Drawing on Strengths

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One of the guiding principles of family literacy programs is that every family comes with their own strengths, no matter what culture or socio-economic background they are from.

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.

I’ve been involved in the program for several years and have worked with many different families. The beauty of having the families attend for a minimum of one 10-week session is that it gives me the opportunity to observe the strengths of each parent. Some love singing, while others enjoy making crafts. Some parents are great at running and roughhousing with their children during gym time, while others excel at calming their children when they are upset. Some parents enjoy sitting with their children to share a book, while others like helping their children build with blocks or put a puzzle together.

Parents may not be aware of the variety of strengths they already possess. Although they shouldn’t be afraid to learn and try new things, parents should  be proud of what they are able to accomplish with their children already.

I’ve seen many parents open up and share their own parenting stories and experiences with the other parents, encouraging each other on their parenting journey. A local program like Learn Together – Grow Together is a good way to connect with other parents. You never know what new strengths you may develop, or how you may be able to encourage another parent!

For more about the Learn Together Grow Together program, visit the Centre for Family Literacy website at ww.famlit.ca

 

Letting Your Child Lead

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At Learn Together Grow Together, we have been talking about learning through play. It is amazing to observe any child as they play! Everything is new and exciting and they want to soak up every experience they can. A lot of skills are being developed as your child plays: physical, fine motor, cognitive, language, and social skills.

As a parent, it is important that you take the time to play and interact with your child, to help them develop these skills. As your child continues to grow, you will find they develop their own likes and dislikes. Recognizing the interests of your child can be of great benefit to you both.

For example, you may notice that your child would rather pick the dandelions in the grass than kick a ball around. Or maybe your child wants to just play with their blocks, while you are trying to do a craft with them. Perhaps your child would rather read a cartoon strip in the newspaper than read a storybook.

In any of these situations, there is an opportunity to learn something new. As a parent, it may not be what you would like to do, but it is important to follow your child’s lead and recognize what they are interested in doing.

As a parent you know that you have your own likes and dislikes; there are activities you enjoy more than others. So guaranteed it will be the same for your child! Take the time to observe what your child’s interests are and engage with them in those activities. Have fun with them! By doing so, you will be creating positive learning experiences for your child. We all learn more when we are interested; build on the strengths you see in your child everyday and I’m sure their love of learning will continue for years to come.

Check the Centre for Family Literacy website for more about Learn Together – Grow Together

 

Learn, Grow, and Play Together – as a Family

Spring is finally here! At Learn Together – Grow Together we have been focusing on ways in which we can “grow” as families.

Our activities have been showcasing ways in which parents are able to spend quality learning time with their children while having fun. Now that the weather is beautiful again, we encourage all families to spend time outdoors – growing together!

Below are some of the ways that we practiced growing together this session:

  • using cardboard boxes, plastic containers, and other recyclable materials, we made our own robots
  • using construction paper, ribbons, tape, and string, we made our own kites and flew them in the wind
  • using paint and pre-made wooden structures from a dollarstore, we decorated birdhouses for the birds that come to visit
  • using paper and markers, we created our very own scavenger hunt to do outside
  • using a Styrofoam cup (which we decorated with a face), potting soil, and grass seeds, we made our own grassheads by having the grass grow out of the top

Kite1     Kite2

We hope you can take the time to try one or more of these activities. As you are interacting and playing together, you will be growing together as a family too. Enjoy learning as you spend time together!

More about the Learn Together – Grow Together program

hashtag: #LT_GT

 

Learn Together, Grow Together

LTGT-webLast week was the start to our latest 10-week session of Learn Together, Grow Together. The program is for parents and caregivers and their children ages 3 to 6 years old. While the adults learn about their children’s early learning, and how to support literacy development and success in school, it is also a good opportunity for the parents to brush up on their own literacy skills and connect with other parents of preschool children.

We begin each session with stories and singing, followed by gym time. Afterwards, we split the children and parents into separate learning groups, and finally, we bring them back together for fun parent-child learning activities.

During parent time for the next few weeks, we will explore “emergent literacy.” Emergent literacy is “the knowledge children have about reading and writing before they can actually read and write.”(http://www.kidsability.ca/en/LiteracyHandouts) We will encourage parents in their role as emergent literacy teachers for their own children.

How does a child gain this knowledge about reading and writing? What are some strategies parents can use to foster emergent literacy in their child?

Here are a few ideas to try together with your family:

  • Talk with your child. Your child will learn so much from positive language interactions with you.
    • Talk about what you see in a picture book, while at the grocery store, at the park, etc.
    • Explain to your child what you are doing, while you are doing it. For example, if you make cookies, talk about the different ingredients and what steps you have to take, or if you are paying bills, use the time to talk to your child about money and numbers.
    • Play card and board games together. Turn off the electronic devices and have fun playing a game where there is opportunity to speak with each other.
  • Sing and rhyme with your child. Sing songs and rhymes together as they provide opportunities to bond with your child as well as expand their vocabulary. You can always make up your own songs and rhymes too – your child will enjoy hearing your voice either way.
  • Visit your local library and take advantage of their book lending services.
  • Follow you child’s lead in their interests. For example, if they have an interest in animals, share books about animals, sing songs and rhymes about animals, and play games about animals. If you can, take a trip to a pet store, a farm, or a zoo; take the time to talk about everything you see and experience together.
  • Model positive literacy behaviours to your child. If your child sees your enjoyment of reading the newspaper, writing a shopping list, talking about the road signs you see, etc., they will think of these literacy activities as positive experiences.

Parents have such an important role in cultivating the knowledge of reading and writing in their child, even before they are actually about to read and write. There are so many opportunities to promote emergent literacy in a small child, simply by intentionally interacting with them and involving them in what you are already doing!

 

More about the Learn Together – Grow Together program

hashtag: #LT_GT

 

Beat the Cold! Bring the Outdoors In with Learn Together – Grow Together!

This last month has been a snowy, blowy and cold one. However the team at Learn Together – Grow Together has found a way to beat the cold! When it is too cold for our families to go outdoors, we simply bring the outdoors in!

 

Books that we read:

  • 10 on a Sled by Kim Norman
  • All You Need for a Snowman by Alice Schertle
  • Snowballs by Lois Ehlert
  • The Mitten by Jan Brett

 

Activities we did:

  • After reading the storybook The Mitten, each family spent the afternoon creating their own storysack. Each storysack contained the characters from the story as well as a large white mitten. These storysacks provided families with a fun, unique and memorable way to read and share the story at home.
  • Using recycled newspaper and packing tape, we made a big basket full of “snowballs”. We then headed to the gymnasium for a variety of snowball throw and toss games, ending with a big group snowball fight!
  • After reading All You Need for a Snowman, we brought in a huge plastic bin of snow from outside. Then, wearing mittens, the children and their families spent the afternoon creating their own snowmen and snow castles!
  • Using plastic containers of varying sizes we froze “treasures” in water. Once frozen, we took the ice blocks out of the containers and the children spent the afternoon exploring methods to melt and chip the treasures from the ice. The children used a variety of methods including: warm water, hand held tools, salt etc. to extract their treasures. In order to keep this activity literacy based, our treasures included letters from the alphabet that corresponded with other items in the ice block. For instance, when a child extracted a letter “Y” from the ice, they would then begin to look for the items in the ice that corresponded with that letter, such as a yellow yo yo.

 

Snacks we shared:

banana-snowmen

Banana Snowmen
Ingredients: bananas, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and pretzels.

 

bear-pretzel

Pretzel Polar Bears
Ingredients: pretzel sticks, peanut butter, coconut and black icing.

 

Songs and Rhymes we shared:

I’m a Little Snowman (to the tune of I’m a Little Tea Pot)
I’m a little snowman, short and fat.
Here are my buttons and here is my hat.
When the sun comes out, I cannot play.
I just slowly melt away.

Five Little Snowmen
Five little snowmen all made of snow,
five little snowmen standing in a row.
Out came the sun and stayed all day,
and one little snowman melted away.

(count down to 0)

Zero little snowmen all made of snow,
zero little snowmen standing in a row.
Down came the snow that fell all day,
and five little snowmen came back to play.

To go along with these rhymes, our families constructed five popsicle stick snowmen and one popsicle stick sun to use while they recited the rhyme. These props were a fun activity for the families and they really brought the rhyme to life!!

With a little creativity and our families’ eager participation, Learn Together – Grow Together has succeeded in bringing the outdoors in and now you can too!!

More about the Learn Together – Grow Together program

hashtag: #LT_GT

 

Sharing Books Creates Memories

Do you have a favourite memory of sharing a book with a child?

    

I have a favourite memory of my son’s love for these two books in particular. When he was nearly three years old we read them every day, often two or three times a day. It was never boring or dull to read the same stories over and over with him! His face would light up as if it was the first time every time. The stories he loved were easy to animate with their words that rhymed and great illustrations. What I didn’t realize was that he absorbed every word – memorized each phrase for each page. Then one day I needed to be away at his bedtime and his father did the bedtime story routine. After he read the first book with our son he called me to ask “when did he start to read?” I didn’t understand and said “he can’t read yet! What are you talking about?” Apparently my son knew exactly word for word the book my husband had shared with him – with such accuracy my husband thought he could actually read!

I was proud my little guy was able to fool his dad. I was also encouraged to continue to read with him every day, no matter what story he chose, no matter how many times he chose it. He began to “read” his stories to me as well, and even years later we would take turns and read chapter books to each other. We still enjoyed our story time together.

Everyday Scavenger Hunts

I’m sure there are many sticklers who would argue that what I’m suggesting here is not a real scavenger hunt, but let’s skip past the dictionary definitions and focus on how you can incorporate the fun of a scavenger hunt into everyday activities.

You can search for anything

You could make a list of specific things to find, or try to see how many things you can find that fit a certain category. Personally, I’m a fan of categories and descriptions because they are great for developing vocabulary and they require a lot less preparation. Here are a few examples:

  • colours
  • sounds
  • shapes
  • words or letters (or things that start with a letter or sound)
  • movements (things that roll, fly, bounce, walk, slide, never move…)
  • sizes (what things are huge? what can you find with a magnifying glass?)
  • textures
  • groups of things (things found in pairs, 3s, 4s, 5s…)
  • things that fit a theme (tools, animals, plants, wet things, things that rhyme…)

 

You can search anywhere

Really, anywhere:

  • outside (what do you notice: walking down the street, on the bus, in the park, around a pond, at the zoo…)
  • at home (in a particular room or searching the whole house)
  • in other buildings (the garage, the grocery store, a greenhouse, the library, the post office…)
  • in books, magazines, and newspapers (newspapers are great for finding words and letters, and you might be amazed how many things they can remember seeing in the books you have shared together)
  • in your imagination (very handy when you run out of things to spot on long car rides)
  • in the garbage (maybe you’re learning about recycling or composting?)

 

You don’t need a “list”

While traditionally you start by handing out copies of a written list, a lot of young children will not find that very helpful. More often you will be reading the list to them. You can also use pictures with or instead of words, but that takes time, so you are probably only going to do that for special occasions or with things you use all the time (like turning your grocery list into a scavenger hunt).

Some people like checking things off in a list, but I never understood the appeal myself. Instead, if you want to keep track of what you find in your search, you could draw together, take pictures, use the voice recorder on your phone, collect the items themselves in a bag/box/backpack/basket (half the fun is remembering where the things you collected came from), or scribe for them (they will love seeing their words in print).

Or, you can skip the list altogether. Just pick a category or theme and go exploring together to see what you can find, or take turns deciding what you’re going to look for next.

 

Consider your audience

It’s easy to be overwhelmed if you think that a scavenger hunt needs to play out like the script to a blockbuster movie or an episode of a reality TV show. I’m not saying that wouldn’t add to the appeal, but young children are natural explorers. They will notice all kinds of things that you never thought to look for, and they bring a level of excitement to “let’s go find things that are red” that you rarely get from us older folk and our teenage friends.

 

Why are we doing this again?

  • It’s fun!
  • You can encourage them to be more observant and methodical. Often children forget to look everywhere or take a running approach to everything. By looking for things together, you can teach them some helpful strategies, like how to slow down or form a plan before you start looking.
  • We are building vocabulary! If your little one is starting to read, then circling all the words they recognize by sight on a newspaper page is great practice.
  • As exciting as it can be, this can also be really relaxing. How often do you take the time to look for shapes in the clouds? Or really listen to all the sounds in your neighbourhood?
  • There are all kinds of categories, themes, and ideas that you explore with these kinds of activities, so you’re helping them develop a broader, deeper, and more coherent worldview.
  • If you are missing a few things (your keys for example) this can be a sneaky way to recruit some help. I’m kidding, but not really. If you approach everyday tasks in a playful manner, you can keep the kids engaged, help them learn, still get everything you need done, and have fun doing it.

Homemade Fun!

On one of our recent rainy days, a couple of the staff at CFL decided to try our hand at making homemade chalk, bubbles, paint, and gak. What initially began as two staff members quickly became three, then four, and finally five. It was hard to resist joining in! We were laughing, talking, mixing, and measuring in the kitchen, hard at work testing recipes, when our new Operations Director walked by. After watching us for a bit he asked, “So, what does this have to do with literacy?”

Well….

Research recognizes that the home environment and parent-child interactions are an important influence on a child’s literacy development.

Positive and meaningful parent and child interactions can lead to enhanced language, literacy, and emotional and cognitive development. (Jacobs p. 193)

So, when you and your child…

  • talk together and make plans for the day
  • read through a recipe book together and decide which recipe to make
  • talk about the ingredients and what they are
  • write a grocery list together and talk about the words you are writing down
  • go to the grocery store and notice the different road signs or count the red cars along the way
  • read your grocery list together to make sure you have everything you need
  • read the recipe together and measure out ingredients and talk about the fun things you will do with your chalk, bubbles, paint, or gak…

…you are providing your child with rich literacy experiences and positive interactions that strengthen family bonds and promote literacy development.

Here is the recipe for homemade watercolour paints we made.  Enjoy!

 

Homemade Watercolour Paints

  • 4 tbsp baking soda
  • 2 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp light corn syrup
  • 2 tbsp corn starch
  • Food colouring (liquid or gels)
  • Container to keep your paints in – you could use an ice-cube tray, mini muffin tin, small plastic cups, plastic egg carton, etc.

 

1.  Mix your baking soda and vinegar together and wait for the fizzing to stop. It’s handy if you mix in a container that has a spout.

2.  Add your corn syrup and cornstarch, and mix well until the cornstarch has dissolved.

3.  Pour into your containers.

4.  Add the colours using toothpicks and popsicle sticks, and stir for about a minute to make sure the colour is mixed in.

5.  Let your paints “set up” and dry, which could take up to two days, before using.

 

Some Ideas:

Use your paints to make cards for the people you love!

Make family portraits, then host an art show.

Decorate large sheets of paper for colourful placemats.

 

What kinds of things do you plan on making this summer?

 

Recipe adapted from the following site:

http://happyhooligans.ca/

 

References:

Handbook of Family Literacy ( 2nd ed.)  Edited by Barbara Hanna Wasik

Routledge, New York, 2012.

Time to Plant a Seed…

It’s that time of year when those of us who like gardening start making a plan.  What will we grow?  Where should we put it?  Is it safe to plant on the May long weekend (here’s hoping for no more snow)?

As it gets closer to the time, I’ve realized there can be a lot of literacy and numeracy involved in planting a garden – especially when you’ve got your kids helping you!

 My kids want their own garden, of course.  They choose seeds and we talk about whether they will grow well or not.  For example, we have some kind of critter that takes bites out of our carrots while they’re still in the ground – do we choose something else?  My son is also into herbs right now, so we talk about the different ways we could use them in cooking when they are ready.

We also plan out the garden so the seeds have the right amount of space, light, and soil.   We really have to think through how they grow and what the package is telling us – especially if it’s something we’ve never tried before.

Then comes the best part – the planting! We make our rows using two stakes and a string so they’re evenly spaced (at least that’s the hope – I think my garden is crooked). We plant the seeds the right distance apart, cover them, water them and then wait.

 When my kids were younger, we made a game of naming all the weeds that grow more quickly than our little plants. We’ve got the stinky one (stinkweed), the sticky, tangley one (not sure what it really is), the ouchie one (thistles), and the pretty yellow one that everyone is so determined to get rid of, but our guinea pigs love to eat (poor dandelions). That’s only a few of them, but you get the idea and I still use these names, even though the kids are older now!

These types of interactions and experiences help us reinforce the learning that is happening naturally, every day, in our lives as a family. I find myself learning right along with my kids in each situation – they have such a great view of what we do (and are much more patient in reading instructions most of the time). Gardening is just one way to help plant a seed that will sprout into so much more in our lives. Happy planting!