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What does "evidence-based" really mean?

By Halifax Learning on Thu, Nov 15, 2018 @ 11:24 AM

 

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When it comes to evidence-based practices, we sometimes think about doctors - professionals who help patients based on past medical research. No two patients are exactly alike, but doctors know they can rely on the evidence that has been produced over the years to help their patients. Similarly, no two of our students are exactly alike, but we know that we have the right evidence-based program to help them build the skills that they need. That's the power of evidence.

Something is considered "evidence-based practice" if: 

  • there is robust support. 
  • group designed studies and research.
  • a large series of single-case design studies.

Having the privilege to be labeled as "evidence-based" is not a small feat and should carry a lot of weight to an individual or parent that is considering their child's learning needs or their own. Foundational literacy skills should not be left to chance regardless of a child's race, gender, socio-economic status, presence of a learning difference, diagnosis of a neurological disorder and so on.

The list is endless. Intelligent, hard working individuals with huge hearts have worked tirelessly to develop programs that work - particularly in reading. We believe parents today are more and more aware of the impacts that the "Reading Wars" of the 1980s are having on our children today.  

"Reading is the most studied aspect of human learning."
- quote for Emily Handford's documentary, Hard Words: Why aren't our kids being taught to read?

Despite the Marianas Trench of research identifying the 5 core components required for effective reading instruction, our students are still not being taught to read effectively or efficiently. 

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How did SpellRead become an evidence-based reading intervention program?

We at Halifax Learning love to celebrate the origins of the SpellRead program. SpellRead was created by a parent from Prince Edward Island desperately searching for effective reading instruction for her child. She was inspired to help her son, who is deaf, learn to read in a way that works for people of all abilities. One really important piece of her story, that we sometimes don't emphasize as much as we should, is the fact that Kay is a life-long educator and researcher. In creating SpellRead, Dr. MacPhee used research and evidence.

Once Kay had created SpellRead and had taught it successfully, the program was evaluated in various research projects, like in this study on elementary-aged students, and this larger-scale study. SpellRead continues to be evaluated, like in this recent study with students in Halifax's Youth Advocacy Program, and in a current study being done by the NeuroCognitive Imaging Lab at Dalhousie University. These studies consistently demonstrate that SpellRead offers effective, sustainable results. 

Delivering an evidence-based program is important because sometimes there are strategies that seem like they might work, but actually have no benefit or introduce bad habits and compensatory strategies. Our students tell us all the time that they've been taught to guess an unfamiliar word based on a picture, or to skip over the word and then come back to it later.

These strategies might seem sufficient, but they have not been proven and often get in the way of the actual process of learning to read. Anecdotally we find that this type of instruction becomes ineffective for a high number of students around grade 3. As students begin to progress more heavily into reading content without pictures, these compensatory strategies are no longer an option and student's comprehension, productivity and enthusiasm for reading is impacted in a very negative way. 

It's so important that we understand there is science behind reading education, and that it has actually been studied a lot over the years (which makes sense, considering how vital it is to have strong reading skills). Not all methods of reading instruction are equal. Here are 9 questions to ask when evaluating an reading program. We know what works to teach, and we know how to teach it.

How do know if your child is being taught to read the right way? Download our document, "All Children Reading Well" or Contact us today to book a free assessment. 

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What is phonics?

By Halifax Learning on Wed, May 30, 2018 @ 12:20 PM

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Although reading research has remained consistent for decades, phonics is the source of heated debate in the world of determining effective teaching methods for reading instruction. We want to change the conversation and ask, why wouldn't you teach phonics?

This blog post is the second in a series of blogs about the five core components for effective reading instruction. Revisit the blog or Download our free guide, "All Children Reading Well", to learn more.

Phonics is the second essential skill in developing effective, efficient reading skills and is an extension of solid phonological awareness. In our previous blog we discuss the two terms and how they can often be used interchangeably. Read more of that post here.

What is phonics and why is it important to be taught?

Phonics is a method of teaching developing readers the correlation between phonemes and graphemes. Developing readers learn to match a unit of sound (phoneme) to a letter or letters that make the sound (grapheme). Readers use phonics to decode unfamiliar language, thus, a solid foundation in phonics allows developing readers to acquire new vocabulary independently. Without a solid foundations in phonics, many children are left to rely on compensatory strategies such as memorization, guessing, and inference. 

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The word “cool” contains three phonemes and graphemes - /c/ /oo/ /l/.

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"Writing systems require treating spoken words as consisting of parts, which can then be represented by a limited set of graphical elements. We take it as obvious that speech consists of units such as words, syllables, and phonemes, but these units are phonological abstractions that had to be discovered. Writing and the phonological way of thinking co-evolved over a long period of time."

- From Language at the Speed of Sight by Mark Seidenberg

We recommend evaluating your child's skills at home by having them spell a list of pseudo (or nonsense) words. This strategy is effective because it eliminates the possibility of success as a result of memorization. The ability to spell pseudo words indicates that your child can recall the symbols for the sounds they hear. Below is a recommended list of pseudo words.

  1. shoom (shewm)
  2. heesh (heash, heshe)
  3. moyf (moif)
  4. skade (skaid)
  5. fash
  6. bof (bawf, bawff, bauf)
  7. tobe (toab)
  8. chub
  9. crite
  10. marth
  11. dib
  12. sep (cep)
  13. chesp
  14. thook
  15. smerd (smurd, smird)

If this is a daunting task, perhaps some intervention is required. Luckily there is a proven, gold-standard reading remediation program available! We're here to fill the instructional deficit for your family and make reading easy.

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SpellRead, the gold standard in evidence-based reading remediation programs, puts phonics instruction at the core of its outcomes.

SpellRead is divided into three Phases. In Phase A, students are introduced to the most simple phonemes and graphemes in the English language and practice those skills at the single syllable level. SpellRead assesses progress through our evidence-driven speed reading tool that ensures automaticity. In Phases B and C, the skills become more complex and expand from one syllable to multisyllabic, real-word vocabulary. The 10 core activities introduced in Phase A are consistent through the entire program, ensuring that students continue to practice their auditory, visual and practical application of these skills.    

In addition to phonics, developing readers also need effective instruction in phonological awareness, vocabulary development, reading fluency and comprehension.

Download our SpellRead Program Walkthrough to learn more about how SpellRead uses effective teaching methods to develop all 5 of the essential reading skills for new, developing and struggling readers.

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Social Skills, Can they be taught?

By Halifax Learning on Thu, May 03, 2018 @ 04:11 PM

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On Thursday, April 19th we had the privilege to sit down with Angela Rudderham, Director of Bridgeway Academy and creator of Bridgeway's Social Skills program. Using evidence-driven outcomes, Angela has been studying, developing and improving her Social Skills program for the past 12 years.

Why are social skills so important?

"Social deficits are often viewed as insensitive and willful behavior."

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So what are social skills, how do people learn them and can they be taught?

I think most people would answer yes to the final question, but Angela Rudderham has taken this question to the next level. Effective social skills are a learned behavior and predictor of future success and personal fulfillment. Can the efficacy of a social skills program be measured?

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Angela has invested in research and development of Bridgeway's Social Skills Program for 12 years. Each year she studies student progress and refuses to accept a ceiling and demands growth and development of herself, her staff and her program. She does this by being on the front lines of program delivery.

Bridgeway's Social Skills Program is divided into 8 Units:

  1. Self Awareness
  2. Awareness of Others
  3. Perspective Taking
  4. Self Regulation
  5. Problem Solving
  6. Relationships
  7. Communication
  8. Life Skills

And follows 7 Steps:

  1. Connect
  2. Investigate
  3. Identify
  4. Plan
  5. Teach
  6. Practice
  7. Transfer
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What did we learn?

When discussing highly structured, measurable programs based on evidence, there are a lot of parallel themes. Here were my top three take aways.

1. Rewards and consequences do not teach the expected behavior. It lowers motivation, creates anxiety and stress and negatively impacts relationships.

2. Mistakes are teachable moments.

3. The social behaviors of our children don't always line up with our expectations as parents, this doesn't always mean our children are lacking

Thank you Angela and Bridgeway Academy for your knowledge, inclusive, and effective education.

Visit their website for more information on Bridgeway's Course Overview. Notice SpellRead on that list? We're proud to partner with Bridgeway and provide on-going training and support to their SpellRead teachers. Halifax Learning has developed an extensive training model based on 20 years of experience, research and development, that can be replicated in a variety of delivery models. If you work with youth in need of literacy intervention, Halifax Learning can support your staff to reach an infinite number of struggling readers.

Help us, help you, help kids!

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10 Tips to Develop Reading and Writing Skills this Summer!

By Halifax Learning on Sun, Apr 29, 2018 @ 09:00 AM

 

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Many of the staff at Halifax Learning are parents too. Which is why we've written this blog.
Below are tips to help parents develop reading skills and writing skills over the summer. Better yet, register for SpellRead or Writing Connections to ensure your child has the proper foundation for academic success!

1. Start planning now!

Classic teacher. Plan, plan, plan and then plan some more. 

Most of us have already booked our camp sites, hotel rooms for wedding season and concert tickets, but how thoughtful have you been about how you'll ensure your child maintains (and hopefully improves upon) their literacy skills. This is not an easy task and without proper planning and inspiration you'll likely run into conflict, whining and ultimatums. Summer is a chance to relax, have fun and have make memories. We think that means more opportunity to incorporate reading and writing into your plans!

2. The Golden Rule - Read every day!

This is a no brainer. We probably all do a great job integrating reading into our evening bedtime routine, but is this really quality time or just us parents trying to survive the chaos in hopes of getting some much needed shut eye!? A structured reading time is best, but what does that mean, because if it means reading at the same time each day, I'm out. I had to learn very quickly the difference between structure, schedule and routine. We think that a structured reading time means selecting reading material and presenting in a thoughtful and meaningful way. Keep reading!

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3. Be Prepared!
Wherever you go, whether it’s the beach, park, or a long car-ride, pack a few books and writing resources.

Below is a list that pairs books with local excursions or at home activities. Associating books with adventure will have a profound impact on your child's approach to reading as an agent of discovery. 

  • Atlantic ABC, by Angela Doak
    • Go anywhere! We recommend taking a camera or a sketchpad and creating your own version of an Atlantic ABC book. 
  • A is for Adventure, by Jan Lapierre - Anywhere!
    • This book is an excellent resource for families looking for inspired stay-cation ideas. 
  • Ish, by Peter H. Reynolds
    • Nova Scotia Art Gallery, Clay Cafe or at Home. Ish is a great lesson in 
  • The Harbour Seal, by Dorette Groenendyk
    • Where else? The Halifax Waterfront!
  • Be Who You Are, by Todd Parr
    • Stay home, create a self-portrait.  Who are you? 
4. Read Aloud!

Parents are a child's first teacher. Your approach to reading and writing will set the tone, but that tone doesn't need to be rigid perfection to the text. Modeling good reading fluency is important, but don't be afraid to deviate from the script.

This is a key to survival in our house. Being flexible, creative and engaging during reading sessions is a valuable skill that will ensure your child associates reading with positive, happy times! When my daughter asks why a goat is wearing a monocle or what is that tall pointing building in the picture, this is a teachable moment! Engaging in your child's questions is affirming their interests and curiosity.

Find creative ways to build in shared-reading time with your child, not just independent, silent reading.  If your child acts out and becomes defiant, this is likely a sign of a struggle.  We offer a free, no-obligation literacy skills assessment that will answer all of your questions about how your child processes text. Our SpellRead students take part in share-reading every class and read aloud with our expertly trained staff. 

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"Children who struggle when reading texts aloud do not become good readers if left to read silently; their disfluency merely becomes inaudible." Language at the Speed of Sight, by Mark Seidenberg

5. Practice What You Preach

Remember what I said about being a role-model? Monkey see, monkey do. Set a good example and show your children your love of books. But, time is precious and who wants to waste it on a lousy book. Here's my list of planned summer reading.  Here are a few potential titles: 

  • The Boat People, by Sharon Bala
  • Seven Fallen Feathersby Tanya Talaga
  • The Sun and Her Flowers, by Rupi Kaur

What's on your summer reading list? Send your recommendations in the comments!

6. Choose ‘Fun’ Reading

Allow your children to choose reading material other than books. If you've been following our blogs, we talked about this in Reading Opportunities are Everywhere! Do you know Where to Find them?

Magazines, graphic novels, and reading the sports’ scores are all great opportunities for reading. We use Newsela, a free resource, for engaging content articles for all ages!

7. Let Reading Enhance Your Travels

Find a book set in the location you will be visiting. Your children can learn about the town’s history and local interest before seeing it for themselves. Going on a road trip? Make a game of reading road signs and place names on route to your destination. Teach your child to read a map; allow them to be navigator as you find your destination. There is no better teaching strategy than allowing the student to become the teacher. 

8. Read books connected to your summer activities

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There's a theme here. Make reading meaningful and thoughtful and you'll have substantially more success.

How many of you read Anne of Green Gables as a child and were then mesmerized to visit Anne's home in Prince Edward Island?! The experience of visiting that place that had previously only lived in your imagination?! What a profound experience for a developing reader. 

9. Make the most of rainy days

  • Watch a movie inspired by one of your favourite books and compare the two. The options are endless! 
  • Visit a museum on a topic of interest from a non-fiction reading selection. Bring home pamphlets and information sheets or visit the museum gift shop for their reading recommendations. 
  • Use a favorite book to inspire an afternoon of arts and crafts. 
  • Plan a trip and start researching the area, culture, accommodations and excursions you'd like to plan.   

10. Write About it!

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Inspire your child to write by letting them be in control. Or at least let them think they are! Here are some tips to guide your child toward writing that is meaningful and more importantly, inspired. Because let's be real, Mom and Dad want to enjoy their summer vacay too. #amirite

  • Let them pick a journal and customize it! Recently we went to the dollar store and purchased plain black scrapbooks with hard covers, then we went nuts in the sticker aisle and voila, custom journals that they are proud of and excited to fill with new ideas!
  • Let them set the expectations and create a tracking system that they can maintain. What is the goal? What do they want to produce by the end of the summer?
  • Let them pick the writing topics. You can do this by having your child brainstorm and dictate a list of topics. Write them on popsicle sticks or strips of paper and fill an empty box or jar for random selection. 

11. Bonus Tip Alert! Skip the summer slide with Summer Camp at Halifax Learning!

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If all of this sounds appealing to you, but you're thinking to yourself ... umm, I have a day job, multiple children and an endless to-do list. We get it. So do we, which is why we want to offer the best summer camp options for developing readers and their busy, well informed and thoughtful parents. 

Our Summer Camp is a unique experience of education and exploration. At Halifax Learning we practice what we preach and will be using all of these tips this summer to inspire our campers to read and write and have fun doing it!

Visit our Summer Camp page for our 2018 itinerary and meet our Camp Director, Emily. 

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It's World Book Day! Here are 5 Books We Love

By Halifax Learning on Mon, Apr 23, 2018 @ 04:27 PM

World Halifax Learning SpellRead Reading Program Reading Support tutor tutoring Day

April 23 is World Book Day, but every day is Book Day at Halifax Learning in our SpellRead classes.

Below are 10 books we love and a favorite quote from each. These books are fun, imaginative stories that are sure to spark up a conversation and a new sense of curiosity in a developing reader. Be sure to engage in their questions and find ways to make their imaginations come to life. Create a piece of art inspired by the story, visit a location similar to the setting  or speak to their inner YouTube star and record a reenactment. The possibilities are endless and so are the rewards!

Fostering a love of reading is the first step in developing strong, confident, readers. But, as our friend, author and reading researcher, Mark Seidenberg says, "You can read until the cows come home" and your child may still struggle with learning how to read. Explicit, systematic, evidence-based reading intervention programs are available and SpellRead tops the list! 

Enjoy!

  1. You Can ReadBy Helaine Becker & Mark Hoffman

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  2. The Word CollectorBy Peter Reynolds
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  3. Be Who You AreBy Todd Parr
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  4. Fancy Goat, Jeremy Holmes and Justin Gregg
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  5. Rosie Revere Engineerby Andrea Beaty
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To learn more about World Book Day visit https://www.worldbookday.com/.

 

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Why do you think SpellRead is effective? We asked our teachers!

By Halifax Learning on Sun, Apr 15, 2018 @ 11:00 AM

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We asked our instructors to share their experience teaching the SpellRead program. They have developed relationships with their students that have created bonds that will last a lifetime. We are proud of what we offer and even more proud of our team of passionate and dedicated teachers. Read more about Brittany's story!

 

How did you become a part of Halifax Learning?

When I was 21 years old I had previously worked for several years delivering another literacy program similar to SpellRead, and I was looking for a summer job. I emailed a few service providers and Halifax Learning got back to me with the possibility of a job.

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Describe a student that you are proud of.

Last year I worked with a student in grade 6 who I had worked with at my previous job, a similar reading program. He was a struggling reader in French Immersion and I knew that, while he had been making some progress with me in the other program, the resources I had were simply not going to be enough for someone who needed a more intensive intervention, especially in spelling and writing.

To my surprise, when I left my position to join the Halifax Learning team, this student followed me and enrolled in SpellRead. We were roughly a quarter of the way through the program and I saw him take off. He completed SpellRead, as well as Writing Connections, and within a year he had everything he needed for Junior High.

I imagine if he had stayed in the other program, he likely would have been there for years, combatting confusion and frustration. This is what I saw over my years there with other significantly struggling students. This sort of situation really proves to me that no matter how wonderful, knowledgeable, or dedicated a teacher may be, it's really the program that makes the difference.

He was the same kid, he had the same instructor, but it was the method that changed, and that's what made the difference.

How would you describe SpellRead to someone that is unfamiliar with the program?

Students are "re-taught" reading strategies, starting from the very beginning of phonological awareness to spelling and into essay writing. They are able to tackle any unknown word, because they are explicitly taught to implement the rules automatically. There is no opportunity for confusion or frustration because we "over-teach" concepts until they are firmly established to the point of independent implementation.

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Why do you think SpellRead is effective?

We aren't complacent. We don't look at our student results and say "Good enough." We are constantly doing research and finding ways to make our program even more effective for every student, no matter what age, learning difference or challenge they are facing.

Many teaching techniques are based in decades-old philosophies or methods or data, but at Halifax Learning we are able to say that not only does SpellRead work, but here is exactly why based on up to date research.

If a student struggles, our attitude is never that the student should simply "try harder", but rather we actively find ways to troubleshoot the issue and find another path to success.

Is there anything else you would like to add about your experience as a SpellRead teacher?

It's been an extremely rewarding experience. I think SpellRead should be available in all schools and offered to every struggling student.

Literacy skills are  a fundamental human right!

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The SpellRead Approach

By Halifax Learning on Mon, Mar 05, 2018 @ 11:42 AM

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SpellRead focuses on developing a student's "phonological automaticity", the ability to master sound-letter relationships and automatically process the sounds.  Activities in phonemic, phonetic, and language-based reading and writing form the foundation of SpellRead.  The SpellRead approach ensures that students' reading and writing skills become as developed and automatic as their verbal ability.

Students and educators see progress from the first lessons.  All lessons are clearly defined in the instruction manuals and taught in a carefully sequenced and explicit manner.  Each skills is thoroughly practiced in a fast-paced format so that students stay engaged in learning.

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SpellRead ensures students can automatically and efficiently decode all 44 sounds of the English language.  One way to ensure mastery of skills is through explicit, systematic, repetitive instruction that is equally effective and engaging.  SpellRead adheres to best practices in pedagogy by ensuring consistent, minimal language, positive reinforcement, fast-paced, multi-sensory program delivery.

What are the stats on SpellRead?

In one year our students:

  • learn how to effectively and efficiently decode new language using the 44 sounds of the English language.
  • are exposed to hundreds of new vocabulary terms without even touching a book.
  • take part in 25+ hours of Active Reading.
  • take part in 10+ hours of Writing Connections.
  • gain the confidence to approach new language with the tools identified by experts in reading research.
  • gain the skills to tackle school work and thrive!

 

Watch SpellRead in the classroom!

View our Student Results here.

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Reading Opportunities Are Everywhere! Do you know where to find them?

By Halifax Learning on Mon, Jan 22, 2018 @ 11:40 PM

 

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I’ve always been drawn to words.  When I was a child, I would read everything in sight.  At least, that’s how it feels when I look back.  I would read a random and eclectic assortment of objects inside and outside my home.  If it had words, I was interested.

I’ve tried to remember as many of the odd and unexpected places I used to find words to demonstrate how important reading is and how easy it is to practice almost anywhere.

Here are some classics you might remember from your childhood and a few that might surprise you. 

Cereal Boxes

It goes without saying that the companies making children’s cereal plaster the box with entertaining content.  This includes word searches, trivia, puzzles, and other activities on almost every side.

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But many cereal boxes, including the ones most kids won’t eat, also have a lot of reading material.  “Family size”, “daily value of” and “source of 7 essential nutrients” can all be found on most boxes.  The same goes for the ingredient lists and the nutritional info. 

Take the opportunity to talk to your child about the ingredients or explain why the various nutrients are important.  It will help them retain more of the new words they’re exposed to.

Recipes

Similarly, I used to read recipes a lot.  My mother had a few tried and true cookbooks and I would often invade her kitchen and begin scrolling down that night’s recipe.

As I grew I began helping her prepare meals, and she knew I’d have no problem with the steps.  Pretty clever now that I think about it…

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Recruit your child to help you prepare meals once a week.  Not only will they be exposed to a brand new vocabulary, they’ll also learn about healthy diets and meal preparation.  This will be invaluable for their health and your peace of mind as they grow.

Instructions

I’m a man and I’m not embarrassed to admit it - I read the instructions.  I have for as long as I remember*.  Often it was a board game or a puzzle.  I would read every rule and make sure they were clear before we started.  Pretty insufferable, eh? 

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But like cereal boxes, board games and puzzles are a rich source of language.  The instructions may be a little dull, but reading them rather than hearing them creates a direct connection between the written word and it’s meaning.  This improves comprehension.  The descriptions and random information on the box is also ripe to be read. 

Printed Material

I don’t mean the books that I read – I mean all of the books, magazines and newspapers my parents had in our home.  Sometimes it was actually hard to avoid printed words. 

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There’s wisdom in that.  Words were around me all the time so I began reading them.  Book spines, newspaper headlines, magazine covers.  I even read the tabloid fodder in the checkout line at the grocery store.  All that yellow lettering really grabbed my attention as a kid.

Lots of studies have shown that homes with many books produce more literate kids.  Increased access and exposure to reading material has a real and substantial impact on future reading skills.

Song Lyrics**

I expect most people can recall the lyrics to a few songs from their childhood.  I can even remember bits and pieces of the dinosaur cassette my parents played for me in the car when I was a toddler.  The words I memorized nearly 30 years ago, and the accompanying melody, are still clear in my mind.

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Adding music to words makes them stickier.  If you aren’t tired of your child’s favourite songs yet, help them learn the lyrics properly.  Maybe put on a lip sync showcase or write down the lyrics and change them to goofier ones.  Karaoke is tons of fun - you'll be reading lyrics the whole time and you’ll improve your child’s word recognition while you're at it.

The Great Outdoors

This category is an outrageous one to distill into a few short paragraphs, so here’s a list of ten things you can read outside:

Street names, billboards, movie posters, traffic signs, the posters on buses (inside and out), the names of businesses, memorial plaques in parks, writing on the sides of cars, educational info at landmarks, and the map you need to get everywhere. 

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Next time you’re out with your kids, ask them to read everything in sight.  Play I Spy but search for words.  If your kids have short names, try and find them on license plates.  There are almost infinite possibilities.

Odds ‘n’ Ends

This is literally anything else you might have lying around your home. 

Old Christmas cards stored in a drawer?  Perfect for seeing different writing and communication styles.  Going on a trip?  Passports and itineraries have lots of information.  Been to a concert?  Ticket stubs are quick and easy.  Too busy running errands to read to your kids?  Have them read aloud to you between stops.  Better yet, take a page out of my mom’s book and recruit your child to help with your to-do list.

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Reading opportunities truly are all around us. For more reading opportunities, here is a list of books that feature siblings!  We'd love to hear your thoughts or any other readable, everyday objects you can think of.  
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*I want to mention that storytelling offers a number of language skills.  The teller creates a narrative and then captivates their audience with their tone, emotion and creativity.  It may not be your cup of tea, but it’s a fun creative outlet that has no real downside. 
**It might have something to do with my deep-seated urge to understand everything around me.  I still struggle to filter the huge influx of information I’ve had access to over the last decade into consumable chunks.  There are way too many tabs open in my web browser.

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