Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Early Language and Literacy Development - Listening & Speaking

Early literacy is not just reading and writing, a more vital part is listening and speaking. Children are practicing listening and speaking skills from the moment they arrive in the world. It’s somewhere around a year that most children start demonstrating more conventional speech and conversation skills when they say their first word!

Hopefully I’m not the first person to tell you that speaking to and reading to your infant is SUPER important! It’s the best and easiest thing you can do to build your child’s language right from the start. We read simple picture books to Little C all the time when she was an infant, especially during diaper changes; I’d let her hang out and dry and read a book or two. She was very happy and content on the changing table before she learned how to move. Another thing I did was narrate a good portion of my day and make up all sorts of silly songs. I firmly believe that those things helped Little C develop strong language skills quickly!

As your toddler becomes better spoken, it becomes easier to evaluate her listening and speaking development. Here are some things teachers look for when evaluating 3 year-olds.


  1. Does the child gain meaning by listening to stories read aloud? Does he converse and respond appropriately and use words/phrases learned in a story, show, or during a trip? (ex. Using the words zoo, ticket, or sea lion after a trip to the zoo).
  2. Does the child follow 2-step directions? This doesn’t just include following your verbal directions but also matching movements to the directions in a song or following the rules to a game.


  1. Are most listeners able to understand the child when they are interacting and speaking together?
  2. Does the child use vocabulary learned in a book, etc. in a different context or recall details of a recent event? Does the child make up silly words or make up dialogue for a pretend play scenario? Does the child recite short rhymes or songs?

I’ll leave you with some tips on nurturing those budding listening and speaking skills:

  • Read various types of books (fiction, non-fiction, nature, counting…) Find some of our favorite board books here.
  • Give your child the opportunity to follow multi-step directions in day to day things and also by playing games or doing movement songs. (Check out our favorite movement songs!)
  • Model proper speech – resist the urge to baby talk! If your child calls water “wawa,” accept that though it is definitely super cute, you should continue calling it water.
  • Talk with your child about daily events whether it’s a play date, class or trip; ask questions and encourage responses rather than talking at your child.
  • If your child asks you what something is or what you're doing, tell them! It encourages curiosity and learning and will help build vocabulary.
For more information on language and literacy development, see also Reading & Writing.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Early Language & Literacy Development - Reading & Writing

Let me just start off by saying that though I am not a speech or literacy expert, but I have 13 years’ experience working in early childhood classrooms and have spent the past 2½ years implementing what I had learned with my own daughter. And even though I didn’t get the “Your Baby Can Read” videos and I have yet to teach her the alphabet song, her language and literacy skills have exceeded all my expectations are far beyond those of most of the 2-3 year olds (and even some 4 year olds!) I taught.

Children learn best when things are meaningful. And sure your child can memorize almost anything you repeat day in and day out, but if it’s not meaningful they won’t know how to apply it to different situations. 

Today I’ll touch on two parts of early language and literacy development: reading and writing.  Tomorrow I’ll explore listening and speaking. 

Whether your child is in daycare/preschool or at home, here is a glimpse of the skills teachers are evaluating in 3 year olds.


  1. Does the child show appreciation for books by paying attention to stories read aloud, holding a book right side up and flipping pages one by one front to back, recognizing some books by their covers or acting our familiar stories?
  2. Does the child show interest in letters and words by identifying their names/letters in their name in various places, “reading” familiar words on labels or asking “what does that say?”
  3. Does the child comprehend and respond to stories read aloud? Does he ask relevant questions about the story, label pictures or retell parts of the story using the pictures in the book or with props/felt board cutouts?


  1. Does the child represent ideas and stories through pictures, dictation and play? Does she describe her drawing, “talk” on the phone, ask you to write a note or label a picture, make up a story using props/felt board cutouts or describe what is happening in her pretend play scenario?
  2. Does the child use scribbles and unconventional shapes to write (ex. name, signs, shopping lists, birthday/thank you cards, etc)?

Learning letters should begin first with the most meaningful word of all, your child’s name. Little C has become very familiar with some of the letters in her name and points them out in various places, from books to street signs to license plates. I’ve made felt name tags for her, Mommy, Daddy, Bunia (grandma) and Dido (grandpa) and she can tell you which is which, match the letters, tell you who has the same letters and is beginning to learn the names of some of the letters (although she prefers to call M the zig-zag letter :-) ).

As for writing, I don’t encourage tracing simply because first your child has to learn how to trace the letters, and then how to write without the letters. Also, children sometimes draw over the tracing lines in strange ways instead of writing the letter properly. In these cases, children have to relearn how to make the letters. I recommend teaching your child to write using hand over hand (your hand over their hand writing together) and verbal prompts (for example, for an M say “up-down-up-down”).  Eventually remove your hand and just continue with verbal prompts. Another activity to strengthen fine motor writing skills is to practice drawing simple shapes starting with dots, lines and circles. This teaches a skill your child can transfer to writing letters as all letters are formed from lines, curves and dots! Plus, once your child has perfected those beginning three shapes, he will be able to draw people – and isn’t that an exciting thing?!

I hope I have broadened your knowledge of early language and literacy development; if you have any questions please leave them in the comments section below. I will try and post simple ideas for literacy development soon. In the meantime, here are some simple tips to help strengthen those reading and writing skills. 
  • Read books with your child and oblige them when they want to read it again and again - at least for a handful of times. Their eagerness to read over and over indicates that they're still learning from the book!
  • Let your child read to you. Prompt him to tell you about what he sees in the pictures and what he thinks is happening. As long as what he's saying makes sense given the picture, don't worry if it's not what is actually happening in the story.
  • Point to the words in titles of books, on toys or food boxes - anywhere really! Make a felt or magnetic name tag for your child. Keep in mind, do not write in all capital letters! It will just force your child to have to relearn her name.
  • Involve your child in writing or watching you write - encourage drawing and then label the drawings with your child's name and the name of their picture. Have your child draw on & "sign" birthday or thank you cards. Let your child watch you write a grocery list, and maybe help or write their own!
For more on literacy and language development, see also Listening and Speaking.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Pretend Play - Snack Stand

The idea for a snack stand stemmed from our recent trip to the state fair, where food stands are not hard to find! I kept it small and simple for now, with just drinks and popcorn on the menu.

Let me start with a step by step for the drink dispenser.

1. I started with a double size cereal box (it measures about 11.25"Hx9.25"WX6.5"D). I cut along the bottom and 6.75" up each side. You'll need to cut up a little longer than the box is deep so you can fold the flap up and in - here's a closer look:

You don't have to glue the flap to the back of the box, it'll stay wedged on its own.

2. Cut an extra cardboard rectangle to make a flat bottom for the box (it's kind of hard to see, sorry!). *Note: You can skip this step and the next if you turn the box on its side. I preferred the proportions of keeping it upright but it will still work the other way with a little less effort!

3. Slice off the overlapping part of the flaps on the bottom of the box so it can sit on a flat surface without wobbling. Glue the bottom flaps to the cardboard insert you made in step 2.

4. Cover the entire box with contact paper (or construction paper or paint!).

5. Glue on buttons for dispensing the drinks (the blue and purple ones) and spouts for the drinks to pour from (the yellow caps on the underside - I used caps from baby squeeze fruit pouches). Add some cups (toy or disposable) and you're ready to go!

Eventually I'll add labels to go above the buttons so Little C can decide which drinks are available on any given day! For now she simply pours blue and purple drinks but here is a list of drink ideas:
  • water
  • milk
  • tea (hot or iced)
  • coffee (hot or iced)
  • hot chocolate
  • lemonade
  • juice
  • milkshake/smoothie (banana, strawberry, blueberry, peach...)

Onto the next part of the snack stand. The popcorn maker was a much easier task.

I started with a large toy jar - any larger sized plastic jar will do. You just want something clear so they can see the popcorn inside! I removed the label from the jar and stuck on letter stickers to write out "popcorn". I filled the inside with packing peanuts and added the rest of my supplies:
  • 1/2 cup measure for scooping the popcorn
  • Foam cups for scooping into
  • Empty plastic spice/herb jars for popcorn seasonings - I filled one little jar with small white beads for salt and left the others empty
All finished! And as Daddy and Little C have decided, once we have our drinks and our popcorn, we need to sit and watch a movie :-)

Play themes one of both of these props can be used with:
  • Carnival/fair
  • Movie theater
  • Beach
  • Restaurant
Age: 2.5 years

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Small World Play - State Fair, Part 3

And the final part of our state fair small world play - the farm! Our state fair had a family fun farm area as well as plenty of farm animals to see (all there for various competitions). So we had to get our barn out to add to our state fair.

Little C placed some chickens in the barn and lined up the other animals around the feeding trough, which she filled with corn seeds.

Then she planted some flowers for the flower show in her little pots. Little C knew just what to do with the pots, play dough, seeds and flowers after our last farm small world.

If you don't have a toy barn, this barn craft and sensory small world farm from Crayon Box Chronicles is perfect!

That may be it for our state fair inspired small world play, but there are pretend play and cooking ideas along the way as well. Stay tuned!

Age: 2.5 years

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Small World Play - State Fair, Part 2

The state fair we went to this year had a circus, so we added a circus ring to our state fair small world play.

Little C wasn't very interested in creating a variety of things for the performers and animals to do, she was more focused on making seats for the audience. So this time around we had a very simple circus ring (made from the lid of a large round box) with a few blocks for the animals to stand on. I think Little C added the hippo and giraffe to our circus because she'd just seen those animals on an episode of Little Einsteins...but here is a list of animals you're likely to see at the circus!
  1. Elephants
  2. Lions
  3. Tigers
  4. Camels
  5. Horses
  6. Dogs
  7. Llamas
  8. Pigs
  9. Kangaroo (maybe not likely, but we did see one at a Ringling Bros. show!)
Here are some shots of the circus we built a little while back.

I'll leave you with some more ideas for circus acts (try using different building materials besides Duplos - Tinker Toys and regular Legos would be great additions!):

  1. Tightrope walkers
  2. Trapeze artists
  3. Bicycle/motorcycle riders
  4. Dancers/acrobats
  5. Clowns/jugglers
  6. High jump into a pool
Age: 2.5 years

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Small World Play - State Fair, Part 1

After we went to the state fair, we did a number of play extensions based on Little C's experiences there. Small world play in itself is a 3 part series, starting with one of the most fun parts of any fair - the rides!

To make all of the rides, we used our Tinker Toy Set; for building anything rounded or moving I don't think there is anything better than Tinker Toys. I kind of wish we had more of them so I could build more things at once, or bigger things...but then I remember that we don't need more and the toys are not really for me anyway...

First we built a carousel! It took a little tinkering to perfect it, but in the end it was fantastic! It spun easily and held 8 little people that could move up and down (after I took these pictures I figured out how to add 2 more spots). Here's a close-up.

The little people are held on by small rubber bands. You should definitely supervise your child when playing with rubber bands so they don't snap themselves with it, but I couldn't think of any other way to keep the people on the carousel!

Then Daddy and Little C built a Ferris Wheel...and I forgot to take a picture :-(

Finally we built a swing ride that Minnie and Daisy thoroughly enjoyed! Another close-up:

Remember, you can build just about anything if you put your mind to it! But if that takes too much effort I'm always here with ideas :-)

Age: 2.5 years

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Science - Edible Garden

To go along with yesterday's post about incorporating living things into your home, today I've got another fairly easy idea for you! Don't let the term "edible garden" sound intimidating, it can be as complicated or simple as you want. This spring, we took Little C to the farm market and let her pick out a couple plants. We brought home several grape tomato plants just for her. She helped us plant a few in large pots so they'd be easier for her to reach. Afterwards, while I watered our larger garden, Little C would go around with her little watering can and water the pots. And now, we've got delicious tomatoes!

Besides learning about the needs of plants and being able to watch the plants grow, the flowers bloom and the little tomatoes start growing, we've discovered that Little C seems willing to eat (or at least try) anything that she can pick off a plant. Most of her grape tomatoes never make it into the house, she just eats them next to the plant. She's also eaten raspberries, strawberries and even a bell pepper right off the plant. Next year we're going to plant as much as we can fit in the yard and see how much she'll eat! If your child is picky about what he eats, involving him in an edible garden may broaden his tastes. I think there's just something inherently appealing about being able to pull something off a plant and eat it.

Of course she's also practicing those sharing and math skills - she collects 3 tomatoes so there is one for me, one for her and one for Daddy!

Who knew a little ole tomato plant could be so educational?

Age: 2.5 years