Wednesday, April 26, 2017

We Are Brothers, We Are Friends

Becoming a big brother or big sister can be a monumental rite of passage in a child’s life. Many children’s books on the topic of gaining a new sibling tend to follow a somewhat predictable order:

· The older child is the light of his or her parents’ lives, until the new baby arrives.
· The older child becomes jealous, and, while trying hard to be excited about the new addition to the family, has a difficult time understanding what appears to be a betrayal.
· The older child makes plans for removing the competition.
· Eventually a situation arises in which the older child recognizes that there is a role in the new baby’s life that can only be filled by him or her, and an amicable relationship is born.

It’s very easy to empathize with a toddler or preschooler who suddenly finds herself competing for the family’s attention with a newborn in the house. I don’t think there’s necessarily a magical solution for the jealousy that often very naturally arises under the circumstances, but I find it encouraging that this author has chosen to represent the situation in another fashion.

We Are Brothers, We Are Friends by Alexandra Penfold is a refreshingly different sort of book, in that the older boy portrayed is very excited from start to finish about the arrival of his baby brother. He speaks calmly and lovingly to his new sibling, outlining his hopes and dreams for all of the things he can show the baby and the life experiences they will share together, like playing hide-and-seek and learning how to be a dinosaur. "We will have adventures, just the two of us," he says, and later adds, "When you cry, I will hear you first. Don’t worry, baby. I will help!" The well-matched, energetic illustrations by Eda Kaban are evocative of 1960s animation or advertising art, with a colorful palette and simple retro-style toys and furnishings in evidence.

It may seem unrealistic that all children would behave in such a way, but we can always hold out hope that the transitions required in our households when we add a sibling might go as smoothly as this. We Are Brothers, We Are Friends is a sweet book, a nice addition to the list that covers new babies, and a lovely example of an older brother who is willing to "share my best toys, and my mama and my dada, too."

Guest post by Bridget W. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Building Early Literacy Skills with Preschoolers

Recently I came across a great early literacy article online entitled "5 Tips To Build Language & Early Literacy Skills With Preschoolers During Book Reading." Written by Sarah Holden, a speech-language pathologist who has worked with children in both private practice and in schools, the article recognizes the “hurry up” nature of modern life and the push for teaching children to talk and read faster and earlier. The author advocates for slowing down and spending time on developmentally appropriate early literacy and language skills that are foundational to reading.

The article gives the following five simple tips to remember when reading to children:

· Slow down – Read just one or two books at a nice pace instead of rushing through four or five. Children need time to process the words being read. Take time to look at the pictures, ask questions, talk about the story.

· Be dramatic – Use your voice to highlight new vocabulary. Point to the pictures as you read a new word. If the word isn’t depicted by the illustration, make the word come alive with actions and gestures.

· Re-read – Children need to hear new words more than a couple of times to increase their vocabulary, and children with the richest vocabularies become the best readers. It may drive you crazy to read the same story over and over, but it is good for your child!

· Describe often/ask questions occasionally – Ask questions that encourage your child to predict, describe, and make inferences about the characters' thoughts and feelings instead of yes or no questions. For example, you can ask "What do you think will happen next?" before turning the page. Spend more time talking about and commenting on the story than asking questions. You can predict what happens next, relate something in the story to your own life, relate a character from the story you’re reading to one from a book you read previously, etc.

· Draw attention to the words – Call your child’s attention to the words in the story. Read the title of the book and point to it. Point out words in bold or color or large type in the text. This will help your child understand that the words on the page have meaning (print awareness) and that oral and written language are connected.

These are just the highlights from the article. For more information, the full article can be found here.

Guest post by Allison C.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Today I Feel...An Alphabet of Feelings

Today I Feel… An Alphabet of Feelings is a picture book that shows a child experiencing a wide range of emotions. Each two-page spread depicts one emotion, with the letter of the alphabet and corresponding emotion on the left, and the child experiencing the emotion on the right. Each letter of the alphabet is designed using something that corresponds to the illustration of the emotion. For example, the letter E (for excited) is made of two knit scarves. The corresponding illustration shows the child in winter outerwear, including a scarf, looking up at snow falling. The watercolor and India ink illustrations are simple and clean, really imaginative, and clearly depict each emotion. The book ends with a question for the reader – “How do you feel today?” Today I Feel… An Alphabet of Feelings, by Madalena Moniz, is a great book to read to begin a discussion of emotions with children.

Guest post by Allison C. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Our Littlest Learners

According to neuroscientists, the human brain contains about 86 billion neurons. Most of these are produced during pregnancy, when the brain creates close to 250,000 brain cells every minute! Many others develop during the first year of life, when so much critical growth takes place. It goes without saying that a newborn baby arrives with a pretty impressive toolbox to begin his or her job of learning!

We are wired to care for and nurture our babies, but sometimes it requires more awareness and training to become sensitive to our children’s cues about stimulation and learning. They tend to explore, naturally and voraciously, almost from the time they’re born, seeking out the proper stimulation that will provide them with what they want and need to know. They may be restricted at first to visual exploration, but quickly move on to more tactile and auditory experiences to feed that natural desire to learn all they can about their environment.

When considering how to approach this amazing journey with your baby, just remember that simple things are best. There’s no real need for fancy toys or programs. You are your baby’s favorite plaything! Your voice is the one they long to hear because it reminds them of the familiar sounds they heard in the womb. Reading exposes them to more unusual words than they will encounter through conversation (one-sided as it may be for a while). Singing soothes them and helps to create a safe space in which to soak up the world. Repetition of words, phrases, melodies, and actions is critical to learning; it is essential for imprinting information and strengthening neural connections. Almost anything you do with your baby is fuel for growth. They know they’ve got a job to do, and you are their first, and best, teacher.

Guest post by Bridget W. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Chimpanzees for Tea

Tea, Anyone?

One day Vincent’s mother asks him to go to the store to pick up a short list of grocery items for her ~ “a bunch of carrots, a box of rice, some China tea, a big firm pear, and a tin of peas.” Her last request is that he “hurry home for tea.” Vincent willingly obliges, and is off on an adventure. On the way, a gust of wind blows the list out of his hand and he suddenly needs to rely on his memory to get the things his mother has asked for. He’s doing okay until he gets distracted by a “hello” from a neighbor, after which the tin of peas becomes a trapeze in his recollection. Vincent continues to get sidetracked, and repeats the list several times until the pear is a furry bear, the tea is chimpanzees, the box of rice is a box of mice, and that bunch of carrots is, well, you guessed it ~ a lively bunch of parrots!

With each reading of this wonderful book, written and illustrated by Jo Empson, my storytime crowds have been absolutely captivated by the whimsical and energetic images, and they love trying to help Vincent recall the correct list so he can get home to his mum for tea. Audience participation is the name of the game, and children can barely resist the opportunity to set Vincent straight by remembering and then calling out the correct items from his list, all the while wishing they could go on a shopping trip like his. Eventually he does arrive back at home, with all of his new friends in tow. His mother is surprised and overwhelmed, to say the least, but has second thoughts when the animals politely serve tea to her.

The playful cover of this book alone is enough to pique anyone’s interest, and the story delivers solidly. The rhythmic repetition of parts of the text serve to bolster the story line and engage listeners from the first page to the last. Give yourself a treat, and pick up Chimpanzees for Tea. It’s fun, and funny, and definitely worth your time!

Guest post by Bridget W.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Young Children and Writing: Where to Start

Writing is one of the five early literacy practices that caregivers can use to help children with early literacy development. Writing and reading go hand in hand because writing helps children learn that letters and words stand for sounds and that print has meaning. Babies and young children who are not ready to hold a pencil and write still need to develop muscle strength in their hands. Grasping rattles and other toys will help them practice and develop fine motor skills and the hand-eye coordination needed later for writing. Children who are able to hold a thick crayon or marker can scribble or draw. Even though the scribbles or drawings aren’t words, this still helps develop the fine motor control needed to hold a pencil and write.

Here are some fun activities to get your child ready to write and to practice writing:
  • Using scissors (It's okay if your child can't cut on a line at first) 
  • Coloring, scribbling, painting, and drawing 
  • Writing with an adult. For example, help your child create a play grocery list when you write yours. 
  • Playing with play dough or clay 
  • Tracing letters in sand, rice, shaving cream, etc. 
  • Stringing beads or pasta 
  • Singing and doing fingerplays like “Itsy Bitsy Spider” or “Where Is Thumbkin?” 
  • Stamping paper with rubber stamps 
  • Opening and closing twist-top jars or bottles 
  • Building with interlocking blocks such as Legos 
  • Picking up small objects like Cheerios (Note: Always be careful of choking hazards.) 
  • Manipulating paper — folding, tearing, wadding it into balls 
  • Doing puzzles 
  • Using spray bottles or squirt toys in the bathtub 
  • Finger painting in the bathtub 
  • Writing/drawing on vertical surfaces (easels, paper on walls, etc.) helps children position their hands better 
Guest post by Allison C.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Watersong

A lone fox stands at the edge of a marsh full of wetland animals as raindrops begin to fall. The sky darkens, the rain falls harder, and the wind begins to blow as a storm approaches. As the storm increases in intensity, the fox seeks shelter and finds it in a fallen hollow log. The storm ends, and the fox emerges from his shelter to see blue skies, blooming flowers, and budding trees. A rainbow appears as he is reunited with his family.

This simple story of a rainstorm and its aftermath is told through onomatopoeic rhyming text in a rhythm that is perfect for reading aloud. The raindrops “drip, drop, plip, plop, pitter, patter, pat” and the ducks “splish, splosh, swish, slosh” in the marsh. The watercolor illustrations perfectly depict the marsh and its inhabitants, the energy of the storm, and the peaceful aftermath. There is an afterword with simple explanations of an ecosystem, watershed, and the water cycle. Watersong, by Tim McCanna, is an engaging look at nature that is a feast for the eye and ear and sure to be a favorite of kids and their grownups alike!

Guest post by Allison C.