As some of you may know, prior to having my human child, I was the proud mom to a pack of fur babies... including two dogs. Our dogs are our children, too. They are a huge part of our family, and that didn't change when our human child arrived. Our love for them has only grown as we've seen them bond with our sweet baby.
Needless to say, we are dog people.
I am also a cognitive scientist. So it stands to reason that my reading preferences would include some intersection between the my professional and personal interests!
Below is a list of some of my favorite nonfiction books that I know dog parents will absolutely love.
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Gregory Berns' How Dogs Love Us perfectly fuses memoir and science text into a compelling look at just how incredible the mind of a dog is. You will never look at your fur baby the same way after reading this book. As a neuroscientist, I was amazed at just how similar the dog and the human minds are, in ways I never would have expected. I know you will love this book as much as I do! It is also available on Kindle.
Alexandra Horowitz is a cognitive scientist specializing in canine cognition at Barnard College (which just happens to be located at Columbia University, where I study and work!). Her book Inside of a Dog is a New York Times Bestseller. I thoroughly enjoyed this scientific review of canine perception and cognition, as well as Horowitz's anecdotes about her own dogs. It is a bit more dense than Berns' book, but still an excellent read.
Anyone who has spent time with a dog likely already knows that a canine's dominant sense is smell. In Being a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz dives deep into the dog's olfactory sense. I've just begun reading this text, but thus far, it is just as good as Inside of a Dog.
Okay, so this title can't be a surprise. John Grogan's memoir has been on dog lovers' must read lists for years. It too has been on the New York Times Bestseller list. But it is worth mentioning all the same, because what list of great nonfiction for puppy parents would be complete without it? If you saw the movie, I'm sorry. Okay, it was a great film (in my opinion), but as is often the case, the book was so, so much better. Marley and Me is heartwarming, tear jerking, and will remind you of how precious the bond is between humans and their fur babies. If you haven't read it yet, you really should. Even if you saw the movie first (there are lots of little details the movie missed).
Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence-and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process
Okay, so this one isn't about dogs. But if you love reading about canine cognition, you will likely find this memoir/science read just as interesting. Alex the African Grey Parrot may be one of the most famous birds in history; upon his untimely passing, Alex received obituaries in such publications as The New York Times and The Economist. Alex helped us cognitive scientist learn that the phrase "bird brain" should actually be a complement. No, really! Alex may have been one of the smartest birds on record, but his intelligence isn't unique. Pepperberg's discussion of her deep relationship with this loveable soul will pull at your heart strings, and absolutely merits its status as a New York Times best seller.
The following are books that I am adding to my reading list, and look like promising candidates to add to this list once I've completed each. Have you read one of these titles? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments!
Love pups as much as we do?
Be sure to comment below with stories about your own dog, or book recommendations. Know someone who loves dogs? Be sure to share! And be sure to follow our pups on their Instagram account @shepherd.sister.squad!
Disclaimer: This post has been sponsored by Rhyme to Read. All opinions are my own.
As a former educator with extensive training in the science of learning to read, I always have my eye out for products that are aligned with best practices. It seems as though children’s products touting their educational value are a dime a dozen. With homeschooling becoming an increasing choice due to the ongoing pandemic hitting the US, I predict this trend will only accelerate. But as a former teacher, I am frequently disappointed by many resources labeled “educational” that are on the market. Often, these products have no basis in the science of learning, and some even utilize strategies that are counterproductive.
When it comes to learning to read, literacy science suggests there are five core areas of instruction critical to promote (National Reading Panel, 2000). These are: phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency. An important note to make here, before I continue, is that phonics and phonemic awareness fall under a larger umbrella known as phonological awareness. This is a concept I’ll be returning to several times in this review, starting by letting you know that, from what I have seen from many early literary programs on the market, many programs do not promote critical phonological awareness strategies that contribute to the development of efficient decoding, and later automatic word reading. Instead, many of these programs focus on the first letter of words (rather than what sound that letter makes, that is, it’s phoneme), whole word or sight word reading (i.e. rote memorization of words while relying on the first letter and context cues to predict the word’s entirety), or poorly implemented phonics strategies (e.g. ineffective letter/sound mapping). For instance, you’ll see many programs utilize the word xylophone for the letter ‘x’. Take a moment to say ‘x’, and consider the sound it makes. The phoneme is roughly the same sound that ‘cks’ makes in the word ‘socks’. Does the word xylophone truly highlight that letter’s sound (i.e., the phoneme for ‘x’)? No. A better strategy is to find a word where ‘x’ makes its common sound; words like ‘fox’, ‘six’, or ‘box’. Circling back, problems like this are particularly prominent in products that are computerized, since many aren’t developed by educators, but rather computer programmers. The end result is anyone without a background in the science of education may be fooled into believing that a program is teaching their child to read effectively, when it is not. This isn’t to say these programs are worthless, necessarily (though some certainly are). Just that many programs aren’t quite hitting the mark in promoting effective early literacy strategies.
Rhyme to Read, a program designed by a reading specialist, alongside a PhD in special education, is different.
There are several things I love about Rhyme to Read. First, it isn’t another computer or tablet app that you set your child down in front of, and walk away. It requires effort on behalf of an adult, helping guide the child. Furthermore, while the program does offer an app, it also provides printable copies/ebook versions of the texts via digital download. Reading with your child is known to be an excellent way to build pre-literacy and beginning literacy skills (e.g. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2020). Therefore, the fact that Rhyme to Read promotes actively reading with your child, and offers several formats sets it apart from a lot of the competition.
Rhyming is a frequently used and effective strategy to promote phonological awareness and support reading development (e.g. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2020; Anthony & Lonigan (2004); Roberts & Neal, (2004); National Reading Panel (2000), Goswami, 1990; also, author’s personal experiences teaching and utilizing said instruction strategy under guidance of reading specialists and mentors at both Fitchburg State University and on site at the elementary school I taught at, though anecdotes should always be taken with loads of skepticism!), and this program does a great job of utilizing the strategy for the purpose of reading instruction. This reliance one effective literacy instruction strategy is a feature of Rhyme to Read that sets it apart from some other content marketed to parents as educational. No surprise, the program was designed by a team with expertise in reading instruction. By color coding written language and matching letter combinations with correlating sounds, this program also features an explicit phonics instruction strategy.
While it utilizes strategies often applied in classrooms, the program is easy for parents without a degree in education to use. It is also simple and coherently structured. Rhyme to Read builds throughout each short text on concepts from the previous unit. This progressive increase in difficulty while explicitly drawing from prior units is something known as scaffolding. That is, the program provides building blocks to allow a child to develop skills and move from a place of dependence to full independence with minimal frustration and minimal boredom (i.e., the content is neither too difficult, nor too easy; that is, to use the Goldilocks metaphor, it is ‘just right’ in terms of the challenge the content offers). Rhyme to Read starts with simple rhyming concepts and sight words, and uses color coding to draw readers’ attention to specific sound families. Sight words are called out page by page, and there is no unnecessary text. That is, the authors have carefully crafted each story so that it contains nothing but the conceptual building blocks being introduced. Concepts are also clearly tracked and carried over from unit to unit.
Finally, Rhyme to Read offers diverse representation in their texts. In an era where efforts are increasingly being made to ensure all children can see themselves in media, this program does a nice job of incorporating images of characters with a range of abilities and appearances.
It is important to note that rhyming instruction alone is not sufficient to promote future reading ability (e.g. Yeh, 2008; Martin, et al., 2002; Muter, 1998), and segmentation (something not focused on explicitly in this program) is a vital and potentially the most important skill associated with later reading ability (e.g. Muter, 1998). Furthermore, Rhyme to Read has not been scientifically validated; that is, there have been no experimental studies comparing this program's efficacy to that of other proven programs. As a scientist, this is something I ideally like to see from curriculum materials. All that said, I still would recommend Rhyme to Read to families looking to homeschool, supplement school curriculum at home, or get an early start on more formal reading instruction with their children before they start learning in school. I believe the program would best be used in combination with explicit segmentation/decoding instruction, and other direct reading instruction strategies.
Overall, I loved this program, and believe you will, too!
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References and Resources
Tips For Helping Your Child Develop Preliteracy Skills:
American Academy of Pediatrics (2020). Resources for Families: Top Tips for Families for Early Reading and Literacy. https://www.aap.org/en-us/literacy/Pages/For-Families.aspx
Anthony, J. L., & Lonigan, C. J. (2004). The Nature of Phonological Awareness: Converging Evidence From Four Studies of Preschool and Early Grade School Children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96(1), 43–55. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-06126.96.36.199
Goswami, U. (1990), A Special Link between Rhyming Skill and the Use of Orthographic Analogies by Beginning Readers. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 31: 301-311. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.1990.tb01568.x
National Reading Panel. (2000) Report of the National Reading Panel--Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/pubs/nrp/Documents/report.pdf
Martin, M.E. and Byrne, B. (2002), Teaching children to recognise rhyme does not directly promote phonemic awareness. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 72: 561-572. doi:10.1348/00070990260377523
Muter, V., Hulme, C., Snowling, M., Taylor, S., (1998). Segmentation, Not Rhyming, Predicts Early Progress in Learning to Read. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 71(1): 3-27. https://doi.org/10.1006/jecp.1998.2453
Roberts, T., Neal, H. (2004). Relationships among preschool English language learner’s oral proficiency in English, instructional experience and literacy development.
Contemporary Educational Psychology. 29 (3): 283-311. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cedpsych.2003.08.001
Yeh, S.S. and Connell, D.B. (2008), Effects of rhyming, vocabulary and phonemic awareness instruction on phoneme awareness. Journal of Research in Reading, 31: 243-256. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9817.2007.00353.x
"COVID-19 has highlighted, to an extraordinary degree, my family’s privilege. It is a word you probably hear a lot of right now in the context of systemic racism, but privilege is multifaceted. My family hasn’t lost anyone to the virus. My husband and I haven’t lost our jobs, though they have become exponentially more difficult. We aren’t struggling to keep a roof over our family’s heads or food in our bellies.............. I’m not saying this because I want to brag. Not in the slightest.... No, my summer isn’t canceled. It may be different this year, but I will not allow my privilege and expectations to ruin it. Things don’t always go as planned, but I am lucky that I have the choice to dance in the rain. I’m grabbing my umbrella. What about you?"
Share the Love!
In honor of my upcoming literacy pack and "The Big One" birthday theme release, I've curated a collection of excellent books and games to complement my carefully designed content. Many of these are products my child or my students love, but some are highly rated products that I believe would be a good fit for your home (and mine). Quite a few also offer high educational value (including building color concepts and fine motor skills).
Be sure to stay tuned to the blog, as I will be adding additional activities to pair with these products!
The Round Up
Disclosure: The following contains links to Amazon products. As an Amazon Associate, I earn on qualifying purchases. My participation in this program comes at no added cost to you. You can learn more here.
Fish Puzzles for Little Hands
Fish Books for Toddlers and Children
Fish Themed Toys for Infants
Fish Toys for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Fish and Ocean Themed Toys and Other Gifts for Children
Occasionally it is fun to discover and share new products, so you'll find I'll be periodically sharing my "Wild Wednesday Finds" here on my blog. These are some products that caught my attention this week (note, I may not have tried them, but they looked so amazing that I have them on my shopping list)!
Disclosure: The following are Amazon product links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn on qualifying purchases. My participation in this program comes at no added cost to you. To learn more about my participation in this program, click here.
This cool product seems like a mess saver for busy parents. Just clip the holder into a vent in your car, and you have an easy way to hold sauces from the drive through. Click here to learn more.
My brother and I loved Brio trains when we were young, and I was ecstatic to find them on Amazon! At least when I was young, these sets were high quality wood that lasted years (in fact, my parents still have some at their house). We are even getting a set for my little one. Click here to see more.
Fall will be here before you know it, and this tee is getting added to my shopping cart! I'm one of those "Halloween should be everyday" folks (though I promise, I don't show it until September). Just in time for it being.... almost (?) September, this tee is the perfect way to ring in the very best time of the year! Click here to see more.
Admittedly, this is not a new find. I purchased these pens last year to help create some amazing recycled jar crafts, and have loved them since. But where I recently published some activities that recommended this product, I decided to include them on this list anyway. Their colors are vibrant, they are clean and easy to use, and perfect for a wide range of crafts. Click here to read more.
This product turned up on Amazon's best sellers list today, and is something we almost purchased for my little one last year. It may already be July, but it isn't too late to add new water toys to your collection. With many splash pads around the US closed due to COVID, this looks like a perfect backyard solution for young kids. Click here to read more.
Want more great product recommendations? Check out my Must Have Products page.
It is filled with products that we use in our home, and love.
Disclosure: This post contains links to Amazon products. As an Amazon Associate I earn on qualifying purchases. My participation in this program comes at no added cost for you. You can learn more about my participation in this program here.
Autumn is my favorite season, and I relish all things fall decor. I'm also a huge fan of crafting, so when crafting and autumn go together, it makes for one very happy mama.
Last year I got quite into creating custom jar crafts using recycled jars. Most were made out of Barilla pasta jars, but I've also used almond butter jars (while my little one is allergic to some nuts, almonds are thankfully not one of them).
For all of these crafts you will want to start with label removing. I started by peeling the labels off the best I could, followed by scrubbing under warm water with a sponge and Dawn blue dish soap. You can also place the jars in boiling water with a bit of dish soap to remove some of the remaining glue, or use goo gone.
Once I removed the labels, I used spray paint and acrylic paint and/or paint pens to create custom painted creations. Then I sealed the paint with a layer of spray sealer (Krylon makes several good ones). Below are several creations I've come up with. In the future I'll be offering step by step instructions and link to them here. Until then, I've written brief descriptions about how these were created, as well as some product recommendations to get you started..
Vases made with Barilla pasta jars, matte black spray paint, and acrylic paint. For the lettering I used orange acrylic paint and a brush to make dots, followed by using an acrylic paint pen, and then lightly going over the piece with acrylic paint on a brush. The spiders and spider webs were done with acrylic paint pen.
For these jars I used silicone self stick plumbing tape to create letters, and then spray painted the jars with a silver/white sea glass spray paint. I then used a bit of matte black at the bottom. The spiders and webs were done using acrylic paint pen. I affixed ribbons on the tops of the jars using a hot glue gun, and inserted tea light candles (the kinds that come in a metal container). I also spray painted the lids and affixed ribbon to the edges.
Once Halloween was over, I removed the faux flowers and leaves from the BOO jars and put them into Barilla pasta jars that I'd painted with off white spray paint. I then wrapped the jars with burlap and gold ribbon. These jars are perfect for all year use; just change the floral arrangement you use!!! Here you can see them set up on our Thanksgiving Table from last year.
Products to help recreate these looks:
This ribbon set is an Amazon Choice and offers similar patterns to the ribbon I used.
A hot glue gun is a must have crafting item, and if you don't have one yet, check out this Amazon recommended mini hot glue gun with excellent reviews. While this item comes with glue sticks, you'll want to be sure to purchase extra, too!
If you love these jars but aren't crafty, feel free tocontact me! I am happy to make custom pieces for any season.
Over the last few weeks I've been working diligently on tons of new content for you, and in anticipation of the launch, I'm releasing some fun (and educational) printable activities for your toddlers/preschoolers/ kindergarteners. This printables pack includes color, shape, and sight word activities with several levels of difficulty, as well as beach/ocean themed coloring pages.
Perfect for summer (or those who don't want summer fun to ever end!), or a homeschool thematic unit on the beach, seasons, or ocean life.
Plus, the bright and colorful shape activities are great for any time of year.
You can get access to these printables here.
The following is a guide for making the most out of these downloads. And be sure to send me pictures of your little ones enjoying these great activities! I'd love to share them to Instagram and Facebook with links to your social media accounts.
How to Make the Most Out of These Activities
Disclosure: This post contains links to Amazon products. As an Amazon Associate, I earn on qualifying purchases. My participation in this program comes at not added cost to you, nor are there any strings attached. Learn more here.
The shape matching activity offers four levels of difficulty. The first level has shape words written in the same color as the shape itself, plus images of the shape in the same color. The next level has shapes and words on the main card, but no in color. The more difficult levels offers the shape words with coloring, which requires color matching with exposure to site words, while the most advance level offers shape words without coloring, requiring sight word recognition.
There are two great ways to use either level of this activity.
The first is to cut out each shape card, and the word card (you can cut this out into a single card rather than individual word cards). Then have your child use a glue stick and glue the correct shape next to the correct word.
You can also use a laminator and velcro to create a reusable activity. First laminate the entire page. Then cut out the individual shapes and the big words card. Finally, apply velcro to the backs of the shape cards and next to each word. Your child can then use the same cards over and over, rather than you having to print multiple copies and waste paper.
Product Recommendations from Amazon for This Activity
Fish (Color) Matching
This activity has three different versions; three levels of difficult for one version, two levels of difficulty for a second, and a single level of difficulty for the third.
The first version is similar to the shape matching activity, and can be done the same way (either with glue sticks or a laminator and velcro). Also like the shape matching activity, the fish matching activity asks your child to match colors to the correct color word. The easiest level has the color words written in color with a matching fish. The intermediary level offers site words written in matching colors to the respective fish. The hardest, sight word level simply has the color word written in black ink. A second version of this activity requires no cutting, just drawing lines from the fish to the correct color word.
A third version of this activity is a coloring page, where your child must color each fish with the color word on its body. This requires sight word reading, and is more advanced than the other versions of this activity.
These activities are also great for binder games. Click here to learn more about how to make one!
This printables pack also comes with four coloring pages!
My toddler is already loving these activities!
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Not quite ready to sign up? While you would be missing valuable content, I do make select coloring pages available for download without signup on my Craft Corner page, as well as worksheets available for direct download on my Activities page.
Have you done any of these activities with your child?
Be sure to comment below to let me know how it went, or send me pictures (via Instagram, Facebook, or email) of your child enjoying the activities, and I'll post on social media with a tag to your account!
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Disclaimer: This post contains links to Amazon products. As an Amazon Associate, I earn on qualifying purchases. My participation in this program helps support this blog and has no added cost or strings attached for you. Click here to learn more.
What kid doesn’t love a dirt cup? And just in time for beach season, here is a perfect take on this classic dessert. Use the ingredients and instructions below, or just get creative and have fun!
What you will need:
Click on images to view product pages. We've not used these items in our own home, but they have great reviews on Amazon and would be great additions to this project.
You may also like the following products for this activity:
Click on images to view product pages. We've not used these items purchased from Amazon in our own home, but they have great reviews on Amazon and would be great additions to this project.
In three easy steps your child can create this adorable and delicious beach themed dessert.
MAKE IT EDUCATIONAL!
Many readers already know baking is educational. Measuring helps teach fractions and fine motor skills. Baking helps teach sequences, following steps, highlights cause and effect, and for older children, gives the opportunity to practice reading skills.
So, to use the sand cup activity as a homeschool activity, simply have your children help with baking!
You can use prompts below as a guide, and tailor them to your child's academic level:
1. Read the instructions. What is the first step?
2. First we pour 'x'. What comes next?
3. We need [1/2 cup] of [sugar]. Let's look at the bottom number (the denominator). How many parts make a whole in this fraction? (Answer = 2).
4. What temperature do we need to set the oven at? What do you think would happen if we set it higher? Lower?
5. Let's use the food dye to make new colors! What color do you think yellow and blue would make? What about red and blue? What would happen if we added more [red/blue/yellow/green] to this?
6. The recipe says to bake for 30 minutes? 30 minutes is how much of an hour? (Answer: 1/2 Hour). What if we baked for 15 minute? How many parts of an hour would that be (Answer: 1/4)? How many parts of 30 minutes is 15 minutes? (Answer 15/30, 1/2, etc.).
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May 2020 (Prior to 5/31)
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