March 19, 2012

There's a Story in My Head

There's a Story in My Head
I've been sharing some of the content from my "Read to Me: Hands on Tips for Enriching Your Story Time" workshop that I recently delivered at the PCPO Conference and discussing the National Research Council's six key skills recommended to prepare children to become readers when they enter school. Today's topic is Narrative Skills: Being able to tell stories and describe things and sequences of events.

Now I have to confess something to you:  There was a time (not too long ago, actually), when I didn't understand "why" kids "needed" to learn how to tell their own stories.  I mean seriously, it's not like they are all going to grow up to be writers (or are they?...I think that will be a topic for another post).  Don't get me wrong.  I think writing is super important, and it makes sense to me that everyone should learn to "write," but why does everyone need to learn to "tell stories?"

My epiphany on that topic came to me a few years ago (I know, embarrassing that it was such a recent epiphany!), when I attended an early literacy conference hosted by several library friends (thanks Kendra for inviting me!). One of the speakers really brought home the idea that communication (written and spoken) "is" story.  To be heard and understood, to get our needs met, to participate in this world, we need to be able to tell our stories, describe the things around us, and sequence the events in our lives.  Ponder this for a bit.  It's kind of mind blowing, actually (or at least it was for me, because I hadn't really thought about "story" in this way before--a dead giveaway that I wasn't an English major, huh?).

And...according to the great minds at the National Research Council, building Narrative Skills is also a key element in building a readiness to read.  So how do you build Narrative Skills?   Encourage children to chant along with repeating phrases in stories; Read cumulative stories that children tend to naturally join along with; Invite children to make predictions about what is going to happen next; Read the story by reading the pictures; Invite children to retell the story with props, or make up their own endings to stories or tell a new story with the same characters. Need more ideas?  Nellie Edge has great tips on her website and via her "Writing to Read" workshops, and one of my library angels, Kendra has great ideas on her own blog and links to other great literacy-related blogs.

Here are some of the ways I incorporate building Narrative Skills when I read books from the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes series with children:

Hip, Hip, Hooray! It's Family Day!:  I encourage children to predict what family member(s) might appear next after I've read several verses in this story. After the story is over, I invite children to act out one or more of the scenes in the story, or I ask them to share a time when they have done something that's similar to one of the scenes in the book (like gone swimming, played soccer, painted a picture) with one of their own family members (they can either share with the full group or share with the friend they are sitting next to).  Another option is to provide art supplies and have the children draw a picture that tells the story of when they have done something similar with one of their family members.  I also like to play a cumulative memory game (i.e. (Player One) I had a party and I invited my mom.  (Player Two) I had a party and I invited my mom and my sister.  (Player Three) I had a party and I invited my mom, my sister and my uncle).  This game is enriched even more if each player makes the sign(s) for the family members in their story, as they say each family member word out loud).         

There's a Story in My Head.  Although the signs covered in this story relate to parts of the body, the book itself is about the story ideas that surround us: in a shared giggle with a friend, in a sloppy kiss from a puppy, in the aftermath of a disappointment, and even in a dream.  The book ends with an invitation for young writers to get busy writing their own stories.  When I facilitate young writers’ workshops, I read the story, teach the signs for body parts, and then have kids look for a scar or scab on their own body (if they don’t have a current wound, most kids have a stockpile of memories about past scrapes and stumbles!).  I ask the children to write their “How I got Hurt” story, and then invite them to share their story with a friend. Another option is to let children put a bandage on a doll and then tell the story of how their doll got hurt.

So Many Feelings:  After reading this story, I give children a paper plate some crayons and some pieces of yarn.  I invite them to use the yarn and/or crayons to make faces that show how they are feeling right now.

Four Seasons! Five Senses!: For this story I bring out the dress up clothes and we get bundled up for winter or we put on sunglasses and visors for summertime.  My favorite activity for this story is to "make rain."  This is a fun trick I learned (way!) back when I was a high school cheerleader. Start by slowly rubbing your hands together and gradually getting faster.  Next, snap your fingers together, gradually getting faster and faster.  Now pat your thighs with one hand then the other, first slowly, then faster.  Now stomp your feet until they are stomping like crazy.  The rainstorm is full on now! I like to end by doing all of the hand motions in reverse to return the storm to a soft sprinkling of rain, and then quiet.  This is most fun with a big group, but it's something you can do all by yourself...go ahead, try it!  Fun, huh?

The Nest Where I Like to Rest:  After reading this story I invite children to write a story about what the Mama hen does next (after all of the eggs have hatched), or I ask them to draw a picture that shows what the Mama hen might dream about if she ever gets some rest.  Another option is to invite the children to draw and name all six of the chicks, or re-enact the hatching of the chicks, which can be a fun wiggle buster!

I hope this gets your creative juices flowing.  I'd love to hear some of your ideas for how you build Narrative Skills into your own story times.  Go ahead, tell me the story that's in YOUR head!


March 16, 2012

Yee Ha Hee Ha Ho!

Yee Ha Hee Ha Ho! is a repeating phrase in my book, Famous Fenton Has a Farm, and a great example of a way to promote phonological awareness (a scary word to look at or try to say out loud in front of a group, but a fun word to bring to life when you're reading to young children!).  In my last post, I talked about print motivation, one of the National Research Council's six key skills recommended for preparing children to become readers when they enter school.  This week I'll talk about phonological awareness, which is being aware of the smaller sounds that make up words.

But before I do, I wanted to share a couple of other really good articles about the tremendous value of simply cuddling up with a young child and sharing a book together.  You don't have to incorporate all of the "fancy tricks" I'm discussing to experience the value of reading with your child.  Just find a good book. Hold your child close. Enjoy the pictures.  Read the words. Share the time.  The following articles get to the heart of the simplicity of it:  1) Walter Dean Myers is this year's National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.  A recent interview with him on this topic can be found here.  2) Judy Cox is a reading specialist and beloved author of many books for young children.  A January 25, 2012 blog post by Judy on this topic can be found here

That said, if you're interested in enriching the story time experience even more, reading with an ear for phonological awareness is a a great place to start.  How do you incorporate phonological awareness? Read Rhyming Stories; Let Children Fill in the Missing Rhyme Word; Find the Rhythm in Stories; Sing Stories; Play with the Sounds in Words; Make Up Silly Rhymes; Extend Favorite Rhyming Stories with Additional Made Up Verses; Play Word Games that Involve Word Sounds and Rhymes.  Want more ideas?  Here is a great website to explore.

One of the things I found myself thinking about when I was preparing for a workshop on this topic for the recent PCPO Conference, is what it's like to listen to an unfamiliar language. When you listen to a conversation in an unfamiliar language, you don't hear any of the word sounds--you just hear sounds.  The word sounds that are unique to a particular language seem to be fairly random until you get to know the language. When you listen to a somewhat familiar language (but one in which you're not fluent), you might catch a few familiar words/sounds here and there, which might give you the ability to decipher some of what is being said.  When we incorporate phonological awareness into our reading time with children, we are making a point to provide plenty of repetition for the sounds that make up the English language so that these sounds become less "random" and more familiar to the child's ear (and speech).

Here are some examples for how I incorporate phonological awareness when I read books from the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes series with children:

The Nest Where I Like to Rest:  This is a cumulative story, so I invite children to chant along with the story as it builds page after page.  I also encourage kids to make the "honking" sound along with the goose and the "sniffing" sound along with the rat.  

The Big Blue Bowl:  This is also a cumulative story, and kids love chanting along each time a new ingredient gets added to the Big Blue Bowl. This story also has a repeating phrase:  "Fill it up, fill it up, fill it up, I say, and my friend (duck/dog/goat, etc) fills it up with me."  I show children the sign for "your turn," and ask them to chant along with the "Fill it up" part of the story each time I show them that sign.  Additionally, the words, Big Blue Bowl provide alliteration, another element in phonological awareness.  

See the Colors:  I sing this story to children to the tune of "Oh My Darlin' Clementine."  I also point out that "brown" starts with "B" and "blue" starts with "B," and the signs for both "brown" and "blue" are made with the "B" handshape. Incidentally, the sign for "black" (which also starts with "B") is not made with the "B" handshape, and I point out this contrast as well. 

A to Z Sign with Me:   This is a unique rhyming alphabet story in that it is told with words that are sequenced from A to Z (i.e. "Talk like the animals. Oink! Peep! Quack.  Cheer when the roller coaster speeds down the track.").  After I've read this story directly from the book, I like to write the story "vertically" on a sheet of paper or easel, so children can see how the alphabet is structured in the story.  For example: 

Lip grows a
Nose blows a sneeze.     

I encourage children to sign each letter of the alphabet in order as the story progresses.  It's really fun!

Famous Fenton Has a Farm:    This story is a wild tongue twister with all kinds of silly language.  It fits to the tune of "Old MacDonald Has a Farm," and it is has a repeating phrase: "Yee Ha Hee Ya Ho!" (that shows up in place of the traditional E-I-E-I-O).  All I need to do with this one is invite children to Yee Ha along with me and they in!  

If you want more ideas for incorporating phonological awareness into your story time, this website has great information and lots of ideas for other books to read.  And, as I've mentioned before (and will likely mention again), hang out in your local library.  Attend their story time programs and soak it all in!  Yee Ha Hee Ha Ho! 

March 8, 2012

Print Motivation: Make Reading FUN!

Now Available!
This past weekend I taught a workshop called “Read to Me: Hands on Tips for Enriching Your Story Times” at the PCPO Conference. During the program I summarized the six key skills recommended by the National Research Council for preparing children to become readers when they enter school, and I shared practical examples for incorporating these elements when reading the books in my Story Time with Signs & Rhymes series with children.  These six skills are routinely emphasized by the American Library Association and their member libraries. 

The parents and teachers of preschool and early elementary school-aged children that participated seemed to get a lot out of the session (thanks for the positive feedback, folks!), so I thought I’d share some of the key learning points here.  Today I will discuss one of the Six Key Skills for preparing children to become readers when they enter school, Print Motivation, and provide some examples of how to incorporate this element when you read the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes books with your children. 

Print Motivation is Being Excited About and Interested in BOOKS!

How do you develop Print Motivation? First and foremost, model enjoyment!  Read for your own pleasure.  Make books and reading fun when you read with children.  Read in character and find ways to make story time special. Add “extras” when you read, such as songs, sign language, and props.  Read books you especially love, and indulge your child’s interest in repetition (it’s easier to read a book over and over again and STILL have fun if you’re reading a book you personally enjoy!).  One of my favorite websites for more ideas is here.

During the workshop, one participant pointed out that most of their family reading time takes place at bedtime.  This participant realized that as a result, they were less likely to “make reading fun” with silly antics and add-ons. This parent made a personal plan to start adding mid-day reading time for her family so she could let loose and yak it up.  Great idea!! 

In my experience, Print Motivation is one area that needs ongoing attention, even as children get older and have already started reading independently.  During the workshop I discussed some cautionary “Fun Grabbers” to be aware of:

*Requiring students to track and log their reading time as part of their homework.  Lots of schools do this.  On the surface, it seems like a fine idea, because it’s aimed at making sure each child reads at home for a minimum number of minutes each day (i.e. 20 minutes per day).  The downside is that the chore of timing and logging reading time runs the risk of turning this pleasurable activity into a perceived task.  That’s how both of my kids felt when they were asked to log their reading time starting in kindergarten.  This was a bummer, because up until then, they were both highly motivated readers.  To avoid the negative associations with reading, I offered to complete the reading logs for both of my kids (it’s the ONLY homework I’ve ever offered to do for them). The only hitch was that they needed to continue to feed their strong appetite for books. Happily, they are both still motivated readers (and gradually, they both took on the task of logging their own reading…but they still find it annoying!)

*Putting reading homework on the family chore list.  Again, this runs the risk (a BIG risk, in my opinion) of positioning reading as an unappealing chore.  If you have a reluctant reader in your family, I recognize it might be tempting to put reading time on the chore list so it’s more likely to get done, but I would encourage you to dig deeper into the situation to figure out why reading is not enjoyable for your child.  For example, if it's because reading is hard, sadly, making it a required event will not make it any easier. I encourage you to invest in finding ways to make reading more fun so your child WANTS to read more often.  The more they read (and the more you read to them), the easier reading will become. 

*Pushing kids to read more advanced books than they are ready for and/or interested in.  I’ve observed parents categorizing picture books as "baby books" once their child gets to a certain age (that “certain age” varies by parent).  I know we’re excited to see our children advance and mature, but picture books are magical, and "reading the pictures" is one of the first literacies in which our children develop fluency.  Children are using their reading (or pre-reading) skills when they read the pictures in a book. If a child wants to bring home a stack of picture books (even though they might be capable of reading an early chapter book), I encourage you to celebrate their interest in books.  

*Discouraging kids from re-reading favorite books.  We, as grown-ups, don’t typically have time or interest in “repeating” things.  For children, repetition is an important and developmentally appropriate experience.  If YOU are bored with the repetition of the same material over and over again, I encourage you to find ways to enrich the experience, to make it new, fresh and more interesting for YOU. In the process, you will enrich the experience for your child! If your child is re-reading a book, it’s likely because they enjoyed it enough to spend more time with it.  That’s Print Motivation!  Yay!

Here are some examples of how I incorporate Print Motivation when I read books from the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes series with children:

The Big Blue Bowl:  I open by singing and signing, “If You’re Hungry and You Know It Ask for ____” to introduce the signs for several of the food items that go into The Big Blue Bowl during the story; I teach children a silly, over-exaggerated way to sign for "corn" and "eat/slurp," and I encourage them to sign the silly way every time they hear those words repeated in the story; I encourage children to sign and chant along to a repeating phrase in the story: "'Fill it up, fill it up, fill it up, I say' and my friends fill it up with me.”

The Nest Where I Like to Rest: I wear my Crazy Chicken Hat when I read this story (even though my mother is slightly horrified that I persist in wearing that hat out in public!); I read in the voice of the Mama Hen character; I invite kids to sign and chant along with the story, which is especially fun with cumulative tales (this story follows a format similar to “This is the House that Jack Built.”)

So Many Feelings: I demonstrate the “feelings” signs and very theatrically act out the feelings before reading the story (kids seem to especially love my impressions of “scary,” “excited,” “grumpy,” and “sad”).  I “sing” this story to the tune of “On Top of Spaghetti” and ask kids to make the signs for the emotions they know when they hear them in the story.

See the Colors: I sing this story to the tune of “Oh My Darlin’ Clementine.” See a video of me demonstrating this here.

Hopefully this gives you some ideas to run with to incorporate the element of FUN into your own story time. If you want more ideas, visit your local public library with your child and make note of what the youth librarian does to bring FUN into each story he or she reads. Librarians are experts when it comes to incorporating the National Research Council’s Six Key Skills for preparing children to become readers when they enter school. And...I’d love to hear YOUR ideas for building Print Motivation and bringing FUN into your own story time.