4 Resources for Teaching Essential Reading Skills

Direct instruction from a reading teacher is one way kids learn to read. Informal learning from parents and caregivers is another way. In fact, research has shown that this informal instruction is pivotal to ensuring kids have the basic skills they need to actually learn to read once they are in school with a teacher doing direct instruction.


Informal learning should be just what the name implies: informal. No flash cards, no drills, no worksheets. Instead there are a plethora (I’ve been wanting to use that word for a while now!) of ways to give your kids the reading skills they need without ever letting on that you are teaching reading. Here are a few resources you can turn to for ideas of how to provide that informal instruction in a kid-friendly, stress-free, and joyful learning environment.


  • Fun Crafts to Teach Kids to Read: Our friends at Café Mom have compiled a list of simple but fun crafts you can use to make learning hands-on, using stuff you were going to throw away anyway. A game using bottle caps? Sure. Popsicle stick puzzles? You bet. Try these and your kids won’t even know they are picking up literacy skills.
  • Reading Games from PBS Kids: While nothing beats the personal time invested sitting with your kids and playing literacy games or just reading books together, using technology in a mindful way can not only help your kids gain literacy smarts, but can also teach them essential computer skills and increased hand-eye coordination. There are plenty of so-called education reading games out there, but the folks at PBS Kids are experts at this and what kid wouldn’t want to learn about reading with friends like Curious George or Word Girl?
  • Active Reading Activities: From a verb relay race to reading-focused theater games, education.com has reading activities perfect for those kids who never seems to stop moving. Don’t make them sit and listen, get up and play and the learning will come naturally.
  • Write Your Own Book with Storybird: Storybird will provide the inspiration for your child to try their hand at writing with beautiful illustrations that help lead a child through creating their own story. Writing is the opposite side of reading and mastering this skill will help your child read more fluently and write like a pro. You can then have the book they create turned into a keepsake storybook your family will enjoy reading over and over again.

Combine some of these innovative reading activities to your nightly reading time and you will be giving your kids the informal instruction they need to be top-notch readers. And chances are the only ones who will know they’ve learned something is you and their teachers.

Discover your Boogers!

“Aaaaachhhoooo. “


“Bless you!”


Is this refrain as common in your house as it is in mine? Between cold and flu season and now the start of the allergy season, it seems like someone is always sneezing! Inevitably, my daughter’s thoughts will turn to the stuff she just sneezed out and the questions about boogers will begin.  Luckily, everything we need to know about boogers can be learned from this month’s issue of SPIDER Magazine from an article appropriately titled “Boogers at Work”. I’m attaching it here so you can discover all you need to know about mucus or snot or whatever you want to call it, in case someone in your house has a few questions of their own.


Boogers at Work


For more articles like this one, be sure to subscribe to SPIDER, our Parent’s Choice-winning, ad-free magazine perfect for kids ages 6 through 9. Your newly independent reader will love it.

A Plug for Unplugging

Recently I wrote a blog about the surprise benefit of unplugging from my phone for a few hours. Since then, I have learned some additional benefits such as better rest, less anxiety, and oddly, less snacking. Apparently, I tended to eat when obsessively hitting refresh on Twitter to make sure I haven’t missed any celebrity deaths.


Other important lessons:


  1. FOMO is a real thing. No, it’s nothing like YOLO. Fear of Missing Out is what I discovered in my enlightenment blog after leaving my phone at home. I was afraid I’d miss things by not being connected to everything. More importantly, I’d convinced myself that I would be missed. If I wasn’t responding, retweeting, liking, answering, commenting… the world would explode. Clearly, since I’m here writing this follow up, it did not. It’s a jolt our egos need once in a while.
  2. Be bored. We never take time to appreciate the sensation of boredom. First of all, much like a muscle, your brain needs to rest after being stimulated in order to optimize its strength. Plus, being bored allows our minds to wander and our creativity kicks in. Creating instead of consuming can only yield positive results.
  3. Our most fulfilling relationships are the ones that are physically in front of us. I’ll just leave that right there.

And the most important thing I’ve learned is how important it is to model unplugging for your kids. Being <cough> years old, I remember the days before smart phones and tablets. Heck, I remember the days before pagers. So, I know what it’s like to live a life unplugged.


My kids, on the other hand, don’t. And that’s sad.


So I decided to implement my self-enforced unplugged time on the rest of the family: one hour, every day, no phones, no computers, no tablets, no television. Additionally, no electronics at the dinner table. This was met with mixed results. To be honest, this was met with full-on melt-downs. From kids and husband alike. So we compromised. We are doing a trial period of a month.


They say you only understand an addiction when you’ve taken it away. We’ll see how this experiment goes and I’ll keep you posted.


Cricket Media Mama may be blogging a lot more frequently as her ban on electronics has resulted in her ban from the good graces of her family.

5 Tips To Help You Change Your Mind

How many of you made New Year’s resolutions to work out?


(Note: you can’t see me, but my hand is up, making it increasingly difficult to type)


I made that resolution. But I’m not working out my body. Not saying I don’t need to… I’ve just accepted the fact that I’ve got a full-time job, freelance jobs, kids, a dog, a cat, a husband, a house, and unreasonably high expectations for myself. Plus, I like sleeping at night. So, I’m just well past the stage where I make a promise to myself to lose weight and get healthy. However, I will be exercising an important muscle: MY BRAIN!


One of my favorite sites, Lifehacker, has some great tips to make the most of your brain workout. I’ve stolen and revised them, keeping the same principals but highlighting the ones that, to me, make the most sense (and are the easiest to fit into my daily routine). I thought I would share them with you in case you, too, could use some life hacks designed to boost your brain power.


  1. Try new things. Every time you do something different, you’re stimulating your mind, creating new neural pathways, and increasing your intelligence. It can be as simple as taking a new route home or testing a new recipe for dinner.
  2. Memorize. Back in the day, we all had to memorize our home phone numbers. Nowadays, we don’t have home phones, and people don’t always actually know the numbers for their own cell phones. Learn that number. And while you’re at it, learn your social security number, your passport number, and your credit card numbers. Every time you memorize something, you’re flexing your brain.
  3. Exploit the power of positive thinking. “Research has shown that positive thinking, especially in the future tense, speeds up the creation of cells and dramatically reduces stress and anxiety.” So, turn that frown up-side-down!
  4. Sleep. Detox your brain so your body can regenerate cells and remove all the toxins that have built up during the day.This will help you reach peak performance each day.
  5. Un-modernize. Travel without GPS, turn off the TV and pick up a book, and put the calculator away while you solve some math problems with a good old-fashioned pen and paper. These exercises all work towards training your brain.


Editor’s Note: Help your kids change their minds in the best possible way with a subscription to one of our award-winning, ad-free discovery magazines, including CLICK (ages 3 to 6), ASK (ages 6 to 9), and MUSE (ages 9 to 14). You might even want to get this back issue of ASK called “Meet the Brain” to enhance your kids’ knowledge of the mastermind behind their unique personality.


Cricket Media Mama loves any resolution that lets her work towards achieving her goal by sleeping! 


Phoney Claims

Brace yourselves, I have a horror story to share.


I walked out of my house a few weeks ago without my phone. More accurately, I RUSHED out of my house without my phone. Let’s not pretend I’m ever on time to anything. Already 15 minutes late, by the time I realized I didn’t have it, I couldn’t afford to turn around and get it. I was stuck, at a Chuck E Cheese birthday party, with nothing to distract me.


After my initial feelings of shock, disappointment, self-loathing, unquenchable desires to flee, anxiety that I was missing all the important emails, texts, phone calls, levels in Candy Crush, and celebrity death announcements on Twitter, I took a deep breath and realized I had to come to terms with self-entertainment. Normally, I’d consider conversing with other the other adults at the party, but those who were not immediately involved in making sure there were enough tokens and pizza slices were face-down, buried in their phones or tablets. Undoubtedly reading up on all the celebrity death announcements on Twitter. Jerks.


This was a serious test of my strength and patience. And you know what? It wasn’t terrible.


The upside is that even with the non-stop chatter, music, creepy-animatronics dancers, and ceaseless videogame soundtracks, I actually felt myself unwind a little. I’m not saying I found a zen-like state of meditation in Chuck E Cheese, cause that’s just crazy talk, but once I accepted I COULDN’T check my phone, and my hand stopped twitching in an attempt to grab a phantom device that wasn’t there, I closed my eyes, leaned back, and actually relaxed. It was like that ten minutes in the shower minus the water and plus clothes. Which, now that I think about it, those ten uninterrupted minutes in the shower is often when I have my best ideas. That says something.


The downside was that … well. Actually. There wasn’t a downside.


I thought about a book idea I’ve been playing with and mapped out a couple plot points that could propel the story forward. I even (gasp) pulled out a pen and wrote some thoughts down. I found a magazine in my bag that I got with my receipt from the supermarket and opened it up. It was FULL OF COUPONS! Who knew?! After that I organized my bag, cleaned out my coat pockets, and filed my nails (having found a very handy nail file in the bag that I had no idea I even owned!) Before I knew it, my daughter was back, pointing out the party had been over for hours and they were sweeping up all the discarded pocket trash around my feet.


I felt lighter (figuratively and literally – seeing as how I reduced the weight of my bag by about 12 pounds in discarded receipts). My mind was clear. I drove home undistracted by my usual whirlwind of thoughts where I processed the emails, phone calls, texts, and celebrity deaths I’d just dealt with. My daughter and I had a great conversation about the correlation between the increase in childhood traumatic nightmares and the increase in creepy animatronic dancing. The most amazing part of the day was that when I got home, I didn’t make a mad dash for the phone. I put a few things away, talked to my husband and other daughter about my day, and had a cup of tea in marvelous, wonderful, sacred silence. When I finally picked my phone back up, I realized something vital: After hours of being away from my phone, no one missed me. It was a bit of a relief and a bit of a blow to my ego, but more importantly, it allowed me to give myself permission to unplug every day. It’s amazing how much I get done without the distractions, and how much money I’ve saved with these awesome coupon books I’m finally paying attention to.


Cricket Media Mama was so attached to her phone, that she once used it to contact her kids, when they were right upstairs. She realized she might have a problem after that close call.

Screen Beings

Just like children believe in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus, I have a vision that somewhere, out there, a magical, mythical mother exists. One who charts out exactly the right amount of screen-time, per child, per age, per device, sets AND enforces these limits, and yet somehow still miraculously maintains perfect family harmony. This fantasy mother never gets confused by the various and often contradicting reports on what healthy limits are, nor does she forget phones and tablets count for screen time, too. Of course, this fantasy mom also has a spotless house, pre-prepared healthy dinners, 100% PTA participation, well-behaved pets who walk themselves, and most likely that time machine Hermione used in the third Harry Potter book. So there’s that.


A brief history of my philosophy when it came to screen time:


First baby born: “I don’t have to worry about screen-time rules. We’ll read to you, and play with you, and walk around with you, and keep you entertained all the time. You won’t even want to watch TV.”


First baby turns one: “I don’t give a flying fig about screen-time rules. Will you please just watch TV so I can go pee by myself?!”


It only went downhill from there.


Now that my kids are old enough to navigate phones, laptops, and the ever-confusing TV remote(s), and they still have free range so long as they are out of my hair, I realize it’s probably time to look back into the guidelines. Okay, it’s way past time. And over the last 11 years, the guidelines have changed a lot.


The last time I checked the recommended amount was two hours per day. Even with that, I’d been a proponent of do what’s best for your kid, and for your family. If your family unwinds with a family TV show after dinner, don’t leave your kids out because they already spent two hours doing their homework on the computer.


It seems like the American Academy of Pediatrics is listening to me. FINALLY!  On Oct. 2016, at a conference for 10,000 pediatricians, it was announced that, “The academy recommends that for children 2 to 5 years of age, screen time should be limited to one hour per day. For kids ages 6 and older, parents can determine the restrictions for time spent using screen, as well as monitor the types of digital media their children use.”


“It doesn’t make sense to make a blanket statement [of two hours] of screen time anymore,” said Dr. Yolanda Reid Chassiakos, lead author of the “Children and Adolescents and Digital Media Technical Report” and assistant professor at UCLA. “For some children, two hours may be too much.”


Or, for some parents, two hours might be too little!


Either way, here are some good rules of thumb:


  • Prioritize productive time over entertainment time.
  • Ensure school, homework time, and social time are factored in.
  • Kids should get at least one hour of physical time and anywhere from eight to 12 hours of sleep.
  • Designate media free times and locations, such as family dinner or bedrooms.


Four easy little guides, right? Piece of cake to follow and implement. Don’t worry, we all need a hand. Try this: Family Media Plan creator and calculator. And remember, some days you may be practically screen free and some days your child will spend the entire day on her butt watching TV. As long as the average of those two extremes is something you can live with, you are doing OK.



Cricket Media Mama was considering writing a blog about how adults … (hang on, someone texted me) …  should model proper media consumption … (ohhh! I just got a new level in Pokemon Go!) …  for children, but she … (Ha! I should forward this email) …. Wait, what was I saying?  

How to Stay in the Present

Last year around this time, I posted a blog about holiday shopping, or more accurately, holiday overspending. In it, I repeated some good advice that I got and still abide by:


When it comes to gifts, try the rule of four for your kids: one gift they want, one gift they need, one gift they wear, and one gift they read. This allows you to buy them useful, practical gifts that should have a longer shelf life, while still giving them something they want and helping you to maintain a budget.


This year, I’m trying even harder to subscribe to this rule with one exception – and I’ll get to that in a second. My reason for really sticking to the rule of four is that at the beginning of 2016, I established a budget. My kids are at an age where I feel it is really important to demonstrate responsible financial behavior. Modeling this behavior isn’t always easy, but it does give me the ability to blow off a request for the green Hatchimal by saying “Oh, we don’t have the money for that, it’s not in the budget.”


Sticking to the budget is especially difficult at this time of year. But actually it is more important than ever to keep to a budget at Christmas. If I cry “sorry, that’s not in the budget” all year long and then overload the Christmas tree, the kids will get a clear signal that no matter how tight your money is, it’s okay to blow a budget when it comes to holiday gifts. Staying consistent and modeling fiduciary discipline is an important lesson you can give your kids. (See, this is me adulting. Not only do I sound responsible, I use big words like “fiduciary” to do so!)


So when planning your budget work with the rule of four. But my exception to the rule is to shop experience gifts. Look for a class, a camp, a one-time adventure. Consider something for the season like ice-skating or snowboarding. A cooking class or a language class the whole family might enjoy. Art, glass blowing, 3-D modeling, crafting or dancing. Take a zip line adventure, play laser tag or paintball, or make that last gift a family vacation to someplace meaningful to the kids. Memories, skills, and knowledge will last way longer than any green Hatchimals will.


Cricket Media MagazinesEditor’s Note: A gift of Cricket Media children’s magazines won’t bust your budget and fits perfectly in the rule of four. We’ll let you decide which of the four categories it matches.


Cricket Media Mama booked a trip to Harry Potter world for Christmas because she’s all about the experience gifts. Now, she just has to figure out what to give her husband and kids since she’ll be gone.


That Kid Who Sits Across from Your Kid

The seating chart was changed in my daughter’s elementary school classroom last week and ever since I have heard daily stories about the boy who now sits across from her: about how he is mean to her, how he threw (multiple) pencils at her, how he called her names, how every time she opens her mouth he tells her to shut up.


I’m not the type of parent who hears these stories and gets on the phone to the teacher for a seat change. There are people in this world who you are not going to like and I believe it is my job as a parent to help my daughter develop strategies for dealing with them.


And I suspect this boy’s behavior isn’t particularly directed against my daughter. From the stories my daughter is bringing home, he seems to be a troubled kid and his troubles are spilling over into the classroom. So that means whoever sits near this poor child is going to be a target. My daughter is tough. She is confident and resilient and capable of standing up for herself. My guess is that is why the teacher put her in that seat. And so for me, this is a teachable moment of how to deal with a bully.


My daughter and I started out by talking about the reasons Joe (not his real name) might be mean to others. I know nothing about Joe’s home life (I’ve never even seen this child) but we discussed broken homes and fragile homes and some kids with no homes at all. We talked about having big feelings and not having anyone to tell them to. We thought about what it might be like to be in a place where you don’t get enough food or love or attention. Although I don’t get the feeling this is the case, we even tried to imagine what it would be like to be in class and have some sort of special need, such as autism, that isn’t being addressed. Then we started looking for strategies that might help.


A little more than a year ago, I wrote a blog about bullying called Putting Bullies in their Place.  At the time I didn’t have any bullies in mind, but now that there is an ongoing situation, I returned to this blog for some tips. As long as the situation doesn’t get out of hand, my plan is to have my daughter try the strategies and see what works and what doesn’t. She’s already tried being friendly to Joe (nope), empathizing with him (nope), and asking him to stop (definite nope). Today we are going for ignoring. I’m guessing the effectiveness of this strategy will depend on how good my daughter is at actually ignoring him. If she is half as good at ignoring him as she is at ignoring me when I ask her to turn off her iPad, it might work.


And I will also share the story below “The Bully and the Can Queen”, which appeared in SPIDER Magazine a few years ago. It may not be a perfect match for my daughter’s situation, but it does a good job of reminding us that you can’t always know what someone’s motivation is and that kids are so much more than the face they present to the world.


The Bully and the Can Queen

The Bully and the Can Queen

Girl, You Need to Beehive Yourself

This is my daughter’s third year of First Lego League. If you tuned in last year, you’ll know her team made the state finals. This year, they came close – they are the alternate team for states. For those of you unfamiliar with First Lego League, it’s not just building with block toys—there are three parts.


  • Part I: Build and program a robot to run around a board, completing tasks and obstacles.
  • Part II: Solve an unprepared problem as a team while demonstrating the virtues of First Lego League.
  • Part III: Solve a prepared problem with technology and innovation and provide a presentation about your product or solution.

The adults involved with the team couldn’t be prouder of our team’s performance, having spent the season wrestling with a very challenging board and an extremely finicky bot. It had a wonderful habit of working just fine UNTIL SOMEONE WAS WATCHING. Sigh.


Personally, I’m also extremely proud of my daughter.


Parts II and III of the competition are usually where my daughter shines. She likes the Lego building and programming okay, but more than that, she loves a good challenge. This year, the theme was animal-based and my animal-loving, 4-H attending, farm-volunteering daughter was in project heaven. She outlined about a dozen animal problems and solutions, primarily around her favorite animal – dogs. She had some pretty ingenious concepts including a Roomba-style device that would automatically pick up the dog waste in your back yard, mix it with ash, and redistribute it in your garden as fertilizer, and a device modeled after existing ultra-wideband technology to help you recognize and understand a dog’s emotional state, so you know when a dog is agitated and potentially dangerous.


Unfortunately, she was the only girl on the team and the boys, having just been on a field trip to see a beehive, were obsessed with bees. Bees are important to our environment, and they are disappearing, which is a huge issue. And my daughter was not opposed to doing a project about bees, but she felt outnumbered and ignored when she tried to present her ideas, and wondered if it was because she was a girl. This made her wonder if maybe she shouldn’t be on the team anymore.


We talked about it and I was torn. I wanted her to stand up for herself, but I didn’t want the boys to give into her just because she played the “girl” card. Especially since I suspected the boys’ lack of interest stemmed more from the excitement of being at the beehive and saving an endangered creature than because she was a girl and they were ganging up against her.


In the end, rather than whine, or cry, or complain, or quit, she decided to ask the coach if the boys could come to visit an office to see a live demonstration of how ultra-wideband technology is being developed for veterinarians to help the health of dogs. This way they weren’t basing the decision solely on having just been to a beehive. It wasn’t too surprising that the boys were equally taken with the UWB technology (and the dogs).


In the end, they compromised. They used the ultra-wideband technology from the dog product to create a smart beehive that helps monitor the health of bees without disrupting their processes. For this project, and for their ability to work together, the team also received a special Judge Award. For keeping a level head, proposing a logical solution and compromise, and not giving into the inclination to take it personally, my daughter also received a special Fudge Award, which came from me in the form of Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream.


Editor’s Note: Kids who love challenges, Lego League, science, technology, engineering, bees, or dogs (so pretty much every kid) will love MUSE Magazine: MUSE isn’t serious. It’s brainy fun for kids who need to know.  Try out this FREE article about honeybees and the hive mind for a sample of the kind of storytelling you can expect from this award-winning magazine.


The Hive Mind
The Hive Mind


Cricket Media Mama asks moms and dads everywhere to be vigilant about helping girls find ways to be heard without making it personal.

Show Bedtime Who’s Boss

By Cricket Media Dad


You know that meme “What I think X will be like” vs. “What X is actually like”? If it were applied to bedtime in my house, it would look like this:


What I think bedtime will be like:


Show Bedtime Who’s Boss


What bedtime is actually like:


Show Bedtime Who’s Boss


You’ve been there, right? Your kid(s) are melting down about everything from how their toothpaste tastes to what color their pajamas are to which stuffed animal they are going to hug that night. And your wife is just done for the day. She’s looking at you like, just get the job done so we can relax!


The good news is I’ve discovered a tried and true method for becoming the boss of bedtime. The trick is in the bedtime stories I choose. I’ve tried long stories and short stories, fiction and nonfiction, and I’ve discovered that high-quality stories with beautiful illustrations are the best chance for getting my kids to dreamland and me back in front of the television with my feet up and a big bowl of popcorn.


Luckily for me, my kids have a subscription to the award-winning magazine LADYBUG. Finding LADYBUG in my mailbox each month is a lifesaver. My kids love seeing something for them mixed in with the bills and letters for mommy and daddy and they get all excited about bedtime that night. Plus, the stories and articles are relatively short so each kid can choose one or more, avoiding the fighting of whose turn it is to pick this time. The illustrations are beautiful and the quality is unbeatable. It’s the perfect mix to appeal to my boisterous little one and my artsy big girl.


Snuggling up with my favorite little people and enjoying imaginative stories, funny poems, jokes and riddles that will have everyone giggling, and non-fiction articles that answer the exact types of questions my kids have been asking (and I been making up answer to) really does make me feel like I’ve won at parenting. And thanks to Cricket Media’s large stable of magazines, when my kids have outgrown LADYBUG, there will always be another perfect choice for us to switch to.


Ahhh, I love the sound of sleeping children. Thanks LADYBUG. It’s good to be the boss of bedtime.


Editor’s Note: To make this story your reality, be sure to subscribe to LADYBUG or one of Cricket Media’s other award-winning magazines. It’s a tiny investment in your family’s health and happiness.