Stargazing with Children

by Katrina Morse
for Family Reading Partnership

What do your children see in the night sky? The moon, stars, and planets? A fish, a bear, or even a lion? The night sky has been a source of wonder and inspiration for people since we first looked up! Science researchers and explorers have provided us with facts about the vast universe of celestial bodies and phenomena, and they are still discovering more. And before we knew the science of the skies, people were seeing shapes in the stars and creating stories to explain the world they knew.

Plan a midnight star gazing with your children and they will never forget time spent looking at the sky when normally they would be asleep. Right now in the Northern Hemisphere you can see the Perseid Meteor Showers, which peak this year around August 11 and taper off 2 weeks later. The meteors are made of grains of dust and ice left behind by the Comet Swift-Tuttle. As the debris hits the Earth’s atmosphere it burns and creates shooting stars.

The shooting stars seem to originate around the area of the ancient Greek constellation of Perseus in our northeastern sky, and so are named after that mythical figure. Cultures across the Earth have seen many figures in the sky based on the animals, people, and life that they lived.

For a taste of the variety in constellation myths, the picture book “Star Stories from Around the World” by Anita Ganeri and illustrated by Andy Wilx tells twenty-three sky legends accompanied by beautiful artwork.

Weaving science and storytelling into one children’s book is “What We See in the Stars: An Illustrated Tour of the Night Sky” written and illustrated by Kelsey Oseid. Learn about the Northern Lights, planets, deep space, and constellation myths from other cultures.

“They Dance in the Sky: Native American Star Myths” by Ray A. Williamson, illustrated by Edgar Stewart tells about the night sky with stories from many of the native North American tribes.

“Follow the Drinking Gourd” by Jeanette Winter is a picture book recounting a song passed on by African-American slaves who used the Big Dipper constellation as a guide to travel north to escape slavery.

“50 Things to See in the Sky” by Sarah Barker, illustrated by Maria Nilsson is a non-fiction book that will give your family facts about more than just stars and planets.

“2020 Guide to the Night Sky: A Month-by Month Guide to Exploring the Skies Above North America,” by Storm Dunlop and Will Tirion can be read over time as you explore the sky each month.

Look, learn, and imagine the sky you see and how others saw the sky long ago. You’ll see the night sky in a new way, and maybe be inspired to create some personal family constellations and stories in the stars!

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Filed under African American culture, stargazing, summer

Teaching Young Children about Social Justice

by Katrina Morse by Family Reading Partnership

Children are constantly sorting their world into categories of “same” and “different.” This is how they learn language and how to read. They learn different shapes, colors, and numbers. Seeing what is the same and different also helps children develop their personal identity.

Young children are looking at how they are the same and different from others by observing, not judging. Children will notice the variety of skin colors and put them into categories of being the same or different compared to themselves. Where judgment comes in is by listening and watching the people they know, the media, and our society. Young children learn from others to label the differences they observe as good or bad and so begin having biases.

You can start when your child is a pre-schooler to talk about race and racism in a way that they understand. Children recognize when something is not fair. You can explain racist events in simple terms that point out the unfairness that happened. Should people be treated differently just because of their skin color? Have conversations about the differences and similarities in people, be a good listener, and encourage your child’s curiosity.

There are many good resources available for parents and educators that give ideas and booklists supporting anti-racism work with children. Here are some you may find helpful:

Booklists

About the Brown Bookshelf

Social Justice Resources

embracerace.org

Other books you may already read with your children can be effective teaching tools even if not specifically about race and discrimination. Stories that have themes of fairness and justice can be compared to similar events in your child’s own life. When you talk about the books you read together, you’ll learn more about what your child thinks and can add your own ideas.

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Filed under family reading, social justice

Explore the Natural World!

Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

Spring has sprung! Tender new leaves and a bounty of blossoms are just a few signs that we are heading into a warmer season. Birds have arrived back to the area from their winter homes, animals are out of hibernation, insects are more visible outside, and the weather patterns are changing.

It’s a great time to observe and discover the natural world with your young child! What is new outside each day where you live? Do you see new plants sprouting, leafing out, or blooming? What colors are the birds you hear singing or see building nests? How many animals did you see in one day? Do you notice insects crawling or flying? Have you seen storms blow in and then clear to be a sunny day?

All of these observations can be written down into a nature journal. This can be easily created from paper folded in half into a booklet. For each entry in the journal, show your child how to write the month, day, and year. Add the time if you’d like.

Now look around outside, be still, and notice what is around. Help your child put those observations into words and note them in the journal. Your young child can add drawings if he or she would like make a visual record of what you both saw.

By practicing observation skills and noticing details and patterns in nature, you are introducing your child to new words and helping them learn how to express their thoughts and ideas.

Once you have started observing the natural world, your child may want to know more. Find the answers to questions about nature in these children’s books.

“Trees, Leaves and Bark” by Diane Burns. A book of pictures, facts, and activities to help young children learn to identify trees by looking at details.

“About Birds: A Guide for Children” by Kathryn Sill, illustrated by John Sill. Beautiful realistic paintings illustrate common backyard birds. The text tells basic facts about how birds live, in easy-to-understand language.

“National Geographic Kids Readers: Animal Homes” by Shira Evans. Especially for pre-readers, adults can use this book to help children learn new words about animals and where they live.

“The Backyard Bug Book for Kids” by Lauren Davidson is a story with facts, photographs of insects, and activities for young children to help them learn more about insects.

“Oh Can You Say What’s the Weather Today?” by Tish Rabe, illustrated by Aristides Ruiz. Part of the Cat in the Hat Learning Library, this book gives detailed information about weather phenomena and instruments as the Cat in the Hat travels with friends in a hot air balloon. Appropriate for young elementary age children.

There are also many natural areas and nature organizations that have websites with information, online tours, and live webcams. Search online for the topics that interest your child. Add information you learn together to your nature journal!

Family Reading Partnership is a community coalition that has joined forces to promote family reading. For information visit www.familyreading.org.

 

 

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Filed under activities, family reading, nature, non-fiction, observation skills

April is National Poetry Month!

by Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

There was a young child homeschooled.
She found there were all different rules.
When she tried raising her hand
Her dog jumped up to land
Right onto homework – not cool!

Poetry can add humor and fun to your new family routines and safe ways of learning. Encouraging children to work on schoolwork when the grown-ups may be trying to work at home can be challenging. Poetry can be an enjoyable diversion and a way to stretch your kids’ imaginations.

April is National Poetry Month, so right now you can find many resources online. You’ll find books of poetry collections to buy or read online, authors reading their own poems, and ideas for writing poetry with kids.

Poems are a way to play with words. Some poems rhyme, others are verse, some have a rhythm, others are don’t at all. Poems can be funny and other poems can be serious. Try writing some poems with your children and see what you all create. Here are some standard forms, but all rules can be broken when it comes to poetry!

Limericks: Like the example above, limericks are made of 5 lines with a set rhythm scheme and are usually silly. The first, second, and fifth lines rhyme with each other and are longer. The third and fourth lines rhyme and are shorter. Limericks were made popular in the 19th century by Edward Lear. Look up some of his work online and say them out loud to catch the limerick beat, then try your own!

Haiku: This is a Japanese form of poetry that is made of just 3 lines. Typically the first and third lines have 5 syllables and the second line has 7 syllables. Haikus are often about nature or a moment in time. They don’t have to rhyme. Here is a “What am I ?” haiku from http://www.kidzone.ws: Green and speckled legs/Hop on logs and lily pads/Splash in cool water.

Acrostic: This poetry form creates a word puzzle. Take any word or phrase and write down the letters that spell it out vertically. Each letter will be the beginning of one line of the poem. Now brainstorm ideas that describe your word. An acrostic poem using the word POEM could be: Pencils are ready/ Open your mind /Everyone can do it/ Many words can work.

Free Verse: This is a great form if your child has an idea or a feeling and some words that describe it. Break up the words into groups of 2, 3, or 4 words per line and see how the emphasis of the words or meaning may change.

Find more resources for word play and poetry with children online. Family Reading Partnership is a community coalition that has joined forces to promote family reading. For examples of poems on their website visit www.familyreading.org/resources/ and look under Family Book and Reading Activities.

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Filed under family reading, family time, homeschooling, poetry, rhythm

Books for Comfort in Troubling Times

by Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

Books can be a great comfort. If your child is worried, anxious, sad, mad, or confused, there is most likely a children’s book that can help give information and reassurance. This is the world of bibliotherapy – using books to learn healthy ways of coping with difficult situations.

Sitting together and reading a book, any book you both love, is comfort in itself. Giving your child your full attention by sharing a story together shows that you care.

Your children may be worried about the current spread of Coronavirus, confused if your family is going through a divorce, or anxious if someone close to them is facing a cancer diagnosis. Reading about difficult topics will give your child the right amount of information in age-appropriate language so they can feel more in control of a situation.

Sharing a story can also give you both the opportunity to talk about your child’s feelings and find ways to feel more at ease. Learning the words needed to talk about emotions is just as important as learning facts.

Here are some picture book recommendations that cover a few topics, but look for the books that address your child’s concerns. Read the book by yourself first and see if it is a good choice for the circumstances. Reading the physical copy of a book is the coziest way to read together, but you can also find many books read aloud on YouTube, if you’d like to watch with your child, as another way to share a story.

“Cutie Sue Fights the Germs” by Kate Melton, illustrated by Ira Baykovuka. Book 2 in a series, a brave young girl fights germs with lessons she learns from her doctor about personal hygiene and staying healthy. Rhyming text tells the story of Sue and her brother recovering from tummy aches.

“Breathe Like a Bear: 30 Mindful Moments for Kids to Feel Calm and Focused Anytime, Anywhere,” by Kira Willey, illustrated by Ani Betts. Whatever your child’s worries, these strategies for calming down with simple breathing and movements will be useful. Once learned, you and your child can practice them whenever needed.

“Two Homes” by Claire Masurel, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton. When parents are divorcing, family life changes. This book doesn’t go into the adult reasons for divorce, but instead tells a child-centered story about how life is different living in two households. Life is also the same because each parent always loves their child.

“The Invisible String” by Patrice Karst, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff. Imagine there is always a connection with a loved one, even if there is a physical separation. With an invisible string, no one is ever alone. This is a reassuring story to help children overcome separation anxiety.

“Cancer Hates Kisses” by Jessica Sliwerski, illustrated by Mika Song. Written by a mom who was diagnosed with breast cancer when her daughter was a baby, this book tells about treatment and the side-effects in an upbeat way. How can children help a parent with cancer? By giving kisses and their love.

BOOKS FOR FAMILIES: The Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes supports area families when a parent or loved one is affected by cancer through their program “CRC Cares About Families.” Through this program families can receive a choice of a book for a child or teen and a resource packet. For more information visit http://www.crcfl.net.

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Filed under Bibliotherapy, family reading

Spreading the Love with Words and Books

by Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

Writing and receiving cards in the mail or hand delivering a card to someone special can be a fun family tradition. Show your child the value of the written word this Valentine’s Day by making your own cards and sharing them friends and relatives.

Get out your red and pink construction paper (or color some white paper with crayons), scraps of ribbon, buttons, or other odds and ends. Use glue sticks or white glue (for heavier items) and markers or colored pencils. Show your child how to make a heart by folding paper in half and then cutting out just one half of the heart. Open the paper to reveal a symmetrical symbol of love! Cut, arrange, glue and then when everything is ready, add the words to make a special Valentine’s Day message.

When you help your children write the things they want to say on their cards, or you write what they dictate, you are showing them that words are used to tell people our feelings (among other things!).

Read the Valentine message by pointing to letters and words and saying the message together, following along with your finger. Give each other a hug for a job well done!

Give Valentine’s Day cards in person or put in an envelope and show your child how to add an address, stamp, and put in the US mail. Grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles, and faraway friends will treasure a handmade card sent to them for Valentine’s Day.

Learn some words about love that you can use in your cards by reading some of these children’s books:

  • “How Many Do I Love You: A Valentine Counting Book,” by Cheri Love-Byrd, illustrated by Mei Stoyva, padded picture book format
  • “Counting Kisses: A Kiss & Read Book” by Karen Katz, board book format
  • “I’ll Love You Till the Cows Come Home” by Kathryn Cristaldi, illustrated by Kristyna Litten

Do you have a favorite picture book character? There is probably a Valentine’s Day book featuring that character that you can read together. You’ll find rhymes and heartfelt messages about love in these books:

  • “Llama Llama I Love You” by Anna Dewdney, board book format
  • “Love from the Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle
  • “Pete the Cat: Valentine’s Day is Cool” by James Dean
  • “Love from the Crayons” by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
  • “Happy Valentine’s Day Mouse” by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond, board book format

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Filed under love, Valentine's Day, words

Jerry Pinkney Gives Children Strong Role Models

Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

Jerry Pinkney, award-winning author and illustrator of over 100 children’s books, is going to celebrate his 81st birthday this year and has no plans of slowing down. There are so many more stories to tell!

Pinkney’s books broadly cover two of his favorite subjects: African American history and culture and folk tales. He carefully researches the time period, people, and stories he portrays in pictures. His illustrations are detailed watercolors, sometimes with added colored pencil or oil pastel. Images are both powerful and humanizing, created with the intention of giving children strong, positive role models and showing them that anything is possible.

As an African American himself, Pinkney has also sought out and found opportunities to use his illustrations to portray people of African descent and help change perceptions and stereotypes at a national level. His illustrations of African American history and culture have been used in materials for the National Guard, National Geographic, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Postal Service.

In his children’s books Jerry Pinkney expresses his humanitarian values in words and pictures, a legacy which he has passed on to his family. His wife, Gloria Jean Pinkney, his son Brian Pinkney, and his son’s wife Andrea Davis Pinkney are also prolific authors and illustrators of children’s books with themes of compassion, love of life, and exploring history.

Here are just a few children’s books illustrated by Jerry Pinkney:

  • “A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation,” by Barry Wittenstein (2019) tells the inspiration for this famous speech and how it was written.
  • “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” (2017) is a retelling of an old story about bullying.
  • “A Starlit Snowfall” by Nancy Willard (2011), a rhyming poem that embraces the gentle beauty of winter.
  • “The Lion and the Mouse” (2009), an Aesop’s fable about the importance of kindness, retold entirely in vivid illustrations set in the Serengeti plains.
  • “Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman” by Alan Schroeder (2000) introduces the injustices of slavery through the eyes of a child.
  • “The Ugly Duckling” (1999), a classic tale by Hans Christian Andersen about bravery and patience.
  • “Black Cowboys, Wild Horses: a True Story” by Julius Lester (1998) shows in pictures a different and more accurate Wild West than Hollywood has shown us in film.

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Filed under African American culture, author study, family reading, folk tales, Jerry Pinkney

How to Choose a Children’s Book as a Gift

Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

Open a picture book and inside you’ll find a world of wonder waiting to be discovered. It could be an exciting story about far-away lands or a comforting tale about everyday life. It could be a story that introduces new ideas or shows how something works. There are so many children’s books to read!

Share the magic of stories with the young children in your life and give a book as a gift for a holiday, a birthday, or your own spontaneously created special occasion. Start a tradition of making books part of family celebrations. You’ll be giving more than just a physical book. You’ll be giving the experience of sharing it together again and again, creating memories that last a lifetime.

Out of the many choices of books for young children, consider the interests and personality of the child who will be receiving your book gift.

For a wiggly child, choose books that have motions that can be acted out as you read. There is no need to sit still for these stories. Bend, stretch, and make noises. After a few readings your child will come to anticipate what action or sound is coming next.

  • “Wheels on the Bus” by Raffi, illustrated by Sylvie Wickstrom
  • “Dinosaur Dance,” by Sandra Boynton
  • “There’s a Monster in Your Book” by Tom Fletcher, illustrated by Greg Abbott

To wind down at bedtime, choose a book with a calming storyline that leaves children ready to doze off to sleep.

  • “I Love You to the Moon and Back” by Amelia Hepworth, illustrated by Tim Warnes
  • “Steam Train, Dream Train,” by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
  • “Goodnight Little Bear” by Patsy Scarry, illustrated by Richard Scarry

Around age 3 or 4 children start developing their own sense of humor. Pick a book with silly, unexpected happenings that will elicit giggles.

  • “Come Home Already!” by Jory John, illustrated by Benji Davies
  • “Silly Sally” by Audrey Wood
  • “Ball” by Mary Sullivan

For a child who loves learning about new things, there are many fact-filled picture books with engaging stories that will make them want to know more.

  • “The Story of Snow” by Jon Nelson, illustrated by Mark Cassino
  • “The Raft” by Jim LaMarche
  • “Hello Hello” by Brendan Wenzel

When you find an author or subject that your child loves, you can find similar books at your local bookseller or library. Enjoy!

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Filed under book gifts, book routines, family book traditions, family reading, traditions

Giving Thanks

A sunny day, a hot meal, your family, and a friendly face are a few of the many reasons to be thankful. Sometimes it’s the small things that we may take for granted that bring comfort and joy to life.

Identifying those things to appreciate is just the first step in experiencing gratitude in a deeper way, according to the “Raising Grateful Children” project at UNC Chapel Hill. This project promotes four steps of gratitude that children can practice with the help of an adult.

  • NOTICE what you feel grateful for in your life.
  • THINK about why those things are in your life.
  • FEEL the emotion that comes with your gratitude.
  • DO something to express your appreciation. (such as saying “thank you”)

Young children are just learning about perspectives that are different from their own and developing emotional intelligence. Reading picture books about gratitude will introduce your child to some ideas of what to be thankful for in his or her own life. From there you can think together about why they are grateful, how they feel about it, and say “thank you” with words, by drawing a picture, or doing something nice for someone else.

Here are some book suggestions:

“Thankful” by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Archie Preston. A gentle rhyming story about observing the world around us and how we can each be thankful for the simple things that make our lives more meaningful.

“The Thank You Book” by Mo Willems. Laughs abound as Piggie thanks everyone he knows and Gerald the Elephant worries the whole time that Piggie will forget to thank someone. Piggie does indeed forget some special friends, and Gerald is there to remind him who they are.

“Thanks a Million” by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera. Sixteen poems in different formats point out why we should be grateful and how easy it is to say “thank you” in return. The poems are just right for young children.

“Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt De La Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson. Set in a busy city, a young boy named CJ rides the bus with his Nana to the soup kitchen where they will get a meal. On the way, Nana points out the beauty she sees all around them from a smiling child to a rainbow over an apartment building.

“Too Much Noise,” by Ann McGovern, illustrated by Simms Taback. This retelling of a folk tale is a humorous account of seeing a different perspective. Sometimes what you have already is quite good enough! Repetition and creative problem solving make for an engaging story.

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Encourage Creativity and Wonder

Katrina Morse
For Family Reading Partnership

The next time you are at your local library or favorite bookstore, make a point to find the biographies in the non-fiction section of the children’s books. Once you know your way to those shelves, you’ll have access to the true-to-life stories that can inspire and engage your child into learning new things and dreaming big.

Stories about activists, composers, athletes, inventors, artists, engineers, and more will spark your child’s imagination. Many biographies written for children start by describing the childhood of the accomplished adult. They tell how that man or woman began with an idea as a young boy or girl and how their curiosity and wonder drove them to pursue their passion.

Who will inspire your child’s love of learning? Check out some of the following biographies of scientists and inventors. And make sure to read more biographies about other life adventurers that followed their dreams and in doing, made the world a better place.

“Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist” by Jess Keating, illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens.
This is the story of marine biologist Eugenie Clark and her daring pursuit of studying sharks at a time in history when women were discouraged from careers that were dangerous and traditionally held by men.

“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” picture book edition, by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. This modern day biography was released as a chapter book and is now a motion picture and a picture book for younger children. This is the story of a young boy and his vision to bring electricity to his village in Malawi. With a mixture of illustration and photos, the reader sees the real life account of a boy whose search for answers started at his public library and led him to invent the design for a windmill to generate electricity that changed life in his community.

“On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein” by Jennifer Berne Page, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky. We think of Einstein, the man, as a genius, but first he was a curious, imaginative child who didn’t speak much. As an adult he was funny and loved jokes and tricks, and still wasn’t comfortable in social settings. But, Einstein never stopped wondering how things worked and had the courage and motivation to explore the physical world around him and the world in his mind to come up with revolutionary theories in physics.

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Filed under children's books, creativity, family, family reading