What does Reading a Book Together have to do with Numeracy Skills?

iStock_321FUN

Have you ever read a book to a child and counted objects on the pages, looked for shapes, found different colours, or noticed patterns in the storytelling? Believe it or not, you are introducing numeracy skills.

Stories are a powerful way to explore numeracy concepts. They:

  • Provide simple and easy ways for children to relate the pictures and words to their lives
  • Encourage the use of numeracy language by using phrases like: How many? How far? How much?
  • Develop concepts like following directions, following recipes
  • Offer opportunities to problem solve, count backwards or forwards or by 2’s, introduce basic math skills
  • Increase memory skills by retelling stories in the correct order. Beginning, middle, and end can be recalled without the book in front of you

TIPS!

  • Read together often, when you can spend the time relaxed and not rushed
  • You do not need a hundred different books, a variety of books is best
  • You do not have to find math books for numeracy. Books rich in colour, shapes, and numbers are appealing to children and there are so many available
  • Find books that have a clear beginning, middle, and end (sometimes they start with Once upon a time)
  • Look for books that have a repeating sequence of events
  • Use recipe books, craft books, Lego building books (following instruction and direction step by step)
  • It is okay and expected for children to want to read the same book over and over again for weeks before they are ready to move on to another. As they become more familiar with the story, they are also understanding it better each time. The predictability is important for young children to want to follow along
  • Take time to revisit old favourites
  • When reading, talk together. Pause the story to ask questions, and give your child  time to answer. Ask questions like, “what do you think happens next?” “Can you count all of the red spots?” “Do you spot the dog?” “How many girls are wearing yellow dresses?”
  • Give children a chance to explain what they think and see
  • Look for opportunities to talk about routines like nap time, dinner time, bath time, bed time, days of the week and/or months, and seasons

We enjoy exploring numeracy with families at our 3,2,1,FUN! numeracy program. Some   books we like to share are:

  • If You Give A Mouse A Cookie by Laura Numeroff
  • The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins
  • Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen
  • Looking For A Moose by Phyllis Root
  • The Napping House by Audrey Wood
  • Memoirs Of A Goldfish by Devin Scillian
  • How To Babysit a Grandpa by Jean Reagan

Visit the Centre for Family Literacy website to find out more about the 3,2,1,FUN! drop-in program in Edmonton.

Simple Ways to Entertain your Baby with a Book

When I talk about which books are age appropriate for babies, I am less concerned about what is in the book and more interested in what we can do with the book. A great example of this is books that require our imagination to make sense of what the pictures are telling us, which is not something babies are very good at. That doesn’t mean these types of books are inappropriate for babies.

Monkey & MeFor example, Emily Gravett’s Monkey and Me depicts a young girl acting out the motions that we associate with different zoo animals. Even if your baby is very familiar with elephants, a picture of a girl hunched over with her arm stretched out in front of her face is probably not going to make your baby think of elephants. Even with pictures of the girl in mulitple poses, your baby will not know that one pose is meant to transition into the other.

However, if you make those motions yourself, and you make your best elephant trumpet noises, and you flap your hands beside your head like big ears… well, your baby still might not be thinking of elephants and that’s okay, you’ve just transformed a confusing picture into a fun and engaging interaction.

Pete's a PizzaI think William Steig’s Pete’s a Pizza can work beautifully for this. Of course your baby won’t understand from the story how Pete’s parents pretending to make him into a pizza can cheer him up when he’s feeling down. The connection between managing emotions and imaginary food preparation are more than a little abstract. But if you gently massage your baby, roll them back and forth like dough, and tickle them as you make your way through the book, it will probably become a favourite nonetheless.

This won’t work with every book, but when you notice the book you are sharing lends itself to different actions, take the cue to bring the book to life, and see how your baby likes it.

For information about the Books for Babies program, or to find the Edmonton program schedule, please visit the Centre for Family Literacy website program page.

For more information about sharing books with your baby, your toddler, or your preschool aged children, please visit the Centre for Family Literacy website resources page.

 

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.

Books – and Tunes – for Babies

Hispanic mother and baby at homeA great way to keep the interest of a baby when you’re reading with them, or a child of any age really, is to add some rhythm or melody to your book sharing.

The rhyme and repetition in many childrens’ books makes this easy in many cases, and if you have a rhyming book, a quick search on Youtube can sometimes give you a few different musical styles to choose from. Beyond that, there are many books that are meant to be sung with verses, choruses, and sometimes even music or information for where you can find the music online.

Don’t worry about your singing voice, I promise your baby doesn’t mind if you’re out of key or can’t really carry a tune, and it’s perfectly fine if you would rather settle into more of a chant than a full-on melody.

Even when the book does not rhyme, sometimes a picture can give you an idea for a song or a rhyme to sing, adding a little extra fun to your book sharing time. For example, a book might feature an animal, and there are a lot of songs and rhymes about animals. It’s okay if the animal song or rhyme you want to sing doesn’t exactly match the plot of the story for 2 big reasons:

  1. Babies don’t have the longest attention spans; you probably won’t get through more than a few pages of the book anyway
  2. We want our child to be able to relate the things they see in books, and the words they hear, to other things that they know. If you are reading Runaway Bunny with your toddler and they start singing Sleeping Bunnies, you’ll know that they are making those connections, and you can tell everyone how brilliant your child is.

You won’t always feel like singing, and your child might not always be receptive to it. Think of it as one more tool that you can use to make book sharing more fun for you and your baby.

If you would like to learn more about sharing books, songs, and play with your baby, you’ll find tip sheets on the Centre for Family Literacy website, you can try our free Flit app with family literacy activities to do with your little ones, or better yet, find a Books for Babies program near you and come have some fun with us!

 

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/

Books for Babies Book Giveaways

Hispanic mother and baby at homeBecause of generous funding from the Alberta Government and private donors, the Centre for Family Literacy is able to give a book to every family each week of the Books for Babies program—to keep.

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that everyone’s taste in books is a little different, and that babies will be drawn to different things in different periods of their development, but here’s a quick rundown of how I choose the books that we give to the program families.

Week 1: I will almost always choose a board book with nice big photos of faces. Even newborn babies love these books, and it will be years before these simple books lose their appeal. Occasionally I’ll use a book with photographs of animals instead. They won’t be as visually appealing to babies, but if I can convince parents to have fun playing with the book and make animal noises with their babies, then I know it will work out well.

Week 2: I always highlight books with rhymes and language play, so I’ll either choose a rhyming story, an illustrated rhyme (like a lullaby) or a collection of rhymes. When the book focuses on a single rhyme or song, the pictures tend to be more simple, which helps babies to follow along with the rhyme. Rhyme anthologies, on the other hand, tend to be very busy, but parents are more likely to find a rhyme that means something to them, which can be even better.

Week 3: I pick a book that offers something more tactile and kinesthetic for babies to explore. Usually these are touch and feel books; sometimes they are books with flaps.  Sometimes I will go another route entirely and choose a book that you can use in the bath, where all kinds of new sensory experiences, beyond the vinyl pages of the book, surround your baby.

Week 4: I like to give a book with a simple story. Babies are closer to 18 months old before they can appreciate the narrative of a story, so the book should have nice simple pictures, and a clear pattern or rhythm. Sometimes, for an extra challenge, I’ll give a book that won’t really make sense to baby unless the parent brings it to life by acting it out with them.

B4B-unused2There are a lot of good books out there to choose from, but using these categories allows us, each week, to explore different elements of books that appeal to babies. And to increase the odds that gift books will be enjoyed by everyone in the group, I try to find books that offer at least two features that babies are drawn to.

How you share the book with your baby will make as much difference as which book you share with your baby, and we spend more time talking about that at our program. But that’s for another blog.

More about the Books for Babies program

Tip sheets for choosing books for your baby, toddler, or preschool age children

Why Pre-Read New Books for Young Children?

iStock_read2During our Learn Together, Grow Together program, the parents have a 20-minute  session separate from their children.

Last week I began the parent session by talking about different types of books and the different ways to use them. Eventually the conversation evolved into a discussion about the age appropriateness of books.

Children’s books often have a recommended age for use (for example ages 1-3, or 4-8, etc.). However, the parents in our discussion seem to disagree with these age recommendations from time to time.

One mom shared that she had read a book to her three year old son where the main character was throwing objects into a tree—objects like a cat, a boat, and a truck. After the story, the mom said her son was determined to throw large objects into the tree in their yard. The mom said she realized that maybe her child wasn’t ready for this book, as he still didn’t understand the difference between real and make-believe.

Another mom shared that she had read a book, that she thought was age appropriate, to her four year old daughter. However the story actually scared her daughter so much that she had a tough time sleeping that night. The mom said she learned from that experience: spend time previewing children’s books before reading them with her daughter.

Occasionally I have been surprised to find words such as “stupid” or “shut up” in books recommended for younger children, and I certainly wouldn’t want my child to be exposed to those words at an early age.

Just as a parent might want to preview, or research, a movie’s appropriateness for their child, it is also a good idea to preview children’s books. Just because the book has been deemed age appropriate by the publisher doesn’t mean that it is appropriate for your child.

You know your child best; you know what concepts and language they can understand and what they are ready for. You know best what is age appropriate for your child, no matter what age they are in years. There are so many wonderful children’s books available  to share with your child, that it is OK to be picky when choosing them!

More about Learn Together – Grow Together

Water-proof Literacy

Bath BookNot all books will disintegrate, or expand and warp into funny shapes when you submerge them in water. Wait! There’s more. Before you start tossing your books into the sink, I’m specifically referring to bath books, the vinyl counterpart to board boards.

Vinyl bath books are great for babies and toddlers for a number of reasons, and they aren’t just for the bath.

  1. Your baby can learn to push the pages back and forth, or grab a whole page with their fist fairly early in their development. Vinyl and cloth books do have an edge over board books here, in how little they weigh and how easily they can be explored.
  1. Whether your baby is chewing on the book, drooling on it, or exploring the book with sticky fingers, vinyl books will withstand the moisture and are easy to clean.
  1. Quite often we keep books in one room of the house, or only take books out at bedtime. Bath books, by their very nature, invite you to bring reading into places that you might not immediately think of sharing a book. Babies and toddlers best learn how books are relevant to them when they can explore them at multiple times and  places throughout their day. You don’t need to read with your babies for hours on end, but those extra few minutes at bath time will add up.

As wonderful as vinyl books are, they do come with a few special considerations:

  1. The pages can sometimes be sharp, so check the edges of the book before giving it to your child. If your baby is going to be chewing on the book, and they probably will, you do not want them to get hurt in the process.
  1. If the book is damaged, water and other debris can seep inside punctures and tears and start to grow inside of the pages, and you probably do not want your baby to be playing with anything that grows in dark wet places. So regularly check your bath books to make sure they are still water tight.

Bonus tip:

Vinyl books are not the only waterproof books out there. You might also find a book, like Indestructibles™ with paper-like pages that are made from a special kind of plastic fiber. They are incredibly durable, as the name suggests.

Books for Babies Edmonton program schedule

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Have Fun and Build Brains Using “Serve and Return”

More brain connections form in the first six years of life than at any other time, and the more you use these connections the stronger they get. Brain connections are built on a foundation of “serve and return” interactions. Serve and return refers to give-and-take —healthy interaction that goes both ways. For example, if your baby “serves” by smiling at you, you “return” by smiling back. By doing this, you are showing baby that you understand them and they matter; you are giving them the feedback they need to learn.

TheBigAnimalMix-upReading a story together is a great example of a serve and return activity, and many have an interactive nature built right into them. On the Alberta Prairie C.O.W. Bus we love The Big Animal Mix-up, a lift-the-flap book by Gareth Edwards and Kanako Usui. It has bright pictures, humour, and a lot of rhythm and rhyme. In the story, Little Bear’s dad tries to teach him about animals: “Hello Little Bear, here’s a story for you, that’s all about animals and what they can do.” Only as the title suggests, they’re all mixed up! He has snakes mixed up with birds, and mice mixed up with whales, now Little Bear (and your child) have to set the record straight.

Here is a bird. It slithers around. And slides through the jungle with a soft hissing sound.”

“Hang on a minute! You made a mistake. If it hisses and slithers it must be a..… [open flap] SNAKE!”

We never tire of this book, but remember that any book can be made interactive by talking about the pictures, having the child help you with the story, asking open-ended questions, and relating the story to real life.

Building brain connections through serve and return has a big impact on the rest of a child’s life, providing the solid foundation needed for language and emotional health. But don’t forget to have fun while doing it!

Alberta Prairie C.O.W. Bus information and schedule

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Baby’s Favourite Book

(0 – 6 months)

Did you know your baby can have a favourite book? Long before they can talk or read, and even before they can turn the pages, babies will show a preference for certain books. And what they like best might surprise you.

We like all different kinds of books as adults; they might put us inside an adventure or romance, they might help us put our lawnmower back together, or maybe they help us feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. Young babies, on the other hand, they like pictures of faces.

Yep, almost as much as they like to stare up into your eyes, a book with nice big photos (not drawings) of faces will hold a baby’s attention for sometimes minutes at a time. Baby can’t see very far away, so hold the book roughly 12 inches away from them while you cuddle or play on the floor.

The book won’t do all of the work for you. These books typically have little to nothing to read in them, and what’s written is not very exciting. So, instead of reading to your baby, play with the book and your baby, talk about the pictures, and have some goofy fun. Watch and listen for your baby’s reaction, she will tell you what she likes, and when she’s had enough.

One of my favourite books of this type is What’s On My Head! by Margaret Miller. The photos are clear and not too busy. It’s a good size for when babies begin to hold things. And, it’s silly:

• Does the baby like her hat?

• Who wrapped this little girl up like a present?

• Why is there a duck on that baby’s head?

This book raises a lot of questions and doesn’t offer many answers. Still, it is fun to explore with your baby for at least as long as his little attention span holds out.

Books for Babies Edmonton program schedule:

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