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March 4, 2015

Sign Language Story Time Video Play List and Sign Language for Your Día Program!

A frequent question I get from teachers and librarians is, "How do you physically hold a book and sign along with it?"

I've modeled how to do this in several different videos over the years, and I recently organized these videos in a Sign Language Story Time Playlist. You can access that playlist here:

If Sign Language Story Time is something you'd like to do more of, you might also be interested in my Start to Finish Story Time series of posts where I provide lesson plans to make it easier for you to do your own Sign Language Story Time.

And, for those of you interested in incorporating Sign Language into your upcoming Día or other intercultural /literacy-focused programming, here is a link to some great free resources to help you plan your own sign language-themed event at your own school or library.

Speaking of which, I'd love to compile a list of libraries that are featuring American Sign Language and/or Deaf Culture in their Día Events. (If you're not familiar with Día, according to the American Library Association, "Día is a nationally recognized initiative that emphasizes the importance of literacy for all children from all backgrounds." You can find out more at the Día website).

If you are incorporating ASL and/or Deaf Culture into your Día programming, please share your plans in the comment section below or in the contact form to the left.

Happy Signing!

February 26, 2015

Top Tips and Tricks for Signing with Your Baby: Summary Post

In past posts, I've shared some of my Top Tips and Tricks for Signing with your baby or young child. I thought it might be helpful to compile a summary of those posts and some instructional videos to go along with it. Here are the links to my Top Tips:

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

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

Tip #3: Follow Your Child's Lead

And here are the links to my video playlist,"Tips and Tricks for Signing with Your Baby or Young Child":

Keep checking back, and/or bookmark this summary post, as more tips (and maybe even more videos) will be added over time!

And . . . if these tips are helpful to you, I suggest you also give my series, Quick Ideas for Getting Started with Signing a look as well. 

Happy Signing! 

January 7, 2015

New Sign Language Videos Featuring Yours Truly

A couple of months ago, one of the libraries I work with invited me to visit their studio and film some videos that incorporate sign language. They've now started uploading these videos to their YouTube channel.  The librarian who coordinated the project observed the filming process and assured me that it all went well, but I've been nervous waiting to see how the videos would turn out. I've now watched the first three, and I'm pleasantly surprised.

Don't get me wrong. I'm an expert at self-critique. There are all kinds of nitty-picky things I can find to distress about in each video, but when I look at the videos as a whole, I'm happy with the end result. I'm pleased that I have something like this to share with my readers, clients, and other folks who might have an interest in sign language. I'm excited that I have one more tool in my toolbox that might inspire someone to learn and use sign language to help their pre-verbal baby communicate, or to enrich their story time or to incorporate sign language into other learning opportunities at home or in the classroom.

I have a longstanding teaching and consulting business, and I present regularly at schools and libraries. As a result, I've had several of my school visits and other presentations filmed over the years. For some reason, I was more nervous than usual leading up to this particular project. Truth be told, I rarely get nervous before presentations. I thrive on the opportunity to teach and present, but I tossed and turned restlessly the night before we were scheduled to film for this project. The only reason for this that I can come up with is that I love this library (and the librarians who work there) so much. I did not want to disappoint them in any way. They tell me they're pleased. I hope you will be, too.

Please join me in thanking the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District for inviting me to participate in this project as well as ABDO Publishing Group for publishing the books in the Story Time with Signs and Rhymes series featured in the videos. Here are the first three videos:

Sing and Sign with Your Baby:

Play and Sign with Your Baby:

"The Nest Where I Like to Rest:"

As new videos are added, you will be able to find them on the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District's YouTube channel as well as my own YouTube channel.

Happy Signing!

December 26, 2014

2014 Year-End Post

It's no secret that I like words. Cards and letters from friends near and far are one of my favorite parts of the holiday season. I also enjoy the process of reflecting on my past year and preparing my own annual update. I do resist writing a typical letter. I greatly enjoy providing a relevant update embedded in some creative format (here are examples from 2012 and 2013). 

For this year's update I made a word cloud using Taxedo (you may be more familiar with Wordle).

As you'll see if you scan the word cloud, a major personal highlight of the past year was our family's experience traveling to Spain and having Pablo, our "Spanish son," return to the U.S. with us for three weeks this summer. (Our decision to host an exchange student in 2013 has enriched our life in so many ways, not the least of which is the wonderful friendship we have developed with our new extended family in Spain).

I've had many professional highlights in the past year as well, but the most rewarding work has been the volunteer advocacy effort I've been involved with to strengthen the school libraries in our local area. I also treasure every opportunity I've had to engage with young readers during author visits at local schools and libraries and via Email and Skype (as well as good old fashioned snail mail)! Thank you friends and colleagues, for supporting and encouraging my work, and for sharing my books with the children you love. You've helped me make a small difference in this world. 

In addition to preparing our annual holiday card, I also enjoy working on an annual craft-y project with my kids. In recent years we've made holiday decorations, scarves, hand & foot scrubs and scented fire starters. This year we made Love Rocks as a way to honor a family in our area who has endured an unimaginable loss. I don't know the family personally, but the process of making hundreds of Love Rocks and sharing them with others helped me stay grounded and focused on the treasure of time spent with friends and family. 

Thanks to each of you who have contributed to my blessed "world of words" in 2014. You are a gift to me. Here's to the adventures that await us in the coming year!

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.  
Click Here for Image Source

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.