Counting Mania

June 14, 2014 Comments Off on Counting Mania

Have You Seen My Dragon?My three year old is a counting fool. She counts the little green squares on her napkins (thank you, Target); she counts the steps up to her room; she counts everyone’s matches in our endless rounds of Go Fish. “I’m out of breath of counting!” she exclaimed the other day, after numerous laps around the house counting from 1 to 50. So, it only stands to follow that she would also want to read counting books, an especially robust subject matter in the world of children’s picture books (see my complete list of favorites at the end).

Emily’s current obsession is Steve Light’s new Have You Seen My Dragon? (Ages 2-5), which I knew would be a hit the instant I felt the green metallic foil dragon on the front (ooooooh, ahhhhhh). While most counting books can’t pretend to “teach” counting (with the exception of Anno’s Counting Book, the single best presentation of counting for children that I’ve ever seen), the good ones present clever ways to practice counting and to develop the finger control that goes along with it. « Read the rest of this entry »

How do I get my squirmy-wormy baby to love books?

May 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

I’ve been fortunate that my kids have loved books from the very beginning. I’ll admit that part of my design was purely selfish: I’d rather read to my children than do almost anything else with them (read: sitting for hours on the floor making train sounds). So they quickly learned that Quality Time With Mom meant listening to stories.

During the years that I worked in retail, I was always surprised when a customer, shopping for a baby gift, would say, “I’m not going to buy a book for someone who can’t even talk! How would they understand it?” Who said anything about understanding?! In the beginning, books are simply stimuli: things to touch, to feel, to explore, to eat. They present an opportunity for little ones to listen uninterrupted to a parent’s voice, a sound babies are born loving. And they make for the best snuggle time EVER.

But don’t be fooled: the past decade of child development research tells us that, even while they’re hanging out of drooling mouths, books are wielding their magic on babies’ brains, laying the groundwork for early language development and, yes, even lifelong intelligence. So how do you get your squirmy-wormy baby to love books?

1. Start with board books: they fit in Baby’s hands and hold up to copious drooling.

2. Surround Baby’s environment with books from Day One, so they don’t know any different.

3. Store books at Baby’s eye level (baskets work great) so they can dump them out, spread them around, and (my personal favorite) “read them” upside down.

4. Not all books are created equal! When they’re newborns, they might sit through anything, but by the time they’re five or six months old, they’re only going to sit still for Certain Books.

5. What Works for the Under One Set: Anything that invites physical interaction, like a finger puppet that pops through each page, flaps that open and shut, anything with a mirror, or touch-and-feel pages. Bright, simple illustrations (or photographs) with clear, high contrast. Sing-songy rhymes that make your voice interesting; same goes with text that encourages you to be loud then quiet, or make animal sounds, or just-plain-silly noises. Books that you can sing. Also books with photographs of babies (before she ever said “mommy,” my daughter said “baby”).

6. What’s Out for Under One: Illustrations heavy in pastels or cartoonish drawings. Books where the pictures look the same on every page. Books with more than a single sentence or phrase on each page. Books that don’t excite YOU (because, yes, your enthusiasm is a big part in all this).

7. Don’t shelve a book for too long. Babies under two are incredibly fickle: what they push away one week becomes their Obsession the next. Keep trying!

Some Favorite Board Books for the First Year:
Hello, Animals: Black & White Sparklers, by Smriti Prasadam (Ages 0-6 mos)
In My Tree, by Sara Gillingham (Ages 0-1 yrs)
Where is Baby’s Belly Button?, by Karen Katz (Ages 0-2 yrs)
This Little Chick, by John Lawrence (Ages 0-2 yrs)
Quiet Loud, by Leslie Patricelli (Ages 0-2 yrs)
I Went Walking, by Sue Williams & Julie Vivas (Ages 0-2 yrs)
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, by Bill Martin Jr. & Eric Carle (Ages 0-2 yrs)

Emily and her Books (at 12 mos)

Your Budding Naturalist

April 28, 2012 Comments Off on Your Budding Naturalist

Right now in preschools across the country, little eyes are glued to screened containers perched on shelves, waiting to behold one of nature’s most wondrous life cycles: the caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly. (“Mommy, when the chrysalis shakes, that’s how you know there’s a lot of action going on inside!”)

I grew up reading Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar (and really, who doesn’t love a book with holes for sticking tiny fingers through?); but in my opinion, Ten Little Caterpillars (Ages 2-6), written by Bill Martin Jr. and illustrated by the great collage artist Lois Ehlert, has topped this subject matter.

Apart from its stunning visual feast for the eyes, the book speaks to children on a multitude of levels. First, there’s the simple rhyme, each double-page spread focusing on a single caterpillar’s unique journey: “The first little caterpillar crawled into a bower./ The second little caterpillar wriggled up a flower.” A few of the caterpillars don’t fare so well (it’s a dog-eat-dog world, after all): one meets with a “hungry wren,” another is “frightened by a hen.” It’s the tenth caterpillar that we get to watch hang patiently among the apple blossoms for three pages, until her chrysalis hatches to reveal a stunning orange-and-black “tiger swallowtail.”

This brings me to my second point: the caterpillars, butterflies, and host of flowers and trees throughout the book are all labeled with their technical names. Suddenly, your two or three-year-old is walking around pointing out delphiniums, snapdragons, and thistle plants, and your neighbors think you must be some kind of mad gardener (nope, just an awesome Mom).

But here’s where Lois Ehlert has given Eric Carle a run for his money: with her larger-than-life illustrations, layered with textured papers and dyed with the kind of vivid colors normally associated with National Geographic, she makes us feel like we are the little caterpillars, finding our way up the giant milk weed stem, sailing on a maple leaf across a garden pool, and chomping on everything in sight. A book that rhymes, teaches, and gets us to look at the world through another’s eyes: what more could we want for our budding naturalists?

Other Favorites for Your Budding Naturalist:
I Am a Bunny, by Richard Scary (Ages 1-3)
In the Tall, Tall Grass, by Denise Fleming (Ages 18 mos-3)
Birds, by Kevin Henkes (Ages 2-5)
Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature, by Nicola Davies & Mark Hearld (Ages 4-8)
The Beetle Book, by Steve Jenkins (Ages 5-10)
A Butterfly is Patient; A Seed is Sleepy; & An Egg is Quiet, all by Dianna Huts Aston & Sylvia Long (Ages 5-10)

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