Category Archives: Guest Posts

8 ways to keep your child’s reading skills sharp this summer

By:  Vale Dwight

Your child may think of summer as a time to leave the books on the shelf and take a break, especially if they are a struggling or less than enthusiastic reader.  And, after a school year full of reading drills, who can blame them? But taking a complete break from reading over the summer could cause your child to lose hard-earned ground.

Developing reading skills takes lots of repetition and “cycling back” (that is, reviewing information they’ve already been taught). Significant breaks from the learning routine erode reading skills; the long summer vacation can set kids back.

Whatever your child’s reading level, you can help combat this summer slide by engaging your child in reading activities that are both entertaining and instructive. These activities focus on language, fluency and comprehension and can be adapted for a range of ages and skill levels.

Language: word play

Building a strong vocabulary, including a wide variety of descriptive words, will help your child improve their reading skills as they encounter increasingly complex texts. You can play these simple games on your summer road trip or when you’re hanging out at home.

  • “What’s another word for….?” Your child gets points for every synonym they can come up with. Ask your child, for example, “What’s another word for couch?” They’ll likely suggest ‘sofa’ or ‘futon.’ To help them build their vocabulary, you can add ‘divan’ and ‘settee.’
  • Sentence building. Special educator Jennifer Little, PhD, recommends constructing sentences to help your child enhance and use their descriptive language. Start with a flower, for example, and ask your child the color of the flower. Then create a full sentence (“The flower is red,”) and ask them to repeat it. Ask for more information about the flower. If your child says that the flower has green leaves, help them incorporate that detail into the sentence: “The red flower has green leaves.” Keep building until your child has created a long sentence, for example, “The red flower with green leaves grows under the trees in my backyard.”
  • Board games. Boggle, Scrabble, Bananagrams, and other word games provide hours of entertaining word play. You can create a system of bonus points for longer words, or words your child has recently learned. Have a tournament and get the entire family involved! Fluency is the ability to read a text accurately and smoothly. The absolute best way to improve fluency is to read aloud with your child, says Landmark School’s Robert Kahn. “That one to one time is the key.” When your child reads aloud to you, they get reading practice, and when you read aloud to them, you’re modeling fluency. That’s not all: the shared experience helps your child create positive associations with reading.
  • Fluency: read me a story

    Fluency is the ability to read a text accurately and smoothly. The absolute best way to improve fluency is to read aloud with your child, says Landmark School’s Robert Kahn. “That one to one time is the key.” When your child reads aloud to you, they get reading practice, and when you read aloud to them, you’re modeling fluency. That’s not all: the shared experience helps your child create positive associations with reading.

  • Ham it up. Take turns reading with your child. You can alternate page by page or character by character. When it’s your turn, read with expression, and encourage your child to do the same. Let your inner ham shine!
  • Make your own audiobook. Practice reading a favorite story with your child until they feel comfortable and familiar with it. Then, fire up the audio recorder on your cell phone or computer and record the results. Play the recording back so your child can hear how they sound, and then do it again until they’re happy with the result. When you have a polished version, present it as a gift to a friend or grandparent – and be sure to save a copy for yourself! Some children have little trouble with the mechanics of reading but struggle to identify key points in a story and understand its themes. Posing questions and helping your child engage more deeply with what they’re reading will help sharpen their comprehension skills.
  • Comprehension: build a better reader

    Some children have little trouble with the mechanics of reading but struggle to identify key points in a story and understand its themes. Posing questions and helping your child engage more deeply with what they’re reading will help sharpen their comprehension skills.

  • Mental movies. Ask your child to visualize the scene in the story you’re reading to help them link words with imagery, suggests educational psychologist Melanie West. Read a few paragraphs to your child, then ask how they picture the scene. If they have trouble visualizing it, look back at the text and help them find descriptive words and phrases. Ask them to imagine and describe how the scene might appear in a movie. Have paper and markers on hand in case they want to sketch her mental image.
  • What happens next? After reading a few paragraphs of a story, ask your child if they can predict what is going to happen next. What will happen if the rabbit steals the carrots? Will the farmer catch the rabbit? How will the story end? If the book has pictures, encourage your child to look at them carefully for clues.
  • Reading with purpose. Help your child practice reading with a particular goal in mind. For example, before your child begins reading a chapter of a book, pose a question or two, so they can look for answers as they read. For example, “When you’re finished with this chapter, tell me two things the main character says to his dog.” Or ask what time of year a particular story takes place. Does your child think it’s summer or winter? How can they tell?

Nurturing Success

Hilary WallerAs a mom of two little girls, Molly (5) and Emily (8 weeks), I dream constantly about the adults they will become. What will they look like? What will they do professionally? Will they be happy? Self confident? Motivated? Brave? And then the scary question… HOW DO I HELP THEM? How can I make sure they become self assured and outspoken adults who care and contribute? As a psychotherapist, who works with parents of young children, I speak daily with eager moms and dads who ask these same questions. When my own parents asked these questions themselves, they found the answer at Meadowbrook. We recognize the gift and impact of Meadowbrook’s small size, which uniquely allows each teacher to nurture each student according to his or her individual learning style and character. But successful education and child development lies not in the mission statement itself, but in how the mission is brought to life by the teacher.

In the Fall of 1988 I was new to Meadowbrook, a student in Mrs. Leiby and Mrs. Prego’s K-5 class. One day in the beginning of the school year, my best friend Vicki Freedman and I decided that the school needed a fashion show. We shared our idea with our teachers, who not only encouraged us to move forward with it, but who helped us schedule a meeting with Mr. Sarkisian, the headmaster, to discuss an all-school event. “Spring Fashions” would be a year long project for the kindergarten, culminating in a fashion show before the entire school with parents invited. Almost 30 (WOW 30?) years later I still remember “pitching” our idea to Mr. S. I remember making posters with my classmates and directing the creation of a flyer/ invitation. I remember meeting with Madame, Sandi Packel, so that Vicki and I could describe each other’s fashions in French. To my parents, the show was adorable and the process hilarious. What struck them then and me now, however, is the brilliance of the Meadowbrook culture. Two five-year-olds were encouraged to be leaders not just of their class, but in their community, and the school absolutely embraced us. Empowering children to set big goals and assume great responsibility, gently guiding them along the journey- this is how we raise our kids to become competent, caring, motivated, industrial adults. Meadowbrook’s culture is second to none in this effort.

Hilary Yolin Waller ’94

Do You Want Children Who Are Smarter and Have Superior Social Skills? Science Says Do This

Encouraging your children to do this will give them a major advantage, according to research.

BY JUSTIN BARISO

Founder, Insight

If you’re a parent, you instinctively want what’s best for your children.

So, what’s one way to give your children a leg up–a single skill that single-handedly increases their chances at success?

Science says: Encourage them to learn another language.

Increased Intelligence

In recent years, scientists and researchers have made breakthroughs in their understanding of bilingualism. In the past, experts thought that learning a second language was an “interference” that hindered children’s academic and intellectual development. But in a New York Times article entitled “Why Bilinguals Are Smarter,” Yudhijit Bhattacharjee explains why this interference is actually a good thing:

They were not wrong about the interference: there is ample evidence that in a bilingual’s brain both language systems are active even when he is using only one language, thus creating situations in which one system obstructs the other. But this interference, researchers are finding out, isn’t so much a handicap as a blessing in disguise. It forces the brain to resolve internal conflict, giving the mind a workout that strengthens its cognitive muscles.

Bhattacharjee cites research that indicates that “the bilingual experience” improves children’s abilities to perform other mentally demanding tasks, such as plan, solve problems, and stay focused.

But as a parent, you’re probably looking for more than just “smart” for your kids. How many of us want genius children who simply can’t relate to others? Can learning another language help children develop better social skills, too?

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Good for Social Skills, Too

Katherine Kinzler, an associate professor of psychology and human development at Cornell University, published a new piece for the New York Times this weekend entitled, “The Superior Social Skills of Bilinguals.” Recent research from Kinzler’s developmental psychology lab indicates that “multilingual exposure improves not only children’s cognitive skills but also their social abilities.”

For example, one study illustrates how multilingual children demonstrate better general communication skills than monolingual children:

We took a group of children in the United States, ages 4 to 6, from different linguistic backgrounds, and presented them with a situation in which they had to consider someone else’s perspective to understand her meaning. For example, an adult said to the child: “Ooh, a small car! Can you move the small car for me?” Children could see three cars–small, medium and large–but were in position to observe that the adult could not see the smallest car. Since the adult could see only the medium and large cars, when she said “small” car, she must be referring to the child’s “medium.”

We found that bilingual children were better than monolingual children at this task. If you think about it, this makes intuitive sense. Interpreting someone’s utterance often requires attending not just to its content, but also to the surrounding context. What does a speaker know or not know? What did she intend to convey? Children in multilingual environments have social experiences that provide routine practice in considering the perspectives of others: They have to think about who speaks which language to whom, who understands which content, and the times and places in which different languages are spoken.

In essence, children who speak other languages are more in tune with others.

What about children who speak only one language, but are regularly exposed to another?

Kinzler’s lab found that “children who were effectively monolingual yet regularly exposed to another language–for example, those who had grandparents who spoke another language–were just as talented as the bilingual children at this task.” (Italics mine.) However, Kinsey reports that the “exposure” children didn’t perform better than other monolinguals on cognitive tasks.

In other words, simply putting your children in touch with another language (even if they don’t learn to speak it fluently) may not necessarily increase their IQ, but it can give them superior communication skills and contribute to a broader perspective.

My Experience

As a child who was raised around multiple languages and cultures, I can vouch for the pivotal role these play in development. Although was surrounded by people of varying ethnicities, many of whom spoke more than one language (including some in my own family), I didn’t become fluent in another language until I reached my mid-20s. But my parents always encouraged familiarity with those other languages and cultures.

Because of this, I learned to see the world through different sets of eyes from a very early age. It was fascinating to me how a simple news report would elicit completely different responses from my mother (with a Portuguese background), my father (who is Filipino), and my (pretty diverse) American friends. These types of experiences helped me to realize that everyone’s perspective is different, and these perspectives are shaped by a myriad of factors.

To this day, I relate well to people from just about any background. When meeting people who come from an unfamiliar place, I naturally focus on what we share in common–but I’m always fascinated by the differences.

Putting It Into Practice

Of course, my research is far more anecdotal than that of Ms. Kinzler and her associates. And although I’ve never taken an IQ test, I’m sure it’s nothing to brag about.

But if you want to inspire natural curiosity and a love of learning in your children, remember this: You don’t need to be bilingual.

Just encourage them to be.