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. The Big Animal Mix-up, a lift-the-flap book by Gareth Edwards and Kanako Usui is a good one to try. 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!”

Remember that any book can be made interactive by talking about the pictures, having your 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!

 

How to Choose Quality Children’s Books

Choosing good quality children’s books can be difficult, as there are no guidelines for what can be published as a children’s book. Not all books are appropriate for all children. At the Centre for Family Literacy, we try to keep three things in mind when we are considering the purchase of a new title. These tips are very helpful, especially when buying multicultural books because we may not be familiar with all aspects of different cultures.

  1. Is the book truthful and respectful?
  2. Would this book hurt or embarrass anyone?
  3. Does this book perpetuate a stereotype?

To help us choose good quality books that are age-appropriate, we keep in mind the following:

  1. How realistic are the pictures in board books?
  2. How wordy are the picture books?
  3. How well are the books are made?

When we see a new book from a familiar author, we generally know if the book will be a good fit for our program. A great example of this is Hervé Tullet’s book, Mix it Up! His previous book, Press Here, is a favourite of many of our facilitators, and we knew that Mix it Up! wouldn’t disappoint us. Parents and children can explore the wonder of colours in a new, fun, interactive way.

Some of our favourite books are:

  1. Mix it Up! by Hervé Tullet
  2. Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? by Martin Waddell
  3. Duck & Goose: It’s Time for Christmas! by Tad Hills
  4. The Very Best Daddy of All by Marion Dane Bauer
  5. Boy + Bot by Amy Dyckman

MixItUp Can't You Sleep? DuckGoose BestDaddy Boy&Bot

Remember, everyone does not have to like the same books. You know your children best, and what is okay for some children may not be okay for others. However if you enjoy the book, your children probably will too.

Here is a link to our free tip sheet with more about choosing children’s books. 

Please visit our website for more free tip sheets about choosing books for specific age groups and more. 

 

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

autumn

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

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

There is no shortage of information about why our kids need the great outdoors. Vitamin D exposure, healthy eye development, opportunities for exercise, improved sleep quality and brain development, Mother Nature provides it all. Thanks to the nature of outdoor play, (the jackpot of early childhood development), kids can discover confidence, independence and resiliency.

Playing outside forces kids to be inventive. It requires them to make choices and choose adventures, take risks and adapt. They move their whole bodies, and use all of their senses when in nature; they can see, hear, smell and touch the world around them, and research tells us that multi-sensory experiences promote better learning. Outdoor play supports coordination, balance, and motor skills; it feeds a sense of wonder, forces our kids to ask questions, and it even reduces stress, which is important because stress is a huge barrier to brain development.

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

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

How to make a bird feederbirdfeeder

You will need:

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

Directions:

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

2. Start an art project. For example:

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

3. Read a non-fiction book about birds. Try About Birds: A Guide for Children by Cathryn Sill, and see if you can find any of the birds outside.

Pair it with fiction books about birds or animals, like the Little Owl’s series by Divya Srinivasan, or any of the Pigeon series by Mo Willems. Extend your books even further by drawing and colouring your favourite birds together.

little-owls-nightpigeon-book              

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Learn a rhyme together that involves nature. Here’s one to start you off:

September Leaves

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

 

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

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


 

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.

Watch a video demo of the app.

 

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.

 

img_2945-3
img_2948-4

 

 
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.
 
img_2956-5
img_2957-6

 

 
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.
 img_2959-7

 

 
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 125 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.

Watch a video demo of the app.

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.