Meaningful Mess

Child PaintingSpring. Get ready for puddles, mud, and messes! Thinking of a nice, clean house getting covered in puddles and grit, and having to start cleaning all over again sends shivers down my spine. And what about the extra time it will take to bathe the kids and clean their clothes and shoes, with all the other errands we need to run. Just remember, it really is worth it!

As adults, we often forget the joys of playing in dirt and mud or just getting messy; of throwing away paint brushes and getting our hands dirty instead; of changing out of our good shoes and clothes and exploring without the concern of staying clean. We forget that the learning that happens during this kind of play outweighs the need to keep things tidy and orderly.

Children are messy by nature. It is critical to children’s development to be allowed to explore, and interact with, their world. Sometimes this means that we, as parents, need to take a deep breath and say “sure, you can play in the mud!” By allowing our children to get messy, we are fostering growth in all areas of their development. Messy play encompasses, but is not limited to:

  • Physical development: hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills
  • Emotional and social development: self-confidence and self-esteem, respect for themselves and others; can be an outlet for feelings, experiences, and thoughts
  • Intellectual development: problem solving, concentration, planning, grouping, matching, prediction, observation, and evaluation

Spring is the perfect time to allow our children to be messy while exploring the outside world. The weather is warming up, snow is melting, and all sorts of new life is happening. Being messy doesn’t mean allowing our children to run wild though. It is important that they are still dressed appropriately for outside weather, and monitored and guided through safe play. Here is a list of activities to do outside the house:

  • Playing in puddles: allow your children to explore puddles in the spring. See how high they can make the water splash as they jump in it. Can they make a boat that floats or float other objects in the puddle?
  • Mud pies: exploring mud is a great way to get creativity going. What can we create with the mud (castles, pies, pretend food)? What objects can we add to the mud (i.e. rocks, twigs, leaves, etc.)? What happens if we add more water? If we add more dirt?
  • Sidewalk chalk paint: take your cornstarch and water mixture outside! Add a few drops of food colouring and you have sidewalk chalk; the best part is no paint in the house!

Messy play isn’t only for outside, and can be done any time of year inside. Below is a list of fun, educational, and most importantly, messy activities to do inside with your children:

  • Shaving cream dough: try hand mixing equal parts of shaving cream and cornstarch together to make dough. Keep mixing, as it can take a while for the cornstarch to mix with the shaving cream
  • Cornstarch and water: see what happens when you mix cornstarch and water. This activity is a great way to explore ratios (how much of each ingredient to mix) and textures, and learn problem solving skills
  • Finger painting: learn all about colours and how to mix and match new ones, develop fine motor skills, language, and thinking skills

Remember that it is important for you to be messy too. Don’t forget to join in the fun and get your hands dirty! We, as adults, might be surprised by how much we can still learn from messy play, and there is nothing better than creating memories with your children.  They will remember the fun you all had long after you forget how messy everything was.

If you would like to learn more about your children’s early learning and how to support literacy development, you might enjoy one of our family literacy programs. Visit the Centre for Family Literacy website for more information.

Literacy Links – the Logo Says it All!

LitLinks LogoBack in 2012, the Centre for Family Literacy noticed an increase in the number of requests for family literacy services from our community partners and other organizations that work with families. They weren’t necessarily looking to partner in programs, like Rhymes that Bind or Books for Babies, but were looking for presentations, workshops, or taster sessions that would look at specific aspects of emergent literacy and language skills. They wanted ways to reach out to the busy families in their community that weren’t able to attend ongoing programs.

Because of their understanding of the Centre’s mission and vision, and our reputation for excellence in programming, they came to us with their requests. And so it began. Literacy Links workshops were developed to address the needs of both the families and the community organizations.

Jump ahead to 2017 and Literacy Links is busier than even we anticipated. With much appreciated funding from the City of Edmonton Family and Community Support Services (FCSS), the Government of Alberta (GOA) and Edmonton Community Adult Learning Association (ECALA), we have been able to offer workshops to more families across the city in the first months of 2017 than in all of 2016. We are also presenting at a number of conferences—some for the first time.

We are doing the Literacy Links workshops in the evenings and on weekends in community leagues halls, community agencies, and child care centres. We are working with Parent Link Centres and the Early Childhood Coalitions in the Edmonton area and with others across the province. Our goal is to connect families with their communities, to help develop knowledge and grow understanding of the importance of family literacy. The program that initially started off as one off presentations has come full circle.

For more information about Literacy Links, or if you would like to explore hosting a workshop, visit the Centre for Family Literacy website

Tips for Keeping Family Game Night Fun!

iStock_000036123052XLarge-cs

Have you ever pictured yourself playing a game with your family just like in a board game advertisement? It looks like so much fun, right? And each game you see on a store shelf would surely provide your home with hours of entertainment! So you carefully pick out the perfect game and bring it home to your children with such high expectations of fun.

As you open up the game, with eager hands reaching for all of the pieces, you hear yourself say, “wait, wait, wait.” You groan as you realize there is assembly required. After you put it all together (if your children are still interested) you say, “wait, let me read the rules!”

Not quite the experience you imagined in the store when you saw the picture on the box. Older children want to follow the rules, or bend them. Younger children make up their own rules and frustrate the older children. Parents wonder what on earth they were thinking when they bought the game, and perhaps the game gets thrown back in the box and put in the closet for another time, when the kids are “older” and “more mature” and have “longer attention spans.” Does this scenario sound familiar to you? Don’t despair, and don’t give up!

Playing games with young children is an excellent way for them to learn literacy and numeracy concepts. And don’t forget the important social skills learned in playing a game: taking turns, playing fair (no cheating), feeling disappointment at losing and excitement at winning.

If you start with the expectation for the experience to be just as advertised, you may be disappointed. Learning how to play a game takes time and small steps. There are often tears of frustration (from both the adults and the children) when things aren’t going as planned. Keep in mind the more often children play a game, the better they will get at it. Not just playing it, but understanding it as well.

Many games can be easily made at home for very little cost. With some paper, markers, scissors, dice, and maybe a homemade spinner, you can easily make your own “board games.” Keep the rules simple, it doesn’t even have to make sense. With younger children, focus on taking turns. It might not be important to focus on where their game piece sits or how they move their piece. Try teaching one concept at a time. If you add silly rules that incorporate large body movements to your game, you may be able to hold their attention for longer. For instance, “each time a player rolls a 4 they have to stand up and do 4 jumping jacks.”

Memory matching games can be made very easily at home using paper, recycled bottle lids, stickers, or even an old deck of cards. With younger children, start out by using only 4 pairs to match. As they get better at the game, increase the difficulty by adding more matching pairs.

Dice and cards are terrific tools for numeracy skills and the games you can play are endless!

The benefits of making your own games include:

  • They cost very little, using materials you may already have at home or things you can buy at a dollar store
  • You can personalize a game to your children’s interests. If they love dinosaurs, you can use dinosaur stickers, or print pictures from the internet to make puzzles or memory games. If they love turtles, you can make a board game in the shape of a turtle shell and have the pieces move slowly around to the finish
  • If a game is not a hit, you can easily discard it and try a different one. Or save it for another time when your children are older and perhaps have more interest
  • You can make a new game each month by just changing it up slightly, maybe changing the characters to one of your children’s favourite books. This keeps it new and exciting for you both
  • Making games at home also becomes a family activity. As your children get older they can assist in the assembly or creation of new games to play. Older children can do some research on games from around the world and pick out favourite concepts to make their own version

At the end of the day, through the trials and tears of teaching children how to enjoy a game and be a good sport, you are also teaching them so much more, and these skills are ones that they will need for a lifetime of success! So bring back the family game night, even if it only lasts 20 minutes to start. Someday you’ll enjoy a games night with much older children, and you will at long last feel all of the work and effort was worth it.

 

 

 

 Intergenerational Rhymes that Bind

RTBmultGEN07 (1)

Singing is a joyful and uplifting experience. It can make a huge difference in your day, and even more so in the days of the elderly. Singing offers many benefits, some of which are:

  • It stimulates the body to release dopamine, which helps produce positive feelings
  • For seniors, singing can increase confidence, thereby improving interaction with others in a social setting
  • There are fewer incidents of mental and physical health issues for those of all ages who sing on a regular basis

The Centre for Family Literacy offers a free Intergenerational Rhymes that Bind program for parents and their 0 – 3 year old children which is housed at a senior centre in Edmonton. We meet once a week and play, sing, and have fun together while we support the children’s oral language development, and of course the residents are encouraged to join in!

We sing nursery rhymes like “Yankee Doodle,” “Baa, Baa Black Sheep,” “Here We Go Around the Mulberry Bush.” One of the residents sings “You are My Sunshine” and it gives everyone an opportunity to join in and sing.

You Are My Sunshine

You are my sunshine
My only sunshine
You make me happy, when clouds are grey
You never know dear how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away.

As we sing these and other songs familiar to the seniors from their childhood, we are happy to see that they sing along or tap their fingers. The human brain is remarkable for its ability to retain the songs of childhood years. The facilitators also mix in current songs and it becomes a wonderful mix of fun.

RTB-MultiGenThe majority of the seniors are immobile and are brought to the program room by a lovely volunteer who is also a senior at the centre. It isn’t easy for the seniors to interact with the parents and children, so the parents and children are asked to interact with the seniors. One of the ladies in the program has told our facilitator that she can’t wait for Tuesday mornings when she can sing and see the little ones!

The spring session begins on April 4, 2017. If you and your infant or toddler would like to be a part of our Intergeneration Rhymes that Bind program, please contact us at 780-421-7323 as registration is required for this program.

For more information, please visit the Centre for Family Literacy website

 

Spatial Literacy and Awareness

Follow that MapSpatial literacy is becoming more recognized in recent times as a critical skill. One reason? Students with strong spatial skills are more likely to enter into the increasingly important fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (or STEM).

For success in today’s knowledge and technology-based society, STEM abilities are needed more than ever.

It all starts with awareness

Spatial awareness is the understanding of where you are in relation to another object. It’s also the ability to recognize the relationship of different objects to one another. Spatial thinking skills are required for everyday tasks, such as parking a car, merging into traffic, or estimating material needed for a project.

How does this relate to family literacy?

Spatial awareness starts early. Think of a baby learning to hold an object in her hand, or a toddler who has become obsessed with putting things into containers and taking them out again (and again, and again). This exploration is how spatial skills are developed.

Spatial concepts, along with other basic concepts, are essential for future success, and as your child grows they will need loving adults to help them develop these skills. It doesn’t have to be complicated. You can help with the learning of these concepts just by talking in detail with your child, using directional words. For example, “We put the empty juice bottle inside the blue box on the shelf, under the sink.”

Although it may not seem like it, research shows that spatial awareness skills will translate into skills that effect writing, math, and motor skills, and allow us to problem-solve by visualizing and imagining different perspectives. It’s how we read maps, create charts, think of tactics to win team sports, design blueprints, measure distances, and plan travel routes.

If you doubt the importance of spatial literacy, just think of instructional diagrams for car seat installation and furniture assembly!

Thankfully, there are many ways to boost your child’s spatial skills.

Activities to try as a family

  • Play “I See.” “I see a cup. Where is it?” Use directional words: up, down, under, far, near, behind, in front of, left, north, etc. “The cup is on the table.”
  • Complete puzzles together that require fitting several shapes into a larger one.
  • Build with blocks, play dough, and clay.
  • Use Lego building instructions to play Lego. You can even find them online.
  • Play “Simon Says.” Your child has to copy your movement. “Simon says touch your toes!”
  • Create a “Scavenger hunt” complete with a map.
  • Study a map of your community. Talk about how to get from point A to point B.
  • If you’re going on a road trip, show your child on a map what route you will be taking.
  • Explore a world globe together and point out where you are.
  • Go for a walk and take a compass. Talk about North, South, East, West.
  • Try playing team sports like soccer or baseball with your child. Or, if you are able, enroll your child in a sports activity.
  • And, of course, read books that address spatial concepts. See below for ideas.

Books recommendations

Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins
Follow That Map! by Scot Ritchie
Actual Size by Steve Jenkins
Big Bug by Henry Cole

Rosie's Walk  Follow that Map  Actual Size  Big Bug

In the C.O.W. program, we bring a variety of toys and homemade activity ideas for parent and child to explore together, because developing spatial awareness (like all other literacy skills) requires exploration and interaction above all else.

 

 

How You can Use Songs to Achieve Goals with Your Kids

Have you ever been in a situation with your children when they were not following directions and you found yourself singing a song and modelling the actions to try and get them to comply? I certainly have; I found that it has worked wonders with my little ones! They love to sing, and suddenly it’s a game not just listening to directions. This is a great way for adults to engage with their children on their children’s level, and is more effective than had we simply told them what to do. This method can help us connect with our children before we try to redirect them.

I will show you some songs that can invite children to connect with you while accomplishing a goal, even if the goal is to have fun. These are just two examples of many ways you can use songs to achieve your particular goals.

Hello Songs

Hello songs can be simply saying hello to people, body parts, or even animals. If you are modelling the actions while singing the song, your children will be more likely to join in. These songs can also be used if your kids are grumpy in the morning, or you need a routine to show your children when it is the morning and not the middle of the night. Hello songs can also be used when you go to a friend’s house. There are just as many reasons to use hello songs as there are songs we can use. Here is one of my favourites:

Yumpa Rumpa lyrics:

Hello, hello Sally, how are you today?
Hello, hello Sally, I am fine today.
Yumpa rumpa yumpa, yumpa rumpa yumpa
Hello Hello head, how are you today?
Hello, hello head, we are fine today!
Yumpa rumpa yumpa, yumpa rumpa yumpa

(Continue using neck, shoulders, knees etc)

Goodbye Songs

These songs can especially be useful when you have to separate from your children for a few hours; goodbye songs can assist in easing anxiety with routine. Saying goodbye to  friends, or even toys, are other uses. Here is one of my favourite goodbye songs:

Alligator lyrics:

See you later, alligator (wave goodbye)
In a while, crocodile
Give a hug, ladybug (hug yourself)
Blow a kiss, jellyfish (blow a kiss)
See you soon, big baboon
Out the door, dinosaur
Take care, polar bear
Wave goodbye, butterfly (wave goodbye)

(Originally from Jbrary on YouTube.) I highly recommend that you look at all of the songs from Jbrary!

For more ideas, be sure to check out Flit, our family literacy app! It’s available to both Apple and Android devices.

Click here to download the free iOS version of Flit.

Click here to download the Android version.

Centre for Family Literacy website

Flit demo:

 

Do you Need to Track Your Baby’s Words with Technology?

Dad talk w GirlIt seems we are tracking everything these days, and there is no shortage of tools to quantify and chart all kinds of things relating to our babies. Some of these might be helpful; some look gimmicky. Today I want to talk about word tracking apps and devices.

In the early 90s, researchers visited the homes of middle and lower income families to get a glimpse into how the families were using language with their children. They found that by 3 years old, children from “professional” famiiles were hearing 30 million more words than children from low income families. Things are a bit more complicated, of course, but a number like that grabbed people’s attention and almost immediately companies started marketing word tracking devices to concerned parents.

Technology has improved since the 90s, and our understanding of early child development has come a long way too. I won’t say that these devices are useless, but when it comes down to it the things that will actually improve the quantity and quality of language that children are exposed to and engaged with are free, and technology is optional at best. Those millions of words don’t come out of nowhere, they come from doing things together with your children. You can pay to get a number that might motivate you to do more of those things, but do you really need extra motivation to play, talk, read, and sing with your children? If you’re even reading this, I would wager you are already plenty motivated and can skip the tracking tools altogether.

Still, it can be hard to let go of those tempting personalized stats, so here’s an attractive iceberg metaphor to ease your mind:

https://youtu.be/Qj0Nm3YKpEY

If you would like free family literacy tip sheets about Sharing Books, Language Development, Choosing Quality Children’s Books, and more, visit the Centre for Family Literacy website: http://www.famlit.ca/resources/resources_p.shtml

 

Recognizing and Learning Emotions

EmotionsHave you ever had one of those days? The day that never ends, when everything that could go wrong, does? As adults, we’ve learnt strategies and techniques to deal with tough situations. We’ve learnt to recognize that we have reached our limits of sanity and that we need to take five minutes to regroup and calm down. How did we learn those strategies? How did we learn to recognize when we’d had enough? How do we teach our children to recognize those signs in themselves?

Social and emotional development is a huge part of literacy development. Have you ever tried teaching a child something when they were feeling frustrated, cranky, or tired? Have you ever tried to learn something when you were feeling frustrated, cranky, or tired? We all need a safe and comforting environment to be able to develop and learn skills. Children especially need to feel acceptance, patience, and guidance from adults in order to develop literacy skills.

Recognizing facial movements is one of the first things children learn as babies. Babies are extremely responsive to the social and emotional interactions that surround them in the world. When adults interact positively with children, children respond positively—making eye contact, making noises, and pointing to objects. When parents disengage from children and don’t show any emotion to the children’s behaviours, babies become uncomfortable and react with negative emotion—turning away, crying, and avoiding eye contact.

When children are feeling overwhelmed by emotions, it is important for parents to try to talk to their children about why they are feeling that way. The adults should ask questions to find out what made the little one feel that way, and what the adults can do to help make the little one feel better. It is also important to give everyone time to calm down before talking about what made the situation so upsetting in the first place.

It is important to teach your children to self-soothe—remember to talk to your children about ways they can help themselves calm down. A few ways to self-soothe are:

  • sing a lullaby
  • read a book
  • take a couple of deep breaths
  • count to ten

A great way to help your children recognize their emotions, and yours, is to show them pictures of how people look when they are experiencing different emotions. In our Learn Together – Grow Together program, we take pictures of the children and the parents expressing emotions, such as happiness, sadness, frustration, and anger. The families then make a picture chart and label each emotion.

This helps children learn what each emotion is, and how it is expressed. It also helps the parents and children learn the social cues that each other give off when they have reached their emotional limits.

Microsoft Word - Recognizing Emotions.docx

There are also a lot of good children’s books about emotions and how to talk about them and/or give strategies to deal with them. Here are a few:

My Many Coloured Days  by Dr. Suess
Go Away Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley
Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard

If you would like more information about the Edmonton Learn Together – Grow Together program, please check the Centre for Family Literacy website: http://www.famlit.ca/programs_and_projects/programs/learn-GT.shtml

Literacy Links

Lit-Links3

Picture this, tables set around the room covered with all kinds of interesting materials, inquisitive preschoolers pulling their parent toward a table to check out all the amazing set ups. You have just entered a “The Scientist in Us All” workshop—just one of the many offered through the Centre for Family Literacy’s Literacy Links program. For the next hour or so the children lead their parents through a series of activities and experiments that amaze, amuse—and sometimes even make them believe in magic!

Children learn through play and explore their world by touching, hearing, seeing, and smelling—in other words by using their senses. They question everything, wanting to know how come? Why does? What if? A workshop like this allows parents to learn the value of following their children’s lead, to explore with them and to answer their questions. The parents may even have some questions of their own! The workshop also helps parents remember how to get into the play space, and why it is so important to connect play with their children’s learning.

Mingle about the room and you will hear chatter about exploding volcanoes, dancing spaghetti, magic flowers, and making a rainbow of colours. One dad wonders where his three-year-old learned a word like erupting, until his son points out that it is in his dinosaur book that they read almost every night. A mom is astonished when her little one, who doesn’t like to get her hands dirty, plunges wrist deep into a bowl of Goop in search of hidden treasure. A parent is amazed at her little guy as he sits still watching ever so patiently, waiting to see if a piece of spaghetti will make it to the surface before the raisin.

You may hear a facilitator explaining more about the science behind the activities, or modelling to the parents about how to ask their children questions to get more than a yes or no answer (to enhance their language skills). The facilitators will also provide parents with information about where they can find more experiments to do at home—with items they already have around the house.

100_0797.JPG  Lit-Links

The room is rarely silent—there is plenty of laughter, questions, and learning happening. And as the families leave the workshop with their activities booklet in hand, you might hear things like “that was so much fun,” “can we do this again at home?” or even “can we come here again?”

If you would like more information about this workshop or the many others offered through the Literacy Links program, please check the Centre for Family Literacy website: www.famlit.ca

Numbers are Literacy Too!

Mother and daughter in kitchen making a salad smiling

Numbers are everywhere. They can be the first and last thing we see every day. From clocks and phones to money and preparing meals—they are a part of our everyday lives.  Yet a lot of adults lack confidence in teaching their children numeracy skills. We talk about the importance of reading and writing all the time, but not about numeracy. In fact, when we hear the term literacy, most adults think of reading and writing, though literacy is so much more. Literacy is a part of everything we do—from answering a text, to driving, to going to the grocery store—it surrounds us from the moment we wake to the moment we go to sleep. So why are we so afraid to talk about numbers?

Teaching children about numeracy doesn’t have to be scary. You can start talking about numeracy with babies. Scaffolding language—adding descriptive words when naming objects, is a great way to bring numeracy to your children. Colours, shapes, and amounts are all early numeracy vocabulary. Whether you are talking about the round red ball or the striped socks, the two green triangles or the three orange cats—you are teaching your children about numeracy. You are creating the foundation for matching, sorting, and grouping—numeracy skills we use throughout our daily lives.

Almost any activity you do with your children can incorporate numeracy. We often forget that our day-to-day activities are filled with great opportunities to include our children and show them what we are doing. In this way, we are teaching them the skills they will need throughout their lives to solve problems and become quick thinkers.

2 Easy Ways to Include Numeracy in Your Day:

  1. Include your children in preparing meals—cooking and baking are filled with opportunities to teach numeracy. Ask them how many plates or spoons you need for everyone, talk about the amounts of each ingredient needed, and get your children to help adding them and mixing. Cooking is also helpful in teaching about sequencing, following directions, and problem solving. For example, if you skip a step in the directions, what will happen? How do we fix it? Can we fix it?
  2. When reading books, try asking your children about the pictures; for example, can they find the red balloon? How many puppies are there on the page? Talking about the pictures and what is happening in the story will also help children comprehend the story better—remembering more of the details and what the story was actually about.

For more ideas on engaging activities that are numeracy based, you can visit our 3,2,1,Fun! program or try our Flit app, available on both Google Play and the App Store.

For more information and the schedule for 3,2,1,Fun!, please visit the Centre for Family Literacy website: www.famlit.ca


Click here to download the free iOS version of the Flit app.

Click here to download the free Android version.

Watch the app demo: