Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Development Milestones (0-5 years)

caring-for-baby-and-young-child1When Anna was an infant, I was obsessed about milestones. I was worried endlessly, when her peers were crawling and even walking while she was content to sit and play with her toys. I was beside myself when she had no interest in walking at 1 year. In a retrospect I wish I enjoyed her more and worried less. She made her first steps at 14.5 months, and was walking just as well as any other young toddler by 18 months. It taught me to take any kind of milestone charts with a grain of salt, especially after my late caterpillar blossomed into an active talkative butterfly. However, I do agree with many experts - it is helpful to be concerned if your child has not met a particular milestone. Early intervention can do wonders for children with delay if it's undertaken early. Therefore here are the links to a few milestone charts taken from the book on the left. I read this book while pregnant and thought that it's well written and covers a lot of ground in a relatively small volume.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Increase Your Toddler's Vocabulary - First Look-and-Find Books

pooh-and-friendsWhen Anna was about 9 months old, my mother has sent her her first Look-and-Find book. At first I was not impressed - we didn't necessarily want to "Disneysize" our daughter so early. However, I grew to like this book and over the last year we expanded our Look-and-Find collection. I am still very much against the newest crop in these series, because a lot of purely cartoon-based Look-and-Find books just fill the page with characters and ask to find a character in different poses. Boring for adults and difficult for toddlers! But here is what I like about these series:

  • Quality - the books are sturdy, well constructed, have clear and colorful illustrations

  • Price - they are usually in the Bargain section of the bookstores

  • Good way to introduce colors - asking your child to find something on the page that has a particular color

  • Building vocabulary - teaching new words to your child (in this particular book there were treasure chests, fishing rods, sleepover under a starry sky)

  • Introducing propositions and body parts why helping your child to find objects on the page - Sandwich is in Tiger's hand. Funny hat is on Eeyore's head.

  • Introducing primitive story telling. I made a point always telling Anna that this book has no words, so we are making up a story from pictures. Now, at the age of 27 months, she can also participate actively in a story-making process and answer, What happens if... questions.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Practicing Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic Awareness for Learning to Read
Image courtesy of Alper Tecer, Creative Commons 2.0
This post has been modified in May 2014 with new graphics and resource section. At the time of initial publication, my daughter was 2 years old. She was reading fluently at 3 years old and a very enthusiastic and engaged reader now. Disclosure: I am an Amazon associate and this post contains affiliate links. For full disclosure, please click here and thank you for supporting my blog!

What Is Phonetic Awareness?

Phonetic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate phonemes - the smallest unit of speech that distinguishes one word from another. A child initially hears spoken language as ideas, or units of meaning. Awareness of separate words, syllables and speech sounds is developing usually at the age of 3-4 and can be helped by playing rhyming games. Since our daughter was an early talker and now talks in complete sentence, we decided to start phonetic awareness practice earlier.

Activities for Phonetic Awareness

Here are a few activities recommended in Straight Talk About Reading to promote sound awareness:

1. Hearing rhyming words (the simple definition is that words rhyme when all the sounds are the same except the beginning sounds) - say a pair of words, e.g. cat-hat, go-top, and ask your child if they rhyme or not. Try 5 amazing rhyming games from How Wee Learn
5 amazing rhyming activities for kids
2. Sort pictures by initial consonant sound - have cards with pictures of familiar objects and cards with letters that correspond with initial sounds of the picture cards. Put two letter cards out as column labels. Hand out the picture card one at a time to your child, ask her to name the word and place it into an appropriate column or return it to you if initial sound is not one of the two you selected. You can increase to more columns as your child progresses. Check out this free printable from Mrs Plant’s Press
Sorting Beginning Sounds Free Printable

3. Word sharing song. The song goes like this:

Do you have a /d/ word to share with me?
Do you have a /d/ word to share with me?
Do you have a /d/ word to share with me?
It must start with the /d/ sound

The response (from you or your child):
Dog (or whatever) is a word that starts with /d/.
Dog is a word that starts with /d/.
Dog is a word that starts with /d/.
Dog starts with the /d/ sound.

More Resources for Phonemic Awareness

Follow my Learning to Read Pinterest Board.

Starfall - Great Site for Early Literacy

Learning to Read with Starfall
This post has been refreshed in April 2014 with new graphics. Originally it was written when my daughter was 2.5. She was reading fluently at 3.5, and is testing at 11th grade level in reading now when she is 7.5.

I cannot rave about Starfall enough. I think that its creators did a great job teaching phonics in an easy and engaging way. We did not allow Smarty to watch TV, when she was an infant (a subject for another post), but I started sitting her on my lap and showing her letters in ABC portion of Starfall, since she was about 6 months old. Here are all the reasons why we loved Starfall and for several years it was the only electronic entertainment that was available to our daughter.

1. Starfall Lessons Are Short

One beautiful thing about Starfall is that every segment is very short and perfect for attention span of a very young child. Smarty considered Starfall a special treat, and we could repeat every letter many times over days, since learning letters is not as easy as it appears. Apparently, research shows that letters are not remembered as a holistic shape, but rather by the spatial relationships of the curved and straight line. I noticed that in the beginning Smarty was constantly mixing m and w as well as lowercase p and b. One letter that is still somewhat of a challenge for her is g- probably because it's so close to number 9. I can see how confusing English letters can be for someone who is just starting to recognize those squiggles on the page.

2. Starfall Provides a Path to Literacy

I credit the time spent on Starfall and reading all those alphabet books to my daughter's early alphabet knowledge. At the age of 2 she was recognizing all the letters in any font and distinguishing between capital and lowercase. From there we could easily jump to more advanced parts of Starfall site and start making connections between letters and sounds. These lessons are still short, engaging, and build upon each other. My daughter is beginning to sound the words out and understands now at her ripe age of 2.5 that the same letter can make different sounds.

3. Starfall Curriculum Is Available

Personally, I think that anyone can design their own preschool and K curriculum just by using free Starfall materials, but “More Starfall” section offers a full curriculum for preK and K with printables and teacher guides, plus materials for the first grade.

4. Starfall is Extendable and Growing

My daughter is always so excited about finding new things to do on Starfall site. They are pretty good putting spotlight on seasonal activities and also adding new sections. Music and art sections can easily be extended by additional books and hands-on projects.

5. Starfall is Free

You cannot beat this price! All that you need to access this rich source of early learning is Internet connection. I should also add that Starfall can be an excellent resource for older English as a second language learners.

More “Learning to Read Resources”?

Follow my Learning to Read Pinterest Board

Your Turn:

Have you used Starfall? What did you think? What is your favorite early literacy resource?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Good ABC and Word Books for Babies

Recommended ABC Book for Babies

Reading Alphabet Books to Babies

Are you looking for a good book to introduce alphabet to babies? We can definitely recommend My First ABC from DK Publishing. When Smarty was about 6 months, my mother has brought her a set of DK Lift-the-Flap board books. They were her favorites for the next two months. There are several reasons why we all liked them:

  • They are sturdy, and the illustrations are bright, realistic, and appealing to young children. My First Words and My First ABC are especially well done.
  • They have flaps, which add an element of surprise first and then anticipation of what’s coming next. 
  • Opening flaps is a great fine motor practice for little fingers as babies get older.

Generally we noticed that Smarty was a lot more interested during her first year in word books with photo pictures rather than in the books with drawn objects. We had a few books from "Bright Baby" series by Roger Priddy, and they were rather well accepted as well.

Your Turn

What is your favorite early ABC book?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Nursery With Literacy Theme

Nursery Theme - Infant ABC

A Nursery With Literacy Theme

When people plan their first baby’s nursery, they usually think about it being cute. While “cute” was important to us as well, we also talked about how we want to foster love of literacy from very early on. This is why we bought a fabric with ABC characters when we planned her nursery, and my husband, a crafty half of our family, sewed pillow cases and curtains out of it. I remember holding Smarty on my lap when she was a very young baby and pointing her letters on her pillow. It's hard to tell if being surrounded by letters early made any difference, but we definitely enjoyed having this theme in her room, especially in combination with Winnie-the-Pooh.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Is Your Child Ready to Learn to Read?

Three signs of readiness to read

This post was last edited on January 9, 2014

Straight Talk About Reading

Straight Talk About ReadingI was reading fluently when I was 3 years old, so I don't remember how I learned to read. Moreover, I was reading in my native Russian, and it's quite different from English. Russian is a lot more phonetic - letters and sounds generally match together quite well. That's why I decided to read up on how reading is taught in schools by picking up a book in the library called Straight Talk About Reading. This book is rather old, and I think that the pendulum between phonetic approach and whole language approach swung again towards phonics. The book makes a passionate case for phonics and goes into detail about how to promote reading at home starting and infancy and continuing through early school years. Since I have a toddler, I concentrated on prerequisites for reading. According to the authors, the following three things have to happen before the reading can start:

    Three Signs of Being Ready to Read

    • Awareness about print and how a book is read
    • Knowledge of the names of the letters
    • Awareness of the speech sounds in words (phonetic awareness)

    I will expand on each of these points and how we go about accomplishing them in the other posts in "Learning to Read" series

    Friday, February 6, 2009

    Yes, yet another blog.

    I have a confession to make. I am an Internet addict. It all started when I was pregnant with my daughter, and it never stopped. At least I manage to keep my addiction to one topic - child development and early learning. I want to have a place where I will keep track of all the things that I have discovered and learned while reading books and articles on the subject. Of course, I also try to use some of the materials while raising my daughter who was born in October 2006, and I will share my successes and failures.

    I am not a native English speaker/writer. My native language is Russian, but I've been living in the United States for 15 years now. My husband is from Germany. He speaks German with our daughter, and I speak English to her. If someone has any good idea on how to introduce Russian (or any other third language, for that matter), please feel free to comment.

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