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Posts Tagged ‘Literacy’

Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member Lee Scott’s Favorite Children’s Books

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By Lee Scott
Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Trying to narrow down all the books to my top three is a difficult task. I love children’s literature and how it is one of the best learning tools we have. I have always said, “Give me a great book and some recycled materials, and I can teach from that book for a week.” That approach is the foundation for The Goddard School Life Lesson Library. We have so many wonderful stories to choose from that were submitted by Goddard faculty members across the country. However, since the task is to narrow it down to three, here it goes.

The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway. I love this story, not just because it was written and wonderfully illustrated by my amazing cousin John, but also because it is an original “it takes a village” story. Everyone works together to solve a problem using their unique skills and talents. It is a story of overcoming a fear and of collaboration, engineering, humor and creativity. You truly can teach from this book for a week.

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The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. This book is now a classic tale of hope and belief. It also teaches the consequences of good and bad behaviors. My husband read this to our boys every Christmas. Even though they are grown, we still put the book out every year. The other part of this story is the wonderment at the engineering, science and technology in Santa’s village. I also love how the story emphasizes caring for others and appreciating the uniqueness of each person. There is a lot one can learn from this book.

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One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey. Since I’m from Maine, this is one of my favorite stories, and I have enjoyed all of McCloskey’s award-winning books for years. Although written many years ago, this tale is still relevant today. Sal learns to overcome losing a tooth, explores the world around her and becomes creative as she plays along the coast of Maine. I also appreciate big sister Sal helping her little sister Jane. It is a fairly long story for little ones, so I recommend reading it in parts.

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Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member Helen Hadani’s Favorite Children’s Books

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By Helen Hadani, Ph.D.
Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

My two daughters are now teenagers, but I still remember our overflowing bookshelves filled with picture books and stories that my husband and I read to our children more times than we care to remember. Here are three of my favorites: 

  • Hug (Jez Alborough) – This sweet picture book was a favorite in our house for many years. Bobo, a baby monkey, is in desperate need of a hug and visits his animal friends one by one, imploring, “Hug” with a sweet and puzzled expression. Time after time, he is turned away, so he continues his journey through the jungle. The book contains only three words – “hug, Bobo and mommy. The magic of the story is in the endearing expressions of the animals and the touching ending when Bobo finally gets a hug from his mommy. Since there are few words in the book, you tell the story a bit differently every time, and as children get older, they start to tell some of the story themselves;  

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  • Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (Mo Willems) – It is hard to pick a favorite Mo Willems book, but this one holds many special (and funny) memories for me. I can still remember my youngest daughter Grace yelling, “Noooo!” at the top of her lungs while reading this book (at bedtime, no less). The book starts with a bus driver asking your child to keep an eye on things while he’s gone and, most importantlydon’t let the pigeon drive the bus! The very clever and persuasive pigeon then tries to bribe and persuade your child to let him drive the bus. Lastly, he resorts to throwing an all-out tantrum and yells, “LET ME DRIVE THE BUS!” It’s such an engaging book that turns the tables and puts your child in charge; 

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  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Judith Viorst) – When my husband and I met, I remember him telling me that this was one of his favorite children’s books. I had, of course, read it as a child and remembered liking it, but it wasn’t until I started to read it to our daughters Ruby and Grace that I came to appreciate the message. Alexander wakes up with gum in his hair, and that is just the start of his very bad day. Everyone has bad days, and it often made me feel better reading this story to our girls so they knew why Mom or Dad might have been short with them or just out of sorts. It also helped to read the book when I knew that one (or both) of them had had a particularly challenging day. Also, the part about “third-best-friend status” always made us laugh.  

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Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member Jennifer Jipson’s Favorite Children’s Books

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By Jennifer Jipson, Ph.D.

Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

I delight in collecting picture books that teach, inspire, entertain and motivate. March is both National Reading Month and Women’s History Month, so I’ll share a few books that celebrate women’s accomplishments and inspire little ones to do big things. I hope you and your children enjoy these as much I do.

  • My Name Is Not Isabella: Just How Big Can a Little Girl Dream? by Jennifer Fosberry and Mike Litwin – In this book, Isabella imagines herself to be famous women throughout history, such as Sally Ride, Marie Curie and Rosa Parks. As you read it with your child, you will learn about how these women changed the world in their own unique ways. This is achieved with a story that is filled with humor, clever writing and engaging illustrations that provide clues about who Isabella will pretend to be next. My well-worn copy of this book is evidence of how much my family delighted in Isabella’s enthusiasm for the extraordinary achievements of women. As a developmental psychologist, I feel good that I exposed my children to role models who counteract racial and gender stereotypes;

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  • The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds – In The Dot, readers meet Vashti, a fictional young girl who is self-critical and thinks she can’t draw. One day, her teacher encourages her to make a dot with a pencil on a blank page, asks her to sign it and then frames and displays it. Her teacher’s support sparks Vashti’s confidence in her own creativity, and she goes on to paint more and more dots in increasingly innovative ways. Vashti embraces her newly unleashed creativity and inspires other children to do the same. In addition to highlighting a valuable lesson about overcoming insecurities, this book inspires children to engage in creative activities. Many schools celebrate Dot Day in which children make and display their own versions of dot paintings. At my house, our refrigerator once became a dot gallery that showcased and celebrated the creativity of our family members;

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  • Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed and Stasia Burrington – This picture book tells the story of Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to go to space. It’s an inspiring story about how Mae pursued her dream of becoming an astronaut even when others teased her or doubted her abilities. The message of staying true to yourself and persisting in achieving your goals is powerful. Another reason that I love this book is because it provides a compelling example of a woman who overcame racial and gender stereotypes to achieve her dream. Families can use this book as an opportunity to talk about prejudice and to bring to light the achievements of women of color in the sciences. Research in child development shows that openness to exploring these topics is of critical importance in helping children develop positive attitudes about diversity, yet only about 10% of families have these conversations. There are many online resources available that can help guide parents in talking about race with children.

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10 Valentine’s Day Books That Teach Kids How Wonderful It is to Love

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Because February 14 is so much more than red hearts and candy.

Valentine’s Day is around the corner and like every other holiday season, it’s the perfect time to captivate your kids through stories of delight. From tales about robotic romantic adventures, to a whimsical story about secret letters, these heartwarming books will teach your child about the many ways to express love, especially amongst family and friends.

I’ll Love You Till the Cows Come Home, by Kathryn Cristaldi and Kristyna Litten

Love knows no bounds in this delightful read aloud that sends cows to Mars and has sheep steering ships. Fun wordplay and a rhyming refrain will soon have little ones chiming in. Perfect for Valentine’s Day or saying I love you any time of year. Ages 4-8 ($15, amazon.com).

I Love You, Little Pookie, by Sandra Boynton


I Love You, Little Pookie by Sandra Boynton

With an affectionate tale and funny drawings, this book is ideal for little ones.

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Bestselling author Sandra Boynton is back with a new board book, just in time for the holiday of love. Little Pookie is one of Boynton’s most beloved characters and he is reassured over and over as mom tells him just how much she loves him on nearly every sturdy page. Ages 2-5 ($6, amazon.com).

Robot in Love, by T. L. McBeth


Robot in Love by T. L. McBeth

A robot love story with a splash of color that’ll surely catch your child’s eye.

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It’s love at first sight in this playful picture book about a robot who spots his soulmate, loses her and then finds her again. Love can look different for every one of us, and in this case the robot’s object of affection is a shiny toaster with whom he discovers various shared interests. Including toast. Very sweet! Ages 4-8 ($13, amazon.com).

The Littlest Things Give the Loveliest Hugs, by Mark Sperring and Maddie Frost


The Littlest Things Give the Loveliest Hugs, by Mark Sperring and Maddie Frost

Nothing is cuter than a snuggly tale from your favorite animals.

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Bright and colorful, this picture book celebrates hugs across the animal world. From snuggly seals to beetle bug hugs, these little critters are all happy to be with their families, sharing an embrace. Warm, rhyming text opens the door for telling our own little ones how much their hugs mean to us. Ages 3-6 ($13, amazon.com).

How Do I Love Thee? by Jennifer Adams and Christopher Silas Neal


How Do I Love Thee? by Jennifer Adams and Christopher Silas Neal

A sweet ode to beloved friends and family.

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A delightful reimagining of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnet 43” with its famous opening lines, as a trio of children explore their world and the love of friends and family around them. Christopher Silas Neal’s illustrations carry the poetry of Browning’s words beautifully. A book to keep … Ages 4-8 ($16, amazon.com).

Love, Z, by Jessie Sima


Love, Z by Jessie Sima

Home is where the heart is in this adorable adventure.

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A mysterious message in a bottle and the young robot who finds it spark a remarkable exploration of what love means, and all the ways we can express love for one another. Charming and uplifting, this picture book is a joy to read and share all year round, and especially for Valentine’s Day. Ages 4-8 ($13, amazon.com).

Duck and Hippo The Secret Valentine, by Jonathan London and Andrew Joyner


Duck and Hippo The Secret Valentine, by Jonathan London and Andrew Joyner

This heartfelt story teaches kids about kindness and sharing.

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It wouldn’t be Valentine’s Day without valentines! A humorous story of secret valentines and speculation that culminates in a delightful heart-filled celebration where everyone is welcomed. An entertaining holiday read aloud. Ages 3-7 ($14, amazon.com).

Mirabel’s Missing Valentines, by Janet Lawler and Olivia Chin Mueller


Mirabel's Missing Valentines by Janet Lawler and Olivia Chin Mueller

A spark of unexpected kindness can bring the best of joy in this story.

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Giving Valentine’s Day cards to classmates can be scary, and Mirabel the mouse is so nervous that she accidentally drops some of her cards on the way to school. Her mistake brings some folks unexpected moments of joy thinking the cards were meant for them. A sweet story about how a small kindness can make a big difference for others and ourselves. Ages 3-7 ($12, amazon.com).

A Caboodle of Cuddles, by Roger Priddy


A Caboodle of Cuddles by Roger Priddy

A visually captivating book with raised pictures for your child to check out on every page.

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Perfect for tiny hands to explore, this board book about cuddles and families has bright, raised illustrations that fit together for lots of interactive fun. A Valentine’s Day treat for little ones. Ages 1-3 ($8, amazon.com).

A Hug is for Holding Me, by Lisa Wheeler and Lisk Feng


A Hug Is for Holding Me by Lisa Wheeler and Lisk Feng

Your child’s curiosity will surge as they explore the meaning of hugs in this lyrical tale.

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A unique way of looking at nature, where hugs can be found nearly everywhere if we know how to look. A nest can be a hug in a tree, a seashell is a hug in the sea; each page is thoughtful and will help little ones see their world in a whole new way. Interspersed between the pages about nature are all the things a hug between this father and daughter mean to them: safety, home, love. A tender tribute to the humble hug. Ages 3-5 ($11, amazon.com).

 

This article was written by Seira Wilson of Amazon.com from Working Mother and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

The Easy Way Busy Parents Can Boost Their Kid’s Language Skills

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It’s not just talking to them a lot.

When teaching kids language skills, it makes sense to expose them to as many words as possible through lots and lots of talking. However, a new study found a strategy that may be even more effective.

Research published in the journal Psychological Science suggests that back-and-forth conversations make more of an impact in developing Broca’s area, the region of the brain most closely associated with speech, than teaching kids many words, Scientific American reports.

The study, led by John Gabrieli, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, involved 36 children, ages 4 to 6, from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. Researchers first used standardized tests to evaluate the children’s verbal ability, then evaluated kids’ brains using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while the child listened to 15-second stories. Finally, they examined the communication at home between adults and kids for two days, measuring adult and child speech, and back-and-forth verbal exchanges separated by no more than five seconds, called “conversational turns.”

During the experiments, researchers found that a child’s verbal ability score increased by one point with every additional 11 conversational turns per hour.

For Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, Psy.D., the director of the Infant Language Laboratory at Temple University, who was not involved in the study, the new findings provide a much-needed missing link in our understanding of language and learning. Dr. Hirsh-Pasek tells Scientific American, “We have known for quite a while that conversational turns—or what in my work we call conversational duets—are very important for building a foundation for language and maybe for learning generally. What hadn’t been done is to link it where we knew it had to be linked—to changes in the brain.”

The research confirms that parents should do do more than just babble at kids; it’s also about connecting with them and encouraging them to engage. “If we learn better how to follow the eyes of our child and comment on what they are looking at, we will have strong language learners,” Hirsh-Pasek says. “And language is the single-best predictor of school readiness—in math, social skills and reading skills. It is the foundation for learning.”

According to Scientific American, the findings confirm the conclusion of several studies suggesting that socioeconomic status is related to the number of words a child learns in their developing years, namely that there is a 30-million-word gap between the poorest and the richest children. The study is also noteworthy because it indicates that conversational turns have a stronger correlation to the development of Broca’s area than a child’s socioeconomic status.

It may be good news for busy working parents. Instead of drilling your kids with tedious flashcards to improve their vocabulary, have a fun and meaningful conversation instead.

 

This article was written by Maria Zaldivar from Working Mother and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

17 Children’s Books To Read To Your Kids In Honor Of Women’s History Month

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Celebrate Women’s History Month during family reading time with the books below.

Penguin Random House/Little Brown Young Readers

March marks Women’s History Month, and if you’re looking for a way to celebrate the many accomplishments of women with your family (little ones included), children’s books can offer a fun and informative history lesson.

Of course, a month isn’t nearly enough time to celebrate all that women have done in science, sports, and other fields, so you’ll want to keep these titles handy all year. Here are 17 kids’ books inspired by trailblazing women. 

“Rad American Women A-Z”

City Lights

The title sums this book up. Following the alphabet, kids can learn about the many women, including Billie Jean King and Angela Davis, who made great contributions to American history. (By Kate Schatz, illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl)

“Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?”


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Square Fish Books/Macmillan

Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? tells the story of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S. Author Tanya Lee Stone is also the mind behind Who Says Women Can’t Be Computer Programmers? (Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman)

“Are You An Echo?”


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Chin Music Press

Are You An Echo? weaves the work of Japanese poet Misuzu Kaneko with her life story in a bilingual book. (Illustrated by Toshikado Hajiri, text and translation by David Jacobson, Sally Ito, and Michiko Tsuboi) 

“Women In Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed The World”


Penguin Random House

Kids interested in STEM (and even those who aren’t) will love reading about the many women, including primatologist Jane Goodall and mathematician Katherine Johnson, who made their mark on several different scientific fields. (Written and illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky)

“Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story”


Abrams Books for Young Readers

In this picture book, author and illustrator S.D. Nelson, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the Dakotas, shares with kids the story of Buffalo Bird Girl, a Hidatsa Indian who lived during the 1800s.

“Here Come the Girl Scouts!”


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Scholastic

Shana Corey shares the history of the Girl Scouts and the organization’s founder, Juliette Gordon Low. (Illustrated by Hadley Hooper)

“Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed The World”


HarperCollins

This book includes the stories of women who made their mark on the world early on. It features Ruby Bridges, the inspiring 6-year-old who helped desegregate an all-white school in the South, and Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space. The book, as noted on the cover, is “illustrated by 13 extraordinary women.” (By Susan Hood)

“Dolores Huerta: A Hero To Migrant Workers”


Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing

In this book by Sarah Warren, labor activist and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta takes the center stage. (Illustrated by Robert Casilla)

“The Youngest Marcher”


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Simon & Schuster

In The Youngest Marcher, kids will meet Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Civil Rights activist who taught the world you’re never too young to make a difference. (By Cynthia Levinson, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton)

“Frida Kahlo”


Lincoln Children’s Books/Quarto Group

This book teaches kids about the life of artist Frida Kahlo, and is part of the “Little People, Big Dreams” series, which highlights extraordinary women. (By Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Gee Fan Eng)

“Shark Lady”


Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Shark Lady includes a title many kids will love as well as the story of Eugenie Clark, a famous marine biologist who adored sharks and their fellow friends under the sea. The title comes from the nickname Clark earned for her work. (By Jess Keating, illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns)

“Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls”


Timbuktu Labs

Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls is a wildly popular book that started as a Kickstarter project and is filled with stories of trailblazing women paired with illustrations from women artists. Timbuktu Labs released the second volume last year.

“Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker”


Chronicle Books

Kids can learn about Josephine Baker, an African-American singer, dancer, and Civil Rights activist, in this picture book written by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Christian Robinson.

“Malala’s Magic Pencil”


Little, Brown Young Readers

Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist for girls education and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, tells her own story in Malala’s Magic Pencil. (Illustrated by Kerascoët, a joint pen name for Sébastien Cosset and Marie Pommepuy)

“Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History”


Little, Brown Young Readers

Little Leaders informs kids about black history and the women who made it, including abolitionist Sojourner Truth and poet Maya Angelou. (Written and illustrated by Vashti Harrison)

“Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909”


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HarperCollins

Brave Girl tells the story of Clara Lemlich, a leader of the women’s labor movement who helped guide the Uprising of the 20,000 shirtwaist workers strike that began in 1909. (By Michelle Markel, illustrated by Melissa Sweet)

“Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows In The Bronx/La Juez Que Creció En El Bronx”


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Simon & Schuster

This bilingual book shows kids how Sonia Sotomayor persevered to become the first Hispanic U.S. Supreme Court justice. (By Jonah Winter, illustrated by Edel Rodriguez)

 

 

This article was written by Taylor Pittman from Huffington Post and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

National Reading Month

Encourage your child to read a little more at this time of year to celebrate National Reading Month. Children’s imaginations are stimulated by reading about fictitious characters and magical worlds. Whether your little learner is interested in cars and trains or wicked witches and goblins, you can find books about any topic; if you can’t find one, create your own.

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Another great way to celebrate this month is by writing your own story with your child and then reading it aloud with her. Here’s a template to help you and your little one get started creating her very own story. Talk with her about what each highlighted word means and watch her mind come up with a word to fill in the blank.

Once upon a time, there was a(n) ­­­­­animal named, boy’s name. He is number years old and lives in place. Same boy’s name and his friend Sam get together every day of the week and take a walk in the place. The two friends laugh and play fun activity together until it is time to go home. When the day is over, same boy’s name goes home to eat type of food for dinner, with his family. After dinner, he sits in his color chair and reads favorite bedtime story with his family. The End.

Jogging Memories with a Journal

As your children begin to learn to write, encourage them to keep a journal. This practice will enhance their arithmetic skills while allowing them to create memories from their childhood. Many of us might not have clear memories of when we were young. By encouraging your little ones to record their favorite remembrances and exciting milestones, they will have pages of memories on which to reminisce.

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Begin by asking your children to write a great, funny or inspiring thing that happens to them each day. Doing this will also boost their moods by noting uplifting things that are surfacing in their lives.

Language and Literacy Series: Reclaiming the Joy of Reading in the Age of Distraction

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

My own love of reading was cultivated in an era with fewer distractions than today. At that time, all of our play was physical and concrete – we played with hands-on toys and games, we rode bicycles and played outside (which held opportunities for all sorts of mischief). I recall putting on plays, having visceral experiences with art supplies, some television, and boys readinglots of books. Reading offered both privacy and companionship, an opportunity to focus and contemplate, but also indulge the imagination.

I realize now that there was a special kind of innocence wrapped up in these memories. During my own childhood, distraction was the murmur of the radio or television, or the sight of something fleeting that simply “caught your eye.” Things are different today. Adults and children are caught in a blizzard of digital noise streaming from various devices that constantly compete for our attention, disrupting our focus. There is no doubt that this new reality has impacted the way we read and engage with books.

Daniel Goleman, a psychologist best known for spotlighting emotional intelligence, has noted that the deluge of distractions can have far-reaching effects. Speaking to KQED’s Forum, he explained “because attention is under siege more than it has ever been in human history, [and] we have more distractions than ever before, we have to be more focused on cultivating the skills of attention.”

According to Goleman, the neural circuitry that registers attention in the prefrontal cortex of the brain is identical to the circuits that govern executive functioning, which includes the ability to manage distressing emotions and to feel empathy.

Medical research has identified clinical conditions that may interfere with a child’s ability to focus, but to tackle real-world distractions, there are things we can do at home and in the classroom to minimize the noise and create an environment conducive to experiencing the magic of reading.

With this in mind, what can we do to foster a love of reading in our children that stems simply from the sheer pleasure and joy that a great story provides?

Here are five easy ways to create a distraction-free reading zone for kids.

  1. Create a Dedicated Reading Space: Create a reading environment free of clutter. The fewer objects that can capture your child’s attention, the better.
  2. Get Comfy: Have a comfortable chair or cushion for children and adult readers to sit on. The physical comfort helps kids relax their bodies, which in turn facilitates attention and focus.
  3. Start a Reading Ritual: Ritualize the opportunity to read. For very young children, the ritual of a bedtime story is the enchanting portico that leads to more reading. Consecrating the event early on acknowledges that reading time is special, even as children get older and read on their own. Having a special hat to wear or a pillow to sit on just for reading designates that reading time is distinct from other activities.
  4. Take Time to Share: Give your child ample opportunity to share what they have read. Remember, a joy shared is doubled! Ask some simple questions about your child’s reading experience to encourage engagement: Who was your favorite character? What did you like about the story? How did the book make you feel?
  5. Be a Reading Role Model: Model a love of reading. Whether you show your kids the stack of books on your night table, or point out how much you love to read the newspaper with your morning coffee, highlighting the ways that reading enriches your life will help them understand the importance and enjoyment of literacy.

It is important for adults to find some quiet space amidst the distractions as well. I heard a story the other day that offered a vivid reminder of this concept: A four-year-old girl learned how to make the color green in school, mixing yellow and blue paints to create a series of green hues. With carbonated excitement, she couldn’t wait to show her father. But when he came home, he was concentrating on his cell phone. He finished a call and then began to text. The child’s efforts to capture his attention were futile until, with her art work in one hand, she gave a good, hard tug on the leg of his pants. Her father then looked down and said, “Sara, what are you doing down there?” To which she replied, “Daddy, I live down here.”

To create an environment that is conducive to concentration, young children need our undivided attention. By finding and nurturing those simple moments of focus, we can enjoy “living” in our children’s worlds and be present as they share in ours.

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!