Category Archives: Reading

Phonics Skills Put Kids in The Driver’s Seat as Readers and Lifelong Learners

We knew it: Kids become good readers when parents/teachers 1) read to them, 2) show them books with great stories & illustrations, 3) talk to them about their ideas, and 4) give them tools to read.

A recent Stanford University study published by Professor Marin Aukerman describes how kids naturally move to the driver’s seat by the end of Grade 2 to take charge of their reading when grownups give them the proper tools.

What’s the secret sauce? The Stanford researcher found that kids who know how to decode (break down words into syllables) well most naturally move between pictures and words to understand the piece- they talk about text more often and are more on point than classmates. That tees them up to apply the techniques on their own and to like reading. It’s what my mentor, Harvard Ed School’s Professor Jeanne Chall wrote in her classic, Stages of Reading Development.

The most exciting finding to me is that the kids volunteered those connections (the strong decoders naturally said more about what they read and ‘proved’ their opinions using text and images more than the weak decoders) without prompting from their teachers.

Thinking along the education developmental trajectory as Professor Chall pioneered, the kids who become ‘unstuck’ from the page as good decoders then pull meaning from text with greater ease and success. Then, as they move toward ‘reading to learn,’ they are ready to apply the information to other language-based contexts, such as discussions in a Belief Systems class or in writing bullet points for debates. Karyn Slutsky, Assistant Director of Queens Paideia School conceptualizes it this way:”At QPS, literacy goes hand-in-hand with critical thinking skills. We challenge students to categorize information, notice and create comparisons, seek connections, explain their reasoning, and elaborate both orally and in writing so as to help them get their ideas to the next level of complexity.” From there, it’s on to top-notch Chemistry lab reports, winning law school Moot Court briefs, and writing a business plan to fund her latest startup!

The take home? They really do take in what we say and what we model. All the more reason to pop by your local bookstore or library.

For great tips on classics or new releases, check out The Corner Bookstore, where your kid can even set up his own account – Add his account to the index card archive of kids’ purchases in the drawers behind the antique cash register- generations of UES kids who grew to adore books at this Madison Ave gem. Or head straight down Madison to 79th Street for great kid and adult reads/programming at the timeless New York Society Library.

For those outside The Big Apple which is your ‘drop everything and read’ spot?

Check out these Ivy Prep tips for cultivating reading comprehension skills, too.

It’s National Reading Month: Let’s Celebrate Books & Baseball


March: Time to Celebrate Books &  Baseball

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It’s National Reading Month and in NYC the temps are warming up. School teams have started baseball practice, and the first pitches will soon be thrown  at Yankee Stadium​ and Citifield​!

The National Endowment for the Arts’ annual Read Across America finishing its tour and  President and Mrs. Obama supporting the Open E Books Initiative, a government  private corporate partnership designed to provide access to $250,000,000 of digital content free of charge to institutions that assist children who are underprivileged or who  have learning challenges.


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What a terrific way to put Common Core in its place: For one afternoon, place appeals for ACT, the ‘New SAT’ and other standardized test accommodations aside,  and pore over a great new release rather than planning summer college visits for you and your  11th grader!  Let’s take the advice of and take 15 minutes to enjoy the pleasure of a  good read.


It’s time to head over to your local book-store and pick up something fun to enjoy – or to read with someone else.  One of my  favorite  haunts is The Corner Bookstore. Insider tip: Set up an account for your child, who will join  thousands of other UES locals from decades past with index cards tracking their reads and balances — all lovingly archived in wooden files behind the counter that displays  the snazziest vintage cash register around.


Reading Recs for Those with Baseball on the Brain

The White House should have total consensus on its Open Ebook Initiative:  It’s a great time for kids and adults alike  stretch their imagination and their mental muscles just as in these weeks the athletes fine tune their Spring Training drills! Here’s a sampling of title we hope you will enjoy:

For the 7-13 Year Old Set  Counting the Minutes till Opening Day:

Dan Gutman​’s latest ‘Baseball Adventure’ release, Willie & Me. It’s the latest in Gutman’s series which  links baseball and history. The series hero, Joe Shostak’s time travel adventures take place with the rub of a baseball card. Parents may enjoy Gutman’s earlier piece, Roberto  & Me, where Joe’s time travel takes him to a  late 1960’s Jimi Hendrix Concert!




For the Budding Sabermetrician:Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 9.10.20 AM

Preorder MLB Network​ sportscaster Brian Kenny‘s ode to analytics, Ahead of the Curve with a taste here from last week’s SABR’s 5th Annual Analytics Conference.  I spoke with  Brian about his mantra: Analytics shape critical thinking on and off the field. We talked baseball, critical thinking,  and metacognition: Here’s what he had to say about why baseball is such a great way to engage our kids:

For Mommies Dashing Around Town……..

for last minute spring break reads can grab the handy paperback (Birken Bag friendly)  Primates of Park Avenue:A Memoir, Wednesday Martin​’s intriguing, dramatic. and humorous take on UES/UWS life and  parenting,


Reading Skills Grow When Reading is Fun

Summer Reading

Enjoying reading and improving fluency happens when books are engaging and when we can read them at an independent, comfortable reading level. This  can be a year-round experience, but spring and summer vacation lend themselves to family time and more relaxed opportunities to live literacy through our passions.



Reading Levels
Stages of Reading Development (Chall)

Professor Jeanne Chall, my Harvard Ed School mentor from 30 years ago would want us all to remember that reading is a developmental process that can be systematically taught  but  is best fostered gradually and in naturalistic ways. It starts with talking to our kids when they are babies and is a lifelong process, just ask the entrepreneurs, lawyers, physicians and writers I teach as they fine-tune their skills to advance their passions and their professional aspirations. Let’s remind ourselves, our students and children to enjoy books that are not always ‘a stretch’ – This is essential to honing reading and ensuring fluency grows and that reading remains  a fun experience. Check out these Ivy Prep tips for  improving reading comprehension.


Baseball Harvard

We invite you to share this blog, and to comment it, and jot us  a note – whether about your favorite books  or places you’ll be enjoying  them this spring. And then… head outdoors with your kids to enjoy the beautiful day and…. PLAY BALL!


Reading ComprehensionReading happens in various stages throughout a child’s growth and development, and it varies from child to child. Therefore, it is more important to foster your child’s development and interest in reading than it is to focus on the reading level of your child or what they are reading.


  • Read new words, material, or stories that capture your child’s interest(s).
  • Read riddles or sing songs with them.
  • Help your child read a newspaper story and then discuss it with them.
  • Expose your child to as many authors, texts, and books as possible.
  • Watch your child read, and observe their reaction to the text.
  • Allow your child to read at their own pace, and in their own way.
  • Read together and/or to each other, and have a discussion about what you are reading.
  • Engage your child with the words/text/book by discussing the nuance of the language.
  • Ask your child questions about what they are reading – this is a great way to see how your child is reading and what they are picking up from the text.
  • Connect the story to other ideas or interests to help stimulate thinking skills that most enhance literacy.
  • Provide real world connections to what they are reading to help their minds continue to grow and expand.
  • Model good reading behavior. It is just as critical for children to read as it is for them to see their parents read. When children see their parents read for pleasure, it makes reading seem like less of a chore.
  • Check out the Jeanne Chall Reading Lab webpage via Harvard’s Graduate School of Education website for great tips on language and literacy. Dr. Jeanne Chall was my mentor and trainer when I was a student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. I utilize her approach to reading with all of my clients at Ivy Prep. She remains a great source of inspiration to me and the work I do.

Engaging and interacting with your child when they read allows them to not only develop a connection with the books they read – and with you! – but also to the rest of the world. Books provide us with meaningful context and understanding of life. We shouldn’t be limiting our perspective of the world with narrow, leveled readers, but developing and expanding it with books that help us grow, and challenge us, as readers, and as humans.



Summer is an ideal time for families to relax, take a break from demanding school days, and become comfortable with less-structured time – and less-structured reading. Children (and parents) have more opportunities to discover books on their own and read ones they love. They can also read at a more relaxed pace, without intense scrutiny and pressure. Hopefully, the slower pace and freedom of choice makes reading more enjoyable and allows our children to discover the magic of reading.

Recently, though, a Wall Street Journal piece discusses the benefits of books with prescribed levels, known as “leveled readers,” as an easy way for parents to pick books for their children to read over the summer. While it’s nice to have a guide for choosing books, a more important point is that parents shouldn’t be the ones doing the choosing. Nor should the publishers.

What and at what level children are reading should not be our primary focus. Instead, the focus should be on letting your child read what she or he likes to read. Parents can certainly play a role in helping their child increase the desire to read, but the true payoff comes from letting children choose books that spark or expand their interests or allow them to explore completely new subjects.


The problem with leveled readers is that they can be limiting for both a child and a parent. It’s harder for the parent to discover a child’s innate curiosity or reading level when the book is prescribed by a publisher. It also limits the child if he or she is not matched with the correct level. Reading is all about expanding our horizons, not holding us back.

As linguist and education professor Stephen Krashen writes on his blog in response to the same WSJ article, “Restricting children to reading at a certain level makes the incorrect assumption that readers must know nearly every word to understand and enjoy texts.” 

While assessing a child’s reading level is important, there are more imaginative ways to do so other than through formulaic books. Of course, basic reading entails certain skill-building—practicing sounds and syllables, recognizing letters and words. Leveled readers are decent tools for this as well as for reinforcing accuracy, rate, and comprehension.

But reading also requires critical thinking, even at the most basic level. Can children make sense of what they are reading and learning? Do they connect to the book? Can they connect the book to reality? These are the assessment markers we have the luxury of considering over the summer.


The best way for parents to assess and help their children with reading and comprehension is to observe their growth in reading and see where their reading interests lie.

Reading Levels
The stages of reading development according to Jeanne Chall, Ph.D. in her book Stages of Reading Development.

As a learning specialist, what I’ve noticed over the course of three decades of working with children is that actively engaging with them when discussing the nuance of language and the connection of text to other ideas or interests stimulates thinking skills that enhance beginning literacy more than any single-factor leveling system can.


Perhaps your child will choose to read a leveled reader. Perhaps she will choose to read about Clifford, the big red dog, or about George and Martha, hippopotamuses who are best friends, or one of Dr. Seuss’s many wonderful books.

Your child may love to read poetry. Or Hemingway, whose sentences are short, clear, and concise. The point is not which book or level of book your child is reading—any book is great—but that your child connects with the story. The more meaningful the interaction is with the text, the more a child can activate important critical thinking skills.

Ultimately, reading is a way for a child (and an adult) to make sense of the world. We use language as a way to communicate and speak, and also as a way to think about our lives and how we connect with the rest of the world.

Stay tuned for our next blog post on tips for helping your child cultivate reading skills.

Image courtesy of Jessica Genetel,