Adventures with Books

“As you read my stories of long ago I hope you will remember that the things that are truly worthwhile and that will give you happiness are the same now as they were then. Courage and kindness, loyalty, truth, and helpfulness are always the same and always needed.” ― Laura Ingalls Wilder

“Don’t just teach your children to read…
Teach them to question what they read.
Teach them to question everything.”
― George Carlin

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”— Emilie Buchwald

Sometimes you just need to get out of the house. We had one of those days last week. After a long and fussy morning which ended in a much needed nap I was dreading what the afternoon was going to be like. I needed to get out, Ellie needed to get out; both of our sanity hung on whether or not we could find something to do…not in our house. And then it hit me in the head like a ton of bricks, and the answer to our problem was so obvious I should have hit myself on the head literally…the library!! Seriously! How have I not thought of this before?!? Sometimes I amaze myself with my great abilities…and my great oversights. So, when Ellie woke up from her nap it was on with the shoes and out of the door…with  Baby in tow of course.

20130619_141723I rarely stop talking, so as we drove I explained to Ellie what the library was (and that I thought I still had a lost book fee from that Eric Carle book I took to my class that never made it back). I told her that we would not be losing any books that we borrowed…no more fees for us! She kept looking at me in her mirror like I was slightly crazy talking about all this nonsense. It’s ok, someday she will understand it all. For now, I will just keep talking her through the process. When we got to the library she insisted on walking inside by herself while holding her Baby. We had to stop to smell every “pritty” flower along the way with an emphasized “sniffffffffff”. We finally made it inside and were greeted by our awesome children’s librarian…who even after a year without me stopping by still remembered my name! Last time she saw me I was still pregnant, so she was excited to see Ellie, who of course loved the attention and interaction from someone other than mumma. After being cute and smiley for the librarian Ellie set right in exploring this new environment. The Lego Quattro table drew her attention and she spent nearly ten minutes manipulating the legos. If you arranged them in a certain way a light inside the display box would come on; Ellie thought this was simply fabulous and exclaimed “stars” “sky” “whoa!” everytime brightness filled the display and illuminated the pictures and legos inside.

20130619_142101After exploring the lego’s she moved on the the books. I talked her through how we don’t just rip every single book off of the shelf and helped her select a small pile of animal and airplane (her newest obsessions) books and we brought them over to the rocking chairs. She was too excited by the oversized Cat in the Hat and Winnie the Pooh to sit and read. She took them off the rocking chairs they were sitting in and arranged and re-arranged them. Then she sat in the red rocking chair, then the yellow one, then the red one, and switched between the two at  least 20 times during which she kept demanding one or other of the stuffed animals or Baby. Finally she was pleased enough with whatever arrangement of chairs and stuffed animals she came up with to sit and look at her books.

20130619_143621I read a couple of the books to her, and she looked at some of them jibber jabbering away for each page. I love when she imitates reading; early literacy is so important. I started reading to Ellie when she was only a few days old. When she was old enough to sit up she almost always was surrounded by board books. When she stared to crawl she would bring books to whoever was around and climb into their laps expecting nothing less than to be read to. We eventually had to hide Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Doggies by Sandra Boyton because we read them at least 20 times a day; and I’m not exaggerating. I could repeated them word for word by memory. I love those books, but 20 times a day was too much for even this book lover. Anyways…Elllie seemed to thoroughly enjoy these  new and unfamiliar books. But soon she began to explore the rest of this new environment.

20130619_143106She played with the blocks and puzzles, going back and forth between the two. I have to say that our children’s librarian is just awesome! Some librarians would be horrified to have a 17 month old cruising around their library, but our librarian was totally fine with it! She kept asking Ellie questions and pointing out new and interesting things for her. It was fabulous!

20130619_150558We built with the large cardboard blocks, which are always so much fun. Ellie would build a tall tower around Baby, knock it over, and then dramatic proclaim :”uh oh! Babyyyyyy! Uh oh!” and then rummage through the blocks to save her Baby. I don’t know where she gets her drama from…but from everything else she gets from me it might be safe to say she gets it from me.

20130619_145731Next she discovered the large Farm Rug in another part of the children’s room. She walked around pointing to each animal and saying their sounds. When she got a bit too loud I explained to her that libraries were not a place for being loud, and I put my finger on my lips to demonstrate softly talking. She loves when I do this and also put her finger on her slips and softly talks; it’s so cute, I have to say! Eventually she decided she wanted to lay down on the animals, so she did. And she scooted herself around on her back “woofing” and “quacking” as she went. We even got some gross motor in as well as literacy!

After over an hour of exploring and building and reading and talking we had to leave in order to be home in time to make supper. After a fussy, long morning this afternoon of exploring and reading was a great change! Sometimes I forget about the obvious solutions to problems; at least I seem to remember them eventually. Now we have a great place to visit this summer; we plan on going once a week, and Ellie is going to learn all about borrowing and returning and be exposed to new and interesting books (in addition to the bookcases that I already have). When she turns 2 she can attend the Story Hour program; I can’t wait for this. I loved Story Hour!

It might seem like 17 months is a little young to bring a child to the library…but I beg to differ. There are no rules saying the Library is only for children 2 and older (I checked!). The only rules are the ones that we make; and I refuse to deny Ellie the experience simply because some people may consider her too young. Early literacy is so important for future development. Reading to children before they are 1 is essential; children cannot learn to appreciate books if they don’t see them being appreciated. I have said before, and the research shows that children learn by modeling. Model reading, and I will venture a guess that your child will one day appreciate books. After all, each book takes you on a different adventure. Adventure with books…even if you’re only 1.

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Trying New Things

You are worried about seeing him spend his early years in doing nothing.  What!  Is it nothing to be happy?  Nothing to skip, play, and run around all day long?  Never in his life will he be so busy again.  ~Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, 1762

Creative play is like a spring that bubbles up from deep within a child.  ~Joan Almon

I am big on art. I love looking at it, love seeing children do it, and love giving them the opportunity to experiment with different kinds of art-like utensils and sensory materials. This week I decided to introduce Ellie to a few different childhood “art and sensory” staples: markers, chalk, and play dough. I think that it is important to expose young children to new things; it gives them the opportunity to explore and create and work through the process of how things work and what can be done with them. Without showing them, they can figure out so many ways to use things. It is truly quite fascinating to watch.

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First we experimented with markers. I let her use them on her cardboard box she has been trying to fit herself into for days (she is definitely trying to figure out how she fits into her environment). She thought that was pretty cool and spent nearly twenty minutes carefully making her scribbles and swirls all over the box. When she was finished with one color she would hand it to me and seemingly thoughtfully select her next color. Markers are a lot different than crayons. They are smoother, faster to mark the coloring surface, and make such bright colors. Ellie seemed to really enjoy this new art utensil. Before dinner she pointed to the basked containing her art materials, so I got them down and she sat with her Daddy coloring while dinner finished cooking. She even put the caps back on some of her markers!

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Even though she got it all over her clothes, face, and counter (washable markers are amazing by the way) and cleaning it all up was not exactly what I wanted to be doing right before dinner I would let her use markers again and again if she wanted. They are so much fun! Even though they may seem to ordinary, such a simple part of life to me…to her they are an exciting new adventure! A new thing to explore and experiment with! Scribbling on paper and cardboard boxes may seem like nothing to some, but to children it is their work. Learning through playing is essential in the lives of children.

Next I introduced Ellie to chalk. I personally cannot stand the feel of chalk and tend to avoid it, but I thought it would be the perfect thing for Ellie to use outside, since she adores playing outdoors. So, once the rain let up and the driveway dried off we grabbed our new box of chalk and went outside. First I have to say that chalk has evolved since I was a child. It is no longer a simple cylindrical colored shape, now it is fancifully shaped like a crayon. I do like the new improvement though; it makes very nice lines. In a short time I had a lovely array of  bright patches of color all over my driveway. It didn’t take her long to figure out what to do, that’s for sure!

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Will some consider this nothing too? Probably, but to Ellie it is everything. New things, new experiences, busyness and learning, getting to know the world around you and how you can influence and interact with the things in the world…this is being a child. When she was satisfied with her creativity on the driveway she tried the chalk out on her shopping cart. Now I know that chalk doesn’t work so well on plastic shopping carts and that it usually is not a good idea to allow children to chalk up whatever they want, but I am a big believer in natural consequences, so I decided to let Ellie figure this one out on her own. She tried to use the chalk on the shopping cart, but when it was’t working well she quickly abandoned the idea and went back to working on the driveway. The beginnings of the understanding of the properties of different materials happened right there in that short interaction between Ellie, the chalk and the shopping cart. Do you see it now? A child’s play is far from being nothing…it is everything. It is how they learn. It is what they do; and never again in their lives will they engage in so much creative interaction and experimentation.

After the successful and fun introduction to markers and chalk I was dying to try out play dough. So many of my childhood memories involve play dough, and I was eager to share this experience with my Ellie. I got my chance one rainy morning this week. It couldn’t have been more fun! After her morning snack I got out all of the ingredients needed along with the measuring utensils, and since modeling language for children is incredibly important you can bet that I was telling Ellie exactly what I was doing as I did it. I thought afterward that perhaps next time I should close the kitchen window so that my neighbor doesn’t hear me talking to myself and begins to think that I’m a raving lunatic. Oh well, anything for the children!

I started telling Ellie about what a recipe is and how we should follow it. Then I explained measuring. I gave her the pot and a spoon and she immediately put the spoon in the pot and began to stir, looking disappointing when she discovered there was nothing in the pot. I had no idea that she would know what do to with a spoon and a pot! I guess she learns more from watching me than I know. Then I placed the measuring cup of flour near the pot and she surprised me again by carefully dumping the flour into the pot. Wow! I mean, I knew that children learn from behavior that is modeled to them, but I always applied it to some complicated psychological perspective of  learning modeled aggression, classical conditioning, or the like. Sometimes those bricks hit me really hard on the head and I wonder  how I failed to see the obvious enormous truth that was right behind the entire theory of learning behavior…you can learn ANY behavior. Even the small mundane ones. It’s moments like these that I wonder how I have managed to maintain the 4.0 I am so devoted to.

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Anyways, it was now quite obvious to me that Ellie basically know the basics of cooking, so I let her get more involved than I had first intended. She measured with teaspoons and measuring cups, carefully dumping each new ingredient into the pan and then stirring it. The whole time her little brow was furrowed intently while her eyes twinkled with excitement and interest. I never would have imagined that my one year old would be so helpful in making play dough. She never ceases to amaze me. But, children know what they are capable of and she didn’t hesitate to show me.

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After I let her choose which color of food coloring that she wanted we transferred the pan from the counter to the stove. She watched me from the step stool as I stirred the mixture on the stove top. Shortly, the play dough thickened and we set it to cool. Once it cooled it was back to the counter and I was scrambling around trying to find play dough toys. Of course, I have none. But thankfully I have my vast preschool-teacher inventiveness and I remembered that usually children are more interested in things that aren’t necessarily meant to be toys and that expensive play dough brand toys are not needed. So I cut up some straws, found a few plastic toys and some cookie cutters and gave them to Ellie.

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It didn’t take her long to dive right in and begin experimenting with this new (and apparently interestingly scented, judging by all of the sniffing Ellie did) and exciting material. She didn’t even eat it! I was quite surprised by that. After about fifteen minutes of playing with the dough she tired of it and helped me pick it all up. Now, what can a one year old learn from fifteen minutes of poking and prodding salty smelling dough? Nothing, right? Though I cannot say for sure just what she learned, sometimes the outcome of the activity is not nearly as important as the process of engaging in the activity. This is just another example of that important truth. And while it may seem like nothing to the adult eye, it is everything in the eye of the child. Encourage adventure. Try new things.