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Archive for July, 2015

Language and Literacy Series: Talking with our Hands – A Hidden Key to Learning!

Susan Magsamen is the Senior Vice President of Early Learning at global learning company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt She is a member of the Educational Advisory Board for the Goddard School and senior advisor to The Science of Learning Institute and Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University.  This piece was originally published on HMH’s blog.

It just amazes me the way newborn babies come into the world as natural communicators. After their first wail, they exhibit an increasing variety of gestures and sounds; quickly becoming full-bodied, kinesthetic communicators, successfully letting us know their needs and desires through a barrage of gestures and gesticulations.

Throughout his/her early growth spurts, a young child’s gesture vocabulary expands in complex and Handsfascinating ways.  Children begin with what is called deictic gestures (pointing at actual objects), and metaphoric gestures (movements in space to represent an abstract idea, such as gesturing upward to indicate “high”).  Then, as their use of language and vocabulary become more fluid, they begin to slowly connect words to objects and abstract thoughts.  Little ones form a fully integrated relationship between gestures and words as they grow from toddlers to preschoolers. This relationship with language will continue to be refined throughout life.

Recent research in language acquisition has revealed just how important gestures are in supporting word acquisition, as well as in other learning areas, including math.  The Goldin-Meadow Laboratory at the University of Chicago, headed by Susan Goldin-Meadow, is an important research hub for the exploration of the role and value of gestures. The lab focuses on topics related to cognition, development, education and linguistics, including the study of non-verbal communication, like gestures.

In a 2011 TexXUChicago TED Talk, Goldin-Meadow makes the case that gestures not only reveal what is on a child’s mind, but can also help change a child’s mind in order to support instruction and learning. This exciting discovery reinforces and supports our innate impulse to use gesture as a way to convey meaning.

Families can play an active role in word recognition and vocabulary skills simply by incorporating gestures, creative movement and meaningful play experiences into a child’s world, whether at home or on the go! Here are five easy activities that use gesture to generate vocabulary practice and boost literacy skills over time.

  1. Trust your instincts: Use your own hands to gesture with your children.  It’s not clowning around, it’s communicating! And nothing works better than modeling.
  2. Words and actions go together: When reading, encourage your child to point to images and identify them not only with words and sounds, but also by making shapes with their hands/bodies.
  3. Sing along: When in the car, play simple songs that encourage children to use gesture and movement. There are a ton of great silly songs – remember “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”?
  4. Play: Encourage make-believe play where kids are given the opportunity to pretend and act out ideas.
  5. Practice: Try ‘Simon Says’ using gestures.  Practice is fun and it reinforces word and object recognition.

Whether you start with simple hand gestures or animated body language, by incorporating these elements into play and daily routine, you’ll be supporting your child’s literacy growth right in your own home!

Ten Things to Do During a Staycation

A staycation is a simple, cost-effective way of taking a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life without the stress of travel. Here are some fun things you can do during your staycation.

  1. Visit a museum. Walking around a museum can be a great way for you and your child to get some exercise while learning something new. The museum may also be less crowded during the week.Staycation
  2. Go to the zoo or aquarium. As with museums, a zoo or aquarium provides an excellent opportunity to learn about wildlife while enjoying a nice stroll with your child.
  3. Have a game day. Spend a day playing board games, word games or sports you and your children like. You could even keep track of who wins each game and award a prize or treat to the person who wins the most games.
  4. Create a vacation spot. Set up an umbrella in your sandbox to make a mini beach in your backyard and prepare crabs for dinner. Or set up a tent in your backyard and go camping. Just don’t forget the s’mores!
  5. See a movie. Visit your local movie theater to catch a flick with your child, or cuddle up with your child on the couch at home and watch a movie.
  6. Get together with relatives. If your child’s grandparents or cousins live nearby, make plans to have them visit for a day or meet up with them for lunch.
  7. Plan a day trip. Do you live close to the beach or a state park? Pack some snacks, water and any other supplies you might need, and enjoy the wonders of nature with your little one.
  8. Celebrate “pajama day.” Spend a day just lounging around in your pajamas with your child. You can also play games, read a few books or put on some music and have a pajama dance party. Do whatever you want…in your pajamas.
  9. Bake some goodies with your little one. Give your child a bunch of different treat options and ask him to pick one. Then work together to gather the ingredients, mix them together and cook something special.
  10. Go for a drive. Lay out a map and ask your child to choose a nearby destination to visit. You can also encourage her to keep an eye out for attractions along the way.

Tips for Your Baby’s First Days

Your baby’s first days can be quite an adjustment, especially since you might not be getting enough sleep. Remember to do the following:

  • Sleep when your baby sleeps;
  • Keep scheduled activities to a minimum. Settling into a schedule with a new baby takes time;
  • Accept help when it is offered. You can’t do everything yourself, and that’s okay;
  • Leave baby with a trusted family member or friend so you can get a few minutes to yourself;
  • Eat properly and drink lots of water. Taking care of yourself will give you the energy you need to take care of your newborn;
  • Let non-essential household chores wait. Give yourself a little leeway and enjoy your baby’s first days;
  • Set limits with visitors. This may mean insisting that visitors wash their hands before holding your baby or asking anyone who is ill not to visit until he or she feels better. Also, let friends and loved ones know the best times to visit and how much or how little time you have for these visits.

Beat the Heat with Watermelon Coolers

Summer is here and the heat is on. You and your child can beat the heat by whipping up a batch of Watermelon Coolers. They’re easy, refreshing and, most importantly, delicious!

 Ingredients

8 cups seeded ½-inch watermelon cubes
2 cups water
6 ounces frozen limeade concentrate

Preparation

Arrange watermelon cubes on a baking sheet. Freeze 30 minutes or until solidly frozen. Working in batches, blend frozen watermelon, water and frozen limeade concentrate in a blender until smooth. Serve in chilled glasses.