literacy Posts

How to Broaden Your Child’s Vocabulary This Summer

Fun-legos-bright5 Fun Activities That Put the Focus on Words

During the summer, when school is out of session, your child’s word choice may dwindle down to a few common phrases: “It’s hot!” “I’m bored!” “Mom, [insert request or complaint here]!”

By the time summer comes to an end, you may even wonder if all those hours your child spent studying spelling and vocabulary words during the school year were even worth it. It’s as though a leak was sprung in your child’s head and the first thing to go was language!

Well, have no fear! There are plenty of activities you can do with your child this summer so they can continue to learn new words in fun, engaging ways (and, in some cases, without being hot!).

Below are five games or activities to plug up that “summer brain leak” and keep that knowledge flowing in!

Kid-Spying-Telescope1. Super SpyDay!

You will need:

  • A notebook
  • A writing utensil
  • Sticky notes
  • A top-secret prize
  • A costume for your child to wear as a “super spy disguise” (optional)


  • Before the mission begins, select a word of the day.
  • Hide sticky notes with this chosen word written on them throughout the house.
  • Give your child their mission: to find as many instances of the word of the day as possible, recording their findings in their notebook. Before they head out on their mission, be sure to explain to your child what the word means and how to spell it. As your child is searching for the word throughout the day, encourage them to learn how to use it in a sentence as well.
  • Ask your child to record in their notebook each time they come across the word. Have them
    • Search throughout the house for the sticky notes
    • Look for the word in books, reading out loud the sentence in which the word is used
    • Listen for the word being said on TV (you can skip this suggestion if you are limiting summer screen time).
    • Ask others what they think the word means
  • At the end of the day, have your child return their notebook full of research in exchange for whatever prize or reward you have chosen.

Child-Drawing-Crayons2. For the Artist

You will need:

  • Paper
  • Drawing utensils


  • Have your child write out a list of five to ten vocabulary words on separate sheets of paper.
  • Encourage them to decorate each sheet with images of whatever the word is. If the vocabulary word is not a drawable object, they can draw out how it makes them feel instead.
  • If you want this activity to help expel some energy, spread the sheets of paper out and have your child run or jump from one word to the next as you call out the word or definition.

Water-Balloon3. Water Balloon Smash & Splash [Source:]

You will need:

  • Water balloons
  • Chalk


  • Write out the words your child has been learning on the sidewalk or driveway, being sure to leave some space between the words.
  • Call out a word, then have your child throw a balloon at the corresponding word.
  • For an extra challenge, have them use the word in a sentence before they throw the balloon, or give them a definition and have them throw the balloon at the word that you are describing.

Child-in-sandbox4. Sandbox Diggin’ and Matching

You will need:

  • A sandbox
  • A sand shovel
  • Vocabulary words and definitions, written out on little pieces of paper and covered in clear tape


  • Bury the slips of paper with each word or definition throughout the sandbox.
  • Hand your kid a shovel and let them have at it! After your child unearths all the words and definitions, ask them to match each word to its definition.
  • For an added challenge, as your child finds words, have them use the word in a sentence. As they discover definitions, have them guess the word that corresponds to that definition.

5. Letter Writing

For your ten-to-fourteen-year-old reader, Just Sayin’  by Dandi Daley Mackall is the perfect way to grow their vocabulary. Told through letters, Just Sayin tells the story of an almost-blended family that experiences a breakup between the mother and father before the wedding. The kids attempt to get the family back together and get caught up in a game show that focuses on “the art of insult.” As only Dandi can accomplish, this story weaves together, in a contemporary way, an old-time game show, letter writing, outstanding vocabulary, and reminders from God’s Word that taming our tongues is both difficult and important!Just-Sayin-Dandi

After your child finishes reading the book, they can practice using new words they have learned by writing letters to friends or family on this free, printable Just Sayin’ stationeryJust Sayin'- Stationery


Did you try one of these activities? We’d love to see you and your kids in action! Use the hashtag #TyndaleKids on social media to share the fun with us.

Start Your Year with a Powerful Non-Resolution by Stephanie Rische

Tyndale Kids

It’s the beginning of another new year, and I might as well make my confession now: I am terrible at resolutions.

Oh, I might make an impressive list of goals with corresponding sub-points. I might write them down in a pretty journal and even color-code them with fancy pens. But don’t be fooled. Before the Christmas decorations have had time to gather any dust, I will have forgotten all about my lofty aspirations and bullet-pointed lists.

So I’ve made a new resolution: No more New Year’s resolutions! Instead, I’m shooting for the “New Year’s for Dummies” version of goal-setting and choosing a word of the year instead. That’s right—no lists, no striving after a bunch of unattainable ideals, just a single-word theme.

The idea is that throughout the year, my heart and mind can settle on that one word and be open to what God wants to show me on that topic. This is a relief for a recovering perfectionist like me, because it offers a lot of room for grace. My yearlong quest won’t be about succeeding or failing; it won’t be about how many boxes I check off or how far off the mark I find myself come December. It will be about anticipating the transformation God is going to do inside of me in the year ahead.

As this new year begins, I’d like to invite you to join me on this adventure of non-resolutions. Whenever you can sneak in some moments of quiet—in the morning, while you’re in the car, or over a cup of coffee, ask God if there’s a word he wants you to focus on this year. And then, once you’ve settled on your word, jump in with both feet.

The beautiful thing is, there’s no wrong way to pursue your word. Maybe you’ll write the word on a sticky note and post it on your mirror or your refrigerator to recalibrate your thoughts throughout the day. Maybe you’ll read the Bible with an eye open for what God has to say on the topic. Maybe you’ll meet with a friend each month to share how you see this playing out in your life. Maybe you’ll find a book that speaks into this topic or tells the story of someone who lived out this word well. You might even have a family meeting and decide on a word of the year for your whole family.

If you’re not sure where to begin, here are a few ideas to get you started, along with some books that go along with each theme. Some of the books are for you, some are for your kids, and some are read-alouds for the whole family. I trust that they will be good company as you pursue your word of the year.









































Once you decide on your word for the year, we’d love to hear from you. What word did you choose? How do you hope to see it play out in your life and in your family in the year ahead?

Happy 2018!

Stephanie Rische is a senior editor and team leader at Tyndale House Publishers, as well as a freelance writer for publications such as Today’s Christian Woman, Christian Marriage Today, and Significant Living magazine. You can follow Stephanie’s blog at

Help Your Child Discover the Power of Words

Tyndale Kids

The 101 Commandments of School

Not so long ago, I visited schools across the United States, asking kids questions. I put their answers into a book and called it The 101 Commandments of School.

I learned a lot about school, about kids, and about words. My favorite commandment was, “Thou shalt not suck on a marker. . . . The color will come off on your teeth . . . so everyone will know you did it. Plus, they don’t really taste that good.”

School Days, School Days, Dear Ol’ Golden Rule Days

I love words. I make my living with words. So does my husband. Words have power when strung together in just the right way.

But when misused, words can hurt. Forget that nonsense about sticks and stones breaking bones and words being incapable of inflicting pain.

Dropping off a child at school can feel like turning that child loose in a pool of alligators, if not sharks.

It’s not hard to detect a big bully who’s looking for a fight. But emotional bullies come in all shapes and sizes, armed with invisible, sharpened words. And sometimes, emotional bullies come in the form of our own kids.

As you get ready to send your children off to school, think back to when you were their age.

Did you ever get called a name? Did you ever call someone a name—just teasing? Skinny, Fatty, Shorty, Dummy, Airhead, Hick, or something worse? I’ve been called all of the above, always accompanied by laughter. Usually, I laughed along . . . but not always.

Just Sayin’

I used to be master of sarcasm, saying one thing, but meaning another. I thought I was so funny, and so did my school “audience.”

To someone with a new haircut, I might say, “Is this weird-hair day? I must have missed the memo.”

About someone who failed a math test, I might comment, “He’d fail a taste test” or “Brains aren’t everything . . . and in your case, they’re nothing at all.”

Just joking. But joking with an ounce of truth is a recipe for hurt feelings.


I cringe recalling words I misused for a laugh at another’s expense. But those painful memories spurred me to write Just Sayin’, a novel for school kids. In that book, my main characters write letters to each other and enter a contest: “The Last Insult Standing.” (They love words too much to text.) In the process, they come to understand the power of words and the emotional pain of insults.

Emotional pain can be replayed and refelt for years. Not so with physical pain. If sticks and stones broke your bones in second grade, you may remember what happened and recall that your body hurt. But physical pain can’t be felt again.

On the other hand, if someone called you “Loser!” when you struck out at recess, you may still feel that hurt whenever you come to the plate. Hurtful words can stick with us for the rest of our lives. James 3:5 warns, “In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.”

The Right Words

Thankfully, words are also powerful when used the way God intended. Words are gifts. Isn’t it amazing that Jesus is called “the Word!” The apostle John begins his book, “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

Hopefully, our children won’t be emotional or physical bullies. But there’s more. We can challenge our kids to be encouragers and to speak up when others are being teased or bullied.

Paul wrote the Ephesians,  “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29).

Word Power

As our kids go back to school, they go equipped with hundreds of words. Make sure they know how to use them.

Psalm 19:14 is a great back-to-school prayer for parent and child: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”

Dandi Daley Mackall is the award-winning author of over 450 books for children and adults. She visits countless schools, conducts writing assemblies and workshops across the United States, and presents keynote addresses at conferences and young author events. She is also a frequent guest on radio talk shows and has made dozens TV appearances. She is has won several awards for her writing, including the Helen Keating Ott Award for Contributions to Children’s Literature and a two-time Mom’s Choice Award winner. Dandi writes from rural Ohio, where she lives with her husband, Joe, their three children, and their horses, dogs, and cats. Visit her at

10 Great YA Books for the Summer by Sarah Rubio

Teen reads

It’s July—the days stretch on for hour after hour, the twilights are dreamy with the flicker of fireflies . . . and the novelty of summer vacation is starting to wear off for many of the students in our lives. But never fear: help is no farther away than your nearest bookstore or public library.

Young Adult (YA) literature is the perfect category for both languishing high schoolers and their older loved ones. Though YA is often defined as literature targeted at ages 14 to 18, and almost always features a teenage protagonist, many adults enjoy reading it as well. The best YA is intellectually and emotionally engaging, and often deals with fascinating scenarios and challenging societal and moral issues. I enjoy YA because I find that it has a sense of freedom I sometimes find lacking in “adult” literary fiction—a freedom to play, to explore, to invent, to not take oneself too seriously.

As far as “mature content” goes, I often compare YA books to PG-13 movies, though of course there’s a wide spectrum within the category, with some venturing closer to R territory. Obviously, parental discretion is important, especially if your reader is a younger or particularly sensitive teen. And I always encourage parents and teens to read and talk about books together! All of the suggestions below contain plenty of interesting topics for discussion.

The Seer novels by Rachelle Dekker. This trilogy from the daughter of bestselling suspense author Ted Dekker is, on the surface, a YA staple—futuristic dystopia—but the structure of its fictional world will be especially interesting to readers of faith. Fans of Veronica Roth’s Divergent series and Ally Condie’s Matched series will enjoy these books, and many girls will identify with protagonist Carrington Hale’s desire to feel worthy and chosen. The first two books in the series, The Choosing and The Calling, are available now, with the third book, The Returning, coming in early 2017.

The Choosing The Calling The Returning

The Young Pilots series by Elizabeth Wein. I discovered Elizabeth Wein’s books a couple of years ago, and she quickly became one of my all-time favorite authors. The three books in this series—Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire, and Black Dove, White Raven—feature different protagonists, young pilots during World War II. As you’d expect from those settings, the books have some intense situations, complicated moral questions, and devastating moments (Code Name Verity especially is probably better for more mature readers). I love them because Wein makes her characters so real, and the books have so much heart. The stories also focus much more on friendship than romance, which makes them a refreshing change from many YA novels.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. This is one of my favorite recent YA fantasy novels. Set in a world inspired by the Roman Empire, it tells the story of Laia, a member of the slave class, and Elias, who is in training to become one of the Empire’s most elite soldiers—and who finds that he’s no more free than Laia is. It’s a page-turning story that will also spark (pun intended) great discussions on family, friendship, loyalty, and freedom.

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M. T. Anderson. I have been raving about this book to anyone who will listen ever since I read it a couple months ago. I’m a huge fiction fan generally, but this nonfiction history kept me spellbound for every one of its 456 pages. It’s a combination biography of the composer Dmitri Shostakovich and history of WWII from the Soviet perspective. It would also make a very impressive choice for a summer book report! (Bonus recommendation: if a teen in your life needs some encouragement to cut down on their screen time, Anderson’s novel Feed is a fun but scary imagining of where all our connectivity could take us.)

The One Year Devotions with Jesus by Josh Cooley. Summer is also a great time to dive in to a resource that will help you learn OY Devos with Jesusmore about your faith.
One Year devotionals aren’t just for January—you can start on any day of the year. This devo’s subtitle—365 Devotions to Help You Know and Love the Savior—really says it all.

Happy reading!

This post was written by Sarah Rubio, editor for nonfiction and children’s products at Tyndale House Publishers.

4 Books Every Middle Schooler Should Read by Stephanie Rische

Middle Grade Books for SummerThe Boxcar Children had a boxcar to hide out in. The Pevensie kids had a magical wardrobe. Jesse and Leslie had Terabithia. Me? I had my very own tree fort.

When I was a kid, summer meant tucking a book under my chin and climbing up the big elm in the front yard. About two-thirds of the way up was my reading spot—a “V” between branches that was cozy enough for me to be able to turn the pages of my latest read without having to hang on.

The old elm tree has been cut down since then, and even if it were still standing, I’m quite certain I wouldn’t fit in my old reading spot. There comes a time, after all, when you’re too old to enter the wardrobe. But even now that I’m a grown-up, when the days get longer and the fireflies signal the start of summer, I make a list of all the books I want to read before September arrives.

If you’re like me, perhaps you’re looking for some summer reads to transport you to another world—whether for your kids or for the kid in you.

Something Old: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

This is a book that doesn’t fade with age. It was a favorite from my tree-fort days, and as an adult I continue to peel back the delicious layers of story, as well as the intriguing exploration of space and time. A classic for the whole family.

Something New: The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall

I’ve heard these books described as “modern classics,” and that seems exactly right. They have all the charm, understated humor, and familial love of Little Women, but in a contemporary setting. You will find yourself cheering for the Penderwick children, laughing with them, and wishing you could join their adventures.

Something Borrowed: The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

I checked out this audiobook from the library on a whim, and as soon as I finished, I promptly checked out every other Gary Schmidt I could find. This is the story of the trouble-prone yet incurably likable Holling Hoodhood, a seventh grader growing up in the shadow of the Vietnam War. It’s funny and inspiring—often on the same page.

Something Blue: Larger-than-Life Lara by Dandi Daley Mackall

This story is a delight on so many levels. On one level, it’s simply a compelling story, with a protagonist you’re pulling for with every fiber of your being. On another level, it will spark timely and relevant conversations about bullying and true friendship. On top of that, the narrator, Laney, communicates the elements of a story (plot, characters, climax, etc.) as they happen. Finally, it’s an allegory of the most beautiful kind of sacrificial love. I used to be a middle school language arts teacher, and I wish I’d had this book then. I’d have made it required reading for all my students.

Wherever you and your kids find yourselves this summer—on the beach, by a pool, in the air-conditioning, or nestled into your favorite tree—I hope you find some delightful reads to enjoy together.