Meaningful Mess

Spring. Get ready for puddles, mud, and messes! Thinking of a nice, clean house getting covered in puddles and grit, and having to start cleaning all over again, sends shivers down my spine. And what about the extra time it will take to bathe the kids and clean their clothes and shoes, with all the other errands we need to run. Just remember, it really is worth it!

As adults, we often forget the joys of playing in dirt and mud or just getting messy, of throwing away paint brushes and getting our hands dirty instead, of changing out of our good shoes and clothes and exploring without the concern of staying clean. We forget that the learning that happens during this kind of play outweighs the need to keep things tidy and orderly.

Children are messy by nature. It is critical to children’s development to be allowed to explore and interact with their world. Sometimes this means that we, as parents, need to take a deep breath and say “sure, you can play in the mud!” By allowing our children to get messy, we are fostering growth in all areas of their development. Messy play encompasses, but is not limited to:

  • Physical development: hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills
  • Emotional and social development: self-confidence and self-esteem, respect for themselves and others; can be an outlet for feelings, experiences, and thoughts
  • Intellectual development: problem solving, concentration, planning, grouping, matching, prediction, observation, and evaluation

Spring is the perfect time to allow our children to be messy while exploring the outside world. The weather is warming up, snow is gone, and all sorts of new life is happening. Being messy doesn’t mean allowing our children to run wild though. It is important that they are still dressed appropriately for outside weather, and monitored and guided through safe play. Here is a list of activities to do outside the house:

  • Playing in puddles: allow your children to explore puddles in the spring. See how high they can make the water splash as they jump in it. Can they make a boat that floats or float other objects in the puddle?
  • Mud pies: exploring mud is a great way to get creativity going. What can we create with the mud (castles, pies, pretend food)? What objects can we add to the mud (i.e. rocks, twigs, leaves, etc.)? What happens if we add more water? If we add more dirt?
  • Sidewalk chalk paint: take your cornstarch and water mixture outside! Add a few drops of food colouring and you have sidewalk chalk; the best part is no paint in the house!

Messy play isn’t only for outside, and can be done any time of year inside. Below is a list of fun, educational, and most importantly, messy activities to do inside with your children:

  • Shaving cream dough: try hand mixing equal parts of shaving cream and cornstarch together to make dough. Keep mixing, as it can take a while for the cornstarch to mix with the shaving cream
  • Cornstarch and water: see what happens when you mix cornstarch and water. This activity is a great way to explore ratios (how much of each ingredient to mix) and textures, and learn problem solving skills
  • Finger painting: learn all about colours and how to mix and match new ones, develop fine motor skills, language, and thinking skills

Remember that it is important for you to be messy too. Don’t forget to join in the fun and get your hands dirty! We, as adults, might be surprised by how much we can still learn from messy play, and there is nothing better than creating memories with your children.  They will remember the fun you all had long after you forget how messy everything was. If you would like to learn more about your children’s early learning and how to support literacy development, you might enjoy one of our family literacy programs. Visit the Centre for Family Literacy website for more information.

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 this winter, 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: https://youtu.be/N9z8Cazu03w  

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:
 
 
 
 

 

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.  

Real Pictures = Real Understanding

Drawings are hard for your baby to understand—they don’t always look like what your baby sees around them. Real pictures help with their understanding!

LET’S GO!

Choose books with pictures of real people, pets, or objects.

DO IT TOGETHER!

Share these books with your child by looking at the pictures, reading the words, and connecting what they see in the book to real objects in their life.

For example, if there is a picture of a teddy bear, point to it and say, “This teddy bear looks like your teddy bear, doesn’t it?”

WHY?

Young children have trouble connecting a drawing or abstract picture to real things in their lives. Books with real pictures will help your child recognize things in their world more easily and understand the connection from the book.

To get over 120 of the best activities to do with your children to boost and build key literacy skills from birth to 5 years, download the Centre for Family Literacy’s FREE Flit app, (Families Learning and Interacting Together). Click here for the iOS version Click here to download the Android version

Homemade Fun!

Making recipes with your child is fun, but you may be wondering “What does this have to do with literacy?”

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, emotional, and cognitive development.

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!

FUN RECIPES

Giant Bubble Mix

Use the following bubble recipe to refill your store bought bubble container. You can also add a drop or two of food colouring to make colourful bubbles. Make your own bubble wands – pipe cleaners bent into interesting shapes, cookie cutters, or yogurt lids with the centres cut out.

  • 3 cups water
  • ½ cup light corn syrup
  • 1 cup Joy/Dawn dishwashing liquid
  1. In a large bowl stir water and corn syrup until combined.
  2. Add dish soap and stir very gently until well mixed.
  3. Use mixture to blow giant bubbles.

Homemade Sidewalk Chalk (non toxic)

  • 1 ½ cups of cornstarch
  • 1 ½ cups of water
  • Molds – anything can be used!  Empty egg cartons, Dixie cups, ice cube trays, etc.
  • Food colouring – assorted colors.
  1. Mix the water and cornstarch together until smooth.
  2. Pour into your molds.
  3. Add 3 or more drops of food colouring to the molds to get the colours you desire and mix well.
  4. Allow 2-3 days for the molds to harden completely in a dry, warm place. Pop out your chalk and have some fun! Store the chalk in a dry container.

Homemade Finger Paint

  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 Tbs. salt
  • 1 1⁄2 cups cold water
  • 1 1⁄4 cups hot water
  • Food colouring
  1. Combine flour, salt, and cold water in a saucepan.
  2. Beat with a wire whisk until smooth.
  3. Place over medium heat, and slowly stir in hot water.
  4. Continue stirring until mixture boils and begins to thicken.
  5. Remove from heat, and beat with a whisk until smooth.
  6. Divide the mixture into several different containers or bowls.
  7. Add 4-5 drops of food colouring to each container and stir well. Store in the fridge.

For best results, paint on freezer paper or finger paint paper.

For more recipes and other great literacy ideas, check out our other blogs, our Flit app available on Google Play and the Apple App Store, or call the Centre for Family Literacy at 780-421-7323 to find a Literacy Links workshop near you!

 

3 Pretend Bear Adventures

Children love to pretend, and they love animal stories. When their favourite adult plays pretend with them, it can be like opening a door to another place for them.

Following are 3 great bear adventures to go on with your children. While these songs and stories are fun with your children at home, at the playground, or while going for a walk, it’s the extra pretend play that brings the rhymes to life!

Adding stories and songs to your daily routine and playtime will build and support your children’s brain development, and strengthen the bond between you. The laughter and fun you have together will create fond memories for you all to look back on someday.

Stories and rhymes are also great ways to encourage memory through use of repetition and sequencing, which is a form of numeracy literacy.

Have fun pretending!

GOING ON A BEAR HUNT

Going on a bear hunt.
I’m not afraid.
I’m feeling really brave.
Uh Oh..
Oh look! It’s some tall grass!
Can’t go over it.
Can’t go under it.
Can’t go around it.
Got to go through it!
(Move arms as if wading through tall grass)

Going on a bear hunt.
I’m not afraid.
I’m feeling really brave.
Uh Oh..
Oh look! It’s a tall tree!
Can’t go over it.
Can’t go under it.
Can’t go around it.
Got to go climb up it!
(Pretend to climb a tree)

Going on a bear hunt.
I’m not afraid.
I’m feeling really brave.
Uh Oh..
Oh look! It’s a wide river!
Can’t go over it.
Can’t go under it.
Can’t go around it.
Got to swim across it!
(Pretend to swim)

Going on a bear hunt.
I’m not afraid.
I’m feeling really brave.
Uh Oh..
Oh look! It’s a deep, dark cave!
Can’t go over it.
Can’t go under it.
Can’t go around it.
Got to go through it!
(Close eyes and pretend to enter the cave)

Uh oh! It’s dark in here!
I feel something
It has lots of hair
It has sharp teeth!
IT’S A BEAR!!
I’m not afraid. I’m running home…
(Pretend to run home)

(You can repeat backwards just the motions and places you just went through—cave, river, tree, tall grass, and then safe at home.)

You can also find the book of the same title by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury, and have fun reading and acting out each sequence of events.

This book is a great example of sequencing. It also uses great spatial words such as over, under, and around. You can take it a step further, as in the book, and use descriptive words: swish, swish through the grass; splash, splash through the water; etc. Sharing this activity with your children is a wonderful bonding and learning opportunity.

Following are 2 songs about sleeping bears. Build a little blanket fort and pretend it is for the sleeping bears. Make up some of your own actions and sounds, make up more verses!

BIG BEAR

Big bear, big bear,
Hunting near the trees.
Feasting on the honeycomb,
Made by busy bees.
Bzzzzz Bzzzzz Bzzzzz

Big bear, big bear,
Wading in the lake.
Fish is your favorite dish:
Which one will you take?
Swish  Swish  Swish

Big bear, big bear,
Resting in your den,
Sleeping through the winter,
Before you’re out again.
Zzzzzz Zzzzzz Zzzzzz

BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR

Brown bear, brown bear sleeping in his den
Brown bear, brown bear sleeping in his den
Please be very quiet
Very, very quiet
‘Cause if you wake him!
If you shake him!
He’ll get very mad!! Grrrrr!!!!

 

If you would like to join our 3,2,1,FUN! program and learn more about supporting your children’s numeracy and literacy skills, please visit the Centre for Family Literacy website for program information.

You can also download our free app, Flitwhich is a great resource for parents looking for  games, recipes, activities, songs, etc. to do with your children. It’s available from Google Play or the App Store.

 

Books for Sophomore Babies

Older babies can choose their favourites

The Books for Babies program focuses on the first 12 months of baby’s development. So, I thought I would take some time to talk about sharing books in baby’s 2nd year.

  • Older babies show more obvious preferences. You can use that information to choose books that you know your baby will enjoy.
  • Babies will start to point to things to learn new words. They will also start to invite you to read again the books they like. Or they will bring books to you to read to them. Follow their lead. Their drive to explore and understand will lead to deeper engagement and learning.
  • Your baby is getting better and better at turning pages—it might look like flipping pages back and forth. They are opening and closing books, over and over. But in time, page turning will become less interesting than what they can find on the pages. And when that happens, you might finally get to read a book, page by page, from beginning to end.
  • Keep in mind that your baby’s attention span is still pretty limited. You’ll have to work to keep their attention. Use voices, sound effects, props and actions to get a few extra seconds of their attention when you can.
  • Don’t force reading on them. They often want to move around and explore at this stage, and that kind of learning is important too.
  • Even when you can’t hold your child’s attention, you can still read to them. They are listening and learning even if they aren’t sitting with you. As the book becomes more and more familiar, they will come by to check out the pictures from time to time.
  • They’ll start to sing along with you and chime in when books repeat a familiar phrase over and over. Reading and singing together is an important step to independent reading. Enjoy it!

  • Long after your baby starts asking about pictures and objects, they start pointing at words for you to name. You can try pointing to common words. Or try following along with your finger underneath words as you read. Take it easy, and watch for your child’s reaction. If they’re not into it yet, that’s okay. You can try again later.
  • Toddlers are busy! Sometimes book sharing works best at the end of the day as part of a bedtime routine. Reading together can be a cozy way to bond, relax and unwind after a hectic day.

If you’re interested in the Books for Babies program, visit the Centre for Family Literacy website at www.famlit.ca

The Magic of a Rhyme

Silent night, Holy night. All is calm, all is bright…”

You have probably sung this song to yourself, or along with a choir or the radio  every year. I know I sang it to myself as I wrote that line. Do you ever catch yourself reminiscing as you hum a song you have known since childhood?

Think back to one of your happiest, warmest memories of the holidays when you were a child. What do you remember? You may recall smells and songs, and how those things are attached to your family traditions and celebrations.

Perhaps there was a song passed down to you from your parents or grandparents, and hearing or singing that song will always remind you of them and that time. Songs can evoke strong memories and the feelings related to them, and maybe you want to share them with your own family. That is the power of a song.

For fun, while I was writing this, I had a conversation with my 21 year-old daughter. I wanted to know what songs she remembered from her childhood Christmases. It made her smile and laugh as she remembered and replied “Shrek – 12 days of Christmas. I don’t think there has been a Christmas that we haven’t played it.” I had to laugh and smile with her because it made my heart feel so warm remembering my daughter when she was younger. I had no idea it had meant that much to her. And the Shrek Christmas CD had became part of our family holiday tradition just by playing it once years ago.

Songs and rhymes not only elicit fond memories but they can also be a handy parenting tool. If you haven’t tried it or witnessed it, try this next time your child is fussy, mad, pouty or generally uncooperative. Start singing Itsy Bitsy Spider. Or any rhyme that comes to mind. Your child might be surprised and distracted enough with a little song that they want to join you in singing, or just quiet down to listen to you. The distraction might stop a tantrum from coming on.

When can you use this distraction? Anytime! Where can you use this distraction? Anywhere! Kids can easily get frustrated when moving from one task or errand to another, so these transition times are great times to use songs. The holiday season line-ups and car trips are also good times to try singing with your little one to make the moment happier for both of you!

A couple of bonuses are that anyone can use some extra bonding time during this hectic season, and without even realizing it, you are supporting your child in their development of oral literacy.

As Buddy the Elf would say “the best way to spread Christmas cheer, is singing loud for all to hear!” —from the movie Elf.

Have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Please join us in the new year for a Rhymes that Bind program for more rhymes you can sing with you children! Check the Centre for Family Literacy website mid December for the winter program schedule.

A COW with a Purpose!

This fall the COW (Classroom on Wheels) bus welcomed many returning families, and enjoyed the opportunity to connect with new ones as well! We are happy to be a part of the learning that is happening in our families.

If you haven’t yet visited the COW bus when it makes a scheduled stop in your neighbourhood, following is the purpose of the 1.5 hour weekly program, and we share this information on the bus in a comfortable, fun, supportive way using songs and stories:

  1. We want to encourage you to be your child’s first and most important teacher. Literacy begins at birth – long before your child starts school. It begins at home, in families. Learning can even happen in your daily routines. For example, when you are out walking, talk to your child about the things you see around you. Sing silly songs when you are driving. Add a lullaby to their bedtime routine and it may help make this transition time easier for your child.
  2. We want to remind you that learning happens best in relationships. Children learn best when they feel loved and cared for. They learn best through interaction with others. Talk with your child rather than at them. Let them ask questions, and answer them. Listen to what they have to say. Developing language and literacy skills happens through everyday loving interactions, such as sharing books, telling stories, singing songs, and talking to one another.
  3. We want you to know that the early years – birth to age 5 – are crucial to the physical, emotional, social, and educational development of prereading, language, vocabulary, and number skills. This learning occurs through sight, sound, and memory. It is never too early or too late to talk, sing, and read with your child. Even babies are ready to start learning about language and books.
  4. We are here to support, encourage, and give ideas. When you join us on the COW bus, we love to hear your challenges and successes. We are always excited to hear that you are using an idea at home that you learned on the bus. Let us know – by telling us, sharing a video, or sending an email to info@famlit.ca – we are happy to thank you with a free book!

This fall, a favourite song that we share on the bus is “Have You Ever Seen an Apple.” The children enjoy singing the song and having an opportunity to lead us as we call out the colours of the apples. One of our moms shared an adorable video of her daughter singing this song at home.

 

So be sure to join us on the COW bus for some fun with a purpose! For the program schedule, check the Centre for Family Literacy website. We look forward to seeing you on the bus!