April 5, 2013

Autism Awareness Month (Deaf History Month, National Poetry Month) WOW!

There is so much to be aware of and celebrate this month that has a tie-in to sign language and/or my books in the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes series. I've read several blog posts and Facebook status updates about these topics and thought it would be helpful to do a round-up here:

Autism Awareness Month (April)

Signing Time posted a series of blog posts in honor of World Autism Awareness Day. Via this post, you can download a free guide that explains how sign language can help you and your family, if your child is on the Autism Spectrum. Pages 8-10 of the guide offers some great testimonials from parents and professionals about the benefits of sign language for children on the Autism Spectrum. One of my favorite quotes in the guide was from Amy Baker, the 2010 Co-Chair for Utah Walk Now for Autism Speaks. She said that sign language turned her family's "spoken vocabulary into works of art, pictures that [her son] could better understand." Isn't that beautiful?

Later in the Signing Time resource guide, a first grade teacher shares how incorporating sign language into his literacy programs benefits all of the students in his classroom, (by increasing vocabulary, improving letter and word recognition, improving written sentence formation, and helping students focus on learning). However, he goes on to say that sign language plays an especially key role in communication for his students identified on the Autism Spectrum. Specifically, sign language gives those students a valuable tool that enables them to ask for what they need, and it gives them an opportunity to feel like bone fide members of the learning community. These are some of the topics I touch on in my "Sign Language Beginner Basics for Early Literacy (and Fun!) workshop that I teach frequently at community events and professional development conferences (coming up next at the SW Washington Early Childhood Tapestry Conference, April 6, 2013). (Visit the website for the Southwest Association for the Education of Young Children for more info, or contact me if you'd like to schedule me to present a workshop at your upcoming event).

Deaf History Month (March 13 - April 15, each year)

When I attended ALA this past January, I had the opportunity to listen to Alec McFarlane discuss his work to help Deaf History Month become elevated to the same level of national recognition as Black History Month and Women's History Month. To quote Amy Bopp, President of the Library Friends Section of the National Association for the Deaf:

"By observing Deaf History Month, as well as any other appropriate annual events during the year, you will be reaching out to your diverse community increasing their awareness of the rich deaf history and of your various library resources that will benefit the public—hearing and deaf." 

The New York Public Library recently blogged about this topic, honoring library activist, Alice L. Hagemeyer, and sharing that one of their traditions is to commemorate Deaf History Month by inviting hearing authors with Deaf parents (also known as CODAs), who have written memoirs to share their stories.  What a wonderful way to build awareness about Deaf culture and community.

(Image from Story Time with Signs & Rhymes Series)
One of the ways to involve children in Deaf History Month is to introduce them to American Sign Language. My publisher, Abdo Publishing Group, has a free Sign Language Event Guide that can be downloaded from their website (scroll down past the Star Wars Event info).

Although I'd love to be invited to present a workshop at your event, the free event guide provides all of the information and resources you'll need to independently host an "ASL and/or Deaf Culture" event in your area!

I should also mention that each book in the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes series has a page of Activity Ideas, Fun Facts about ASL, and a list of Additional Resources to help readers learn more about ASL and Deaf Culture. One of my favorite tips offered in the books is to invite someone from the Deaf Community and/or who is fluent in ASL to your school, library or community event. Not only will you make a new friend, and learn something about Deaf Culture, you will discover first hand, that ASL is a beautiful and poetic language to see in action!

Speaking of poetry, that brings us to . . .

National Poetry Month (Also in April)

According to Poets.org, National Poetry Month was "inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996." It is now held every April, and it is a time when "schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers and poets throughout the United States band together to celebrate poetry and it's vital place in American culture."

One of the fun poetry-related traditions I've enjoyed over the past couple of years, is the Poetry Slam put on by http://www.thinkkidthink.com. Poets are given words that they must incorporate into a fresh poem within an established deadline. It's so much fun to read the poems that are created and vote for favorites. If you missed it this year, be sure to bookmark it in your calendar for next year (it actually starts in March with a "March Madness" theme, and wraps up in April).

I also have enjoyed being the recipient of a student-written poem via the Poetry Postcard Project, facilitated by a teacher librarian, and one of my author friends, Jone MacCulloch. Here is a picture of the lovely poem I received in the mail last year and keep posted right above my writing space:

I really love this poem. Don't you?

So how does poetry relate to the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes series? Most of the stories in the series are essentially rhyming poems.

One of my favorites is, "Four Seasons! Five Senses! Sign Language for the Seasons and the Senses."

Here is one of the stanzas:

It is Spring!

I see pink blooms on bright green trees.

I hear the buzz of bumblebees.

I feel wet puddles with my feet.

I smell the air. It's fresh and sweet.

I love the taste of homemade
bread on a rainy springtime day.

I've been writing poetry since I was a young child. My first book was a collection of poems that I wrote for my mom as a gift for Mother's Day when I was in junior high. One of the manuscripts I've recently started submitting is called, "There Once Was a Poet." It is a cumulative picture book that inspires young writers to awaken their creative voice and silence the noisy thunder of self-doubt. I've shared this manuscript in some of my young writers' workshops, but can't wait to be able to share the published version with you some day.

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