Thursday, April 16, 2015

Millions of Missing Words...

For babies and preschoolers, vocabulary is king.

The vast majority of a preschooler's vocabulary is derived from their parents' vocabularies. A 2003 study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley discovered that children living in poverty hear about 25% of the words per hour that children from middle and high income families do. This adds up: babies and preschoolers from high-income homes could be expected to experience 30 million more words before they reach school age than will those children living in poverty (Hart & Risley, 2003).

Hart & Risley's study is now over 10 years old. With the advent of smartphones and later tablets, even children in middle and high income households are experiencing the vocabulary of poverty now. Parents are spending hours each day texting, posting on social media, reading and working from their smartphones and tablets. All of this time involves little to no oral language for babies and preschoolers, which is how children learn language best at this age - face-to-face with their caregivers. 

For every hour spent looking silently at a device instead of talking with our children, we deprive them of the adoption of 2,000 more words into their lexicon. Over the course of a single day, this can add up to more than 10,000 words lost or delayed (Short, 2013). Over the course of five years, their vocabularies will have shrunk by a third or more compared to children from comparable income levels in prior years.

This is a big problem, but together we can fix it. Visit me at to find out how! 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Teaching Toddlers: Colors, Counting, Shapes, Letters

Here are some of my favorite ways to teach very young children:
  • Colors: Point out colors in nature. Toddlers love to be outside and explore the natural world, so show them real colors in flora and fauna. Talk to them about colors that have personal meaning to them: the color of your eyes, the color of our car, the color of our house, the color of your new shoes, the color of your toy trains.  Let them touch, taste & experiment with colors through art and food.
  • Counting: Understand that for toddlers, counting is not very relevant. There is little motivation or reward to actually count anything. The best things to focus on with regard to numbers & counting for little ones are: a) understanding one or more than one and b) counting with 1:1 correspondence a very few meaningful objects. For example, count their fingers and toes, or ask them to get their shoes for an outing and then count each shoe as they retrieve it. Saying "12345678910" has as much connection to their future math skills as singing the alphabet song does to their future literacy (as in, very little). It is not much more than a fun pony trick for a toddler, so focus more on big picture concepts like more/less, a lot/a little, one/more than one.
  • Shapes: Look for shapes all around the household and neighborhood - cookware, furniture, mirrors, street signs, jewelry. Use descriptive language when speaking and include shape adjectives: "Can you hand me the square pan?" or "Do you like Mommy's heart necklace?" or "Here is a star sticker for you!"
  • Letters: ABC books are great for learning about letters because they involve bonding time and usually include examples the sounds of the letters, but if your little one isn't the type to sit and read for long periods, don't worry. You can use environmental print to create repeated exposures and opportunities to name and discuss letters.  
Remember to always keep the learning relevant. The first letters that children often learn are those in their own name. Why? Because their own name is so important to them.  Likewise, they will easily learn any of the above basics that you can connect to them, their family or friends and their world.

Here are some great books for teaching about colors, counting, shapes, & letters, as well as a couple about opposites that will appeal to young children:


When teaching, it is important to understand that motivation is central to all learning. A child can be motivated for a variety of reasons, but in order for them to learn anything, they must be motivated by something.  Here are some examples of motivating factors for young children:

  • Fun
  • Bonding time with a parent or favorite caregiver
  • Novel activities
  • Nature
  • Novel outings 
  • A desire to understand how something works
  • A desire to communicate needs/wants
  • Favorite foods or other tangibles
These motivators must be built into the learning activity, not given separately as a bribe or reward. For example, if you want to teach your child about the color red, and he loves cherry gelatin, you have a perfect storm of motivated learning at snack time. However, if you are trying to teach your child the names of letters, and you offer him red gelatin as a bribe if he sits and reads an ABC book with you, the activity is going to be a loss. The motivator must be integrated into the learning itself.

Making Connections

If you want a child to learn & retain something, you have to teach it through connected & active repeated exposures. You cannot tell a child (especially a very young child), "Grass is green", and expect that they will retain that information. You must let them see it, feel it, hear it, do it, dance to it, smell it & recreate it.

 For example, to teach my son the color green, I used a book, a song & nature. We had recently been reading "City Dog, Country Frog", a book which includes the line, "City dog didn't stop to admire the green, green grass". This line is accompanied by a vivid watercolor illustration showing an expanse of very bright green grass. The next time we went for a walk outside, I took him to a strip of grass & repeated the line, "City dog didn't stop to admire the green, green grass..." His face lit up with recognition! I didn't belabor the point; we smiled & ran our fingers through the grass & went on with our walk. We continued to read the book and touch the grass and talk about things that were green. Then we found a great recording by Jewel of "The Green Grass Grows All Around" & started playing that for him & singing it to him. My husband burned it to a CD for car trips. We even attended a Mo Willems (author of "City Dog, Country Frog") book signing at Barnes & Noble.

 Some may call this overkill, but...Ollie has known every color, for a long time now, with 100% accuracy. 

 I usually use books as a starting point for learning something new, but you have to go beyond that & help kids make connections to real life, or the knowledge from a book won't stick. And this is coming from someone who adores books & writes The Book Blog, so trust me!

 To review, here are the keys to teaching a child something new:
  1. Read about the subject matter.
  2. Make connections through other modalities or intelligences to the subject.
  3. Provide repeated exposures over time.
  4. For young children - NO DRILLING or overly structured lessons. It's unnecessary & detrimental.
  5. Understand that motivation is central to all learning. If the method is boring, irrelevant & tedious, so will the subject matter be perceived to be boring, irrelevant & tedious, and very little real learning will occur.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Calling all Teachers, Parents, Students & Bookworms!

That's right - The Book Blog is hosting its first-ever giveaway! This giveaway will be done scavenger-hunt style and is open to all Facebook page fans! This is a fun way to earn holiday $$$ for buying books for everyone on your list!

  • You MUST "like" The Book Blog on Facebook in order to participate. All answers to giveaway trivia questions must be posted on The Book Blog's Facebook page.
  • In order to earn points in the giveaway, you must be the FIRST fan to post a CORRECT answer on The Book Blog's Facebook page. 
  • 1 correct answer = 1 point = 1 Amazon dollar. Points will be added up on Monday and you will receive an Amazon e-gift certificate for your points from the previous week.  For example, if you answer 5 questions correctly throughout the week, you will earn an Amazon e-gift certificate of $5.
  • You must share your email address in order to receive your e-gift. This can be done by messaging me via The Book Blog or by simply checking your Facebook settings to make sure I will be able to view your email address.
Please leave a comment with any questions! The giveaway begins tomorrow, so join The Book Blog on Facebook now so you don't miss any chances for points!

Friday, September 30, 2011

365 Days of Reading: Tip #29 - Scrapbooks & Photo Albums

Scrapbooking can be a fun hobby for parents, and it can also contribute to your child's budding literacy skills.

Tell the story of your family through photographs and captions. If you are super creative, then just buy the materials you like at an art store and go for it. If you need a little inspiration, you can buy pre-matched scrapbooking sets at stores like Michael's. If you are like me and wouldn't even know where to begin, you can even buy premade scrapbooks in which you simply fill in the pictures and perhaps a few captions.

Laminate the pages or place them in page protector sleeves, then clip them into a binder. This will make the album user-friendly for even the stickiest little hands. Using page protector sleeves and a binder also gives you the freedom to add as many pages as you like or swap out the pages for something novel every now and then.

Remember, babies LOVE to look at black & white imagery, so don't forget to print copies of those really old photographs of grandparents and great-grandparents.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Little Pirate Goes to School

by Lawrence Shimel

This book is recommended by my little friend Jace! It has engaging features for little ones such as pop-up illustrations and a fold-out treasure map. Check it out!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

365 Days of Reading: Tip #28 - Let Other People Read to Your Kids

Let other people read to your kids. It staves off laryngitis.

Let me suggest several fun ways to do this:

  • Attend a story time at your local bookstore. For example, the Barnes & Noble near me has two story times each Monday - one for ages 2 to 4; a second for ages 3 to 5. You can find out more by asking for details at your book store or by picking up a flyer at the customer service desk (if it's a big chain like B&N). The ages ranges are just suggested - so if your 1-year-old can sit quietly for a story at home, then by all means give it a try.
  • Keep an eye out for author appearances and book signings. You can amass a shelf full of signed copies of some of the best children's literature this way. The author will usually do a reading of all or part of a newly published work, then sign copies for purchase. 
  • (I won't say "Go to story time at the library" here because that's too obvious.)
  • Visit web sites with fun read-alouds. One of my favorites, and a best-kept secret, is Storyline Online, which is sponsored by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation. There, celebrities read classic & contemporary children's favorites to your little one. StoryBee is another great site, where professional storytellers do the reading. B&N also has an online story time on the first Tuesday of every month. Those readings are usually done by the author of the book.
Here are some of the great books your child will be read this month if you follow my tips: