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It’s summer. We should all be outdoors, playing and getting dirty.

But for those moment when you just have to come inside, and someone sits down at the computer, put them in front of the Scale of the Universe 2.

Oh my! There’s nothing like a visual to put substance to a bunch of facts! But be forewarned. The universe is a might large place and you can spend a lot of time exploring it here. 🙂

As with all sites I recommend for kids, remember: their visit to a website should provide opportunities for conversation. Scale of the Universe 2 is a case in point. Not only is conversation good for your relationship with your kids (we can all fall into the habit of just giving them commands and never really talking) but it also builds key literacy skills.

So when everyone’s too tired to play anymore, take a stroll around the universe, big and small!

Have fun,


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,


New seasons are a great conversation starter with children. For young children, new words they hear develop meaning easiest when they are paired with direct experiences. You talk about a dog. They see a dog, pet a dog, and hear a dog bark. The word dog develops meaning–and that meaning helps create long-lasting memory of the word.

It’s easy to give children needed direct experiences of seasonal changes in the spring, summer, and fall. It’s harder in the winter when the weather really makes it enticing to stay indoors.

Yet children need the hands-on experiences. They need to feel the cold air, touch the snow, pull their coats tight against the wind, see the frost on the grass and trees. Through direct experiences, they can then “make sense” of your words as you talk about and describe the seasons.

Remember, it’s all new to them! So bundle up and head outside!

Stay warm, 😉


Anyone remember that old John Prine song? “Blow up your TV, throw away your paper, move to the country…”? Ah no? Guess I’m showing my age. 🙂

For over 4o years, we’ve been debating the benefits or detriments of TV to our society–and to our children. Early on, it was mostly debate. Television, and especially television geared for children, just hadn’t been around long enough to draw firm conclusions.

That’s changed in the last 10 years. Not only has research become more focused on our youngest children and their brain development, but there has also been enough time now for research to be repeated.

A new report was publicized this past week again confirming that TV viewing delays cognitive and language development  in babies and toddlers. You can read US News’ report here (and it includes links to the study).

While the article is short, I was struck with two points from it:

  • “…when kids and parents are watching TV, they are missing out on talking, playing, and interactions that are essential to learning and development.”
  • Native language and income levels did not affect results.

The Child Study Center of the University of Virginia has posted this video report concerning educational videos. The conclusion? Children did not learn vocabulary from watching educational television *and* they learn vocabulary best from the adults in their lives (even when there’s little more going on than talking, ie, no special equipment needed, folks!).

And finally, in the old news department, if you need any further ammo especially against Baby Mozart, read here.

So turn the TV off and spend time with your kiddo, one on one. (And if you’ve got to cook dinner, pull open a cabinet door and let your little one explore!)




One of the six essential skills for learning to read is vocabulary. And if you read this blog much, you know how much I encourage (ie, push!) talking with kids as the best means of building vocabulary. It’s simple and it’s important.

Well, here’s another study to back that up.

I love this quote:

“…the program was purposely ‘not a very complicated intervention,’ and it helps teachers engage in the same complex conversations that the Kansas study showed professional parents have with their children, ‘introducing 50 cent words as opposed to 25 cent words,’ as Ms. Finney put it.”

This is not just a matter of adults not knowing “50 cent words” and therefore not being able to share them with children. Somewhere along the way, we lost our confidence in the power of language to convey meaning when it is shared actively between two people, face to face, in a particular context.

We do not have to and should not use only words kids immediately understand. When they began learning language, they didn’t understand any of the words–and look, they figured it out.

That’s the beauty of our brains’ pre-wiring for language. It works. We just have to “feed” that development with lots and lots of conversation, with lots and lots of words.

We can do this, folks. Professional parents are not sitting around and giving vocabulary lessons to their children. That’s not how their kids are developing 1,100 word vocabularies. These parents are simply talking with their children.  As teachers, childcare providers, and librarians, we, too, can talk with children conversationally. (If you think all adults do this with kids, just walk around Walmart one day and look and listen.) And we can model this with parents and encourage them with the news that this is something they can do–and that it makes a tremendous difference over the four to five years before their children start school.

So, talk on!


Some books are so amazingly put together that one can’t help but wonder if the author and illustrator were totally aware of what they were doing–or if they got a little lucky.

I know they most likely knew what they were doing; people who are great at what they do make it look so simple and easy.

Yet I am still blown away by the book Maggie’s Ball by Lindsay Barrett George for the seamless way it puts together a good story with several early literacy skills.

Maggie is a dog with a yellow ball who is looking for someone to play with. The ball gets away from her, though, and rolls into town. Here’s where the fun begins.

The double page spread of the town has four shops around a circle. Lots of people are in town, doing and carrying a variety of “things”–hoops, scooters, dumbbells, wheelchairs. There are poodles, balloons, drums, easels, lollipops, monkeys. These illustrations provide lots and lots of “things” to talk about, encouraging conversation and building vocabulary.

What makes the picture different, though, is that virtually every image involves circles.

What’s special about circles? A circle is a shape and letters are made of shapes. As a child plays with, talks about, and recognizes shapes, he or she lays the foundation for recognizing letters years down the road.

Maggie goes to town to look for her ball and visits each shop. At each one there are many more circular “things” to talk about and name. There’s cakes, cookies, clocks, pizzas, pets, balloons. There’s also practice with discrimination skills. Is the lemon her ball? It’s yellow, and it’s mostly round. How do we know a lemon is not a ball?

Print on these pages is very succinct and very clear, building print awareness on each page, until finally a girl finds the ball and asks Maggie to play.

Remember how I mentioned that shapes build the skill of letter knowledge? Here it’s masterful: The girl has the round yellow ball in her hand. She says “Go fetch” across four pages. The “O’s” in “Go” are stretched out though, each letter “O” set clearly and distinctly across the four pages, even bouncing like a ball until the last “O” turns into Maggie’s “O” shaped, yellow ball.

The girl and dog play ball, become friends, and end the story by sitting together reading a book, an ending tying it all up with a dash of print motivation. I mean, if I could play and read with a dog as darling and expressive as Maggie (pages where where she is sad about losing her ball and then the ones where she is happy finding her ball just tug at you), I’d certainly want to read!

So there you have it: five of the six early literacy skills effortlessly wrapped up in one fun book. (Recap of the skills included: print motivation, vocabulary, print awareness, narrative skills, and letter knowledge).

Maggie’s Ball works on so many levels. I hope you’re kids will enjoy too!


I am often frustrated when I talk with adults about how important talking conversationally with children is (giving directions or commands and saying “no” do not count).

Children between 18 months and 3 years learn a new word (that’s vocabulary, folks) every two hours that they are awake.

By age 3 they have deduced most grammar rules for their native language.

They have done ALL this by simply listening. But that listening and learning only happen if there is a live human being to listen to–and interact with.

Hearing language from a computer or TV is not interactive. A machine cannot replace a live human that responds to what each individual child does, when he or she does it. This is why research shows that screens do not increase language development. They are not even neutral. Screens  slow language development.

Watch this brief video clip to get an excellent feel for what the child and his or her brain needs in these years when such tremendous language development is taking place. The brain is so hardwired to learn language that it will actively protest when it is not able to participate in the activities that enable it (if lack of response continues, however, humans learn to quit trying).

Talking works. It’s simple. It’s essential. Talking leads to language development and language development before age five leads to learning to read after age 5.

Here’s to the power of conversation!


Reuters reported (Feb. 8, 2010) on an upcoming journal article in Pediatrics (March 2010) that shows a correlation between limited vocabulary at age five and low literacy levels at age thirty-four.

Two-thirds of the children with poor vocabulary, though, did go on to become competent readers. One of the factors that made it possible for them? Parents reading to them on a regular basis. 🙂

So read to your children–and encourage others who are struggling in life to do the same! It makes a difference!


Want to share with parents and caregiver adults what encourages early literacy? Don’t quite know what to say?

The American Library Association’s Every Child Ready to Read @ Your Library website has taken all the work and worry out of the process for you!

Research based tips with scripts have been written for all six early literacy skill areas. They are available on the website free for your use. Stories, rhymes, and songs are suggested and tips are organized by age groups as well (babies to 2 year olds, two’s and three’s, four’s and five’s).

As with all teaching helps, you do not have to feel locked in by the script. Try it in your own words. Adapt it to your audience. And keep your eyes open for when “teachable TIP moments” happen–and point them out! They are some of the most exciting (oh, this stuff really happens! it really works!).

Now the bad news. I find them incredibly difficult to find on the website. So here are the links to take you there. 🙂

What can I say? tips (all ages)

Early Talkers tips (birth to 2)

Talkers tips (2 to 3)

Pre-readers tips (4 to 5)

Happy Tipping!





If you look at the headers at the top of the page under Sunglass Gal or scroll down the left-hand column, you’ll see a new header for Storybox Special.

All info and articles about Storybox will located here for your convenience. 🙂

The best part (I hope) is that I have posted the book lists for each box. They aren’t fancy looking, but each book is categorized by the early literacy skill that it encourages. There are also books to help children with development growth points (like potty training, new sibling) as well as bilingual books, seasonal books, and books to support the child care providers.

There are eight boxes now with more on the way so check back over the months for new ones (or subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed or email notification at the top of the page).

And as always, if you’d like more info on Storybox Special, feel free to contact me.

Happy Travels,


Despite having sleet here in the Valley this morning (sheesh!), we had “all things fall” storytime.

Here’s what was included:Pumpkins

  • The Busy Little Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri
  • I Know It’s Autumn by Eileen Spinelli
  • Tumble Bumble by Felicia Bond (not fall, just for fun)
  • Old Bear by Kevin Henkes (my extra, just in case book)

We did rhymes & fingerplays (scroll down left column for words and audio):

  • Whisky, Frisky Squirrel (displayed a picture of squirrel with nuts)
  • Five Little Leaves (five leaves taped to white board with tree trunk and branches drawn in)
  • I’m an Orange Pumpkin (sung to tune of I’m a Little Teapot).

Early Literacy TIP:  Changes happen almost daily in the fall. Help kids notice them and talk about them, building vocabulary and narrative skills.


This is so cool that Washington State and its law enforcement get the big policepicture here as reported by Molly O’Connor on Birth to Thrive Online. Washington’s definitely to be commended for seeing the larger picture.

Early literacy initiatives see similar results in graduation rates and crime prevention. If children have been read to regularly in the years before they enter school, they are able to learn to read. If not, the vast majority never get the hang of it, leading to everything from dropping out to teen pregnancy to jail time. For kids who are not being read to home, preschools are a lifesaver.

Why does reading aloud work? Reading aloud gives children the chance to develop six early literacy skills that are the groundwork for learning to read. Nothing really has to be “taught” in a formal sense. Read, talk about the pictures and the story, have a good time, and the skills develop.

Here they are:

  • Print motivation (liking and being interested in books)
  • Vocabulary (knowing the words for “stuff”)
  • Print awareness (noticing those “scribbles” on the pages and more)
  • Narrative skills (relating sequences and telling stories)
  • Letter knowledge (familiarity with the alphabet)
  • Phonological awareness (hearing individual sounds and sound units)

Check out my tags for more about the six skills.

Mostly though, go find a kid and read a book!


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