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Jen Robinson | @JensBookPage

Jen Robinson | @JensBookPage

Jen Robinson | @JensBookPage has been blogging about children's literature and growing bookworms since 2005. After her daughter started elementary school, she expanded her blog's focus to encompass the growing of joyful learners of all types: bookworms, mathematicians, scientists, artists, and more.


Jen believes that most schools today feature too much homework, too much testing, and not enough time for play and self-directed learning. She worries about the pressures on kids that are sapping their joy of learning. She thinks that we can do better. She feels that this matter is urgent. 


Jen has a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering, and co-owns a small software firm serving the semiconductor industry. She grew up in Massachusetts and now lives in San Jose, California, with her husband and daughter.  

Posted by on in Movement and Play

This is my first summer without home-based childcare. Although I work from home, keeping my seven-year-old, only child daughter home with me is not a good option because she is (as previously described on my blog) not very good at entertaining herself. I have work that I need to do, and I certainly don't want her on her device all day long.

Most of the time, she goes to a small nearby childcare center that is play-based. During the summer they have weekly themes, and they offer supplies for different craft projects according to those themes. But they are very low-key, and it's typical for me to go by to pick my daughter up and find the kids doing something like making a cooperative book or practicing a show. [And sometimes they are watching a movie - you can't have everything.] But in general, it's a pretty relaxed environment, and ranges from 2 to maybe 6-7 kids there at one time. She's there during the school year after school, too, but there are more kids then.

Wanting to mix things up a bit, I had also signed her up for two weeks at a bigger, more structured day camp, held at a local elementary school. There were lots of STEAM activities - science and art projects (which are now taking up considerable space around our house). There was plenty of time outside running around, themes for the different days, music, and tremendous enthusiasm on the part of the young counselors. We know a bunch of other families who also attended this camp the first week, and most of the kids loved it.

My daughter? Not so much. After the first day, I basically had to force her to go every day. She kept whining and asking why she couldn't just go to the regular place. (Because I had pre-paid, and was not about to pay for 2 different things at the same time.) The best she could tell me about WHY she didn't like it was that it was too much like school. Reading between the lines a bit, it was like school but without the free play at lunch and recess, without any reading, and without seeing as many of her friends (especially the second week - the second week was very painful). She didn't like having to go from activity to activity on someone else's schedule. She didn't like having to run around outside in the heat. She didn't like being with 150 kids instead of the usual handful.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

My daughter finished Kindergarten last week. My goal has been to keep her summer as unstructured as possible. I want her to have downtime after her first year of elementary school. I want her to have the mental space to develop and nurture her own interests. I want her to have fun. Which is not to say that she won't be learning. She's six years old. She is a little sponge, soaking up opportunities for learning every day. Here are the things that I plan to do that I think will support my daughter's learning process without taking away her autonomy or joy of learning:

KnuffleBunnyFree1. Keep piles of picture books on the kitchen table and by her bed. Rotate these every couple of days to give her choice. Keep the simple reading log that we've been using on the kitchen table, so that we can jot down books as we read them. Read to her while she eats breakfast, before bed, and during whatever other times she requests it throughout the day. Visit the library as needed to keep the piles of books fresh. We are still mostly reading these books to her, but whenever she decides that she wants to read a picture book or early reader aloud, we're happy to listen and help out.

2. Keep a Grade 1 workbook on the kitchen table or the playroom desk, in case she wants to use it. She especially likes the Scholastic workbooks that I get from Costco. She has already asked me to get the Grade 2 workbook, for when she finishes. I am not requiring her to do the workbook at any time, and certainly not to finish it. But I find that if it is her own idea, and she has some downtime, she's happy to use the workbook to practice her writing and math. Last night she was practicing sentences while my husband and I were finishing dinner. I loved workbooks as a kid, and seeing her industrious work does make me smile.

3. Keep her afternoons as open as possible (vs. having structured activities). My daughter ended up deciding at the last minute to sign up for swim team. There is practice every morning, though she is only required to go three times a week. These practices do get her outside exercising and spending time with her friends. They've been staying to play together at the pool for longer than the 45 minute practice time, so I figure this is a reasonable compromise. She also has two 50-minute karate classes a week, but as previously discussed, the karate classes bring her great joy. She's also going to do one week of "spy camp" because I couldn't resist. But otherwise, her schedule during the week is clear.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

relaxed kids

I try not to over-schedule my daughter (who just turned six). This is harder than I ever would have imagined. There are so many things she could do, should do, wants to do, and/or could learn from in some way. We are constantly seeking the balance that is right for her and for our family. Sometimes things get a little out of whack (for example, when seasonal activities don't line up quite right), but we keep trying.

One thing that helps is the fact that my daughter seems to understand herself, and to know that she doesn't like it when she is over-scheduled. She recently opted not to do our local Swim Team this summer, despite the compelling fact that many of her friends are on the team. Selfishly, I was happy about this choice, but I truly do think that it was better for my daughter. She needs downtime. She needs time for unstructured play. She needs time to just goof around and try things out. She needs time to read and be read to. She just needs time.

She had a recent afternoon mostly free (except for an hour for karate class). She used the time to rearrange my office (sigh), start reading a middle grade book (she did not get far, but I applauded the effort), build some things with Legos, brainstorm a poem that she wants to write for next week's Teacher Appreciation Day, and learn to ride a bike without training wheels. I would say that this is a pretty typical day, but the truth is that there is no typical day when you are six years old and provided with free time. [Of course the bicycle was an accomplishment, of which she is quite proud.]

It's not that Swim Team (or piano lessons or softball or tennis or whatever else we might have chosen) wouldn't have been valuable in a different way. But I can't let go of the feeling that having big chunks of free time to dabble about is more valuable. At least for now, when she is six years old. And the fact that at six she thinks so too is pretty much all I need to know.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

READALOUD

One day last week, a mom who reads my blog emailed me looking for advice. She said that she had been trying to read aloud to her 11-month-old son, but that she was having a hard time getting him to stay put for the reading sessions. [Image credit: Adazing.com, Inspirational Reading Quotes]

I sent her the following three suggestions:

1. Don’t try to get him to stay put. Read aloud to him while he’s wandering around, playing with blocks, or whatever else captures his fancy. Kids often are listening even when they don’t seem like they are listening. If he’s not looking at the pictures, you can actually read aloud from almost anything. When my daughter was an infant I read the first Harry Potter book aloud to her. The idea is to get him used to cadence of your voice when you are reading, and for him to hear lots of different (rich) vocabulary words.

2. Read to him while he’s in his high chair eating. Take advantage of him being a captive audience. Here you can hold the book up and show pictures, so it's good to stick with books that have simple, bright illustrations. Leslie Patricelli's board books are excellent for this purpose, but anything he's shown an interest in will do. I still read aloud to my daughter almost every day while she eats breakfast. I believe that I first saw this idea in Jim Trelease's Read Aloud Handbook.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

GoodRead

I believe that all children deserve to grow up with the opportunity to love books and reading. They won't actually all end up as dedicated readers, of course - kids have all sorts of unique preferences and learning styles. But there are countless gifts that stem from growing up with an enjoyment of reading, from a strong vocabulary to a heightened degree of empathy. Basically, kids who enjoy books and reading will choose to spend some of their time reading. Reading will become easier and easier for them, and they will enjoy it more and more, and thus spend more time at it. There will be a positive feedback cycle that leads to improved test scores, strong verbal skills, and most importantly, many hours of enjoyment. 

BOYBOOKHere are some tips for parents who would like to nurture the love of reading in their children. These tips were originally published on my personal blog several years ago, and are updated here for EdWords. 

1. Read aloud to your children from (or even before) birth, and keep reading aloud to them even after they can read on their own (for as long as you can). This has been shown to have a huge impact in raising readers, and is the number one thing that parents and other concerned adults should do to help grow bookworms. By reading to kids in a comforting environment, you help them to think of reading as a pleasurable activity. You also increase their vocabularies and attention spans, and show them that books are important. And with all of the many wonderful books out there, this should be enjoyable for you and the kids.

2. Read the books that your children read, even after you are no longer reading aloud with them (or along with books you're reading together). Talk to them about these books. Let them recommend books to you. By reading the books your children read, you show them that you value them, and the books, and you open up untold avenues for important discussions. I personally think that if more parents and other adults did this, there would be less of a drop-off in reading for pleasure as kids get older (though I have no formal data to back this up). I wrote about this in more detail here.

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