Happy World Read Aloud Day!

Photograph: Talento Tec – Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, Mexico City (Creative Commons License)

My son and I have fought beside Peter in the Battle of Narnia. We’ve experienced the wonder of walking through the wall of Platform 9 3/4 on our way to Hogwarts. We’ve saved Prydain multiple times, and melted the Wicked Witch of the West. And we did it all from the comfort of our own couch.

My son is almost 13 years old, and every single night since he was old enough to focus his eyes, we’ve read out loud together. Every night, without fail, whether we are traveling or sick, or it’s late. It’s our time to regroup from the day, to escape for a while, to snuggle on the couch, and just share a bit of time with one another.

I have to admit, I was a little surprised to find out, when he was about 10 or so, that we were one of the only families who did this with a kid over about 7. It had never even occurred to us to stop (I think my son would cry mutiny if we did).

Today is World Read Aloud Day. If you click on the link, you’ll find a lot of information about reading to your kids and a link to a free story book.  Reading to your kids, whether young or older, is simple and doesn’t take a lot of time. Plus, according to Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading Report: 5th Edition, 8 out of every 10 kids from ages 6-17 say that they love being read aloud to and want their parents to do it more.

Most parents read aloud to their kids before the age of 6, mostly to develop literacy and a love of reading. After that though, the percentage tapers off dramatically, even though the benefits are the same. I would argue, in fact, that reading together becomes even more important as kids get older. There are so many other things competing for their attention. What better way to show them both the importance of reading and spending time together as a family than having some story time together. In fact, the top reason cited in Scholastic’s study for kids wanting to read together with their parents is because it gives them a special time together.

So, what if you stopped reading to your child, but now want to start back up? What if you want some more bonding time with your moody teen? Well, it’s not always easy to start new habits. Start off by letting your kid choose what he or she wants to read. It can be anything. A novel, a comic book, a book about science. Most of the kids surveyed said they would like to read something of their choice or something funny. Don’t get frustrated if your kid doesn’t join you right away. Read to your partner, or your pet. But encourage your child to stay in the same room. For example, after dinner, set a family time where no one is allowed to hide out in their room. Everyone can do something in the living room as long as it doesn’t disrupt the reading (like, no television). Again, this might not be easy with some kids. Teens are mysterious and complicated creatures. They want to spend time with their families but they want to do it on their terms and they can feel embarrassed about taking the first steps to getting closer to their families. The want independence, but don’t want to break too far away. Give them lots of space and choice in the matter. Let them pick the book out, and don’t make them read to you unless they want to. Just read out loud to them so they feel welcome and comfortable, and eventually they might want to read to you.

What if you feel like you aren’t good at reading out loud? Just do it. You’ll get better the more you practice, and no one is grading you on your performance. It’s a fun bonding time for everyone. You’ll make mistakes. Your kids will let you know when you missed a word. It’s OK. Just laugh at the mistakes, compliment your kid on being such a good reader that he caught a missing word, and enjoy your family time together.

Happy reading, everyone!

Project Superhero: A Book For Your Young, Comics-Loving Girl

Cover image courtesy of the author

Project Superhero‘s Jessie and her friends are the kids you want your daughter to be and be friends with in the eighth grade. She has an enviable comic book collection, and she loves journalism and science. (Things like the likelihood of Black Canary’s scream being possible bothers her.) Her friend Audrey is an electronics lover who has a room full of computer parts and builds robots.

In Project Superhero, written as Jessie’s journal, their class embarks on the Superhero Slam, a year-long 8th-grade project to explore heroes and superheroes—culturally, scientifically, and sociologically—culminating in a one-on-one debate for superhero supremacy.

Jessie’s stories will sound familiar to grown-up comic book geeks. They’re your friends talking about the characters. (“Zatanna…has cool sorcery powers, but I am kind of not so much into “magical intervention” when it comes to superheroes.”) They’re talk about women in and working on comics. (“There are lots of women on that team but they are still X-MEN—what is up with that?”) And it’s a pre-teen girl talking about her friends, parents, and figuring out who she is through the lens of her love for comics.

Author E. Paul Zehr’s previous works include Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero and Inventing Iron Man: The Possibility of a Human Machine. Project Superhero is a fiction/non-fiction hybrid extension of those themes targeted at tweens, particularly girls. Within the fictional story of the Superhero Slam, the book includes Jessie’s letters to and real replies from:

– Clara Hughes, six-time Winter and Summer Olympic medalist
– Bryan Q. Miller, writer for Batgirl and Smallville
– Jessica Watson, author of True Spirit: The True Story of a 16-Year-Old Australian Who Sailed Solo, Nonstop, and Unassisted Around the World
– Hayley Wickenheiser, Olympic gold medalist and World Champion in ice hockey
– Mike Bruen, NYPD sergeant-on-duty at Ground Zero
– Kelly Sue DeConnick, comic book writer for Captain Marvel and Avengers Assemble
– Yuriko Romer, filmmaker (Mrs. Judo: Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful)
– Nicole Stott, NASA astronaut and engineer
– Christie Nicholson, contributing editor at Scientific American and SmartPlanet

Project Superhero is all of this wrapped in a package of a lot of comic book history with a dash of science, history, and language lessons. It’s also delightfully illustrated by Kris Pearn, who co-directed Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2.

Though described as for 8- to 12-year-olds and perfectly appropriate for that audience, some of the heavier topics (9/11, friends in the hospital, dealing with medical issues like depression and insulin injections) may warrant a parental pre-read before giving it to the younger end. (You know your kids the best.) I’ll be happy to hand it over to my 9-year-old comic book fan.

GeekMom received a PDF of Project Superhero for review.

Minnie & Daisy B.F.F. Giveaway!

Minnie and Daisy © Disney
Minnie & Daisy B.F.F. © Disney

Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck are growing up this spring in a new magazine and books for the tween set. The pair have been updated with a re-designed look and modern adventures set in the mystical land of middle school. With two chapter books kicking off a book series, a Minnie & Daisy magazine, and a line of Minnie Mouse makeup all hitting store shelves this month, Minnie and Daisy are poised to reach the tween audience.

Continue reading Minnie & Daisy B.F.F. Giveaway!

Does Legislation Guarantee our Children Online Safety?

SB242 is currently making its way through the California legislature and according to SFGate.com:

“Under the proposal, social networking sites would have to allow users to establish their privacy settings–like who could view their profile and what information would be public to everyone on the Internet–when they register to join the site, instead of after they join. Sites would also have to set defaults to private so that users would choose which information is public.”

For those of us who are long-time Facebook users…that might sound vaguely like a return to the terms of use we initially agreed to when we created our accounts, before Mark Zuckerberg redefined privacy. I, for one, would prefer greater control over my personal information than I currently have using Facebook. At the moment, it feels as if I am buying my monthly social-networking access by giving away small pieces of my self in the form of soul-shaped personal anecdotes, childhood photos, and “likes.”  As time goes on, I am wondering if this degree of access into my personal landscape is equitable or advisable…

According to NBC Bay Area, there is a second component to this bill that has even further-reaching implications, in that it would essentially give parents editorial power over their children’s Facebook accounts:

The bill’s language also states that social-networking sites would have to comply with parental requests to remove information or photos from their children’s pages or accounts. The new bill “would require removal of that information regarding a user under 18 years of age upon request by the user’s parent, within 48 hours upon his or her request.”

Ironically, I had a problem with that portion of the legislation. It took me a little while to suss out exactly why I felt it was misguided, though. Sure:

  • It puts the greatest responsibility for a child’s online safety with the entity least-invested in the interests of the child: that is, the social networking site; and
  • It creates a false sense of online safety in which parents may feel that they don’t have to discuss the sometimes scary or uncomfortable pitfalls of social media (and can opt to simply protect their children) because they are “in control” of their child’s accounts; and
  • It has nothing to do with lowering gas prices, controlling health care costs, or creating jobs–which, as far as I’m concerned, are the only things elected officials should be working on right now–all of them (I don’t care WHAT committee they sit on…)

But those points weren’t my issue.

The big question I came away with after reading through this legislation is: In the world where this bill passes, what happens on the day after a child’s 18th birthday? Will he automatically emerge into adulthood hard-wired with the skills necessary to negotiate the online world safely and effectively? How?

In a possibly-related news story, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that:

“A majority of college presidents (58%) say public high school students arrive at college less well prepared than their counterparts of a decade ago; just 6% say they are better prepared.”

What (I immediately wondered) has changed in the last decade? Is it possible that in the wake of the financial crisis and the World Trade Center attacks we have responded culturally to a justifiable feeling of physical and economic vulnerability by becoming more protective of our children? If so, is the resultant protective response actually serving us or our children well?

Do not believe for a second that I am instead advocating to allow children unfettered, unguided access to social networking sites–the news is too full of tales of social media use gone awry. Children need to be taught appropriate online behavior just as they need to be taught the etiquette of “please” and “thank you.” The people best equipped to accomplish this, though, are their parents, teachers, librarians and all of the other trusted adults personally-invested in their well-being–not someone trying to sell them something.

I realized as I thought on this that I subscribe to the type of solution that Dr. John Duffy proposes in his new book The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens. Like Dr. Duffy, I believe that my primary job as parent is to provide a safe environment for my child to learn, explore and make mistakes.

In the chapter entitled “What Never Works,” Duffy had some logical suggestions regarding social networking and teen development:

[Regarding] updates on social networking sites like Facebook…there is an element of public domain here. Inappropriate or overly revealing messages can absolutely present a safety issue, especially for younger children…Trust your instincts to know when your child is ready, and keep an eye on your child’s Facebook page. For the first couple of years, you should share her password so that you have access anytime.

The challenge, of course, is to be involved in your child’s online life while simultaneously keeping the following in mind:

If we choose to rescue our teen from every potential pitfall, we unwittingly disrupt her process and take some critical opportunities away from her. First, we take away any opportunity for learning from the experience. We also take away the satisfaction and pride that come with a problem well-solved. While we’re at it, we take away her ability to prove her competence, both to herself and to you, the parent. In doing so, we give her the false impression that we will always be there to pick her up when she falls. We create a wholly unnecessary dependency. Now, this may provide us as parents with a role to play, parent-as-hero, but it robs your child of the opportunity to ever feel like a hero herself.

What Dr. Duffy seems to be saying is that the best strategies to guiding children into the online world involve “scaffolded support” where the child is only helped in the areas where he cannot flourish independently; as the child gains proficiency, adult support is “faded out.”

When I think about it, I can see the allure of SB242–it sounds so simple and definitive in comparison.


(I received a copy of The Available Parent for review purposes.)