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children's literacy

Literacy Expert Spotlight: Saroj Ghoting

Our literacy expert for the month of August is Saroj Ghoting.  Saroj Ghoting is an Early Childhood Literacy Consultant and national trainer on early literacy. She presents early literacy training and information sessions at national, regional, and state conferences, and training for library staff and their partners.  Her newest book is STEP into Storytime: Using StoryTime Effective Practice to Strengthen the Development of Newborns to Five-Year-Olds and includes information on presenting storytimes for mixed-age groups, when newborn to five-year-olds are in the same storytime.


Saroj, please tell us a little about yourself.
I am a children’s librarian by profession and after working in Montgomery County (MD) Public Libraries for 25 years, I became a consultant. I travel around the country presenting workshops on early literacy to public library staff so that they will, in turn, go out into their communities and help families help their children enter school ready to learn to read.

What are some activities that promote literacy?
Well, the most obvious is reading books with children from the time they are born (or even while you are pregnant). Equally important though is talking with your young children. HOW we talk and read with children is as important as that we talk and read with them.

When talking with babies, for instance, we should use that “parentese” voice, higher pitch, elongated vowels, clearer speech slowing down language, not baby talk, but using regular adult words in this higher pitch. Studies show that until about nine months of age babies listen longer when we speak this way and actually have a larger vocabulary than those who are not spoken to in parentese. And, we want to use all kinds of words, not just nouns like bottle, blanket, applesauce, dog.

It is important to use rich language—use adjectives, talk about things they cannot see—we are going to visit grandma on Saturday even though they don’t see grandma in front of them. For older children, asking questions that cannot be answered with yes or no to encourage their language is key for later literacy.

When reading, don’t worry if you can’t get through the whole book. Don’t turn reading into a power struggle. Have a few enjoyable minutes and the more enjoyable it is, the more your child will want to do it. Set aside the phone, turn off the tv, enjoy your few minutes together. Children who have enjoyable experiences around books and reading are more likely to stick with learning to read in school even if it is hard to learn at first.

What were some of the favorite children’s picture books you’ve read this year?
Mama’s Day with Little Gray by Aimee Reid
I’m Not Reading! By Jonathan Allen
The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland
Where’s Walrus by Stephen Savage
Hooray for Hat by Brian Won

What are some other books you like to share with young children?
I like the Llama Llama books by Anna Dewdney, the If You Give . . . books by Laura Numeroff, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star by Jane Cabrera, Over in the Meadow and other titles by Marianne Berkes, Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Rosenthal, A Splendid Friend Indeed by Suzanne Bloom, A Mother for Choco and Wolf’s Chicken Stew by Keiko Kasza, Thank You Bear by Greg Foley, Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman, Angel Baby by Pat Cummings, Leo Loves Baby Time by Anna McQuinn, Nothing Like a Puffin by Sue Soltis, The Cow Loves Cookies by Karma Wilson, Mouse Shapes by Ellen Walsh, Blue Sea by Robert Kalan, Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler.

Besides reading, what are some other things parents can do to set their children up for literacy success?
I mentioned talking already. Remember talking TO your child is not the same as talking WITH your child and talking WITH your child elicits more language. And how about singing! Even if you can’t sing, sing with your child. There is a distinct note for each syllable which helps them hear the smaller sounds in words which will later help them sound out words when they learn to read.

As you play with your children, follow their lead. You can add print to what they are doing. Playing restaurant, how about a sign with the name of the restaurant? Playing doctor, how about a sign in sheet, a prescription pad?

If you could give parents one piece of advice about reading with children, what would it be?
Whether parents can read well or not, share books with your children in enjoyable ways, relating what is in the book to the child’s experience. This is the basis for comprehension which is so crucial to later reading.  Remember to use factual books as well. Your public library is a great place to go for books and for advice on books you and your children can enjoy together.

Name a book that:
a) Inspired you: How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
b) Made you laugh out loud: Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
c) You recommend to others often: Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall: A Parent’s Guide to the New Teenager by Anthony Wolf

What books are on your nightstand or e-reader right now?
Yellow Crocus by Laila Ibrahim

How can people get in touch with you on social media or on your website?
Twitter: @sghoting
Facebook: Saroj Ghoting, Early Childhood Literacy Consultant

Your Turn:  Did you enjoy this post?  Are you interested in being featured?  Do you know someone who might want to be featured?  Feel free to let me know in the comments or send me an e-mail.

children's literacy

Raising Readers: How I Taught My Two-Year Old Daughter to Read

How did you teach your two-year old daughter to read?

This is a question I’ve been asked several times over the past few months.  My answer is always the same…I didn’t.  I fully intended on teaching her how to read as I wanted to be the one to do it, but since she reads well on her own I may not even have to do this.

Not many people know that my daughter can read as it’s not something I go around telling others.  I’ve noticed sometimes people think you’re bragging or maybe even lying, when in fact you’re just happy and proud.  Therefore, only a handful of people have been privy to my daughter’s reading skills.

Education has always been extremely important to me.  When I was a child I used to always say I wanted to be a teacher when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Well, when I finally “grew up” I changed my mind and decided on the computer field instead.  Perhaps some day I’ll be a college professor and finally have the opportunity to fulfill my dreams of teaching.  For now, I’ll settle as being my children’s first teacher.

I knew even before I had children that I didn’t want to their learning left entirely up to the public school system.  I make it a point to supplement whatever they are learning in daycare or school with my own teachings by making it fun.

Here are some things that worked really well for us in helping my daughter to read:

  • Talking to my daughter telling her what we were doing. “I’m putting your pink dress on you. Here it goes over your head. Now, let’s put on your socks. Here’s your left foot. On goes the white sock.”  You’d be surprised how much kids appreciate it when you talk to them about their daily activities.  Now, my daughter will often ask me, “What are we doing today, mommy?” and I tell her our plans for the day.
  • Starting at six months I used index cards and labeled furniture, toys, television, tables, mirrors, stairs, refrigerator, doors, etc. Nearly everything in our house was labeled and I would take the time to “read” the words as we walked by them.
  • Lots of exposure to the alphabet in the form of singing songs and reading alphabet books. We read the same ones over and over and over.  This also helped her learn the sounds each of the letters make.
  • Exposure to traditional nursery rhymes and poems in the form of books and songs.  I chose books that had lots of colored pictures, pointing out any objects and words as I read them.
  • Reading books aloud daily for at least 15 – 30 minutes since birth.  I keep several books in rotation each month reading them over and over again.  Then at the end of the month I pick out a new set of books to read for the next month.
  • Making frequent visits to the library.  We go weekly to pick out new books, for story time, playgroups, etc.
  • Teaching and practicing sign language since birth.  She knows several signs as well as the letters of the alphabet in sign language.
  • Doing sight word and alphabet activities together including craft projects.
  • Alphabet puzzles, alphabet mats, sandpaper letters, and alphabet foam letters from the Dollar Store.
  • Reading my own books in front of the kids.  The children see me reading often.

Around the age of 18 months I noticed my daughter had become smitten with the alphabet.  She was always singing the ABC song and she only wanted me to read her alphabet books.  By the age of two, (24 months) she could recite several sight words and started taking more of an interest in words and what they said.My daughter is now almost 3 years old (33 months) and she can read several easy reader books on her own.  At first, I thought she was just reciting the books we owned from memory because she knew them so well.  However, I realized that wasn’t the case when I started giving her easy reader books to read that she’d never seen before.  That’s when I realized…my baby can read!  She can actually read!  And I’m not talking just those beginner reading books that contain sentences like, “Pat sat on her mat” and “See the fox run.”I guess all my hard work is paying off.  I am raising readers!  Of course, she’s still very much in the beginning stages of reading, but she’s off to a great start!

Here are a few other things to note:

  • I try to foster a love of reading and books.
  • I try to take advantage of teachable moments no matter where we are: the grocery store, the library, driving in the car, the playground.
  • I do not try to push my own style of learning onto my daughter.  Instead, I notice what she responds to (i,e., music) and just go with it.
  • I do not drill my daughter with flash cards or worksheets.  I think flash cards and worksheets are great, but this is not my approach.
  • I do not pressure my daughter to learn.
  • I try to make things fun like a game so it doesn’t seem like a chore or a hassle.
  • I do not try to compartmentalize learning into just one time of the day.
  • I do not get upset if she doesn’t learn or understand something; instead I set it aside and try again another time usually in a couple of weeks.
  • I do not try to make my daughter sit still; instead, I keep learning active.  Our bodies are meant to be in motion.  I let my daughter get up and move around if she wants to.
I plan to follow this same approach with my 18-month old son.  He’s already showing signs of following in his sister’s footsteps.  I look forward to seeing if he learns to read on his own the same way my daughter did.
Your turn:  What has helped your child learn to read?  Feel free to let me know your tips in the comments.
children's literacy

A Simple Way to Improve Your Storytelling Skills

When I first discovered eeBoo after reading about them online last December, I was instantly impressed.  Their games, puzzles, flash cards, and wall art are exactly the kind of toys we like to have in our home.  They are colorful, educational, and made of high-quality recycled materials.

One of the many products eeBoo produces is an award-winning early literacy product called Tell Me a Story Creative Story Cards.  These cards are my “secret weapon” I use when I want an alternative to reading books and they are perfect for honing my storytelling skills.  Recommended for ages 3 and up (although I use them with my 1 & 2 year olds), the deck of 36 beautifully illustrated cards assist children in creating their own stories.

An endless number of stories are possible by placing any number of the cards in any order. Short stories, long stories, kids create a new story every time they shuffle the deck. The whole family can make a game out of the cards, by taking turns picking cards and telling a story together. Parents, grandparents and teachers will find the cards useful as an aid in their own storytelling.  Brilliant!

Create a Story Cards: Volcano Island

Here’s the basic breakdown of how the story cards work. You lay out all the cards.  Then you choose, or have your child(ren) choose, the cards they find interesting.  Choose as many or as few cards as you like, and lay them out in an order that tells your story.

Then you go through the cards, describing them in any way you or your child(ren) wishes to tell the story of your making.  And that’s it! Super simple and a really fun way to work the imagination and gain better understanding of the process of storytelling.

eeBoo offers four different sets of story cards: Circus Animal Adventures, Fairy Tale Mix-Up, Mystery in the Forest, Volcano Island, Animal Village and Little Robots Mission. Sized small at about 4″ x 5″, the cards pack easily in a bag, perfect for travel and come in a sturdy sliding tray box. Because the set is priced reasonably at $9.95, we plan on buying a few of the other sets for more storytelling possibilities. I imagine you can even mix the sets together and make up some pretty wacky stories!

These open-ended card sets allow for endless variations on games and activities based upon storytelling. The simplest activity is for a young child to choose three cards from the deck and then tell a story (or a sentence) that incorporates the three items shown on the card. As a child begins to gain confidence in telling stories, the number of cards may be increased, or additional players may be added to take turns to create a cooperative story, a fun social group activity.

My 2 1/2 year-old daughter has a pretty awesome imagination already, and I’ve really enjoyed listening to her tell me some excellent stories. I’ve been particularly pleased because the set encourages her to speak her mind and become a little more vocal, skills that she needs to practice before she starts Pre-K3 this fall.

I hope you found this helpful.

Happy Storytelling!