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December 8, 2014

Top Tips and Tricks for Signing with Your Baby or Young Child: Tip #3

Today's tip for signing with your baby or young child is, "Follow Your Child's Lead."

Take a moment to consider what your child is most interested in communicating about right now. Is your child fascinated with the candles on your table or the train you've set up in your house? Maybe you have a tree inside or there is snow or rain outside that has captured you baby's attention? What are your child's favorite activities or objects. Does your baby love eating bananas? Is your toddler preoccupied with balls or books? These are the signs to focus on in the beginning.
Image Source Here

Interact with your baby around these interests just as you ordinarily would. By this I mean, continue having conversations throughout the day that sound something like this:

"Look at the train. Here it comes again. Whoo! Whoo! You like that train, don't you?"

"Where is the ball? There is the ball! Yay! You found the ball!"

"Who wants some bananas? Yum, yum. Do you want more bananas?"

Express yourself verbally just as you normally would. The only change to your communication is to casually add a sign for key words, such as trainball, or banana. Also, as you identify particular interest-based words you want to place additional emphasis on, make a point to incorporate these words into the songs you sing and your playtime activities with your baby.

Before long, your baby or young child will actively point to objects of interest and use eye contact and grunts to let you know that they want labels for more and more of the things around them! Offering word labels will be fairly easy for you because it is something that comes naturally. ("That's a kitty. Do you want to pet the kitty?"). As you notice yourself offering word labels, make a point to look up the sign for key words, so you can easily add a sign label to that conversation the next time (and the next time) it occurs. Here are a couple of helpful online dictionaries to turn to:

Signing Savvy


Signing Time

As your baby sees you signing more often, he or she will gradually develop a signing vocabulary as well. Watch out for the FUN to come!

Feel free to reach out via the comments section below or the contact form to the left with specific questions or good news stories as your child develops a growing signing vocabulary. Also, get in touch if you would like YOUR BABY'S PICTURE to be featured in an upcoming blog post.

Happy Signing!

November 4, 2014

Top Tips and Tricks for Signing with Your Baby or Young Child: Tip #2

I've spent the last several weeks focusing on the importance of Strong School Libraries. Although #SchoolLibrariesMatter has been trending on Twitter, there is still much work to do! If you have a story to tell about the importance of school libraries, I encourage you to get involved and share your story here.  
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Today, I return my attention to another great passion of mine, Infant/Toddler Sign Language, and I'll continue with the next installment in my latest series of posts: Top tips and tricks to help you successfully sign with your baby. 

Top Tip #2: Resist the Temptation to Focus Only on Signs that Gratify You:  

We all want our children to learn to say please, thank you (and sleep!), and these are definitely great signs for you to use as your signing vocabulary grows. However, in my experience, these concepts are not the best signs to focus on in the early stages of signing. Instead, begin by focusing on the actions and objects your baby has a distinct need to communicate on a regular basis.

Babies will absolutely learn to sign please, (and they will usually learn to sign this word quite quickly). But in my estimation, what your baby is really saying when he or she signs please is,  I want, or more! Babies don't yet have the ability to distinguish between their needs and our societal niceties.  

The sign for thank you takes longer for babies to produce (often, much longer). This is not because the sign for thank you is particularly difficult to maneuver--it's not. It looks similar to blowing a kiss. The issue is that the sign for thank you doesn't generally yield anything tangible for the baby in return for producing the sign (whereas producing the sign for please often results in getting a want or need met).

I have yet to meet a baby who has woken their parents in the middle of the night just to thank them for all of the trouble they've gone through on their behalf. Babies cry in the night to convey that they want milk, or need a diaper change, or that something is hurting them (or, in the case of my daughter, that she was hungry for a banana), but babies don't wake up  their parents just to say, "thanks." It's the things they want to say to you (not the things you hope to hear them say), that babies will most likely sign first. 

All that said, it's absolutely fine to use the signs for please and thank you when you verbalize those words to your child. My point is to resist the temptation to emphasize these signs when you are first getting started, (particularly at the expense of other, more want/need-focused signs), realizing that babies tend to be most motivated to sign the words that help them get their wants and needs met.

I do have a suggestion for a fun game to play that provides an opportunity to practice the sign for thank you when your child goes through the developmental stage of giving and taking back a particular toy over and over again. You know this game. The child hands you a ball. You say thank you. Then they take it back. Then they hand you the ball. You say thank you. Then they take it back. To add signing to this playful game, just add the sign for thank you every time you say the words thank you. You can also add the object of interest if you know it. For example: "You have a ball. May I have the ballThank youUh oh. Where did the ball go? Oh, you have the ball. May I have the ball? Thank you . . ."

Want more details about using focus signs? Click here for a detailed post on the topic.

Want YOUR BABY's photo featured in this blog? Please contact me using the comments section below or the contact form to the left. 

Want more tips? Follow the blog. More tips coming soon! 

Happy Signing! 

September 28, 2014

Why I'm Passionate About School Libraries

At a recent School Library Advocacy Council Meeting, a parent of a second grader asked me to list the reasons teacher librarians are so important. I showed her an info graphic from the American Association  of School Libraries and pointed her to countless advocacy articles and research studies such as this (and this and this and this). I pointed out that Oregon's Strong School Libraries Act (HB 2586) requires school districts to account for "Strong School Library Programs," and I blathered on about reading and writing achievement, educational equity and information literacy, the fundamental importance of nurturing a lifelong love of reading and how libraries are the cornerstone of a strong democracy. I might  have started singing the national anthem, given more time.

The other parent listened patiently and took copious notes, but she said she needed something more  tangible. Maybe a power point presentation, or an organized list of benefits she could photocopy and share with the parents and other leaders at her well-resourced, tech-focused school.

I told her I'm not very good at reciting facts and figures and academic research studies and that I don't have a power point summary to share with her, but that I know from personal experience that my two children (who had teacher librarians in their schools through 5th grade and 4th grade, respectively) received life-long gifts that her daughter will not receive until licensed librarians are restored to our public schools. I told her I know this in my gut, and I know this because I've seen first-hand the "before and after."

My daughter stopped receiving library services from a full-time, licensed Teacher Librarian/Media Specialist when she entered middle school five years ago. My son stopped receiving these services three years ago when he entered the fifth grade. I'm sincerely happy with my kids'  classroom teachers, I deeply admire the principals in both of my children's schools, and I'm particularly in awe of the technology teacher at our middle school. I'm also grateful for the stellar library assistant who currently staffs our K-8 school library. (To Note: Our library assistant also happens to be a parent at our school and a public librarian by training. We are especially lucky to have her skill set in our building, given the fact that her job classification does not require a college degree and the posted pay scale for her job title begins at only $1.00 more per hour than an entry level school custodian).

My own two kids will be okay. They live in a house full of books, their mom (me!) writes books for kids and teaches classes about early literacy, and they were lucky enough to receive a foundation of support from a licensed teacher librarian in their formative primary school years. But the children entering our beloved Beaverton schools this year, and the year after that and the year after that will be at a comparative disadvantage if our school district does not restore professional librarians to our schools. The research supports this claim and my personal experience aligns with this claim.

The parent across from me put down her pencil and asked, "But what are our kids missing out on?" This is what I told her:

You daughter is missing out on Newbery Club, and a professionally administered Oregon Battle of the Books program. She is missing out on deep literature studies and lunchtime book clubs (and in some cases the ability to enter the library during lunchtime and before/after school because the library assistants are often assigned to supervise the lunchroom and/or playground). She is missing out on school author visits that are tied to and embedded in school-wide curriculum and carefully procured book collections that are developed with your child's and her classmate's interests in mind. She is missing out on having her librarian intentionally place "just the right books" face out on the shelf before her class comes in for a visit, and she is missing out on her own personal librarian putting a book into her hand and saying, "You are going to love this book. I can't wait until you can read it."

The parent's eyes actually welled up a bit. She said these programs sounded like something her daughter would especially love. She said, "What is Newbery Club?" This is what I told her:

Newbery Club is a celebration of the most distinguished books published for children each year and an opportunity for students to read and discuss books based on the Newbery Medal criteria. Every club is a little different, but the general idea is that students learn about the Newbery Medal and Newbery Honor Books and award process and many students get to hold their own Mock Newbery award celebrations. Here are a few examples of club web pages:

Elementary School (Grades 4 and 5)
Elementary School (Grades 5 and 6)
Middle School
Middle School

My daughter's Newbery Club was nothing short of spectacular. First of all, it was an honor for students to participate in the club. There was not a limit on the number of children who could participate, but participants needed to commit to reading a designated number of books from Newbery Watch Lists and agree to meet during lunch times for several weeks leading up to the actual Newbery Award announcement.

I don't remember all of the (many!) books my daughter read during Newbery season each of those school years, but I distinctly remember the two titles she predicted to win: As a fourth grader, she fell in love with Diamond Willow by Helen Frost, and as a fifth grader she was enraptured with Grace Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (which won a Newbery Honor that year). Some years before my daughter was eligible to participate in the club, she was invited to attend a tea party with author Susan Patron, the author of the Newbery Award winning book, The Higher Power of Lucky. I tried to wrangle my way into the event, but it was just for kids. I recall my daughter feeling quite special.

The students in Newbery Club did not just read distinguished books. They discussed the books. They blogged about the books. They debated the merits of the book they planned to vote for vs. the books others planned to vote for. They used technology to exchange opinions with students from other schools. They compelled friends and family members to read and discuss the books they thought were the strongest Newbery contenders. And then they selected one book to feature in a science-fair type display board.

On Newbery Night, students gathered in the school library with parents, grandparents and interested others. They stood by their book boards and met their public. Adults milled about the room and asked students to talk about their book selection and why it should win. Students gave impassioned one-on-one talks to interested adults about the books they read and why they chose the title they did. And then they ate cookies.

A few days before the actual Newbery announcements were made, students held their own Mock Newbery vote. On the mornings of the actual Newbery announcements, I distinctly remember my daughter asking me to check and see who won. She was interested. She was engaged. She was hooked on reading. She was indignant that "Diamond Willow" did not even get an honor, she was not at all surprised that "Where the Mountain Meets the Moon" received a well-deserved honor (and she acknowledged that the award-winning book that year, "When You Reach Me," by Rebecca Stead was also a good choice).

Newbery Club enriched my daughter's education in countless tangible and intangible ways. She developed critical thinking skills. She practiced debate skills. She developed public-speaking skills. She gained a stronger sense of confidence and a stronger sense of self. She made art. She consumed art. She learned to identify the marks of a strong story. She learned to budget her time. She grew as a reader and she grew as a human being.

Today, my daughter earned her lifeguard certification. She has trained as a junior lifeguard for the past several summers. To qualify to participate in the full lifeguard certification class, she was required to complete many hours of pre-requistite reading, on-line exams and rigorous swim tests. She made the cut. Over the past two weekends she completed 32-hours of intensive lifeguard training and testing. She had a bit of anxiety last night and again this morning as she worried about the risks of trying and possibly failing. But she gathered her composure. She reviewed the manual and quizzed herself on acronyms and procedures as we drove to the pool. She endured one of my pep talks and she envisioned herself lifeguarding. She earned her certification today, and I am so very proud of her. But the foundation of reading and comprehension skills she needed to prepare and succeed for this major accomplishment started many years ago. In a school with a school library full of stimulating, thought-provoking literature and a professional teacher librarian that facilitated literacy-rich, multi-layered learning experiences. Newbery Club was just one of them.

I have more School Library Advocacy stories to tell and I would love to hear your stories as well. If you have a story to tell that relates to the theme of School Library Advocacy, I would love to feature it on the School Library Advocacy Council's upcoming Blog Tour. Leave a comment below or via private message in the contact form to the left, or Click Here for more details.

September 19, 2014

Top Tips and Tricks for Signing with Your Baby or Young Child: Tip #1

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Are you looking for the secret ingredients to help you successfully sign with your baby? In this new series of posts, I'll divulge my top baby signing tips and tricks. Although the primary audience for these posts are folks who are interested in signing with preverbal infants and toddlers, the tips and tricks can be useful for everyone who is signing with young children.

Top Tip #1: Use Signs Liberally, But Select One or Two Key Signs to Focus On at a Time:  

Frequently incorporate the signs you have personally mastered into songs, games, and routine communication with your child.  Focus more deliberately on high-use words such as 'more' and 'all done,' since there are many times throughout the day your child will want to communicate these concepts to you.  With the signs you select to focus on, gently show your baby how to make the sign with their own hands in addition to using the signs yourself. Once your baby learns these signs, select new focus signs. 

Want more details about using focus signs? Click here for a detailed post on the topic.

Want YOUR BABY's photo featured in this blog? Please contact me using the comments section below or the contact form to the left. 

Want more tips? Follow the blog. More tips coming soon! 

Happy Signing! 

September 5, 2014

How My Trip To Spain Will Influence My Creative Writing Life

My blog has been quiet the past couple of months. I spent the summer traveling with my family and soaking up life experiences. Now that the kids are back to school, I'm paging through my travel journal. Reflecting. Remembering. Re-living.

After a major trip, like our visit to Spain, our family does a "debrief" to record our most/least favorite parts of the journey as well as our learnings and ah-ha moments. These notes are invaluable in guiding future travel plans.

Some of these debrief notes are practical and logistical, such as, "Flying into one city and out of another worked well for us." Some of these notes are more philosophical, such as, "If it's hard to find lodging in a 'sleepy fishing village' (because our travel dates coincide with an annual festival), realize that even if we do eventually locate lodging, there will be other factors (such as crowds, 'high season pricing' and parking difficulties) that might influence our enjoyment of that particular town. A 'sleepy fishing village' is not very sleepy during a festival."  

As I reflect on my notes, I find myself considering how my travel learnings might apply to my creative writing life. Here are some of my musings:

Travel Note: Every new town feels unfamiliar at first. That unfamiliarity is jarring and destabilizing  each and every time we arrive someplace new. But in a matter of hours we will get our bearings, and once again feel comfortable.

Experiencing the unfamiliar is one of the primary reasons I love to travel, but for me, one of the hardest parts of traveling is experiencing the sensation of instability. When I'm out of sorts, I force myself to push through the discomfort and trust that the view from the other side will be satisfying. I want to find ways to similarly push my creative writing into new, less familiar landscapes.  Let go of my inhibitions. Trust the process. Try new things.

Travel Note: Every town has something to offer. It may not be what we expected or what we hoped for, and it may not be something we fully appreciate in the moment, but each experience is a gift.

This makes me think of the feedback I receive from my writing peers and mentors. It may be hard to hear in the moment. It may not be what I expected or hoped for. It may take time for me to sort through different perspectives and see the feedback as a gift. And, upon reflection, I still may not agree with some feedback. But the nudge to reflect is a gift. It is through this reflection that I become more grounded in my stories and more confident in my own creative instincts.

Travel Note: Pack only one CARRY-ON SIZED bag per person (EVEN if we plan to check one or more of our bags). On a related note, just because it fits doesn't mean you should bring it. Heavy bags are tiresome to schlep through subways, cobbled streets, and multiple flights of narrow apartment stairs.

This makes me think about the revision process. Have I packed my story into the right-sized bag? Am I carrying around extra story weight because I found a way to cram something in that I really don't need? Have I thought about why I originally tucked certain items into my story, and how these items serve this particular journey? Have I been courageous enough to unpack and remove that which is not necessary?

Travel Note: My husband and I value balconies, verandas and window seats with a view. If the kids are already tucked into bed for the evening, or if they aren't quite ready to seize the day in the morning, our quality of 'grown-up life' is significantly enhanced if hubby and I can "be outside," but still close to our "travel home."

I'm not a patient waiter. I get stir crazy when I feel stuck. I like to go, go, go. Now. My family moves at a different pace. Breathing the outside air calms me and helps me feel more alive. Looking beyond the four walls of a rented room invigorates me. The taste of mocha is better in the crisp morning sun, and a glass of wine fills me with warmth and possibility when I'm sipping outside.

Writing for publication is wrought with waiting. Waiting for agents. Waiting for editors. Waiting for the right words to spill onto the page. Waiting for the right ending to reveal itself . . . finally. So I open the windows. I walk. I dig in the garden. I look at the mountains. I breathe in the sun. I bring my ideas outside. And then I write. Warm, and full of possibility. Calm, and alive.  

August 5, 2014

Enrich Your Learning Environment with Sign Language: Post #10

Image Copyright 2014 Dawn Prochovnic
I've collected so many good memories over the past several weeks! This summer my family had the amazing experience of visiting Spain, and we once again hosted Pablo, (last summer's exchange student), in our home. My richest memories stem from interactions with the people we met during our travels. One of those experiences greatly reinforced my perspective that sign language can bridge communication gaps (especially when communicators speak two different languages).

One evening we gathered in Pablo's grandparent's home to meet his extended family: Grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins. Pablo's youngest cousin, Eva, a preschooler, does not yet speak English (and I speak very limited Spanish). Eva was extremely shy, and seemingly a bit overwhelmed by all of the commotion at "Abuela y Pepito's" house. Her older siblings were headed off to overnight camp early the next morning, and she was being left behind to stay at "Camp Abuela."

We brought gifts for the family, including a couple of my books for the younger children. Eva opened her gift, then eyed me with curiosity from the safety of her hiding spot behind her mother's leg. I attempted to make friends with her and found myself talking in a mixture of English, Spanish, and ASL, saying things like, "Would you like to be friends? Amigas? I could read you this book. Un libro."

She eventually mustered up the courage to come sit near me, and we escaped into the world of story, exploring SEE THE COLORS together. I read some and sang some. I taught her the signs for a few colors and the word "baby," to go along with the repeating phrase, "little one." I used the sign for "where" and encouraged her to search out objects within the illustrations as I spoke enthusiastically in imperfect Español ("¿Dónde está mariposa? ¡Sí, mariposa!"). Before long, she was pointing to objects in the illustrations, signing along with me, and appearing completely at ease. When it was time to go, we waved goodbye and signed "friends" to each other as we said, "adiós."

The next day, I was told that she asked about me at bedtime and again first thing when she woke up the next morning. That following evening, we had another family gathering, (this time at Pablo's mother's house). When Eva arrived, she immediately smiled and signed "friend" to me and gave me this beautiful friendship bracelet.

This experience illustrates one of the reasons I especially love teaching sign language vocabulary to children in bi-lingual/multi-lingual learning environments. Although I may not share a verbal language with a particular child, I can communicate and build rapport almost immediately through sign language.

In classroom settings where some students (and teachers) are more proficient at speaking English, and others are more proficient at speaking a different language, incorporating sign language provides an opportunity for everyone in the class to be on equal footing. Since ASL is typically a non-native language for the students in the classroom, everyone starts as a beginner, and different children can emerge as the "top learners." I find it particularly endearing when a child who speaks a non-dominant language finds his or her "classroom voice" through sign language. Suddenly this child can be the language leader, answering questions and teaching others the signs they have mastered.

One of the things I appreciate about picture books is that children (and adults) can "read the pictures," even if they cannot read the words. When I read SEE THE COLORS with Eva, I read the words and she read the pictures. Another grown up could just as easily read the same book to her even if they could not read the English words, because they could talk about the story that is told through the illustrations and play games like, "Where is the mariposa?" like I did. As an added bonus, the sign language glossary images that appear on each page spread in the Story Time books make it possible for anyone who is reading the books to "read the glossary pictures," and incorporate the corresponding signs. This is a great point to remember when you are encouraging non-English speaking parents to read to their children. No matter what language they can read and write in, they can read any book with pictures . . .

As the summer progresses, my family continues to practice Spanish, and I've become very self-aware about the process of learning a new language. I'm finding ways to learn and practice Spanish that echo the ways I help others learn and practice American Sign Language. I'm listening to Spanish language recordings, and I am reading (and re-reading) stacks of Spanish/English picture books (with good 'ole Google Translate close at hand to help me decipher new words/conjugations). Some words I know, some words I recognize but can't quite remember, and some words are completely new. Each time I re-read a book, there are more and more words I know and recognize (and fewer and fewer words I need to look up). The repetition builds familiarity.  This is the same basic principle I emphasize when I teach people how to sign with their preverbal babies.

As I attempt to speak in Spanish and struggle to find various words, I notice that my hands begin to sign the word(s) I'm trying to say. It's as if my brain offers up the related "non-English word(s)" (e.g. ASL) that I know while it attempts to retrieve the less-familar Spanish vocabulary. Building on this idea, I've discovered that signing in ASL while I read in Spanish seems to help me remember the Spanish words. And, given that singing has been such an effective way for me to learn and teach ASL, I'm now on the hunt for songs that will help me build my vocabulary in Spanish. If you have any recommendations, please let me know!

I'd also love to hear how ASL has benefited your bilingual/multilingual family or classroom. Do you have a story about how sign language has bridged a communication gap in your life? Share your experiences via the contact link at the left or in the comment section below. And, if you'd like more ideas for enriching your learning environment with sign language, you can find the full series of posts here.

July 9, 2014

Enrich Your Learning Environment with Sign Language: Post #9

Image Credit
My mother-in-law is one of the best parenting role models I know. She didn't take any fancy classes. She didn't read any how-to books. She didn't regularly network with other parents. In fact, she didn't even speak the same language as her husband when they got married (my father-in-law spoke Polish, and she spoke Russian when they met. . .  they figured out how to communicate). She is a natural at helping kids learn, making kids feel deeply loved, and figuring out how to get her own needs met along the way.

I love hearing her tell the story about the summer that the boys (my husband and his brother) moved the dirt in the back yard. She had a pile of dirt in the back yard, and when summer started, she told the boys it need to be moved to another corner of the yard. They filled buckets. They built roads. They dug holes. I suspect they threw a few dirt balls. When the pile of dirt was moved to the spot she had indicated (some weeks later), she told them it needed to be moved to yet another spot. They kept busy. She kept sane.

This is the same person who signed her kids up for swim lessons every morning all summer long. The kids got up and going and out of the house each and every day. They learned to swim. They made friends. They found things to do in and around the park where the lessons were scheduled. She survived summer.

Fast forward several years later, and this same person is a wonderful grandmother to my own two children. I learn so much from watching her interact with them. The way she listens without any distractions. The way she invites them to help her, (and they eagerly oblige). The way she knows the just-right gifts for each of them. The way she rubs their backs or brushes their hair and gets them to talk with her about anything and everything. The clever way she gets them to quiet down when their boisterous ways are too much for one household to endure . . .

She calls it The Quiet Game. When she announces that the game has begun, no more words or sounds can be made. You can point. You can gesture emphatically. You can mouth words. But you cannot make a sound. The first person to make a sound is disqualified. If you get disqualified too quickly (she is the judge), then the game starts over . . . and over . . . and over.

My family is noisy. There is no doubt in anyone's mind when we have arrived. We have very little that is quiet about us . . . except when we are trying to win The Quiet Game.

I've used this same technique in classes that are extra boisterous. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for encouraging the exuberance and energy that is childhood. But sometimes, my ears (and my psyche) need a break. The Quiet Game allows me to re-direct the energy into quietude (and allow myself a brief respite from noise).

The Quiet Game is easy to play. I like to use the sign for quiet to announce the start of the game. I also like to use sign language in place of spoken language while the game is underway. It's amazing how much kids can say with their hands when their voices are off. Give it a try. I'd love to hear your experiences.

If you want more tips for enriching your learning environment with sign language, you can find links to the full series of posts here.