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

 

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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

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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

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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:

 

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How does Rhymes that Bind Support Literacy Development?

RTB-Blog2

The early literacy skills of children do not begin with reading and writing. The skills they need prior to reading and writing are listening, speaking, and understanding. All of these skills are practiced in the Rhymes that Bind program.

Rhymes are fun, and because of their simplicity, they can be done anywhere. The benefits are many. When hearing nursery rhymes, children hear how sounds are put together—vowels and consonants making words. They hear patterns in speech, pitch, volume, voice inflection, and a general rhythm to language. The sound is different when asking a question, telling a story, giving instructions, or singing a song. Children will hear words they don’t hear every day—in rhymes with animals, submarines, grandfather clocks, and food,  such as:

  • The grandfather clock goes, tick tock tick tock tick tock (slowly sway child back and forth)
  • The kitchen clock goes tictoctictoctictoctictoc (sway child faster)
  • And mommy’s little watch goes ticcaticcaticcaticcaticca (tickle tickle tickle)

Nursery rhymes are like stories with a fun rhythm. They are short and repetitive, and often have a beginning, middle, and end. This helps build memory skills for children when they are able to recall and retell a favourite rhyme, such as:

  • Three Little Pigs
  • Three Little Bears

Nursery rhymes often include early numeracy skills, using numbers to count forward and backward, such as:

  • 5 Green and Speckled Frogs
  • Zoom, Zoom
  • 10 In The Bed

Rhymes can also introduce children to some simple literacy rules without obvious intention, such as:

Alliteration:

  • Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers
  • She Sells Sea Shells by the Sea Shore

Onomatopoeia:

  • Old MacDonald’s Farm
  • Baa Baa Black sheep

10 reasons to enjoy sharing nursery rhymes with your children:

  1. When babies hear language it increases their comprehension or understanding; as a child’s vocabulary increases, so does their comprehension. Often present in nursery rhymes are words we don’t usually use in everyday conversation with small children
  2. Children attempt to duplicate the sounds they hear while practicing language. This is how their speech is developed. Babies who are read to will often hold a book and make babbling noises that represent reading aloud
  3. Older children will begin to rhyme nonsense sounds and words as they become better at speaking. If they have been exposed to nursery rhymes early, they have already begun to understand the rhythm and flow of language
  4. Babies develop speech by strengthening their mouth and tongue muscles when replicating the sounds they hear in a nursery rhyme
  5. Listening to stories, whether told or read from books, helps children understand that all stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. As children gain verbal skills they will begin to tell their own stories. Many nursery rhymes are repetitive in nature, and often tell a little story
  6. Children will struggle later when learning how to write a story if they do not first learn how to tell a story
  7. Many nursery rhymes help with physical development in children. While rhyming,  some activities that develop fine motor skills are clapping, counting with fingers, and making simple gestures
  8. Large motor skills can also be developed while singing a rhyme when children are hopping, rolling, walking, and using their whole body in dramatic play
  9. Many rhymes involve touching and tickling your children. By touching, tickling, and laughing together, your bonds are strengthened, which increases learning capacity in children
  10. It is FUN!

If you would like more information about the Rhymes that Bind program or the program schedule, please check the Centre for Family Literacy website: http://www.famlit.ca/programs_and_projects/programs/rhymes.shtml

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3 DIY Puzzles to Make with Your Kids

The Alberta Prairie C.O.W. program visits communities around the province for 12 months a year. To each visit we bring a variety of great family literacy activities and ideas for parents to explore with their young children.

We have books, puppets, blocks, and puzzles that have been purchased, but we also bring a wealth of activities that the families can make for themselves. For example, we have homemade “I Spy” bottles made from old pop bottles that are filled with rice and random trinkets (with the bottle lid glued on tightly afterwards). We also have a homemade cash register and a stove that are made out of cereal boxes, as well as matching games made from old calendars. We encourage parents to use materials they already have at home; materials that don’t cost a lot of money.

Among the homemade activities that we bring with us are a selection of DIY puzzles. Puzzles are a wonderful way for your children to develop their fine motor and problem-solving skills. Puzzles can also be made for different ages and stages of development. You can even create puzzles geared toward your children’s interests, so go ahead—be creative and have fun together!

 

Paper Plate Puzzle

Using a plain paper plate, have your child scribble or draw a picture. Depending on the age of your child, cut the paper plate into as few or as many pieces as they can put back together.

paperplatepuzzle

 

Box Puzzle

Cut the front of a cereal, cracker, or cookie box into as many pieces as your child will be able to put back together.

puzzle-cerealbox

 

Popsicle Stick Puzzle

Tape together approximately 5 to 10 wide popsicle sticks so that they are parallel to one another and lying flat on the table. Glue a picture your child drew, a picture you cut out of a flyer or magazine, or a photograph, on top of the popsicle sticks. Once the glue is dry, you can cut the popsicle stick puzzle into its individual pieces for your child.

puzzle-popsiclestick

These are a just a few examples of DIY puzzles. Can you think of more? We would be happy to share your ideas, and create new homemade puzzles with families across the province.

For more easy and inexpensive craft ideas, check out the newsletters on the Centre for Family Literacy C.O.W. program page

 

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7 Crazy Fun Family Games to Play Over the Holidays

Have you ever watched Minute to Win It types of games and thought it would be fun to play them with your family? Family games are a great way to bring everyone together over the holidays, or any time, to have a little fun! The games can be simple or complex, depending on the participants, and you can often use things you have around the house. Try to encourage all family members to play, no matter their age. Games are also a fun way to incorporate family literacy into your holiday activities by talking, following directions, counting, etc.

The Games:

Try to split everyone who would like to participate into two teams, trying to keep both sides as even as possible. The great thing about these games is that they only last for one minute, so participants only have to make it through 60 seconds.

img_2933-11. This first game involves stacking cups so they look like a tree. Remember you only have 60 seconds. To make this activity more difficult for adults, have them put one arm behind their back and use their non-dominant hand.

 

 

 

 

img_2936-22. This game requires mini marshmallows, straws, and cups (or other containers). Using the straw, you must get as many marshmallows into the cup as you can in one minute. To make this game harder for adults or older kids, do not allow them to hold the straw with their hands.

 

 

 

 

3. Our next game requires two pairs of pantyhose with the toes cut out and a hole for your face, as you will be making antlers on your head. This game takes great team effort as balloons are stuffed into the pantyhose legs. An option can be that the winner is whoever finishes first, instead of having a one minute time limit.

 

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img_2955-94. This game is about making a Christmas Tree. We used long ribbon, however you could use toilet paper and make a snowman, or wrapping paper to wrap a present (the entire person). Once again you could time the teams or just judge them after the first one is done.

 

 

 

 

5. Starting to get hungry after all this work? How about a cookie challenge? Place a cookie over one eye and try to get it into your mouth. For the younger kids, if the cookie falls off they could pick it up and try again. For adults and older kids, I suggest no hands and if they fail then another player from their team has to try until at least one person is successful.

 

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6. On to some full body movements you will need two more pairs of pantyhose without holes, two tennis balls (or heavy balls) and some targets to knock over. Putting the nylons on your head with the ball in each leg, try knocking down as many of the targets as you can. We used paper cups but water bottles or pop cans work too.

 

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img_2969-87. Lastly we have the candy cane pick up. Stack up a bunch of candy canes, and putting one in your mouth, hook as many candy canes as you can and transfer them into a cup. For little fingers, just let them use their hands instead of putting the candy cane in their mouth.

 

 

 

These are just a few of the hundreds of games available on the internet, so grab your family and friends, be creative, and have a great time!

 

Find more game ideas, as I did, with these sites:

 

 

 

 

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Party Baby!

It’s the holidays! And for a lot of people that means parties, family get-togethers, and gatherings of all kinds. If you have a baby with you, this can be a lot of fun or quite stressful.

Whether your baby is a party animal or actually quite shy, being surrounded by people for long periods of time is not something that many babies are used to. An unending parade
unknownof aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins who want to hold your baby can be overwhelming for them, and just being in a loud room full of people talking and playing can leave babies feeling over-stimulated and exhausted.

Here are a few tips to survive the holiday season:

  • How is baby doing? We all have limits, and while one baby can be in the middle of a large group for hours, another baby might need to take breaks more often. And if your baby is sick, tired, or hungry, they might not last long at all. If you notice they are avoiding eye contact and looking agitated, find a quiet(er) place where you can retreat to spend some one-on-one time.
  • Times when everyone is doing something together, like singing songs, sharing stories, or playing a game, are easier for babies to handle than times when activites are more chaotic (even when everyone’s getting along).

grandfather-and-baby

  • Babies will find a lot of comfort in the familiar, so try to balance the introductions to people they haven’t met before and places they’ve never been with familiar faces, favourite rhymes, and books.
  • How are you feeling? Babies definitely pick up on your feelings, so if you’re starting to feel stressed (or hungry or tired or sick), find what you need to feel better, and in the meantime, recruit your partner or another family member who is feeling more calm to take care of your baby for a while.

If your little one doesn’t seem to like meeting new people, here’s a great article from Zero to Three that talks about how we can help children with different temperments handle social situations: https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/198-children-with-shy-or-slow-to-warm-up-temperaments

Take care of your babies and yourselves, and I hope to see you at Books for Babies in 2017. Best wishes everyone!

About the Books for Babies program

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Homemade Book Making

make-your-own-book

Learn Together – Grow Together is a program for parents and their children (ages 3-5 years old), to attend and participate in activities together as a family. We encourage the parents to recognize their role as first teacher of their children. In order for parents to help their children become lifelong readers and writers, we show the parents simple activities they can do at home to help foster the early literacy skills needed for their little ones to grow into literacy.

At Learn Together – Grow Together, a fun  activity we have done was to make a homemade book. We showed the parents that you can use inexpensive materials and/or materials you may already have at home, to make your own books.

One of the books the parents created with their children is called a “Straw Book.”

make-your-own-book1Supplies Needed:

  • 3+, 8 ½ x 11 plain white sheets of paper
  • 1 piece of coloured construction paper
  • 1 pair of scissors
  • 1 drinking straw
  • 1 elastic band
  • markers and/or pencil crayons and/or crayons
  • optional: stickers

 

make-your-own-book2Directions:

  •  Fold the white pieces of paper in half, as they will become the inside pages of the book
  • Fold the piece of coloured construction paper in half, as this will become the cover of the book

 

 

make-your-own-book3

  • Carefully cut two small triangles into the folded sides of the plain paper and the folded side of the construction paper. Make sure the triangles are a long enough distance apart to be able to weave your straw in between them

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  • Put the straw through the holes on the inside of the book

 

 

 

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  • On the outside cover, put the elastic band on the top and bottom ends of the straw, keeping the cover and inside pages together
  •  Have fun decorating, writing, and drawing in your book!

 

 

 

At Learn Together – Grow Together, the families used pencil crayons, markers, stickers, objects cut out of magazines, etc. to decorate, draw, and write in their straw books. The children were very pleased that they were able to scribble and/or write whatever they wanted in their book; it gave them a sense of pride and ownership!

It was exciting to see that even a simple and inexpensive activity, like making a book from a drinking straw, an elastic band, and some paper, was able to foster early literacy skills. The children were able to be creative on their own and practice their writing and drawing skills. The parents learned that it doesn’t cost a lot of money, or take a lot of time, to have a literacy activity for their children to work on.

Have you made any other types of homemade books with your children? We would love to hear more of your ideas to help foster early reading and writing skills in young children!

 

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How to Teach your Kids About Time

clock

What time is it? Ten days until your birthday. Five more minutes. We hear these kinds of phrases every day. But what do they actually mean, especially to children? Time plays a huge role in our daily lives and we expect our children to understand what time is and how we represent it—without us ever thinking about it or explaining what time means.

The only memory I have of learning to represent time and read a clock is a brief unit in Grade 2. I can remember struggling to learn the difference between the three hands and adding two “times” together, all while trying to understand what time represents. And when it was done, we were expected to have mastered time.

Skip 25 years into the future and we’re surrounded by digital clocks, smart phones, and computers. Who wears a watch anymore, or has a clock in their house that’s not digital? Who has a calendar hanging in their house? All these changes and advances in technology can hinder children’s understanding of time.

It doesn’t help that we say things like “5 more minutes” and 5 minutes turns into 20 before we realize it. Or when an actual 5 minutes feels like an hour—especially when we are in trouble. What about when we’re having fun and 5 minutes feels like 30 seconds?

Five minutes will always be 5 minutes on a clock. Young children learn best by having hands-on, tangible objects to visualize and manipulate, and learning about the concept of time is no different. Having egg timers and non-digital clocks around allows children to see the passing of time and get an actual sense of time.

Helping your children understand what time means and how to read a clock doesn’t have to be scary. An easy way to begin teaching your children about time is to start with recognizing the numbers on a clock and the order they go in. Talk about the different hands on a clock and what each one means and does. Show them an egg timer and how it works. When you set a time limit, set the egg timer, or show your children on a clock what the end time is. For example, if you say 5 more minutes, show your children where the big hand will be in 5 minutes.

When talking about days and weeks, it can be even harder for children to understand the passing of time. Having a calendar in your house can be a fantastic way to show time passing. If you are counting down the days to an event, your children can cross out each day on the calendar in the morning after breakfast or in the evening before bedtime, and see the number of days remaining becoming less and less.

Below is a fun countdown calendar that families made in our 3,2,1, Fun! program. You can make this calendar for any activity—Christmas countdown, birthday countdowns, special event countdowns, etc.

clock-craft

Materials:

Paper plate
Paint, Markers, Crayons, Bingo Dabbers, etc.
Clothes Pins (31)
Paper
Scissors
Glue

Instructions:

  • Get your child to paint the paper plate. You can gear it toward a specific event or just general use. Our calendar examples are a birthday countdown and a countdown to Christmas
  • While the paper plate dries, draw and cut out fun designs for your clothes pins. Once they are finished, number the pins from 1 – 31 (or however many pins you use)
  • Glue the designs onto the ends of the clothes pins and clip the clothes pins around the edge of the plate
  • Remove a pin each day, so you can see and keep track of the days left until your event or the end of the month

*** If you have younger children, you can place the pins in correct number order. For older children you can mix up the numbers (like an advent calendar).

To learn more about the 3,2,1, Fun! program, go to the Centre for Family Literacy website

 

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