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Posts Tagged ‘Literacy’

Last week my two younger kids were in bed, but they were having trouble getting to sleep. That was mainly because some of their classmates were still playing loudly in the street below our house. The youngest of the kids still playing out was eight. And it was 8.30pm, so I thought it probably appropriate that they go home and possibly even consider going to bed themselves.

When I proposed this to them, they were incredulous. They didn’t want to go to sleep yet. So I suggested that perhaps they could get into their pajamas and read a book before bedtime. The eight year old then emphatically told me:

Books are for BABIES!

A report from the National Literacy Trust has been in the news this week, talking about how book ownership is linked to educational attainment. We have lots of work to do here if the children of our parish are going to reach their potential. And be able to read their bibles so that they can know the living Word.

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Last week I blogged about some poetry books that I like to read with my own kids, and with the schoolchildren that I spend time reading with each week. The other resource that I use every week at school and that my gang at home have loved are a series of short stories, two in each book which come in a series as ‘A Pair of Jacks’.

There are four books in the series, written by Michael Lawrence and illustrated by Tony Ross. Each story is about 60 pages long, with large print and good pictures. What makes them great for readers all through Key Stage 2 (the Juniors to those of us who went to school before the National Curriculum) is that although there are not many words, there is much rich vocabulary and lots of fun with literary form in just a few pages.

Fiction-averse boys have enjoyed these stories as much as the girls – they are clever and humourous. They often play around with classic stories – the first one in the book shown above is called ‘Jack and the Broomstick‘ and is a parody of Jack and the Beanstalk – great for more able kids to think about how the original story has been subverted, but simple enough for the less able to enjoy aswell. This week I was reading from Jack-in-the-Box with a few of the children and we were discussing the meaning of ‘console’, ‘magnanimous’ and ‘ingrate’ as well as the frequency of orphan stories in children’s literature.

I’m planning a bit of a Jack-fest this half term with my kids – I’m going to see how receptive they are to guided reading with Mummy. Wish me luck – it’ll not be the books that are the problem if it goes wrong…

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If you follow me on Twitter, you might have picked up that I help out at our church primary school most weeks, reading with kids who need a bit of a boost with their comprehension and language.

What’s been fun for me this year has been spending time with kids with a wide range of abilities – some are on a level 2 (just about reading) and others on a level 5 (top ability at the end of school). All the kids are in year 5 or 6 and they come to me in pairs and only have about half an hour.

Since there is so little time, I’m not able to listen to them read at length or discuss a long text, especially as I like to play comprehension board games (not very cheap but lots of fun) with them too. So over the time I’ve been meeting the children, I have gradually discovered some reading materials that are enjoyable to read but also short! And these are now coming in handy at home when bedtime is getting a bit late and the kids are still pleading for a story.

The best way to have a speedy story is to read poetry. For these year 5s and 6s I’ve been using Anne Fine’s anthologies called ‘A Shame to Miss’. Parts 1 and 2 are suitable for primary aged children and contain wonderful poems and occasional notes from Anne Fine, explaining context or difficult vocabulary. I’ve found these books really helpful for improving vocabulary and helping comprehension at school, and at home the kids enjoy the rhythm and richness of the verse. There’s enough variety to suit all abilities, but these are particularly good for the higher end readers.

My kids adore poems, especially funny ones and since they’ve been young we’ve had two books of poetry which we return to again and again. The first is The Puffin Book of Fantastic First Poems, a colourfully illustrated anthology edited by June Crebin, which is now minus its front cover and torn about the edges because it’s been so well used. The second is Mustard, Custard, Grumblebelly and Gravy by Michael Rosen. This book is hilarious, full of quirky poems about everyday situations, and has caused my children to commit poetry to memory. The first year we had the book, they wanted to spend all summer repeating ‘Tiffy taffy toffee on the flee flow floor’. They learnt it by heart and we were blessed with its silly rhymes for months.

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Every year the Vicar helps out on a CPAS Pathfinder venture (known as ‘camp’ even though we don’t use tents) in Devon, and I join him there with the kids. A great time is had by all learning about Jesus and having a fabulous holiday. This year I have volunteered to help out with the bookstall. They have one every year and I noticed last year that the selection of books was tailored more to the upper age of the camp and to the more literate kids.

A diverse range of children come along to our camp, from 14 year old clergy kids from the suburban Home Counties to 11 year old barely literate unchurched youngsters from the inner city. And I think it’s a real challenge to find books that will suit them. I’m currently hunting for recommendations and have bought a small pile of books to review from our local CLC bookshop.

In my review pile are the following:

Fiction

  • Deadly Emily by Kathy Lee (the Queen gobbled this up in a couple of hours and very much enjoyed it)
  • The Shock of Your Life by Adrian Holloway (recommended by the CLC manager)
  • Afterwards I Knew by Christine Farenhorst

Apologetics/Lifestyle

  • Jesus Rose from the Dead by Catherine MacKenzie
  • Friends First by Claire Pedrick and Andy Morgan

Bible/Devotional

  • For Girls Only! Devotions by Carolyn Larsen
  • No Girls Allowed Devotions by Jayce O’Neal
  • The Manga Bible by Siku
  • Esther: God’s Invisible Hand by Helen Clark

I’ve had a couple of recommendations which I’ve not managed to pick up: Hannah MacFarlane’s books and that old classic, The Chocolate Teapot by David Lawrence.

I would love to have an appropriate book for every Pathfinder this year. So I am asking around for recommendations. Have you found any good Christian literature recently? I’m not just looking for books either – how about journals, booklets or dvds?

If you’ve done youthwork, or have kids between the ages of 11-14, give or take a couple of years, or have any ideas at all, I’d love to get your recommendations. Have you run a bookstall on a summer camp? What sells well to younger teens? I’m especially interested in books that will appeal to boys, who I know are often not keen readers. All help gratefully received!

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Reading Rules

I am currently spending two mornings a week in our church school, reading with some children who need a bit of extra help. I’m having lots of fun with youngsters who are keen to learn and love to read stories.  This Jessica Hagy card from her wonderful website sums up what I’m seeing in practice:

I wish I could spend more time reading with them

I had a chat with a dad recently who was asking about tutors for his young son, who’s in Reception with the Engineer. I was surprised that he thought he needed a tutor. But it was because dad works long hours, and mum (who also works long hours) doesn’t speak English and Granny, who does after-school care, speaks limited English and cannot read or write in any language.

I was impressed with dad’s determination, but so sad that noone who could read simple English was available to spend just ten minutes a day reading with the child. I can’t read with all the children in the parish!

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RML

As a concerned Christian parent, I am always pleased to hear when my child is being taught truth from the bible.

So I was extremely impressed when I was told by his Year 1 teacher at our church school that the Joker is studying RML. This course is well known to Anglican Evangelicals for providing excellent in-depth bible study at St Helen’s Church in the City of London.

Eventually my brain clicked, since we were talking about the Joker’s reading and writing, and I twigged that she was actually referring to his literacy programme (which is very good, by the way, synthetic phonics and all that). Hopefully once he’s completed his first RML, he’ll be ready for the other one.

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