looking for a new hobby? Peruse the how-to section of the library for some inspiration. Further, not only does the library provide concrete information, it can also facilitate the teaching of real life lessons. Learning to take care of, keep track of, and return on time their library books will teach children responsibility, accountability, and how to share.

Libraries Offer Entertainment

Books are often seen as a purely intellectual pursuit, and while reading is undoubtedly good for the brain, books can be wildly entertaining as well. The vast range of books available at public libraries means that there will be something there to engage everyone. You could even start a family book club, which is a great way to connect and reflect on what you are reading. Additionally, many libraries also have DVDs, so you could also select a few titles to have a family movie night. When you’re tired of flipping through seemingly endless and seldom interesting television channels, head to the library for some fresh and exciting entertainment.

Libraries Provide a Quiet Space

Today’s society is a fast-paced one and it can be difficult to find space to take a moment for yourself. Libraries provide the solution to this dilemma. They are quiet, calm spaces, accessible to anyone who needs them. They can be a great place to study, read, write, or work, and the serene environment will help to improve focus and productivity. Take the whole family to the library to work on homework, quietly foster personal creativity, or simply escape from life’s stresses for a few hours.

Libraries Connect Communities

Libraries can be a central part of the community they inhabit and provide a number of opportunities to get involved. Many libraries host various workshops and events, which are often led by or feature local talent. Getting involved in these events can be a great way to both learn from and give back to your community. Libraries can also provide various ongoing work and volunteer opportunities, which is a great chance for your older children to gain real world employment experience. Supporting and getting involved with your local library will help to make you and your family an integral part of the community fabric and could open you up to great new experiences.

The aforementioned reasons are only a few of many as to why libraries are still precious in today’s societies. There are endless ways that you and your families can make use of this resource and allow libraries to enrich your lives. Feel free to share below why you think libraries are important and what they mean to you and your families!

The March Break Literacy Race

March Break–it’s a great time to relax with your family, catch up on sleep, and make room for recreation. However, amongst the fun and games during a week off, kids tend to lose their motivation to accomplish anything school-related. That’s where the March Break Literacy Race comes in! This race challenges participants to complete a new literacy-related task each day, and offers opportunities to develop both reading and writing skills. The best part? It feels like fun, not school!

This race is adaptable to nearly anyone’s March Break schedule. Kids who are relaxing at home can challenge themselves when they start to feel bored with their newfound free time and kids on exciting family vacations can busy themselves when the beach gets too hot or the lines get too long. Encourage your kids to stick with the race by getting the whole family involved, or suggest they use it to stay connected with their friends. Kids can share what they read and write with each other, allowing them not only to develop their own literacy skills, but learn from others as well. Additionally, by challenging their friends to participate, kids’ competitive natures will kick in and motivate them to see the race through to the very last day.

Day One:

March Break is just beginning and the possibilities are endless! Being as creative as possible, write a short paragraph detailing your dream vacation. There are no limits on time or money spent on this vacation and it does not have to be realistic.

Day Two:

Read something non-fiction for fifteen minutes. It can be anything from a book, a newspaper, a magazine, or even a brochure. Get comfortable, find something that interests you, and focus completely on enjoying and absorbing what you are reading.

Day Three:

Find a friend or family member who can help you out. Together, you will co-write a twenty-line story. Alternate contributing single lines and do your best to work with each others’ ideas. Try to create a clear beginning, middle, and end to your story. The catch? You cannot communicate with your co-author in any way outside of providing your lines for the story.

Day Four:

March Break can be full of new experiences, so take this opportunity to learn a new word. Have a conversation, flip through a book, and look at billboards. When you come across a word you don’t know, find out the definition, and try to use it in at least two sentences throughout the day.

Day Five:

Teach someone else a new word. Sharing is instrumental to learning, so today, you will help spread some knowledge. Think of the most interesting word that you know, and tell someone who does not know that word. Share the spelling and definition, and show them how to properly use it in a sentence.

Day Six:

Read aloud to someone else. A great way to practice both literacy and communication skills is by reading out loud. Pick something that interests both you and the person you are reading to, and have fun playing around with things such as volume, tone, expression, and character voices.

Day Seven:

The week is coming to an end, but hopefully, it has been a lot of fun! Write a poem detailing your favourite experience of this March Break.

While this race is specifically designed for March Break, it can be adapted to any time off. You can make it an annual challenge, and compare the progress made on each task year-to-year. March Break is a great time for kids to improve their reading and writing skills, but oftentimes, that can be difficult to do. This race is both manageable and engaging, so it won’t feel like another tedious school assignment. When kids are faced with the inevitable, “what did you do over March Break?” assignments upon their return to school, this literacy race will give them something interesting to write about.

Share in the comments below if your family plans on participating in the March Break Literacy Race!

Shaking the Back-to-School Slump

Our brains react to new sensory stimuli in our surroundings, forcing us to be more attentive. So, after the holidays or even after the weekend, when students are least likely to be motivated to learn, you can encourage engagement by doing some brain stimulating activities in class. Here are some ideas for the first week of school after the holidays:

Let students have their way

After a holiday, there are lots of stories students want to share. Allow them to tell their holiday stories but add an extra requirement: for every story involving a gift they received or a trip they took, have students share something meaningful they did for someone else. Or you can have them create a holiday memory book. Tell students to draw or bring in a picture of their favorite event, outfit, or gift from the holiday, then ask them to write a few words about the image.

Do a physical activity

Physical activity stimulates the brain but to really get those neurons shooting, do exercise that involves brain. A common way of doing this is to hold up cue cards with words requiring a physical activity, like “jump” or “skip” or “wiggle down,” and asking your students to do what is written on the cards while reading the words out loud.

Go outdoors

Taking your students outdoors for the beginning of class (or for the whole lesson) can create a memorable experience for students because of the change in learning environment. As a bonus, most people will agree that doing a creative activity outdoors will be an unforgettable class. A simple creative activity could be doing a quick grammar game (get some ideas for a grammar game from our previous post).

Go on a field trip

Why not start the new school term with a field trip? Okay, so budgets may be tight and that can impede the likelihood of one, but it does not have to be a costly trip. Is there a monument close to the school grounds or on the school grounds that would help the lesson? Are you discussing flowers? Why not go out to look at some? And if nothing is available close by, why not go on a visual field trip? Watch a video or go through an interactive tour of a place, allowing students to guide you while you discuss.

Be weird, be creative, have fun

As the teacher, why not get involved in the back-to-school fun by dressing in an unexpected way–maybe in a period piece or costume if you are doing a historical study—that is sure to get your students’ attention. Or, you can play games with your students to review work they were doing before the break, perhaps in a gameshow format. And don’t forget to let students be creative–can they explain the lesson in story form? Or act it out?

Don’t forget, the Kids Write 4 Kids creative challenge is still open! The deadline is closer than ever now: March 31st. Remind your students to send in their stories!

As always, we would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Which of these do you plan to try out? Do you have suggestions for some games?

Resources used to create this post that might be useful to you too:
http://www.teachhub.com/post-holiday-classroom-activities
https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/jan/03/how-engage-students-lessons-after-holidays
http://minds-in-bloom.com/10-ways-to-make-learning-fun-and-engaging
http://minds-in-bloom.com/20-three-minute-brain-breaks
http://www.stressrelief4teachers.net/getting-students-revved-back/

2017 Resolutions to Help the Whole Family Improve Their Reading and Writing

Every January is met with a variety of different resolutions, covering everything from personal health to self-improvement. Two months into the new year, are you still keeping up with yours? Take the opportunity to encourage the whole family to improve their reading and writing. As your kids hit the midway point of the school year, a New Year’s resolution could be the perfect challenge to revive their enthusiasm for academics. The follow suggestions are manageable resolutions that will help everyone–from the young to the young at heart–enhance their literacy abilities.

Take ten minutes every day to read or write

A little goes a long way! Introducing ten extra minutes of reading or writing each day is a low-commitment resolution, but sums up to approximately 56 hours over one year! This is a great resolution for kids to improve their reading and writing skills beyond the curriculum. Parents can take up this resolution alongside their kids to keep them motivated and have ten minutes of personal time each day!

Read one book each month

Reading an entire book every month may seem daunting, but it is doable! Pick books that you’re interested in, as you’ll be more likely to stick with a resolution that seems recreational. Encourage the kids to do the same! Monthly reading will be immensely beneficial to them academically and by letting them chose books that appeal to them, this resolution will also help them foster their own interests and ideas. Get the whole family involved by resolving to start a family book club. Every month, a different family member can select a book for everyone to read, or you can each read books of your own selection and share them in a monthly meeting. This will help your family motivate each other to stick with the resolution and gives you an opportunity to reconnect in a special way each month!

Write thank you notes

After the holidays, you and your kids likely have many people to thank. Writing thank you notes is a great way to get your kids to exercise their penmanship and writing abilities. Mostly importantly though, your kids will be reminded of the importance of expressing thanks and appreciation, which never goes out of style.

Write your own story over the course of a year

The thought of writing a story, even a short one, can be intimidating. However, by breaking up this task over one year, it becomes something anyone can do! Write at least one line each day, and by the end of the year, you will have a 365-line story! Challenge the whole family to take up this resolution, and look forward to reading each other’s stories at the end of the year!

Enter the Kids Write 4 Kids Annual Writing Challenge

If your kids are interested in writing, encourage them to enter the Kids Write 4 Kids Annual Writing Challenge! Kids from Grades 4 to 8 can enter their original stories and have the opportunity to get published. Entries are being accepted until March 31, 2017, and the full details of the challenge can be found here.

These are just a few suggestions as to how you can encourage the whole family to improve their reading and writing this year! The key to sticking with a resolution is to make sure it is achievable, so feel free to adapt these recommendations to fit your own lifestyle. If you decide to stick with one of these resolutions, or come up with your own literacy-related goal for the New Year, please share in the comments below!

The Twelve Days of Creative Writing Challenge

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…a festive writing challenge! The holiday season is in full swing, and while it’s a busy time, it’s also a great time to get creative. There’s something quite inspiring about the love, joy, and sparkle of this festive season. The challenge below is perfect for kids who have started to get restless with their time off from school. It’s a great way to keep them busy and stimulate their minds in an exciting way. Even better, the whole family can get involved, starting a new festive family tradition!

This challenge involves writing a short piece of writing progressively over twelve days. For each day, a festive word has been provided, which your child will have to incorporate into their writing. The piece can take on whatever form you choose: a short story, a letter, a diary entry, or even a poem–the possibilities are endless!

Words

Day 1: Celebration
The word “celebration” is a perfect fit during the holidays. What might be celebrated in your writing?

Day 2: Joy
Feelings of elation are constant throughout the holiday season. Why might your characters be joyous? Why might they not be?

Day 3: Food
It wouldn’t be the holidays without endless festive treats. What role does food play in your writing?

Day 4: Sparkle
The holidays are full of glittering imagery, from lights to tinsel. What sparkles in your piece?

Day 5: Wonder
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! What might be wondrous in your writing? Might a character be wondering something?

Day 6: Snow
Snow is one of the most iconic aspects of wintertime, and allows for endless fun. Is snow important to your characters? How might it benefit or challenge them?

Day 7: Wish
This season is certainly a hopeful one. Do your characters have something to wish for?

Day 8: Beginning
Approaching a new year means new beginnings. While it does not have to be the New Year in your story, what might be beginning in your plot?

Day 9: Sleep
During such a busy season, everyone is bound to get a little tired. How might sleep contribute to your plot? Why might a character want to or not want to, sleep?

Day 10: Giving
It’s fun to receive, but it’s rewarding to give to others. What might be given in your piece?

Day 11: Spirit
The term “holiday spirit” is often heard this time of year. What does this mean in the context of your writing? What does it mean to your characters?

Day 12: Family
At its core, the holiday season is about togetherness and family. How does the concept of family play into your writing?

Prompts

If you’re having trouble getting started, try using one of the following prompts for this writing challenge:

  • “It’s Christmas Eve, and Santa is sick! How will everyone in the North Pole come together to save Christmas?
  • Someone is trying to get home for the holidays, but they encounter an obstacle that prevents them from doing so. What is this obstacle? How might they overcome it?
  • Everyone has forgotten that it’s the holidays! Your main character, however, remembers. Can they convince everyone to celebrate with them?
  • What is life like for an elf or reindeer during the holidays?
  • The snowmen and snow angels that the children make during the holidays have come alive! What might they do?
  • Retell a favourite holiday memory in a creative format, such as a poem, song, or letter.

This challenge doesn’t have to end with the writing. Once the pieces are complete, you can have fun sharing them with family and friends. You could host a cozy literary evening, complete with hot chocolate and holiday snacks, where each family member reads their composition aloud. If your family tends to be a bit more dramatic, you could create theatrical renditions of each piece with creative costumes and props. These are great ways to spend time with your family over the holidays, beyond the typical dinner and gift exchange.

Feel free to share your experience with this writing challenge in the comments below!

Holiday Reads

Give your students the gift of reading this holiday season by suggesting a good book! Here are some filled with holiday spirit that are sure to make your students want to write stories of their own:

  1. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
    This is a Christmas classic that can be read every year as a tradition. As kids read the original tale of the the ghosts of Christmas Past, of Christmas Present and of Christmas Yet to Come, they too can create their own version of Christmas ghosts.
  2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss
    This is an all-time favourite! Most kids might have heard the story but not everyone has read the book. This book is a great reminder to be nice to people and also a good way to encourage kids to write, not as a school project, but just for themselves. For example, they can write their own continuation of the story on behalf of Grinch.
  3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe C.S. Lewis.
    The  first in The Chronicles of Narnia series, it is a tale of four siblings who discover the land of Narnia through the passageway in their uncle’s wardrobe. This is a great book to read over the winter break to immerse yourself into the icy, cold, mysterious kingdom that might leave you wanting to create your own fantastic world as well. How many possible adventures can we go on if we change the direction of the plot? Maybe your students can find out. An added bonus? There are six more books in the series for your students to discover!
  4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
    After presents, food is the next major component of the holidays. This book, full of candy adventures and the spectacularly sweet world of Willy Wonka’s factory, will set any kid’s imagination free. A big bonus is the tight-knit Bucket family portrayed in this novel, reminding students to appreciate the family time that this season brings even more.
  5. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
    This book has no words, just breathtaking illustrations. But the lack of text should not be a deterrent to suggest it to your students. It helps them to think outside the box and gives them an alternative perspective on what a story can look like. Why not encourage them to create new storytelling forms of their own?

What other books are great for this time of year? Share with us in the comments.
Remember the Kids Write 4 Kids creative challenge is still open! One or more of your students could write the next Christmas classic. Don’t forget to remind your students to send in their stories.