Early language development: the first step to literacy

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In today’s fast-paced and highly competitive world, there is a lot of pressure for parents to enrol their child, earlier and earlier, into preschool and pre-kindergarten classes, and before they even enter kindergarten, to teach them the alphabet, numbers, and how to spell their name. Surprisingly, there are no studies as of yet to prove that if you learn to read in those early years, you’re going to have an advantage in school.

We do know, however, that language and social development in the early years lay the foundations for literacy skills and success as an adult.

We encourage you, the caregiver, to empower your little ones with the knowledge and skills to build the ‘scaffolding’ for their language, thinking, and social skills—which are essential for learning to read and write—rather than encouraging you to teach your toddlers to read.

Language development is the first step and the basis for literacy. By age three or four your child’s language ability will strongly predict their literacy skills and learning success throughout school and life.

With these facts in mind, we know that a child’s early environment and experiences significantly impact their language and literacy development. This learning begins at birth.

Infants instinctively respond to sounds and begin vocalizing. Children raised in nurturing, language-rich homes will develop better vocabularies and literacy skills; home environment plays a vital role in your child’s literacy learning. Parents and/or caregivers are the child’s first and best teachers! You are the expert and in the best position to teach and guide your child.

DSC_0006 (1)The bond between you and your child is fundamental in the child’s brain development. By exposing your child to vocabulary, rhythm, rhyme, and body language—through actions or active play—you are not only developing an amazing relationship with your child, you are creating brain pathways, connections, and brain development.

Repetition of rhymes and songs strengthen these pathways and connections. Additionally, you feel more confident and competent as you help in your child’s literacy and social development, resulting in being more actively involved with your child and your child’s learning.

As an added bonus, songs, rhymes, and actions are useful in reducing stressful or frustrating moments for toddlers (and for you), and also help to make smoother transitions between activities throughout the day.

Tips to get you started on your rhyme discovery path:

  1. Go back to basics. The songs that were your favourites as a child will also be enjoyable to your child, and believe it or not, are still children’s favourites today.
  2. Start with short, simple rhymes. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and The Wheels on the Bus are good examples.
  3. Most importantly… have fun with rhyming! There is no wrong way to sing, especially when you and your child are having fun and bonding!
  4. Optional: drop in to a Rhymes that Bind program and have fun learning rhymes and actions with your child

Here is a rhyme to get you started:

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear turn around.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear touch the ground.
Teddy Bear reach up high.
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear say Good Bye.

To find an Edmonton Rhymes that Bind program near you, check out the Centre for Family Literacy website. We are excited to meet everyone and have fun singing!

 

Say Hello to the New COW on the Block!

COW-SummerThe Classroom on Wheels (COW) Bus will be the ‘new kid on the block’ this coming October, with four new locations in Edmonton. Maple Ridge, Rundle Heights, Baturyn, and Walker are the newest communities we have added to our roster, and we’ll be welcoming both new and familiar families back in six other neighbourhoods. If you’re nearby you’re welcome to come aboard—you’ll have a blast bonding with your little ones while sharing books and singing songs!

The COW bus is a FREE drop-in program for parents and their children from birth to 6 years old, that helps support family learning. You can:

  • borrow books for free
  • share books and  puzzles with your child
  • listen to stories and songs
  • win free books

We have so many wonderful books for you to borrow, with no late fees. Come listen to stories and songs that will soon become family favourites! But we need you and your family to help bring these stories to life and build excitement!

Duck RabbitOne of our many favourites is Duck, Rabbit by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld, “a clever take on the age-old optical illusion: is it a duck or a rabbit? Depends on how you look at it! Readers will find more than just Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s signature humour here, there’s also a subtle lesson for kids who don’t know when to let go of an argument. A smart, simple story that will make readers of all ages eager to take a side, Duck! Rabbit! makes it easy to agree on one thing, reading it again!”

The fun starts October 3rd with weekly stops at 10 locations. Visit the Centre for Family Literacy website to find out when the bus will be in your area.

See you in October!

 

Children are Born Scientists

Science: Understanding the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation.  –Merriam-Webster


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Children are born scientists. They learn about their world by:

  • Exploring what’s around them with their senses – seeing, touching, smelling, tasting, and listening
  • Trying to do things again and again until it works the way they want it to, or they discover a new way to do it
  • Observing what happens
  • Asking questions like why? What if? How come?
  • Watching those who mean the most to them do things

iStock_WaterPlantsChildren naturally learn this way beginning as babies, until there comes a time when hands-on learning is replaced by watching, listening, and reading about how the the world works.

Summer is the perfect time to take science outdoors. Nature itself provides a wonderful, ready made lab to observe changes in the life cycles of plants and animals. Helping to water plants, tending to a small part of a garden, or watching for various critters on a walk through the river valley or the back yard, helps children develop the skills they will need later on in school. How many different types of trees do you see on the walk? Did you know that many children can list more marketing logos than they can types of trees? Talk about the difference between deciduous and coniferous trees and what types of birds like to build their nests in them. A book from the library on plants or birds can help identify them in your neighbourhood.

Activities such as these help children understand that science is everywhere and they build early skills that will serve them for a lifetime.

Bubble playThere are plenty of messy experiments that cost very little but provide an opportunity to develop a love of science. The simple act of blowing bubbles can teach children so much. How can I make huge bubbles? Does the wind direction make a difference? What’s the right ratio of water to soap that will make the sturdiest bubbles? What happens if I twirl round and round with my bubble wand full of solution? Here are two bubble recipes to try with your little scientists:

Home Made Bubble Solution

  • ¾ cup Joy or Dawn dishwashing soap
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 tsps. Sugar
  1. Mix the sugar and water together
  2. Add the dish soap and stir gently until well mixed
  3. Dip bubble wand into bubble liquid and then blow

Giant Bubble Mix

  • 3 cups water
  • I cup Joy or Dawn dishwashing soap
  • ½ cup light corn syrup
  1. In a large bowl stir water and corn syrup until combined
  2. Add dish soap and stir very gently until well mixed
  3. Make a bubble wand out of pipe cleaners or string

Goop2Another great way to explore science is by experimenting with Goop (a mixture of corn starch and water). Did you know that cornstarch and water can form a non-Newtonian fluid? What is that you ask? When you press on the mixture it becomes a solid, but when you release the pressure it runs like a liquid. This is definitely one experiment that can go outside and the whole family can have fun with it. Hide treasures in the Goop for them to discover, and try to squeeze it into a ball and then release it. You can even put it in a plastic swimming pool and walk through it.

Goop Recipe

  • 1 ½ to 2 cups cornstarch
  • 1 cup water
  • food colouring if you want
  1. Put the water in a bowl and add a few drops food colouring if you want colour
  2. Gradually add 1½ cups cornstarch to the water and stir with a spoon or your hand
  3. A little at a time, add the remaining ½ cup of cornstarch. When you can form a ball by pressing the mixture and it turns into a liquid when you release it, it is ready. If you add too much or too little you can always adjust with more water or more cornstarch.

* DO NOT DUMP ANY LEFT OVER GOOP INTO THE SEWER OR DRAIN.

Let the water evaporate from the mixture and then put it in a plastic bag or container and throw it out with your garbage. As it dries, it resembles concrete and you don’t want to have to call a plumber.

Children are born scientists. It can be easy and inexpensive to set up fun activities for them to explore their world. The best part is when the whole family gets messy together! Have fun experimenting this summer.

Blogs are provided by the staff of the Centre for Family Literacy, www.famlit.ca

Take Your Rhyming Outside with these Fun Activities (and Rhymes)!

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One activity that always brings me back to childhood is singing nursery rhymes. This includes clapping, skipping, and group rhymes, and anything learned from friends in the playground. I’ve never claimed to have a great singing voice, but that has never stopped me. While growing up I spent a lot of time memorizing verses, actions, and the rules that went with any singing games. While having fun, I was learning about language, relationships, my spatial awareness, and much more, all without even realizing it!

Who else remembers walking down the sidewalk singing “don’t step on the cracks or you’ll break your mothers back?” When we remember those moments we realize the importance of our children having those experiences as well. Rhyming verses are not just for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. They are fun, silly, the laughter is contagious, and the simple act of playing brings us closer to the people around us. Whether you are 2 or 92, you are never too young nor too old to keep singing and playing!

To this day I still enjoy learning new rhymes. I am fortunate enough to have many opportunities to share both my old favourites and my newly discovered (or adapted) favourites with children and adults alike. As a kid I had fun making up new lines in songs to suit my likes and interests. I still do this today; it is always fun to make up silly verses!

CLAPPING SONGS

Typically, a clapping rhyme alternates clapping your own hands and your partner’s hands with each beat. When words repeat, you clap your partners hands each time. With more experience the game can get more complicated, adding actions and other ways to clap. Adding challenges makes it an activity you can continue to do with children as they grow older.

A Sailor Went to Sea

A sailor went to sea, sea, sea
To see what he could see, see, see
But all that he could see, see, see
Was the bottom of the deep blue sea, sea, sea

Miss Mary Mack

Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack
All dressed in black, black, black
With silver buttons, buttons, buttons [butt’ns]
All down her back, back, back

She asked her mother, mother, mother
for fifty cents, cents, cents
To see the elephants, elephants, elephants
Jump the fence, fence, fence

They jumped so high, high, high
they reached the sky, sky, sky
And didn’t come back, back, back
Till the 4th of July, ‘ly, ‘ly!

She asked her mother, mother, mother
For 5 cents more, more, more
To see the hippos, hippos, hippos
Jump over the door, door, door

They jumped so low, low, low
They stubbed their toe, toe, toe
And that was the end, end, end
Of the great big show, show, show!

SKIPPING SONGS

Skipping songs are often sung with verses that end in counting to see how many jumps you can get in before you fumble. Other times they are sung in bigger groups to invite a skipper in, jump a few beats, and then out again. Many skipping songs can be sung by a large group in a circle, just improvise the movements.

This Way Thatta Way

*With two people handling the large skipping rope a lineup of others in pairs wait for their turn to skip in and skip out. Everyone sings.

This way, thatta way, this way thatta way, this way thatta way all day long
Here comes “Sarah,” here comes “Sarah,” here comes “Sarah” skipping along

*when Sarah’s name is called, she jumps into the skipping and skips, next line is her partner being called in to join her

Here comes the other one, just the like the other one, here comes the other one skipping along

*now their turn is over and they jump out of the skipping rope and you repeat calling the next partners in

CIRCLE SONGS 

Circle songs are classic for young children. These are songs where everyone typically holds hands and does the same or similar actions.

Ring Around the Rosie

Ring around the rosie, pockets full of posies
Husha, husha we all fall down

*now everyone is on the ground, clap your hands or knees and sing the next verse

Cows are in the meadows, eating buttercups
Husha, husha we all jump up

Sally Go Round the Sun

*in this rhyme you change the direction the circle is going (clockwise or counterclockwise) after every verse when you call switch, you can speed it up and add a switch to each line to make it more silly for older children

Sally go round the sun
Sally go round the moon
Sally go round the chimney tops
Every afternoon “switch”

There are endless rhymes and equally endless ways to do them. Get up and get moving with a child this summer and have fun teaching them. Reminisce with another parent, clap your hands, and test your memories at some old rhymes. Guaranteed giggles and smiles. Be silly, have fun, keep singing!

If you would like to have fun singing and rhyming with your children 3 and under, check the Centre for Family Literacy website mid-August for the Rhymes that Bind fall program schedule.

 

Write Away

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Family Literacy is about more than the ability to read, it’s about having the skills needed to build a strong foundation for future learning and lifelong success. One of those foundational skills is the ability to write. Writing will be needed to communicate effectively in the classroom, in the workplace, and more. It is also a form of self-expression that can really help us sort through our thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

Pre-Writing

In the pre-writing stage, your children will need help understanding that writing is connected to reading, and that writing is a way to communicate information through symbols.

At this stage, they will show emergent writing skills through scribbles, drawing pictures, copying symbols, drawing lines and circles, and attempting to write their name.

It is easy to practice writing with your children throughout your day.

  • Make sure they have easy access to pens, pencils, crayons, and paintbrushes so your children can develop the fine motor skills needed for writing. Keep the supplies all in one place with some paper
  • Encourage your children’s drawing as it helps them to express their stories and ideas. Ask them to “write” down what it is
  • Point out environmental print (such as billboards, signs, cereal boxes) every chance you get so they can see how writing relates to everyday life. For more on this topic, read our blog Build Pre-Reading Skills with Environmental Print
  • Help them learn the letters in their name
  • Help your children label items around the house (such as lunch boxes and toys)
  • Use play dough to make letter shapes
  • Create a shopping list and menu using pictures from flyers. Have them “write” what it is next to the picture
  • Spend time finger painting and colouring
  • Sing rhymes and songs that use actions to develop finger strength. For example:

One little finger,
One little finger,
One little finger,
Tap, tap, tap!
Put your fingers up!
Put your fingers down!
Put them on your nose!

Chalk

  • Go outside and let them loose with some sidewalk chalk. (Pair this with Chalk, a wordless book by Bill Thomson)

Beginning Writers

For those a little further along, try these activities:

  • Writing with chalk2Writing prompts. For example:

“Imagine you have been shrunk to the size of a mouse. What would you see? How would objects around you look?”

or

“If you could make anything come to life just by drawing it, what would you draw?” (Also pair this activity with the wordless book Chalk by Bill Thomson). Read our blog Reading Books Without Words for more about wordless books.

  • With your children, make a homemade book for them to write in. For more information, see our blog Homemade Book Making
  • Make a photo album story book and have your children write the story. (You can always write the translation!) Find out how: Scrapbooking Your Way to Essential Skills
  • Write letters and valentines to loved ones

Helping your children to build their writing skills means giving them ample opportunity to practice. Weave these activities into your normal routine and write away!

For early literacy tip sheets, visit the Centre for Family Literacy website

 

What’s Happening on the Edmonton C.O.W. Bus

The month of May on the Edmonton C.O.W. Bus was busy and fun, with familiar faces and a lot of visitors that came aboard for the first time. Welcome newcomers!

Very Hungry CaterpillarThe Very Hungry Caterpillar is a classic story by Eric Carle and everyone had fun ‘feeding’ the caterpillar before he made a cocoon and transformed into a beautiful butterfly.

Waves in the Bathtub by Eugenie Fernandes was enjoyed by both children and parents alike. We made big waves on the bus using just a simple blue shower curtain and stuffed toy ocean creatures to bring the story to life. This story can easily be told at home with items you already own.

Pete the CatJune is around the corner and we will be reading and singing along with Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes. Children will see how Pete the Cat takes everything in stride when his new white shoes get stained with every step he takes. You can sing the song with your children when things don’t go according to plan, and they’ll soon realize that ‘it’s all good.’

The week of June 13 -16 is our final week before summer break and we  celebrate with a year end party at each of the 10 sites. Join us with your children, aged 6 and under, for fun outdoor activities (including a take home craft) and say farewell to the Edmonton C.O.W. Bus until the fall. A free book will be given to every child who attends. Please come and feel free to bring a friend with their young children!

Visit the Centre for Family Literacy website for more information and the Edmonton C.O.W. Bus schedule. The website will be updated with the fall start date when available so don’t forget to check back and put the date on your calendar!

 

Baby’s Taste in Art

Baby & Book6

Let’s talk about which pictures babies prefer, and how books with photographs and books that use illustrations stack up.

Photos in Books Drawings in
Books
Babies are naturally drawn to faces. YES! Sometimes
Babies want bold contrasting colours. Sometimes YES!
Babies crave familiar people and objects. YES! Sometimes
Babies desire simple images. Sometimes More often

Of course, these are trends rather than rules. A particularly well-crafted image will appeal to babies regardless of what kind it is, and it’s more important to try to hit as many of these marks as you can.

How important each of these elements is depends on the age of the baby.

  • Newborn babies have terrible vision, so unless things are bright and bold they won’t easily notice them
  • Over the first 6 months, their vision improves so that they can see most things held at arm’s length (or about 12 inches)
  • Between 6 and 18 months, the muscles used to bend the lens of the eye to focus light get stronger and stronger, making it possible to see fine details in pictures and focus on things that are father away

In general, babies will prefer photographs because they show things closely resembling real things they have seen. Familiar images are comforting, and it is actually kind of exciting for babies when they recognize the things they see in books. Sometimes you won’t know if they will like a book until you try sharing it with your baby, but if you can recognize at a glance what you are looking at, then your baby will probably like it.

If you would like to know more about books for babies, go the the Resources pages on the Centre for Family Literacy website to find tips sheets, or the Program page to find a Books for Babies program.

6 Books You and Your Little Ones will Want to Get Your Hands on

Do you find it difficult to have your child sit with you to read a book? Are you competing with touch screens or big screens for time with your child for sharing a book? Are you finding yourself so busy you realize you haven’t read a book together lately?

These days it can be tough to establish a routine, such as a regular reading time with your child, and sticking with it. Personal and work schedules can be very demanding and time consuming. It can be easier to let your little one have a book read to them by an app on a tablet. Your family might even love books—your child has a bookshelf bursting with them. Or maybe you visit the library periodically to borrow them, however time slips away and the books are due for return before you’ve had the time to enjoy them.

As a child grows more independent and is able to play on their own, it is still very important to set aside time in your busy schedule for reading together. Not only does it model to your child that reading is done for pleasure, it is a simple action that strengthens bonds and can provide a child with positive memories related to reading.

It really doesn’t take long to share a good book with your child. If their attention span and focus don’t seem to be with you, there are a number of books available that encourage interaction with the audience—books that ask the child to touch parts of the page, shake the book, swipe here or there, and many more similar and fun ideas. The result is that the child can “help” you read along. They may also have a job to do—while you read, they can flip the pages. Even when they know the story well, they enjoy being able to predict what comes next, or what happens when they turn the page.

Books such as these may help you and your child look forward to a reading routine. Find the time in your day, whether it is at bedtime, nap time, after breakfast, before a bath, or whenever and wherever! The important thing is making the time to spend with your child.

Try out some of these favourites that encourage touching the pages to see what happens next:

Press Here and Mix It Up! by Hervé Tullet

Press Here3

MixItUp

 

Touch the Brightest Star and Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson

Touch the Brightest StarTap the Magic Tree

 

Don’t Touch this Book! and Don’t Push the Button! by Bill Cotter

Don't Touch this BookDon't Push this Button

 

Books like these are meant to be shared. Try not to see it as one more thing you must do on your to do list. Find the fun! Capture the smiles and giggles in your heart as you share some silliness with your child. If your child learns to read for pleasure, it just might make a difference for them later on, in school, when some find reading a chore.

My children are not small anymore, but I still enjoy showing books like these to them. The appreciation for a fun story can still be shared on a different level. Now we look forward to sharing books with the younger children in our lives whenever we can.

At the Learn Together – Grow Together program, parents learn ways to help their children in the early stages of reading and writing through stories, rhymes, songs and books. Check out the Centre for Family Literacy website for information on literacy programs for parents and their children 6 years and under, and for adults.

 

4 Reasons Kids Learn when they Play

“Play is the work of the child”
—Maria Montessori (Italian Physician & Educator)

children-463563_1920Generation after generation of children have played. This seems to tell us that play is an important part of healthy development.

An area of study called the science of learning is showing that there is more to play than meets the eye. When children play they are engaging in activities which help them to make sense of the world around them, and how to learn how to learn. And learning occurs best when children are mentally active, engaged, socially interactive, and building meaningful connections to their lives.

1. Play is Mentally Active

Children explore their world with their five senses. Rarely do children stop to think about what they are going to touch and then touch it. They launch forward—touching, hearing, seeing, smelling, and tasting—and then they think about what they have discovered.

2. Play is Engaging

It would be difficult to find playing children who are bored. Engagement is the very essence of play. Children are naturally curious and excited to learn new things, and play is the way they make sense of their world.

3. Play is Socially Interactive

Play helps children practice their skills for getting along with others and learn how to make friends. Imagination allows children to pretend to be bold superheros or parents, while still feeling safe. When parents remember how to play, they become part of their children’s play space and are then welcome to share their play world.

4. Play Builds Meaningful Connections

Our Literacy Links workshops place the focus on play, making connections in the world of the children and their parents. One little fellow exclaimed that the volcano he made was “erupting.” His dad was surprised at such a big word until the little boy reminded him that it was in the dinosaur book that they read together every night. Another mom commented that she already had everything at home that she needed to play the “Build a Robot” game with her little guy, to help him learn his numbers.

If you are interested in hosting or attending a Literacy Links workshop, check the Centre for Family Literacy website for more information!

“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.”
—O. Fred Donaldson

 

 

What is STEM and How Do I Teach it to my Kids?

STEM. This is catching a lot of attention these days. Do you know what it means?

- science
- technology
- engineering
- mathematics

Did you think it was exclusive to older children, or even adults? Not at all! These concepts are all part of children’s learning through exploration and discovery. Each week at our 3,2,1, Fun! program, parents explore STEM concepts with their children.

Did you know all children are little scientists? Everything about their world is open for discovery. They want to know “why,” “what happens if I do this,” “where does it go,” “how did that happen.” Children will repeat actions such as building a tower over and over again even though it keeps falling apart. They want to learn how to make it more stable and  they want to build it taller. Have patience! Though they may get frustrated, they are learning a STEM concept! Encourage questions from your children by prompting them with questions of your own, such as, “why do you think the tower fell,” “should we try it again,” “what do you think will happen this time,” and “what should we do differently?”

Allowing children to experience concepts hands on—by creating a learning environment where they can touch, manipulate, and explore their surroundings—will benefit them far more than only reading a book about a topic or watching a video.

Try these activities at home:

Science: Little scientists investigating the natural world

GLOVE-garden

  • Try planting some seeds. Watching something grow from a seed can be exciting and doesn’t have to be done outdoors. You can start the growing season early by planting seeds indoors
  • You don’t have to start them in a pot or container either. Try using a plastic glove! Children can drop a moistened cotton ball into each finger length, add a seed and then hang it in the window
  • Discussion about what plants need to grow—sun, air, and water—can occur as you daily monitor the changes together as the roots begin to break free from the seed
  • Once the seed has sprouted, transplant it to a little pot with dirt and continue to watch it grow

 

Technology: Exploring ways to use what they build for a purpose or action

Balloon Car2

  • Think “outside the box” and do activities that have less to do with an electronic device and more to do with hands on. There are plenty of apps available that offer activities related to technology, and children are getting more and more time on screens; offer something new by taking the device out of technology
  • Use technology to “research” a project to make with your children
  • A project we like to make is a little car or boat that can be powered for simple movement. You only need common supplies such as cardboard, a couple of wooden skewers (sticks), milk jug tops for the wheels, some tape, a balloon, and a straw. After the car is built you blow the balloon up, and as the air escapes through the straw it propels the car forward. You can find complete instructions here http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Balloon-Car

 

Engineering: Using their knowledge of the world around them to build and create

Build-Engineer

  • Yes, build and create!
  • Make blanket forts
  • Build simple structures using toothpicks and mini marshmallows or small candies
  • Use building toys, such as stacking blocks
  • Make things from recycled materials

 

 

Math: Increasing knowledge of counting, patterns, colours, and shapes to strengthen their ability to build and create with purpose

Color Mix

  • Get messy. Mix colours to learn about primary and secondary colours. Partly fill a sandwich bag with a small amount of shaving cream. Add a few drops from 2 different colours of food colouring. Have your children mix it all together to see what new colour is created. Have them predict ahead of time what will happen
  • Using different coloured recycled jug lids and stickers, make your own memory matching game
  • Create a container filled with random things you may find in a junk drawer (child safe of course), and have your children sort the things from smallest to biggest, or by colour or shape
  • Have fun with food! Break apart a chocolate chip cookie to count how many chocolate chips are in it. Estimate how many will be in each cookie, and compare the totals with the actual chocolate chip count

Looking for activities to do with your children, with STEM concepts in mind, can be a super way for you both to learn, be creative, get messy, and have fun!