Take the PTA’s Family Reading Challenge and Bring your Family Closer Together


This post is part of the PTA Family Reading Challenge Blog Party Challenge series. View the full post on “Bonggamom Finds”.

reading with daddy (2)

There’s a saying that goes: The family that plays together, stays together.  It may not rhyme as well, but I think it’s just as accurate to say: The family that reads together, stays together.

From the time our kids were infants, Alfie and I read to them. Even when they would rather chew on a book than read it, we patiently read to them every single night. Those bedtime stories not only helped them learn to read, it instilled in them a love of books that I’m hoping will last a lifetime!

Our bedtime story tradition continued long after they learned to read on their own.  My kids still have fond memories of giggling to Alfie’s crazy impersonations of Dora the Explorer!  The kids are in middle and high school now, but even though we no longer gather in bed to read a book, that tradition has brought us closer in unexpected ways. We now have an updated version of the tradition– every morning at 7:00AM, the kids all come into our bed and we watch 15 minutes of the morning news together. At this point, we can barely fit on our bed (the latecomer always ends up at the foot of the bed!), but we love this time together because it’s a way to say good morning to each other, to snuggle together, and to learn about what’s happening in the world. My kids are well versed on current events, and we use the news as opening for discussing topics like smoking, drugs, bullying, race relations, and other things that directly impact their lives.

Another way we continue our tradition of reading together is reading the same books, then talking about the books together. I love having discussions with the kids about young adult fiction such as Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and the Hunger Games!   Do you love to read with your family?  Keep it up — as it did with my family, reading together will pay off in unexpected ways!

To inspire and encourage families to keep learning alive by reading great books together. National PTA and Amazon Kindle are kicking off a PTA Family Reading Challenge this summer. National PTA will empower families with tips and activities that encourage ongoing reading, while challenging them to share photos, videos and memories that demonstrate how and why reading together is a fun and treasured family activity. Go to ptareadingchallenge.org for more details and to sign up!

Tips For Reading to Your Child #FamiliesRead


This post is part of the PTA Family Reading Challenge Blog Party Challenge series. View the full post on “JulieVerse”.

tips-for-reading-with-your-child-and-11-books-the-whole-family-will-loveAbout 2 years ago, the kids and I spent hours laying across my bed while I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to them. Often times I’d notice their eyes closed in a dream like stance, but the minute I’d pause to make sure they were still awake, their eyes would pop open, always wanting more.

Before long, however, my older son learned to read on his own, and read ahead of us, completing the first 3 books in the series. Now a big third grader, he loves reading books on his own. But he still makes time for read alouds, sometimes joining in the reading, but, mostly, listening to my voice take on the characters and storyline.

It’s true that children should learn to read on their own, to not just decode the words but to also comprehend what they’re reading. But just as important as developing those skills is developing listening skills and listening comprehension. A child who only reads to himself misses out on opportunities to hear a different voice or a different method of reading. He also needs to continue to develop strong listening skills to become a strong student in lecture halls, in conversation and in every day life. We all need to learn how to follow another person’s words.

While many teachers assign reading as homework each evening, there are a variety of ways a child can read. Reading aloud to himself or others, reading silently to himself, listening to a story and following along on the computer (like in software such as Rusty & Rosy) or books on CD that have follow along prompts and books attached. Listening to an adult read aloud is a skill that needs to be practiced several times a week so children learn to not just listen, but to read with rhythm and learn to discuss what they’re listening to.

While nearly every story makes a great read aloud, look for books that are written with suspense. Mysteries and adventure offer a higher interest level for children and keep them coming back for more stories. A few great stories to pick up and read with your Kindergartner through third grader are:

By continuing to read with your child you’ll not just share a story, you’ll share moments that enforce a strong bond between you and your child. Enjoy reading aloud as often as you can. It won’t be long until he rolls his eyes and walks away (though I recommend that you keep reading. He’s likely really listening outside the door, or reading it on his own because he can’t wait for you to catch up.)

Studies show that reading daily during summer break is the most important activity to prevent learning loss, especially for younger students. However, busy activity schedules can make it challenging to keep reading a priority, especially by the middle of the summer. In July, National PTA will empower families with tips and activities that encourage ongoing reading, while challenging them to share photos, videos and memories that demonstrate how and why reading together is a fun and treasured family activity. See more at the PTA Reading Challenge webpage.

Children’s Budget 2015 Brings Bad News: Fewer Investments in Kids

This blog post was shared from First Focus’s Children’s Budget Digital Toolkit.

The federal government makes more than 200 distinct investments in children. These include traditional children’s initiatives like education and child abuse and neglect prevention. They also include other investments that improve the lives of kids, like Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps).

Every year, First Focus publishes a Children’s Budget offering a detailed guide to federal spending on children and an invaluable resource for those seeking to improve the lives of America’s youth.

This year’s Children’s Budget 2015 brings more bad and unfortunate news for children. The share of federal spending dedicated to our nation’s children has now fallen to just 7.89 percent, which is down from a high of 8.50 percent in 2010. Consequently, the federal share of discretionary spending dedicated to children has dropped by 7.2 percent over the last five years.


Photo Credit: FirstFocus.org

In addition, on an inflation-adjusted basis, federal discretionary spending on children has dropped by 11.6 percent between 2010 and 2015. Discretionary funded dedicated to children’s health, education, child welfare, training, safety, and nutrition are all down even without adjusting for inflation.

In reviewing the Urban Institute’s data, Anna Bernasek of Newsweek notes that if this trend continues, “the federal government soon will be spending more on interest payments on the debt than on children.”

Photo Credit: FirstFocus.org

Photo Credit: FirstFocus.org

Few would think these facts reflect the values and priorities of the American people. That is reflected in the fact that, by a 69-25 percent margin, a Battleground Poll in May by the Tarrance Group and Lake Research finds that Americans do not believe the next generation will be better off economically than the current generation. As Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post notes, “The numbers from the Battleground Poll echo other data that has come out over the past few years that suggests a deep pessimism within the electorate about what sort of country they are leaving their children.”

We are failing to make the investments in children they need to fulfill their promise. As the Kids’ Share report concludes:

Photo Credit: FirstFocus.org

Photo Credit: FirstFocus.org

Without adequately funded education, nutrition, housing, early education and care, and other basic supports, the foundation of children’s well-being is at risk. When children grow up without adequate supports, they are less able to support themselves and to contribute to economic growth as adults. . . . A continuous decline in federal support for children over the next decade bodes poorly for their future or the future of the nation.

These assertions paint a bleak picture for our children if we as advocates don’t do something. While we saw increased spending as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the 2011 Budget Control Act introduced sequestration that involved serious cuts to important domestic programs. The fiscal year 2016 discretionary spending levels, because of a lack of relief from sequestration, are the lowest in a decade. Federal investments in our children and our future are going in the wrong direction.

Bruce Lesley is the president of First Focus.

National PTA Lauds Senate Judiciary Committee Passage of Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Nation’s Juvenile Justice System

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 2015 (JJDPA), which has protected the care and treatment of children and youth in the justice system for over 40 years.

The bill, S. 1169—which Congress last reauthorized in 2002—would close loopholes in the law to prevent youth from entering the system for minor offenses, and make provisions to ensure the continuation of children’s education while detained and a smooth transition back into the classroom.

National PTA believes that this bipartisan reauthorization is a positive step towards a safer and more supportive juvenile justice system that helps every child reach his or her potential. Earlier this month, we cosigned a letter in support of the bill with other national and state organizations.

The bill will move to the Senate floor for further consideration. In June, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced a JJDPA reauthorization bill—H.R. 2728—in the House.

According to a recent report by the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition (NJJDPC), despite key reforms to reduce youth incarceration and detention, more than 600,000 children and youth are arrested each year in the U.S. A majority of these arrests could be more effectively treated in community-based settings.

The report also found that:

  • Over 60,000 of these young people are being held in detention centers awaiting trial—thousands for minor offenses such as skipping school.
  • About 250,000 are prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system annually.
  • Of nearly 55,000 children in state prisons, most are incarcerated for non-violent crimes.
  • On any given night, more than 6,000 youth are held in adult jails and prisons.

Our organization has advocated for a fair, safe and rehabilitative juvenile justice system for over 100 years, dating back to the association’s first resolution in 1899, addressing how children are handled in the judicial system.

We continuously support the prohibition of incarcerating youth in adult facilities; addressing racial, ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities in the juvenile justice system; and finding alternatives to detaining nonviolent youth.

Other provisions in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2015 include:

  • Prohibiting children who commit status offenses—conduct that would not be a crime if committed by an adult such as breaking curfew, skipping school or running away—from being kept at a correctional facility.
  • Encouraging alternative options for status offenders.
  • Making sure detained youth are kept separate from adults.
  • Providing clear directions for states to develop plans to reduce racial and ethnic disparities among youth who come in contact with the juvenile system. States and state education agencies would also need to develop plans and collaborate with juvenile detention facilities to continue a child’s education while detained and allow for a smooth transition back to the classroom.

Keep checking our blog for updates on the JJDPA reauthorization process and other legislation to better the lives of every child in education, health and safety.

Joshua Westfall is the government affairs manager at National PTA.

#FamilesRead: How I’m Encouraging Students’ Families to Read


This post is part of the PTA Family Reading Challenge Blog Party Challenge series. View the full post on “Inside Bell’s Brain”.

blogger-image--840605367Reading is a crucial part of a child’s education. Children’s ideas about language and communication, as well as ideas about character-building and coping with life’s obstacles, are strengthened through reading. The National PTA is encouraging reading with their Family Reading Experience initiative this summer, and I wanted to link up with their site to share what I’m doing to encourage my students’ families to read.

Over my spring break, I read one of my (now) all-time favorite books, The One and Only Ivan.  Its story was captivating, and the author brought a true story to a new level of life by personifying the gorilla Ivan.  The chapters were short, but the ideas were strong.  I knew it was a book that I could incorporate into my language instruction with my English learners.
The book was such an emotional read that I’d have to read several pages…and then take a break because I’d become so overwhelmed by sadness, anger, frustration, resentment.  There were so many things that I needed to talk through with this book that I wanted everyone around me to read it too.  I kept studying about how relatively easy the language of the book was for a struggling or early reader.  (Sometimes the transition to a chapter book can be quite intimidating because the text density of chapter books is so much greater than that of picture books.)  The story was captivating, the content was perfect to spur conversation, and the text was empowering.  Then…it hit me!  And I knew it would change everything.
You see, I also teach English classes for my students’ parents.  To truly make an impact in their language acquisition, I know that it means supporting the entire family…not to make English their only language.  (I would never want to do that!  I’m a strong supporter of multilingualism and multiculturalism.)  But I know how important a deep understanding of English is to be academically successful in U.S. schools.  My students’ parents want to be involved in homework, but many times they don’t know where to begin because the vocabulary, syntax, or semantics make the language of homework very difficult.  A few weeks before spring break one of my students had asked me about maybe starting a book club with her classmates this summer, and she wanted me to do it with them.  All these ideas began to swirl around in my mind and soon they took on a life all their own!  I knew what we needed to do…I was going to teach my next series of classes as a parent-child book club, and I was certain that The One and Only Ivan would be our secret to success!
So far, we’ve completed five weeks of class.  We are taking our time moving through the book to talk about new vocabulary, clarify ambiguous structures, study new grammar constructions, and discuss the most meaningful plot and character developments.
My students are demonstrating their own language learning by helping their parents learn English too.  I’m using instructional strategies common in U.S. schools to help my students’ parents better understand approaches they may not have seen in their own education experience.  Perhaps most importantly, the families are reading the same book together and negotiating their own meanings…learning and growing together.  We are connecting with one another over this life-changing book, and we’ve only just begun to dig deep.  In fact, after the first week of class, I had so many more parents and students join that I’ve had to place two more orders of books!
Just this last week we were practicing answering yes/no questions with “because + my opinion/reason” and several of my students’ parents wrote notes to me (completely in English!).  They said that they love English class because we have so much fun and that they are learning so many new things.  I am so proud of their notes and their English, and I could tell from their messages just how much this opportunity meant to them.
Perhaps one of the most meaningful notes to me though was when I knew I had”approval” of my student who originally asked me to do a book club.  By putting our heads together to come up with this new idea, she knew it would bring her family together by reading the same book and spending time together learning English and letting the students share their expertise with the parents.
I can’t wait to spend the rest of the summer reading this book with my students and their families.  I hope that I’m changing their lives as much as they’re changing mine.  I’m so proud of all they’re accomplishing together.  I always tell my students that in my classroom, we are one big family.  That’s why I’m so proud to share with you what my “family” is accomplishing because we’re taking the time to read together!  When families read together, they can do anything together!

The Family That Reads Together


This post is part of the PTA Family Reading Challenge Blog Party Challenge series. View the full post on “Just Piddlin’”.

shutterstock_69658417As our children get older – and more literate – we generally feel like we can let go of family reading, the nightly story at bedtime thing.  But educators keep telling us that family reading, even after kids can read on their own, makes kids better readers, which of course, is a pretty important lifelong skill.

Last week, our school hosted a Family Reading Experience with the National PTA. There were reading and word games that parents could play with their kids that were easy to do and didn’t require a whole lot of prep or equipment (good things for a busy parent.)  For instance, one game focused on compound words: select a letter at random and write all the compound words you can think of in one minute. Easy. Anybody can play. No special equipment; in fact, this could be a car game where everyone calls out words while driving to [fill-in your own kid activity].

The guest author, Kwame Alexander, demonstrated reading picture books – particularly those that rhyme – with your little ones. Read the sentence and pause at the words that rhyme and let them guess.  “Would you eat them in a box, would you eat them with a ____?” You get it. Yes, this counts as helping your kid with literacy skills!

Now, the early readers, that’s easy because we know we’re supposed to help them read. But what about the older ones?  Here’s a few ideas that might help you out.

Read a book together. This could go two ways. One – sit down and read the same book at the same time.  Something like Wonderstruck with its story both in prose and beautiful pencil drawings is a great reading and conversation book.  Or two – read the same books on your own time and talk about it, like a book club. This might work better for longer books and older kids.

Have your kids read to you. Little kids get a kick out of their new reading skills and like to show them off. Let them.  This could be at home or while riding in the car.  Busy mom tip – you can enjoy listening to Because of Winn-Dixie while folding clothes or prepping dinner.   You might even consider taking turns reading to each other.

Listen to audio books together. Pick a family-friendly book (depending on the ages of your kids) and pop in the CD, download to your iPad or whatever and listen while riding around or even while hanging out at home.  Hearing a story, like reading one, requires imagination – what does the character look like, where are they, what’s going on in the story – much more than watching a movie.  Listening as a family gives you a common activity to discuss and talk about.  It might even spur your kid to read other books by the same author or in the same genre.

Let your kids see you read. In your spare time, instead of checking Facebook, let your kid witness you reading a book, magazine, the newspaper.  You could even set aside a family reading time, like they do in school, where everyone finds a quiet corner and reads. (This worked well on those stuck in the house snow days.)

Go to the library. You’ve got to have books to read them, right? Get to the library on a regular basis, or if you prefer the bookstore, bricks and mortar or online, so they can select books they want to read.

I know – getting kids to read is sometime hard, especially with all the other non-reading distractions. But hopefully these tips will help a little bit.

Take the PTA Family Reading Challenge this July!


This post is part of the PTA Family Reading Challenge Blog Party Challenge series. View the full post on “The Mixed Bag”.

1234822_10153272270660416_412819113_nWhen I think of reading and what it means to me, I start to have flashbacks of my childhood. I constantly had my nose buried in a book. My favorite place to to hang out? The library. While most kids were spending their chore money on toys, I was spending mine on books. The book store was still in existence and a great source of happiness to me as a child! I excelled in reading courses, and enjoyed reading all sorts of genres throughout my school years. Any book worm, book lover will know the joy that comes from reading a book – the opportunity to escape into a world that is unlike their own, or whatever the book reader is looking for!

As a parent, I really hope that my children enjoy reading as much I did growing up and do now, that’s why I decided to blog about the PTA Family Reading Challenge and help spread the importance of reading! What’s the PTA Family Reading Challenge?

In July, National PTA will empower families with tips and activities that encourage ongoing reading, while challenging them to share photos, videos and memories that demonstrate how and why reading together is a fun and treasured family activity. Studies show that reading daily during summer break is the most important activity to prevent learning loss, especially for younger students. However, busy activity schedules can make it challenging to keep reading a priority, especially by the middle of the summer.

  • 61% of low-income families in the U.S. have no age-appropriate books in their homes for children.
  • Good reading habits have a greater impact on a child’s reading skills than household income.
  • Nearly 40% of parents say their child does not spend enough time reading for fun.
  • 73% of children get ideas from their parents for books to read for fun.
  • Where parent engagement is high, classrooms score 28 points above the national average.

My son is 2.5 years old and just this past month he’s gotten into this (wonderful) habit of insisting on a story to be read to him before bedtime. I remember back when he was very little, he never cared about books (but what infant does?) or at least refused to sit still. Now he actually lays back and interacts with the photos and listens to what I am saying. It pretty much melts my heart. Even if I have a million of things to do – I will always take a few minutes to sit down with him to read.

Some of our favorites in the home? Dr. Seuss, Berenstein Bears, Peppa Pig books, and anything with Elmo!

Be sure to check out the PTA Family Reading Challenge and sign up so you can participate in activities and win prizes!

New Study: Schools Have the Power to Impact Kids’ Health


When our children head to school each day, we hope they are learning as much as possible. A strong and growing body of research shows that one of the best ways to improve academic outcomes – and, in fact, all life outcomes ‒ is to address health-related barriers to learning and get kids off to a healthy start.

The school environment affects child health
Through health and physical education, opportunities for physical activity, school meals and snacks, and nursing and counseling services, schools can have a profound impact on child health. The Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program was launched in 2005 to help schools nationwide implement the most effective policies and practices in these areas.

Often led by passionate PTA champions, the 29,000+ schools we work with today are making extraordinary improvements in their school health programs. And now we are beginning to see evidence documenting the impact that these improvements are having on student health. A recent peer-reviewed research study published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s journal, Preventing Chronic Disease, confirmed that schools have the power to affect child health and, specifically, that the Healthy Schools Program is “an important means of supporting schools in reducing obesity.”

The study, Effect of the Healthy Schools Program on Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity in California Schools, 2006–2012, is the first peer-reviewed journal article about the Healthy Schools Program’s impact on reducing childhood obesity. It found that the more that schools engaged with the Program, and the longer they engaged, the greater reductions they saw in student rates of obesity.

These findings prove that together, committed individuals ‒ including teachers, administrators and parents ‒ can make changes that have a positive effect on children’s health, and ultimately, their ability to learn and thrive.

Healthy students learn better: Help build healthier schools
To ensure that your children get the most out of their time at school, we encourage you to get involved in your school’s efforts to create a healthier learning environment.

It’s easy to get started: Join your school’s wellness council through our Healthy Schools Program. If your school isn’t enrolled, you can sign up for free and invite others to join your team. As a Healthy Schools Program team member, you’ll be granted access to a variety of resources that support health at school and in your home, including movement breaks, healthy fundraising ideas, and recipes for nutritious, tasty meals and snacks.

Through the efforts of parent champions, schools have the power to give our kids the healthy start that will enable them to flourish.

Howell Wechsler, EdD, MPH, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. As a proud father of five, Dr. Wechsler has been an active member of Parent Teacher Organizations at 7 different public schools in Georgia.


#FamiliesRead: Encouraging the Love of Reading


This post is part of the PTA Family Reading Challenge Blog Party Challenge series. View the full post on “Great Kid Books”.

KFRRInfographicColorParents and children know that it’s important for children to develop strong reading skills–the question I hear so many parents asking is, “How can I get my child to enjoy reading more?” They’re absolutely right. Enjoying reading is key.

We do what we enjoy doing–that’s basic human nature, isn’t it? Reading develops only with practice — the more you read, the better you get; the better you get, the more you read. So how do we help children enjoy reading and choose to read more often? I love the National PTA’s Family Reading Challenge — check out the resources & ideas at PTAreadingchallenge.org.

I love this video with Kwame Alexander and his family talking about about what they love about reading together as a family. Fills me with smiles hearing how much love and happiness reading together brings.

Watch the video here.

Across all age groups, children agree that their favorite books are the ones they pick for themselves. Not only that, they are also much more likely to finish books that they choose themselves.

Encourage a love of reading by taking your kids to the library or bookstore and telling them: “Read whatever you want to! As long as you choose it, that’s what is important to me.” Kids love being in control.
Kids want books that make them laugh when they’re choosing books–and this is the dominant factor for kids in elementary and middle school. Kids also report that they look for books that let them use their imagination, inspire them or teach them something new.

Parents sometimes wonder: should I encourage my child to read on his or her own, instead of reading aloud? Shouldn’t they practice themselves? Reading practice matters, but kids have to practice all day long in school.Reading together builds bonds and helps children remember the pleasure that books can bring.

Children enjoy listening to more complex, interesting stories than they can read independently. Typically, it isn’t until eighth grade that reading comprehension catches up to listening comprehension. Nearly half of kids said they liked listening to their parents read aloud because they could listen to books that might have been too hard to read on their own.

Reading aloud at home is like an advertisement for the pleasures of reading. Why take away these advertisements just because kids can read on their own? Shared reading time provides special time for families, especially as the chaos of life multiplies as kids juggle activities and homework. It can lead to fun family jokes that stem from funny moments in a story, and it can provide safe opportunities kids bring up difficult, confusing big issues they’re thinking about.

I hope you can carve out time to read together this summer. It will make a difference in your children’s lives.

New Parent Checklist Empowers Families

See the original post on U.S. Department of Education’s Homeroom blog.

As a parent of two children in public schools, I appreciate how often I get updates on how they’re doing in school—sometimes as often as once a week! But it often leaves me wondering how my kids are stacking up against other kids their age in the district, state and country. And even as an employee at the Department of Education, I’m not always sure what questions I should be asking.


This is why I’m excited about a new parent checklist we’re releasing today in collaboration with America Achieves, National Council of La Raza, National PTA, and the United Negro College Fund. The parent checklist includes questions and resources that parents and caregivers can use to help ensure their children are getting the education they deserve. The checklist suggests key questions, tips for educational success and resources for more information.

The checklist follows the set of rights that the Department recently released outlining what families should be able to expect for their children’s education. The rights follow the educational journey of a student—from access to quality preschool; to engagement in safe, well-resourced elementary and secondary schools that hold all students to high standards; to access to an affordable, quality college degree.

The checklist suggests these “key questions” that parents should pose to their child’s educators, including:

Quality: Is my child getting a great education?

  • How will you keep me informed about how my child is doing on a regular basis? How can we work together if my child falls behind?
  • Is my child on grade level, and on track to be ready for college and a career? How do I know?

Ready for Success: Will my child be prepared to succeed in whatever comes next?

  • How will you measure my child’s progress and ability in subjects including reading, math, science, the arts, social and emotional development, and other activities?
  • How much time will my child spend preparing for and taking state and district tests? How will my child’s teacher and I know how to use the results to help my child make progress?

Safe and Healthy: Is my child safe and cared for at school?

  • What programs are in place to ensure that the school is a safe, nurturing and positive environment? What are the discipline and bullying policies at the school?
  • Are the meals and snacks provided healthy? How much time is there for recess and/or exercise?

Great Teachers: Is my child engaged and learning every day?

  • How do I know my child’s teachers are effective?
  • How much time do teachers get to collaborate with one another?
  • What kind of professional development is available to teachers here?

Equity and Fairness: Does my child, and every child at my child’s school or program, have the opportunity to succeed and be treated fairly?

  • How does the school make sure that all students are treated fairly? (For example, are there any differences in suspension/expulsion rates by race or gender?)
  • Does the school offer all students access to the classes they need to prepare them for success, including English language learners and students with special needs (for example, Algebra I and II, gifted and talented classes, science labs, AP or IB classes, art, music)?

Check out the checklist for yourself.

Cameron Brenchley is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Communications at the U.S. Department of Education