An Alternative to Toddler Tunes

We are a busy family.  Even during the week, I try to line up some activity every morning, whether it’s a trip to the playground, a visit to animals at the farm, a weekly library trip, or a playdate.  My kids and I are both happier if we have an “outside the house” activity.

Which means that we often spend short amounts of time in the car, traveling from one place to another.  Does this ring a bell with anyone?

I’ve long since given up trying to listen to “my” music when Preschooler is in the car.  She prefers rockin’ to her own toddler tunes, and I prefer a happy passenger.  It’s just not a battle worth fighting.  Besides, like many mothers, I’m used to tuning out the background noise.  If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be able to make it through the day.

My husband, though, has a more difficult time tuning out the excess.  And he can’t stand listening to the same nursery rhyme cd for the tenth time in a row.  Trying to find a balance that would keep everybody happy, I tried something new…and had great success.

A trip to the library shelves revealed that there are, in fact, audiobooks for the preschool/early elementary age group.  For the last couple days, we have been listening to audiobooks in the car, and you know what?  Preschooler loves it!  We’re currently listening to a series of Bernstein Bear stories, and I also have a couple of early reader books, and one classic picture book.  Wouldn’t it be nice, as she got older, if we could dive into chapter books that we could listen to together?

I also want to pull together a couple of the audio-with-book kits, so that she can “read” along with the cd. Add that to the to-do list.

This doesn’t mean that the music cds are gone for good.  I’m sure we’ll be back to those again in a little while.  But in the meantime, this is a nice alternative, and she’s getting to hear a few stories while I drive in peace.

Which means I might actually get to have a thought of my own.

Who knows what I can accomplish now!

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All the World’s a Stage…Er… Classroom

A few days ago, I introduced you to Preschooler and asked for some helpwith letter and number recognition.  I got advice from a few sources, all of which pretty  much said the same thing.  Just keep at it.  Repetition, repetition, repetition.  So we are.

Then, over the last couple days, I discovered two new teaching aids in unusual places:

Parking garages

On a weekend errand, we parked at the far end of the underground parking garage, and as we were walking toward the entrance, Preschooler points to the column at the end of the row, and announces, “Look, Mama!  That’s an ‘M'”  And thus began the game.  We identified the letters on each row that we passed.  She was so excited by this, that we enthusiastically played it again after completing our time in the store.

The lottery

Preschooler watches Clifford on PBS every afternoon before naptime.  Immediately after the cartoon ends, the midday lottery comes on.  You know, the one where the balls pop around in the machine and then fly up the tubes to be announced by a lottery “official”?  You see where I’m going with this, right?  A few days ago, I realized this could work in our favor.  I mute the television (so that the answers aren’t given away, and she has some think time), and then we identify the numbers on the ball as they pop up.  Once again, she is ridiculously excited about this “game” and it takes an extra 2 minutes out of my day.

And you know what?  I think the kid is holding out on me.  She knows alot more than I thought she did.  She just likes to learn and share in her own way.

There’s a lesson for me there, too.

Friday Confession: Some Help, Please?

Let me introduce you to Preschooler.

She is my first-born.  And fits the first child descriptionperfectly.  She is extremely loving, empathetic, and protective.  She is also stubborn, headstrong, and fiercely independent.

She is a learner.  Her naturally inquisitive nature means that we are talking/learning/exploring all the time.  She will start preschool in the fall and has been talking about it for a year already.  The former teacher in me notices that she has a strong auditory learning style.  Especially if what she is learning is set to music.  So here’s where I’m hoping somebody out there will have some ideas.  I confess:

Early childhood education is NOT my forte.

Elementary?  I know how to teach those kids. Preschool?  Eh. I just can’t get in their little heads.

And yet, I have this 3 year old who shows a definite interest in learning her numbers and letters.  She can count almost to 20 (she has a few random number skips), can recite/sing the alphabet, and can correctly identify a handful of numbers and letters.  She would like to know more, and I’d like to be able to help her out, but she’s not a visual kid and so many of the tactics I’ve seen are not sticking.  Any thoughts on how to teach an auditory learner avisual skill?  More particularly, a 3 year old auditory learner?

I should add that I’m not in any huge hurry, and I realize that she’s still very young.  But recognizing numbers and letters aren’t beyond the realm of possibility, especially since she’s showing the interest, right?

And it would really help the dinner-making process if she was not systematically pulling each and every  letter magnet out if it’s orderly row (that she created) on the fridge and demanding, “Mommy, what this one?!”

Thoughts?  Ideas?  Links?  Blogs?  I’ll take ’em all!

Planting Seeds

The weather has turned here, bringing highs of 75 and beautiful sunny days.  Who knows how long this will last, so we’ve been taking advantage of this time and spending several hours each day outside (BONUS: longer naptimes!!)

Yesterday, we took a trip to the hardware/garden store and brought back potting soil and seeds.  This morning, after Baby’s nap, we all went outside and planted the seeds that will (hopefully) grow into some bright flowers.

(I say “hopefully” because I have the most non-green thumb you can imagine and my flowers never seem to thrive.  But, every spring, I get optimistic and give it another shot.)

There was also a deliberate lesson here in sequencing and following directions for Preschooler.  She is a strong-willed little girl, and following directions is something we struggle with daily right now.  My plan was to combine something she really wanted to do (plant flowers) with a lesson on how important it is to do things in the right order, and the way she was told.

Together we:

  • added soil
  • dug holes for the seeds
  • put a few seeds in each hole
  • covered the hole
  • added more soil
  • watered the soil

We also talked about how we’d have to water the seeds every day, and how, after many, many days, the seed would turn into little plants, and the little plants would grow into “pretty blue and pink flowers”.

I know, cute story, but I do have a point.  When I taught, I had otherwise very intelligent fourth and fifth graders who could not correctly describe a sequence of events to save their lives.  We assume this is an inherent skill, but it’s not.  Nor, actually, is following directions.  Both are important literacy skills.  So important, in fact, that in many states it’s included in the curriculum standards at the elementary level.

So here’s an opportunity to “plant seeds” for future learning.  Sometimes, teaching reading skills doesn’t have to involve a book, or an app.  Sometimes, it’s just about digging in the dirt, and talking while you do it.

And did I mention the longer naptimes?

Just making sure.

(See?  Even the tiniest learners can take part)

Share-A-Story: Encouraging the Bright and Shiny New Reader

Another day of Share-A-Story!  This time the topic has to do with expanding the definition “literacy.”  Both of my children (almost 3 and 3 months) are too young to be “reading” in the traditional sense.  My oldest is just learning the letters of the alphabet, and my youngest, well, he just discovered he has hands.

But I can see the foundations of literacy already established in my oldest.  Which brings us today’s prompt:

What unique / beyond the usual things do you have in your literacy tool belt to engage young readers?

I’m not sure that I do anything “unique” but there are some things that perhaps one might not recognize as a tool relating to engaging the youngest “readers” in the learning process.

  • We singFor some children (like mine), music is a way of learning.  It was, of course, the way she first learned her letters.  But it also encouraged creative thinking.  We now have our own verses for “The Wheels on The Bus.”  There’s no book in her hand, but she’s learning pacing (tempo), discovering the world around her (we like songs about farm animals, in particular), and expanding her vocabulary.  Recently, she’s even begun making connections between text we read and songs that she’s learned from hours of singing in the car and around the house.
  • We look.  And more than that, we talk.  ALL. DAY. LONG.  In fact, sometimes we talk more than I’d like.  Preschooler is at an age now where she has a comment or question about absolutely everything.  This process started long before she was verbal, when it was just the two of us in the house, and I would chatter away to her throughout the day.  This was partly to fill the silence, but it has paid off in her verbal skills and vocabulary.
  • We allow a little mess. Who knew that reading could be so… UNgentle of an activity?  Some of our books are what I would term “well-loved”.  They’re not deliberately mishandled, but it happens.  Our bookshelves are overflowing, and not always neat.  But I’ve come to be okay with that.
  • We take breaks.  Some days, the only reading that happens around here is the story I read at bedtime.  That’s reality.  Reading should be an enjoyable for young readers.  Forcing the issue may lead to a negative association with books, and once established,  that’s a difficult battle to win.
  • We share.  When Preschooler began “reading” on her own, I pulled out the Flip cam and recorded it for Daddy and the grandparents.  She was shy about reading the book to me, but was more than eager to perform for the camera, and quite excited to send the email off.

Will she REALLY be a “happy reader”?  I don’t know.  But I do feel confident that the foundation is there for us to grow upon.  And whether you’re a parent, a teacher, a librarian… that’s a good place to start.

She Reads

Since Baby arrived, Preschooler and I have had a little less time reading her beloved books.  We still read right before her nap, and right before bed, but it has been harder to find the time to fit read aloud time during the day.  Her brother has been not only “hands-on”, as newborns are, but also a fussy hands-on.  Even while feeding, he likes his environment quiet, and my voice disturbs and distracts him.

So instead, we started reciting nursery rhymes and singing children’s songs, as these are things I can do while pacing around the living room, or rocking a fussy baby in our bedroom rocker.  As a result, she’s recently memorized many traditional rhymes.  She gets so excited when we then DO get around to reading from a selected book and these same rhymes are “IN MY BOOK, MOMMY!!! LOOK!  LIKE THE ONE WE SING WITH BABY!!”

One such book is Tracey Moroney’s Animal Songs.  This book contains The Owl and the Pussycat, Hey Diddle Diddle, Pop! Goes the Weasel, and Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear.  A few nights ago, while making dinner, I looked over to see her “reading” the book to herself.  I later convinced her to read it again so that I could share her accomplishment with the grandparents:

It’s quite obviously memorized “reading”, but the teacher in me was pleased to see her emerging literacy skills, namely:

  • reading from left to right and front to back
  • using the illustrations to guide her reading (in this case, when to turn the pages and when to begin/end each rhyme)

And the mom in me thinks she’s just plain ol’ stinkin’ cute.  She was so proud, and has watched the video over and over again, chanting along with her favorite reader.

Herself.

Navigating the Library with a Non-Reader

My oldest child loves to visit the “wibwary”.  We are fortunate to have a public library system that is both current and extensive, so she has every book she could possibly want at her disposal.

Which is great.

Unless you’re a preschooler and then it can be a little overwhelming.

MUST! TOUCH! EVERY! BOOK!

I appreciate her enthusiasm, but I’m also supposed to be a responsible parent, and allowing my child to pull every book that catches her eye off the shelf as she runs tearing down the aisles?  Not so responsible.

So we have a routine.  And since this is my blog and you might care, I’m going to share it with you.

  • Timing:We plan our library trips to be during Baby’s morning nap.  This way, I increase the chances of getting a larger block of uninterrupted time, as he’ll nap away in the stroller.
  • Returning books:In keeping with the whole “you’re responsible for you own items” theme, I have my daughter drop her books in the return slot as she comes in the door.  Fortunately for me, she enjoys this element of control.  Woe unto the helpful librarian who tries to speed the process along by taking the books directly from her hands.
  • Selecting old favorites: Before doing anything else, we also select two of her known favorites.  Currently these are Curious George and Clifford books.  She requests these every time, and knows exactly where they are kept in the library.  Again, control.   See a theme here?
  • Selecting new reads: Next, we pick two more books.  These are usually ones she selects by sight (ie they’re on display).  Sometimes they are ones that I guide her towards, based on her current interests or ones from my childhood I think she might enjoy (it’s how I introduced her to Marcus Pfister’s Rainbow Fish).
  • “Mommy’s Pick”: Our fifth book is a “special” book that I get to select for us to read together.  This may be a new book that has received good reviews, or one that just jumps out at me, but that she doesn’t show an immediate interest in herself.
  • Holiday book (optional): Typically, we bring home 5 books.  This number allows me to keep track of the borrowed books, and keeps her from wanting to bring home every book in the library.  We do, however, make an exception for a holiday book.  Close to a current holiday, we will pick one or two extra books from the holiday selection and bring these home, too.  She is at an age where she’s beginning to understand the meaning behind Christmas, or Valentine’s Day, or Easter, and these books help cement that new-found knowledge.
  • Story Time: While at the library, we take the time to read a couple books that we don’t take home.  These are almost always entirely her picks, and I typically will not say “no” unless it’s a book I know is inappropriate or contains themes I don’t agree with (ie cheating to win,  negative values, topics I prefer to discuss at home and not in a public library).  We call this our “special library time” and it can vary in length depending on how long my infant will nap in the stroller.  Once he starts to get fussy, we get ready to leave.
  • DVD selection:  On our way out, I allow her to select 2 DVDs to take home.  These are typically characters from her PBS shows.  While some may disagree with bring DVDs home from a library, my feeling is that we have a young baby in the house and the reality is, sometimes I just need her to sit quietly while I tend to the crisis at hand.
  • Check-out: Our library has a self-checkout system. Perfect for my “I do it!” helper.  She sits on the counter, and as I scan the books (the scanner tends to be a little temperamental), she places them in our library bag.

Once we’re at home, we have the rule that the library books stay in the library bag when she’s not reading them.  She has full access to the bag, which is kept in my bedroom,but the borrowed books are less likely to get mixed in with our own.

That’s our routine, and it works for us.  Anybody else have any tips?  Or want to tell me how the heck I’m going to do this when my children are, say, 2 an 4.5?

Maybe we’ll just do ebooks then.

I kid.

Sort of.

Sing, Sing A Song

I’m not a fan of my own singing voice.  I’ve been told I sing pleasantly, but it’s something I’m very self-conscious about, and I just am not crazy about how it sounds to my own ears.  So for the last couple years, in situations where singing is expected, I just sing low enough to blend in.  Well, with the exception of singing in the car.  Cuz nobody can hear me when I sing by myself in the car, right?

This method has served me well until 2 years ago, when I became a parent.  My child loves music.  She always has.   While I was pregnant, she would have a dance party when I played music loud enough for her to hear.  When she was an infant, it was smiles and coos when I turned the radio on.  Then bops and wiggles as she began to stand and move on her own.

And most recently, she has begun singing herself.  This is cute in and of itself, but what I’ve really noticed is how music is advancing her language development.  When something with a strong 4-beat rhythm comes on, she announces, “March!” and begins stomping her feet.  She sings multiple verses of “The Wheels on the Bus”, complete with the appropriate motions that she has created.  In the past couple days, she has started requesting the ABCs, and the more we sing it, the more she letters she remembers and sings along with me.  Though her favorite part is still yelling , “TADA!” and throwing her hands up in the air when we finish.

It’s a reminder of not only how absorbent children are at this age, but also how diverse their learning styles are.  And a gentle nudge to me as a parent that I need to adapt to her learning style.  Even if I have to listen to my own voice.

Raising a Reader

I have the educational background.  I have the textbook learning, and the classroom experience.  I’ve taught everything from phonics programs, to guided reading, to learning how to take standardized tests.

But it’s most gratifying when I can take that information, apply it to my daily life as a stay-at-home-parent, and see the results.

Yesterday, I was feeling a little under the weather.  So I was doing what sick parents do when they have no choice other than to continue parenting…I was lounging on the floor of my daughter’s room and monitoring her play from my horizontal position.  She walked over to her bed, picked up her new Thomas the Tank Engine book, and announced, “Mama, read.”  So I prepared myself to put on my cheery reading voice, but she had other plans.  She settled herself on the floor next to me, opened the book, and read to me.

Okay, so it was garbled and mostly nonsensical, and I couldn’t exactly repeat the plot to you.  But there were key elements of early literacy present:

  • turning pages from front to back
  • changes in vocal inflections as she “read” the words on the page
  • using the images on the page to tell the story (demonstrated by inserting words she knew for certain images into the garble)

It makes me smile that books are among The Toddler’s favorite toys.  She keeps several at the end of her bed, and they are the first thing she plays with upon waking up in the morning, and the last thing she plays with before falling asleep at night.

So I guess I can say that I’m raising a reader.  Which is good.  Because I have a long list of books that she absolutely must read.

No pressure or anything.

When It’s More Than A Gift

This post is a contribution to the Share A Story-Shape a Future blog tour.  Today’s theme is The Gift of Reading.When you’re finished here, click on over to the Share A Story blog to see the amazing lineup of bloggers for today.  I’ll see you there!

The setting

Recently, at my daughter’s playgroup, a discussion arose about what to get a mother expecting her third son as a gift.  I mean, let’s face it.  It’s unlikely that they need more clothes, or toys, or blankets, or equipment.  In fact, their house is likely jam-packed with these items already.  So what to do to mark the occasion?

The perfect gift, for just about any occasion, is not difficult to find.  Whether you prefer to shop online, at a chain store, or an independent seller…you can always find a book to honor special moments or milestones.

Why a book?

I find joy in shopping for gifts.  I pleasure in taking the time to consider the recipient, what they might most enjoy, and the expression on their faces when the wrapping paper falls away.  A book may seem like nothing much.  It generally won’t be the largest wrapped item on the gift table, or the most expensive.  But the thing about giving a book as a gift?  It’s more than a gift.

Wait, what?

Yup.  A gift that’s more. Here’s what I mean-

  • A carefully chosen book can be the most thoughtful of gifts.  Take the time to browse the shelves for a title that speaks to the recipient’s current interests, milestone, or life event.  Whether it’s the first day of school, a new sibling, a new job, or even retirement, there’s something out there to mark the occasion.
  • Books are multi-generational.  Picture books happen to be my passion.  I enjoy reading in general, but I particularly enjoy picture books.  And the best thing about picture books?  They’re not just for children.  I’ve given them as Father’s Day gifts to my husband, birthday gifts to the grandparents, and Christmas gifts to my girlfriends, even those without children of their own.  The selected books reflect my unique relationship (or in some cases, my child’s) with the recipient.
  • The effect is lasting.  Gift certificates, toys, and even clothing have a limited lifespan.  Gift certificates are gone the moment they are spent, toys are quickly outgrown, and clothing, well, we all know how long children’s clothing lasts before they’re on to the next size.  But how many of you can remember a favorite book from childhood?  One that you read until the pages were tattered and that, if given the opportunity, you would still read again and again and again?  That book, likely given as a gift, remains with you for an entire lifetime.
  • A single gift changes over time.  Let’s return to that first example of what to give a mother expecting a third child.  Let’s say you take my advice and buy the child a book.  At first, the parent reads to the child.  Later, as the child grows, he or she will pick up the book and explore it independently, eventually even reading the words on their own.  The book may then return to the shelf or a storage box for a number of years as the child loses interest and moves on to other books.  But perhaps that same child one day rediscovers the beloved book, this time as an adult, or even a parent.  Have you had this experience?  The words and pictures are familiar, but the book takes on a whole new meaning.  This is why books like Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon (first published in 1947), or Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon (first published in 1955) are still being read today.

As the next holiday, birthday, or special occasion draws near, consider your options.  You can hit the mall, and wander from store to store waiting for inspiration to strike, and, after several hours, you might even find a gift you’re happy with.

Or.

Head straight to your local bookstore and spend some time amongst the shelves.  Here, you’ll find a gift that is personal, meaningful, and long-lasting.  And when your task is complete, reward yourself with a book or magazine and a latte.  You deserve it.