Developing Communication, Contentment and Belonging Through Signing

English: wiktionary:thank you diagrammatically...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.  

Click here to learn more about Garcia’s book and other signing resources.

Happy Reading (and Signing)!

Lindsay

Enthusiasm in the Tell Me Framework: Likes and Dislikes

This is the second post covering the Tell Me Framework.  Click here to be directed to the introductory post.

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Have you ever noticed what usually happens when someone asks you about a book you’ve just read?  I know that I usually answer by offering one of three responses:

1.       “It’s about ______________( fill in the blank).

2.       “It was really good.”

3.       “It was really bad.”

Chances are, when someone asks you about a book, you think in terms of the overall story: you either liked it or you didn’t like it.  If someone asks you for more detail, you give them an overview of the plot.  Simple, right?   Well, Aidan Chambers states that these blanket responses about literature actually drive children to give simple answers when discussing books.   In Tell Me: Children, Reading and Talk, Chambers points out the notion that children generally hear adults talking about books in terms of the general story, not about the significance of the story.  Instead of focusing on a reader’s enthusiasm brought about by a piece of literature, much book-talk is minimized to merely a discussion about the plot.  But (as we know from high school literature classes), books offer so much more than that!  But why don’t we talk about the other elements books have to offer us as unique human beings?  Dare I say that perhaps this is why children don’t want to talk much about books either?

Luckily, the Tell Me framework is all about encouraging enriching and meaningful discussions about books for children and adults with methods that are quite simple, yet very revealing and effective.  For example, Chambers points out two types of EXTREMELY HUMBLE enthusiasms that children can share when discussing books: likes and dislikes.

When an adult asks a child about his specific likes and dislikes concerning a book, it is not a request for a regurgitation of the plot.  Instead, the adult is asking the child to engage in a discussion about their personal fervor for elements of the story that surprised, pleased or displeased them.  While the request is simple, the internal engagement a child must undergo provokes complex and detailed responses about their individual reactions and how their enthusiasms apply to their own lives.

In Honey for a Child’s Heart, Gladys Hunt states the power books have in allowing families to communicate: “Knowing someone means sharing ideas, growing together.  It means not being embarrassed about feelings or being yourself” (76).  I think that Chambers’ framework for sparking conversations about books feeds into this notion of communication.  When an adult asks a child to share his likes and dislikes about a particular book, additional conversation topics will come to the surface that won’t just reveal more about the book, but about the child himself.  This is of great benefit to parents and teachers when trying to encourage thoughtful responses in class or around the dinner table.

I challenge you to ban the question, “Did you like it?” when asking a child about a book he’s just read.  Instead, request that the child TELL YOU about what he liked.  Then, about what he didn’t like.  If more thoughtful engagement ensues (or even if it doesn’t) please comment below!

Our Favorite Sleepy Books

In a recent post on my other blog, Mrs. B & Mrs. V, I list some of Stella’s favorite nap and bedtime reads thus far.  Be sure to check it out if you’re looking for something new to read during sleepy times!  Click here to read!

 

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? Not in Children’s Literature! (An Overview of the TELL ME Framework)

Teachers and parents strive everyday to prompt conversations among children about books.  Sometimes starting these conversations can be like pulling teeth.  Aidan Chambers realized this and sought to create a framework for adults to engage children in reading thoughtfully and responding articulately to the books they’ve read.  In his book, Tell Me: Children, Reading, and Talk, Chambers outlines steps for adults to take in sparking conversations that make children excited, not just about reading, but about talking about reading.

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Chambers places equal value on reading books and talking about books.  He states:

“Talking well about books is a high-value activity in itself.  But talking well about books is also the best rehearsal there is for talking well about other things.  So in helping children to talk about their reading, we help them to be articulate about the rest of their lives” (2).

I love that Chambers sees the act of reading in this constructive manner.  Reading not only has intrinsic value in itself, but the activity can be used as a tool to enhance individualism and overall personal development.  But, in order for books to have this transformative impact, the adults in a child’s life must place value on reading and engaging children in a dialogue about literature.  Chambers is clear that children cannot become avid readers if they are not within an environment that supports and encourages this activity.  Adults need to be available to help a child make sense of the marks on each page of a chosen book.  There is a direct correlation between the richness of a child’s reading environment and the richness of the talk surrounding the books they have read.

But how do adults create such a positive environment?  It starts with two words: TELL ME.  Adults can prompt meaningful conversations simply by uttering these unassuming words.  Chambers advocates that adults ask children to tell them about the following aspects of a book:

  • Tell me what you liked
  • Tell me what you didn’t like
  • Tell me what puzzled you
  • Tell me about patterns you noticed

These simple requests will do so much more than asking a child the most common question: Why?   The  Why? question can often be too big for a child to process.  Chambers states that Why? can overwhelm a child because he assumes that the adult already knows the answer and is expecting something specific.  Contrastingly, Tell me… frees a child from assumed expectations and allows him to generously articulate true responses.

Try using this approach while reading to your children, and see if more thoughtful and excited responses emerge in your book-talk.  More posts on the specifics of the “Tell Me” approach will be coming soon!

Happy Reading!

Lindsay

Companion Books

I accidentally did something interesting at my last trip to the library.  While browsing the children’s books, I selected one book each from Eric Carle and Margaret Wise Brown.  Honey for a Child’s Heart advocates books by both of these authors for children under the age of one, and I wanted to expand my Bucca’s (and my own) awareness of these authors.  The books I chose were The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse by Eric Carle and My World by Margaret Wise Brown.  Without immediately realizing it, I chose companions to books that are already on our shelves: Carle’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Brown’s Goodnight Moon are the partner books.

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Stella and I read each author’s books back-to-back.  She was especially interested in Carle’s books as we compared the blue horses in each story.  She was also very intrigued by the large and colorful illustrations of the other animals in The Artist.  This was actually the first book she pointed towards as it was sitting on our coffee table.  Needless to say…this is quite a special book for us now!

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What companion stories have you found in literature for young children?  I’d love to hear your favorites and suggestions!

Happy Reading!

Lindsay (and Bucca)

Honey for a Child’s Heart, Beginnings

Cover of "Honey for a Child's Heart"

Cover of Honey for a Child’s Heart

Some dear friends gave my husband and I a copy of Honey for a Child’s Heart for our co-ed baby shower when we were expecting our Bucca.  This book by Gladys Hunt offers helpful advice on how parents can encourage reading and, more importantly, cultivate rich experiences for children through books.  As someone interested in experiential children’s literature, this book was a welcome addition to our library.

The title of the book implies the basics that parents offer to their children: milk represents a child’s physical needs and honey represents the richness of life.  While many parents are primarily concerned with providing the milk, the honey is just as important.  Hunt states:

To give honey, one must love honey and have it to give.  Good books are rich in honey, and hence the title of this book. (25)

While the first part of the book is interested in providing guidance to parents on how to create growth through books, the second part contains reading lists based on a child’s age.  While I’m not one to segment books to children based on only their age (I believe that books – and toys for that matter – should be chosen based on the uniqueness and individual nature of the child), I am thankful for Hunt’s suggestions.  The first book list is for children ages 0-3, and I hope to expose Bucca to all of the books in her first three years through frequent visits to the library.  I thought I had curated quite a beginning book collection for Stella, but to my surprise, we only have three books recommended on Hunt’s 0-3 list:

  • Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney

I’m excited to take Bucca through this list and record her reactions and responses to the books recommended in Honey for a Child’s Heart.  Hey…I’ll take any opportunity to read more books to her!  More to come!

Happy Reading!

Lindsay (and Bucca)

Guest Commentary: Miranda on Her Son’s Favorite Books

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!

Happy Reading!

Lindsay

Making Connections

Helen Oxenbury (of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt fame) is an expert on babies and books.  In an interview about the importance of stories for young children, Oxenbury states, “It would be silly to do a board book with atmosphere and landscapes for a very, very tiny child who has no experience of that. All babies know what happens in their home with their mom and dad.”

I’ve been quite overzealous to expose Stella to stories that are way too complex for her developing mind.  Honestly, these reading times have probably been more for me than for her.  So, in remembering Oxenbury’s words, I’ve tried to be much more deliberate recently about sharing stories with my Bucca that correlate with her everyday sights and experiences.

We are a cat family, with two furry pals at home.  Stella and the cats have become fast friends and she is now trying to say “cat” here and there.  So…as I looked through the children’s section at the library last week, I discovered How To Be A Cat by Nikki McClure.  The illustrations are in black and white (with occasional pops of blue) which really grabs my Bucca’s attention.  Each page features a single word and illustrates the cats performing the corresponding feat; they explore, stretch, hunt and scratch (among other things).

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This is not a board book, but Stella has not yet tried to grab at the pages.  She is becoming more and more content looking at the illustrations and listening to my voice as I repeat the text.  Most of the time, at least one of our cats will join us in the chair to read.  This provides a great opportunity to show Stella one of her life experiences on the pages of a beautiful book.

There are so many more connections we can make, and I’m excited to explore more books that will highlight the things she sees each day.  Have you made these everyday connections in children’s books?  Please share below!

Happy Reading!

Lindsay (and Bucca)

Oxenbury Quote From:Ways of Telling: Conversations on the Art of the Picture Book, by Leonard S. Marcus.

Why Children’s Literature?

So, you may be wondering why I began graduate study in children’s literature and decided to dedicate an entire blog to it.  Back when I began my studies, I couldn’t really put my finger on what it was that drew me into the study of books for children.  At the time I was working at an early childhood development center and was the proud aunt of a toddler boy.  (I still am a proud aunt, although my nephew is certainly not a toddler anymore!)  Being around young children at this time and hearing their interactions each day inspired me to try my hand at writing stories for kids.  I then enrolled in a non-credit writing course.  This not only enhanced my interest in writing, but it really ignited my passion for children’s literature.  I re-visited so many stories I loved growing up and was introduced to more modern, complex, and fascinating tales and characters.  Soon my bookshelves were bursting with more and more children’s books…and I didn’t even have a child of my own!

At the suggestion of a writing advisor, I decided to apply for a program to receive my Master’s degree in children’s literature.  After an entrance exam and a lengthy application process I was accepted and began what would become one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.  I became drawn to picture books as a writer and reader, so the first text of the first course I took in the program eloquently put into words my feelings about becoming deeply involved in children’s literature.  In their book , The Picture Book Comes of Age, Joseph and Chava Schwarcz state that picture book components work together to impact a reader through, “…their playfulness – visual communication, optical illusions, and message in configurations of shapes and colors surround us, beckon to us, and often practically enwrap us” (3).

This is what I love about children’s literature: the experiential nature that invites readers to laugh out loud, stare at a lovely image, communicate their feelings, or just play.  I have learned to appreciate children’s literature for this potential and I hope that your experience of children’s books will change or become enhanced through this blog.

Happy Reading!

Lindsay