4 Ways to Celebrate Autumn with Your Child & Reap the Benefits of the Outdoors

autumn

“The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.” – e.e. Cummings

Fall is here with its whimsical, whirling leaves and wind. There’s no better time to make sure we, and our children, are getting enough outdoor fun. With screen time increasing for both kids and adults, it’s more important than ever to consciously make the time to play in nature.

There is no shortage of information about why our kids need the great outdoors. Vitamin D exposure, healthy eye development, opportunities for exercise, improved sleep quality and brain development, Mother Nature provides it all. Thanks to the nature of outdoor play, (the jackpot of early childhood development), kids can discover confidence, independence and resiliency. Playing outside forces kids to be inventive. It requires them to make choices and choose adventures, take risks and adapt. They move their whole bodies, and use all of their senses when in nature; they can see, hear, smell and touch the world around them, and research tells us that multi-sensory experience promotes better learning.

Outdoor play supports coordination, balance, and motor skills; it feeds a sense of wonder, forces our kids to ask questions, and it even reduces stress, which is important because stress is a huge barrier to brain development.

Below are four ways to take advantage of the outdoors to promote healthy brain development and early literacy.

1. Do something that helps out Mother Nature, such as make a bird feeder, plant a tree, or make a birdbath.

How to make a bird feederbirdfeeder

You will need:

  1. natural peanut butter
  2. suet (or lard)
  3. cornmeal
  4. pinecone
  5. wild birdseed
  6. cotton thread

Directions:

  1. Mix equal parts peanut butter (use the natural kind with only peanuts listed in the ingredients) and suet (or lard)
  2. Stir in enough cornmeal to make a thick paste
  3. Press this mixture into the pinecone
  4. Roll the pinecone in the wild birdseed mix
  5. String or tie cotton thread to the pinecone and hang from a tree in your yard

2. Start an art project.

For example:

  1. Collect and press fall leaves between wax paper, or do leaf rubbings (place a piece of paper over the leaf and lightly rub over it with a pencil or crayon)
  2. Collect rocks and paint them to look like animals
  3. Create a “stained glass” window with fall leaves. After picking your colourful leaves outside, press them to the sticky side of some transparent contact paper, and place on your window

3. Read a non-fiction book about birds.

Try About Birds: A Guide for Children by Cathryn Sill, and see if you can find any of the birds outside. Pair it with fiction books about birds or animals, like the Little Owl’s series by Divya Srinivasan, or any of the Pigeon series by Mo Willems. Extend your books even further by drawing and colouring your favourite birds together.

little-owls-nightpigeon-book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Learn a rhyme together that involves nature.

Here’s one to start you off:

September Leaves

Leaves are floating softly down;
Some are red and some are brown.
The wind goes whooshing through the air.
When you look back there’s no leaves there.

Mother Nature provides for a rich learning experience, so get out there and seize the season—make those mud pies, and jump in those puddles!

 

Non-fiction Books Your Kids Will Love

I have been reading to my children since they were born, so I have noticed a real trend in their choices of non-fiction or fiction books. As babies, they wanted us to read non-fiction—books with real pictures of real things in their daily lives while they were getting to know their world.

Now that my oldest is preschool age, she prefers that we read fiction—stories that expand her ideas of whimsy and make-believe worlds, where princesses always live happily ever after and the super heros always win. She has lost interest in non-fiction books.

animal-teeth2Because of the research on the importance of reading non-fiction, I have been trying to find interesting topics for my daughter. When I came across the series of books “What if you had Animal…” (Feet, Teeth, Hair, or Ears) by Sandra Markle and Howard McWilliam, I knew right away she would love them.

The books combine fiction and non-fiction. They have pictures of real animals and information about their feet, teeth, hair or ears. But what makes the books fun is that they also have illustrated pictures of children with the same animal’s attributes. As you can see on this cover, the child has beaver teeth, which of course look hilarious to children.

The series allows children to read non-fiction literature to get facts and dive into a fantasy world at the same time! What a great bridge for readers to find their way back to non-fiction books. The series can be found on the Edmonton Literacy C.O.W. bus!

animal-feetMy daughter absolutely loves these books! We have read them so often that she can tell me what great super power, as she likes to call them, I would have if I had certain animal features. At the playground she commented that she would love to have kangaroo feet to  jump high over the fence and get to the park faster.

Since we have travelled with my daughter several times, she found an easy interest in maps of our country, continent and world. We have also been venturing into the career and cooking sections at the library.

Here are some ways to spark your children’s interest in non-fiction books:

  • Pursue their passions: do they have a love of dinosaurs or big monster vehicles? Use their current interests to encourage them
  • More is more: by offering a variety of non-fiction reading materials, you may find a format they prefer, such as books, magazines, newspapers, or atlases
  • Parents are their children’s best teachers: if you read a variety of literature, both fiction and non-fiction, and talk with your children about what you are reading, it is likely their interests will grow

Below are links to research on the importance of reading non-fiction books:

http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/dec12/vol70/num04/Nonfiction-Reading-Promotes-Student-Success.aspx

http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/non-fiction-why-its-important/

http://scholarworks.wmich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1071&context=reading_horizons

http://www.education.com/reference/article/reasons-teaching-nonfiction/

http://uanews.ua.edu/2014/03/ua-matters-the-importance-of-reading-nonfiction-with-children/

3 Creative Ways to Bring Your Family Closer with Digital Technology

 happy family using tablet pc
How to enhance (not detract from) your family life by using technology creatively. Technology is but one tool in your parenting toolbox; use it creatively and it can enhance (not take over) your relationships.

While there is no limit to the variety and price of technology on the market, I am not convinced that you need any of that stuff. Instead I want to focus more on how the technology you probably already use could be helpful for promoting literacy.

  1. I am sure you have already heard that screen time is not recommended for children under 2 years old at all, so I won’t belabor that point, but I do want to mention that I can think of one possible exception: Video Chat. Babies need regular face-to-face interaction, and nearly all of that should be done in person. Still, I think that babies can benefit from interacting with family members through video conferencing apps like Skype and Facetime. They might lose interest sooner than if the family member was in the room with them, but it is an opportunity to do a little bit of bonding over long distances.
  2. If you have a smartphone, then you essentially have a video camera, microphone, and notepad with you at all times. It has never been easier to create a library of family stories and moments to share with your children and other family members, and I have already written a post about the value of family stories. The key is to think of how you can do this in a way that is less intrusive and time consuming so that you can enjoy the process without making it a chore. And you don’t want to miss the moment while being preoccupied with capturing the moment. Technology should be working for you, and not the other way around.
  3. I met a mom who decided to create an email address for her newborn baby so that she could send him notes and letters whenever she had something that she really wanted him to share with him. I’m not especially crafty, but I do check my email every day, so there is something about that kind of virtual time capsule that really appeals to me. Sharing those letters together when your child is older would be so special. Or giving that email account to your child at graduation or some other rite of passage could be pretty profound. It will probably be even more heart warming if you log in to that account and clean out the spam every once in while!

Early Writing Skills

Writing with felts2

Learn Together – Grow Together is one of our family literacy programs for parents and caregivers and their children ages 3-5 years old. The program encompasses a variety of activities that range from sharing stories and rhymes, to gym time, free play, crafts and games. Parents learn ways to help their children in the early stages of reading and writing.

During one of our parent-time sessions, we discuss the beginning stages of writing. Children are not born knowing how to hold a pencil or even what to do with it. This is a skill that must be taught and modelled by parents. From an early age, children are eager to use their hands to grab things. Allow your little ones to use crayons or markers, for example, to scribble on a piece of paper. The scribbles may not mean much to you, but they are the beginnings of letter and word formation, as well as fine motor skill practice.

Often I hear from parents that their children don’t want to sit down and work on their writing skills. So at Learn Together – Grow Together, I always have examples of new and fun ways to practice writing. Here are a few:

  • use sidewalk chalk
  • use just your finger and write in the sand or snow
  • cut up numbers and letters made of sandpaper, and use your finger to trace them
  • in the bathtub or outside, write with shaving cream, or write on a big glob of it
  • put acrylic paint in a Ziploc bag and tape the top, then practice writing on the bag with just your finger
  • tape a long piece of ribbon to a pencil or stick and practice making letters in the air by waving your wand
  • paint letters and numbers on large blank sheets of plain paper

Can you think of more fun ideas to add to the list?

It is also important for your children to see you modelling your writing skills. For example, if you are making a grocery list, or printing an address onto a piece of mail, ask your children to take part in the activity. Or let them watch you fill out forms and documents. As you show your children these skills, they will begin to understand that written print has meaning and that it is an important skill to have.

One of the tip sheets available for free download on the Centre for Family Literacy website is titled “Signs of Reading and Writing Development in Young Children.” It is on side 2 of the “Tips for Sharing Books” pdf. Here is the link to the webpage.

www.famlit.ca/resources/resources_p.shtml

If you are interested in the fall session of Learn Together – Grow Together in Edmonton, please give us a call at 780-421-7323 for more information. Have fun learning and growing together with your children!