Night Buddies - Adventures After Lights Out

How to Filter What Your Child Should Be Reading

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This is a tough topic for me to approach, because as a children’s author and an advocate for #BoysWhoRead, I would like to believe that there are no books that should be off-limits for children to leave. All books have the power to expand our children’s minds and help them with their studies, their critical thinking, and their ability to empathize, but just as we filter what our children watch on television, it is important to many parents to make sure books are “age appropriate.”

But how do we go about doing this? Books aren’t categorized like movies into ratings from G-R, and most likely you don’t have the time to read every book your child brings home before they do to make sure it meets your standards for appropriate. And many times you won’t be able to spot all of the content in a book by a quick flip-through and reading of the back cover. That being said, here are some practical and helpful tips to help you filter what your children are reading, and how to decide what you should be filtering for:

Understand your child’s reading-level: This is a suggestion based on filtering by what your child will be able to understand. Part of helping kids fall in love with reading is providing them with stories that will challenge their reading skills, but not frustrate them to the point of putting the book down and never wanting to pick one up again. Children’s books are labeled by age ranges and reading-levels, which will help you determine whether or not a book is going to be the right reading-level for your child.

Take another look at those reading-level labels: Maybe your child is above their own reading level, I know my son John was when he was growing up, but if you want to filter for appropriateness, this is another tool for you to use. Typically the level of appropriateness correlates with the age range a book was intended for, so if your second grader wants to read a junior high level book, not only might it be too far above their reading level, it cold touch on subject matters they simply are not ready for.

Understand the difference between inappropriate and mature: Some books are risqué simply for the thrill—Fifty Shades of Grey, for example. Other books simply touch on mature themes, such as peer pressure, sexual abuse, etc. Risqué books aren’t necessary for your child to read before they are old enough to filter for themselves. Mature books should be allowed based on your judgment of your child’s maturity level. Some young children are ready to be exposed to tough subjects through literature. And the best part about letting your child read these kinds of books is that it opens the channel for you and your child to talk openly about these hard themes they will probably have to come to terms with at some point in their life.

Read Amazon/Goodreads reviews: You might not have time to read a whole book before you give it to your child, but reading reviews is quick and easy! If there is anything truly inappropriate or shocking, the reviews will most certainly call it out.

When it comes down to it, know that only you know what your child is and isn’t ready for. If you are truly bothered by a certain word, character, or theme in a book, you have the right as a parent to keep it on a higher bookshelf until your child is ready to make the decision of what to read on his/her own.

Are there any books you have kept your children from reading? Do you believe that filtering what kids read is wrong? Let me know in the comments!

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How Much TV Should Our Kids Be Watching?

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This is a question I know has come up again and again within groups of parents, education systems, and in my own life as a father trying to raise a son who knew the pleasure of reading in a world ruled by television screens. No household is without a TV, no school doesn’t have one in their classrooms, and it’s known that we can’t stop ourselves or our children from spending time in front of it, but how much is too much? Where is the line between watching a healthy, even educational, amount of television, and becoming addicted and attached to our nightly programming?

According to an article on kidshealth.org, “Most kids plug into the world of television long before they enter school. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF): two-thirds of infants and toddlers watch a screen an average of 2 hours a day. Kids under age 6watch an average of about 2 hours of screen media a day, primarily TV and videos or DVDs.”

There’s no argument that those statistics reveal that there’s a large amount of TV watching in our children’s lives these days, but rather than determine a specific “healthy” or “unhealthy” amount of TV watching, I think it is our job as parents to rule what is playing on our children’s screens. Watching two hours of a PBS show, for instance, or a Disney show that you think is teaching your child wholesome life lessons such as learning to apologize or being thankful for what they have is probably less harmful than watching two hours of mindless entertainment.

It is also important to make sure you add other activities into your child’s life than television, and the amount of time they have to watch TV will dramatically decrease the more outside activities they have to do. Whether those activities involve playing a sport, taking music lessons, spending time outdoors, hanging out with friends, or reading books, all of them will help to make sure your child is getting a range of experiences off the screen, and becoming a healthier person for it—emotionally and physically.

When it comes down to it, television is not evil. It doesn’t need to be cut out of children’s lives. And if you as a parent approach television in a responsible way, your children will too.

How much time do you and your children spend in front of the TV? Do you have any suggestions to keep it from becoming the main source of entertainment in your house? Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

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Should Kids be Reading on Tablets? The Benefits and Drawbacks of Reading on the Screen

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You can call me old school, but I don’t do the e-reading thing. I like to sit down with a book in my hands, flip through the pages, write in the margins, and keep all the screens at bay even if for just a few hours. Reading, to me, is an escape from the world. And lately, it seems like the world is full of nothing but smart phones, laptops, and tablets.

But what about the next generation? The parents raising kids now, not those of us who raised our kids thirty years ago? It seems they won’t be able to avoid keeping tablets in the house, and with cheaper books and easier access, shouldn’t switching from books to screen actually be a benefit to today’s children?

In some ways, yes. Books are more easily available than they have ever been. Children’s e-books are usually made with interactive features now, so kids can feel even more like they become part of the story they’re reading. They can guide the content, write pieces of the stories themselves, draw pictures of the characters, and take their creativity to entirely different levels.

An article on amplify.com said it best: “Kids aren’t just passive receptors anymore, they expect to be able to interact, remix some of the content, and work collaboratively with others to do things with the content.”

Kids are excited to sit down with these e-readers, because it’s no longer a time just to clock silent reading hours—reading has turned into another kind of game time. And while I am glad that books are getting out there and children are reading, I would also argue that this is the exact problem.

The experience of reading changes when it is filled with hyperlinks, game times, and endless upon endless distractions. It distracts from the general enjoyment of reading—losing oneself in a narrative. Why have interactive features when you can instead take the place of someone else’s consciousness, and live a different life than your own for a few hundred pages? An article on mom.me quoted a study which said, “Of those who took part in the UK’s National Literacy Trust survey, only 12 percent of those who did their reading on a screen said they enjoyed reading, while 51 percent of those burning through pages said they liked to read. Print readers, even if they mixed it with screen reading, made up a larger percent of above-average readers compared to those who only read on a screen—15.5 percent vs. 26 percent.”

Long story short, we can turn reading into a sort of game time, but real game time is only going to be a tap of the screen away from their book. Why spend a few hours reading when Angry Birds is just as easily available on the same device?

I think kids and parents benefit from putting away the distractions, locking the screens away for just an hour or so, and sitting down to read books together. You can still encourage your children to create stories and imagine for themselves—that’s how the character Crosley from my book series was created—but without a tablet and all the distractions tablets come with in the way, hopefully the pure pleasure of reading a book will continue to be passed on through the generations.

Do you prefer reading books or on tablets? Let me know in the comments!

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Why You Should Give Your Child a Journal

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As parents, so often we want to find gifts for our children that will mean the world to them. Whether it’s the new game they’ve been dying to play, a Lego set they’ve had their eye on for months, or a football to throw around the neighborhood with friends, when birthdays and Christmas roll around it is our job as parents to give them something they’ll always remember. But I think that sometimes it is also instrumental to gift them with something that they’ll not only enjoy, but that will boost their confidence and expand their knowledge. That’s why I gave my son so many books when he was a kid—I wanted him to know the enjoyment of losing himself in a world that wasn’t his own and teach him that reading isn’t an activity restricted to school hours. But then I got another idea—I was going to give him a journal of his own. Here’s why that was the best decision I could have made.

A journal allows children to spend time with their thoughts. Kids are usually much less introspective than adults, and that is often a good thing. It allows them to live in the world and follow their instincts. But I think it is also important that kids try to understand why they feel certain ways, and writing in a journal gives them that power. My son could write down what happened on one of his bad days, and realize that it was bad because he felt disappointment, or anger, or sadness. He had a personal space all his own to explore his thoughts, and in doing so, to explore the world and his position in it.

A journal allows children to explore their creativity. I asked John to write down stories in his journal, to live in his imagination for a few pages each day, and to not second-guess what he was writing down. Having the opportunity to make up stories any way that he wanted, knowing he wouldn’t be judged for whatever he wrote, was instrumental in growing his creative side and making him dream bigger than a lot of other kids his age.

A journal improves children’s literacy skills. Sitting down to write a few days a week, every week, gradually helped my son become a better reader and writer. He was using skills learned in the classroom in his own way at home in the journal, and his Language Arts grades in school improved astronomically as a result. Kids don’t realize how much they’re learning by writing, to them it should become as much a part of their home life as watching TV, but every word they put down helps them become better students.

A journal will preserve memories most children lose as they grow up. It’s fun to go back and read journal entries you wrote from years past, but it’s even better to read back through childhood memories. I hardly remember what it was like to be in elementary school, but if I had kept a journal I could travel back into my head at that time and see what I thought about the girl who sat next to me in class, and about my parents, and about sitting with the nerds at lunch. These are priceless memories that your child has the opportunity to remember forever.

Did you keep a journal as a child? Would you pass that tradition down to your children? Let me know in the comments below!

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Need to Get Your Boys to Read? Here’s My Top Tips to Help You Do it!

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You want to know what I think? I think that right now, we are living in a time where most boys are encouraged to play sports or video games by their friends and by society to be considered “normal” or “cool.” We aren’t living in a world where the next generation of boys will be a generation who loves to read. But that’s not right. Reading opens up kids’ minds to think of things they might never have had the creativity to imagine before, it improves their performance in school, and it’s a way for them to entertain themselves away from the Internet or the television, which they’re probably getting more than their fair share of.

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So how do we do it? How do we make the next generation a generation of boys who read? Here’s my top four ideas about where we begin.

1. Put interesting books on acceptable school reading lists. Books don’t have to be extraordinarily literary or realistic to be beneficial to education. Especially among younger kids, why not let current bestsellers count toward silent reading credit? Why not let kids do book reports on something they find interesting? If they can read what is popular amongst their generation, kids might start bonding over the books they read just like they do over the video games they play.

2. Never put down books that they find interesting. To go along with my first tip, as parents we shouldn’t judge books that seem too silly, or too “boy-ish.” The book is based off a video game? It’s still a book. The book is about some guy who wears underwear outside his pants? It’s still something for them to get acquainted to the literary world with. If we want boys to read, we have to let them read what they want; the more they do read, the broader their literary interests will become.

3. Seek out reading role models. A lot of celebrities participate in reading campaigns for children. Seek them out. Or maybe there’s a teacher, an older sibling, or a basketball coach they look up to greatly; ask that person to talk to your kid about reading. If the person they think is the coolest in the world tells them they think reading is cool, chances are your child will want to give it a shot.

4.Take your child to book fairs/festivals. Book fairs usually have lots of games set up for kids, and book festivals have everything from games to live readings and full-on shows to peak the younger generation’s interest in reading. They happen all over the country, are usually free entry, and will end up being a fun day for the family—your child finding a book they’re dying to read would just be the cherry on top.

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How do you interest your child in reading? Do you think it’s still important for kids to read? Let me know in the comments below!

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Children's Museum of Alamance County
217 South Main Street
Graham, NC 27253
Phone: 336-228-7997
Reading begins at 3 pm


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