My lovely friend, Teresa, recently shared with me her personal experiences with growing up as a reluctant reader, but desiring for her sons to have rich and meaningful experiences with books. Here, she discusses how she overcame her own resistance to books and developed daily practices with her family to promote sign language, literacy and a love of learning through books!
When I think back to reading while growing up, I am plagued by the agonizing memory of headaches–I hated it. I always said that I hate reading, that I’m not a reader. Through high school I never read the textbooks and it showed on my report card. Even in college, I never read my Occupational Therapy books–how I got straight A’s in the program was only my validation that I was on the right career path because it came so naturally. I later learned that I am a kinesthetic learner: because of the way I took notes in college, when it came to test day I could “see” right where I had written the answer in my notebook.
When my husband and I were expecting our first child, Eli, I consistently read the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” book, the holy grail of pregnancy! Soon after having him, I knew I needed to read more books to figure this parenting thing out. I found myself reading everything that came my way about breastfeeding, sign language, child development, raising a child by God’s grace…the list goes on and on! But within that process, something clicked. I realized I do love to read!
When I thought back to my childhood, and even talked to my mom, we never had shelves of books in our house. I never remember sitting around reading a book, or seeing her read. I knew at that time that I wanted my boy to enjoy reading and do well in school and THIS was the key component I had missed when growing up.
At 3 months of age, I started taking Eli to a reading program at our then local library in Colorado Springs. It was a 30 minute class with other new moms. It started with a little song/finger play, then they’d read a book and had the same one to pass out to each child for them to explore. We would learn a “sign” that related to the story like “more”, “milk” ,”bear” and so forth. At the end, the babies would get to play with some toys, we’d sing one last song at that was it. We did this program for about 9 months and by this time I was pregnant with #2 and was just too tired, so we took a few months off! On top of the reading program, I would check out a few books and read them with him each day and did quite a bit of sign language using the book, “Baby Signing 1 2 3: The Easy-to-Use Illustrated Guide for Every Stage and Every Age” by Nancy Cadjan. I made flash cards of all the signs, laminated them and put them on key chains in various places around the house so we could keep introducing new signs to him.
Around 12 months we started spelling out his name with foam letters in the bathtub. Somewhere around 18 months we realized he was saying the letters E and H…he would laugh hysterically when we say them, and we realized that he really “knew” them consistently. So, I started really working on all the letters with him. By 2 years he knew all of his letters and their letter sound. By 3 he knew simple site words and now at around 3.5 he can read simple books. As far as Ian goes, our second son, he’s a sharp little guy too! He is 2.5 and also knows all his letters and about 20 letter sounds, can spell his name, can count to 14, knows about 8 shapes and 8 of the basic colors. We also read a book to them every night and go to the library about every week. Our community has an awesome library…the boys start by going in and coloring, then they sing songs, read a book, learn a new “sign” and finish up with 3-4 stations of sensory play/fine motor activities.
I feel like all of these literacy experiences (signing, letter recognition, family reading and library time) has made reading more enjoyable for the boys. Daily, Ian can be found laying on the floor surrounded by books or curled up on the couch with one. And during “nap” time in the afternoon, Eli has books sprawled across his bedroom floor and I can hear him reading them aloud. He often acts out the stories he’s read with toys around the house…it’s really neat to see! I’m glad they get so much enjoyment out of reading (especially since I didn’t while growing up) and I do believe it will help them to be a lifelong learners!
I’ve recently been asked by a few people about my thoughts on sign language for babies. Before I became a mom, I’ll admit that I completely dismissed the entire concept. I was concerned that teaching a child to sign would ultimately create a delay in language skills. However, as I’ve learned from many parents, educators, books and through personal experience, sign language for babies actually assists in developing a child’s overall communication and acts as a gateway to verbal skills and literacy. Although this is a blog dedicated to children’s literature, I’m also interested in learning strategies that allow children to communicate and express themselves. Words are powerful, not just on a page, but in all aspects of a child’s life!
As a new mom, I’m just navigating the waters of baby sign language. My Bucca is a pro at signing “please” but currently has no interest in learning to sign “thank you.” She pretty much just stares at me and my husband like we’re crazy, but we are still consistent in showing her the new sign and taking her hand to help her do it as well. She’ll get there sooner or later!
Because my experience is limited, I’ve enlisted the help of some great ladies who have successfully implemented signing with their own children. This post features the experience of Kristi, a mom of three great boys and a busy sales VP for a nutritional supplement company. Here are her thoughts on how signing helped her boys communicate and find contentment:
My husband and I used sign language in our home with all three of our sons beginning at 6 months of age. I can’t say enough about the benefits of sign language with babies. We found that signing eliminated frustration, tantrums and negative emotion because our children could communicate their needs and wants with us. All three of our boys were early communicators with large vocabularies. Signing only enhanced their verbal communication skills. In terms of implementation…I say, keep it simple. Find a resource that you can quickly read and implement. We liked, “ Sign With Your Baby” by Joseph Garcia. It is a quick read that will help you understand the concept and benefits with a nice reference guide in the back of the book. We kept the book handy so that we could reference it if we couldn’t remember a particular sign. We also showed the pictures to our children. We would try to sign as much as we could when communicating with our kids. Even if it takes them awhile to start signing themselves, keep signing to them. Before you know it, when they are hungry they will sign “eat”. Don’t be afraid to modify the signs, just make sure you keep it consistent. We found that the signing became a bridge to verbal communication…from signing alone, to signing and speaking simultaneously, to verbal communication alone. In our experience, signing with our babies helped them develop excellent communication skills and increased their feelings of happiness, contentment and belonging.
Happy Reading (and Signing)!
Along with this blog, I co-author a family and lifestyle blog, Mrs. B & Mrs. V, with my bestie, Miranda. In a recent post, she curated some of her son’s favorite board books and why she feels he responded to them in such a positive and encouraging manner. Take a look at the post here. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to take another look at board books for your family!