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A Word Coloring Pre-Reading Activity

Coloring Over Words Pre-Reading Activity

I love getting out large pieces of paper, writing words and pictures on them, and have my toddlers and preschoolers color over them. This is a great pre-reading activity that helps children to memorize words (which is a much bigger part of learning to read than most people think). Best of all, it’s so easy to set up and do!

I have done different versions of this activity with every one of my children, and it has been a HUGE part of what has helped them to all start reading at very young ages.

Materials Needed

  • Paper – You can use rolls of paper, large sheets, smaller sheets, or even just plain computer paper. You can also do this activity using a spiral notebook or composition notebook so that you can save all of your drawings to read later.
  • Markers – I love buying markers like these in bulk when it’s back to school season. You can also use crayons or colored pencils, but markers require less effort for little hands and produce a very satisfying line.
  • Stickers – I love getting the big Melissa and Doug sticker set like this and this. You get a lot of stickers for $5/book, and the kids love them.
  • *Write-On Wipe Off Books – I have tried many different write-on wipe-off books, and the ones by Priddy Books are by far the best. (Don’t forget some Expo markers.) Little ones don’t need to be ready to write their letters to enjoy coloring in these books. My toddlers and preschoolers love coloring over the letters, pictures, and words and this is another great way to get children familiar with their ABCs andto learn more vocabulary.

Directions

    1. Write a smattering of short and familiar words on the paper. I like to use words that reflect their interests, but start each child with many of the same basic words like: hi, clap, wave, cat, dog, sun, bus, car, etc. (You can always type “teaching three letter words” into Google to get more ideas for words to use and resources like this as well.)
    2. Draw little pictures next to some of the words. When a word is new, I like to draw a little picture next to it. Many times I’ll even choose words based on how easy the picture would be to draw! But then after they are familiar with the word, I don’t draw the picture every time so that they can memorize the word without the visual aid.
    3. Keep writing while they color. My little ones love coloring side by side with me. I don’t typically prepare these ahead of time (unless I’m holding a baby and trying to video record at the same time), but rather we do it together. Sometimes we’ll work on the same sheet and other times they’ll color one while I prepare another.
    4. Write down names of family members. Even though names are typically longer and have more complicated spelling patterns, these are among some of the first words my little ones are able to read. In addition to the names of family members, you could also include their ages, relation (brother, sister, cousin, etc.), favorite color, girl/boy, etc.
    5. Write down letters, numbers, shapes, and colors. Children who have a strong understanding of these basic concepts will have a very strong foundation in the basics needed to succeed in preschool and kindergarten. Some of my children like seeing the whole alphabet written out, others just like a smattering of letters and the same goes with the other categories as well.
    6. Use stickers for a treat. Every so often, I like to mix things up with stickers. After putting the sticker on the paper, I will label it.
    7. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I am a big believer in following a child’s lead, and so I like to do this activity whenever my child shows an interest. This might mean we’ll do it every day or only a couple of times a month. Right now, Julian(2) LOVES coloring and so we do this activity often. I use the same words over and over again until he has mastered them or loses interest, and then I’ll cycle in new words.

Here’s a video of Julian coloring some words that I have prepared.

In Conclusion

This activity seems so simple and so easy it’s like, why even write a blog about it? But I’m telling you, it is PROFOUND in helping children learning how to read.

Not only that, but it is a fun and special bonding time between you and your child where you’re working together, sitting side by side, having little conversations, learning about his or her specific interests, practicing the fine motor skills necessary to hold a writing utensil, and having fun!

We get so busy as parents, that doing an activity like this allows for a moment in a hectic day where you can teach, bond, and build memories together, and what could be better than that?

Coloring Station

Coloring Station

Coloring Stickers

Coloring Stickers

Coloring Write-On Wipe-Off Books

Coloring Write-On Wipe-Off Books

Embracing Motherhood My Favorite Preschool Playlists on YouTube

My Favorite YouTube Playlists for Teaching Kids Ages 0-6

These are our favorite playlists that we have used with our four children (currently ages 1-6)  to help them learn the basics such as their letter names, letter sounds, numbers, shapes, colors, nursery rhymes, and more. The repetition of the songs combined with the simple and engaging graphics in these videos have helped our children to develop oral language which is a precursor to learning how to read.

I absolutely love using technology to help our children learn! Some people don’t think that children under 2 should be watching any sort of TV at all, but I strongly disagree. Check out my blog about why I don’t think we should ban screen time for young children AT ALL here. Basically, if you’re using technology to teach, if you’re watching it with your children before you leave them to watch it alone, and if you’re purposeful about how you use it, technology can be an amazing tool that really benefits young children and helps their brains to develop neural pathways that will help them to be more prone to learning in the future.

*Keep in mind that these playlists (and technology in general) are just one modality of teaching. Kids benefit from many other strategies as well. Check out my blog: How Children Really Learn to Read to see how all of these parts come together.

The Right Set Up

You can certainly show your children these playlists on any computer, but for an optimal viewing experience, I recommend connecting your TV to your computer to use the following playlists (and to become more purposeful about what you watch).

  1. Connect Your TV to a Computer (or Laptop): Basically, you can connect your computer or laptop to your TV using an HDMI cable. Read more about how to do this here and what other resources we like watching instead of cable TV here.
  2. Download the Chrome Browser: The reason why you want this browser is so that you can download Ad Blocker (which I’ll get to next). I also like it because I can customize it with my favorite bookmarks and have it look the same on all of our computers and devices. This is especially helpful for the kids once they learn how to navigate computers on their own. Click here to download the Chrome browser.
  3. Download Ad Blocker: Without Ad Blocker, this whole playlist plan just doesn’t really work. The reason why I like my kids watching playlists custom designed for their interests and needs is that unlike TV, they aren’t getting bombarded with commercials. When we’ve had Ad Blocker off, it’s really a horrible experience because some commercials go on for 30 minutes if you don’t hit “skip this ad”. So without any further adieu, download Ad Blocker here.

How to Save Playlists

Before I share my favorite playlists with you, here are the steps you’ll need to follow to save them.

  1. Make a YouTube Account: In order to save any playlists, you first of all need to have a Google account. (Get one here.) Then, you use that to create your own YouTube account where you can subscribe to your favorite channels, upload your own videos, save playlists, and create playlists.
  2. Finding Playlists: You can certainly just use my playlist recommendations, but if you find a single video that your child really likes, type the maker of that video plus “playlist” into the YouTube search. Sometimes I’ll just play the longest playlist and sometimes I’ll select the playlist from the maker of the videos. These playlists are typically more up to date and predictable with their content than a random user who creates them.
  3. Save a Playlist: Once you  click on a playlist that you like and want to save, look in the top right hand corner for a plus button. Once you select it, it will turn into a check. Now you can go to your channel, look under “saved playlists” and you can see all of the playlists you’ve saved.
  4. Subscribe: Instead of saving all of your favorite playlists, you might just want to subscribe to the channels that you really like. Look under the “playlists” tab of your favorite channels, and browse the playlists they’ve created.

My Favorite Preschool Playlists

There are a TON of resources on YouTube that you can use to help your child learn, and I don’t presume to have found the be all and end all of all learning videos online. The important thing is to find videos that resonate with you and your children. I find it helpful to always watch videos WITH my children repeatedly before letting them watch them on their own. This way, I can determine what they like, help them to decipher and interact with them, and make sure there is nothing inappropriate or confusing.

These are the playlists that our children have been mesmerized by, learned from, and the ones I haven’t minded having on in the background on a regular basis.

1. Kids TV 123

This educational playlist of songs about the letter names and sounds, basic counting, brushing your teeth, animal sounds, planets and more has been ridiculously popular with all of our young children. (It has been especially helpful with teaching our children their letter names and sounds.) The animations are very simple and everything is personified with little sets of eyes, arms and legs.

kidstv123 youtube web pic

The elusive creator A. J. Jenkins (read an interesting article about him here) records simple songs with just his voice, guitar, and sometimes keyboard and light percussion that are very cute and catchy. Go here for all of his playlists and here for some free printables that go along with the videos.

2. Super Simple Songs

The team over at Super Simple Learning have done an amazing job of creating videos designed to help children develop oral language. These videos are specifically designed to help children who are learning English as another language and who are special needs, but they are amazing for all young children! Most of the songs encourage movement and motions and our children love watching these videos over and over and over again. (*We have a shortcut to this playlist on our desktop and watch it every single night as a part of our bedtime routine.)

super simple songs

Our children have all especially loved this Twinkle Twinkle Little Star video, and my dad loves using it to calm down little ones and help them fall asleep. Last I checked, this video had over 500 million views! Go here to see all of their playlists and here to download TONS of free printable resources such as coloring pages and flashcards.

3. Storybots

These cute little robots and catchy songs aren’t just good, they’re great! The music is very well produced with kind of a Beatles rock n’ roll feel to them, the lyrics are clever and well thought out, and they have been VERY captivating for our young children. They have songs about letters, numbers, shapes, planets, professions, behaviors, emotions, and more that are educational and fun!

storybots

Unlike the first two playlists I’ve recommended, this one doesn’t have an “All Videos” playlist. Maybe someday I’ll create one (or maybe you can!), but for now, here’s the link to all of their playlists for all of their videos. They also have a website where you can get some printouts for free and others for a subscription fee and some apps. Our kids love the ABC app!

4. Mother Goose Club

This channel has just about every nursery rhyme you could ever imagine! They also have a variety of different playlists to choose from.

mother goose club

Our kids love these simple classic songs and the way they are acted out by children using minimal props and special effects. Learning basic songs and nursery rhymes is great for oral language development!

5. Busy Beavers

This playlist is great for teaching all of the letter names and sounds in addition to many great nursery rhymes. The simple animations and repetitive songs are designed to teach children who are learning English, but they are great for teaching oral language development for ALL children! You can also watch these playlists to teach your children French, Chinese (Mandarin), Korean, and more.

busy beavers

These videos can be a little annoying, but the fact is that kids love them and they are a great teaching tool. They will also invite you repeatedly to pay money to subscribe to their channel to get the videos ad free, but if you’re rocking Ad Blocker, you won’t need  to worry about that! You can get some free printables to go along with the videos here or get full access to all of the printables for a monthly subscription fee. Go here to see all of their playlists.

6. ABC Kid TV

There are a lot of different ABC playlists designed for kids out there, and it feels like we have watched them all! For some reason, these particular videos have been a favorite with our 2 year old daughter Ophelia recently. I think she really likes the combination of real children and cartoon graphics.

abc kid tv

The playlist is about an hour long and covers all of the letters of the alphabet with simple graphics and several examples as well as the ABC song. See all of their playlists here.

My Playlists

While I was writing this blog, I decided to just go ahead and create my own favorite playlists. Creating playlists is a bit time consuming, but so worth it to have custom designed lists that are just write for your children. In order to create your own playlist, just look for the “add to” button on the bottom left of the screen of the video you want to save (make sure it’s not on full screen), click it, and you can add the video to an existing list or create a new list. Once you make a list you can edit it by changing the order of the videos, adding videos, deleting videos, changing the title of your list, and adding a description. Go here to see all of my playlists. You can subscribe to my channel to keep informed of new videos that I upload and the playlists I create.

  1. ABCs: This collection starts with basic ABC songs, then transitions into videos that focus on each letter, and finally ends with some compilations so that my children will probably lose interest before I run out of videos!
  2. Nursery Rhymes and Familiar Songs: American children will grow up hearing these songs over and over and over again. The repetition of these rhymes and songs encourages oral language development, which is a precursor to reading.
  3. Simple Songs: Children may not automatically know these songs like they may possibly know nursery rhymes, but if you watch these videos, they will quickly become just as beloved. Many of these songs incorporate movement and motion. They are also great for developing oral language, which is a precursor to reading.
  4. Preschool VocabularyThese songs facilitate the development of language through their catchy melodies, intriguing yet simple images, and use of vocabulary that helps children to understand their world. Learning the names of things is a big aspect of oral language development and a precursor to learning how to read.
  5. Learning to ReadChildren are capable of learning to read at a much younger age than we give them credit for. Once children are able to sound out a word and commit it to memory, they don’t need to sound it out every time. Being able to sound out words is a great strategy for when children encounter new words, however, and this playlist is designed to support the strategy of sounding out words and to encourage the memorization of simple words.
  6. Preschool Science and Social StudiesLearning about science and social studies happens in layers just like reading. The younger children are when they are exposed to the ideas of maps, planets, how the body works, and more, the more they will understand it later. These videos are cute and catchy and will help children to learn about these higher level concepts with ease.
  7. Preschool Math: Learning that counting means each object is counted only one time (the one-to-one principle) is as fundamental to math as learning the letter names and sounds is to reading. It is not a concept that is easily or automatically learned, but through lots of repetition, exposure, and practice, children can master it. Another foundation of math is learning the names and attributes of shapes. I’ve also included other basic math concepts.
  8. Learning LanguagesThese simple songs are great for exposing children to the sounds of other languages. By the time children are one, the phonemes they can pronounce are pretty much hard wired into their brains. Exposing children to other languages at a young age leaves the door open for further language development. There are longer playlists (I like the ones through Busy Beaver) of just one language, but I like having this hodge podge mixed together.
  9. Favorite Preschool Videos: This is a compilation of all of my favorite preschool videos spanning all topics and subjects. This is the playlist I go to when my kids are fussy or for a time when I want them to watch a hodge podge of things to keep them entertained rather than to just teach.
  10. Our Kids Learning How to ReadBeing a teacher, I have always been fascinated by children and how they learn. Now that I have four of my own and am a stay at home mom, I have enjoyed teaching them how to read. I have been fascinated by how young they have been able to read. All of our children have learned to read at a young age (2 being the youngest). This is a collection of videos of them reading over the years.

How to Make a Desktop Shortcut to Your Favorite Playlists

I like having access to my favorite playlists at the click of a button, so I like to create shortcuts on my desktop to find them. For some people, you might think, “Oh, that is so easy!” But for others, like me until I did some research, we may have no idea! So, here’s how you create a shortcut on your desktop to your favorite playlists:

  1. Right click anywhere on your desktop.
  2. Select “new” –> and then “shortcut”.
  3. You will then see a blank space to add a url called “Type the location of the item”. (You can browse to choose an existing file, but don’t do that right now!) Copy the address of your favorite playlist and copy it into this blank space. Then click “next”.
  4. Now you can name your shortcut whatever you’d like.

In Conclusion

I think that one of the most fundamental and most helpful things to teach young children is the alphabet. By teaching the letter names and sounds from young age, we are helping children’s brains to be wired in a way that makes learning to read easy and fun. (Read more about how children’s brains are wired for learning here.) These playlists are just one way of doing this. Check out my blog: Tips, Tricks, and Resources for Teaching the ABCs to see all of the ways I have enjoyed doing this with our children.

Happy watching and happy learning!

embracing motherhood how to raise children who want to read by surrounding them with books and cuddles

How to Raise Children Who WANT to Read

Teachers, librarians, parents, politicians…we’re all guilty of saying it. Our intentions are noble and so we say, “Read, read, read!” Or, “The more you read the better you’ll get!” But it’s not about setting a timer to read for 15 minutes every day, it’s not about filling up a monthly reading calendar to get a prize, and it’s not about reading because someone told you to. It’s about igniting a passion within your children for reading so that they will be inspired to read because of their own intrinsic motivation. It’s about getting them to choose reading on their own because it is something they want to do.

In order to build a positive relationship with reading, we need to create memories of reading that evoke emotions of love, joy, and happiness. By following these steps, you can ensure that your child will build a positive relationship with reading.

1. Start Young

As soon as they are old enough to hold their heads up, stick a book under them! I started doing this with my not even three month old, and I was flabbergasted when he started to smile and look at the book. I use the same two or three books when he does tummy time, and he loves it!

3 month old baby looks at a book while doing tummy time

3 Month Old Julian Looks at a Book

Babies are definitely ready for some real reading routines by six months old. (Check out my blog :How Children Really Learn to Read to see how you can teach your baby to read.) We have always enjoyed incorporating story time before bed at around this age. This is also when we really start talking about letters, watching word videos, playing with ABC toys, and sitting them on our laps for story time. (Check out my blog Oral Language Development…More Important Than You Think to learn about one of the biggest precursors to learning how to read and Tips, Tricks and Resources for Teaching the ABCs to learn about how to give your child the foundation of reading.)

2. Go to the Library

It is very interesting to me to watch other families at the library who don’t share the same love of reading as we do. They come into the library with a very specific agenda, they let their child check out two books, and then they are out of there as quick as can be. With us on the other hand, going to the library is a special event! We get comfortable and enjoy the library atmosphere by playing with the magnets, using the chalkboard, playing with blocks and puzzles, and snuggling up in the chairs to check out a few favorite books. (Our library is VERY small, but we still enjoy it to its fullest!) Meanwhile, I am combing through each aisle finding books that I know my children will love.

Ophelia Playing with Magnet Letters at Our Library

Ophelia Playing with Magnet Letters at Our Library

Elliot is Busy Searching for Books

Elliot is Busy Searching for Books

Ruby Reading at Our Library

Ruby Reading at Our Library

I like to find short books that will appeal to all the kids for bedtime reading, longer books to read while snuggled on the couch, and books for all levels and interests of the readers in our house. When my children are ready, I help guide them towards picking out their own books. I teach them how to look at the spine for the title, how to choose interesting books based on the cover, and how to flip through the pages to make sure it’s a “just right” book. When our bags are full of the maximum number of books (35, but sometimes they let us go over), we check out. Also, I’m not afraid of a few late fines or lost or damaged books; it’s a small price to pay for such a wonderful service.

3. Build a Library of Books

Going to the library is fun in order to get some new books to read, but even better than that is having an eclectic collection of books at home that you can read over and over again. Sometimes it can seem overwhelming to start a home library, but you have to start somewhere! My favorite place to get books is at thrift stores and garage sales (that way you don’t have to worry if they get ripped, damaged, or torn…which they will). I love it when I can find garage sales where the people are transitioning away from younger children and are getting rid of everything in one massive dump. Getting piles of quality books for 10 cents each is the best, and I totally stock up! The collections you’ll find at thrift stores are more hit or miss. It definitely helps to have an agenda and know what you are looking for here, but sometimes you just want to add a little “bulk” to your library and this is a great place for that.

bins of books for children

Building a Home Library Full of Quality Books

Once you know what kind of books really intrigue your children, you can start building Amazon wish lists for birthdays, Christmas, and anytime you have a few extra dollars. You can even buy used books on Amazon that are in pretty good shape. (Although I’d recommend staying away from the used books if they are the lift the flap kind, I haven’t had the best luck in this department.) For some book suggestions, check out my Amazon stores: Best Books for Babies, Best Books for Toddlers, and Best Books for Kids.

4. Make Books Accessible

Once you have books, you’ll want to make them easy to access! I love having books on bookshelves, but those are easier for storage and for adults to access. Kids like to see books displayed in a way that makes the books easy to see and easy to reach. My favorite method of storage is baskets. Here are the wicker baskets that I like to use. They are a nice way for me to keep the books organized with the covers facing out, and then I can strategically place them in places where the kids like to read. I love putting baskets next to little chairs and couches, near their little potty chairs, by their beds, and at little coffee table reading stations throughout the house. I’m pretty sure that every single room in our house has baskets and piles books!

toddler reading to herself from a bin of accessible books

Making Books Accessible

I have also screwed gutters (found at Lowes or Home Depot) onto the walls to store books. They looked really cool, but didn’t get used as much as I thought they would. Plus, the kids would sometimes pull or hang on them and they weren’t super sturdy, but if put a tacking strip behind it and found some studs, it would probably hold up really well!

Using Gutters as a Bookshelf

Using Gutters as a Bookshelf

gutters as a bookshelf

3 Year Old Elliot Loves His New Bookshelf

There are also some cool book storage racks that display the book covers all facing forward. I liked having things like this in my classroom when I was a teacher. You’ll have to find the perfect way to make your books accessible based on the needs of your children and the design of your home.

5. Make Reading Time Special

During the day, we love snuggling up on our big soft couch to read piles of books. I store new library books in our coffee table and I keep baskets of books nearby. But I will usually set up a little pile of their favorite books that I know they will want to read before I sit down. Then I track down their silkies, pacifiers, and anything else they like to snuggle up with. Sometimes I’ll grab some milk and cookies or some other tasty treats before we begin reading. Then, we all snuggle up close together and enjoy some fun cuddles and special reading time.

reading cuddled up with mommy and baby

Reading Time is Special

Before bed at night, we always read books in our oldest daughter’s room. We have a big full size mattress on the floor that is covered with blankets and stacked with pillows. There are baskets and piles of books strategically placed nearby and we all enjoy cuddling up at night while Daddy reads stories.

Bedtime Reading Routine

Bedtime Reading Routine

I have some old Christmas lights stapled near the ceiling that create a nice soft glow perfect for night time reading. After that, we read to our older children (or they read to us) while they are tucked into bed, and then we read to our littlest ones in rocking chairs before putting them to bed.

Reading Rocking Chair

Reading Rocking Chair

6. Carve Out Time for Reading

I am always ready to drop everything and read books when my children are ready, but I also like setting aside special reading time during the day. Either mid morning or after lunch are my favorite reading times. I like to read after my kids have eaten, had play time, and are changed, dressed, and ready for the day. We enjoy cuddling up for nice long reading time and it’s really fun. I know that our days can get busy, but I think that just like we make time for eating every day, we need to make time for reading every day too. If you always read books at bedtime, you’ll always have reading as at least the end part of your day. Reading before bed is one thing that we never ever skip. If we’re in a hurry, we have a basket of little mini books that we can read in a hurry, but we never skip reading time.

7. Pick Interesting Books

When you sit down to read with your children, start by reading the books you KNOW they will enjoy rather than introducing something new. After you’ve read a few favorite books and you’re in the rhythm of it, then you can introduce some new books.

Each of our children have been into different types of books at different ages and stages. Our babies have really liked Sandra Boynton, touch and feel, ABC, and lift the flap books. When both of our girls were younger, they REALLY liked Dora books, and our son has always enjoyed books about superheroes and anything funny or gross. Whenever we know that our children are really into a particular type of book, we look for it at thrift stores, garage sales, Amazon, and the library, and we keep those favorite books stocked nearby. These are the books they gravitate towards and start to read independently. The cutest thing is seeing our toddler picture read the books we have read over and over.

8. Have Fun With It

If you get books that you really enjoy and really truly have fun while you read, your little ones will be able to tell, and it will make it a fun experience for them too. When I was taking classes while in pursuit of my teaching degree, I had one class about teaching reading that really stuck with me. The teacher did something truly remarkable and seemingly unorthodox…she read to us! And she didn’t just read the words on the page, she made them come alive. It felt so strange to sit in a class with a bunch of young adults and have a children’s story read to us, but I felt myself getting lost in the story as she read using different voices for the different characters and read with lots of expression and passion. Ten years later, I still remember the first book she read to us. It was Buzzy the Bumblebee. I bought that book, a nice hard cover copy, and thoroughly enjoyed reading it to my class and then later to my children. Because I love it and read with lots of expression, they love it too.

9. Involve Your Children

Children love to be involved in reading. Before we start reading a book, I like to spend a minute looking at the cover. We read the title, look at the cover illustration, and make predictions about what we think the book will be about or what will happen in the book. As we are reading, I like to involve the children in little ways by having them help me turn the pages, lift any flaps, or point out simple things that they notice in the pictures. For more of a challenge, I ask the them open ended questions about what they think will happen next, why they think a certain event happened, how they think the character is feeling, or if the story reminds them of anything that has ever happened in their lives.

I also like to involve my children by getting them to read parts of the text whenever I can. One of my favorite ways to get them to do this is with books that we’ve read over and over. I pause at certain words I think that they’ll know or at the last word in the sentence (especially if there is a rhyming pattern) and let them fill in the blank. This is a gradual release to the time when they will be reading independently.

10. Be Silly

Most of the time, we read the books as they are written, but sometimes, it’s fun to make the book silly. We do this by making up words to make the story silly. Potty humor always gets a big laugh (Poophead!) and so does saying the opposite word that will give the meaning a silly twist. We also like making songs out of some of our favorite books and using silly funny voices. Our kids beg Daddy to read books the “funny way” especially when it’s bedtime; using humor is a great way to get through any tired fussy moments.

11. Don’t Force It

The worst thing you could do is treat reading like a mandatory time of the day that you must “get through” in order to reap the benefits of the results. If you’re not feeling it one day, skip the reading. If you’re skipping the reading every day, figure out what needs to change in order to make it a fun part of your routine. Are you feeling uncomfortable and unsure of your reading abilities? Don’t worry! Your children won’t judge you, and the more you do it, the more comfortable it will feel. Are you having a tough time getting your children to sit still long enough for story time? This happens with my rambunctious son from time to time, and so I have found that he LOVES it when I read books with interesting figures like these Basher Books and make them “come to life”. I kind of skim and scan the book and make the characters talk to him and he interacts with them. This even carries over into his imaginative play. Do whatever works for you!

In Conclusion

If you make reading a priority in your life, and if you make it fun, your children will grow up having a love of reading that will last a lifetime. I think it’s also really important for kids to see that you enjoy reading as well. My husband really enjoys fiction and he’s always introducing our kids to his favorite books. Right now he is listening to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe with our oldest daughter on their way to school every morning.

I personally like reading nonfiction and doing research for my blog, and I love sharing what I am learning with our kids. Reading is an amazing and wonderful skill, past time, and family event. If you help teach children how to read (Check out my blog: How Children Really Learn to Read) and show them how fun it can be, you will be amazed to see what they choose to do with their love of reading as they grow. One of my favorite things in the world is seeing our children choose to read on their own. When you see this happen, you know you have succeeded!

toddler reading to herself

Ophelia Loves Reading

3 year old reading to himself

Elliot Loves to Read

5 year old reading to herself in bed

Ruby Loves to Read

Check out my blog Oral Language Development…More Important Than You Think to learn about one of the biggest precursors to learning how to read and Tips, Tricks and Resources for Teaching the ABCs to learn about how to give your child the foundation of reading.

Embracing Motherhood How to Create an Environment that Encourages Independence, Creativity, and Learning

How to Create an Environment that Encourages Independence, Creativity, and Learning

When I was an elementary school teacher and now as a parent of four young children, I have always believed that creating an environment conducive to learning was one of the most important things I could do (after making my students and children feel loved that is.)

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Before I became a stay at home mom, I taught at an I.B. school that focused on backwards design and the inquiry model of instruction. These are two things that I believe in strongly and have carried over into my parenting philosophy. In my classroom, I worked very hard to create an environment and a system that could almost run itself. We would spend the beginning of the year going over rules and expectations, and then I would gradually release responsibility and encourage them to become independent learners as I guided them to find their individual intrinsic motivators. In the pictures below, notice the cooperative learning modules, the comfortable little nooks and learning areas, the use of the wall space, the vibrant colors, the plants, and the clean, organized, and warm environment.

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Front of the Room Teacher Station

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Looking Out the Windows in My Classroom

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Looking Towards the Back of My Classroom

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The Back Corner of My Classroom

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Chalkboard Area in My Classroom

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Learning Wall

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Vocabulary Wall and Plants

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My Students Learning with Laptops

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Kids Working with Pattern Blocks

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My Mom Dissecting Hearts with My Students

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Dressing Up for a Reader’s Theater Play

In my home, I have tried to create the same warm, nurturing, organized, creative, and stimulating environment that will promote independent learning at every turn. Don’t get me wrong, I love cuddling with my kids and finding teachable moments to help guide them towards new understandings, it’s just that I don’t see them as empty vessels that need to be filled with whatever wisdom I can pour into them. I believe that they are embarking on a journey of self discovery and I see myself as their guide; the one who will shepherd them along and help them to find the right path. Listed below are the things I like to do in my home that help to create and facilitate an environment that promotes and encourages independent learning.

1. Organization Behind the Scenes

As the facilitator of my children’s learning, I need to have everything ready to go at a moment’s notice. Whenever one of them is inspired to paint, I want to be able to pull out all of the painting supplies lickety split. Or whenever I see the need to improvise a new learning station, I want to be able to quickly pull out materials and create something. I don’t have the luxury of lunch breaks and planning time anymore, I need to be able to guide, create, build, facilitate, and enjoy at a moment’s notice.

kids playing with creative manipulatives at a moments notice

Creative Play at a Moment’s Notice

That is why I love, love, love my cupboards that came with this house. I have my flashcards, construction paper, extra crayons and markers, board games, teaching tubs, craft supplies, and more neatly boxed, labeled, and organized so that I can get to what I need at a moment’s notice. (See my Amazon Store for my recommended Best Teaching Items.) The other day my parents spent the night so that my husband and I could have a Valentine’s date, and the next day my Mom and I spent the entire day reorganizing my cupboards. In doing so, it gave me the ability to continue creating at a moment’s notice in the future. I need times like that to completely reorganize everything. It feels so good!

Organized Cupboards Filled with Learning Supplies

Organized Cupboards Filled with Learning Supplies

2. Decide Which Supplies to Make Accessible

Depending on the age and “mess propensity” of my children, I keep different materials accessible at different levels. Our toddler has just discovered markers and loves coloring on the walls, refrigerator, tables, etc., so I’ve decided to keep those materials out of her reach. My oldest daughter and son, on the other hand, love being able to have the freedom to color and create on their own, so I have set up a table in my “homeschool room” that has coloring books, blank books, blank paper, colored paper, markers, colored pencils, crayons, scissors, tape and other odds and ends to allow them to have the freedom to create and design on their own.

organized table with craft supplies

Organized Homeschool Table

In my cupboards I keep the things that I want my older children to be able to access I keep on the lower shelves. That way, when inspiration strikes, they can take out what they need. I also have a bookshelf with book making supplies, reusable stickers, stamps, and more coloring books for them to use.

computer table and shelves organized with learning supplies for kids

Shelves Organized with Learning Supplies

Everything within reach of my toddler are things specifically designed for her. She can do the things that the older kids can do with guidance, but the things at her level are things that she can do independently.

3. Create Learning Stations at Tables

My “homeschool” table is the most versatile station that I have. It can be used for just about any project that we have in mind. We used to only have one table in our home, but I LOVE having this table set up just for arts and crafts. We have another table in our kitchen (it only seats three) that we use for eating and activities. On this table, I have a few coloring books, some crayons, markers, books, and some dry erase boards, books, and markers that the kids can do while I’m cooking or cleaning in the kitchen. In the kitchen we also have a little table with three little chairs. Sometimes my kids eat here, sometimes they do projects here, and sometimes I use it to set out some food for them to graze on. We do have a family dining table in the dining room that we keep cleared off and use just for family meal time.

kitchen table with learning placements and activity bins

Our Kitchen Table

kids using dry erase boards at the kitchen table

Kids Working at Our Kitchen Table

little kid table in the kitchen with learning strips and a cardboard bin of books

Little Kid Table in the Kitchen

I have a few others shorter coffee tables set up around the house as well. In our multipurpose room I have a coffee table set up that I rotate with different books and activities. Right now it has ABC blocks, a box with Basher books, a box with homemade books and cards, and a place for sheets that I’m working on with our toddler. I also made a short table by our homeschool table to house different activities. Right now it is winter, and our water pouring station has been an absolute favorite for our toddler. I have another table in our quiet room that has puzzles and ABC game boards. Even the coffee tables in our living room are learning stations. With posters on top, books underneath, and little chairs or a little couch to sit in, they are great for eating or doing projects.

kids using ABC learning tablets at a coffee table sitting on little stools

Coffee Table Learning Station

using little cutout figures for learning activities at a coffee table learning station

Coffee Table Learning Station

homemade table magnet learning station

Magnet Station at the Little Homemade Table

Play-Doh Station at a Little Homemade Table

Play-Doh Station at the Little Homemade Table

Write On Wipe Off Station at the Little Table

Write On Wipe Off Station at the Little Table

toddler pouring water using little fancy cups

Indoor Water Pouring Station

toddler stacking at a coffee table learning station

Ophelia Stacking Letters at a Coffee Table Learning Station

4. Tips for Creating Learning Stations

When I create learning stations around the house, I want them to be interactive, fun, engaging, and have some element of learning. The simplest learning station might be some ABC games on a coffee table, and a more complex learning station might be a box with dry beans, cups, and shovels for some fine motor skill work. I like to place small chairs or stools next to the table so that the children can sit if they’d like. I find that my older children like to sit and the younger one likes to stand. When she stands, it’s just the right height!

toddler standing and Coloring at a Little Coffee Table Learning Station

Ophelia is Standing and Coloring at this Little Coffee Table Learning Station

child Sitting and Writing at a Little Coffee Table Learning Station

Ruby is Sitting and Writing at this Little Coffee Table Learning Station

Some other things the kids have enjoyed as a learning station are puzzles, stacking cups, markers and coloring books, dry erase boards and markers, board games, themed books, and more. To help me organize materials for these stations, I save our Amazon boxes and label them with white stickers. Basically, anything I have a lot of can become a station. For example, we collect all birthday, Christmas, and any other type of cards we get in the mail and save them in a little box called “Cards”. The kids love reading through them all.

5. Create Stations on the Floor That Facilitate Imaginative Play

Right now, all of our children are five and under, so they all pretty much can enjoy the same toys. One of their favorite things to do is to play with little houses and figurines. These are things I have picked up at garage sales and thrift stores over the years. They love using their imaginations to bring their characters to life and have them interact in these different scenarios. At times, I play with them to give them some ideas for what their characters could do, but this is something where their imaginations take over and they could play alone or with each other for hours. I like to organize the different baskets of characters that we have a lot of and keep them in different rooms. So for example, you’ll find baskets of dinosaurs, My Little Ponies, and big robots separate from the rest.

Little Bins of Toys Neatly Organized in Every Room

Little Bins of Toys Neatly Organized in Every Room

child playing with little figures and a batman house

Imaginative Play with a Housing Type Structure

Play Area with a Dollhouse and Little Figures

Play Area with a Dollhouse and Little Figures

road rug defines play space with bin of cars, train tracks, and little reading chair and books

A Road Rug Defines this Play Space

Our Living Room has a Little Toy Area in Front of the Fireplace

Our Living Room has a Little Toy Area in Front of the Fireplace

treehouse used for imaginative play

This Type of Housing Structure is Perfect for Imaginative Play

little toy figures used in imaginative play

A Bin of Little Figure Toys Perfect for Imaginative Play

6. Create a Dress Up Station for Role Playing

I also like to use closet spaces for stations as well. The kids LOVE our dress up station. I am always hitting up thrift stores around Halloween to get the best costumes for our collection. I’ve also found some pretty good garage sales that were getting rid of a lot of costumes for $1 each. The kids especially love this little nook in this closest where I’ve hung all of our hats. Being able to display things attractively makes them that much more fun to play with!

hats hanging on a wall in the corner of a closet for dress up

Little Hat Station Tucked in the Corner of a Closet

dress up costumes for a boy

Superhero Dress Up Clothes

7. Tips for Organizing Toys

Rather than having one big room for all of the toys, I like to spread them around the house. In doing so, part of each room is designated for both adults and children, and we can all enjoy ourselves no matter where we are! This also really helps with cleaning because I can get the kids distracted by a project in another room while I clean up the mess from the room they were just in! I very rarely buy anything new. I’m always looking for good baskets at thrift stores and garage sales to organize things and many things simply get housed in old Amazon boxes! When getting baskets for toys, make sure they are low. Kids only like to play with the toys they can see.

If things are buried, they will not get played with. Every toy has a home. I arrange all of the little houses and figurines in sets and keep them together. This requires a little sorting from time to time as things tend to migrate from room to room, but it is worth it.

little bin to organize little figure toys

Little Figures Organized in a Bin

baby toys organized in a box

Baby Toys Organized in a Box

8. Create Comfortable Reading Stations

Yes, we have a bookshelf, but it’s basically a storehouse for books. The baskets of books that I strategically place around the house are what actually gets used on a regular basis. I like to set up little chairs and baskets of books around the house to encourage reading at any given moment. I also like to put books by any beds in the house and near any couches. Whenever you sit down and get comfortable, it would just be the worst if you didn’t have something to read! I like to go through all of our books on a semi regular basis. This is a time when I can repair damaged books, re-shelf books that aren’t being read, arrange the books so they all neatly fit in the baskets with the covers facing out, and organize the books based on where the baskets are and who is reading them. (Check out my blogs How to Raise Children Who WANT to Read and How Children Really Learn to Read for more information about teaching children how to read. Also, check out my blog Oral Language Development…More Important Than You Think for some ideas about helping your child with one of the biggest precursors to reading.)

books being sorted into different baskets for kids to read

Reorganizing Kid Books into Various Baskets

little couch and table with map placemats in the living room with basket of books nearby

This Little Couch Gets a Lot of Use

toddler sitting in a chair and independently reading from a basket of books

Accessible Books get Read Independently

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Reading Before Bed is a Special Nightly Routine

These little chairs and basket of books make an instant reading station anywhere.

Little Chairs and a Basket of Books

9. Use Your Walls

It’s more than just slapping a poster on the wall, it’s about creating a space on the wall where kids can interact and learn. I am constantly rearranging my wall space based on what they kids are interested in and what they interact with. If I have an ABC poster on the wall, and I never see anyone using it to say the ABCs, I will move it to a better location or change it out with something else. Sometimes, kids need to see what it looks like to interact with the walls and so I’ll sit down with them from time to time and we’ll look at things together.

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Letter Magnets on the Fridge get Used all the Time

Flashcards Taped on the Dresser and the Wall

Flashcards Taped on the Dresser and the Wall

hand made alphabet poster on the refrigerator

Using Chart Paper to Make My Own Posters

10. Rearrange As Needed

It’s not about getting the perfect set up and leaving it that way indefinitely, it’s about keeping things fresh, new, and engaging. When I see that an area or a station isn’t getting used anymore, I’ll rearrange it with something new. Sometimes just seeing things in a new configuration can be exciting. Especially during these long winter months, I know that I need to keep this indoor environment as exciting as possible. Every few weeks or so I like to find something to rearrange. It could be something simple like changing a learning station or moving some toys around, or it could be something drastic like moving the furniture from one room to another.

11. Why I Don’t Believe in “Playrooms”

I know that it can seem tempting to designate one room in the house as a “play room”, a place to keep all of the children’s things, a place where the door can be shut on the mess and hidden out of sight from company, and a place where the kids can go to create a mess. But there are several reasons why I disagree with this concept. First of all, part of creating an environment that stimulates learning is that I don’t need to be right there by my children’s sides as they play, learn, discover, and grow. But even though I don’t need to interact with them every single second, I like to be close by so that I can be there to give a gentle nudge when needed. I may need to solve a disagreement between siblings, help a child who is frustrated with a certain activity, be there at an opportune teachable moment to provide guidance, or assess what they are capable of doing independently as I think of new learning stations.

All Together in One Room

All Together in One Room

Having a playroom that is segregated from the other areas of the house may encourage you to be separated from your children more than you’d think. As much as it would be nice to just stay in the playroom and be with your children giving them your complete and undivided attention, I’m sure you’ve got stuff to do! As a busy momma with clothes to fold, dishes to do, a blog to write, and more stations to organize and create, I like to be near my children as they play, learn and discover while also tending to the things that I need to do. I love it when I can multitask by folding clothes while checking in on my toddler at her water station, putting the dishes away while helping my four year old with his Starfall game, and spelling words for my five year old as she writes a mini book while I prepare dinner. In addition, it’s not good for kids to hover over them constantly while they play. In order to learn how to be independent, they need to have independence in a guided situation.

In Conclusion

By creating an environment that stimulates learning and creative play, you will always have things to do at the drop of a hat. The other day, my oldest daughter’s school was suddenly canceled due to the weather. She had a blast staying at home going from one learning station to the next. It was so easy for me to keep her, my four year old, and my toddler all busy and engaged with different activities while I tended to the baby, prepared food, cleaned up, and guided each child along with their activities. To be honest, I was surprised at how much I got done and how engaged they were throughout the day. Putting in the time to create all of these learning and play stations really makes everything very manageable. With a little planning, a keen eye at garage sales and thrift stores, and some time set aside for organization, you’ll have your own independent learning and play stations ready to go, and you’ll be so glad you did!

Click here to read my blog about the importance of creative and imaginative play, and here to read my blog about Tools of the Mind, which is a preschool and kindergarten program that centers on play.

*Click here to see a video tour of our house. I’m always rearranging and changing things around, but you’ll notice all of the little play areas set up throughout the house.

Oral Language Development is More Important Than You Think Embracing Motherhood

Oral Language Development…More Important Than You Think

Oral language development has fascinated me ever since my time as an elementary school teacher, while getting my Master’s degree in Language Acquisition, and especially now as a mother to four young children.

Oral language development is one of the most important aspects of a developing young child’s brain. According to SEDL’s (an affiliate of the American Institute for Research) Reading Resources, it is “highly correlated with later reading proficiency”. The research also shows that, “Most language development occurs indirectly through language exposure rather than through explicit instruction,” meaning that as parents, we don’t need to teach our babies and toddlers specifically targeted language lessons, we just need to give them lots of exposure to quality language experiences.

But what are quality language experiences? Does this simply meaning talking more or leaving the TV on? I love how people say that if you want to be a better reader, simply read more. So thusly, if you want to make a child better at oral language, simply talk more. But these statements are so overgeneralized and the truth lies instead in the details of what those statements mean.

Children are not just passive receptors of their environment. They want to engage, they want to be stimulated, challenged, and acknowledged every step of the way. Many people look at children as though they are not ready to learn until they are much older, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. They are ready to learn from birth, but it’s all about meeting them where they are and providing the language experiences that best fit their stage of language development. (This is called teaching in the zone of proximal development where learning is slightly challenging.)

First, let’s take a look at the stages of language development to see what is appropriate at each age level. Children may not fit into these categories perfectly, but it gives you an idea of how the focus changes from learning how to make sounds to asking questions.

Stages of Language Development

Newborns (0-3 months)

During this “4th trimester”, their brains are finishing the growth that couldn’t happen in the womb. They need you close. They need to feel your heartbeat and drink in your scent.

0-3 months newborn held by mommy and surrounded by siblings

Basking in the Glow of Newborn Julian

They need to look in your eyes and feel you smooth their head and coo to them that everything is going to be all right. They need to feel safe, comfortable, fed, and warm. This is the bonding time where it all begins and your heart will completely melt when you start to hear them coo their first sounds. They have a voice!

Infants (3-6 months)

It’s so amazing to see infants leave the newborn stage. The memory of birth is just starting to fade as you hold your child with wonder and fascination instead of just shock and awe. Their eyesight is just starting to become fully functional and they are now a bit more comfortable with this world outside the womb. They have been soaking up the sights and sounds around them and are now ready to start mimicking what they see and hear.

3-6 months mommy holding 4 month old baby

Bonding with 4 Month Old Elliot

They love to look at your mouth and it’s fun to make exaggerated sounds. You can enjoy having “conversations” by saying something sweet and then waiting for them to respond. If you wait, you’ll hear them try to coo and copy you. When they are done, say something sweet again and then pause to let them respond. It is the cutest darn thing ever.

Babies (6-12 months)

Just look at the diagram below to see the explosion of synaptic connections by 6 months! This is when babies’ brains are in an optimal place for learning.

 

SynapticPruning

Synaptic Pruning

There is a big misconception that because babies cannot produce language at this point – that they aren’t ready for it, but they are! They are just in the listening and learning phase for a little while. Because mylenation is just starting to form (the fatty sheath around the synaptic connections that helps the signals transfer faster) it takes lots and lots of repetition of the same thing in order to make this connection speedy.So pick things that are important to repeat.

6-12 months 7 month old baby on mommy's lap

Watching Your Baby Can Read with 7 Month Old Ophelia

This is when I like to start showing Your Baby Can Read videos, reading familiar books over and over again, and teaching the ABCs. This is a very crucial window, don’t miss it!

Emerging Toddlers (12-18 month)

 

You will notice that they will now start to produce what you have been repetitiously teaching them. It will seem as if they just suddenly learned it, but really, it started building when they were 6 months old.

12-18 months one year old loves reading books

One Year Old Ruby Loves Reading Books

As their vocabularies start to explode, I’m often reminded of Helen Keller when she has that magical moment with her teacher Anne Sullivan and everything just clicks and she feverishly wants to know the names of everything. This is what it’s like at this stage. They understand that words have meaning and they want to know the names of things. So tell them! Tell them the names of every single thing their curious little minds discover.

Toddlers (18-24 months)

At this stage, they will actually be able to start communicating with you in ways that you can understand. They will start to use short phrases and they will be able to repeat simple nursery rhymes, songs, and chants.

18-24 months, 19 month toddler writing

19 Month Ophelia Loves to Learn

If you have been working on the ABCs and nursery rhymes all along, your heart will just melt when you hear them sing them. During this stage, I find it very helpful to repeat whatever they say to provide clarity. You’ll know when you get what they were trying to say right or wrong depending on their expressions.

Two Year Olds (24-36 months)

This stage is what some refer to as the “terrible twos” and I believe that this is because their brains comprehend and want to articulate way more than they are capable of expressing. You just need to help them find the words for what they are trying to say as they begin to assert their independence.

 2 years, two year old ruby smells the roses and learns about her world

2 Year Old Ruby Learning About Her World

At this time, I like to use a lot of teaching tools to bring as many different modalities of learning together such as ABC fridge magnets, flashcards, and puzzles. Doing activities with your children and talking to them about what you are both doing is one of the best ways to facilitate language growth at this point.

Three Year Olds (36-48 months)

This is when children seem to take special interest in certain characters, topics, and toys. Use their interests to help them develop more specialized vocabularies based on whatever they are fascinated by.

Elliot (3)

3 Year Old Elliot Playing with his ABC Transformers

It could be anything from superheroes, to dinosaurs, to space exploration, to princesses. Help them to learn the specialized vocabulary that aligns with their interests as they continue to expand their vocabularies.

Four Year Olds (48-60 months)

At this age, any content that interests them can be used to teach vocabulary. They will be full of curiosities and questions and it is so very important that you don’t brush their questions aside, especially if it’s because you don’t know the answer. Show them what you do when you don’t know the answer to a question, like use google on your phone, look in a book, or ask an expert. It might be a good idea to have a real or electronic notepad to keep track of all of their questions. We enjoyed having a question wall for awhile because they were asking so many questions that I couldn’t keep up and I wanted to remember to get to them.

4 years, little girl exploring outdoors, language development

4 Year Old Ruby Exploring Her World Outdoors

I love this Einstein quote: “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” When children ask why the leaves change color, use words like photosynthesis, carbon dioxide, chlorophyll, and oxygen. Sometimes your explanations might be a little over their heads, but the more you talk about it and learn about it, the more it will make sense. And for you religious folks, when your children ask you something like, “Why do we have colors?” simply saying, “Because God made it that way”, is a really good way to get them to stop asking questions.

Tips and Tricks for Optimal Oral Language Development

1. Vocabulary

Start by teaching your children the names of things. Everything in this world is new to them and the best place to start is to teach them what everything is called. Start with family members, things about them (body parts, clothes, etc.), and things in your house, then move on to things in the outside world. When you’re changing diapers, talk about the clothes you are putting on them, when you’re eating, point out the foods that are in front of them, when they are playing with toys (especially educational toys such as alphabet blocks and shape sorters), talk about what they are and what color they are, and how you are using them. The best way to teach vocabulary is in the moment, so be there in the moment to teach your children the names of things when they want to know what they are.

2. Monitor Your Speech

Speak clearly, speak slowly, and carefully enunciate your words to ensure that you are understood. Get down to their level, make eye contact, and really talk to them. Especially after babies are 6 months old and older, you want to avoid the goo-goo-ga-ga baby talk. You’re not going to talk to them like you’d talk to another adult, but you don’t need to use a made up language with poorly crafted words either. The most important thing is to make sure you have their attention. When or if you lose it, just adjust your speech until you have it again. You might need to use a funny voice, really over enunciate what you are saying, or speak with fewer or simpler words, but just keep trying something until it clicks or wait until a better time.

3. Zone of Proximal Develompment

When you’re speaking to children in order to teach them something, you first of all need to know developmentally where they are. Are they starting to make sounds? Are they asking about the names of things? Are they starting to put together sentences? You want to start with where they are and then go just one level above that. So if children are speaking just one or two words at a time, you’ll want to start modeling more complex sentences and phrases that are just slightly more complex than what they are saying. For example, if they point to your cat and say, “Kitty.” You can repeat the phrases, “Kitty sleeping. Pet the kitty. Nice kitty. Gentle.” You wouldn’t want to say, “Yes, that’s our cat Ferguseon and he’s 14 years old. He’s diabetic and in the beginning stages of feline leukemia so we will just let him continue sleeping.” This is so over their heads, that they will lose interest and no learning will take place. And if you just repeat “Kitty”, you’re keeping it too easy and not providing them with enough of a challenge.

4. Get Down on the Floor and Play

Get down on the floor to play with your children and talk about what you are doing. For example you might say, “Do you see the blue ball? Can you roll it to me? Good job! You found the blue ball! Now I’m going to roll it to you. Ready, set, go! Good job! You caught it!”

playing with legos with a toddler

Daddy and Baby Ruby are Playing with Legos

This is one of the most simple things you can do and it’s a fun bonding experience as well. By getting down on the floor with them you are entering their world in a way that helps you to help them navigate it. The worst thing you can do is to talk down to your children when you’re not at their level and expect that they will understand you. The distance from your towering voice and their little world down below is a gap easily bridged by a little crouch. And hey, it’s time you worked those quads anyways! Here’s a video of me and Ophelia playing on the floor in a great example of some oral language development play.

5. Talk About What You’re Doing

Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, just talk to them about everything and anything. Talk about what you’re doing as you get them dressed, buckled in the car, and on the drive to the grocery store. At the store, describe everything you see. Talk about the food you’re putting in the cart, point out the numbers on the aisles, and stop to look at the lobsters and the swimming fish. Anytime you do something, talk about it. These experiences are the best ways to build background knowledge and learn language.

6. Listen and Repeat

Encourage your children to talk about whatever they are doing. To get children to talk more, you can start by repeating the last thing they say and then pause. This encourages them to speak openly without you dictating what they say with overly specific prompts. If they don’t have much to say, you can prompt them with simple questions like, “What’s this? What color is it? How many ____ are there? Can you find the triangle?” Pausing after a question is very important with children. During this “wait time”, they are processing the question and formulating a response. Far too often, we answer our own questions after we incorrectly assume that the child wasn’t capable of answering it, when the reality is just that he or she needed more time. Here’s a video of Elliot talking to me while playing his Minecraft game. Notice how I just kind of rephrase what he says as a way to encourage him to keep saying more.

7. Nursery Rhymes, Songs, and Chants

Learning new things is all about memorization and memorization is all about associations. The more associations you have with something, the more embedded in your memory it will become. This is why the repetition of nursery rhymes, songs, and chants are so easily embedded into long term memory. The more children can memorize, the stronger the neural pathways in their brain will become and they will be primed for learning how to read and doing math. (Especially if they can memorize the ABCs and how to count. See my blog: Tips, Tricks, and Resources for Teaching the ABCs.)

Nursery rhymes are a great place to start because really young children do not have a very long attention span and so anything that engages them is a great place to begin. Nursery rhymes with hand motions like the Eensy Weensy Spider, I’m a Little Teapot, Ring Around the Rosy are a great combinations of simple repetitious chants with basic movements that help make memorization easier. Check out my YouTube Playlists for nursery rhymes, simple songs, basic vocabulary, and more.

8. Read Books

Books, of course, are great ways to engage children with language and experiences that they might not otherwise be able to have. I love reading everything from word books, to magical fantasies, to books about favorite TV shows like Dora, to nonfiction books. Whatever is exciting to both you and them is a great place to start. Keep in mind that it’s not just about reading the books, it’s about engaging with them. You can do this without reading a single word. Look at the pictures and talk about what you see. By encouraging this picture reading, you will familiarize your child with how to hold a book, how to turn the pages, and how to be a reader. (See my blog: How Children Really Learn to Read.) Here’s a video of Ophelia picture reading a Dora book with me encouraging her by repeating what she says and posing simple questions.

9. Answer Questions

Share your curiosities and passions with your children and provide a model for what it means to be a life long learner. Show them that you value questioning by listening to them and honoring the importance of the questions they ask. Encourage them to ask why and answer their questions in detail. If you don’t know the answer, tell them so and then look up the answer together.

10. Favorite Things Books

 

When they are ready, make favorite things books. Print out pictures of their favorite things or print out pictures of them doing things. Then, look through it together and write down what they say next to each picture.

letters v and w from favorite things abc book

Favorite Things ABC Book

I love having a little pile of blank books laying around and letting the children decide how they want to use them. Sometimes we write stories, sometimes we make books about whatever they’re passionate about, sometimes we make ABC books, and sometimes we make books about the things we’re learning about.

In Conclusion

If you spend a lot of quality time with your children, then oral language development should happen without giving it a second thought. Oral language is the foundation for all further learning. The earlier children’s brains can be stimulated, the more connections they will have in their brains and the stronger they will be. So get down on the floor and play with your child, talk with your child, and listen, really listen every chance you get.

 

My Number One Priority as a Mom

My Number One Priority As a Mom

The most important thing to do with your children isn’t teaching them the ABCs, developing their oral language, teaching them how to read, or instilling manners or math skills. And while these things are important, they mean nothing without this…your love, your presence, your undivided attention…YOU.

I’ll do anything for my kids, and I want them to grow up knowing that I’ll always put them first – not with just my words, but my actions too.

Now, putting them first doesn’t mean that I put myself or my marriage second – because children need a happy mother, a happy father, and parents who love each other.

happy couple winter hat

Happily Married for Two Years

What it means is that I don’t want them to feel pushed aside because I needed to clean the house, work on my blog, or go on a date with Daddy. I want them to know without a shadow of a doubt that they are top priority and that I’d do anything for them.

Putting them first means that I will teach them things that will prepare them for the future and challenge their minds, that I will be there to set boundaries and hold them accountable, and that I will provide them with nutritious food and teach them how to make healthy choices. But most importantly, I will hold them. 

When they come to me with open arms, I will drop everything to squeeze them tight. I will hug them, cuddle them, smooth their hair, and scratch their backs until they pull away from me to go play. I will fill their tanks with so much love that they will have the confidence to be away from me and still wear my love on their sleeves.

Hugging our children is simply the best!

Family Photo

When children feel loved, they can take on the world. It gives them confidence, strength, and the ability to love others. It makes them feel important and like they matter. Having parents who love them is what gives children their wings.

This is what that love looks like…

1. Hug, Kiss, Snuggle, and Cuddle

With four kids five and under, I have my hands full! I am constantly busy doing dishes, laundry, preparing food, setting up learning stations, writing, and any other number of things. Lately, I’ve realized how much I have to prioritize because it seems that I can never completely tackle my “to do” list. 

That being said, cuddles, hugs, kisses, and snuggles always take a top priority, especially when I can tell that my little ones need me. Even if I’ve just started making a batch of sourdough muffins or I finally found a time to sit down and write, I will stop whatever I’m doing to drop down and give a hug, or go to the couch and read a book, or just rock them on my lap and smooth their hair.

cuddling a newborn

Cuddling Newborn Ophelia

Even when my kids are happily engaged and playing and I’m elbows deep in chores, whenever I see a little body race by, I do not hesitate to scoop it up in a big bear hug and smother it with kisses, or give a head scratch, or a little back rub. 

I do not take these moments for granted. I know that they will only be little once and so I kiss their chubby cheeks, snuggle up on the couch with a pile of books and silkies, hug them tightly, and cuddle them close whenever I can.

2. Say I Love You Often

Sometimes, we tend to not say the things that are implied as often as we should. It might seem obvious by your actions that you love your children, but I think that they still need to hear you say it many many times every single day. It shouldn’t be something forced that you say on the hour, but whenever you feel it well up inside of you, just say it! 

Whenever you find yourself completely in awe of this life that you carried inside of you, that shared a body with you, that you nursed, cuddled, and rocked through so many things – whenever you get an ache in your heart because you can literally feel it growing with love, about to burst with joy, say it out loud! Tell them exactly how amazing they are and how complete they make you feel.

children in winter coats hugging

Ruby and Elliot Hugging

3. Play

My kids have these amazing imaginations and play these crazy intricate imagination games with little figures and houses, building toys, or dress up clothes. my husband and I love getting on the floor with them and introducing new ways of play. Sometimes we’ll show them a new scenario and other times we’ll just follow their lead.

Family Play Time

Family Play Time

They need their tanks to be filled with love before they are ready to go and play on their own. One of our favorite things to do is to just play together. It’s an honor to be let into their worlds and it’s an insight into their brains and a little glimpse as to what is going on inside.

4. Tickle, Wrestle, and Fight

Every night before bed, my husband wrestles with all of the kids, and it is pretty much their favorite part of the day. It motivates them to drop whatever they’re doing and put their pajamas on so that they can race into the bedroom to fight their dad. He loves it too, and it is so cute to see them roughhouse and play. I’m a little better with the tickles than the wrestling. 

I know how to find just the right tickle spot…under the neck, behind the knee, or right on the belly! The kids love interacting with their grandpas through wrestling and fighting too. I think that wrestling is a very important part of the expression of love.

Tickle Time with Grandpa

Tickle Time with Grandpa

5. Listen

When you listen, and I mean really listen, you stop talking, you pause, you wait. With little children who don’t have the biggest vocabulary, it can be easy to speak for them and to supply an endless stream of chatter to make up for their silence. But when we learn how to slow down, stop talking, and really listen, we can hear so much more. If we get down to their level and get into their world they will open up in ways we couldn’t imagine.

Grandmas Love to Listen

Grandmas Love to Listen

6. Arrange Your Time

I know that we all have a thousand things to do and a million places to be, but we can make our lives as peaceful or as hectic as we want them to be. Trust me, we have gone through five moves and made some major life changes in the last five years so that we could be where we are today. 

When we had our first child and I came back into the classroom after an amazing 12 week maternity leave, a mother said something that really stuck with me. She actually wasn’t my student’s mother, but his grandmother who had taken custody of him and we were chatting about me being back at work. I said that of course I would love to be at home with my daughter, but I explained that I made more money than my husband and we couldn’t survive on one income. I explained how we didn’t have a choice, but even still, she said to me sweetly, “You can never get that time back.” How rude of her to say, I thought. Doesn’t she know my situation? 

Now that I’m staying home with my next two children and I see them throughout every single moment and milestone, I mourn for the time that I wasn’t with my first two while they were in daycare and I was juggling too much. We have worked hard to make our children a priority and it is a decision that I don’t think we will ever regret.

Being a Stay at Home Mom

Being a Stay at Home Mom

In Conclusion

There are a lot of things that I like to blog about pertaining to how kids learn, how to use food as our medicine, how to use the best parenting strategies, and my journey into motherhood, but nothing, absolutely NOTHING is as important as what I’ve covered in this post. Yes, all of the things that I write about have helped to bring our family to its current state of happiness, but the number one priority above all is love. It’s about giving your children all of you, the best you, the real you, and it’s about enjoying every moment in the moment and realizing that these sleepless nights, endless cuddles, and constant companionship represents but a fleeting time in our lives that we should embrace.