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Posts from October 2016

#JoyOfLearning Articles from @E_Sheninger + @PernilleRipp + @MsSackstein | Cases for Rethinking #Homework

JoyOFLearningLogoToday, coincidentally, I have articles from one principal and two teachers, all three calling for changes to homework practices. I suppose, really, this isn't coincidental. As the school year is coming into full swing for the fall, homework is becoming more and more of a pain point for families. I'm encouraged to see these experienced educators calling on other educators to at least consider the impact that homework has in hindering the joy of learning for elementary school kids. 

UncommonLearningYES "If your #homework practices make kids dislike school and/or learning ... something has to change" @E_Sheninger 

Eric Sheninger: "The reasons for this post are not to debate the many issues I have with homework and the lack of reliable research to support it’s use. There will always be two sides to this debate.  It should be noted though that in my line of work I am able to make a pretty compelling case against current homework practices. However, I think we have to take a hard and objective look at the impact it is having on our kids. Current homework practices are making students dislike school and learning.  This is a fact.

"If your homework practices make kids dislike school and/or learning that alone should tell you something has to change..."

If you currently work in a school consider this. Regardless of your views on homework, please take the time to reflect on whether it is actually having a positive impact. If homework makes kids dislike school and/or learning it is obvious there is a problem. Parents also need to be proactive."

Me: This piece by a school principal who is also a parent is a nice summary of the homework issue, and includes links to various other articles. I'm encouraged to see more and more people speaking out on this, and more and more schools reducing the amount of homework. My own daughter is in first grade and the need to spend time doing homework before she is too tired has become a real scheduling issue and source of stress in our household. I shudder to think what will happen in later grades... 

PassionateLearnersAre You Doing Your Own #Homework? | @pernilleripp challenges other teachers to try it 

Pernille Ripp: "So if you are still giving homework, I ask you for this simple task; do it yourself.  Go through the motions as if you were a student and then reflect.  Was it easy?  How much time did it take?  What did you have to go through to reach completion?  In fact, if you teach in middle school or high school, do it all, truly experience what we put our students through on a day-to-day basis. I would be surprised if the process didn’t shape you in some way."

Me: Pernille Ripp stopped giving homework except for reading. She has had little pushback, and a lot of relief, from parents. She warns that certain kinds of busywork homework contribute to killing the joy of reading for kids. And yet ... most teachers still give it. Sigh... 

HackingHomeworkYES! It's Time to Lighten the Load and Stop Giving Traditional #Homework says teacher @mssackstein 

Starr Sackstein: "First, there is nothing about sending students home with worksheets or numerous math problems every night that helps to develop responsibility. What it does instead is create irrepairable damage that increases a student's likelihood to hate math or whatever content area is being forced upon them beyond the school day.

Next, consider that students have spent up to eight hours in school if they are involved in extra curriculars and then we expect them to go home and do more work that then eats up much of their personal, family and play time. Even adults get a break after a full day of work. We mustn't discount the necessity of down time."

Me: Teacher Starr Sackstein talks specifically about how making kids drag through math worksheets can make them hate math. She suggests that parents find ways to show kids how the things they do, and the things that they love to do, ARE learning.  For example, she talks about practicing math while playing Pokemon with her son. Of course, not all parents have the time or resources to consciously integrate learning into other activities, but I agree that it is the ideal way to foster a love of learning.

Today I supervised my daughter through her daily first grade homework (math worksheets, vocabulary worksheet, and guided reading). I watched her whip her way through the math sheets, her lack of interest clear in her sloppy writing and occasional errors in solving the precise problem that was asked. And she LOVES math. Thankfully, she still loves math, but I can't help feeling that it's in spite of, rather than because of, these worksheets.

Only when we were finished with the homework could we do what she wanted to do, which was for her to read bits of a Magic Tree House book (the one about the Titanic) aloud to me, pretending that I was her little sister. Do I have to tell you which part of the afternoon was more enjoyable? 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This post may contain affiliate links. 

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: October 14: Halloween Books, #Cybils Suggestions + #Reading

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this relatively light week include #STEM, audiobooks, e-books, Elephant & Piggie, Graphic Novels, kidlitosphere, learning, Picture Books, reading, and the Cybils Awards.

Book Lists

IAmWitchsCat8 Great #Halloween #PictureBooks, a @momsradius #BookList  #kidlit

Fantastic #GraphicNovels for Kids (3-5th Grade—and up!), a @momandkiddo #BookList

Latina girl power! Chapter books with Latina characters (ages 6-9), #BookList from @MaryAnnScheuer 


AgentOfGlassNominate for #Cybils! Some Speculative Fiction Suggestions from @MsYingling  #kidlit

New post on the #Cybils blog: Nominations Notes and organizer / panelist Wish Lists!  #kidlit #YA 

#Cybils 2016, Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category description + suggested titles from @semicolonblog  #kidlit

Need some #Cybils nomination ideas for the #poetry category? @JoneMac53 has a list  | Nominations close 10/15

#Cybils #YA Fiction Nominee Suggestions from @melissawiley 

TerrorAtBottleCreek#WNDB Wednesday - some suggested middle grade fiction titles for #Cybils nominations from @MsYingling 

#Cybils #Poetry Nomination Ideas from @MsYingling   | Remember, nominations close SATURDAY 

Nomination suggestions for various categories for #Cybils from @semicolonblog  #kidlit #BoardBooks #Nonfiction #YA

New #Cybils blog post: Two days! Nominations Close on Oct 15th | Nominate your fave titles in #kidlit #poetry etc 


Pondering why overweight children are not represented in children's books, @AwfullyBigBlog  #kidit

Growing Bookworms

PippiSurviving (and even looking forward to) Road Trips thanks to #Audiobooks@snelsonbooks @HornBook 

Barbershop Cuts Prices For Kids Who #ReadAloud During Appointment | books feature African-Americans  @elysewanshel


Various Kidlitosphere tidbits in Fusenews: Giant Brick Party — @fuseeight  #kidlit

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Print or Digital, It's #Reading That Matters, new surveys raise questions about book-reading  @PublishersWkly via @tashrow

Mo Willems’ best-selling book series comes to life in Elephant & Piggie’s We Are in a Play!  @insightnews @The_Pigeon

NotAPictureBookThis Is What Happens When You Read Too Many #PictureBooks@fuseeight shares some trends she's observed  #kidlit

Discussion topic introduced by @op_booklover | Do you envision the location as you read?  #reading

The Real Reason Why Kids Love #Mystery Books So Much (success from being smarter)  | @AuthorStuGibbs @ReadBrightly

Schools and Libraries

Why Isn’t Science Class More Like #Learning to Play Baseball? | @AlisonGopnik @MindShiftKQED  #STEM #Apprenticeships

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch: Diana Murray + Heather Ross

Book: Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch
Author: Diana Murray
Illustrator: Heather Ross
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

GrimeldaGrimelda: The Very Messy Witch is a humorous tale of a young witch who lives on her own, and is very, very messy. Grimelda is so messy, in fact, that sometimes she can't find things that she needs. When a craving for pickle pie sends her on a quest to find her lost "pickle root", Grimelda searches high and low, through grime and squalor. But eventually she concedes that there is no help for it: she's going to have to clean her house if she wants to find the lost pickle root. Happily, however, there is a kid-friendly twist at the end. This is no "and the moral of the story is, keep your room clean" didactic picture book. No, Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch is a celebration of dirt and clutter, and of being yourself. 

Diana Murray's rhyming text is pitch-perfect and read-aloud-friendly. I especially like how she inserts remarks by Grimelda in with the poetry. Like this:

"One night, Grimelda long to try
a recipe for pickle pie
She found the flour and egg of newt,

but where'd I put that pickle root?

Here the last line is shown in a text bubble, and in purple text, to make it extra clear that Grimelda is speaking directly. Sometimes rhyming text doesn't work in picture books, but my sense is that Murray has the poetry chops to pull it off. 

I also like Murray's incorporation of unusual witch-paraphernalia. Like this:

"This other stuff won't do!" she said.
She tossed aside the scream cheese spread,
the rot sauce,
and the dragon fruit.
She had to find that pickle root."

There are also things like "stinkweed potpourri" and "wormy apple core". Just quirky enough to be interesting, without being wholly disgusting or actually scary. 

Heather Ross's digitally created illustrations are chaotic and cheerful, capturing details of Grimelda's mess not necessarily covered in the text (like a sink so full of dirt that grass is growing in it). There are cute snails living in the house, not to mention toadstools and spiders. Grimeda is shown with two enormous pigtails of tangled red hair, and a missing shoe. She wears swim goggles to fly to Zelda's General Store (where a sign warns that "ALL baby dragon sales are FINAL"). 

Together, this combination of bouncy, rhyming text and cheerful, quirky illustrations makes for a kid-friendly read-aloud. This would be a great addition to a library storytime for Halloween - entertaining but  not at all scary. Here at home, I'm looking forward to reading this one to my six-year-old, especially as fall approaches. Recommended!

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books  (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: July 26, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Imagine a City: Elise Hurst

Book: Imagine a City
Author: Elise Hurst
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-7

ImagineACityImagine a City by Elise Hurst is a highly visual celebration of the imagination. Both text and color are minimal, and are not needed. It's best to just sit back and let Hurst's detailed pencil and ink illustrations sweep one away. We begin with a mother and two children getting onto a train, and then settling in for a journey. The text says: "Imagine a train to take you away". Closer inspection reveals whimsical details, such as a possible face on the front of the train engine, and a waiter who seems to have a teapot for a hand. A neighboring passenger sits upright behind a newspaper, with bunny ears peeking over the top of the page. 

Things get more unusual from there, as we:

"Imagine a city and drops of rain

A world without edges

Where buses are fish

and the fish fly the sky"

Each of the above lines graces a single page spread. Some have no text at all. But the reader will delight in seeing the little family riding in a basket on the back of an enormous flying fish. In Hurst's world, animals and people intermingle in unexpected ways. Most of the animals wear clothing, and there's even an inter-species couple displayed arm in arm, unremarked. My favorite scene is a bookstore with books literally flying off of the shelves, and a lion reading a book with an image of a horse and rider that literally steps out from the page. There's also a page with a flying carpet. 

The same mother and children are shown on every page, moving through the city (flying on the carpet, etc.), lending consistency for the young reader. This isn't like plot-driven nearly wordless books, in which the adult reader will use the illustrations to tell a story. Rather, Imagine a City is more like an illustrated poem, or perhaps a dream. This is a book that kids can pore over on their own, or listen to, soothingly, right before falling asleep. 

Imagine a City is gorgeous and special and a must-read for anyone who appreciates the art of picture books. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: Doubleday Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: October 11, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Literacy Milestone: Obsession with a Series: #LunchLady

LiteracyMilestoneA My daughter is planning to be a combination architect and ninja spy when she is an adult (if not sooner). We sent her to spy camp for a week last summer. We frequently find her sneaking around the house. Until she lost it, she used to leave her camera stealthily recording us while we were talking. (Once you are a parent of an elementary school kid, privacy becomes an illusion.) She is especially obsessed with spy gadgets. She makes them herself out of things like q-tips and paper towel rolls. 

LunchLadyBook1Recently I introduced my daughter to Jarrett J. Krosoczka's series of graphic novels about Lunch Lady. For those of you who are unfamiliar with her, Lunch Lady is an elementary school lunch lady who has a secret identity as a crime-fighter. She knows various ninja moves and has an assistant, Betty, who creates various food-themed gadgets for her (spork phone, fish stick nunchucks, etc.). I have reviewed various Lunch Lady titles over the years, and had kept copies of most of the books. [See Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta, Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown and Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit, Lunch Lady and the Mutant Mathletes, and Lunch Lady and the Video Game Villain.] 

I am here to report that my daughter became immediately obsessed with the Lunch Lady books. She's not quite ready to read them on her own, so she had my husband and I reading them to her. For the past week, this is pretty much ALL we've read aloud to her. At breakfast, after school, before bed. You name it. We got through the 10 books in the series in just a few days. She would use a charade-like ninja move to tell us what she wanted. I had to order the one book that I didn't have, so that we could read it as soon as possible. 

When we finished Book 10 on a Sunday afternoon my daughter groaned aloud, with the lament familiar to book lovers everywhere. "There aren't any MORE!?!" Alas, no. Monday morning she was ready to start re-reading the books. To her credit, she was aware that since my husband had read her some of the books, these were books that I hadn't read to her yet myself. So we started with those. But I'm sure we'll be re-reading all of them before we are through. She likes picking up on details that she might have missed the first time around. 

And yes, for anyone wondering, she is in first grade, and probably would be ready to read the books herself soon. But I say, why make her wait? What if her obsession with gadgets wanes in the meantime? It's simply not worth the risk. And she can read them again on her own whenever she likes. In the meantime, we've been having a fun time enjoying Lunch Lady's antics as a family. 

It's not that this is the first series she's been interested in. We've read her Elephant & Piggie, and the Magic Tree House books, and quite a number of Arthur Chapter Books. And she adores the Princess in Black books. But this is the first time she's devoured a whole series in a week, and then mourned the inevitable end. This made me feel like I'm doing my part here - I'm growing a reader. 

Do you remember the first obsession-inducing series for your kids? 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: October 7: Hamsters, Halloween + #Cybils Nominations

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. There are quite a few links, because I was traveling late last week, and this post covers ~10 days, including an active time for the Cybils Awards. Topics this week include: #BookLists, #DiverseBooks, #HispanicHeritageMonth, #ReadAloud, censorship, chapter books, class size, easy readers, Halloween, libraries, play, reviewing, schools, the Cybils Awards, and toys.


A Report on The Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards & The Scott O’Dell Award Ceremony from @FuseEight  @HornBook #kidlit

ANNOUNCED: The 2016 #NationalBookAward Finalists for Young People’s Literature @100scopenotes  #kidlit @nationalbook

Book Lists

SickDayforAmosTen Quiet #PictureBooks That Speak Volumes by Jackie Leathers @nerdybookclub  #BookList

101 Books To #ReadAloud To Kids Before Kindergarten, by age, from @growingbbb  Classic + classic-to-be #kidlit

20 Titles to Celebrate #HispanicHeritageMonth#Biographies, #Nonfiction & #Poetry | a @literacious #BookList

DollBonesScary & Non-Scary #Halloween Novels for Family #ReadAloud Time | a @momandkiddo #BookList

There seems to be some sort of mini-trend of #kidlit featuring Hamsters | @MsYingling reviews 3 

Come Out Come Out Wherever Your Are - #YA Reads to Thrill and Chill for Halloween  #BookList from @yabooksandmore


In case you missed it this weekend: #Cybils Nominations are Open | Here's the official scoop w/ links  #kidlit #YA 

#Cybils Nominations Are Open | Details + reasons why you should care from @semicolonblog  #kidlit #YA

CharmedChildren#Cybils Nominations Have Started. @brandymuses shares some eligible titles in Elem/MG Speculative Fiction  #kidlit

Big List of #Cybils 2016 Nomination Suggestions by category from Jennifer Wharton  #nonfiction #EasyReaders + more

Some additional #Cybils recommendations from @charlotteslib | books published last fall that might be overlooked 

Diversity + Gender

The Ridiculous Crusade for Gender-Neutral Toys, @JVLast @Acculturatedsays kids "gender the heck out of them" anyway

Growing Bookworms

InfamousRatsos Reviews of Books for Beginning Readers posted in Sept 2016, rounded up by @mrskatiefitz  #EasyReaders #ChapterBooks

All parents who #ReadAloud to kids must read: The #PictureBook as Family Phrase Generator — @FuseEight 

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

For bloggers, @op_booklover started a discussion on whether or not people #review everything that they #read 

LilyAndDunkin"Silent censorship is often the culprit" | Strong words on Sharing (books) Bravely by @DGephartWrites @nerdybookclub

Schools and Libraries

#Schools Learn Expensive Lesson on #ClassSize | tradeoffs in spending, flexibility, $ for arts, etc. @mcjomcg @WSJ

Why toys should be in every #library children’s department—and how to make it happen @lisagkropp @sljournal  #play

Photo essay: The Pigeon (from @The_Pigeon) is hiding in various locations in @MrBenjiMartin 's school #library

 © 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

The Infamous Ratsos: Kara LaReau + Matt Myers

Book: The Infamous Ratsos
Author: Kara LaReau
Illustrator: Matt Myers
Pages: 64
Age Range: 5-8 (illustrated early chapter book)

InfamousRatsosThe Infamous Ratsos is a very early chapter book about two motherless brothers who aspire to be tough guys. Their father, Big Lou, is "tough, tough, tough. He drives a truck and a forklift and sometimes a snowplow. He hardly ever smiles." Big Lou reminded me a lot of Big Mean Mike from the picture book by Michelle Knudsen and Scott Magoon. Every day when he leaves for work, Big Lou tells the boys to "Hang tough." Louie and Ralphie try their very best to be tough. But all of their bad guy schemes backfire, and to their chagrin they end up praised instead of feared. 

As an adult reader, I found some of the coincidences that turned things around for the Ratso brothers to be a bit implausible, like when they try to pile snow in front of a local business but have difficulty seeing what they are doing, and end up clearing the sidewalk instead. But I think that Louie and Ralphie's failed efforts will make kids giggle. 

One thing I really like about this book is that although the characters are animal instead of human, the Ratso family is clearly from the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. Big Lou struts around in his uniform shirt and hat. They live in a not at all posh apartment. They live in a city, and walk past graffiti on their way to school. Most of this is not overtly addressed in the story, but it's there for kids to absorb anyway. 

I also like that Louie and Ralphie WANT to be tough guys. Even though it doesn't work out as planned, I think that their desire will speak to young readers, especially boys. They have hot chocolate mugs that say "Hug Someone Today". They've each crossed out and replaced the first letter of "hug", so that one mug says "Slug Someone Today" and the other says "Bug Someone Today." If you ask me, this is a completely plausible rebellion by two boys with no mother and a strong but silent father. 

Kara LaReau's text is at a reasonable difficulty level for new readers, with a mix of longer and shorter sentences. Like this:

"As for the Ratso brothers' mother, she's been gone for a little while now, which is very sad. The Ratso brothers don't like to think about Mama Ratso. Big Lou doesn't like to think about Mama Ratso either." (Page 2)


"When they climb the steps of the front porch, the Ratso brothers can see that Mrs.Porcupini's sour-pickle expression is gone. In its place is an expression that looks very much like delight." (Page 42)

I love "sour-pickle expression" and the way that LaReau uses vivid description, while maintaining an accessible vocabulary. 

The font is large and wide-spaced, and there are illustrations every couple of pages, all of which also helps to keep the book accessible to younger readers. Matt Myers' illustrations add detail and humor to the story, as when Florinda Rabbitski is shown with droopy long ears and ill-fitting but glamorous glasses. Older brother Louie Ratso wears a tough-guy scowl most of the time, but the younger Ralphie is less able to pull this off. 

In short, The Infamous Ratsos is a fine addition to the ranks of early chapter books, with humor, heart, and socioeconomic diversity, all in a new-reader-friendly package. This would make a great addition to classroom libraries serving first and second graders, and is one that I think my six-year-old will be ready for fairly soon. Recommended! 

Publisher: Candlewick Press (@Candlewick)  
Publication Date: August 2, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: October 5: Literacy + Mathematical Milestones, and Reviews

JRBPlogo-smallToday, I will be sending out a new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter has refocused recently, and now contains content from my blog focused on growing joyful learners, including bookworms, mathematicians, and learners of all types. The newsletter is sent out every two to three weeks.

Newsletter Update:  In this issue I have four book reviews (picture book through middle grade), one post about my daughter's latest literacy milestone (borrowing ideas from books), and one post about my daughter's latest mathematical milestone (doing division). I also have two posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter and two more in-depth posts on recent joy of learning-related articles.

Not included in the newsletter, I shared a brief post about the upcoming Kidlitosphere Conference (#KidLitCon 2016). I also had a post about what my daughter learned about censorship and book burning from a recent picture book by Dan Yaccarino

Reading Update: In the past two weeks most of my reading time was again on audio. In addition to a number of Lunch Lady graphic novels that I read to my daughter listened to three adult titles. I read: 

I have a couple of plane trips coming up, so I'm hoping to get more reading time in soon. I'm still reading A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Digital Age by Daniel J. Levitin on my Kindle. In print I'm reading Simon Thorn and the Viper's Pit by Aimee Carter. I'm listening to Grave Surprise (Harper Connelly, Book 2) by Charlaine HarrisThe books my husband and I have been reading to our daughter in 2016 can be found here

My daughter remained on a major Lunch Lady kick last week, and we've now finished all of those titles. She is reading more and more fluently on her own (a big leap since school started, actually) and just finished the first Magic Tree House book (No. 5, Night of the Ninjas) that she read by herself. She's also reading the Princess Pink and the Land of Fake Believe graphic novels on her own. When I fell asleep reading to her the other night she just took over and read by herself, nudging me awake when she needed help with a word. The other day I found her sitting on the couch reading aloud to a slightly younger friend from a compilation of print ads from the 1940's. It is a joy to watch her reading skills growing by leaps and bounds. 

I'm continuing to share all of my longer reads, as well as highlights from my picture book reads with my daughter, via the #BookADay hashtag on Twitter. Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

#JoyOfLearning Articles from @anya1anya + @mariaonzain + @AnnieFlury

JoyOFLearningLogoI've been catching up on some links that I saved over the past week or so, and I have four that relate, at least tangentially, to nurturing the joy of learning in kids. The first is about how classrooms tend NOT to challenge the kids who are already above grade level in some area. These kids will end up bored, the opposite of joyful learners. The second is about the harmful effects of homework for elementary school kids. Regular readers already know what I feel about that, but it's a nice summary. The third is about the positive effects that a North Carolina teacher observed in her students after implementing pedal desks. Kids who are more engaged and more able to burn off excess energy can reasonably be expected to be more joyful learners than otherwise (as long as no one is forcing them to use the pedals, anyway). The final article is about programs that implement playful learning opportunities in public places, to encourage parents to interact more with their kids. Happy reading!

What Do Teachers Need to Challenge Every Kid in the Classroom? Inc. kids above grade level @anya1anya @MindShiftKQED

Anya Kamenetz: "Every classroom has a few overachievers who perform above their grade level and don’t feel challenged by the status quo. A new report suggests they are surprisingly common — in some cases, nearly half of all students in a given grade...

“I think aiming for grade-level achievement for all students is still an important goal for K-12 schools — but not to the detriment of growth and achievement for all students, including those that are achieving at the highest levels,” (Lynda) Hayes says."

Me: This article takes on an issue that I have with our educational system. Yes, it's important to work to bring the under-achieving kids up to grade level (and much more work needs to be done here). But it often feels like there is emphasis in the U.S. on closing the achievement gap at the expense of high-achieving kids. And this is a waste, both for the individual kids affected and for our ultimate productivity and success as a country. I think that there is a lot of room for improvement, in general, in challenging all kids. 

Research Finds Effects Of #Homework On Elementary School Students, no benefit @mariaonzain @lifehackorg @drdouggreen 

Maria Onzain: "While homework has a significant benefit at the high school level, the benefit drops off for middle school students and “there’s no benefit at the elementary school level,” agrees Etta Kralovec, an education professor at the University of Arizona...

According to research, there are a number of reasons why teachers shouldn’t assign homework to elementary school students:

1. Homework can generate a negative impact on children’s attitudes toward school. Children who are just beginning at school have so many years ahead of them. The last thing teachers should do is to turn them against school. Instead, young kids should have fun while learning."

Me: While the content of this article is similar to other things I've been reading lately, Onzain does provide nice, concise lists of reasons why assigning homework to elementary school kids is a problem and things that schools and parents can do instead. To me, reason #1 shown above is the most important. Homework can have a negative impact on kids' attitude towards school, and learning in general. This is the LAST thing that we should be doing to elementary school kids, taking away their joy of learning. Sigh. 

This is anecdotal but encouraging: Pedal power boosts N Carolina pupils' performance  @AnnieFlury @BBCNews via @drdouggreen

Annie Flury: "Bethany Lambeth who teaches maths at Martin Middle School, North Carolina, said the children were not able to stop moving about during lessons. So she put bike pedals under their desks as a way to divert their energy and found their grades improved too...

Within a week some students started to say they thought they were focusing more and Ms Lambeth noticed that they were more engaged in conversation in class. "They were able to recall a lot more of what I was saying and because they participated more they understood more and they did better in tests." As a result she says their test grades demonstrably improved from when the pedals were introduced in April compared to earlier in the school year."

Me: If pedal desks help kids feel more engaged AND presumably improve their health, I am all for them. Obviously they should be optional, but I think this (along with standing desks) is an idea with a lot of potential for middle school kids. For elementary school kids, I think they should be moving around and playing and having lots of recess, so the pedal desks wouldn't be as necessary. 

How To Spark (Playful) #Learning Everywhere Kids Go — Starting With The Supermarket @anya1anya @npr_ed

Anya Kamenetz: "In a small study published last year, signs (with questions for parents to ask their kids), placed in Philadelphia-area supermarkets, sparked a one-third increase in conversations between parents and children under 8...The supermarket study is one seed of a much bigger idea about creating opportunities for children to learn in the wider world; to leverage caregivers as teachers and, in the process, try to level out stubborn inequities...

(A pilot project called Urban Thinkscape) is bringing playful learning experiences to families that may not otherwise have the resources or knowledge to seek them out. Hassinger-Das and her team have future plans to bring Urban Thinkscape to other "trapped spaces" in the city, like doctors' waiting rooms and laundromats."

Me: These types of programs make a lot of sense to me, and I'm encouraged that people are working on them. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This post may contain affiliate links. 

Fuddles and Puddles: Frans Vischer

Book: Fuddles and Puddles
Author: Frans Vischer
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-7

FuddlesPuddlesI reviewed Frans Vischer's first book about spoiled cat Fuddles back in 2012. [There's also a Fuddles Christmas book.] In Fuddles' newest adventure, Fuddles and Puddles, Fuddles has to learn to share his home with a rambunctious puppy (named Puddles for obvious, but kid-friendly, reasons). Fuddles is aloof, exasperated, and eventually, well, mean to the hapless Puddles. But when Fuddles gets himself into trouble, it's Puddles who saves the day. 

This is not, of course, a unique theme (Charlie and the Christmas Kitty, Wolfie the Bunny, Glamourpuss, ... ), but Vischer brings both humor and a clear affection for the foibles of cats. For example, when the kids name the new dog Puddles, we hear: "Fuddles was so disgusted, he lost his appetite." We see Fuddles struggling to sleep, teeth gritted, the puppy keeps him awake at night "whining, crying, and howling." My favorite illustration is the one where Puddles follows Fuddles to the litter box, to Fuddles' quiet fury. 

Visher's illustrations are lively and humorous. Fuddles is a bit of a cartoon-ized representation of a cat, with exaggerated expressions and poses. When he climbs a tree in pursuit of a "yummy avocado", young readers will know right away that trouble is afoot. 

Anyone who has ever tried to introduce a dog into a household ruled by a cat will be able to relate to Fuddles and Puddles. Older siblings may also see themselves in Fuddles' prickly response to a new young family member who wants to follow an older sibling around. Fuddles and Puddles has characters with clearly delineated personalities, and a slapstick, humorous tone. This would be a fun addition to library collections, and will be especially welcomed by fans of the earlier books. 

Publisher: Aladdin Books (@SimonKids) 
Publication Date: September 27, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Mathematical Milestone: Doing Division, aka Math for Breakfast

MathMilestoneThe other morning, right after I woke my daughter for school, she announced, "Mommy, I know that six divided by three is two. AND I know that six divided by two is three. I just figured it out last night, and Daddy said it was right." I agreed that this was indeed correct. She claimed that this was the only division that she knew, and I proved her wrong there by asking her what ten divided by two would be. She counted by twos on her fingers and came up with five. We also discussed the fact that since anything divided by one is itself, she actually knows things like 1,900,017 / 1. 

Asked after this what she wanted for breakfast she said "More math!" So, I set out twelve pieces of cereal next to her plate and I shot division and multiplication problems at her while she ate her bagel. She understands intuitively that if twelve divided by four is three, then twelve divided by three must be four. She's starting to understand that in that case, four times three must equal twelve. We went a bit beyond the 12 (twenty-four divided by six, etc.), but it started to be less fun, and we eventually moved on to reading picture books. 

What I'm finding interesting, something that I hadn't expected, is seeing HOW she solves problems. She doesn't always get to the answer the way that I would, or even in a way that makes immediate sense to me. But she gets there. For example, she knew that 12 times two was 24 because she had memorized that 12 + 13 = 25, and calculated it would be one less than that. Whatever works, I say. 

With Common Core at school, there is considerable emphasis on showing how you come up with a solution, so I'm encouraging her to share her thinking with me. She's still working in school on addition, with numbers that add up to 10 or less. This is actually ok, because she's learning to memorize those sums, instead of having to calculate them each time. In the meantime, I figure it can't hurt for her to practice multiplying and dividing at home, if that's something she finds interesting. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook