Literary Guide for Mildred Pitts Walter’s “Alec’s Primer”

Alec’s Primer
by Mildred Pitts Walter

Alec’s Primer is a story of freedom – a true one. Based on the real-life experiences of a man named Alec Turner, the book follows a young boy born into slavery through childhood on a plantation, fighting for the north during the Civil War, and finding freedom in Vermont. Though born a slave and forbidden to learn literacy skills, young Alec learned to read with the help of the plantation owner’s granddaughter – who insisted that Alec learn the alphabet despite the trouble that he would be in if he were to be found out. In learning the foundation of reading and writing the English language, Alec gets his first taste of freedom and dreams of someday escaping to Vermont – though he does suffer punishment for learning to read. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Mordicai Gerstein’s “The Mountains of Tibet”

The Mountains of Tibet
by Mordicai Gerstein

Literature Guide: The Mountains of Tibet

An accomplished writer, illustrator, and animator; local author Mordicai Gerstein‘s books for children are moving, beautifully illustrated, and feature deep themes that children of all ages (and the adults in their lives) can relate to. In The Mountains of Tibet, Gerstein weaves a lovely story about kite-flying and the passing of time with a lesson about reincarnation and Buddhist culture. Not only do readers learn to think about what happens after death, but the story inspires them to think about the many different belief systems that exist in cultures all around the world – helping to open their eyes to the vast diversity amongst humans.

The Mountains of Tibet focuses on a young boy who lives in a small village, high up in Tibet’s mountains. His favorite activity is kite-flying, and he spends his childhood imagining all of the places in the world that he might travel to when he is older and dreaming of all of the adventures that he may have in other parts of the globe. Despite his dreams of travel, the boy grows up to be a man who remains at home in his small village, serving as a woodcutter amongst the community in which he spent his childhood. Eventually, once he has accomplished much and becomes an old man, he dies and finds himself posed to make an important decision. Finding himself in a strange place that is somewhere between the earth and the rest of the universe, the man is given a choice: to remain as part of the endless universe, or to choose his own reincarnation without knowledge of his previous life. The man chooses reincarnation and, in a heart warming twist, he revisits his own hometown and experiences another life there as a kite-flying young girl.

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Literary Guide for Jeanne Birdsall’s “The Penderwicks”

The Penderwicks
by Jeanne Birdsall

Literature Guide: The Penderwicks

Our first chapter book featured in this series, The Penderwicks – which takes place in the Berkshires – is a fantastic family summer read. Featuring a quirky cast of characters, a bit of mystery, and a healthy does of adventure and mystery, Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks is a story that can appeal to readers of all ages. While the accompanying literary guide is designed for use with 5th grade students (ages 10 and 11), the story is appropriate for young elementary students (though they may need some support with comprehension), yet can be enjoyed by tweens, teens, and adults – especially when done as a family read-aloud. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for William Steig’s “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble”

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
by William Steig

A Caldecott Medal-winning book, William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble has been well-loved by multiple generations of children. Published in 1969, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble seems timeless – the fable-like quality of the story paired with Steig’s simple illustrations have allowed the book to appeal to young readers for decades without the story losing its popularity as American culture evolved.

An excellent read for children who are early on in their elementary school careers, the story is about a young donkey named Sylvester and his discovery of a surprising pebble that grants wishes. Unfortunately for Sylvester, however, soon after his discovery of the pebble and its magical powers he encounters a lion, and wishes to be a rock so that he doesn’t have to be afraid. Of course, the pebble turns him into a rock and, as his rock-body has no arms, Sylvester drops the pebble – making him incapable of wishing himself back to being a donkey. Months pass, and his family and neighbors miss him terribly and search high and low for him. One day, his miserable parents decide to have a picnic in order to cheer up. In a serendipitous chain of events (the likes of which can only be found in children’s books), Sylvester’s parents happen upon the magic pebble and accidentally-on-purpose wish him back into their lives. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Arthur Dorros’ “Abuela”

Abuela
by Arthur Dorros

Literature Guide: Abuela

Set in urban Manhattan, Arthur Dorros’ story Abuela combines magic, memories, and bilingual text to tell a beautiful and imaginative story about childhood, family, immigration, and Hispanic culture. Paired with beautiful images created by illustrator Elisa Kleven, Abuela is an excellent example of a bilingual and multicultural children’s book.

In the story, young Rosalba and her abuela (grandmother) are returning by bus from a trip to feed the birds. During the ride – perhaps inspired by recent interactions with feathered friends – Rosalba wonders what it would be like to fly, and to see the city from the sky. She and her grandmother go on a wonderful imaginary adventure, exploring some of Manhattan’s greatest sights from a new angle. They examine the shapes of clouds, pay a visit to the Statue of Liberty, and greet the rooftops from above. Alongside the events of Rosalba’s imaginary journey are stories that her grandmother tells of her life before she immigrated to New York. Inspired by Rosalba’s ideas, the stories teach Rosalba (and readers of the story) about her abuela’s cultural roots and what her life was like before she immigrated to New York City.

Abuela is a fantastic story to pair with studies of Hispanic culture, and presents families with an opportunity to learn some basic Spanish phrases together. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Esther Averill’s “The Fire Cat”

The Fire Cat
by Esther Averill

Sometimes, you just need a silly story.

And Esther Averill’s The Fire Cat is exactly that.

A Harper Collins I CAN READ book, and originally published in 1960, The Fire Cat tells the story of a spotted cat named Pickles, who has big paws and lots of trouble figuring out what to do in life. After bumbling around a bit, and receiving help from the wonderful Mrs. Goodkind, Pickles is eventually adopted by a fire department, and learns to be a fire cat! He uses his big paws to do all sorts of fire cat jobs, and grows into himself more and more the longer he stays at the fire house. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Patricia Polacco’s “My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother”

My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother
by Patricia Polacco

Beloved children’s author and illustrator Patricia Polacco has written countless classics, covering everything from dyslexia to raising chickens. In My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother, Polacco shares a story of sibling rivalry infused with aspects of the Ukrainian culture in which she was raised. Set in Michigan on Polacco’s grandparents’ farm, the story follows Patricia through a variety of older-brother-related frustrations, mostly based in his habit of challenging her to contests that he always won. In the story, Patricia endures intense frustration and anger – the special kind unique to childhood. Eventually, Patricia beats her brother at something, but it involves riding the carnival merry-go-round for so long that she faints and falls off! Her determination to win the contest is obvious when her brother discovers what has happened, and their relationship is forever changed.

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Literary Guide for Elly Mackay’s “If You Hold a Seed”

If You Hold a Seed
by Elly Mackay

Looking for ways to enhance you family reading time? Hilltown Families has a wealth of resources for supporting families with kids of all ages in expanding the stories that they read together into deeper learning experiences.

Our 2014 Summer Reading Resource series will be featured here on Hilltown Families every week throughout the summer, sharing downloadable guides to children’s literature written by graduate students in the Integrated Learning teacher preparation program at Antioch University New England. Each literary guide pairs a featured book with suggestions for ways to help children expand their thinking, create connections to the text, and allow their literacy skills to grow. These guides contain outlines with discussion topics, critical thinking questions, and suggestions for many other activities that are designed for use in classrooms but can very easily be adapted for supplemental education use at home. Weekly featured titles will cover a wide variety of themes, lengths, and levels of difficulty – meaning there’s something for every family, and for every reader! Some are classics and some are lesser-known gems, but all of the books present lots of potential for helping families use their reading as a foundation for further learning.

The books included in the series include both picture and chapter books, and cover all of the ages and developmental capacities typically found in grades K-5. Check back weekly for a new guide, or check out the resources offered in our 2013 series.

The first guide in this summer’s series is Canadian author/illustrator Elly Mackay’s book, If You Hold a Seed.

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Teach with Movies: Pairing Films with Learning Guides & Lesson Plans

Teach with Movies

Teach with Movies encompass more than 390 Learning Guides and lesson plans, as well as articles on using movies to further education.

Children love stories, and they love to learn from them. Stories take many different forms – they might be found in a picture book, told aloud from memory, read in a chapter book, or played out in real life, on a stage, or on a screen. Wherever they come from, stories help children to learn about the world around them. As adults, we make a conscious effort to help our children recognize what they’ve learned from a story, and the most common place to find stories meant for learning is in a book – but there are stories all around us, just waiting for their educational value to be taken advantage of!

Using resources offered by Teach with Movies, families can utilize the educational potential found in hundreds of movies for kids of all ages. Offering support specifically designed for parents, teachers and homeschooling families, Teach with Movies’ site is filled with movie guides that include ideas for lessons, conversation starters, follow-up activities, and more – all designed to encourage and support students’ learning… Read the rest of this entry »

7 Literary Guides for Expanding Family Reading Time

Literary Guides for Expanding Family Reading Time

Our Reading Resource series was featured here on Hilltown Families this past summer, sharing downloadable guides of children’s literature from graduate students in the Integrated Learning teacher preparation program at Antioch University New England.

Looking for ways to enhance your family reading time? Hilltown Families has a wealth of resources for supporting families with kids of all ages in expanding the stories that they read together into deeper learning experiences.

Our series, Summer Reading Resource: Literary Guides for Expanding Family Reading Time, features teacher-written guides filled with lessons and activities to accompany some fantastic children’s books. Though the guides are designed to be used by educators, their contents can be easily adapted for use at home for parents looking to supplement their children’s learning. Within each guide, parents will find detailed outlines for activities and lessons to do after reading each story, as well as sets of discussion topics, suggestions for further reading with similar themes, and ideas for tying in math, science, social studies, art, and other topics into your work with the book.

The books included in the series include both picture and chapter books, and cover all of the ages and developmental capacities typically found in grades K-5, and can be divided into three categories…

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Halloween Math: Counting Kit Kats & Charleston Chews

Masking Math in Halloween Adventures

Before Halloween, think of a question that you could research as a family, something that leads to collecting some basic data on Halloween night, and mask informal math studies with collecting and counting candy and costumes!

Of all of the subjects that are taught in elementary school, math can be the hardest one to explore creatively at home. Simple exercises in counting and basic addition and subtraction can be integrated into daily routines, and math concepts arise in cooking and baking projects, but more challenging and content-specific math concepts can be difficult to weave into day to day activities at home.

However, the candy collecting done on Halloween presents an opportunity for some informal at-home math studies! Even kids who are too old to trick-or-treat (or those who don’t collect candy) can use the holiday as an opportunity to practice what they know about basic logic, data collection, and statistical analysis…

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Lessons Worth Sharing

TED-Ed: Resource for Educators & Learners

In addition to offering thousands of informational and inspirational talks, the organization TED now offers resources specifically for educators and learners. TED-Ed (ed.ted.com), a new platform developed by the organization (whose acronym name stands for technology, entertainment, and design), offers educational videos that differ slightly in structure and purpose from the internationally known TED and TEDx talks.

Written by educators and animated by professional animators, TED-Ed videos provide lessons on a wide variety of topics in every typical school subject. Families can use TED-Ed resources to supplement studies done in school, to help with homework, or to explore new and exciting topics together. Each video is designed to offer specific information that is presented in a way that makes for easy listening, and the narrative is accompanied by visuals that illustrate the main idea and details of each topic.

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Literary Guide for Astrid Lindgren’s “Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter”

Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter
by Astrid Lindgren

Our Summer Reading Resource series is coming to a close with our seventh and final installment, Astrid Lindgren’s Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter.

Originally written in Swedish, this a tale of adventure that shares themes with literary classics such as Romeo and Juliet and The Adventures of Robinhood. The story’s protagonist – Ronia – is, as the title states, the daughter of Matt, the fearsome leader of a band of robbers. Ronia is raised at her parents’ fort, the headquarters for Matt’s ring of bandits. Surrounding the fort is a vast, dense, and magical forest, which provides beautiful scenery and fodder for Ronia’s childhood adventures.

The major conflict within the story is centered around a friendship that Ronia develops with a boy named Birk, who is just about her age and is every bit as interested in exploring the forest as Ronia is herself…

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Literary Guide for Robert McCloskey’s “Make Way for Ducklings”

Make Way for Ducklings
by Robert McCloskey

Make Way for Ducklings, written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey, is our featured title this week in our Summer Reading Resource series.  Make Way for Ducklings tells the story of the Mallard family – made up of a mama duck, a papa duck, and eight little ducklings with silly rhyming names. After investigating New England’s rural landscape, the Mallards decide that the countryside is filled with too many threatening predators for their liking (and for the safety of their future ducklings). They settle, instead, in busy Boston, and hatch their eggs amongst skyscrapers and busy streets. Once the ducklings are born, readers travel throughout the city with them, experiencing all of the excitement that Boston has to offer from a duckling’s perspective, and discover – with the Mallards – that city life presents its own unique set of obstacles, just like country life. Their main problem? Cars won’t stop for the family to cross the street! Luckily, the Mallards find a friendly police officer to help them, which leads to citywide police escorts helping to ensure their safety…

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Literary Guide for Kevin Henkes’ “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse”

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse
by Kevin Henkes

This week as part of our Summer Reading Resource literary guide series, Kevin Henkes’ classic, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse is featured. Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, a silly yet meaningful story, is the tale of a young mouse who is quite enamored with some of her most favorite possessions and has trouble containing her excitement! Lilly, an elementary school student, brings her favorite purple plastic purse to school, filled with fancy movie star glasses and three big, shiny quarters. She is eager to show of her goodies with her classmates, but isn’t able to find a way of doing this that fits with the class routine and expectations. Unfortunately, her teacher (whom she normally loves) takes away her purse and its contents until the end of day, leaving Lilly frustrated and disappointed. She even draws a mean picture and puts it in her teacher’s bag in order to get back at him.

By the end of the story, Lilly has learned a few important lessons. Able to share her prized items the next day at school, she learns the proper etiquette for bringing things from home into the classroom. She also learns to apologize, and learns that in working to curb her excitement, she can avoid such situations in the future…

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Literary Guide for Kate Banks’ “Max’s Words”

Max’s Words
by Kate Banks

Learning words can be incredibly exciting for young children, especially those who are just beginning to read and are developing the skills to decode words on their own. Kate Banks’ book Max’s Words captures this time in life beautifully, and uses a boy’s enthusiasm for vocabulary to weave together a tale of collecting, autonomy, and developing self-confidence, and is the featured title this week in our Summer Reading Resource literary guide series. Young and old readers alike can enjoy the book, but it speaks in particular to early elementary-aged students, as they likely share similar experiences with the protagonist…

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Literary Guide for Roald Dahls’ “Danny the Champion of the World”

Danny the Champion of the World
by Roald Dahl

Beloved and quirky children’s writer Roald Dahl is known for his strange yet fascinating tales that capture the curiosity and imagination of kids of all ages. Dahl’s characters are often just on the verge of being unbelievable – they are balanced perfectly in between the real world and the realm of Dahl’s imagination. Each story creates a world for the reader that features a special kind of fantasy – the events that take place could never happen within the reader’s world, yet somehow they are not out of place within a similar context in the story.

Our Summer Reading Resource literary guide series continues this week with Danny the Champion of the World, one of many Roald Dahl classics. The story focuses on Danny and his father, an oddball pair who live in a gypsy wagon behind a combination gas station/repair shop. The two are often bullied by their wealthy (and snobby) neighbor Mr. Hazell, and their mutual dislike for the man leads to the pair hatching a plan to exact revenge upon him. However, in the process, Danny ends up learning one of his father’s biggest secrets – a secret that leads to Danny grappling with a challenging moral dilemma. In the end, the two beautifully execute a hilariously sneaky (yet morally questionable) endeavor that does, in fact, satisfy their desire to teach Mr. Hazell a lesson…

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Literary Guide for Mo Willems’ “City Dog, Country Frog”

City Dog, Country Frog
by Mo Willems

Our Summer Reading Resource literary guide series continues this week with Western Massachusetts author Mo Willems’ City Dog, Country Frog,  a beautiful tale of friendship throughout the seasons. The tale begins in the summer, when the weather is warm, plants are green, and flowers are in bloom. City Dog visits the country, where he meets Country Frog – a curious amphibian whose habits, games, and surroundings are quite different from those of City Dog. Nevertheless, the two become great friends, and they discover that they each have much to teach the other. City Dog visits Country Frog during each of the seasons, and their activities reflect the energy and aesthetic of the transformation of their surroundings. During the summer, they focus on fun and games in the warm sun, and in the fall they decide to play remembering games – an activity that allows them to think and reflect, and to take in the beauty of the fiery fall leaves and the still, crisp air. When winter comes, City Dog takes a visit to the snowy countryside only to discover that his froggy friend is nowhere to be found. He waits for him to appear, but to no avail – Country Frog is mysteriously gone. Once spring comes and the ground thaws, City Dog visits again. Country Frog doesn’t turn up, but City Dog makes a new friend, Country Chipmunk, and the clever ending implies that they two are about to embark on a journey of friendship that will reflect the changes in season just as beautifully as City Dog’s adventures with Country Frog did.

While the text is fairly simple – making it ideal for younger students – the themes presented within the story can be accessed by students of all ages…

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Literary Guide for Jane Yolen’s “Letting Swift River Go”

Letting Swift River Go
by Jane Yolen, Illustrated by Barbara Cooney

Our new Summer Reading Resource series will be featured here on Hilltown Families every week throughout the end of August, sharing downloadable guides of children’s literature from graduate students in the Integrated Learning teacher preparation program at Antioch University New England. Each literary guide pairs a featured book with suggestions for ways to help children expand their thinking, create connections to the text, and allow their literacy skills to grow. These guides contain outlines with discussion questions, art projects, outdoor adventures, and many other activities that are designed for use in classrooms but can very easily be adapted for use at home for supplemental education. Weekly featured titles will cover a wide variety of themes, lengths, and levels of difficulty – meaning there’s something for every family, and for every reader! Some are classics, some are lesser-known gems – but all of the books present potential for helping families build upon the stories that they read together.

Our first featured title is this series of literary guides is Letting Swift River Go by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Barbara Cooney…

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PBS LearningMedia: Digital Media for Educators

PBS LearningMedia: Online Media Educational Resources for Educators

PBS LearningMedia is an online educational service offering media resources appropriate for PreK-16 curriculum, for use in classrooms, homeschool, and informal educational environments, such as after-school, community facilities, and museums.

Every season, family activities tend to follow a common thread, dictated by changes in weather and routine, the foods that are in season, and the activities that kids are participating in. Life has a way of presenting learning opportunities to kids that easily relate to the things they’re experiencing, and if the opportunities don’t present themselves, kids are quite skilled at finding ways to satisfy their own curiosity. However, their ability to do so is dependent on the resources available to them. There are endless books available from libraries, and the out-of-doors offers a plethora of possibilities, but some topics are difficult to learn about without digging deeper.

PBS Learning Media provides a wide variety of educational resources to help curious families expand their learning! The extensive content, presented in the form of videos, still images, games, audio clips, rich text, and lesson plans (which can easily be adapted for use at home!), covers almost every possible topic and is designed to reach kids from pre-K through 12th grade…

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Food Security in Summer Months in Western MA

Food Security in Summer Months in Western MA

For children across America, the end of school means the end of book reports and spelling tests, and the end of school breakfast and lunch-their most reliable source of nutrition. In Western Massachusetts, 38,870 kids don’t always know where they will get their next meal. That’s one out of every five kids in the region. Across the country, more than 16 million children live in food insecure homes.

In the summer, these households that struggle to make ends meet all year long are faced with additional challenges. The meals children receive in school are not available and more families with children turn to their local pantries and meal sites to help fill this gap. As a result, these assistance sites can face increased strain on resources during the summer as they try their best to meet demand…

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Expressing Appreciation to Teachers & Administrators as the School Year Draws to an End

End of the School Year Gratitude & Appreciation

Do you have suggestions on gifts to give teachers and administrators to thank them for the past school year? Add your ideas to our reader recommend list!

End of the school year is fast approaching and many families are looking for creative ways to express their gratitude of the teachers and administrators that educate and support their children throughout the school year!

Gift ideas can range from making something from scratch in your kitchen, to pairing up store bought sweets for a fun association that expresses your appreciation, to a summer themed gift basket for enjoying their time off, or a clever presentation of a gift card.

As always, Hilltown Families’ readers are a great resource for ideas! Take a look at their recommendations shared in our post, End of the Year Teacher Appreciation Gifts, get inspired, and share your own ideas too!

Language Play: 22 Apps that Increase Children’s Vocabulary

Apps that Increase Children’s Vocabulary

I once had a teen client who had the most amazing ideas and insights. He was one of those kids who really cared about people and thought about things deeply. I always considered it a gift to work with him. So why did he need speech and language services? Unfortunately, he had a very small repertoire of vocabulary words and he couldn’t access the very reading material that he would have loved to think about. What we did in each session was read poetry together. He had to identify and ask for definitions of the words he didn’t know, look them up, and tell me what the poem meant. For most kids, the meaning of a poem would be the most difficult, but this young man immediately understood the significance of the poem once he understood the words that blocked him from the ideas. My goal was to get him to a point of independence where he routinely looked up the words he didn’t know. I’m not sure if he is doing that in his adult life, but I do know that he owns that poetry book, a present from his mother, which he treasured and carried in his backpack throughout his senior year. He also took a poetry class and started to write poems that year.

Now that I have an iPad, I wish I could go back and show him how to integrate several apps. There’s a poetry app called Poetry by the Poetry Foundation, there’s a Dictionary.com app for definitions, and there’s an app for creating vocabulary flash cards for extra repetition and practice called Quizard by GabySoft. This flashcard program not only allows you to make your own flashcards but also includes lots of shared vocabulary lists for different ages, including Dolch lists, Latin roots and prefixes, and standardized tests such as Advanced Placement tests, College Admissions tests, and Drivers Tests.

Maybe we should start way back in Pre-K and kindergarten. Kids need to learn vocabulary for time (days, minutes, hours, morning, night, today, yesterday, tomorrow), weather words, animal names, vehicles, clothing, food, colors, days of the week, counting and numbers, the alphabet, verbs, etc. There are apps for all of these categories if you search the App Store. I believe I mentioned in a past article that it’s a good idea to make labels for objects in the house even before kids are readers. Kids learn vocabulary first through routines and personal experiences. Exposure is the key. One of my favorite kindergarten teachers believes in teaching kids advanced vocabulary and concepts during her reading lessons. All the kids of her class can answer the question, “What is the recurring motif in this Eric Carle book?”

Some of my favorite apps for the younger set are:

For older students, I use:

Back to learning through family routines. I remember how that idea gelled for me when my toddler grandson saw a bird fly into one of our rosebushes to its nest and I told him the bird was going to sit on eggs in its nest. The next time he came over, he pulled my arm and said, “Nest, grandma.” Or the time I was playing cards with my grandson and he delighted me by repeated an expression I’d been using , ”I’m on a roll, grandma!” So next time you’re at an event you found out about here on Hilltown Families, be conscious of teaching vocabulary when you explain things to your children. You’ll be enriching their vocabulary skills while you have fun!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at kathypuckett.com

Language Play: What Can a Parent Do to Encourage Good Narrative Skills?

Narratives: What did you do today?

Have you ever tried to find out about your children’s daily experiences? Well, of course, teenagers rarely want to share their day with an adult, but younger children do. For some kids this is one of the hardest things to do. Why is that? It seems like such a simple thing to do!

Well, let’s think about it. Telling a story pulls all kinds of language skills together. First, you have to remember (and you have to think it’s important enough to attend in order to store the memory). Then, you have to organize how to explain it. This includes understanding the main idea of the event, the important characters involved, the setting, the steps and sequence in which it happened, the outcome, the emotions involved. This is all before you say anything; this is the planning stage. Then, there’s choosing the vocabulary and remembering the words you need, deciding what’s most important, telling the steps in the right sequence, giving just the right amount of information for the person in front of you (what do they know and not know? How long will they listen to me? What will they be most interested in?), and describing and explaining clearly, and expressing emotions for the reactions to the event and to the ending.

Holy cow! No wonder speech language pathologists often use a story retelling task as a way to check functional language skills. Some kids have a glitch along the way and it’s our job to figure out where the gaps may be and teach kids explicitly how to fix or compensate for the skill that’s hard. Of course, there are also developmental stages involved. A preschool child is not going to sound much like a teenager telling a story!

So what can a parent do to encourage good narrative skills?

First of all, read stories to your kids. And tell your kids stories about what your day was like!

Start with specific prompts. “Tell me 2 things you did today.” Or “tell me something you liked or didn’t like today.” Or “what’s something you learned today?”

Eventually, you want them to not need prompts. So you can teach them how a story goes. After I read a picture book to a child, I often copy or take photos of three or four of the illustrations. I show them out of order and let the child sequence them. Then I start with “First________, then________, next________, last________.” and wait for the child to finish each sentence using the pictures. I do this with many stories until they do this on their own. You may need to write the words “First, Then, Next, Last” on a card to support them visually even if they aren’t yet reading (they may notice the first letter sounds to remember the words). Or you may need to use the card when you tell a story to your child, to model how to tell stories.

Lately, I’ve been using an app called Making Sequences by Zorten Software, LLC. This app allows me to make custom stories by taking pictures on my iPad to use for sequencing, typing in a sentence for each picture that the child dictates, recording the child saying the sentence, and playing back the whole story in the child’s voice. The kids love it!

Older children may need manipulatives or graphic organizers to remember what to put in and in what order. Many speech therapists use Story Grammar Marker.

Some older children may need practice with main ideas and summaries. They can tell lots of details but you don’t know the topic. I tell them to start with the big idea of the story or ask them to tell me about the story in one or two sentences. Then I ask for more details.

Just a few ideas to help your children be good communicators!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at kathypuckett.com

Language Play: Stages of Language and Resources for Practice

Grammarsizes

When kids are little, we enjoy the quirky ways they express their ideas. We hear them say funny, ungrammatical things, and it delights us to hear them grapple with the English language. These errors show a developing repertoire of grammatical forms. When they say “mans” and “falled,” they show an understanding of the underlying rules of English grammar. They’ve listened to language around them enough to simplify and use morphological rules (for example, plurals are the noun plus an “s” sound at the end of the noun; past tense is the verb plus “t” and “d” sounds at the end of the verb). This shows a pretty sophisticated understanding! If we look carefully, we see that children learn the basic rules or patterns first, then generalize them (like “goed” for “went”). And then they notice the exceptions; those pesky details that break the rules. Of course, English is a hybrid language, so there are MANY exceptions. Eventually they create models in their minds of what “sounds” right as a guide.

Some children, for several potential reasons, may have trouble noticing or hearing the exceptions to the basic rules in the adult language around them. It could be caused by many things including different brain wiring, lack of attention to detail, difficulty organizing speech into patterns. Or it could be living in a stressful environment, emotional issues, or having recurring ear infections that make listening difficult at a critical period for learning. For these children, grammatical development appears stalled, and their expression sounds “young” to us. Many of these children need clear instructions and lots of practice to acquire adult grammar. They need to learn the underlying rules and they need to establish their own models in order to hear and decide what sounds correct. For parents, it’s difficult to tell if there’s a problem, because if you’ve ever spent time in a kindergarten classroom, you know that all kids are developing at different rates in different areas. Their language skills are so diverse that listening to different children speak, it’s very hard to tell what is expected! That’s where language screenings by speech language pathologists are helpful to identify if there are any gaps.

There have been many studies of morphological development that guide therapists and teachers. I use one by Brown (1973) which is the basis of many standardized language tests:

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Other grammatical formations develop over time , such as negation (“No” changes to “I don’t want to”), and question formation (“Can I?” changes to wh-questions) (“Where it is?” changes to “Where is it?”).

For more information on Brown’s Stages of Language and time frames for them, check out Brown’s Stages of Language Development.

The good news for parents is that there are apps for extra practice that an SLP may suggest for home practice. Here are a few I suggest from Superduper, Inc. for practice after explicit instruction in speech sessions:

  • Regular Past Tense Verbs
  • Irregular Past Tense Verbs
  • Plurals Fun Deck
  • Using “I and Me” Fun Deck
  • “WH” Question cards
  • “WH” Questions at School

I also use the Question Sleuth by Zorten for practice using questions “Where” and “Is.” Before each turn the child must say “Where is the star? Is it under the _____?”

Remember to never directly correct a child’s grammar. Rather, repeat what they say “your” way (model) and then quickly respond to what they are trying to tell you. If you spend too much time on correction, they will feel like you aren’t listening to them. Reinforce correct productions when you notice them, “I heard you use ‘the.’ Nice job!”

As a parent, supporting your child’s language development is complex. You can seek advice and use guidelines. Most of all, don’t forget to relax and enjoy being with your family!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at kathypuckett.com

[Image credit: (ccl) Tom Magliery]

Language Play: Speech Articulation

Speech Articulation

If your child is not understood by teachers, peers or relatives, they may have multiple speech errors. To help your child speak with confidence, take time to support their expression by listening to them.

It’s holiday vacation time and family time! Hooray! This is a good time to check out our children’s communication skills. But how is a parent to know what is typical?

Children go through steps to learn to articulate speech sounds just like the steps children take to develop motor skills for learning to walk (crawling, standing, walking while holding on to furniture, taking steps independently) or learning to write cursive (practice, practice, practice). But some parents are unaware of the steps to expect with speech and the developmental time frames to see them emerge. In order to communicate with words, children start by listening. That’s why the first thing to check if you can’t understand a child is their hearing. It is especially important that children hear well in the first few years of life when they are listening to language so intensely. It is critical for children to not miss these listening opportunities in order to prevent speech and language delays.

If given good listening opportunities, our children go through a developmental process of learning placement and movements of the articulators (tongue, jaw, teeth, lips and palate) that take the air stream coming from the vocal folds and alter it to mimic the sounds they hear. — Monolingual babies at six months of age can differentiate the speech sounds of all languages but at a year old they can only discriminate the sounds that they hear in the environment of their families. Here is an interesting article about bilingual speech perception: “Hearing Bilingual: How Babies Sort Out Language.”

Most children begin speech using the sounds they can easily see on the lips of their family members such as “m” (mama), “p”(papa), “b” (baba), “w” (wawa). Other sounds may not be mastered until as late as age eight, such as “s” and “r.” Baby talk is fine for babies, but when English speech sound errors continue past age eight, it can affect both academics (speech productions are the basis for reading and writing words) and social interactions (peers may avoid children they don’t understand). If a child is aware that others can’t understand them, they may shut down and stop trying to express their ideas. Children who have these problems may not know that teachers can help them communicate and may feel helpless. Most articulation errors are not due to physical disabilities, but result from not learning correct production of speech sounds. These children benefit from explicit instruction on how to produce correct sounds; lots of practice of speech sounds in isolation, different positions in words, and phrases or sentences; and compensation strategies to increase listeners’ understanding.

Some suggestions to parents: Read the rest of this entry »

Social Learning Made Easy with Sophia

Sophia Flips the Classroom with New Social Education Platform

Are there topics that you want your kids to learn that haven’t yet been (or aren’t) covered in their school’s curriculum?  Are you a teacher looking for online information to supplement your student’s textbook or classroom notes, or a place to share your own curriculum?  Are you a homeschool or unschool learning facilitator wishing you had a map of topics in multiple disciplines? Sophia, an online learning resource, offers validated crowdsourced educational material that supports all these needs, and much more!

The site (www.sophia.org) offers a wealth of information – presented in a way that is social and conducive to learning – and is divided up into categories based on discipline, then broken down by specific topics and grade level appropriateness.   You can find anything from a unit on molecular structure for 10th-12th graders to a tutorial on the preterite and imperfect tenses of the Portuguese language!

Each topic section is also divided into units (arranged in a logical order) that, if followed closely, can lead a learner to a much deeper understanding of a topic.  The site isn’t, however, just another online textbook-style resource.  Within each topic are a variety of ways to learn, and users are able to choose which structure best fits their goals and/or learning style.  Within the website’s solid structure is a surprising amount of freedom!  Users can simply read up on a topic, or dig deeper by taking quizzes, playing games, create their own flashcards, etc.  The site is a great resource for parents, teachers, and students – especially as a supplement to other learning materials!  Check out this video to learn more:

Q&A: 19 Children’s Books on Food Security/Scarcity

QUESTION AND ANSWERS


Do you have a favorite children’s book that touches on the topic of food security/scarcity you care to share? Hilltown Families is collaborating with The Food Bank of Western MA on compiling a list of kids books that have to do with fighting hunger, soup kitchens, food banks, etc. for their Youth Action Hunger program.

RECOMMEND A TITLE:

Publicly post any titles you’d like to recommend below, or submit it privately here:

Read the rest of this entry »

Youth Against Hunger Education

YAH! Curriculum
Youth Against Hunger Education

YAH CurriculumTake time this summer to learn about issues affecting your community as a family!  For starters, resources from the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts’ Youth Against Hunger (YAH!) curriculum can be used to help kids learn about how issues of hunger, homelessness, and/or poverty are present within and affect members of their own communities.

The curriculum, available on the food bank’s website, includes a wide variety of resources for parents and educators.  Their curriculum is divided into units, and includes activities, reading lists, recommended films, and discussion starters for kids of all ages (each resource is labeled with a suggested age).  Units include: “Why Eat? The Meaning of Food,” “Who’s Hungry? Food insecurity in the U.S.,” and “What Now?  Ways to Take Action.”

Try pairing some of their curriculum resources with an educational visit to the food bank, or a family commitment to volunteering at a local food bank (or other community resource, like Just Roots) throughout the summer.

The YAH! curriculum also includes a list of suggested service learning projects for families- by undertaking a project, families can learn about taking action and raising awareness of community issues, all while helping to make a difference to the lives of many right here in Western MA!

Related Post:

Board Game Bonanza at Westfield State University

Board Game Bonanza for Students & Teachers
In Westfield on May 2nd, 2012

Some examples of the games include: “Follow the Pi”, an interactive board game that reviews basic algebra and invites students to move and learn through a Pi shaped board. Another group has developed the “Healthy Hungry Market” in which students learn about the value of money and healthy nutritional habits. Board Game topics vary from Language arts to Science to Math to Spanish to Health. One student from Geography and Regional Planning developed a type of “Westfieldopoly” which will provide an interactive means to introduce new students to the campus and community.

Students at Westfield State University present the Board Game Bonanza!

The event, which will take place on Wednesday, May 2nd from 1:30-3pm,  features student-designed board games that teach players about a subject within typical classroom content (think state learning standards) and incorporate physical movement at the same time!  Some of the games include an algebra review game with a pi-shaped board, Westfieldopoly, and a game about the value of money and how it affects making healthy food choices.

Students and classroom teachers attending the event will have the chance to play multiple games, and will be able to learn not only about the topics covered in the games, but will gain an awareness of the level of thought expected and produced in college, and can learn about creative ways of expressing knowledge (specifically, through games).

The event will take place in the Woodward Center Lounge on the Westfield State University campus.  For more info call 413-572-5368. Free event, but pre-registration is required.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Alan Bates]

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