Sharing Stories vs. Reading Stories

Here at the Centre for Family Literacy we like to talk about sharing books with children as opposed to just reading books to them. When you share a book, it becomes interactive. It becomes much more than reading the words on the page.

Two ways to make a book interactive:

  • Ask open-ended questions such as “What are they doing in this picture?” or “What do you think is going to happen next?” This encourages children to stop and think about what is on the page, to make connections to real life, and to really step inside the story.
  • Find ways to extend the story.

What does it mean to extend a story?

To extend a story is to build on it—to add activities that are related to the subject of the story. But why should we extend stories?

Children learn best by doing—by being active. When they’re being active they are using all five senses to learn, and these multi-sensory experiences build neural connections in the brain. If they are having fun, they will want to do it again and again, and this repetition makes the connections even stronger. This is how children gain the confidence needed to learn new things.

Simple summertime story extender

one dog canoeA great book to share in the summer is one of our favourites, One-Dog Canoe by Mary Casanova.

In One-Dog Canoe, a girl and her dog set out on a canoe trip, just the two of them, when one by one they are approached by other creatures like Loon, Wolf and Moose, who want to join in on the fun.

I set off one morning in my little red canoe.
My dog wagged his tail.
“Can I come, too??
“You bet, I said.
“A trip for two – just me and you?”

It doesn’t take long before this canoe trip becomes a little more crowded!

“I swished past ferns,
where dragonflies flew.
Loon stretched her wings, “Can I come too?”

What you’ll need:

  • The book One-Dog Canoe
  • Stuffed animals or toys to match the characters: Beaver, Loon, Wolf, Bear, Moose, Frog, Dog, and Girl
  • A “canoe” made with construction paper or bark

(You can always improvise using what you have on hand.)

Give each child a character to hold on to (or multiple characters), and as each character comes up in the story, the child holding that character places it in the canoe. At the end of the story, there are too many animals in the canoe and it tips over, so act this out too by dumping out your canoe!

After the story pair it with a song. Rhymes and songs are critical for developing oral language, and oral language is at the root of all future learning.

Try singing “Row Your Boat”

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

Row, row, row your boat,
Down a jungle stream.
If you see a crocodile,
Don’t forget to scream.
Ahh!

Row, row, row your boat,
Underneath a stream,
Ha, ha, fooled you,
I’m a submarine!
Bing!

Other ideas:

  • Act out the story using a big box, couch, or outdoor picnic table for the canoe
  • Bring a make-belief canoe into the bathtub
    • Experiment with what floats and what sinks
    • Ask “how many items will fit in your canoe before it tips over?”

Have fun sharing stories! For more ideas on how to make the most of your books, check out Flit, our family literacy app!

Click here for the iOS version.

Click here to download the Android version.

Watch a video demo of the app.

 

Spring into Learning!

Spring has arrived! It is a pleasure to get outside now that the snow is melting and the air is warmer. Outside, there are many things to learn in spring. Children are like little sponges ready to soak up new information. It doesn’t take extra time to give your children the chance to learn; family literacy can occur naturally during daily routines.

Here are some ways to use literacy in your activities this spring:

  • talk to your children as they put on their spring gear. Ask why they no longer need to wear winter boots, coats, etc.
  • dressed in rubber boots and raincoats, let them experience the tactile joy of crunching ice and splashing in puddles. Talk about how it feels as they squish through mud and try to pull their feet out. Ask them to make the sounds of squishing mud and splashing and running water.
  • look at snow and ice melting where the sun shines and talk about where the snow goes. Wonder why water sometimes gathers in a puddle and sometimes runs down the drain. Discuss why it rains in warmer weather instead of snowing. How does this helps things grow?
  • encourage your children to use their senses to experience spring. 
Talk about what they see, smell, feel and hear. Look for the first flowers and buds on trees. Notice if it’s lighter at bedtime. Search for bugs. Ask if the air smells different and feels warmer. Hear the different bird sounds.
  • share a book.
  • sing a song.

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers is a favourite of children and parents alike; it is laugh-out-loud funny. In the story, a boy loses his kite in a tree and tries to knock it down by throwing everything he can find into the tree.

Here is a springtime song to enjoy. Try acting it out!

Rain is Falling
(tune: “Skip to My Lou”)

Rain is falling, what shall I do (X 3)
What shall I do my darling?

Put on a raincoat, (rain boots, rain pants, rain coat) that’s what I’ll do (X 3)
That’s what I’ll do my darling.

Grab an umbrella, (jump in some puddles) that’s what I’ll do (X 3)
That’s what I’ll do my darling.

For more fun ideas, download our free parenting literacy resource app, Flit, from Google Play or the App Store. The app gives you over 120 fun literacy activities, recipes, games to do with your children, and tips and tricks to add to your parenting tool box.  

Making Book Sharing Time Count

Family reading in bed.You may have heard that we should be reading to children every day. Some articles will even urge parents to read to their children a minimum of 15 minutes or half an hour every day. This isn’t bad advice, and it’s not even a bad target to shoot for, but I’m not sure how realistic it is for everybody. I would argue that quality matters more than quantity when it comes to sharing books.

Babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers, and the rest of us learn best when we are comfortable and happy. If you try to share books with children when they are tired, in pain, hungry, or otherwise uncomfortable, they will probably resist and quickly become frustrated with your attempts. Our brains operate very differently when we’re scared or upset, and learning necessarily takes a backseat to the desire to feel safe again. So, if your goal is to give your children a lifelong love of reading, do not insist on book sharing when your children have clearly had enough. You want them to associate book sharing with good feelings and not fighting and tears.

Those moments when you can spend one-on-one time with your children are very special, and as much as our organization exists to promote literacy, books are not the only thing that children need. So don’t be too concerned if they don’t want to read all of the time. Playing together, snuggling, making weird noises, and exploring the community are all valuable and worthy pursuits. Add to that all of your daily meals, sleep, work and errands, and some days you might be lucky to find 5 minutes to read together, and that’s still incredibly valuable.

One last thing: asking young children, and especially babies, to pay attention for a long time is often asking too much. If your book sharing time is split up into 15 one-minute chunks, that is no less valuable than one 15-minute session. Look for when the reading opportunities present themselves rather than try to force it to happen at any particular time.

Whether you are reading to calm your children and get them ready to sleep, or to goof around and have some fun, you want book sharing to be a positive experience for both you and your children. That way no matter how often you actually get the chance to read together, it will be something that you both look forward to and benefit from.

#books_for_babies

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!

 

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.  

Bright Books for Babies

Your baby’s eyesight is still developing. Brightly coloured books will help the pictures stand out so baby can enjoy them more!

LET’S GO!

Choose a book with bright colourful pictures and simple words.

DO IT TOGETHER

Share the book with your baby by reading the words or talking about the pictures. Make sure your baby can see your face and the book you are sharing. Notice what your baby is looking at in the book and name it.

WHY?

Books with bright colours are good for your baby in their first few months as their eyes are still developing and they can’t see clearly. The colourful images are easier to see and help make the pictures stand out.

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.

Linking Numeracy and Literacy

Stories are an enjoyable and effective way to explore mathematical ideas with children.

When you read books together, take time to explore and talk about mathematical ideas. It will help your children see and understand the math that happens all around them every day.

 

Children’s Books:

  • Encourage children to re-create stories in their own way, as well as to practice math skills
  • Provide a meaningful context to explore mathematical ideas
  • Suggest problems that can be solved using different strategies
  • Develop math concepts such as following directions, finding shapes in the environment and ideas about greater than and less than
  • Encourage the use of math language such as How many? How far? How much?
  • Help make sense of the world

When Reading Together:

  • When reading, talk together. Ask questions that need more than a yes or no answer
  • Introduce related math ideas
  • Don’t be afraid to use math vocabulary
  • Give children a chance to explain their thinking

Story Books:

  • Talk about the page numbers. What comes next? What number is the last page?
  • Talk about the pictures and what is happening in the story. Did something change? Why?
  • Talk about patterns in the story. Notice rhyming word patterns too
  • Notice the sequence of events: “What happened first? What happens next? What happened first? Second?
  • Wonder aloud about more than, less than and equal to
  • Count items on a page

Counting Books:

There are a number of good counting books that are enjoyable for both children and adults, and help to develop early numeracy and literacy skills. Books that count 0 to 5 or 0 to 10 are best for preschoolers.

Look for books that contain:

  • Engaging and colorful pictures
  • Easy to count items
  • Numerals that are easy to identify and are printed clearly

Things to Do with Counting Books:

  • Count the objects together
  • How many do you think will be on the next page?
  • How many would there be if there was one more? How many if there was one less?
  • Have your child place out a toy or other item for each number you read
  • If your child is familiar with the story, have them tell you what comes next

Some Good Books

Title Author
Tall Jez Alborough
Ship Shapes Stella Blackstone
Big Sarah’s Little Boots Paulette Bourgeois
The Greedy Triangle Marilyn Burns
1,2,3, to the Zoo Eric Carle
The Hungry Caterpillar Eric Carle
Pumpkin Soup Helen Cooper
Freight Train Donald Crews
Carry Me, Mama Monica Devine
I Am Small Emma Dodd
Ten Little Caterpillars Lois Ehlert
Color Zoo Lois Ehlert
Round like a Ball Lisa Campbell Ernst
Turtle Splash Cathryn Falwell
Two Shoes, Blue Shoes, New Shoes Sally Fitz-Gibbon
My Sister Ate One Hare Bill Grossman
Lots of Dots Craig Frazier
A Second is a Hiccup Hazel Hutchins
The Doorbell Rang Pat Hutchins
Stuck Oliver Jeffers
Five Creatures Emily Jenkins
Actual Size Steve Jenkins
Mama, Do You Love me? Barbara Joosse
The Wheels on the Bus Maryann Kovalski
We All Went on Safari Laurie Krebs
Who Took the Cookies from the Cookie Jar? Bonnie Las
Inch by Inch Leo Lionni
Ten Cats Have Hats Jean Marzello
I Spy book series Jean Marzello
Lessons from Mother Earth Elaine McLeod
Quack, Quack, Moo We See You! Kelly Mij

If you would like to learn more about integrating math concepts into children’s daily routines, please visit the Centre for Family Literacy website to find out about our programs and training.

Sharing Stories

Stories are so important to children’s development, and the following short list barely scratches the surface. Stories help children:

  • develop creativity and imagination
  • develop their language and thinking skills
  • build the knowledge and skills they will eventually need to learn to read

Books are just one of the tools you may use to share stories with your children, and there is so much more to sharing a book than just reading the words!

It is important to help your children actively engage in the book, and this can happen in a variety of ways.

Books may be shared in different ways with children of different ages. You don’t always need to read the words. It is alright to use your own words, in your own language, to tell the story. And, it is always more fun if you use lots of expression and different voices for each character, to bring it alive!

Some children may want to hold the book upside-down or skip a page. Or they may want to repeat a part over and over. Let your children lead the way and enjoy the book, so that reading is a positive experience for them.

Sometimes children will need to move around or will want to play close by, but don’t worry—they are still listening. You may try to keep them involved by having them supply missing words, repeating phrases with you, or by asking them questions such as, “where did it go?” or “what do you think is going to happen next?”

Children love to have stories told in a variety of ways. Sometimes they may enjoy acting out stories using stuffed animals or other props. It is also great for children to act out or retell the story in their own words. Children may want to extend a favourite story by doing a puppet show using the characters, dressing up like one of the characters, or drawing a picture. Some stories may lead to a treasure hunt or specific craft.

On the C.O.W. (Classroom on Wheels) bus, we love to share stories! One of the books we have enjoyed sharing recently is “Wheels on the Bus.” All of the children seem to love this one! It is especially fun because they can sing along and do the actions.

Most people are familiar with the common version, which includes “the doors on the bus go open and shut” and “the wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish.” But our “Wheels on the Bus” book is about the animals on the bus.

If you borrow this book or have it at home, you could let your children make the animal sounds, and choose additional animals to extend the story. For example: “The cows on the bus go moo, moo, moo.” They could also use stuffed animals or draw pictures. This is also a book that they could “read” on their own by using the pictures as clues.

Sharing stories in this way brings them alive to children so that they look forward to story time with you. You and your children will both benefit if you make time every day to share a book.

The C.O.W. is out to pasture for the summer, but check the Centre for Family Literacy website to find out where and when you can join us on the bus next fall! In the meantime,  get out some favourite books and have fun!

 

 

Audiobooks for Babies?

A few months back, one of our participants in Books for Babies asked if audiobooks could be helpful for a baby.

This is a great question because we always talk about how much a baby enjoys being talked to and sung to. And how starting around 18-24 months, a baby begins to understand stories that have a narrative.

However, even though they love the sound of language, a baby is still particular about which voices they will listen to. And while they love face-to-face interaction, a disembodied voice is usually ignored at best and a distraction at worst.

We take voices for granted, and listening to the radio, or talking on the phone seems normal to us. But have you ever tried talking to a toddler on the phone? As much as they might love you, you can usually only keep their attention for a few seconds before they drop the phone or start pressing buttons. They don’t find the experience engaging, even though you are talking directly to them.

Video chat works much better—it’s still not as great as face-to-face conversation—but you’re not nearly as likely to be abandoned mid-conversation, or at least not as quickly.

Listening to stories is similar. Without pictures to connect to the story, or some kind of related object to explore while you tell the story, your toddler will often lose interest quickly. (Don’t forget that we’re talking about an older baby here.)

So, as much as I personally enjoy audiobooks, it’s not something I would recommend trying with a baby or young child. It’s just too much to expect them to pay attention to a story that is being told by someone who isn’t in the room with them, about someone they haven’t met, doing something that they can’t even see.

But don’t take my word for it, experiment! Use the voice recorder on your phone and record yourself reading a book. Sit down with your baby and the book and turn the pages while you play the recording. Watch how your child reacts. Another time, sit down together without the book and listen to the recording together. What does your baby do this time? These are both very different experiences than sharing a book with your child in real-time, responding to them, and inviting their participation in the process.

A Book: What’s in it for Baby and You?

I like it when 3-BLOGWhen I started working for the Centre for Family Literacy, I worked with one program that served families with children 0 – 6 years old and another that served families with children 3-5 years old, and storytelling was a go-to activity for capturing the attention of preschool children and keeping them engaged. I loved it, and for years I wouldn’t read any book silently to myself because it was so much more fun to read them aloud.

And then I took on the Books for Babies program, and all my storytelling skills fell flat. Not entirely flat, but the stories written in books were obviously not written for babies. Babies have a much shorter attention span, a limited experience of the world, and only the beginnings of an understanding of what a story is.

So, when we talk about sharing books with babies, reading the words in the books is pretty far down the list of what we are going to do with the books when we share them. We want to help babies understand how books work, what they can do with them, and how the books relate to their world in a way that they can understand.

We will need to get creative, and we will need to experiment to find out what your babies respond to now. I’ll get us started with some ideas, but please add your own in the comments by clicking on the talk bubble at the top of this blog.

Remember:

  • You’re probably not trying to teach your babies to read, but you are helping them to build a relationship with books.
  • The following are prompts for you. Your babies might be able to do some of the things in these lists, but we’ll start by trying to capture their interest.
  • Try only a couple of ideas at a time. You are testing for their reaction, but you already know their patience is limited for trying new things.

Books as pictures

  1. What is this a picture of?
  2. What sound does it make?
  3. What colour is it?
  4. What shape is it?
  5. What would it feel like?
  6. What would it taste like?
  7. Do we have one of those?
  8. How does it make you feel?
  9. Where did you last see one of those? Could you go see one of those?
  10. What does that remind you of?
  11. What does it look like upside-down?
  12. That person/animal/robot looks just like/nothing like you.

Books as objects

  1. Pile them up.
  2. Line them up.
  3. Knock them down.
  4. Open and close them.
  5. Turn the pages back and forth.
  6. Shake them.
  7. Spin them.
  8. Slide them around.

Books as prompts

  1. Does it remind you of a song or rhyme?
  2. Does it remind you of another story?
  3. Does it remind you of your father/grandmother/guinea pig/etc.?
  4. Is there an idea for something to eat?
  5. Is there an idea for something to do?
  6. Can you pretend to do/be that?
  7. Act out this story together, with puppets and toys, or on our own.

When there’s a face

  1. Peek-a-boo!
  2. Make that same face/expression.
  3. Make up a name and backstory for this character.

If you would like more information about books and babies, visit the Centre for Family Literacy website for tip sheets, a link to Flit the fun family literacy app, and program information for Edmonton.