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Costumes–your child does not need costumes.

Notice, I did not say he or she does not need dress-up clothes. I said pass on the costumes.

What’s the difference? Dress-up clothes are multi-purposed and the purpose changes with your child’s imagination. Your child is in charge. The plain cape can make him or her a superhero or a knight or Little Red Riding Hood or Zorro or a bad guy or a good guy or a princess traveling on a mission. A Superman cape with logo is only a Superman cape.

Dress-up play is immensely important.

  • Imaginary play develops a child’s language skills. Think about it: Whether your child does it silently or out loud, he or she can’t become part of a story unless and until they put words to it.
  • Thinking of multiple uses for an object is a trait of creativity.
  • Dress-up and imaginary play puts a child in charge. In a day to day existence where children are told so often what to do and when, imaginary play lets them be the boss.
  • It also helps children develop impulse control.
  • Finally, in imaginary play, children can tackle what’s frightening and overcome it, they can be aggressive and discover their limits, they can be powerful–and on and on. The agenda is theirs.

If you buy a Snow White or Spiderman costume, that’s the end of the story–literally. Save your money and buy oodles more of all purpose dress-up clothes instead (many can be picked up at your local thrift store).

What’s your favorite addition to the dress-up box?

Have fun,

Babette

I don’t usually post on the weekends but this is how I started my Saturday, listening to this wonderful song. I didn’t want anyone to miss it.

After you start the song, scroll down so you can read the lyrics. 

Sing on,

Babette

The Millennium Cohort Study in England, following 19,000 young children, has issued a report on the connections between poverty and cognitive development. It’s one of the first studies of its kind and confirms what most of us would “guess”–but even more so. Here are several interesting findings.

  • First, while any poverty will affect children negatively, persistent poverty and poverty at birth are even worse.
  • The differences between children in poverty and those who are not are as large as what you would find in children from homes with college educated moms and moms with minimal education.
  • Persistent poverty has a greater impact than whether parents read to their children, take them to the library, or help them with schoolwork.
  • While previous studies have shown that parenting affects children’s cognitive development, this one shows that poverty affects not just the child’s cognitive development (no matter what the parent does) but also the parent’s ability to parent.
  • Finally, being born into poverty has worse effects than intermittent or episodic poverty.

Focusing on test scores and even on early childhood education are less than drops in a bucket when poverty and its effects are ignored. Anyone who’s committed to improving education for children has also got to be committed to eradicating poverty–for the children’s sake. Else we are just throwing money at the problem and spinning our wheels.

Think about it,

Babette

Leave it to the BBC to post a treasure trove of resources for early learning! Rhymes, audio, video, lyrics & pictures! What more could you ask for! It’s called School Radio, and it’s all free. The website is a little tricky to navigate (I’ll walk you through, though), some items are posted only for a limited time, and of course, some materials might not be as applicable for you depending on cultural differences (like accents).

The good parts, though, are very, very good.  🙂 Here’s a brief tour of what I found, liked, and will use myself.

Opening the link, you’ll find a menu list on the left. Clicking on Early Learning, you’ll see five choices.  The best are Nursery Rhymes and Stimulus Sounds. I’ve actually linked you (above) to the Nursery Rhymes page so it’s already open for  you. Rhymes are mid-screen and grouped alphabetically. Click on “Baa, baa black sheep” for starters, and take a listen. Pretty snazzy, huh? (I’ll be using this one at the SLV Fiber Fest in July!). Scroll down and you can click on a link to print out the photo and the lyrics.

If you are in the U.S. like me, some of the rhymes will be unfamiliar–but that can be a nice way to freshen up your storytimes. Most of the songs and rhymes are repeated twice, always a nice feature. I found that the British accents were not overwhelming in the nursery rhymes but were probably too much in the “Listen and Play” and “Playtime” story links for early learners here in the U.S.

Finally, if you select the “Stimulus Sounds” link, you’ll find audio files for sounds that children can listen to and then identify. Hearing individual sounds is absolutely key to being able to read later. It is one of the two skills (the other is vocabulary) that is almost always missing in elementary aged children who are struggling to read. (Want to know more? Click on the “phonological awareness” tag in the left column on my site.) So this is a great resource especially on days when you can’t get outdoors to listen for “real” sounds. And kids think this is really fun! Be patient though. It is a skill that has to be learned and it takes time so give lots of encouragement and keep it fun.

Have fun exploring!

Babette

That may sound like an exaggeration. Certainly the intention is to improve education for a generation but when mandates don’t match with reality, the opposite occurs.

As busy as you are, if there are young children in your life, you need to read this summary in the Washington Post of Defending the Early Years’ coalition report.

If you think it’s not this bad, read Dr. David Elkind’s book Miseducation. Written in the late 80’s, it was prescient. It remains one of the best and most accessible explanations of why we cannot go against the biology and psychology of learning and what happens when we do.

And if you think these things don’t happen, I’ll tell you about my personal experience over ten years ago with preschool testing. My youngest, who is now sixteen, was in a “lottery funded” preschool program. Good program, good teachers. Until they started testing. A lot. I asked the teachers to not test my child. They squirmed big time–and eventually “sorta” told me that they couldn’t cause it would get them in trouble.

I spoke with the director who was very understanding–but still wanted him tested. We finally agreed that I would put my request in writing and that they wouldn’t test. I thought that was the end of the story.

Then in the car pick-up line a few weeks later, the teacher very quickly (and surreptitiously) stuck her head in the car window and apologized to me and said she “was sorry but she had to.” “Had to what?” I asked. “Test him today” was her guilty reply.

It was my son’s last day at that preschool, free or not.

If you are involved in early childhood education, please check out the link in the WP article to DEY’s survey and make your voice and experience heard. Speak up to principals, school boards, and others who make education decisions. Insist that their decisions follow what we’ve known for decades about how children learn.

Together we can see that children receive the education that’s best for them,

Babette

I’m back! 🙂 And over the next few weeks, I’ll fill you in on some of the changes in my life and work. To kick things off, though, I want to share a most memorable story for this Memorial Day–and kick off a new series of articles. Developmental Milestones will share stories and examples from the “real world” of how children grow. It will put some concrete flesh on the theoretical bones of developmentalists like Piaget, Erikson, Elkind, and others.

Let’s start off with a photo. It’s not mine to embed so click here to take a look. Yes, that’s a five year old boy, patting the President of the United States head. Yes, he asked to pat it, to touch the President’s hair. Why? To see if it was like his own.

What’s going on here developmentally? During ages 1-3, children begin to develop a sense of being separate from the people around them. During ages 3-6, they begin to develop an identity. They aren’t just a separate entity, a different “thing” from you or me; they are a separate being with a unique identity. Of course, a 3 year old doesn’t verbalize or even think about this but all the things that make us human are driving him or her to explore identity.

What makes me “me” and not you? (And yes, if this sounds familiar, you are right. This exploration gets re-visited in adolescence; some actually call the teenage years “the second adolescence.” :-)) At this age the exploration is on very basic levels–Am I a boy or a girl? How do I know that? Am I strong, smart, shorter, taller, brown like you or white like her? Can I be a knight, a princess, a fire fighter, a doctor, a chef, a mother, a father?

Do you see where this is leading? Can I be President?

“Who am I?” Jacob is asking. Am I like him? His skin color is like mine; is his hair like mine?  Can I have fuzzy hair and be President? Can I be black with fuzzy hair and be President?

What do children see? Who do we allow them to see?

Don’t misunderstand. There’s nothing didactic here. We don’t have to “teach” or knock them over the head with a two by four about prejudice or gender issues. But we do have to be aware of how much they are learning. It is important that all children see that a black person can be President or that a woman can be a doctor or that a dad can change diapers. It is important that they see their faces in books (including on the covers) and movies and computer games.

No matter what strides we make as a society in overcoming prejudice and racism, we will always have to remember that children ages 3-5 will be exploring identity. We need to give them opportunities to explore all the possibilities.

Questions? Comments? Just click below the headline. Want to read more? Click here for “Obama and the Snowy Day.”

Have fun!

Babette

If you are a Colorado librarian and you were at the state CAL conference last year and you heard keynote speaker Stephen Krashen, you already know this.

But for those of you who missed out (and you really did miss out on a stellar speech), research looking at 250 in Florida shows that–

Poverty is the biggest predictor of a child’s reading level. The higher the poverty, the lower the reading level.

Join Krashen’s Twitter feed, read his book The Power of Reading, hear him speak and you will hear him say it over and over again–It’s the poverty. Krashen’s been preaching this for years.

It’s not how early or late we start the reading instruction, it’s not how or how often children are assessed, it’s not class size, teacher resources, ethnicity–It’s the poverty.

Read more here, Poverty, Reading Scores, and Resilient Schools. It confirms what we know. It’s clear and straightforward. It’s our challenge as a society to be truthful and focus on the real problem and not be sidetracked.

Spread the word,

Babette

I was only eight when Mr. Rogers went to Washington and spoke at this Senate hearing concerning children and television.  I was mostly too old to watch him (except when nothing else was on TV) and it wasn’t many years before I joined the ranks of folks who loved to make fun of him. He did have a very distinctive speaking style. 🙂

His sincerity, integrity, and authenticity could not be beat though. He was as real in front of the Senate and a grumpy Pastore as he was in front of a Hollywood award crowd, his own show’s TV cameras, or a flesh and blood child. His manner overshadowed everything else that one might initially want to poke fun at–his speech, his slow style, his puppets, his focus on the simple (but ever so important) events of children’s lives.

I was “reintroduced” to Mr. Rogers in grad school and then later when I had children. He informed my attitude about and understanding of children immensely–especially concerning their feelings and lives.

The first video clip of the Senate hearing is a bit long at 6 minutes, but it really is worth a watch. It starts slowly (just like the man speaking) and then the passion begins to come through–and as a bonus, you get to see Pastore melt.

The second one is a couple of the best minutes of true humility you will ever witness.

These clips will renew your faith in what one person can do and inspire you to be your best in your neighborhood. Grab a cuppa and visit for a few minutes with Mr. Rogers.

Take care, Neighbor!

Babette

You already know many of these, about how storytimes for the youngest ones are:

  • exposing children to a rich language experience,
  • modeling language play to the adults who love and care for these kiddos,
  • teaching rhymes, fingerplays, songs, and simple games to adults to share when they leave the library,
  • teaching adults through tips about the importance of early literacy.

That’s certainly not an exhaustive list, yet it covers a wide range goals for baby and toddler storytime.

Here’s one that’s easy to overlook though. 🙂

After storytime, mom’s checking out. She asks me, “Can you recommend any good books?”

I paused. “For you or for the kids?” I asked.

“For me. I just started reading recently and I’m still figuring out what to read.”

Oh my! It was all I could do not to race around and give her a gignormous hug!

She didn’t tell me that all she’d seen and heard and done in storytimes (she has two kids and so has been coming for years) encouraged her to take up reading. But I truly believe it played a part.

And the best part? Her children will grow up to be readers now!

So on the days you’re feeling like you’re just filling twenty minutes up with silly, inconsequential nonsense, remember her. You both deserve one of those hugs!

Babette

The Children’s Librarian: A Necessity, Not a Luxury is one of those articles that urges me to declare: I couldn’t say it any better myself! Please take the time to read it and pass it on to those who might not quite “get” what a children’s librarian is all about.

A few comments:

  • I love how Blackrose includes children’s librarian in the category of “Early Childhood Professionals!” That’s what we are and what we will continue to be more and more in the years to come (as long as communities keep us employed and library schools provide the proper training).
  • Speaking of training, I want to brag on two of our library schools here in Denver, Emporia State University (where I teach the children’s services class and built it around child development) and Denver University, which just began an early childhood library fellows program within its MLS.
  • And I can’t help but brag a bit more: Unlike in Australia, my class does include storytime and storytelling training, even down to how to use your voice properly so you don’t burn it out over the years.

And a wonderful quote from Blackrose:

“But public libraries are also about people. Statistics do not reflect the contentment of shared reading experiences, the satisfaction of successful social interactions, the excitement of appropriate group responses, the wonder of discovery, the joy of connected learning. These are what public library storytimes provide through the work of the children’s librarian. ”

In less than 24 hours, I’ve had two people thank me for my help: One was a young mom of five children who was so frustrated with homeschooling she was ready to quit. She brought the kids to the library that day, and while I don’t recall our time together, she says it made all the difference.

The other was a grandmother who has started a library of children’s books on death, dying, and grief  in her nursing home for residents and family members (isn’t that a neat idea!). She asked me for suggestions. Today she came in with tears in her eyes to tell me about how one book was perfect for a grandmother and her grandchild who had had a school friend die.

We can make such a difference if we are given the time and support to do so!

Thanks to Morgan Schatz Blackrose for such a thoughtful review of what a good children’s librarian is all about!

Talk with you decision makers. Let them know what your children’s librarian has done for you and your family,

Babette

Winters are long here in the San Luis Valley. We get lots of cold weather but not much snow (it’s actually a desert up here at 7600 feet). So storytimes on winter, the cold, animals, and the exciting times when we do get snow tie right into a child’s daily experience here.

Here’s what I’m currently doing for wintertime storytime. The kids and I are enjoying it!

Books we are reading include:

  • Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester
  • Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep by Maureen Wright
  • Here Comes Jack Frost by Kazuno Kohara

Before I start reading Tacky, I show the kids my penguin stick puppet. He’s simply made out of black and white foam with a yellow beak (some kids love pointing out that he has no eyes). We talk about his colors and what he is covered with–fur? feathers? scales? hair? Once we’ve figured out penguins have feathers, we can talk about other animals that have feathers–birds! And then we can talk about birds that fly–and birds that swim like penguins!

Lots of talking happening, and of course, only for as long as the kids are interested. It’s easy talking, though, and easy for the kids to join in with their thinking and ideas and words.

Then my puppet acts out this rhyme (pardon the bullet points, WordPress inserts double spacing otherwise):

  • Little penguin black and white,
  • On the ice, what a sight!
  • See them waddle, see them glide.
  • Watch them as they slip and slide.
  • Little penguins black and white,
  • On the ice, what a sight!

Then we read Tacky with lots and lots of expression! After Tacky we talk about what other animals do in the winter and bears and sleeping come up. Before reading Big Bear, though, I tell the kids I’m going to tell the same story two different ways (a great way to build narrative skills, btw).

First I do this rhyme to the tune of  “Up on the Housetop.” As a sing through it, I place first a picture of a brown bear, then of a blue cloud with a face drawn on it (like Old Winter in Big Bear), and finally a bear sleeping in a cave onto my makeshift flannel board (I use pictures printed in color from MS Publisher and place them on a white memo board with double sided tape).

  • There once was a bear who love to play (Put up brown bear)
  • In the woods most every day.
  • But then the winds began to blow (Put up winter wind picture)
  • And soon the ground was covered with snow.
  • Oh, oh, oh, ice and snow,
  • Oh, oh, oh, I better go-o
  • Into my cave to sleep all day (Put up bear in cave picture)
  • Until the cold winter winds go away.  Jean Warren

I’m amazed at how much the kids love this! Then on to the Big Bear book. We follow it with some snow fingerplays (see the left hand side bar for those) and wrap it up with Jack Frost. Don’t let this book fool you though! It looks far too simple to hold a bunch of squirmy kids attention but it works like a charm. And they love puzzling out the ending!

There you go, lots of conversation, vocabulary, print awareness (especially in the final pages of Big Bear, narrative skills,  and phonological awareness through rhymes. All wrapped up in one winter package.

Stay warm,

Babette

Did no one else see this article???

I really expected to hear a lot of hoopla about this report, to see it flying around the twitter and blog-sphere.

I was under the weather and hated that I couldn’t get to it before now and was going to miss being part of turning this into a “big deal.”

But I haven’t heard a peep.

I know, I know, it got buried in the “couple of days before Christmas” pile. You haven’t gotten through your RSS reader yet. Or maybe the impact of what this man is saying just hasn’t sunk in yet.

So now my peep has grown into a shout! Please Read It! Read it a couple of times. Forward it (or email from here :-)) to everyone you know who cares about kids, literacy, and education–or anyone who doesn’t but should.

A Nobel prize winning economist, James Hecker, has nailed it. Here are some quotes from the article:

  • To focus as intently as we do on the kindergarten to high school years misses how “the accident of birth is the greatest source of inequality,” (Heckman) said.
  • (Heckman) contends that high-quality programs focused on birth to age 5 produce a higher per-dollar return than K-12 schooling and later job training.
  • (Heckman) attributed the widening gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged to deficits in skills and abilities that begin with inadequate early childhood development.
  • Test scores may measure smarts, not the character that turns knowledge into know-how. “Socio-emotional skills” or “character,” which we don’t often measure, are critical, and include motivation, the ability to work with others, attention, self-regulation, self-esteem and the ability to defer gratification.
  • …the purpose of education is what it has always been: to develop a well-rounded, knowledgeable and adaptable person; to create upward mobility through smarts and character.

Read, check out the links in the article, and share. Heckman just may the key to convincing “the number guys” that what looks like “fuzzy” time in the preschool years, playing and being read to and being talked with, is actually essential for kids’ growth, health, development–and our country’s economic health as well.

Be excited!

Babette

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email babette(dot)reeves(at)gmail(dot)com
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