Reading Comprehension

Five Outdoor Learning Benefits

Five Outdoor Learning Benefits 1000 699 admin

As spring moves across the country and the weather begins to warm up, all this sunshine has us wanting to be out frolicking in a field somewhere. With longing eyes staring out the classroom window, the best course of action is to just take the learning where the students want to be: outside! Not only will students love the change of scenery, they will reap the many other outdoor learning benefits!

The Benefits of Outdoor Learning

So, what exactly are the benefits of outdoor learning?

1. Increased Motivation

According to a recent study, students who participate in outdoor education, particularly in science, reported they felt significantly more motivation to learn the material. The students also reported feeling more competent in the material they learned outside afterwards.

2. Decreased Stress

Cortisol is a stress hormone, and students who spend part of their school day learning outside report healthier daily cortisol levels than those who spend the entire school day inside. This means that students who have the opportunity to learn outside have the regular plateaus and dips of cortisol, while those who do not have a steady level of cortisol all day.

3. Better Grades

Multiple studies have documented that students who participate in outdoor education have increased performance in school. This includes better standardized test scores, better attitudes about school, better behavior in school, better attendance, and a general enhancement in student achievement.

4. Healthier Students

Outdoor learning supports healthy child development emotionally, intellectually, and behaviorally. Students feel more confident, independent, creative, empathetic, and improve their decision-making and problem-solving skills. This feeds into their increased school performance.

5. It’s More Fun!

We all need a change of scenery every now and then to keep things interesting. Taking a trip outside can increase student’s enthusiasm for whatever the lesson is. Bonus points if it’s a science lesson that directly relates to the outdoors (like planting an herb garden)!

Take Learning Outside

If you have the chance, bring those stir-crazy students outside for a little outdoor learning. They’ll be more focused, motivated, and enthusiastic, and you as a teacher can enjoy the academic benefits.

What happens when spring moves into summer, however, and students leave the classroom entirely for vacation? Then, you can send them home with an outcome-driven, incentivized summer learning program to keep all those skills they learned during the school year fresh for the next one! Subscribe to our Summer Newsletter to fill student’s summers with exciting enrichment activities from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

National Book Month – 2014

National Book Month – 2014 199 300 admin

Reading Tips for October – Celebrating National Book Month! Summer reading is behind us and the school routine is up and running.

Shifting from a summer of free time to a school year schedule can lead to less “free time” reading. Yet, while kids read at school, choosing to read just for fun is an important part of becoming a lifelong reader and learner. The 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress highlighted a troubling trend in reading for pleasure as children grow. In fourth-grade, 53% of girls and 39% of boys read for fun almost every day. But by eighth-grade, only 25% of girls and 13% of boys read for fun almost daily.

National Book Month is a great opportunity to try some fun reading activities at school and start some new reading habits in the home for the next 9 months of school.

At School:

  • Send letters to favorite authors about their books
  • Host a book swap
  • Wear pajamas to school for a cozy reading hour

At Home:

  • Play “20 Questions” with a twist – try to guess book titles
  • Set aside 20 minutes a day to read to a child or “partner read” (sit side by side reading together silently)
  • Make a visit to the library as a family


adorable boy reading comic book

What counts as reading?

What counts as reading? 400 300 admin

Does the Guiness book of World Records count as reading?  About this time every summer, my boys and I start negotiating what counts as reading.  As we haggle over what “counts” for their 20-30  minutes of daily reading time, I try to keep in mind all I have learned from other parents, teachers and researchers.  So here is a list of what my family has decided “counts” as summer reading.

  1. Chapter books of any type – Seems obvious, but when it is the 6th book about a soccer star, sometimes I must grind my teeth and grin.
  2. Graphic novels – Yes, the word count is much lower, but my teacher friends tell me that the comprehension is actually more difficult because it involves so much visual interpretation.
  3. Guiness Book of World Records – Okay, this one may be unique to our household, but reading about the most tattooed man counts.
  4. Audio books – This one was tricky. However, reading experts opened my eyes to the value of modeling fluent reading, teaching critical listening, and introducing vocabulary that is unique to audio books.
  5. Digital e-books – Here I am talking about “enhanced” books, with sounds and gizmos and gadgets. Still counts as reading.
  6. Web surfing – This one is very fuzzy. Our rule is it only counts if you can come and share with me the specific idea or article you read.
  7. Magazines – While I like National Geographic for Kids best, but any magazine counts.

Listen to a Story Together – FREE!

Listen to a Story Together – FREE! 300 243 admin

Listen to a story read by a trained story teller – it’s a wonderful way to spend time with your child.  In the car, while sorting socks, or simply sitting in the grass, let the story fill both of your imaginations.  Talk together about what you thought the characters looked like or how the reader made each character sound so different from each other.

Try these websites for free audio books and stories that you can listen to today!

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StoryNory publishes a free audio story every week.  Each story is read by a professional actor and ranges from the classics, to poetry to fairy tales.


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Light up your Brain offers free downloads so that you do not have to be connected to WIFI when you choose to listen.  Plus, you can click on the story link to follow the text if you want to practice reading at the same time.

Read a Book, Give a Book! Free Digital Books from We Give Books

Read a Book, Give a Book! Free Digital Books from We Give Books 300 243 admin

We Give Books is a terrific website with lots of high quality, FREE digital books. With a library of popular books, including favorites like Llama Llama Misses Mama, We Give Books is a terrific online reading resource for elementary school readers.

Every book that your child reads at We Give Books, or that you read to your child, brings new books to public libraries this summer. For every Book of the Week read online, We Give Books will donate a new book to a public library. Each week a new Book of the Week is featured, along with reading activities you can download to help with reading comprehension.

So far, over 3 million books have been donated to schools and libraries since We Give Books was founded by the Pearson Foundation.

Enjoy reading digital books for free and feel good about the books you help donate. And don’t forget to log your reading minutes in your ThinkStretch summer workbook too!

NEW! ThinkStretch Summer Reading Challenge

NEW! ThinkStretch Summer Reading Challenge 208 246 admin

ThinkStretch is proud to introduce our newest feature for schools and families – the online ThinkStretch Summer Reading Challenge. Supporting the ThinkStretch Summer Learning book series, the online reading challenge offers another way to engage students and families over the summer time in fun, exploratory summer learning activities.  Logging reading minutes is just the beginning.

Students are challenged to log 20 minutes of reading five days a week over the summer to earn raffle tickets for a prize drawing.  As students create their personal online logins, they can watch their progress and earn raffle tickets along the way.  The raffle tickets enter kids into a prize drawing with large and small rewards – from an iPod to a brain eraser.

BrainGain questions earn even more raffle entries!  Reading comprehension is key to keeping reading skills strong over the summer.  Every time students log reading minutes, they will have the opportunity to answer a BrainGain question.  BrainGain questions range from “Name five words that caught your attention while reading” to “Summarize the story in 3 sentences.”

Entertain Your Brain activities offer hands on science, math, reading and writing exploration.  On each student’s personal challenge page there is a scrolling bar of Entertain Your Brain activities.  With new activities every week, kids and families will have at their fingertips science activities like “homemade silly putty” and “electricity in your mouth.”  Our reading lists ensure that finding the just right book is never a problem.  And our outdoor games and activities keep kids off the couch.

Customized summer reading challenges offer school and student specific reporting on reading minutes and comprehension activities completed.  Our custom option offers you the ability to report on student reading minutes by school, classroom or grade level.  You can also review the answers to the BrainGain questions by student.  In addition, schools can create special prizes and rewards for kids.  From passes to the front of the lunch line to certificates of success for reading milestones achieved, your school can create a program that works best for your student population.  Contact us if you would like to create a custom Entertain Your Brain challenge for your school.

The ThinkStretch Summer Reading Challenge will begin June 1 and end August 31.  Sign up will begin May 1, 2014. 

Summer reading is more fun with friends! Encourage your friends to sign up by sharing this post via social media.

Boys and Reading

Boys and Reading 282 424 admin

As a mother of three sons, I have (occasionally!) jealously watched quiet families of girls reading. I imagine all the things I could accomplish with some quiet time.

However, my curiosity and frustration began to rise as I noticed how much better at reading girls are doing today compared to boys. According to the US Department of Education, a lot of boys are having trouble reading. Reading tests for the last 30 years show boys scoring worse than girls in every age group, every year.

As I dug into the research, I looked for specific things I could do to help my boys become better readers. Here are a few reading tips for parents with boys struggling to stay interested in books:

  • Expand my definition of reading – I needed to include nonfiction, graphic novels, comic books and websites.
  • Point out male role models – I have a book club.  My husband has a poker night. My boys do not see reading as part of what “a guy” does. I needed to ask my husband to step it up as a reading role model.
  • Start small – Starting with a short book or a short magazine and then talking about it with me is enough.
  • Give a lot of choice – The books I am interested in generally do not appeal to my sons. I needed to step outside of my comfort zone and ask the librarian for help to come up with a pile of choices that I had never heard of!

The most important thing I can do, however, is to keep my boys reading. After all, the only way to get better at reading is to READ, READ, READ!

Today isn’t just Valentine’s Day, it’s International Book Giving Day, too. Why not celebrate by giving your son (or daughter!) a new book, or reading a new book aloud with them?

Read Aloud or Read With Me?

Read Aloud or Read With Me? 424 283 admin

As your children transition from beginning readers to more independent readers, how you spend time together reading can change.

One distinction that I have used with my boys is the difference between a “read aloud” book and a “read with” book. “Read aloud” books are usually books beyond my child’s reading level. I am in control of the pace, expression and timing of the reading. My son just needs to sit back and relax into the story and the warm couch with me.

A “read with” book is a story that is at or slightly above your child’s reading level. Instead of you controlling the pace of reading, your child is reading with you. We took turns reading paragraphs or pages. Sometimes I would be the voice of one character and my son would be the voice of a different character.  The important thing with a “read with” story is that your child reads aloud to you, giving you the opportunity to help with new words.

The best part of both the “read with” and “read aloud” books is the time spent together. It’s fantastic to hear a child ask, “Will you read with me?” Don’t waste an opportunity to build some reading comprehension by talking about the book when you are done. Ask a few questions about the story and watch your child’s reading skills grow.

BrainFreeze Reading Challenge ONLINE!

BrainFreeze Reading Challenge ONLINE! 300 109 admin

Sign up for the online BrainFreeze Reading Challenge to give your students or children a chance to win great prizes for reading over winter break!

We’re thrilled to announce our first ever online reading challenge. Kids can log their reading minutes daily in our winter break reading log and earn a raffle ticket into a random drawing with a grand prize of an iPod Touch.

And as an extra bonus for kids, BrainGain questions keep reading alive and engaging. Plus, for every BrainGain question answered, students are entered into a random drawing for an iPod nano.

Join ThinkStretch as we challenge students and families to keep an online reading log this winter break. Everyone wins when students return to school with ready to learn new skills in the new year! Sign up today!

P.S. If you haven’t gotten your BrainFreeze packet yet, download BrainFreeze now!

[cta text=”Keep students’ brains warmed up with BrainFreeze Winter Break packets from ThinkStretch!” link=”” color=”blue”] Download BrainFreeze [/cta]

What to Read?

What to Read? 300 221 admin

Did you know kids enjoy reading more when they get to pick their own books? While choosing a book can be tricky, you can help your child find their “just right” book by offering titles and authors that have a track record of pleasing kids. Some of my kids favorites were found by looking at book lists from trusted folks. Here are some resources that are sure to help you find perfect elementary school books!

What is your child’s favorite book? Leave a comment below!

reading is fundamental logo

Reading is Fundamental is a the largest children’s literacy nonprofit in the United States. RIF’s goal is to motivate young children to read by working with them, their parents, and community members to make reading a fun and beneficial part of everyday life. RIF’s highest priority is reaching underserved children from birth to age 8.

Terrific booklists help you and your child find just what you are looking for!

elementary school books resource

Reading Rockets is a non-profit that offers a wealth of reading strategies, lessons, and activities designed to help young children learn how to read and read better. Their reading resources assist parents, teachers, and other educators in helping readers build fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension skills.

With lists organized by theme – you and your child are bound to find the next “best book ever”!