Category Archives: Language & Literacy

Story-Telling – Narrating Wordless Movies

If you’re looking for a great way to build language and literacy skills, as well as observation and interpretation skills, try this. Find an animated short movie with no words. Play it through once, just watching. When your child says “Again, again” as all children do, play it again. This time, you narrate it – just describe what you’re seeing and what’s happening in the movie. Then, when they say “Again!” say “OK, but this time you have to tell me what it’s about, and what you see.”

You’ll notice that at times, your child uses the same words you did to describe the scene. Sometimes she will mix in her own descriptions and interpretations of things you commented on. Sometimes something completely different catches his eye, and he tells the story of some element you barely noticed the first time.

It’s a fascinating insight into what your child notices and what they ignore, and good practice for future reading, and for farther-in-the-future book reports or movie reviews.

I’ve linked to a Glen Keane video above, which is where we discovered this technique. There are also some fabulous Pixar shorts (think about For the Birds, with all the birds on a wire…. or Geri’s Game with the old man playing chess with himself, or the Blue Umbella or the opening sequence of Up where it traces the history of Ellie and Karl’s marriage). Or think of Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 from Disney. Or there’s tons of YouTube videos that your friends post on Facebook every day showing cute animals doing entertaining things. Show those to you child and ask him to explain what he sees.

Story-telling about your child’s life

storyWhile older children may love stories of fantastic creatures in faraway lands, younger toddlers often prefer stories grounded in the real world. Books about getting up in the morning, getting dressed, eating breakfast, going for a walk. All those familiar events that they recognize for their real lives. Your toddler may like even better hearing stories about his own day, told storybook style…

On her Clear Parent blog, Cate Pane recently shared a post titled Please Tell Me a Story about how her husband would “spin a yarn” for their child – making up stories that include details from the child’s own life. I shared with her about “Ben stories” and she suggested I share them here…

So, I read a lot of books to my son. Really, a lot. It’s a good thing we’re walking distance from a library full of free books. But my bedtime rule is only two books at bedtime. That’s it. Not negotiable for more. (I don’t want to establish a habit for negotiation with him… I know lots of parents who get caught up in this and suddenly end up with hour-long bedtime routines they can’t break out of.)

But sometimes, I can see that 2 stories wasn’t enough to settle him, so I ask him if he wants a Ben Story. He always say yes!

All I do is review events from his day, or tell him a story of a recent event, like a trip or a class or a play-date with a friend. But I tell it story-book style: “Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Benjamin. And he lived in the town of Kirkland, in the state of Washington, in the United States of America, on Planet Earth. One morning, he woke up and put on his swimsuit and guess where that little boy went? He went on a short journey, out the door, down the sidewalk, past the magical Bee Bush, across the street with the walk light and into the park until he arrived at the swimming pool. And what do you think he did when he arrived at the pool?”

What do I like best about these Ben stories?

  • Ben stories can be as short or long as I want them to be, based on how much free time I have, how long I think it will take him to settle, and so on.
  • They can serve as a nice settling down routine. (Many experts recommend doing a ‘day in review‘ with your child to help them let go of the day and move into the night.)
  • They help him feel knowledgeable and competent as he recognizes the things we talk about
  • They can reinforce events and people I want him to remember. “Ben’s aunt Jamie was visiting and she read him a bedtime story…”
  • They can reinforce new learning. For example, the other day when I told him the story of our hike in Big Finn Hill park  I reminded him of how he helped us figure out which way was left and which way was right, and I had him show me again how the fingers on his left hand make an L shape for left.
  • They honor that he is special and his story is special – it’s not just people in faraway land who have stories worth telling.

Some times I use finger puppets when telling Ben stories.

When he is in his bedroom, supposed to be napping, I often overhear him with the puppets, using them to tell the story of his day.

Games and Activities that Build Literacy Skills

[This is my fourth post on early literacy. Check out my other posts on how to get your child excited about reading, and  info on developmental literacy and what types of books are best at each age, and how to read to a toddler.)

Reading books together, anytime and anywhere, is a powerful way to teach the joys to be found in books, and the power of literacy. There are also lots of other hands-on ways to build reading skills.

  • Make books together – make albums with family photos or pictures cut out of magazines. For older kids, they can dictate a story – they tell it, you write it out, then they illustrate the pages.
  • Look at family photo albums together and tell stories about the people and activities shown.
  • Explore letters: Practice drawing, painting, or writing with a stick in the sand or the mud. Make letters with play dough or pipe cleaners. Have them work with puzzles made of letter shapes. Play with alphabet refrigerator magnets. Look for apps for your touch screen device (tablet or phone) that let them practice tracing letters. Draw letters on paper and have your child trace them

trace

  • In addition to letters, talk about about symbols in general – you could make a calendar and come up with symbols to remind them of what happens each day. Or a weather chart. Or a chores chart.
  • Act out stories that you have read, or do puppet shows. Tell the story as written, or imagine what would come next, or what other adventure those characters could have.
  • Sing songs and play rhyming games – these slow language down so it’s easier to understand, and easier to memorize. Later, try memorizing a story and telling it over and over.
  • When they ask you a question, show how you would look up the answer.
  • Visit the library often. Make it a special time in your week’s schedule.
  • Take them to story time at the library or bookstores. It’s typically free, weekly or monthly, and lasts 30 – 45 minutes. Expect to sit on the floor with your child and help him stay focused on the stories. This is great for literacy and language development – seeing other kids and parents excited about books, listening to the librarian’s voice (kids learn language better when they hear a variety of people speak it), and singing songs together. It’s also great practice for school – having to sit still and pay attention to an adult other than your own parent is important. Before going, let your child know what to expect, and what behavior you expect of her (sitting down, being quiet) to increase your chances of a good experience. Learn more here: http://www.peps.org/ParentResources/by-topic/early-learning/why-story-time-rocks

Check out fun books about the Alphabet:

  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. YouTube. I love the rhythm of this book, and it’s a fun rollicking read-aloud that I never tire of. The letters are just characters in a story: “A told B and B told C, I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree.”
  • Kipper’s A to Z by Mick Inkpen. YouTube. Most ABC books just have different unrelated ideas on each page as they go through the alphabet. I like that this book has a storyline that runs throughout. They find an ant and put it in a box, then a caterpillar they put in the box, then the duck who is too big to fit…
  • Dr. Seuss’ ABC. YouTube. YouTube sung to Banana Boat song melody. Has the great read-aloud rhythm and fun pictures you’d expect in a Dr. Seuss book. I also like the fact that on several pages it goes back to remind you of all the letters in the alphabet that came before the one you’re on.
  • The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC’s. YouTube This is a wordless book, but you can engage kids in a story-telling exercise as you read it: “What animal did he see next? Will that animal chase after him too?”

Some alphabet books are really all about increasing your child’s vocabulary:

  • Eating the Alphabet by Ehlert has lots of different fruits and vegetables for every letter. YouTube
  • L M N O Peas, YouTube, uses words for lots of jobs and hobbies: dancers, drivers, eaters, electricians, explorers, farmers and friends.
  • A is for Angry. (YouTube)

Some books allow kids to have a tactile experience of the shape of the letters:

I like Alpha Block, YouTube, which has cut outs of the letters. Think Touch Learn ABC has raised letters the children can feel. If Rocks Could Sing, YouTube, shows rocks shaped like each of the letters. Somehow looking at pictures of rocks gives me a sense of what that rock would feel like in my hand. This book could also send you on a quest of finding rocks that look like shapes, objects, or letters.

Note: Many ABC books are too advanced to be understood by kids just learning the idea that an alphabet exists and that the different shapes of letters have meaning. For example, Take Away the A is a great book for kids who can already read – like first or second graders will get the jokes – like “without the N, the moon says Moo”. Z is for Moose is good for kids who already have a lot of familiarity with the conventions of alphabet books. A is for Salad would be fun and silly for kids who know how things are actually spelled, it would make no sense for kids who don’t – when it says B is for Viking, and you have to look to figure out what in the picture of a beaver in a Viking hat starts with B. On Creature ABC, you have to know some about reading to be able to guess the answers.

How to Read to a Child

[This is my third post on early literacy. Look here for how to get your child excited about reading, and here for info on developmental literacy and what types of books are best at each age, and here for other ways to build literacy skills.)

How to read to a toddler or preschooler

  • Turn off the TV or radio, and settle in to read.
  • Often we snuggle next to our kids for reading. Make sure that sometimes you sit face-to-face. Your child can learn more from you and the book if he can see your expressions.
  • Show them the cover before reading – ask them to guess what the book will be about.
  • Let them turn the pages – don’t stress if they miss a page.(Note, younger toddlers do best with board books. By three years old, they should be able to manage turning pages in a regular book.)
  • Run your finger along the words as you read – that reinforces that print goes from left to right.Or point to the words that they might recognize as you read. If you’re reading a book that repeats some of the same words on every page (“but where’s the cat?”) point them out on each page as you go along.
  • Define new words and explain new ideas as you come to them.
  • If a book has no words, or you don’t like the words, make up your own! Tell a story based on the pictures, or point to pictures on a page and ask your child to tell you what’s happening.
  • Talk about the pictures. Label what’s in each picture (“there’s a pig and a cow in front of the barn”). Talk about what’s happening in the picture (“the duck is splashing in the puddle”). Point out familiar things (“he has a toy train just like you do” or “her bedroom has some of the same things your room has… see. there’s a bed, and a table, and a teddy bear.”)
  • Make it sound dynamic: Use different voices for different characters; read at different speeds (some stories are slow and gentle, others fast and rollicking); play up the emotional tone – are characters happy? Scared? Silly? Angry? Show it with your voice.
  • Try singing a book. Some books are perfectly designed for singing.
  • Ask questions about what’s happening in the story, ask how characters are feeling, ask them to guess what will happen on the next page. Later in the day, ask them about the book you read, and talk about experiences your family has had that are like what you see in books.
  • Think of a book as a conversation starter. Beyond what’s on the page, you can ask about other things in the book, or help your child connect what’s in the book to her everyday experiences.
  • It’s OK if toddlers wander around while you read – they can still listen while moving.
  • Enjoy reading – let your joy shine through!

Resources:

Collection of fabulous articles on building literacy skills at www.zerotothree.org/child-development/early-language-literacy/tips-tools-early-lit-and-lang.html