Friday, March 29, 2013

Fingerplay Fun Friday!

Here is a fun little fingerplay and peek-a-boo game for sharing with babies: Here's a Ball for Baby

Here's a Ball for Baby

Here's a ball for baby (hold hand in front, fingers to fingers, thumbs to thumbs)
Big and soft and round

Here's baby's hammer (pound fist into palm)
See how it can pound

Here are baby's soldiers (hold fingers up)
Standing in a row

Here's baby's music (clap hands)
Clapping, clapping so

Here's baby's trumpet (hold fists in front of mouth like a trumpet)

And here's baby's favorite game

This is a wonderful rhyme for sharing with young babies.  Not only is it full of fun hand motions but it also turns into a game of peek-a-boo!  In general, babies begin to enjoy peek-a-boo games sometime between 4 and 9 months.  When we play peek-a-boo with babies and toddlers, we are helping them develop an understanding that objects continue to exist even when they are out of sight.  We call this object permanence.  Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget introduced this concept back in the early part of the 20th century.

For a nice overview of object permanence and the power of peek-a-boo, check out this page from the Virginia Early Intervention Professional Development Center

When children experience cause and effect with peek-a-boo games they are beginning to develop a conceptual knowledge of how the world works.  This understanding will ultimately help them make predictions once they begin to learn how to read!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Visiting Storyland, Pt. 4

Our next stop in Storyland is the beautiful and bilingual Abuela, by Arthus Dorros (illustrated by Elisa Kleven).

This imaginative story of a girl, her grandmother (Abuela) and their day at the park is told with a perfect mix of English and Spanish.  We are told right from the start, "Abuela speaks mostly Spanish because that's what people spoke where she grew up, before she came to this country."

I can't help sharing some information about the importance of speaking with young children in the language that is most comfortable for you.  When you speak with your child in your first language, you provide them with the richest language experience.  There are many language skills that children need to master in order to become successful readers.  When they engage in a stilted language experience, they are simply not able to practice these skills very well.

Abuela does a fantastic job of showing a loving relationship between adult and child.  Clearly, the relationship is more important than anything else, language included.  The coolest part of the story is watching Rosalba show off the strong bilingual vocabulary she possesses because of her relationship with her Abuela.  She has so many words in her vocabulary that monolingual children simply don't!

Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the University of Washington's Institute for Brain and Learning Sciences provided a fascinating TED Talk on language development in babies a couple of years ago.  She notes that there is a small window of time when babies are hardwired to learn a specific language.  I encourage you to take 10 minutes out of your day and give it a look:

Now we can't all have "Mandarin relatives visit for a month"... but we can expose our children to other language experiences.  Library storytimes are a great opportunity for little learners to become acquainted with other languages and cultures.  Washington County libraries offer storytimes in Spanish, Japanese, Bulgarian, Swedish and ... yep ... Mandarin Chinese!  It might not be the same thing as having Mandarin relatives in your home for a month, but it is pretty cool, nonetheless!

For a full list of library storytimes, check out the WCCLS Calendar.

The Storyland exhibit is on display at the Portland Children's Museum until May 5, 2013.  Visitors can play hopscotch in Central Park and explore tío Pablo's and tía Elisa's store where they can write up a quick shopping list.  Mmmmm... my list would include plátanos.  To visit the Children's Museum for free, contact your local Washington County library today and arrange to check out a Cultural Pass.

(photo above provided by Portland Children's Museum and used with permission)

Here are a few multicultural picture books that I'm especially fond of:

Title: Mung-Mung: A Fold-Out Book of Animal Sounds
Author: Linda Sue Park
Illustrator: Diane Bigda
Find this book at your library

Animal sounds from many different languages are explored in this super-fun, bright book!
Title: Yum! Yuck! A Foldout Book of People Sounds
Author: Linda Sue Park and Julia Durango
Illustrator: Sue Rama
Find this book at your library

A fun follow-up to Mung-Mung, this time we are introduced to the words people say to express emotions in many different languages.
Title: Dear Primo: A Letter to My Cousin
Author: Duncan Tonatiuh
Find this book at your library

Cousins, one in Mexico and one in the US, write letters back and forth describing their days.  It is loads of fun discovering how their lives are different and the same.
Title: The Tooth Fairy Meets El Ratón Pérez
Author: René Colato Laínez
Illustrator: Tom Lintern
Find this book at your library

A bicultural battle brews between the Tooth Fairy and El Ratón Pérez when they both try to claim a young Mexican-American boy's tooth!  Absolutely hilarious!!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Fingerplay Fun Friday!

Today we feature a fun little counting rhyme: The Pirate Song

The Pirate Song

When I was one I had some fun (hold up 1 finger)
On the day I went to sea
I hopped (hop up) aboard a pirate ship (put hand over eye)
And the captain (salute with your other hand) said to me:

You go this way (hold thumbs up and lean to one side)
That way (lean to the other side)
Forward (lean forward) and backward (lean backward)
Over the deep blue sea!

When I was two I tied my shoe...
When I was three I slapped my knee...
When I was four I shut the door...
When I was five I tood a dive...

Like the familiar Mother Goose nursery rhyme "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe" this is one of those great counting songs that let kids explore the concepts of number and rhyme at the same time.  There is absolutely no reason to sing it the same way twice.  I encourage you to come up with new and fun rhymes for each number.  Better yet, invite your children to come up with funny rhymes.

Here are some possible versions:

When I was one I:
a) sucked my thumb
b) ate a plumb
c) went for a run

When I was two I:
a) got stuck in glue
b) went to the zoo
c) paddled my canoe

When I was three I:
a) got stung by a bee
b) jumped like a flea
c) climbed a tree

When I was four I:
a) sat on the floor
b) did roar
c) snored

When I was five I:
a) went for a drive
b) played a fife
c) arrived

As I have mentioned before, being able to hear and play with the smaller sounds in words is a critical skill that helps kids prepare for learning to read.  We call it phonological awareness.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Visiting Storyland, Pt. 3

Continuing our adventures through Storyland, we now turn our attention to one of the greatest alphabet books ever written: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault (illustrated by Lois Ehlert).

The story, the rhyme and the rhythm set Chicka Chicka Boom Boom apart from other alphabet books.  It isn't a typical abecedary (a book that lists the letters of the alphabet from A to Z, usually with each letter getting its own picture).  Instead, it sings a funny little tale of letters climbing a coconut tree.  They climb and climb until the tree can't hold up under their weight and they all come crashing down.

Many early childhood educators don't advocate introducing children to the concept of letters in a big way until they are around 3 years old.  The idea that symbols stand for sounds and that symbols can be grouped together to make up words is a pretty heady stuff for little learners. 

There are really two critical early literacy skills involved when kids develop alphabetic knowledge (or Letter Knowledge): Vocabulary and Phonological Awareness

First, kids learn that certain shapes have certain names.  We call both the shapes "b" and "B" a [bee].  This type of understanding has to do with a child's vocabulary, or their knowledge of the names of things.  There is no reason why toddlers who are talking shouldn't begin to learn the names of letters in fun and meaningful ways.

Second, kids learn that certain sounds are associated with certain letters.  This is when the symbolic concepts come into the picture and things start to get really complicated.  For example, the letter A can have many different sounds, depending on the word it is used in or its place in a word.  The letter A has a different sound in each of these words: Apple, card and play.  In Learning to Read the World Susan Neuman notes that "Between the ages of 4 and 7, children begin to try to translate the words they hear and can say into the letters that spell them."

The beauty of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is that it is just as fun for kids who have no letter knowledge as it is for kids who are already reading successfully.  The musical cadence of the text makes the listening a pure delight all by itself!

Here are a few of my favorite letter knowledge activities for kids from babies to preschoolers:

Play with shapes!  Shapes make up letters.  Having an understanding of shapes and recognizing shapes is a natural precursor to later letter knowledge.  Playing with shape sorters, blocks and letter magnets are all great ways to introduce our littlest friends to letter in a fun and meaningful way.

Introduce kids to their letter!  The first letter of a child's name is very special.  Kids love to identify with the shape that starts their name.  Singing the alphabet song is another great way to introduce kids to the names of the letters.

Celebrate a letter of the week!
  Having a letter of the week is a fun way to focus on each letter.  Point out the letter wherever you see it and talk about all of the different words that start with that letter.  Play games that connect letters with their sounds like this silly version of My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean (courtesy of our good friends at the Deschutes Public Library).

The Storyland exhibit is on display at the the Portland Children's Museum until May 5, 2013.  Visitors can beat out a rhythm, play with matching letters and crawl all over jumbo versions of five different letters.  Contact your local Washington County library today and arrange to check out a Cultural Pass.

(photo above provided by Portland Children's Museum and used with permission)

Here is my current top ten list of favorite alphabet books:

Title: The ABC Bunny
Author: Wanda Gag
Find this book at your library

This classic book follows a bunny through a series of adventures through the alphabet.  Very fun!  Apparently, Wanda Gag's sister wrote a song to accompany: Check it out.
 Title: Alphabatics
Author: Suse MacDonald
Find this book at your library

A very ingenious introduction to the alphabet.  Each letter has a supporting picture.  The coolest part is seeing how the letters engage in acrobatics (like the j as a spring on the cover).
Title: The Alphabet Book
Author: P. D. Eastman
Find this book at your library

Perfect for beginning readers!  Very familiar words spotlight each letter of the alphabet.  Fans of P.D. Eastman (Go, Dog. Go!) won't be disappointed!
Title: Eric Carle's ABC
Author: Eric Carle
Find this book at your library

Colorful ABC book packed full of familiar animals!  A great vocabulary builder for little ones.
Title: Hooper Humperdink...? NOT HIM!
Author: Dr. Seuss
Illustrator: Scott Nash
Find this book at your library

A child names all of the kids being invited to a birthday party.  This is a fantastic way to explore different names and the letters they start with!  Sadly, my name isn't included.  Maybe yours is!
Title: LMNO Peas
Author: Keith Baker
Find this book at your library

Funny little peas play all over the alphabet and show off what kinds of peas they are... from acrobats to zoologists!
Title: The Racecar Alphabet
Author: Brian Floca
Find this book at your library

Bounding energy follows racecars and the alphabet around the racetrack.  The alphabet aspect isn't overstated.  This is a must-read for fans of racecars!
Title: The Sleepy Little Alphabet
Author: Judy Sierra
Illustrator: Melissa Sweet
Find this book at your library

Like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, this tells the story of little letters.  This time, they are getting ready for bed!
Title: SuperHero ABC
Author: Bob McLeod
Find this book at your library

Superheroes represent the letters of the alphabet and fight crime at the same time!  Very bright and attractive for kids who love action and adventure.
Title: Z is for Moose
Author: Kelly Bingham
Illustrator: Paul O. Zelinsky
Find this book at your library

Moose is very impatient!  He can't wait for his turn to be "M is for Moose"  The alphabet has never seen such nonstop hijinks!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Fingerplay Fun Friday!

Trains have such an enchanting and rhythmic sound.  Today's rhyme capitalizes on the bouncy cadence of locomotives: Clickety Clack

Clickety Clack

Clickety clack, a-long, a-long  (move arms like train wheels)
A train is coming, a-chonk, a-chonk
Clickety clack a mile away  (peer with hands over eyes)
It hasn't a second of time to stay  (tap wrist)

It sing a noisy rackety song  (hold hands over ears)
A rickety-rockety-rackety song
"Get off the track, it isn't where you belong!"  (hitch thumb to side)

Over the bridge and across the lake  (ride hand up and down an imaginary track)
A mile a minute it has to make
A clickety snake with clackety eyes  (wiggle arm like snake then hold hands like binoculars)
It wriggles and jiggles along the ties  (wiggle whole body)

It sings a noisy rackety song  (hold hands over ears)
A rickety-rockety-rackety song
"Good-night little baby, in bed is where you belong ... sshhhhh!"  (pretend to sleep)

I have presented Clickety Clack as an action rhyme for older toddlers and preschool-age kiddos, calling the whole body into the game.  This fun interplay between words and body movements provides great gross motor skill practice.  When children begin to learn how to write, they need to have good hand and eye coordination as well as upper-body muscle development.  Clickety Clack is a wonderful example of how action rhymes can help prepare kids for later success in writing!  Be patient, it may take a few tries before kids begin to master the movements.

For caregivers with younger children, this rhyme can work just as well as a lullaby.  Forget the big body movements and simply pat out the rhythm on your lap.  The sounds in the words compliment the soothing and repetitive sounds of a train so perfectly!  Slow down your pace, add an occasional "hush" and you're good-to-go!  In her must-read book Reading Magic, Mem Fox says that "Songs and rhymes provide comforting rhythms in children's early lives ... They are the natural extension to the heartbeat of the mother and the rhythmic rocking of a child in loving arms or in a cradle."  Yep.  That about sums it up.

For alternate versions of this rhyme and some interesting history, visit here and here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Visiting Storyland, Pt. 2

The second Storyland title we will look at is The Snowy Day. Written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats, it was originally published in 1962 and received the American Library Association's Caldecott Medal for distinguished illustrations in 1963.

Before I go any further, I must say I absolutely love The Snowy Day!!  I have loved it since I was very young.  These days (as an adult) I love it because I find it to be a perfect snapshot of what it's like to be little.  It shows a kid creating fun from the world around him.  He doesn't worry about shoveling the walk.  He doesn't fret about his commute and how the snow will make it difficult (what commute?).  He simply enjoys himself! 

As a child, I loved the story because it reminded me of all the fun things I used to do whenever it snowed (where I grew up, snowy days were fairly common).  For a little kid, waking up to a snow-covered world is every bit as exciting as waking up to a holiday.  Maybe even more so in that it is totally unexpected.

In The Snowy Day, Peter wakes up to discover his world has changed over night.  He spends the whole day doing just about everything you can with snow.  He crunches through it while making all kinds of tracks, he peeks in on the wildness of a big kids' snowball fight, he makes a snowman & snow angels, he even goes sliding down a slippery hill.  Snow is a nonstop source of fun and amazement!  In fact, Peter has so much fun, he tries to hold on to the magic and joy by bringing a snowball home in his pocket.

There are two really cool things about The Snowy Day that I want to point out. 

First, there are some really fun words to read out aloud: "Crunch, crunch, crunch" go Peter's feet.  He drags his feet "s-l-o-w-l-y."  And the snow falls down "plop!" on his head.  When you say these words, emphasize the sound that they describe.  Say "slowly" as slowly as you can.  When you do this, you will be calling attention to the sounds that make up the words.  We call a child's ability to hear the smaller sounds in words phonological awareness.  It is a super-important skill that helps kids become successful readers.

Second, when Peter plays in the snow by pointing his toes in and out and when he drags his feet and stick, he is practicing the act of writing!  How cool is that?

You can reinforce the writing tie-in with a very fun activity: finger paint the story!!

Here is a quick and easy homemade recipe for finger paint (borrowed from the easie peasie blog):

Make up some finger paint and have your children show you the story.  They can dip their pointer fingers into the ooey gooey paint and pretend to make Peter's tracks on paper.  They can point their fingers in to show how the toes pointed in!  They can point their fingers out to show how the toes pointed out.  They can drag their fingers "s-l-o-w-l-y" to show how Peter made long continuous tracks!  Glue on a few cotton balls to emphasize the texture of snow and you've got yourselves an instant masterpiece!!

Playing with finger paint like this helps kids remember the story while also helping them practice the fine motor skills that kids need when they begin to learn how to write.

The Storyland exhibit is on display at the Portland Children's Museum until May 5, 2013.  Visitors can walk in Peter's tracks and hear the crunch of snow!  They can even make snow angels and dress a snow man!  Contact your local Washington County library today to arrange to check out a Cultural Pass.

Here are a couple of my all-time favorite classic snowy picture books:

Title: Froggy Gets Dressed
Author: Jonathan London
Illustrator: Frank Remkiewicz
Find this book at your library

Froggy is so excited to play in the snow he keeps forgetting something every time he tries to get dressed!
Title: Katy and the Big Snow
Author: Virginia Lee Burton
Find this book at your library

Katy is a big red crawler tractor.  When a big snow hits the city of Geopolis, Katy chug-chug-chug's the city out of trouble!  If you get in the right rhythm and play up the chugging, this book is so fun to read!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Fingerplay Fun Friday!

Today we feature a cumulative song that is just as much fun chanted as sung: I Had Me a Rooster

I Had Me a Rooster

I had me a rooster and the rooster pleased me
I fed my rooster under yonder tree
My little rooster said
Cock-a-doodle doo

(add other animals and build the song)

I had me a pig and the pig pleased me
I fed my pig under yonder tree
My little pig said
My little rooster said

I had me a cow and the cow pleased me
I fed my cow under yonder tree
My little cow said
My little pig said
My little rooster said

(keep adding animals until you can't remember the order!)

This is one of my favorite game songs ever!  It is very interactive and super-fun.  Try asking your kids to help pick the animal that comes next.  I have heard some crazy animal suggestions over the years.  For example, what kind of sound do you think an octopus makes? 

The absolute best I've heard:

I had me a pigeon and the pigeon pleased me
I fed my pigeon under yonder tree
My little pigeon said ".........Hey! Can I drive the bus?!?!"

For really little kids, it's a fun way to introduce lots of different animal sounds.  The cumulative nature of the rhyme makes it a memory challenge perfect for nearly any age from toddlers on up.  For older kids, you can keep building and building until no one can remember the correct reverse order.  Remembering the correct order of things is part of the early literacy skill we call narrative skills.  Mastering this ability will help kids make predictions when the begin to learn how to read.

This song has floated around in the American folk tradition for a very long time.  Variations include "Bought Me a Cat" and my personal favorite, Cisco Houston's "Yonder Tree".

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Visiting Storyland, pt. 1

The Tale of Peter Rabbit

Beatrix Potter's story of naughty little Peter Rabbit and his misadventures in Mr. McGregor's garden is such a wonderful place for us to start our journey into Storyland.  The oldest of the titles in the Portland Children's Museum's Storyland exhibit, The Tale of Peter Rabbit has held a popular place in children's literature since its original publication in 1901.

What sets Peter Rabbit apart from other books for children is its almost perfect blend of tension and excitement.  Spirited children can easily identify with Peter's compulsive need to test boundaries.  When his mother sends him out to enjoy the day, the first thing Peter does is exactly what he was told not to do! 

For young children, testing boundaries is precisely the way they learn about how the world works.  We have all seen this type of behavior before: A child is told not to pull kitty's whiskers.  What is the first thing they run to do?  Pull kitty's whiskers, of course!

In early literacy circles, we call a child's knowledge of how things in the world work their background knowledge.  Basically, it is the sum of all their experiences and it sometimes requires very concrete experiences to show children why they should behave in a certain way, like listening to the advice of their caregivers.  The Tale of Peter Rabbit is a great example of this in practice.

Here is a fun little activity to help kids explore The Tale of Peter Rabbit.  After reading the story, try acting it out.  Practice at remembering the correct order that things happened.  First, Peter's mother warned him to stay out of Mr. McGregor's garden, then Peter ran off and sneaked under Mr. McGregor's fence, etc. 

After you've had loads of adventures losing shoes and hiding in water cans, ask your children to help you act out the same story from the point of view of Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail.  After your mother warns you to stay out of Mr. McGregor's garden, you will get to spend the rest of the day gathering blackberries and then at the end of the day you will get to eat them!

Acting out stories and looking at them from other perspectives helps kids develop their background knowledge.  It also turns the story into a fun and entertaining personal experience.  We call a child's enjoyment of books print motivation.  This is perhaps the most important habit that can carry a child into a lifelong love of books and reading!

The Storyland exhibit is on display at the Portland Children's Museum until May 5, 2013.  Visitors can play at sneaking under Mr. McGregor's fence and exploring his garden.  They can even find Peter's lost clothes and dress the scarecrow!  Contact your local Washington County library today and arrange to check out a Cultural Pass.

Before I go, here is a quick list of some of my favorite picture books about naughtiness:

Title: Be Gentle with the Dog, Dear!
Author: Matthew J. Baek
Find this book at your library

Elisa is a very sweet little baby... when she is asleep.  When she's awake, she anything but gentle with Tag, the lap dog
Title: Little Bunny Foo Foo
Author: Paul Brett Johnson
Find this book at your library

The classic tale of a naughty little bunny who terrorizes field mice and repeatedly ignores the Good Fairy's warnings.
Title: No, David!
Author: David Shannon
Find this book at your library

No book cover has ever done a better job introducing a character.  David is the definition of naughtiness!
Title: Is Everyone Ready for Fun?
Author: Jan Thomas
Find this book at your library

The cows are ready for fun.  Are you?  I'm sorry to report that chicken's sofa is not.
Title: Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
Author: Mo Willems
Find this book at your library

Even though he has been told "no" time and time again, the Pigeon is very insistent that he be allowed to drive the bus!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Happy Birthday Theodor Seuss Geisel!!

Dr. Seuss!!!  What more can you say?  His name is synonymous with quality in children's books. 

Some would argue that he was the first author to write directly to and for young children.  He didn't write for adults and their conception of what young children should like.  His playfulness is still second-to-none!

It is nearly impossible to pick just one Dr. Seuss book that stands above the others.  They are all perfect in their own way.  Here is my (at-this-moment) five favorite Dr. Seuss books... I lead off with my 14-month-olds favorite:

 Title: Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?
Author: Dr. Seuss
Find this book at your library

Mr. Brown can make all kinds of fun sounds... like lightning: SPLATT!!! It is so much fun to make sounds with Mr. Brown!

Title: Fox in Socks
Author: Dr. Seuss
Find this book at your library

Few books are this fun (or challenging) to read aloud.  If you can make it the whole way through without a slip-up, your audience will be left speechless!

Title: Hop on Pop
Author: Dr. Seuss
Find this book at your library

Learning to read was never this silly before (or since).  I "cut my teeth" on this book as a little guy.  Absolutely hilarious!!

Title: I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today! and Other Stories
Author: Dr. Seuss
Find this book at your library

Every little kid will recognize themselves in this delightful story about a little boy who can fight 30 tigers... except that really there are good reasons why he shouldn't fight any of them.

Title: One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish
Author: Dr. Seuss
Find this book at your library

I love rhyming language!  This fits right in with Hop on Pop as a perfect example of a beginning reader.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Fingerplay Fun Friday!

Following up on last week's presentation of Little Red Wagon, we offer an alternate lap-bounce version of the infectious rhyme that lets us build on the excitement as we lift baby into an airplane ride and race baby around in a race car: Bumpin' Up and Down.

Bumpin' Up and Down

Bumpin' up and down in my little red wagon
Bumpin' up and down in my little red wagon
Bumpin' up and down in my little red wagon
Won't you be my darlin'?

Flyin' up high in my little red airplane
Flyin' up high in my little red airplane
Flyin' up high in my little red airplane
Won't you be my darlin'?

Zoomin' all around in my little red race car
Zoomin' all around in my little red race car
Zoomin' all around in my little red race car
Won't you be my darlin'?

I love how this lap bounce lets us move baby around in a gentle, yet big way.  To anyone who has enjoyed a collicky baby, this combination of sing-song language and big movement will feel very natural.

For the first four months of life, my little guy was extremely fussy.  I loved finding rhymes like this to help me build a connection, share language and rhyme, and help soothe all at the same time.  Best of all, I could rest assured knowing that I was fulfilling my fatherly duty of providing my little guy with a rich language experience that would help him develop a later love of books and reading.

One word of note: if you have a very little baby, be extremely gentle and provide constant support when lifting and bouncing so as not to put undue stress upon a developing neck.