The other day, Emily Murley looked in the fridge and noticed the milk container was near empty.

Usually, not the stuff of great discoveries.

But these days, mom Marsha looks at daily events like empty milk a whole different way.

It's not just a mundane task. It's an opportunity for literacy.

After all, it's not just milk. It's MI-L-K. A word that starts with m. That begins with the same sound as moo and mom.

"We don't have any mmmmmilk," said the St. Catharines mom.

Then, "milk starts with the letter m." All this has become second nature these days.

"What sound does the letter m make?" mom asked.

Four-and-a-half-year-old Emily knew the answer. And that's not all. Hanging on her bedroom wall, is a sheet of bristol board with several words her mom wrote in marker.

A. The. And.

They look at the words together. Mom reads them, points to the correct word, then uses it in a sentence. If Emily gets frustrated, she backs off and tries again another day.

She's hoping one day Emily, who just finished junior kindergarten at St. Anthony School, will be able to recognize them by sight.

Lately, their lives have been filled with literacy on the go.

Literacy at the grocery story. At home. Outside during a walk. Everywhere.

"The goal is wherever you go, whatever you see, to keep literacy in the picture," says Marsha.

Emily is one of 14 soon-to-be senior kindergarten kids from across Niagara who are taking part in a five-week Summer Literacy Program to help them retain, or improve, the reading skills they learned in their first year of school.

Skills like naming the letters of the alphabet. Knowing what sounds they make. Rhyming. Clapping out syllables in a word. Understanding how words appear on a page. All the skills that will turn them into successful readers.

The program is a collaboration of Speech Services Niagara, Brock University and the Niagara Catholic District School Board. It was made possible through a $27,000 Trillium grant and $21,000 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

They've hired elementary school teachers and literacy professionals. And to make it easier for parents, they offer babysitting for siblings and supper. They gather every Tuesday and Thursday at St. Joseph's school in Niagara Falls, and every week, the kids get two books to take home.

The goal is to see if the kids, all identified by their JK teachers as needing extra help, could benefit from a summer literacy program, says Jackie Van Lankveld, manager of Speech Services Niagara.

These are typical kids who, for whatever reason, recognize less than half of the alphabet and less than half of the corresponding sounds. They also have trouble with print knowledge — things like understanding the letters they see in a book are words, that words tell a story, that there are spaces between the words and that the words are read from left to right. They struggle with sound play — understanding and producing rhyme, breaking words into syllables and putting them back together.

In this group of 14, four kids don't recognize any letters at all and six don't know any sounds.

Why? There's no simple answer, says Van Lankveld.

Maybe they struggle with attention and can't keep focused. Maybe they have trouble processing the information. Or perhaps they just haven't been exposed to enough literacy.

To gauge if the program is helpful, the kids are tested at the beginning and end, then again a couple months into senior kindergarten.

"We're trying to find the best ways to prevent literacy delays down the road," she says.

Two of the top predictors of reading success are a rich vocabulary and the ability to recognize letters. What makes this program different are the parents. As their kids participate in fun activities in one room, the parents are taught ways to incorporate literacy into their daily lives in another room.

Literacy is everywhere, says Van Lankveld. It's in the car, as you play rhyming games or break words into their separate sounds and get your child to put them back together.

Say the sounds, Ca -ter -pill -ar. Then ask your child, "What is that word."

It's at home as you flip through newspaper flyers, pointing out letters and words. As you read recipes. Make out menus.

And it's outside, as you go for a walk. As you're in the grocery story putting apples into a bag, saying: "Apples start with the letter A. A says, aaaaaaa."

Over and over again.

Repetition is key, she says. "You never know at what point the light bulb will go on."

Mom Julie Nesbitt of St. Catharines likes to play I Spy games with her four-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Tiana.

As they walk home, she'll ask Tiana: "What do you see?"

Tiana might say: "I see a tree."

Mom asks: "What letter does tree start with? What sound does it make?"

They play games at home. Memory. Go Fish. They use special alphabet cards printed with the letters O, P R and N.

The program has identified four letters of difficulty for each child. When they master these, they move on to others.

In Memory, Julie puts all the cards face down. Tiana turns two over and identifies the letters and their sounds. If they match, she takes them. If not, they get turned back down and mom gets a turn.

In Go Fish, they are each dealt two cards. Tiana needs to know the letters in her hand so she can ask mom if she has the match.

On this night, the theme is environmental print. Literacy found in signs, logos and symbols around the community. The S-T-O-P on a stop sign. The big K on a box of Special K cereal. The letter H on the blue hospital sign.

To start the night, kids and parents gather in a circle. Nancy Rotella, an emergent literacy specialist, has a bag full of signs.

She holds up a stop sign. "What's this?" she asks.

In unison, they shout out: "Stop sign."

She shows a hospital sign. The kids are quiet.

"It's a place to go when we are sick," she offers.

Still, no takers.

"It's a hh-hh-hhh …"

"Hospital," shout a few kids.

Later, she passes out a letter of the alphabet to each child, and reads a book called City Signs by Zoran Milich. Each page shows something in the city the kids might recognize along with its logo. An ambulance. Exit sign.

As she holds up the ambulance page: she asks, "What letter does ambulance start with?"

Someone answers: "A."

The child with the letter 'a' holds it up for everyone to see.

Afterwards, the parents leave and the kids break into small groups for literacy disguised as fun and games. In one activity, four kids gather on the floor around a big puzzle. There are several buildings. Police and fire stations. Grocery store. City hall.

Rotella holds up a big red truck.

"This is a monster truck," she tells the kids. "And it likes to deliver letters to the city."

She holds up the letter T.

"What letter is this," she asks one girl.

"Tee," she says.

The girl puts the T into the back of the truck.

"Can you deliver the letter T to the children on the school bus?"

The girl pushes it to the drawing of the yellow bus.

After rotating around three activity centres, it's time for the parents to return.

In the final part of class, they head to the hallway with clipboards in hand. Each board holds a piece of paper with four alphabet letters.

On the hallway wall are symbols and pictures of logos.

The parents and kids work together as a team to find their letters in the logos.

The program, if successful, will be offered again next summer in some form, says Van Lankveld.

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How to read to your child

* Complete sentences. Say a sentence and have your child finish it. "Something went bump and made us ….."

* Recall. Ask questions about the story. "Can you remember some things that happened to Sarah when she went to school?"

* Ask open-ended questions. "Tell me about this page. I wonder …"

* What, where, when and why. "What's this called? Where did the dog go? Why is the boy smiling?"

* Link to real life. "Did you ever play in the snow like Andy did? What did it feel like?"

* Let your child hold the book and turn the pages. Let them choose from a couple age-appropriate books.

* Point out the pictures from the words.

* Point out where you start to read.

* Drag your finger along while you read so your child sees which way you are reading.

* Point out the spaces between the words and ask your child to count the number of words in a sentence.

* Point out some words that start with the same letter; name the letter and say what sound it makes.

* Tell your child that the words tell the story about the picture. Have them guess what the story may be about by looking at the picture.

Source: Speech Services Niagara.


Source: Niagara Falls Review –