Archive for October, 2009

Family Literacy Night


What better way to encourage families to read together than to invite the whole gang to a family literacy night hosted at your school!


Foster excitement and community by managing the flow in and out of a central location.

Act 1: Have all kids and parents meet in gym. They can mill around and look at the posters about what’s going to be read in each classroom.  Once they decide what they want to hear, they can sign up.  Then they can move over to the raffle table, take a peek at the  prizes, and enter their names for the draw.

Literacy Activity One: Families move to the first classroom for story reading and activity (see suggested classroom activities).

Act 2: Families gather together again in the gym for refreshments and a whole group activity (see suggested large group activities).

Literacy Activity Two: Families move to second classroom for reading and activity.

Act 3: Families gather together again for wrap-up activity and door prize raffle. If students have to be on site to win a prize, there’s a good chance they will stay through to the end.


  • Puppet show of story
  • Making bookmarks
  • Teachers and/or students perform in reader’s theatre, acting out story
  • Students and parents write and act out a skit on the theme (maybe with another family)
  • Bingo – sight word, antonyms, synonyms, literary terms, etc.
  • Spelling bee
  • Wheel of Fortune – identify the story / book title or name the Shakespearean character
  • Complete the limerick, or write a quirky ending to a fairy tale or Aesop’s fable
  • Trivia game about the story with parents against students or family teams
  • Rewrite nursery rhymes or song lyrics
    • Scavenger hunt for things that rhyme; things have the same beginning sound; things that are spelled with double o, etc.
    • Author-focussed activity (e.g. Dr. Seuss):  Read The Cat in the Hat and have everyone make a silly hat. (This activity can be extended into the large group setting where there is a competition for the silliest hat – and a small prize awarded).


  • Book walk (model after cake walk, but use words, not cakes)
  • School story: all families contribute to perpetual story written in a Big Book
  • Local author / principal reads funny poems / short story during refreshment time
  • Silent auction to raise money for books
  • Author focussed activity (e.g. Dr. Seuss): Read Green Eggs and Ham in large group setting while serving a family dinner of – you guessed it – green eggs and ham.


Families sign out a school library book before going home at the end of the literacy evening.   The twist is that mom or dad must commit to reading a certain number of pages each week/month to the child – and it’s the children who sign off on whether their parents did their ‘homework’.

I really love this idea because parents often stop reading to their children once the kids can read by themselves. But reading to our children is so good for them – both in terms of quiet quality time spent together – and in terms of the development of listening comprehension, attention and vocabulary skills.

The classroom with the parents who do the most reading earns a prize.  Parents/students can earn extra points if they create and display a book project at the next literacy night.

Teachers / librarians can prepare a list of classic / excellent fiction that’s available in the school library.  This list can be published in the before-event newsletter – and copies can be taped to the refreshment tables on literacy night.

For parents who can’t read, or who can’t read English, use books on tape.


Have a MASCOT visit classrooms a week or two before the literacy evening to generate a buzz.  Ensure your mascot is around for a few minutes during the event; if s/he mysteriously appears and disappears, that would be fun – especially for the little ones. Perhaps your mascot can present the prizes when the raffle winners are called.

Invite a DYNAMIC COMMUNITY MEMBER to arrive in uniform and read stories about characters who work in the same field:

  • Mail Carrier  (e.g. evening’s activity can be writing a letter)
  • Firefighter  / EMT
  • Soldier
  • Veterinarian
  • Police Officer
  • Doctor / Nurse / Dentist

Organize the entire evening around a THEME.

  • Undersea world
  • Pirates
  • Magic
    • Grandparents
    • Seasonal themes
    • Babies / Siblings
    • Zoo / Circus
    • Sports – Would a player from a local sports team come in, read to students and talk about

value of literacy?


Have teachers create poster(s) of the theme / author / book that will be highlighted in their classroom on Family Literacy Night.  Display posters in school hallways to generate student interest and increase likelihood of good attendance.

Have a translator on hand for the benefit of parents who are not yet comfortable with the language and who may feel out-of-the-loop in the large group.  Parents from your school community may help if you ask.

Ask local high schools students to babysit your students’ younger siblings in an un-used classroom. The local high school principal might just support your endeavour by crediting babysitting hours to students’ mandatory community service hours.

Why not host a light meal (pizza, or chicken, or burgers and milk and salad) to take the pressure off busy families and increase the likelihood of attendance? 

Gather donations for prizes, refreshments, or a light meal from local merchants.  Send home a newsletter prior to the event acknowledging local merchants -  and don’t forget to acknowledge them after the event as well – including the names of prize winners in your newsletter.  Send the merchants a copy of both newsletters so they can post news of their contributions in a key  location on their premises.  You might even send a press release to community papers to advertise your event, what the prizes are, and who made donations.


Longhorn (Texas) Literacy Success

Family Literacy – Quick Tips

Family Literacy Night Kickoff – St. Paul, Minnesota

Submitted by Diane Duff.  Diane is an experienced and highly regarded educator.  For more about Diane and the services of her company, Aldridge-Duff, go to

Wednesday book review! A World Full of Ghosts

Halloween is this weekend and in our house we’ve been spending time reading some great books on monsters and ghosts and ghoulies. My last post talked about a great middle grade ghost story, Paris Pan takes the Dare . This week is still about ghosts with A World Full of Ghosts (age 4-8), by Charis Cotter and Marc Mongeau (published by Annick Press). Unlike my last post, this book is a collection of true ghost stories for kids.

A sea ghosts in Japan, a ghost pony in Scotland or the Lady in White in Canada, meet these and more in A World Full of Ghosts, a collection of twenty-six tales from around the world. Some stories give you a peek into a countries cultural beliefs. Some stories are just spooky tales. For younger readers, the author has included a scariness guide in the front of the book, one skull for a little scary up to three skulls for very scary. Also included in the front of the book is a numbered map; each number refers to the page number of a specific ghost story.

Although the illustrations that fill the pages are dark in colour, in keeping with the eerie stories being told, the images aren’t scary or overly frightening. I love how the images themselves seem to flow and float through the pages like the spirits they portray.

But before you venture into reading A World Full of Ghosts, you might want to follow the warning to readers at the front of the book:

Don’t read this book:
- in a lonely, empty house all by yourself
- by candlelight during a thunderstorm when the power is out
- in a dark forest under a full moon
- on Halloween

Now you’ve been warned. Happy Halloween!

Every Wednesday you can see more book reviews on Carrie Anne’s blog Another day. Another thought…or two as part of her weekly Write a Review Wednesday

Earning your business in the community….

Paul Rushforth is a successful Ottawa realtor with heart.  When a local OPP officer was critically hurt in the line of duty, Paul was one of the first to rally the troops to help his young family with basic needs.  He also auctioned off his own Ottawa Senators tickets ( a hot commodity in Ottawa) to help raise funds for the family.

Paul also joined forces with us for our United Way Community Day of Action.  Without blinking he provided binders and pencils boxes for 15o local kids in need AND loaned us his truck to transport all the goodies to the United Way head office.

Paul’s business is very successful and he doesn’t need to contribute for the “press”.  He contributes because he has heart and we like that.

If you’re looking for great advice on real estate, check out Paul’s blog Realty Bites.  And when it’s time to buy or sell we hope you’ll consider Paul.

Help is on the way for lunches!

It’s funny how things come into your life at the perfect time.  A few months prior to being asked to blog about school lunches for Best Tools for Schools, I, a trained chef and owner of a not so small catering company and fine food store, was feeling a little stressed about preparing snacks and lunches for my two boys aged 5 and 7.

You would think that I would have it all figured out and that my children would be going to school with the tastiest, healthiest and most eco-friendly lunches in the entire school.  #FAIL.  I have been in the school lunch game for about a year and previous to this I only had to worry about morning snacks as my child care provider took care of everything else for me.  If my kids had their way, they would eat Ritz crackers and kielbasa sausage everyday alongside juice boxes, packaged granola or cookie bars and some form of super hero fruit candy snack. What can I say, they liked it and it was the easiest kind of lunch to prepare. Healthy? Not so much. Litter free?  Heck no.

You can’t have strong opinions about food and not occasionally examine your own personal choices and practices.  Everyday in my business, I am thinking about seasonal food, the local food movement and incorporating green practices into my business.  When I had a closer look at the choices I was making for my children’s school lunches, a neon sign started to flash “conflict”!  Daily seasonal menu development, event planning and managing a busy production kitchen that produces food for hundreds everyday did not leave me with a lot of energy or interest in making school lunches, however, as September approached this year, I could no longer live with my lame lunch time fare.  I made a choice to focus on this nagging daily chore as a way to provide my boys with healthier home prepared food, to engage them in cooking and eliminate disposable packaging.  I was not 100% sure I would have the stamina to persevere, but I am happy to report that I was able to achieve all of these goals in a very short time.  I also discovered the planning and cooking to be a relaxing part of my week.  Go figure.

The stress of the school lunch starts with our intent to provide healthy and tasty food everyday amidst time limitations, a sea of questionable grocery products, allergy and dietary concerns, new environmental standards and of course the disapproving or inconsistent reception of its recipient.  Mix into that a lack of cooking skill or nutritional education and you have a recipe for your daily lunchtime melt (down).  If you want a double helping then add in the debate of organics, questionable food supply chains, the locavore movement and vegan and vegetarianism.  Makes you wish your kids could be breatharians.

Over the weeks I hope to help you with strategies, education and recipes to make your lunchtime packing ritual one that you can feel really good about.  My next blog will be a nutrition primer to help you with the basics of feeding your kids a healthy diet.  I will also touch on current dietary concerns of sodium and refined sugars which are all too common in food marketed to children.

Tracey is owner of Epicuria and mother of two young boys.  Watch for her lunchtime solutions here at Best Tools for Schools.

Help with Lunch…

Wouldn’t you love it if someone could take the dreaded task of making lunches off your hands?  We do too.  What to make?  What will they eat?  Is it healthy? We agonize over these questions from September ’til June.  Well we can’t make the lunches but we can introduce you to Tracey Black, the answer to our prayers.

Tracey is a world class chef that received her training at the Cordon Bleu Paris School of Cooking and the Stratford Chef School.  She runs one of Ottawa’s finest food and catering establishments, Epicuria. Don’t expect her to suggest quail eggs for the kids though.  No, Tracey has two young boys that she also must feed and understands the challenges we all face.

Beginnning Monday, October 26th, Tracey will be blogging here and offering up lunchtime solutions for frazzled moms everywhere.

Our way is the United Way….

Philanthropy has been part of our business plan from the very beginning.  So we were delighted when United Way Ottawa approached us and asked if we’d be interested in sponsoring one of four Community Day of Action.  Keeping in line with our belief that all kids should have the proper tools to succeed we jumped at the opportunity.

On September 30 we pulled into the United Way Head Office with enough supplies for 150 local kids.  United Way provided volunteers from the RCMP and the DND.  By the end of the day there were some very happy kids in Ottawa.  We are inspired to do even more next year by partnering with like-minded business people who want to help. Let us know if you’d like to join us.

Assembling boxes

Assembling boxes

Packing Kits

Packing Kits

Two of our lovely volunteers

Two of our lovely volunteers

Junior Kits ready to go

Junior Kits ready to go

Paul Rushforth loaned us his truck to get the supplies to United Way!

Paul Rushforth loaned us his truck to get the supplies to United Way!

Chaos, Ignorance, Disaster, and Incompetence: Which type resonates for you?

I always admired those who let their nightmares free. Most of mine I keep secret…

- Anais Nin

It’s always the same: March break or Easter or the winter holiday over and I not only oversleep, but I haven’t even set an alarm.  I don’t have the right date circled on the calendar in my kitchen, and as I lazily make my way downstairs to make coffee, students are milling around my door waiting for French class.  The coffee machine beeps “ready” and I wake up in a cold sweat.  Just a nightmare – recurring teacher nightmare.

I wondered if I was alone in my suffering, so I did an online search and came across a blog* that describes four types of teacher nightmares:

1)     CHAOS:  No matter what you do or how hard you try, it’s clear the students have other plans.   It’s a feeding frenzy – and you’re the prey.

2)     IGNORANCE:   No, you’re not teaching French Literature this fall…. You’ve been assigned to Grade 11 Calculus.  Oh, you failed high school math?

3) DISASTER:  The fire alarm is ringing. People are shouting. As you corral your students through the smoky hallway toward the stairwell one breaks left to go find his kid brother and another dashes back to the classroom to rescue her purse.  You’re paralyzed with indecision and the certain knowledge that one of them won’t get out alive.

4)     INCOMPETENCE: You’re practically tap dancing up there – but those who are paying attention don’t get it and, face it, the majority are texting or listening to iPods.   You’re giving ineffectual a whole new meaning.

Mine are always incompetence dreams.  Not just the dream of oversleeping, but also the one about making a mistake on the OEN system and giving a student two numbers, and the one in which I lose a set of unmarked exams three days before report cards are due.

In response to a poll this week, one of our teachers said he has ignorance dreams a few days before a new semester begins.  Another said she routinely has disaster dreams at the end of the school year (last year’s was about a child going into anaphylactic shock).

It would be interesting to hear from the teachers visiting this forum.  Do you have recurring dreams that fall into any of these four types?  Maybe you’ll stop a minute and describe your dream and identify which category it belongs to.  Maybe yours belongs in a whole new category.

We’d love to hear from you.


Submitted by Diane Duff.  Diane is an experienced and highly regarded educator.  For more about Diane and the services of her company, Aldridge-Duff, go to

Paris Pan takes the Dare

At our house October brings out pictures of pumpkins, dreams of little wrapped candy packages and spooky stories. I don’t have pumpkins or candy for you, but I do have a great spooky story your middle grader might enjoy: Paris Pan takes the Dare (age 9-12, 224pgs), by Cynthea Liu and published by Putnam and Sons.

‘Where should I start? The first time I felt my life hanging in the balance? Or the moment I believed the deceased had a way of talking to me? Or maybe I ought to begin with the second I walked into that school.’

Twelve-year-old Paris Pan has moved again, something that seems to happen every eight months or so. This time she’s moved to a small town and she just wants to fit in. The house, a work in progress since Paris’ dad hasn’t finished it yet, backs onto the woods on an isolated dead-end street. And if that isn’t creepy enough, an old abandoned shed still stands out back, a piece of the house’s past. Paris’ desire to have friends to call her own clouds her judgement when she eagerly joins forces with two girls in her class, Mayo and Dana. The threesome decide to celebrate Mayo’s thirteenth birthday by taking The Dare.

Paris is so excited to actually have friends, the whole idea of the dare doesn’t phase her too much, until she hears the story about Beth, a girl who was found dead years ago after taking The Dare. The best part, the dead girl used to live in Paris’ old house and died close by.

Then things start to get weird with china dolls appearing, noises in the old shed and a girl’s laughing voice in the dead of night. Could it be Beth trying to make contact; warning them not to take the dare?

Paris Pan takes the Dare takes me back to those awkward preteen years of trying to fit in and finding your own personal voice. Paris is a wonderful character that kids can really relate to. Internally she struggles between her desire to have friends and doing what she knows is right. As a Chinese-American she also tries to balance her modern thinking while still respecting her parent’s culture and traditions. Cynthea Liu does a wonderful job building up the suspense and then dropping you back down with a sigh of relief only to build the tension back up again. I found myself reading late into the night with a flashlight, spooking myself.

So hide your china dolls, grab a blanket and box of Creamsicles and prepare yourself to enjoy Paris Pan takes the Dare, a thrilling story full of great fright and friendship.

Every Wednesday you can see more book reviews on Carrie Anne’s blog Another day. Another thought…or two as part of her weekly Write a Review Wednesday

“Wear the old coat and buy the new book.” Austin Phelps

Exciting news!  We have a new guest blogger who loves children’s books as much as we do!  We’re thrilled to have her review some of the best kid’s books out there.  She’ll keep us busy parents up to date on the latest and greatest, and also give her opinions on some of the classics.

With a background in advertising, Carrie Anne Badov left the agency life to spend more time with her three energetic and active kids (age 7, 5, 2). She’s also a Mom Influencer and Review Writer at Her love of children’s literature extends beyond her mothering years, back to when she was a child and would remove pages of books and insert her own stories. She continues to write her own stories in the hopes of seeing one of them published but in the meantime she loves to read and review great children’s books. Every Wednesday you can see more book reviews on her blog Another day. Another thought…or two as part of her weekly Write a Review Wednesday

Look for Carrie Anne’s posts every second Wednesday, starting October 14th.  We’re hoping she’ll inspire you to pick up a great book and read it with your children, which will help foster a lifelong love of literature – thanks Carrie Anne!

We love Irving!

When we were seeking out a supplier for our facial tissue, Irving Tissue, makers of Royale facial tissue were the easy choice. First, they’re Canadian and we’re partial to Canadians.  Second, they have a great product and provided us with exceptional customer service.  Finally, they have a strong commitment to the environment and we LOVE that.  With children of our own we take comfort in knowing that Irving Tissue has :

  1. planted over 770 million trees throughout 50 years of award-winning responsible forest management
  2. Irving is partnering with Tree Canada to sponsor a community support and education program.  The new TREES BY THE SHORE program is a coast-to-coast initiative to plant over 35,000 trees in 2009 to help preserve shoreline habitat.

For more information you can click here and here. We hope you’ll throw your support behind this great company not just at back to school with our kits but all year round.  We do!

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