Hearing and using lots of words helps children get ready to read. The more words they know, the easier it will be for them to learn how to read. So how do we help kids develop a BIG vocabulary? By talking with them!
Of course every day we might use words like breakfast and shoes and bedtime. But when we expose children to the world, and then have conversations about what they experience, we introduce them to lots of new words!
There are so many fun places to take young children in Multnomah county. Some of them are free (like your neighborhood playground) or inexpensive (like Portland Parks & Rec’s indoor parks), but some of them can make a pretty big dent in your wallet!
Fortunately many of our local attractions offer discount days on a regular basis. Admission to OMSI only costs $2 the first Sunday of the month. The Oregon Zoo charges only $4 on the second Tuesday of every month. The Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden is free every Tuesday and Wednesday, free from the day after Labor Day through the end of February, and free year-round for children under 12. The Chinese & Japanese Gardens and the Art Museum also have free days periodically each year.
Pairing your adventures with books on related topics provides a great opportunity to continue and extend your conversations. If your toddler loved watching the monkeys at the zoo, try reading Busy Monkeys together. After building a tower at OMSI, your child might enjoy Dreaming Up. Try pairing a trip to the Art Museum with Katie and the Water Lily Pond or a visit to any of the gardens with Flower Garden. These are just a few suggestions to get you started. We can help you find just the right book for you and your child. And you can help your child get ready to read by having fun conversations every day.
A teacher from a childcare center recently contacted me for some library resources. She was looking for few board books, a picture book or two, a music CD, and a few rhymes with interesting content for infants and toddlers, all related to the same theme. My immediate thought was Multnomah County Library’s collection of Storytime It’s in the Bags. We have 20 themed bags for toddlers (ages 18 mths—3 yrs) and another 21 bags for preschool-aged children (3—6 years). Each bag centers on a theme and contains five books, a small toy, game, puzzle or music CD related to the theme, and an activity sheet. The sheet has a couple of rhymes or games to play with children to extend the theme, as well as some tips for sharing books with children to effectively help them gain the skills they need to become successful readers. These bags are perfect for busy childcare teachers, family childcare providers and parents who want to share thematic materials with the little ones in their care. The Storytime bags are a popular resource and they are available on the shelves in some MCL locations. The easiest way to get your hands on these bags is to look through the toddler and preschool bag lists and place holds on the ones you would like to share with the kids in your life.
MCL also has bags for infants and their caregivers (0-6 months, 6-12 months and 12-18 months). Another new set of resources are the Bolsitas de Cuentos, which are themed bags with books in Spanish and bilingual English/Spanish. The Cuentos bags contain books appropriate for children 0-5 years old, and are fun for Spanish-speaking families and families who are working at being bilingual.
Read it Again!
Does that sound familiar? How many times have you read Goodnight Moon or Where the Wild Things Are with your little ones? I know many parents who can recite The Cat in the Hat from memory. Young children love to hear their favorite books again and again. There’s a good reason for this: the developing brain needs repetition. Repetition strengthens brain cell connections. For example, when a child encounters a new word in a book and begins to understand the meaning of that word, each time the book is read the child’s brain secretes a chemical called “myelin,” a substance that strengthens that connection. The child’s understanding deepens each time. This is true for new words, new concepts and new experiences; learning occurs with repetition.
That’s not all. Young children notice different things each time a book is read. They just can’t take it all in on one reading. Repeated readings also help a child understand how stories work, an important skill for beginning readers. Your child will develop confidence when you stop reading at a dramatic point in a familiar story and encourage her to tell what she thinks will happen next. Children feel secure with books they know, and they learn best and absorb new information when they feel confident and secure. So when you hear “again, again,” know that your willingness to indulge that request one more time will reap lovely rewards.
Do you read Nursery Rhymes to your child? Do you sing to your baby? These are wonderful ways to bond with your child. Rhymes, such as, Itsy Bitsy Spider or songs like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star are rhymes that many of us have known since our childhood, but I bet you didn’t know that nursery rhymes or childhood rhymes helped us learn to read and can help your child as well.
Whenever you talk, read or sing to your child you are building connections in her brain that will last a lifetime. Babies will show interest by widening their eyes, moving their arms and legs and smiling when they recognize a rhyme. When you sing songs and do fingerplays with your child, you will find that they will soon imitate you. These fingerplays and movement rhymes can help children associate words with their meanings. Singing songs is a fun way to bond with your child and it also helps kids learn Phonological awareness or that words are broken into smaller sounds. When children achieve phonological awareness, they are able to think about how words sound, apart from their meaning. Research shows that children who play with sounds of words in preschool years are better prepared to read in school. So, you can help your child from birth start getting ready to read and it doesn’t involve flashcards or videos. It only requires you to have fun singing, rhyming, talking and reading to your child.
Attached is booklist of rhyme collections that you can check out from the library. Within these collections, you should be able to find rhymes and songs you may know from your childhood, as well as, new ones to use with your baby, toddler or preschooler. Happy Rhyming!
Have you ever wondered why some picture books make children giggle uncontrollably or they are so engrossed that they begin to talk directly to the book itself as a one-on-one conversation? Or maybe why she holds on to her security blankie for dear life but still wants you to keep reading even though she is peeking through their fingers? Well have you…huh?
Fortunately, I have been lucky enough to experience all of the above both as a youth librarian who does storytime and as a mother of two rambunctious readers, ages 7 and 8. Somehow after the first few pages you just know when a picture book is the most perfect-est, out of this world, fantabulous, read it to me again and again and again mommy, puh-leese!!!, type of picture book.
Although you may think these great picture books are few and far between they are not as rare as you would think. They can actually happen quite often when you, the reader, commit to reading a good picture book the bestest way (yes, bestest is a technical term) you can. Here, allow me to explain…
Look at the illustrations - what is the book about and what sort of emotions do the characters evoke? Are they excited, scared, curious or grumpy? Is there a loud race car vroom vrooming or a roller coaster whooshing by? Is there a bird chirping loudly or a child whimpering softly? And can you try to read the words and pictures in a way so that your child will feel the book? In most good picture books the emotions will tell the story, and if you read the story with the umph of those emotions each turn of a page will surely be a cliff hanger for your young listener. And chances are if the book is a cliff hanger for your young listener, if they can put themselves in the book because of how you read it to them, then they will probably want you to read it again and again. And if you read the book to them again and again and again chances are you are fostering a love of books and reading in your young listener that will last a lifetime all because you read with a little umph.
A pro at this type of umph reading is the most wonderfulest Australian Author Mem Fox. Check her out reading the beloved Koala Lou and tell me you didn’t have to dry a tear when Koala Lou comes in second!
Did you ever play with one of these as a kid?
(photo by Collin Allen)
Today’s toy phones often look more like this:
But whether it’s a rotary or a flip, did you know that when your child plays with a toy phone he is gaining skills he needs to get ready to read? Maria Montessori, the Italian educator, famously said that “play is the work of the child.” By definition play is fun, but for young children it isn’t just fun. It’s actually the most important way they learn.
So how does playing with a phone lead to reading? In the first couple years of life, when your baby or toddler plays with a phone it will most likely look something like a real phone. As she grows older, though, around two or three years old, you might find her picking up a block and pretending that the block is a phone. Then around four or five years of age she might even pretend the air between her fingers and thumb is a phone.
This progression in the development of children’s play is an example of an important concept called symbolic representation. They start out with something very similar to a phone (the plastic phone) representing a real phone. They graduate to something that only vaguely resembles a phone (the block) and finally reach a point where they can picture the phone in their imaginations. Learning to read requires a very mature sense of symbolic representation. Readers have to understand that the black squiggles on the page represent real objects and ideas. That’s no easy task!
Imagine being a baby, just learning about what a cat is. You hear the family’s cat purring. You feel its soft fur when it rubs against you. You see it as it jumps down from the bed. You love that cat so much that for your first birthday someone gives you a plush cat toy. It doesn’t purr or jump, but it is soft, and you recognize it by its four legs, tail, whiskers and cat-like face. Later, in preschool, your teacher reads Kitten’s First Full Moon. Of course that cat isn’t even soft, but by now you have learned to recognize the image of a cat, even in its two-dimensional form. In fact you have the image of a cat in your head, and when you play house with your friends you “feed” your pretend cat, even though there is “nothing” there. Finally, when you are in school, learning how to read, you learn that these squiggles - cat - represent three sounds (kuh-ah-t), and that when we put those sounds together they make a word - cat! - and that word represents the sweet, purring ball of fur you know so well at home!
So enjoy playing with your child, and as you play together know that you are helping her on the long and glorious path called “learning how to read!”
Are you a kid who wants to learn to make your own books? Are you a grown-up who wants to make books with your kid friend? Making books isn’t as intimidating as it looks, especially if you’ve got a great how-to book to help you get started! Here are my favorites:
In Print! by Joe Rhatigan has instructions for 40 different publishing projects for kids -- everything from a make-it-yourself audioboook to instructions for starting a writers’ group or workshop to getting your work published in a magazine. This book has it all!
Pop-ups and moveable books that fold out or turn into a sculpture when you open them sometimes look complicated, but actually they can be really great projects for a beginner! Gwen Diehn shows you the basics in Making Books That Fly, Fold, Wrap, Hide, Pop Up, Twist, and Turn. That’s a long title, but you really know what the book is about now, right?
If you want to go totally D.I.Y. and make a zine -- that’s a book or pamphlet you make and distribute all yourself -- you definitely want to check out Whatcha Mean, What’s a Zine?, by Mark Todd and Esther Pearl Watson. It covers everything: zine history, tools and methods for making your own zine, why you might want to write a zine, photocopier tricks, promoting your zine, and more.
Are you more of an artistic than a literary bent? Perhaps comics are your thing? If so, the book for you is definitely Drawing Words & Writing Pictures: Making Comics: Manga, Graphic Novels, and Beyond, by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden. It’s an everything guide for comics creators, covering basics like layout and lettering and extra credit topics like how to reproduce your comic so you can distribute lots of copies.
Questions? Let us know if we can help you find the how-to book (or any other book) that's just right for you.