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April 7, 2014

Where are the “Mommy and Me Groups” for Parents of Middle Schoolers? -- My Messy Beautiful

I get invited to share information about signing with babies at a lot of “Mommy and Me” groups for parents of infants and toddlers. The new parents bundle up their babies and slog their tired butts into these meetings to openly share their trials, tribulations, and success stories with strangers.

I’ve noticed some things about these conversations:

1) The discussion topics are similar from group to group and have remained fairly consistent over time. (I’ve been visiting these groups for nearly 15 years, and parents consistently talk about crying and sleep issues, nursing and feeding concerns, daycare and return to work logistics, health and safety matters, and developmental milestones).

2) Parents are willing to share their difficult experiences unabashedly. They talk about how long their babies cry night after night, how projectile their spit up is, and how explosive their diapers are.

3) Parents are interested in the experiences and ideas offered by their peers. If someone is preparing to return to work, the group facilitator turns the issue back to the group and asks other parents who have already returned to work for their input and perspective. Parents with experience with the situation gladly offer their perspectives. 

4) I love visiting these groups. I feel extremely confident, experienced, and nostalgic when I listen to new parents discuss their concerns. It’s all I can do to resist the temptation to chime in and share my own war stories, solutions and disasters. My years of parenting infants and toddlers are more than a decade behind me. All the things that seemed so difficult and unfamiliar then seem so familiar and manageable now. Part of this is because I’ve already lived through it, (and part of it is likely because the passage of time has numbed my recollection of the painful aspects of those early years of parenting).

5) Those types of open, honest (and facilitated) conversations with other parents seem to peter out about the time kids start preschool, and they are essentially non-existent for those of us parenting kids in middle school and high school. If there was ever a stage of parenting where I’ve felt the need for encouragement and support, it is the middle school years (6th grade is a doozy for our family)!

It’s not that there aren’t resources for parents of older children. There are classes and counselors, websites, and workbooks, but I’ve yet to see parent support groups for older families modeled after the “Mommy and Me” format that is so widely available for new parents.

In my experience, parents don't completely stop talking to each other as our kids grow up, but the conversations are more filtered and skew toward the positive as time passes on. We talk about how our kids are doing in school and on their sports teams. We talk about their after school activities and summer camp experiences. We talk about the logistical challenges of juggling work responsibilities, carpools, and meal preparation, but we don’t talk about the horrible meltdown our child had over the weekend, or the hurtful words that were spewed at us in a fit of teen rebellion, or the concerns we have about our child being socially awkward, resistant to personal hygiene, or afraid of going to the doctor. 

These topics don’t come up as readily when we chit chat during soccer games or bump into each other at the grocery store. They don’t come up when we share a glass of wine or cup of coffee with other parents—particularly if those other parents have kids our kids’ age. And they certainly don’t come up in our social media outreach. Seriously, when was the last time a Facebook friend posted something along the lines of: “Today my middle-schooler threatened me physically, then looked me in the eye and said she hates me. I’m heartbroken, angry (and a little bit scared). Would love some advice for how to navigate this age and stage.”?

I think one of the reasons we are more hesitant to share our dirty laundry as our kids get older is that we want to protect them. We don’t want to “out” them to the world. My kids have done some pretty rotten and embarrassing things. There is a little part of me that thinks others won’t be as forgiving as I am, or that others won’t be able to see beyond their uglies once they hear some of our family stories. More truthfully, however, is that I too am afraid of being judged. I worry that the challenges I’m experiencing with my own children are a reflection on my parenting skills. I worry that I’m the only parent whose child has thrown a full-on temper tantrum at the age of twelve. I worry that the challenging parenting moments I experience in the privacy of our home are unique to our family, and that other households are more peaceful and pleasant and perfect.

I think I need a “Mommy and Me” group for middle school. I want to slog my tired butt into a meeting room and share my trials, tribulations and success stories with strangers. I want to hear that others are struggling with the same types of things I’m struggling with, and I want the opportunity to feel confident and share my perspective when someone is experiencing something I’ve navigated successfully. That said, I don’t think I want my kids at these meetings--I’m not ready for them to find out how close I am to giving in to their daily dose of irrational demands!

I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences. If you have older kids, are you involved in a parenting support group? If so, is it comprised of strangers (initially) or of people that are part of your school/neighborhood community? Do you have a facilitator or do you self-faciliate? Has the experience been helpful? Please share!

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This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project. 
To learn more about the project,
click here, and to learn about the 
New York Times Bestselling Memoir, Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, click here


March 12, 2014

A Conversation with Young Writers

One of my favorite parts about school author visits is that I get to meet young readers and encourage young writers. Sometimes a "school visit" begins as an email Q & A with students. Other times, an in-person visit is the launching-off point for an ongoing conversation. Here is a sampling from a recent email exchange I had with an English Language Development teacher and some of her students (I've removed names to maintain privacy):


Hello Dawn: I have some students who would like to share some comments about their favorite parts of your books.


Image Credit: Abdo Publishing Group
"N' liked THE BEST DAY IN ROOM A
"I LIKED THE PART IN THE MIDDLE WHEN THE WERE KIDS BOUNCING BALLS." 
Thank you so much for your nice note. I like the bouncing balls page in the THE BEST DAY IN ROOM A, too! I like playing "I Spy" to find all of the balls on that page.





"A" liked FAMOUS FENTON...
Image Credit: Abdo Publishing Group
"I  LIKED THE PART AT THE START ABOUT THE GOATS IN A BOAT."
I'm glad you liked the goats in a boat page in FAMOUS FENTON HAS A FARM. That book has some tricky tongue twisters! Try reading it as fast as you can and watch your tongue get tangled!




Image Credit: Abdo Publishing Group
"K" liked THE BIG BLUE BOWL
"I LIKED THE PART WHEN THE CHICKEN PUTS FOOD IN THE BOWL."
Did you notice that the illustration on the cover of THE BIG BLUE BOWL is the same illustration that's on the page of the book where the hen is putting corn in the bowl? For each book, my editor chose an illustration she liked best, then she put that illustration on the cover of the book.


"R" liked SEE THE COLOR
Image Credit: Abdo Publishing Group
"I LIKED THE PART IN THE MIDDLE WHEN THE YELLOW ROSE."
I'm so glad you liked SEE THE COLORS. That story started as a song to my daughter back when she was a baby. She's 14 now! Did you know you could "sing" that story to the tune of "Oh My Darlin' Clementine?" Try it out! (Let your teachers know that this web page has lots of activity ideas to go along with this book).


Image Credit: Abdo Publishing Group
"J" liked THE NEST WHERE  I LIKE BEST
I LIKED THE PART WHERE THE EGGS HATCHED AND THE CHICKS WERE CUTE."
I agree that the chicks in THE NEST WHERE I LIKE TO REST are really cute . . . the only problem is that they don't look very tired, so poor Mama hen is not going to get ANY rest! That is one of my most popular books. A lot of people buy it as a gift when someone they know has a new baby.

Image Credit: Abdo Publishing Group

"B" liked TRICK OR TREAT"
"I LIKED THE PART WHEN ONE TRICK OR TREAT GROUP WAS THE CATS."
Thanks for reading ONE TRICK FOR ONE TREAT! When I first wrote that book, the title was, ONE WARTY WITCH. My editor didn't like that title, so she changed it to ONE TRICK FOR ONE TREAT. Which title do you like better?
They really loved all your books and were fascinated with the sign language! They also enjoyed your visit to their classes.
THANK YOU,
L. F., English Language Development Teacher 
Thanks for reading my books and thanks for writing to me. I enjoyed visiting your school!

And . . . I hope I get to visit YOUR school some day! For more information about school visits, click here

March 6, 2014

How to Enrich Your Learning Environment with Sign Language: Post #5

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One of the benefits of using sign language in your learning environment is that it engages multiple senses. I envision taking in new information as a process of dropping little nuggets of knowledge into different bins in our brain. I picture these bins looking a lot like old-style card catalog drawers. When we need to call upon our stored knowledge, I imagine little critters rifling through the file drawers in our brain until they find what we are looking for. I realize that's a crazy image, but that's how I see it! Suffice it to say, sign language gives young learners the opportunity to drop their little nuggets of knowledge into more than one file bin.  

Image Credit: ABDO Publishing Group 
Think about the letters b, d, and p. They are all similar in shape and sound, but they are very different signs. When you teach a child to see, say and sign the letter "b," they can clearly distinguish it from the letter "d," and they can store that knowledge in the visual, auditory and kinesthetic bins in their brain.  

Those of us who are trained as teachers and/or adult educators are familiar with Kolb's Experiential Learning Model and the importance of designing instructional activities that reach learners with different learning styles. Sign language stimulates multiple senses. When we incorporate signing into classroom routines, we can reach our visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners.

Auditory learners are just fine with all of our blah-blah-blahing, but our visual and kinesthetic learners need their other senses stimulated! That's why we usual visual aides and give our learners opportunities to touch, feel and practice. Signing incorporates all of these elements.

This past week I visited a local preschool as part of their annual Dr. Seuss Celebration. One of the stories I read was "Wear a Silly Hat."



Children made hats prior to my visit.


They heard me talk about hats.


They saw me model different hats.
They listened to me read my story about hats. And they learned and practiced the sign for hat
  
During the story time, I read, said, and signed the word hat, multiple times. Children heard the word and the melody (because we sang parts of the story), they saw the object, the word and the sign, and they could move their bodies to make the signs themselves. Multiple senses were engaged, and learning occurred. (Oh, and P.S. It was FUN!)

I'm working on getting video footage from this most recent school visit posted up to YouTube, but in the meantime, here is a clip from a previous school visit.  I'll post new video footage here as soon as it's ready.

And, for those of you who would like to lead your own silly hat story time, here are my "Start to Finish Story Time" notes for "Wear a Silly Hat." Happy Signing!

February 26, 2014

Book Notes: "What Color is Monday?" by Carrie Cariello

Image from carriecariello.com
I recently finished reading, "What Color is Monday?" a book by fellow blogger and author, Carrie Cariello. It's about the colorful experience of raising a child with autism.

Prior to reading the book, I enjoyed Carrie Cariello's blog, especially this post (about grand-parenting a child with autism) and more recently, this post (about looking for the rainbow in the darker moments of parenthood).

I was originally drawn to Cariello's book because I thought it might be good preparation for Autism Awareness Month coming up in April, and that it might be helpful for some of my clients and readers. Given that sign language is a common therapy prescribed for children on the autism spectrum (and for many other children with special learning and developmental needs), I interact regularly with parents and educators who love and work with children with special needs. Although Cariello's point of view is certainly influenced by her experiences parenting a child with autism,  I was pleased to discover that her book offers perspectives that are relevant to a broad range of parents. I have found her thoughtful essays applicable to my own parenting journey.

Although the challenges of parenting a child with identified special needs are far beyond anything I've experienced, I too struggle with the particular challenges I do encounter (sometimes daily!) in parenting the unique and special needs of each of my typically developing children. As Dr. Stephen Cowan said in this essay, "Pushing your buttons is a spiritual practice, and children are our spiritual teachers." Suffice it to say, my children are quite devout in their spiritual practice. I've been brought to my knees with frustration, cried myself to sleep, and asked the universe, "Why this?!" Cariello's book helped me remember why: Because I am just the right mama for these particular children. They hold what I need to learn, and they need what I have to offer.

I most appreciated Cariello's chapter entitled, "The Autism in All of Us." It is here where Cariello points out that we all have special needs (challenges, quirks . . . ). Indeed, these special needs/challenges/quirks are greatly amplified for people on the autism spectrum, and yet, each of us has a unique blend of special needs that is the secret sauce that makes us who we are. We are each uniquely lovable because of our special needs/challenges/quirks . . . not in spite of them. I must especially remember this perspective on the days when it is harder to find the rainbow.

I encourage you to get your hands on a copy of Cariello's book (it should be noted that she donates a portion of the proceeds from her book sales to autismspeaks.org). At a minimum, I hope you will visit her blog (I've added it to my blog roll on the right side of this page).

Oh, and here is a fun tidbit: Cariello lists her favorite books here. "Where the Red Fern Grows" (one of my childhood favorites), by Wilson Rawls, is on her list of honorable mentions. We also share several adult favorites, including "The Red Tent," by Anita Diament, and One True Thing, by Anna Quindlen.  I will encourage Cariello to read, "Bird by Bird," by Anne Lamott, my all time favorite.

February 21, 2014

Enrich Your Learning Environment with Sign Language: Post #4

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Sign language is a great way to provide "pencil practice" for young children because it stimulates fine motor development. Holding a pencil requires fine motor skills. Incidentally, so does talking (given that vocal cords are fine motor muscles).

Some people shy away from teaching babies and young children "difficult" signs because they might not be able to do them accurately. I prefer to teach kids a variety of signs, including those that might be more difficult.

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The sign for water is a classic example. You make this sign by tapping the index finger of your "W Hand" to your chin. It's hard for new little fingers (and old arthritic fingers!) to hold the pinky finger down with the thumb. It often takes several practice attempts over time before a young child will produce this sign correctly. But think about all of the brain stimulation this provides! I love watching a child's face when they are attempting/practicing a challenging sign. It's as if you can literally see the wheels turning in their brains. The same is true when they are learning to hold a pencil!

It's easy to add the sign for water to your home or classroom routine. Instead of saying, "raise your hand if you'd like some water," or "line up for the water fountain," you can say, "Show me with your signs if you'd like a drink of water." This turns transition time into learning time!


Alphabet games can also be enriched with sign language. Instead of just singing the alphabet, sing and sign the alphabet. Instead of just signing with the dominant hand, sign with the non-dominent hand. Instead of just signing the alphabet with one hand, sign the alphabet with BOTH hands. Instead of signing the alphabet at a normal pace, sign it faster, and FASTER and FASTER!  You can find loads of ideas for incorporating the alphabet signs into your learning environment in this Start to Finish Story Time Post and you can find free ASL glossaries and alphabet games/activities (for younger kids or for older kidson my publisher's website.

Happy Signing!

January 22, 2014

Start to Finish Story Time: Opposites Everywhere

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This week I continue with my "Start to Finish Story Time," series, where I provide a "start to finish" lesson plan for a sign language story time program for each of the themes covered in my "Story Time with Signs & Rhymes" books. This week's post provides a lesson plan for the theme, "Opposites," using the book, "Opposites Everywhere."

I love the theme of opposites, because it involves math skills and language/literacy skills (supporting Common Core curriculum goals). And, just like the classic lap sit game, "SO BIG" that we often play with infants and toddlers, it's so much fun, we don't even realize we're building math skills along the way!

As I explained previously, my aim with this series of blog posts is to build each lesson plan in a pick-and-choose/modular format, meaning that you can apply the elements that work for your environment, age group(s) and personal interests, and skip the rest.

Each lesson plan incorporates ideas that are suitable for infant/toddler, preschool and/or school age audiences, and each program incorporates activities that promote literacy/early literacy and one or more of the six keys skills recommended by the National Research Council for preparing children to become readers when they enter school. Programs can last from 20 - 45 minutes, depending on what you include and who your audience is.

I continue to welcome your feedback on these posts, as I will consider and apply your suggestions and ideas into future lesson plans and posts. I hope you will share your additional ideas/experiences after trying out the lesson plans, allowing others to benefit from your input. Here is this week's offering:

OPPOSITES EVERYWHERE: Sign Language for Opposites

Props/Supplies:

*Include one or more of the following to enrich the learning environment:

-Large and small balls (or an expandable ball, like this one I found at OMSI several years ago)
-Pairs of large and small stuffed animals (and/or a toy elephant and a smaller toy mouse)
-Toys that fit together and come apart, like these eggs, or cookies
-Books such as Tails by Matthew Van Fleet, that have opposite touch and feel elements, (like rough and smooth), or a collection of supplies that offer this experience
-A blanket and/or a bag for hide and find games
-Different sizes of balls/blocks/scarves for activity props and/or free play
-Black paper and white crayons as well as white paper and art supplies

Sing an Opening Song to Practice/Introduce Signs:

*I Often Sing, "This is the Way We Sign for Small/(Big), Slow/(Fast), Smooth/(Rough), Etc" to the tune of "Here We Go "Round the Mulberry Bush," but any opening song that incorporates words/signs for the opposite words introduced in the book will work.

*I find that it is more fun to introduce the signs by singing vs. simply showing the signs and asking participants to sign along/practice with you. (Click here for links to a series of past posts where I delve into the topic of singing and signing).

*Don't feel obligated to introduce/incorporate all of the opposites signs included in the book the first time you share it for a story time. Let your comfort level be your guide. At a minimum, introduce a few key words that tie into the props and/or extension activities you plan to add. There is a signing glossary at the back of "Opposites Everywhere," or you can download the glossary from my publisher by clicking here (scroll down past the Star Wars Event info and choose the glossary for Set 2). You can also refer to online resources such as ASL University/Lifeprint or Signing Savvy.

Read the "Story Time with Signs & Rhymes" Story: "Opposites Everywhere" by Dawn Babb Prochovnic, Illustrated by Stephanie Bauer.

*Before you begin reading, invite children (and/or their grown ups) to listen for the words in the story that match the words you practiced in the opening song, and to show the sign when they hear the word.  It's also helpful to point out that many of the signs are two-handed signs, and that you will be holding the book, so you will really need helpers to sign two-handed (even if you are signing one-handed).

This YouTube video provides an example of the type of introduction I offer to kids before I start reading.

Sing, Dance, and Sign Along with Some Music:

*Play music that incorporates words for opposites. I like the song, "Opposites," from the Baby Signing Time Songs Volume 4 CD, and another good one is So Big, by Hap Palmer, but any song/music that incorporates some of the opposites words that you've featured in your story time will work. (Click here for a post all about music made for signers.)

*Invite kids and their grown-ups to get up and dance to the music and do the signs for the opposite words they hear in the lyrics (and when they see you signing).

Round Out the Remainder of Your Story Time by Adding Some Quieter/Listening Activities and Some Active/Movement Activities: 

*Choose one or several of the options below to fit your participant age/attention span and program time available.

*In classroom or homeschool settings, these learning activities can be incorporated at different times during the day or even over several days.

*In library settings, different activities can be incorporated for different age groups of participants (i.e. All groups start with the basics above, but for the infant/toddler group, add another song or two and wrap it up; for the preschool group, add another story, some songs and/or music, and a game or a craft; for the school aged group, add a couple more stories, some songs and/or music, a game or two, some fun facts, and a craft).

Invite a Retelling of "Opposites Everywhere":

*Retell "Opposites Everywhere" using a toy elephant and a smaller toy mouse.  I let the kids help me retell the story (and I encourage the addition of opposites that are not in the original story, such as "inside" / "outside" /// "up" / "down" and "yes" / "no"). To encourage signing, if kids want a turn handling the toys I'm using as props (or if they want a turn suggesting a set of opposite ideas that I will "enact" with the props), my rule is that helpers have to be signers!

Read and Sign Along with Additional Stories:

*Two good (and very familiar) stories for incorporating the opposites signs are:

Opposites, by Sandra Boynton and The Foot Book, by Dr. Seuss.

Sing Songs:

*"If You're Hungry and You Know Ask for More" sung to tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It." (i.e. "If you're hungry and you know it ask for more. If you're hungry and you know it ask for more. If you're hungry and you know it, make the sign for more to show it. If you're hungry and you know it ask for more.). This song can be paired with words such as hungry/full, more/all done, hurt/fine, awake/asleep, happy/sad, hot/cold.

*"Do You Know the Sign For Smooth?" sung to the tune of "London Bridge." (i.e. "Do you know the sign for smooth, sign for smooth, sign for smooth? Do you know the sign for smooth? Show me smooth."). Sing this song, alternating between different opposites such as smooth/rough, sweet/sour, slow/fast, old/new, tall/short, open/closed, inside/outside, up/down, etc. You can enrich this activity  with pictures or props (such as a smooth block (or rock) paired with a rough rock or a piece of sandpaper) or with books that have opposite touch and feel elements, (like rough and smooth), such as Tails by Matthew Van Fleet.

*"The Blocks are in the Bag" sung to the tune of "the Farmer and the Dell." For this song you'll need a  bag of props such as blocks, balls, scarves or even board books. Begin the activity with the props inside the bag. Sing, "The blocks are in the bag. The blocks are in the bag. Hi Ho the Derry-O. The blocks are in the bag."  Now sing, "Now we'll dump them out.   Now we'll dump them out. Hi Ho the Derry-O. Now we'll dump them out."

Play Signing Games:

*Pass the BIG/small expandable ball, (I found mine at my local Science Museum Store several years ago). Have participants sit in a circle. Start the ball moving around the circle and say, "Make the ball BIG" (and show the sign for "big"). Then say, "Make the ball small" (and show the sign for "small"). Encourage the ball to move around the circle until everyone has had at least one chance to touch the ball. Some fun variations include encouraging children to make their bodies and voices BIG or small to go along with the sign and the size of the ball. If you want to incorporate a name game into this activity, you can change the words and process a bit (for example, start by saying, "It's Maddie's turn to make the ball BIG," and then allow Maddie to choose the next participant until all participants have had a turn and had their name called out).

*Sign Language Wiggle Buster: Have participants stand up. Call out for participants to engage in different opposite movements. For example, "Stomp like a BIG elephant" / "Tip-toe like a small mouse" /// "Stand tall like a giraffe" / "Be short like a little mouse" /// "Walk-walk-walk" / "Run-run-run" ///  "Move" (I use the sign for "dance" for this one) / "Stop"/// "Be loud!" / "Be quiet" /// "Stand up" / "Sit down."  Once the wiggles are out, you can read another story about opposites!

*Together/Apart. For this game I use toy eggs and/or cookies. Allow every child to have a matching pair, then say and sign together / apart. After several rounds of success you can say and sign other opposites such as high/low, over/under, inside/outside (and model for children how to interact with their props to demonstrate the words you are saying/signing. After children have completed several rounds of together/apart with their original prop, you can instruct them to pass their prop to the right / left and play some more!

NOTE: Instructions for a wide variety signing games are included in each book in the "Story Time with Signs & Rhymes" series. Instructions for "Opposites Attract," and "Sign Language Concentration" are offered on page 31 of "Opposites Everywhere."

Fun Facts:

*There are fun facts about ASL included on page 30 in each "Story Time with Signs & Rhymes" book.   Older kids particularly enjoy the fun facts, but even preschoolers, and the parents of infants/toddlers enjoy learning about ASL and/or Deaf Culture in addition to learning key signs.

*A fun fact I like to point out during the "opposites" theme is that signs to convey the degree of something are often not used. For example, to communicate that you want someone to walk slowly, you do not need to sign "walk" and 'slow." Most signers would simply sign "walk," but they would sign it more slowly than usual.

Craft Activities:

*One craft activity I enjoy for this theme is to hand out black construction paper and white crayons. The youngest of participants can use the white crayon to draw pictures and words on the black paper.  Encourage older participants to write the words for opposites included in the books you've read or activities you've facilitated, and the oldest participants can be encouraged to add illustrations or word art to convey the opposites. For example, the word "BIG" can written in big letters and the word "small" can be written in small letters; the word "fast" can be written with lines coming out of it, to imply speed, and the word "slow" can be written with the letters spaced farther apart to imply lethargy.

*Another fun activity is for participants to make their own page of opposites. Give each participant a piece of paper and art supplies and provide instructions to create drawings or collages to illustrate five different types of opposites.

Free Play Activities:

*Put out different sizes of blocks or balls or put out a selection of rocks with different textures, and allow children to do what they do best; play. Encourage parents/caregivers to engage children with questions that invite the use of opposite signs in the conversation (i.e. "Can you roll me the big ball?" "Let's put all the smooth rocks together." "Which stack of blocks is taller? Which stack of blocks is shorter?")

Closing Song:

*I typically close each story time with a song that reviews the opposites we've learned during the program. I usually sing this song AFTER I've given instructions for the craft and/or free play activities (if I have these elements planned for the program), but BEFORE I let participants transition to the craft and/or free play activities. I often sing the same song that I opened the program with (for example, "This is the Way We Sign for Small/(Big), Slow/(Fast), Smooth/(Rough), Etc" to the tune of "Here We Go "Round the Mulberry Bush," but any closing song that incorporates words/signs for the opposite words introduced in the book will work.

That wraps up this week's "Start to Finish Story Time." I hope this has been helpful, and I look forward to your input and ideas, which I will incorporate into future posts. If you are planning your own Sign Language Story Time event, be sure to check out the great resources my publisher has developed to help you plan your own event (scroll down past the Star Wars Event Info).

If you love the ideas I've shared, but would prefer that I deliver the Sign Language Story Time to your students or patrons, invite me to your school or library, or ask me about Skype visits!

Happy Signing! Dawn

January 9, 2014

The Skinny on School Author Visits

Tis the season to get inquiries about author visits! Some of these inquiries come in the form of requests to donate books and/or school visits to annual fund raising auctions. Other inquiries are from folks with a budget, (albeit typically a limited budget!), such as professional development conference coordinators, library media specialists, and/or PTO/PTA volunteers.

I thought it might be helpful to summarize commonly requested information to provide folks with a starting point. Please feel free to ask additional questions in the comments section below, or get in touch with me directly.

My author visits typically fall into one of the following areas:

Young Writer's Workshops
Sign Language Story Times
Family Literacy Nights and/or Parent/Teacher Education/Outreach

I have a more complete listing of program offerings here, and I regularly customize my visits to meet the specific learning targets requested by the school/organization.

For local visits (in the vicinity of Portland, Oregon), my standard consulting rate is $125/hour (or $100/hour for four or more consecutive hours, $600 for a full school-day visit, or $100 for two full school-day visits). If there are additional expenses  associated with visiting your location (e.g. travel expenses, extra fees I will be charged for working in your town, or lots and lots of paperwork required by your grand poo-bahs, then additional fees will be negotiated accordingly).

If your school visit spans more than one classroom or grade level, (e.g. it involves most or all of the school community) and if a school-wide book sale is facilitated/promoted by your school, then I gift a teacher in-service or a family literacy night to supplement my visit.  This "extra" programming does not need to take place on the same date as my visit, but it should be coordinated/packaged as an extension of (or a preview to) the author visit experience.

Whenever pricing is a barrier, I do my best to be flexible and creative. I never want a motivated learning community to miss out on an author visit experience because of budgetary issues. I'm typically able to find a way to work within budgetary constraints to create an author experience that is meaningful and educational for students, teachers, and families. For example, I will waive one hour of instructional fees for every 24 books that are pre-ordered directly from me at the $19.95 school/library price, (and I'll happily autograph those books at no additional charge!).

I'm regularly asked if I can donate my books and/or time to local school/organization auctions. I do honor several such requests a year in the form of classroom author visits. It's important to me that this donation of time and expertise is valued and valuable. By this I mean that I want the school/ organization to benefit financially from my gift (in the form of strong auction bids), and I want the learning community to know about (and even compete for!) the author visit opportunity.

In my experience, the best way to increase interest, bidding, and value is to have one or more teachers, librarians, or key volunteers vocally championing the classroom author visit. When teachers/librarians/ administrators let parents know that they want to "win" a classroom-based writing workshop and/or sign language story time, parents are more inclined to bid on the item(s) at the auction. It can also work to have one or more teachers "co-host" the event (e.g. "Enjoy an After School Story Time and Tea Party with Mrs. Smith and children's author Dawn Babb Prochovnic"), and then families can sign up for a "slot" at the auction as a "Pay-to-Play" type of event).

In addition to auction-based donations, each year I gift several "sign language story times" directly to classroom teachers/school libraries that have actively supported and/or promoted my work. For these visits I do ask that a book order form be sent home with students prior to or directly after my visit, (but I do not have any required minimum orders). I also offer complimentary 20-30 minute SKYPE (or FaceTime) Q and A sessions, as well as Email Q and A sessions.

For the complimentary "E-Visits" I do request that students are familiar with at least one of my books before the visit (which is easy to accomplish, since all 16 of my books in the Story Time Series are widely available in public libraries). I do not "prepare" a presentation for complimentary SKYPE/FaceTime visits. For these visits, I ask teachers (or homeschool groups) to prepare students with questions ahead of time (typically ranging from my writing process, to the names of my pets ; ), and then we engage in a back and forth exchange during our time "together." For Email "visits," I ask that the teacher summarize up to ten questions from the students, and then compile them in one email. I make every effort to respond within two weeks (and generally sooner).

I'm also currently offering free in-person author visits to local groups that are able to provide me a group/subset of students/families that are willing to participate in/assist with a filmed sign language story time (with appropriate photo/video releases signed, so the experience can be posted/shared on YouTube and/or SchoolTube). Here is a video from one such visit.



I've pasted a summary of some of my most popular young writer's workshops below. As I mentioned earlier, I have a more complete listing of overall program offerings here, and I regularly customize my visits to meet the specific learning targets requested by the school/organization. Please get in touch directly (you can use the contact form at the left, or the links at SmallTalk Learning). I hope to visit with you and your students someday soon!

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Young Writers’ Workshops:

Gotcha! How to Find and Capture Great Writing Ideas: In this “how-to” workshop, Dawn discusses how to think like a writer by doing things like reading, remembering, watching and listening to the things going on around you.

Revision Rocks!: A workshop that explores some of the actual revisions Dawn made over time in her picture book, "The Nest Where I Like to Rest," (a 2011 Oregon Book Awards Finalist) and provides participants with an opportunity to suggest revisions to one of Dawn’s current works-in-progress.

Your Pencil is Magic: A hands-on workshop that demonstrates how writing props and prompts can help you unlock the creative ideas hiding inside of you.  This workshop is based on a popular class Dawn teaches at the Oregon Writing Festival.

You’re a Poet and Didn’t Know It: How to Write Poetry When You Think You Can’t: In this workshop, Dawn shares a not-yet-published book about finding inspirations for poetry in nature, and facilitates age-appropriate poetry-writing exercises.

Write On! An Author’s Perspective on Why Writing is (Possibly) the Most Important Thing You’ll

Ever Do”: In this workshop Dawn reads her book, "There's a Story in Your Head" and shares with students why she writes and some of the rich experiences she’s had in her life because she writes. The workshop (like the book) concludes with an invitation for students to get busy writing the stories that are in their own heads.

Anatomy of a Picture Book: An informational workshop that provides a behind-the-scenes look at how picture books are made and the opportunity to have an informal Q & A with a published children's author.