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In this chapter, we will examine prenatal to preschool development of audio and linguistic literacies. By theend of the chapter, readers will be able to
· Explain how early experiences with literature affects later literacy development.
· Establish developmentally appropriate audio and linguistic literacy goals for children in the prereadingstage.
· Select developmentally appropriate methods and materials to meet audio and linguistic literacy goalsin the prereading stage.
· Create environments that promote audio and visual literacy for children in the prereading stage.
Children’s literature—including nursery rhymes, songs, stories, and digital media—plays a major role in children’s early literacy developmentlong before they know how to read printed text. In this chapter, we will focus on the kinds of experiences that optimize children’s potential fordeveloping strong audio and linguistic literacy skills during the prereading stage from birth to preschool. While some children will learn torecognize and decode print text before they enter kindergarten, engagements with quality literature should begin long before childrenunderstand print. Therefore, the focus of this chapter and the next is on building multiliteracy experiences that will best prepare children in theprereading stage to learn to read and enjoy literature independently. We will consider various aspects of children’s early development,attempting to form a comprehensive picture of children as they take their place in the human family.
Literature is an important component in that development for multiple reasons. In 1953, a literary critic named M. H. Abrams proposed thatliterature acts as both a mirror and a l—that is, literature reflects the real world as it is but can also illuminate or shed light on aspects ofthe world that aren’t necessarily visible or evident. As a mirror of the world, literature offers models that children can follow in their ownpersonality and character development. It can also show children people, places, animals, and objects beyond their own experience. As al, literature can reveal shadowy places in the human psyche and behavior, things that we think and feel but that aren’t visible on theoutside. It can also light the way forward, giving us inspiration to solve problems in new ways.
Although Abrams was speaking of adult literature, his metaphors can be applied to children’s literature as well. Sometimes texts reflect theworld back to children in a straightforward, realistic way. These simple books help children understand the many ways the world can berepresented through pictures, words, sounds, and the pictures words paint. This helps children develop what Piaget (1977) called the symbolic function, which is the ability to think in images and symbols, such as words. Sometimes stories and poems help childrenunderstand and master things they can’t see, such as their feelings, worries, and problems; literature helps them find words and images foremotions so that they can understand them better or gives them containers in which to store their anxieties (Alexander, Miller, #038; Hengst,2001). Stories and poems also help children develop a theory of mind (ToM), which is the ability to understand mental states of oneself andothers and to realize that other people can think differently than oneself. Literature presents children with new possibilities for solutions to theproblems they encounter. Hence it is crucial for adults who love and work with young children to start them on their path to literacy as early aspossible, even before they are born, in ways that correspond to their developmental needs.
In terms of literacy development, early exposure to stories, nursery rhymes, and print is the single most important factor in the acquisition ofliteracy (Bryant, Bradley, MacLean, #038; Crossland, 1989; Wells, 1985). Wells suggests that this is true for three reasons. First, children whohave heard many stories read aloud to them have practice in understanding the ways written language sounds and organizes meaning.Written language is not like conversational language, even though it can include conversations. Conversational language is informal andusually depends on a specific awareness of one’s surroundings in order to make sense. For instance, the words “it’s chilly in here” don’t meananything unless you are in a particular place. In written language, all of the information about where you are and who is speaking must bespelled out: “When he entered the cave, the first thing the boy said was, “It’s chilly in here.”
Second, stories help children develop what Wells calls a “richer mental model of the world” (1986, p. 152). What he means by a mentalmodel is the way we create an imaginative representation of the external world in our minds. Since we can’t perceive everything through oursenses, we create mental models that fill in gaps and help us understand processes and make predictions. For exle, consider having toget up in the middle of the night and go to the bathroom in the dark. Instead of using your sight to navigate your way, you use therepresentation of the room you have in your head. For very young children, much of the world is still in the dark, and their mental models aredeveloping from their limited experiences. Stories help expand those experiences through using new vocabulary and painting word picturesthat open up new possibilities for mental models.
The third reason early exposure to stories helps literacy acquisition is through encouraging talk with adults. Adults and children share theirideas and impressions about a story, paying attention to its setting, characters, conflicts, and outcomes, and comparing and contrasting theseelements to the world the children know. Through this activity, children discover the symbolic power of language to create imaginary worldsand bring them to life. This is a far more important activity, Wells claims, than being able to link names and sounds to letters (1986). While thatparticular skill is crucial to decoding written language, understanding that words can “create a world of meaning” (156) involves a far morecomplex mental process than simply knowing that the letter b makes a buh sound. Understanding that words can create worlds and describeactions and feelings is essential to the ability to make meaning from texts, which is the true definition of literacy.
This chapter and the following five are organized around developmental levels of literacy (prereaders, new readers, and young readers) andthe multiliteracies discussed in . To review,multiliteracies include the following aspects:
· audio literacy, which includes music, noises, and sound effects;
· linguistic literacy, which includes elements of traditional verbal and written language;
· visual literacy, which includes elements of visual design, such as color, perspective, shape, and position;
· gestural literacy, which includes behavior, gesture, physicality, feelings, and movement;
· tactile literacy, which involves the sensations of smell, taste, and touch; and
· spatial literacy, which includes elements of geographical, ecosystem, architectural, and sculptural design.
For each developmental level, there will be one chapter discussing audio and linguistic literacies and another chapter discussing visual,gestural, tactile, and spatial literacies. Considering each of these types of literacy separately is of course an artificial way of looking at thembecause they overlap significantly, but it will help us to think about the specific ways children develop skill sets and capacities in each area andhow we might, as early childhood educators, intervene in that process in positive and helpful ways.
5.1 Audio and Linguistic Literacies: Setting the Stage
The word “infant” comes from the Latin adjective infans, which literally means “not able to speak.” As we noted in , children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development beginsthrough attunement with a caregiver. This attunement starts with equal parts body-to-body contact and what researchers call communicativemusicality (Malloch #038; Trevarthen, 2009). Psychoanalytic theory proposes that infants enter life in a dual relation—that is, they see themother as an extension of the self—and their primary trauma is the sense that they are separate from the world around them in a fundamentalway (Lacan, 2006; Winnicott, 1965). In fact, developmental psychologists and neuroscientists often refer to the first three months of life as the“fourth trimester,” a concept formalized by Dr. Harvey Karp (2003) in his book, The Happiest Baby on the Block.
According to Karp, human infants are born with only three basic survival skills—sucking, swallowing, and breathing; and even breathing cansometimes be irregular. The most significant task of a caregiver in those first three months, then, is to “hold” the child, that is, to ensure thatthe world of the child is safe, structured, and sufficiently full of white noise so that the infant feels enveloped in an environment that closelyapproximates the womb. Karp emphasizes what he calls the five S’s—swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging, and sucking—asways to replicate the womb experience in the fourth trimester. I would add to Karp’s list singing and talking to the baby, since we know thathuman voices are also part of that womb environment. Singing and talking, especially rhythmic vocalizations, like the physical analogue ofswinging, have an influence on regulating sucking, swallowing, and breathing. Indeed, researchers have discovered that rhythmic orallanguage regulates heart rate and coordinates breathing and heart rate (Bettermann, von Bonin, Fruhwirth, Cysarz, #038; Moser, 2002; Cysarz etal., 2004).
In addition to helping the baby adjust to life outside the womb, these early experiences are the seedbeds of language and literacy learning. Asthey grow, babies need to become less dependent on their one-on-one bodily connection to a single caregiver and orient themselves to theworld outside the dual relation. In order to participate in human society, they need to develop their communicative abilities, especially theirability to use language, as compensation for the loss of feeling part of someone who meets all of their needs. They need to learn to use wordsin situations where touch isn’t possible or appropriate to communicate what they need or desire.
The feel of skin on skin breaks down into a twofold concept: When you touch someone’s hand, you feel both the limits of your own body andthe contact of another. Hence you know that you are a separate person but that you are connected with someone else. Language works in asimilar way. When babies’ cries elicit a response, they know that they are both alone and not alone. Babies must make a conceptualtransformation from having their needs for social connection met solely through touch to communicating through oral expression; they mustdevelop what infant researcher Daniel N. Stern calls “a verbal self” (1985, p. 11). Ultimately, babies have to learn to use sound consciouslyand effectively to elicit the responses they want, as well as to express what they feel and need.
Three-month-old babies are just beginning to make this transformation, and a multiliteracies approach can help them do that. Just asadults learn to “read” the baby’s signals, babies are learning to read gesture, facial expression, space and place, and visual and auralinformation. But, as neuroscience professor Lise Eliot notes,
Speech is without doubt the most important form of stimulation a baby receives. When parents talk to their babies, they areactivating hearing, social, emotional, and linguistic centers of the brain all at once, but their influence on languagedevelopment is especially profound. (Eliot, 1999, p. 367)
Audio literacy is thus one of the most important skills for babies to acquire.
The Benefits of Prenatal Reading
While it is quickly usurped by vision after birth, hearing is the first sense we make use of because it develops in the womb. Ideally, then, thebest time to start reading to babies is before they are born. Babies develop the apparatus needed for hearing, including the bones of the innerear and the nerve endings that send the signals to the brain, by about 18 weeks of gestation, at which time they can sense the sounds of themother’s body such as her heartbeat and those weird digestive noises that we all emit. By 24 weeks, the ears are fully formed, and the babyhas become habituated to internal noises, and can now hear environmental sounds such as a dog barking or a vacuum cleaner, but also andmore importantly, the parents’ and siblings’ voices. This is when reading to babies can become an effective habit for multiple reasons.
Before we think through those reasons, however, I want to encourage a healthy skepticism for some of the claims that various products willboost an unborn or new baby’s intelligence. For instance, much has been made of the “Mozart effect,” which claims that listening to Mozart inthe womb and during the first three years of life makes babies smarter and calmer. The evidence for these claims is anecdotal, and no onehas been able to reliably prove benefits through credible, repeatable experiments. While there is certainly nothing wrong with listening toMozart, there is simply no evidence that it makes a measurable, long-term difference in intelligence. The most that can be said about suchpractices is that they can’t hurt, and classical music can, for some children, prove soothing but so can any type of music with a smoothmelodic or rhythmical tune.
The best time to start reading tobabies is before they are born.
Such claims perpetuate the myth that there is a small window for enrichment of children’s brains, and ifthat window is missed, there is no possibility for remediation. To the contrary, human brains areremarkably plastic, and as a result, humans have the capacity to be lifelong learners (Bruer, 1999). Thatsaid, research does support the idea that there are certain “critical periods” in the growth of the brainwhen its ability to make neural connections that lead to integrated learning is more active (Eliot, 1999).The first several years of life are one such period, and in the following pages and Chapter 6 we will beexploring the best possible activities and supports for emergent literacy in that period. However, bear inmind that if children do not emerge from a supportive environment, they are not doomed to a life ofsubpar intelligence; they simply need more experience with the principles discussed here, modified inage-appropriate ways.
So what then are the advantages of prenatal reading? First and foremost, reading to an unborn childhelps a parent and older siblings imagine that child in their mind. Caregivers need to hold their childrennot only physically but also emotionally (Winnicott, 1965). A new life needs a new space to inhabit, andjust as parents plan for that space within their homes, they also need to prepare for that space withintheir minds and hearts. By reading to their unborn child, parents begin to open up that space, to see theirchild as a person with whom they can communicate. This is especially true for the nonpregnant partnerand the older siblings, who haven’t had to make a space for the baby in their bodies.
For new parents, talking to an unborn child may feel weird or unnatural, but reading provides a safe,nonthreatening way to introduce the idea of a baby as someone who will require time and a special sortof attention and communication. It also helps parents feel they are competent to teach the baby. New parents in particular often worry that theymay not have the abilities to be a good parent, but the act of reading helps them feel that here is at least one thing they can do that isimportant to development.
An additional benefit for parents is that reading to an unborn child stops the busyness of preparing for the baby for a moment. Setting asidetime to read a children’s book out loud to an unborn member of the family brings the emotional, rather than the practical, needs of that baby tothe forefront of parental attention. Another advantage to prenatal reading is that it reintroduces parents to children’s books. Many new parentshaven’t visited the children’s section of a bookstore or library for a long time. If they do not have other children, they have also likely forgottenthe rich lore of memorized nursery rhymes and songs from their own childhoods. Oftentimes, a simple reminder of the first line of a rhyme orsong is enough to spark the auditory memory, but sometimes the memory loss is deeper, such as what is the third line to “Frère Jacques,”anyway? Fortunately, there are many splendid collections of nursery rhymes and children’s songs available at libraries and bookstores. Acommitment to reading to a baby before it is born encourages parents to consider the need for a home collection of books as well.
Explore and Reflect: What Songs Do You Remember?
Take a moment and jot down the first lines of as many children’s songs as you can remember. How did you do? Fewer than10? More? As you explore the library and bookstore over the course of the semester, update your list of songs that you wantto include in your preschool repertoire.
Spending time in the children’s section of a library or bookstore gives new parents a preview of the cultural world in which they will be at leastpartially immersed for the next several years, inviting them to be selective and critical as well as introducing them to what is new and exciting.Most public libraries have infant and toddler programs and storytimes specially designed for various ages through preschool. These outingscan also help make expectant siblings feel involved in the welcoming of the new baby. Parents can ask their children which books they thinkthe baby would like, and allow them to pick books that they can “read” to the baby during a family reading time. As an early childhood educatoror daycare provider, when you learn of a new sibling on the way, you can share books and songs with the older child so that the child feels likean expert recommending favorite texts to share. This will not only reinforce the importance of reading and older children’s budding multiliteracyskills but it will help them adjust to their new roles as big brothers and sisters and help them create a positive emotional space for the baby intheir hearts and minds as well.
Explore and Reflect: Helping Parents Find Resources
Call or visit the website of your local library, and find out what programs they sponsor for infants and toddlers. Prepare aworksheet for parents that includes storytimes and lists of books, nursery rhymes, songs, and community resources, such asparks and recreation programs, that you could send home with a child who is expecting a new sibling. Keep the list on yourcomputer in a format that you can update regularly.
If there are older siblings in the house, this is a marvelous time to share books about what to expect from a new baby so that they areprepared for the baby’s arrival (see the list of “Recommended Books: For Siblings of New Babies”). This way, what they might otherwiseexperience as a disruption to beloved family rituals can be viewed instead as an expansion of them. When a new baby is on the way, oldersiblings sometimes regress to an earlier developmental stage in terms of emotional development, where they need reassurance of theirparents’ continuing care for them. Reading and singing together provides that reassurance while helping the older child move into a new rolein the family.
Recommended Books: For Siblings of New Babies
Alborough, Jez. Ssssh! Duck, Don’t Wake the Baby. 2008. Clumsy Duck tries not to wake Baby Goat—with a pop-upsurprise.
Aliki. Welcome, Little Baby. 1987. A mother welcomes her newborn infant and tells what life will be like as the child growsolder.
Anholt, Laurence. Sophie and the New Baby. Illus. by Catherine Anholt. 2000. Sophie waits through the seasons for the birthof her sibling and then has mixed feelings.
Ballard, Robin. I Used to Be the Baby. 2002. A 3-year-old helps his mother take care of his baby brother.
Clifton, Lucille. Everett Anderson’s Nine Month Long. 1989. A young African American boy has to learn to accept a newstepfather and a new baby.
Cole, Joanna. I’m a Big Brother. 1997. From a child’s point of view, a young boy welcomes home his new baby brother.
Cole, Joanna. I’m a Big Sister. 1997. A young girl welcomes home her new baby sister and lists the advantages of being“big.”
Cole, Joanna. The New Baby at Your House. 1985. Illustrated with photographs, a description of the changes involved inhaving a new baby in the home and the feelings older siblings experience.
Fujikawa, Gyo. Babies. 1963. A board book with a multiethnic mix of babies playing together.
Gay, Marie-Louise. Good Morning Sam. 2003. Stella tries to help her little brother Sam get dressed, but Sam has ideas of hisown.
George, Kristine O’Connell. Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems. 2011. Jessica celebrates all the fun she has with her littlesister, Emma, but also describes the ways in which Emma’s behavior can be frustrating.
Graham, Bob. Oscar’s Half Birthday. 2005. An interracial family celebrates Oscar’s 6-month birthday at a city park.
Henkes, Kevin. Julius, the Baby of the World. 1990. Lilly is convinced that the arrival of her new baby brother is the worstthing that has happened in their house, but she has a change of heart when Cousin Garland dares to criticize Julius.
Joosse, Barbara M. I Love You the Purplest. 1996. Two boys discover that their mother loves them equally but in differentways
Kubler, Annie. My New Baby. 2000. Color illustrations, with no text, of a family welcoming and caring for a new baby.
Lawrence, Michael. Baby Loves Hugs and Kisses. 2000. After receiving wonderful hugs and kisses from his parents andgrandparents, Baby tries to hug and kiss the family pets.
Lobel, Gillian. Too Small for Honey Cake. 2006. In this reassuring introduction to change, when Baby Fox is born and all ofDaddy’s attention is focused on the new addition to the family, Little Fox is not happy.
Mayer, Mercer. The New Baby. 2001. His new baby sister doesn’t pay attention when Little Critter reads to her, and she can’tunderstand his jokes. But Little Critter finally figures out what you can do with a new baby—and becomes a very goodbrother.
Murphy, Mary. I Kissed the Baby! 2003. Various animals tell how they saw, fed, sang to, tickled, and kissed the new duckling.
Nichols, Grace and Taylor, Eleanor. Whoa, Baby, Whoa! 2012. A multiethnic family worries that the baby will get himself intosituations he can’t handle.
Ormerod, Jan. 101 Things to Do with a Baby. 1984. A six-year-old girl tells 101 things she can do with her baby brother.
Rockwell, Lizzy. Hello Baby! 1999. A young boy describes how a new baby is growing inside his mommy and tells what it islike when his new sister comes home from the hospital.
Rosenberry, Vera. Vera’s Baby Sister. 2005. The arrival of Vera’s new baby sister makes her feel displaced, so hergrandfather helps create a special spot, just for her.
Scott, Ann Herbert. On Mother’s Lap. Illus. by Glo Coalson. 1992. A small Eskimo boy discovers that Mother’s lap is a veryspecial place with room for everyone.
Weeks, Sarah. Sophie Peterman Tells the Truth. Illus. by Robert Neubecker. 2009. As seen, smelled, and experienced byolder sister Sophie Peterman, the cold truth about babies and their not-so-adorable characteristics is presented in amusingdetail.
Ziefert, Harriet. Talk, Baby! 1999. Max is glad when his mother brings home a baby sister, but he begins to get impatient ashe spends a whole year trying to teach her to talk.
So what sorts of books should we read to babies in the womb? Because one of the purposes of prenatal reading is simply to acclimate thebaby to his or her particular audio environment, including the sounds of family voices, the choice of reading material doesn’t really matter atthis point. If you want to encourage, say, a 3-year-old to “read” to his or her baby sibling, you can choose any book that the older child isfamiliar with so that he or she can share in the experience. Singing favorite songs together is also appropriate.
However, to support the development of audio literacy, it would be better to take some care with selecting the books that you read. Children’spoetry and adult poetry with strong rhythms is a good choice. Nursery rhymes are often short and can be sung as well as spoken. It isimportant to incorporate singing into these sessions, because studies have shown that infants respond to the musicality of language(Mazokopaki #038; Kugiumutzakis, 2009; PapouŠek, 1996). A reviewer of this book reported that his wife sang often to her unborn children. Upontheir births three years apart, one in a hospital and one at home, they each cried as newborns do, but when the mother starting singing tothem the same song she had been singing to them before they were born, they immediately calmed. The doctors and midwives were amazed,but this anecdote clearly bears out what infant researchers have discovered: Babies can and do hear and take comfort in parental voicesengaged in rhythmic, musical utterances even before they are born. Since the parent is reading or singing to a child who still has a vernixcovering over the ears, exaggeration in intonation and strong rhythm are more important than exact pronunciation or narrative flow.
The rhythmic patterns found inbooks by Dr. Seuss are wellsuited for reading aloud tounborn babies.
“Book Cover,” from The Cat in the Hat byDr. Seuss, TM and copyright © by Dr.Seuss Enterprises, L.P. 1957, renewed1985. Used by permission of RandomHouse Children’s Books, a division ofRandom House, Inc.
Dr. Seuss can be the parents’ best friend here. His rhythmic, rhyming texts create a sing-songpattern that helps parents develop their read-aloud prowess and fluency and hone their own audioliteracy. Psychologists (DeCasper #038; Fifer, 1980; Kolata, 1984) performed experiments wheremothers read The Cat in the Hat to their unborn children twice a day for six and a half weeks priorto birth. Then, when the babies were born, they tested their sucking responses as they heard TheCat in the Hat read by their mothers and then another poem with a very different rhythm. Thebabies’ increased sucking response with the Dr. Seuss text and not the unfamiliar poem convincedthe researchers that they recognized the book that they had heard prior to birth.
Of course, there are multiple variables at play in this experiment. One would be the rhythm of the Dr.Seuss—ba-da-bum, ba-da-bum, ba-da-bum, which tends to read very quickly. This in itself maycause the baby to suck more quickly, as babies adjust their body rhythms to auditory stimuli.Another, related variable would be the mother’s familiarity with the stories, which would influence herlevel of comfort in reading them, especially in a laboratory setting. If we know a story well, we tendto be more confident in our reading and will introduce performance elements, such as variedintonation, dramatic pauses, and pitch and volume modulations. Infants tend to be so attuned to amother’s body that they feel even the most subtle nuances of tension and excitation; all of thesethings would be then communicated in changes of the rate of sucking. Consideration of these othervariables does not negate the validity of the research findings, but it helps us understand the rolethat rhythmic oral language plays in children’s literacy development.
Rhythmic Oral Language: The Body-to-Literacy Bridge
Rhythmic oral language such as poetry and music function as a body-to-literacy bridge for young children. Long before children know whatwords mean, they are attentive to how they sound. Oral language has expressive components such as tone, rhythm, and stress—whatlinguists call prosody—that help convey meaning. Children think, feel, and communicate with their whole bodies, but as they grow older andenter more complex social relationships, they must learn to live in a world of language and image rather than simply relying on physicalexperiences and expressions to communicate their needs. That is, they must learn to translate what their bodies feel and want into words thatcommunicate those feelings and desires to other people.
Children’s poetry encodes the rhythms of the human body into its speech patterns. Donald Hall (1978) identifies three elements of poetry thatcorrespond to different kinds of sensual pleasures that infants and toddlers experience. He names these elements Twinbird, Goatfoot, andMilktongue. Twinbird refers to a baby’s enjoyment of balance and opposition; as babies discover that their bodies are symmetrical, with twohands and two feet that are alike and not alike at the same time, their brains are also developing bilaterally. The rhymes of a poem arelikewise balanced—similar in sound but not exactly alike, producing a balanced form. Goatfoot corresponds to the rhythms and motion inpoetic language that replicate the constant movement of babies’ legs, which push against the air in a bicycling motion. Milktongue refers to thepleasurable sounds of poetic language that resemble the babies’ own babbles and other playful sounds they find they can make with theirmouths.
These elements of children’s poetry help children negotiate the transition from exploring the world with their bodies to representing that worldin language; thus poetry acts as an important body-to-literacy bridge. By combining movement with rhythmic language, by talking to childrenabout their emotional and physical states in ways that emphasize prosody, by getting into the habit of linking up words with feelings, adultcaregivers are teaching them the audio structure that undergirds the connection between experiences and language, a connection that wecontinue to use for our entire lives. But prosody also has an effect on the development of an important literacy skill: phonological awareness.
Phonological awareness is the ability to distinguish the sound structures of spoken language. While it doesn’t typically develop until age three,early experience with children’s poetry and songs strengthens the ability to play with and manipulate the individual pieces of words—initialconsonant sounds, for instance, or vowels sounds that rhyme. When you are talking to children face-to-face, they are also watching how yourmouth moves when you make sounds, and their inborn talent for imitation enables them to attempt to mimic your muscle movements as theyattempt to make sounds. All of this activity is feeding directly into their neural wiring, expanding their multiliteracy skill bank so that they arebetter able to approach the task of linking sound with print text. But knowledge of the alphabet is not necessary for the development ofphonological awareness; phonological awareness is related to sound alone, so this is where your energies as an educator of prereadersshould focus.
Helping Babies and Young Children Use Language
By 2 months of age, babies start intentionally making and delighting in their own sounds. At this point, babies are able to distinguish the phonemes of every language in the world, even phonemic distinctions that their parents cannot. By the time they are 6 months old, however,they have begun a process of what linguist Roman Jakobson calls linguistic “deflation” (1968, p. 25), where they can make only the soundsthat they hear spoken around them. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because eliminating all of the possible phonemes of all the languages inthe world enables them to focus on the relative few that are used in their native language. But it does argue for exposing a child to a rich andvaried language environment that includes lots of infant-directed speech (IDS), read alouds, music, and recitations of nursery rhymes.
Also known as baby talk or parentese, IDS refers to the specific kind of talk adults use when they engage with infants or small children. GwenDewar, who holds a PhD in biological anthropology, reviews the scientific studies of the effects of IDS on children’s speech acquisition . The research findings clearly support the importance of this seemingly natural form of speechin helping babies develop phonological awareness of the sounds of their native language, learn to isolate the spaces between spoken words,and learn to distinguish phrases and clauses in sentence streams. She also cites studies where the heightened emotional content of IDScauses babies and toddlers to pay attention more, which leads to better learning (see ). On the other hand, regularly speaking to children in a monotone voice may delay their speech acquisition (Kaplan,Bachorowski, Smoski, #038; Hudenko, 2002).
The features of IDS can be easily and naturally employed in reading aloud to infants, toddlers, and older preschoolers. The qualities identifiedby Dissanayake (2009) and discussed in —simplification, repetition, exaggeration, and elaboration—are the defining characteristics of IDS. Fortunately, these qualities are regularly foundin the words of picturebooks for young children. Your job as a parent, a daycare provider, or a preschool teacher is to bring energy,enthusiasm, and expressiveness to your reading.
Explore and Reflect: Reading Expressively
Select a picturebook with dialogue, such as The Little Red Hen, by Paul Galdone (2012), or The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog, by MoWillems (2004). Read through the book and think about what kind of voice each character should have. Then read the bookaloud, experimenting with volume, pitch, accent, and timing. Exaggerate your expressive style—have fun! Once you havepracticed, share your reading with an appreciative audience. Ask for feedback and adjust your style accordingly. Then, take yournew skills out into the community. Volunteer to read in children’s church or a local daycare or preschool setting.
Imitation and Conversation
Besides the effective use of IDS in conversations and reading aloud, adults and siblings can encourage language development simply byresponding to babies’ attempts to use language. The more adults and older siblings respond to a baby’s babbling with imitation and delight,the more the baby will babble, which gives practice in forming the muscle movements of speech but also introduces the structure of back-and-forth conversations and the upward intonation of questions.
By as early as 12 weeks old, babies are adjusting their vocalizations in response to the sounds they hear around them—they are matchingpitch, intonation, and some phonemes that they hear regularly in their environment. Thus, language development starts with the imitation ofmodels. Most studies focus on the interaction of children and adults, but children are often in the presence of other children, which also has aneffect on their speech development. In my own experience, we were surprised to hear our neurotypical daughter, Blair, imitating the speechpatterns of her elder sister, Emily, who has severe articulation difficulties resulting from Down syndrome. It wasn’t until Blair entered preschoolat age three that her speech became intelligible to people outside the family, as she learned to model other neurotypical children.
By the end of their first year, babies may be able to say only a handful of words, but they can hear and understand upwards of 70. Mostundergo an explosion of vocabulary during their second year and have acquired an astonishing vocabulary of around 13,000 words by thetime they are six. They are also absorbing knowledge of the syntax and grammar of their native language. But it is important to note that therichness of their vocabulary, syntax, and grammar is largely dependent on their early experiences. That is, children who have adults in theirlives who pay attention to them, respond to their attempts to speak, regularly practice IDS, read aloud, and sing to them enter preschool andkindergarten ready and able to take the next step toward print literacy.
Parents and daycare providers can facilitate language acquisition in other ways. Object-labeling is one such way, according to Drs. MichaelGoldstein and Jennifer Schwade, experts on language development in the early years of life. The trick here is to allow children to take the leadby choosing the object they want labeled. By paying attention to what the child is holding, pointing to, or looking at, and then giving theappropriate word for it, adults encourage vocabulary development. On the other hand, when adults make an erroneous assumption based onwhat they think a child is trying to say rather than what she is pointing to or looking at, they confuse the child’s ability to produce the correctlabel. Schwade labels such mistakes crisscrossing, and the results are shocking: In the study, at 15 months old, the child whose mother wasmost adept at following her cues for object-labeling understood 246 words and could articulate 64, while the child whose mother most oftencrisscrossed her attempts could understand only 61 words and pronounce only 5 (Goldstein #038; Schwade, under submission; Bronson #038;Merryman, 2009).
Another method that Schwade and fellow researchers have found effective in helping children under the age of 15 months acquire new wordsis through the use of motionese, which involves shaking or moving the object in rhythm with the patterns of IDS as you label it (Schwade,Goldstein, Stone, #038; Wachterhauser, 2004). By using motion to attract attention and stretching out the sounds (m-m-m—m-m-m-uf-f-f-f-in-n-n-n) to help the child see how the word is formed, adults create a multimodal scenario for the learning of a new word.
One more tactic that has proven essential for language learning is for children to hear the same words in the voices of different speakers.Researchers speculate that the value of hearing the same word from different sources comes from children being able to isolate what is thesame (the phonemes) even when the word sounds different in terms of pitch, speed, tone, or volume (Rost #038; McMurray, 2008). This argues fornot only talking and reading aloud to your child but encouraging other family members and friends to do the same, as well as listening tostories on tape read by other speakers.
How has cellphone usechanged conversation levels inyour family or the families youknow?
Unfortunately, researchers have found that there has been a significant drop in the amountof parent-child verbal interaction in the past 10 years (Heath, 2012). The ubiquity ofpersonal mobile technologies is certainly one reason for this decline. A trip to the grocerystore will easily confirm these findings. Parents are often talking on their cell phonesinstead of using that time for the mundane chatter and shared attention crucial to theirbabies’ or toddlers’ language and social development. Likewise, babies have DVD playersin the cars on the way to and from the store, and parents listen to iPods as they walk theirbabies in strollers instead of singing and pointing out environmental noises and features along the way.
The widespread use of cellphones can interfere with adult-child verbal interaction, whichis crucial for languagedevelopment.
At home, there are TVs or computers in most rooms, which distract attention away from socialinteraction. Dr. Patricia Kuhl, a leading expert on language acquisition, found conclusive evidencethat children do not learn verbal language from screens (Kuhl, 2004). Her study involved 9-month-old American babies learning Mandarin Chinese from a live native speaker. After 12 sessions, thebabies were able to discern Mandarin language sounds. Another group of babies was exposed tothe same speaker for the same amount of time via televised sessions. This group showed nodifference in the ability to discern Mandarin language sounds than children who had no exposure.Kuhl concluded from her study that babies need a responsive social tutor in order to learn language.
While television watching on its own does not cause language delays, a lack of interactivecommunication between a live adult and a baby does. Even reading aloud to child is not as effectiveas one-on-one conversational interaction in improving a child’s language skills (Christakis et al.,2009). So as a result of the increase in screen time and a decrease in live social interaction betweenparents and their children, teachers and daycare providers may notice that children are experiencinglanguage delays and deficits that must be addressed when they enter preschool environments asthey will inhibit audio and linguistic literacy development.
Fortunately, the fix is relatively simple, if somewhat time consuming: Children need adults to talk andread with them, to look them in the eye and draw them into conversation with questions, expansion,modeling, and feedback. This is a great way to involve community members as volunteers in yourclassroom, especially older members of the community; beyond an explanation of the goals of theinteraction, volunteers will need little training in the art of simply conversing with a young child.
Explore and Reflect: Become a Volunteer
Call a local preschool and offer your services as a conversational partner. Explain that you are interested in the researchfindings that show that children need one-on-one interaction with an adult in order to develop language skills, and ask theteacher if there is a student who could benefit from such an intervention. Keep a reflection journal of your sessions with thechild, and write up a summary of his or her progress to include in your job application materials.
Caregivers and other adults do more than simply model correct speech patterns for their children, however. Linguistic anthropologists havenoted that Western caregivers treat their babies as conversational partners even before the babies can speak, asking questions, waiting foranswers, and looking the babies in the eye as they “converse” with them (Ochs, 1988). They provide a kind of natural instruction for theirbabies that includes
· expansion and fine-tuning of their utterances,
· direct instruction, and
· positive and negative feedback.
For instance, a baby’s single word “bankie” might garner the response, “Oh, do you want your blanket?” which is an exle of expansion andfine-tuning (just make sure, as noted earlier, that you aren’t crisscrossing by focusing only on what the baby is trying to say rather than whathe or she is focusing on). Direct instruction is very common, as parents will explicitly tell their children to “Say bye-bye to Grandma.” Siblingsare especially liable to provide fine-tuning and direct instruction, as it gives them an opportunity to show off their advanced skills—“It’s not da,it’s doggie. Say doggie.” Rosemary Wells’ delightful book, Max’s First Word (1979), highlights a big sister’s attempts to help her baby brotherlearn words other than his favorite and only word, “BANG!” A more recent book, Baby Says Moo! (2011), by JoAnn Early Macken, adopts asimilar theme. Positive and negative feedback occurs as babies make attempts at speaking that are met with either delight and understandingor confusion and frustration; simply not being understood is experienced as negative feedback and will encourage children to keep trying, atleast until they reach an unacceptable level of frustration.
As children develop their vocabulary and conversation skills, they are highly dependent on the responses of those around them. Languageuse is mostly functional in the early stages; that is, children are learning to use language to get what they want, so feedback is essential. Theytest out new words and consider whether the responses they get, both verbal and nonverbal, accord with their hypothesis of what the wordmeans or what it was meant to do. Computers and even “interactive” TV shows simply cannot provide the finely tuned feedback they need.
Specific feedback is especially important as children begin developing metalinguistic awareness, which is the conscious understanding ofhow language works. For instance, verbal toddlers will typically use the word “went” for the past tense of “go,” until they start to notice that pasttense verbs are usually formed by adding –ed. As a result, they may replace “went” with “goed” in their speech. This isn’t a cognitiveregression; instead, they have developed a metalinguistic awareness of the rule for forming past tense verbs, which they apply to everysituation in a process linguists call overgeneralization.
Because toddlers simply absorb the words they hear used in their contexts, they usually are able to generate utterances that makegrammatical and meaningful sense. But beginning around age 3 or 4, children also start to question whether they really know what a wordmeans. For instance, once, when my daughter, Blair, was 4 years old, she strenuously objected to a rather rude noise her father made.“Daddy!” she said. “That’s not dignified!” This was, of course, a completely appropriate response, but then she stopped and asked, “What doesdignified mean?” She was beginning to develop the metalinguistic awareness that individual words have meanings as well as social uses.
This natural absorption of language is another argument for reading to children early and often. As Jim Trelease, a strong advocate for readingaloud, notes, “If the child has never heard the word, the child will never say the word; and if you have neither heard it nor said it, it’s prettytough to read it and to write it” (Prelutsky, 1986, p. 1).
5.2 Developmental Stages and Emergent Literacy
The first connections between the sound of a word and its meaning take place late in the first year, at around 9 or 10 months of age. Thisis when children begin to make the connection between a word they have heard repeatedly and the thing or person to which it refers.They also learn a few interjections like “Hi!” and “Bye-bye.”
Let’s consider this development in terms of the body-to-literacy bridge and the developmental stage from birth to 2 years that Erik Eriksonidentified as the “trust vs. distrust” stage. At around 8 or 9 months old, children begin to show signs of separation anxiety. Up until that time,they may fuss a bit when their primary caregiver leaves them, but they can be comforted by just about any friendly, calm person; their bodiesdon’t really care who’s holding them as long as it’s being done competently.
At around 8 months of age, the brain begins to develop the connections needed to form short-term memories and conscious emotionalresponses to stimuli. This growth in the ability to remember things for a short time leads to what Piaget called “object permanence”—the abilityto understand that things continue to exist even when you can’t see them. Eight months is also the age when most children begin to crawl,making them somewhat independently mobile. Until this point, they have been comfortably dependent on their caregivers to satisfy theirneeds. Now that they have a taste of their own autonomy, they experience a renewed need to know that their caregivers are always going tobe there. Their sense of trust in the universe depends on it.
But they are also starting to move forward on the developmental path toward autonomy and independence. This development happens at adifferent pace for children with different temperaments. Some children are naturally bold and inquisitive, while others prefer to stay close totheir caregivers and play quietly. Understanding temperaments is important for parents, caregivers, and educators because temperamentsmake a difference in how children approach learning tasks, no matter what sort of intelligences they display (see ). Whereas easy-going children will likely still enjoy the relativelymild stimulation of being read to, more active toddlers and preschoolers will resist the confinement of being held when they can move freely ontheir own. But that doesn’t mean that stories and books aren’t for them. Adapt your reading style to incorporate more drastic changes involume, pitch, and rate, and encourage active children to do what comes naturally—act out the story. Literacy-building strategies for activechildren also include the introduction of
· action rhymes and dancing to songs,
· visually stimulating toys such as alphabet blocks and patterned rugs, and
· the placement of pictures on the wall at eye level for a sitting or crawling baby.
As toddlers develop their motor skills, you also want to give them opportunities to write and draw. All of these strategies—that is, actionrhymes, dancing, writing, drawing, etc.—should also be made available for easy-going children, but don’t expect the same level of visibleenergy or overt enthusiasm. Instead, allow the easy-going children the opportunity to enjoy the activity their own way. Likewise, wait until theactive child shows some signs of tiredness to draw him into a read-and-cuddle.
Explore and Reflect: Understanding Temperament
Watch the videos at the top left corners of the homepage Behavioral Developmental Initiatives (B-DI) and its pages for parentsand students (). What questions about temperament do theyraise for you? As you read various children’s books, take note of the sort of temperament the characters display in the books.Keep lists of books that feature easy-going characters and ones that have high-spirited characters so that you can ensure goodvariety in the types of books you share with children. Share your lists with your classmates and colleagues.
The exploration of temperament is where literature for children can act as a mirror for caregivers and a l for children, especially if thetemperament of the child is very different than the temperament of the adults. Books like Ian Falconer’s Olivia (2000), David Shannon’s No,David! (1998), Kristine O’Connell George’s Emma Dilemma (2011), Kay Thompson’s classic Eloise (1955), Janell Cannon’s Verdi (1997),Spike Lee’s Please, Baby, Please (2002), and Michael Buckley’s Kel Gilligan’s Daredevil Stunt Show (2012) all show “spirited” children whoexhaust their parents, siblings, and caregivers. Parents, caregivers, and even more even-tempered siblings reading these books recognize thechildren and perhaps gain a new understanding for or at least resign themselves to their boisterous behavior. In other words, these books, bymirroring the behavior of high-spirited children, normalize that behavior and offer an opportunity for adults to see things from the child’s point ofview. The parents and caregivers in the books, however, respond calmly to their children, and each book ends with an affirmation that thechildren are loved and accepted for themselves. This is very reassuring for high-spirited children, who perhaps need a l to show that eventhough their parents and teachers may often seem frustrated or angry with them, their way of being in the world is okay after all.
How would you describe yourtemperament? Ask those closeto you to describe it as well—isthere a difference?
Books that feature characters with easy-going temperaments include Munro Leaf’s TheStory of Ferdinand (1936), A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh (1926), and Lucille Clifton’sEverett Anderson books, and Lauren Child’s Charlie and Lola books, where older brotherCharlie is the easy-going foil to his more excitable sister Lola. Nature-themed books oftenhave more patient, even-tempered characters, such as the unnamed characters in RuthKrauss’s The Carrot Seed (1945), and Julie Fogliano’s And Then It’s Spring (2012).Because naughty behavior and bad decisions usually make the most exciting stories,however, it is more difficult to find exles of easy-going, quiet, patient children than their more obstreperous counterparts, so it is importantto update your list of books of children like this as you find them.
Autonomy and Independence
Regardless of temperament, however, most children cycle through various bursts of dependency with a need for reassurance andindependence with a need for freedom from the time they are 8 or 9 months old up through their late adolescence. We will explore how thethemes of autonomy and independence play out in books for preschool children in . Here, let’s take a closer look at books aimed at children justemerging from the trust/distrust stage.
Parents and children sometimes have mixed reactions toward books that take an attachment relationship as their theme. The Giving Tree(1964), by Shel Silverstein, for instance, features a boy who spends his childhood years in a loving relationship with a tree. As he grows older,he leaves the tree behind. Each time he comes back, he takes a piece of her to get something that he needs, until there is nothing left of herbut a stump. People have objected to this book because of its gender portrayal and because of its environmental message, among otherthings, but it’s a picture of a vitally important developmental structure—the firm belief that someone, somewhere loves you unconditionally andwould sacrifice everything for you. Of course, if you acted on that belief, you would be a horribly selfish person, but the belief that it exists iswhat is sustaining in hard times; it represents a fundamental trust that the universe will sustain you and that you will have everything you need.
A similar theme is found in Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever (1986). In this book, a mother rocks her newborn with a cradle song thatexpresses her undying love. She continues this tradition long after the baby is grown, sneaking into his bedroom at night when he’s ateenager, and even getting into her car, driving across town, and climbing a ladder to the window of her grown son’s bedroom to hold him andsing the song. Again, if we look at this book literally, such acts are strange and unbalanced, but for a very young child, the idea of havingsomeone who will always love you no matter what is an absolutely necessary psychic structure. The list of “Recommended Books: For theTrust/Distrust Development Stage” suggests some less ambiguous attachment-themed books.
Recommended Books: For the Trust/Distrust Developmental Stage
Appelt, Kathi. Oh My Baby, Little One. Illus. by Jane Dyer. 2000. As Baby Bird goes off to school, Mama Bird explains all theways her love remains even while they’re apart.
Brown, Margaret Wise. The Runaway Bunny. Illus. by Clement Hurd. 1942. A little rabbit who wants to run away tells hismother how he will escape, but she is always right behind him.
Karst, Patrice. The Invisible String. Illus. by Geoff Stevenson. 2000. Liza and Jeremy’s mother comforts them during a scarystorm by telling them about the Invisible String, which connects people who love each other no matter where they are andmeans that they are never alone.
Marina, Gianna. Meet Me at the Moon. 2012. During a dry spell, Mama Elephant must leave Little One to ask the skies forrain. She reassures him that he will hear her song in the wind and feel her love in the air.
McBratney, Sam. Guess How Much I Love You. Illus. by Anita Jeram. 1995. During a bedtime game, every time LittleNutbrown Hare demonstrates how much he loves his father, Big Nutbrown Hare gently shows him that the love is returnedeven more.
Munsch, Robert N. Love You Forever. Illus. by Sheila McGraw. 1986. As her son grows from little boy to adult man, a mothersecretly rocks him each night as he sleeps.
Penn, Audrey. The Kissing Hand. Illus. by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak. 1993. When Chester the raccoon is reluctantto go to kindergarten for the first time, his mother teaches him a secret way to carry her love with him.
Rusackas, Francesca. I Love You All Day Long. Illus. by Priscilla Burris. 2003. When Owen, a little pig, worries about beingapart from his mother when he goes off to school, she reassures him that no matter where he is and what he is doing, shewill love him all day long.
The ability to remember someone and yet move independently away from that person leads to a need to feel attached and thus results inseparation anxiety. Language is a way to “stay in touch,” metaphorically speaking, with someone who isn’t present. Having names for peopleand things, as well as words for the actions of leaving and coming back and images of closeness, helps make those people or things presentin a representational way when they aren’t there physically. Meaningful language, which consists of sounds connected to mentalrepresentations, can bridge the gap between the times apart and time spent together.
In practical terms, language helps children negotiate between what is happening and what they want to happen, and thus gives them somemeasure of power over their environment. Even when children’s calls for Mommy and Daddy don’t bring them back, they can hold them intheir imagination and memories using words. In fact, many nursery rhymes are designed to do just this kind of work. Consider the familiarnursery rhyme, “Bye, Baby Bunting”:
Bye, baby bunting,
Daddy’s gone a-hunting,
Gone to get a rabbit-skin
To wrap his baby bunting in.
A book such as The KissingHand, by Audrey Penn, canease separation anxiety byhelping children create mentalmodels of loved ones whenthey have to be apart.
The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn.Illustrated by Ruth E. Harper #038; Nancy M.Leak. Used by permission of TanglewoodPress.
In this nursery rhyme, the father is absent from the child, but the rhyme assures the child that he is off foronly a short while and will return to snuggle his baby. In addition to the meaning of the words, though,the repetition of few familiar phonemes, along with a tight rhythm and rhyme scheme, complete theholding environment of this rhyme. The anxiety of absence is contained and controlled through the wordsof the poem—what they say and how they say it. Thus having a word for a thing seems to be necessaryfor achieving object permanence. As we noted earlier, its rhythms and sounds also act as a bridge toliteracy because it helps children begin to understand that people, things, and even unconsciouslongings can be represented by words.
Books such as those shown in the preceding Trust/Distrust Development Stage list are useful forchildren who have difficulty separating from their parents when they enter day care or preschool. Often,caregivers and parents try to distract the child while the parent sneaks away, but psychoanalyst GertraudDiem-Wille (2011) discourages this sort of tactic, because it confirms what the child already believes—that parents will disappear unless they are closely monitored. It is better, she argues, to give the childsymbolic support for the rhythms of leaving and returning. A book that a child can carry back and forthcan be reinforcing because the parent can read it at home and the teacher can read it at school, thusproviding a physical and verbal connection between the two environments. In fact, a book or a song isthe perfect support for helping children cope with separation anxiety for the reasons we have noted:Patterned language regulates heart breathing rates, which has a physically calming effect, and booksoffer ideas for evoking absent loved ones through imaginative mental models.
5.3 Music and the Prereader
Music plays an important role in the prereader’s audio environment. Children are born with an innate love of music. This is partially becausetheir sense of hearing is so advanced at birth, and partly because listening to music is a right-brain-hemisphere activity, and the righthemisphere is more developed at birth than the left. Babies are born with the ability to recognize a melody and simple rhythmic patterns.Fortunately for most of us, though, they are not at all sensitive to whether the song is off-key, so we can sing away without worrying aboutoffending their musical sensibilities.
Children have a natural love ofmusic.
Babies’ first utterances have a musical quality to them, and young children will often make up songsas they go about their play. Gradually, over the first eight to nine years of life, they do develop theability to recognize tonality, which is the arrangement of seven tones around a central tone or key. Achildren’s xylophone, for instance, is usually organized around the key of C major, which means thatthe lowest tone is a C, and then the rest of the seven notes get progressively higher in an evensequence until you reach the high C, which sounds like the low C. Between the ages of 5 and 9,children learn to recognize a melody when it changes key or when other changes are made, such asdifference in rhythm or harmonic accompaniments. But even before then, they know when a melodysounds “finished” and when it stops abruptly without closing on a specific tone.
As we have discussed, music’s most important function in early childhood is its role in bonding, but italso has strong correlations to language learning (Schon et al., 2008). In songs, syllables are linkedto different tones, allowing children to discriminate between sounds better, which makes words easier to learn. Additionally, the lyrics to songsoften rhyme, which allows children to anticipate a sound before it is vocalized. Sing this song to yourself, stopping right before the last word:
My bonnie lies over the ocean.
My bonnie lies over the sea.
My bonnie lies over the ocean.
Oh, bring back my bonnie to ______.
It’s nearly impossible not to finish this song once you’ve started. The tonal quality requires you to finish the phrase in the last line; otherwisethe song doesn’t sound “finished.” Likewise, the lyrics need closure as well, and it’s clear, even if you’ve never heard the song before, that theword must rhyme with sea, and therefore is most likely to be me.
This process of elimination is one of the ways that children learn to read print (Goodman, 1967; Goodman #038; Goodman, 1979; Smith, 1994).They are trying to make meaning, but they are also linking up verbal signs with familiar oral language constructions. Music organizes orallanguage into specific phrases and rhythmic and rhyming patterns, so having a rich background in children’s songs increases children’s abilityto anticipate what word should fit in a particular phrase or pattern.
There is so much good evidence that children benefit from playing an instrument (see , for instance) that it is difficult to understand why formal music instruction isn’t mandated in early childhood, but unfortunatelymost preschools are not sufficiently resourced for such programming. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t provide a musically richenvironment for your infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.
While there is a strong push to introduce children to classical music as early as possible, very young children prefer music that corresponds toDissanayake’s principles: simplicity, repetition, exaggeration, and elaboration. Finding music that children like is as simple as going to thelibrary or surfing online children’s music sites (see Websites to Save and Explore at the end of the chapter). CDs are organized as collectionsof children’s standards or as single artist productions. As with books, you will want to balance familiarity with novelty, and introduce new songsregularly. But you also want to attend to children’s preferences; if they like a song or a CD, keep playing it until they let you know they areready for a change.
Favorite Children’s Recording Artists
Alana Banana Band: Benefits HARK (Healing Arts Reaching Kids) ()
Banana Slug String Band: Science, song, and celebration ()
Elizabeth Mitchell: Folk music for children ()
Ella Jenkins: “First Lady of Children’s Music” ()
Finkytown Funtime Band: Various genres ()
Greg #038; Steve: Interactive music for kids 3 to 9 ()
Laurie Berkner: “Kindie rock” ()
Pete Seeger: Folk icon’s children’s albums include American Folk, Game, and Activity Songs for Children and Abiyoyo andOther Story Songs for Children
Putumayo Playground: Series of world music albums for children ()
Raffi: Popular children’s singer since 1975 ()
Randy Kaplan: “Not-JUST-for-kids” music ()
Sharon, Lois #038; Bram: Canadian trio with a variety of genres ()
Susie Tallman: Lullabies, nursery rhymes, updated classics ()
They Might Be Giants: Rock group’s albums for children include Here Come the ABCs and Here Comes Science
Twinkle Twinkle Little Rock Star: Series of lullaby versions of rock and pop songs ()
5.4 Creating an Audio and Linguistic Literacy-Rich Environment forPrereaders
The audio environment includes much more than human speech, of course. Babies, toddlers, and preschool children delight in strange andnovel noises. They quickly become habituated to the common noises in their environments and prefer these for comfort, while their hungrylittle brains crave new input for learning. Books with rich and playful vocabulary will fascinate them, as will well-told stories with sound effectsand music incorporated into the telling.
The goals of audio and linguistic literacy for the emergent literacy stage are not to rush children into recognizing print text as a representationof sound. Rather, this enriched experience with spoken language facilitates the development of print literacy by cultivating the inner ear.Eventually, children will learn to read print texts silently. The larger their oral vocabulary, the more easily children will be able to connect writtenrepresentations of words with words they already know by sound. Furthermore, understanding and fully appreciating written texts depends ona solid foundation of audio and linguistic literacies, as the marks on the page refer to sounds, accents, and the various meanings associatedwith those sounds can really come alive in children’s imaginations.
Teaching Ideas: Audio and Linguistic Literacies for Prereaders
· Respond to children’s attempts at conversation, even at the babbling stage. Eventually, you will want them to pay attention to you, soset the habit of paying attention to each other and taking turns in conversation early.
· Make your interactions with children varied. Use different tones of voice, exaggeration, and rhythm when you speak, and make playfullanguage part of your conversational repertoire. Surprise your children with your voice and funny sound effects.
· Put away your cell phone during the time you spend with the children. As you take your children into the community for groceryshopping, walks, and other activities, focus on what they find interesting. Face-to-face interaction encourages children to experimentwith language, to test out new utterances in order to gauge your response.
Music and Singing
· Play music of various kinds, including classical, reggae and world music, folk, gospel, and energetic pop as well as music composedand performed especially for young children. Consider having special music for special times—a wake-up song, a bath song, a naptimesong, and so forth. In a daycare or preschool setting, use music for transitions—let children know that when they hear a particular song,they are to finish their activity, put materials away, and move to a certain place, such as the storytelling rug. This regularity will help achild develop a sense of time, expectation, and ritual.
· Sing often. Make up silly songs, and sing folk songs and nursery songs.
· Provide access to musical instruments, both real and toys. Encourage experimentation.
· Invite community musicians into your class for miniconcerts.
Learning About Sounds
· Direct children’s attention to environmental sounds during walks or car rides: nature sounds, such as birdsong and squirrel chatter, andmechanical noises, such as sirens and car sounds. Exploit the sonic richness of ordinary items like bubblewrap, crinkly paper, creakyfloorboards. Early attention to these sorts of sounds will help children make meaning of their reading later on, as they encounterdescriptions of such sounds in books they read. Their personal experience will make their understanding richer.
· Play the quiet game with a difference. Instead of being quiet for the sake of being quiet, direct children to listen to what they hear duringa specified time. The child who can name the most sounds is the winner.
· Make a sound mystery station. Using everyday materials, record the sounds they make. Have students guess which materials makewhich sounds.
· Attend story hours at local libraries.
· Invite a storyteller into your class or day care center. Look online or inquire at your library about local storytelling guilds (googlestorytelling and your city or state for suggestions). Professional storytellers most often charge for their work, but members of a guild areoften working up to professional grade and will come for free to get the practice with an audience.
· Invite grandparents and other community members in to read to children so that they hear a variety of voices.
· Become a storyteller (more on this in ).
· Have children listen to stories from professional storytellers. Many are available on YouTube. (See additional resources that follow inWebsites to Save and Explore.)
· Set aside time every day for storytelling by the children (age 4 and older). Provide a general prompt and then have children volunteer totell a story based on the prompt. is another method forencouraging storytelling.
· Encourage respect and good listening skills, and allow children to ask questions after the story is over.
· Encourage interaction during storytelling or reading sessions by asking kids to add the sound effects. Very young children can addanimal sounds, foot stomps, and hand claps to the story at the appropriate times. Older preschool children can take some tips fromFoley artists—the folks who add the everyday sounds to a film. They use three main categories of sound—feet, cloth, and props. Havechildren experiment with various materials to create different sounds—jello or hand soap in a Ziploc bag; cornstarch in a leather pouch;big clunky shoes; small items in an empty prescription bottle with a childproof cap; cellophane; different types of cloth (taffeta, vinyl,corduroy).
· Read with panache (more on this in ).
· Choose books with rich and varied vocabulary, including onomatopoeia.
· Have children listen to books and poetry read by the author or by professional actors. (See Websites to Save and Explore.)
Poetry and Nursery Rhymes
· Recite poetry, especially nursery rhymes, on a regular basis. Encourage children to memorize poems. (This is easier than you mightthink—children’s brains are remarkably receptive to linguistic innovation from ages 2–6, much more so than adult brains. They reallyneed to hear a short poem only three or four times to memorize it.)
Recommended Books: To Focus on Sound Vocabulary
Andreae, Giles. Cock-a-Doodle-Doo! Barnyard Hullaballoo. Illus. by David Wojtowycz. 2000. A collection of verses thatintroduce farm animals.
Andreae, Giles. Rumble in the Jungle. Illus. By David Wojtowycz. 2001. A collection of verses that introduce jungle animals.
Aylesworth, Jim. Cock-a-doodle-do, Creak, Pop-pop, Moo. Illus. by Brad Sneed. 2012. Rhymes about sounds heard on afarm, from a rooster’s crow to an owl’s goodnight call.
Crow, Kristyn. Cool Daddy Rat. Illus. by Mike Lester. 2008. A young rat tags along with his jazz-musician father around the bigcity. Crow’s blog explains jazz scatting, with video exles:
Dillon, Leo, and Dillon, Diane. Rap a Tap Tap: Here’s Bojangles—Think of That! 2002. The dancing of famous tap dancer Bill“Bojangles” Robinson described in illustrations and rhyme.
Joosse, Barbara. Roawr! Illus. by Jan Jutte. 2009. When Liam hears a loud roar in the night, he must jump into action to protecthis sleeping mother from a hungry bear that looks a lot like his teddy bear. Barbara Joosse reads Roawr! at
Lach, William. Can You Hear It? 2006. CD and book introduce classical music and musical instruments by pairing them withworks from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Martin, Jr., Bill, and Archambault, John. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Illus. by Lois Ehlert. 1989. A rhythmic alphabet chantabout what happens when all the letters of the alphabet try to race up a coconut tree.
Martin, Jr., Bill. Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? Illus. by Eric Carle. 1991. Zoo animals from polar bear to walrusmake their sounds for each other, and children imitate the sounds for the zookeeper.
Nascimbeni, Barbara. Animals and Their Families. 2012. Introduces three dozen animals from around the world, including thesounds they make, where they live, and what they eat.
Odanaka, Barbara. Smash! Mash! Crash! There Goes the Trash! 2006. A rhyming imitation of the sights and sounds of theneighborhood on trash day.
Shea, Bob. Dinosaur vs. Bedtime. 2008. With a roar, a little red dinosaur takes on a pile of leaves, a bowl of spaghetti, andbath time, but bedtime is too big a challenge.
Van Laan, Nancy. Possum Come A-Knockin’. Illus. by George Booth. 1992. A cumulative tale in verse about a mysteriousstranger that interrupts a country family’s daily routines.
Explore and Reflect: Nursery Rhyme Collections
Nursery rhymes play animportant role in language andliteracy development.
Many nursery rhyme collections, as well as picturebook versions of single rhymes, can befound in the J 398.8 section of the library, while others will be in the J 811 section. Browsethose sections for choices, but also consult the librarian and the online catalog (usenursery rhymes or Mother Goose as keywords) for other possibilities. Some will be in theboard book, picturebook, or easy reader sections. You will also find some audio collectionsas well. Don’t overlook the “old-fashioned” collections; their illustrations can be quiteappealing to children. Here are a few selections to get you started:
Crews, Nina. The Neighborhood Mother Goose. 2004. Multicultural characters,photographic collage, urban settings.
Kannapell, Barbara M., Hamilton, Lillian B., and Karen Luczak Saulnier (ofGallaudet College Press). Nursery Rhymes from Mother Goose in Signed English.1972. Mother Goose rhymes accompanied by diagrams of the Signed English signsfor each word in the poems.
Lines, Kathleen. Lavender’s Blue: A Book of Nursery Rhymes. Illus. by HaroldJones. 2005. 50th-anniversary edition of a classic collection.
Sanderson, Ruth. Mother Goose and Friends. 2008. Traditional nursery rhymeswith some less familiar ones as well, accompanied by Sanderson’s oil paintings.
5.5 Two Principles for Multiliteracy Instruction in the Prereading Stage
The most important part of multiliteracy instruction from infancy forward is to treat it as play for the child. Play is one of the mostimportant activities in children’s lives. In play, they imitate adult behaviors, explore their environment, test their motor abilities, and learn tomanage their emotions. As Margaret Meek reminds us, “If reading looks like play to a child, it will be taken seriously” (1982, p. 35).
When our elder daughter, Emily, who has Down syndrome, was almost 3 years old, her therapists told us that while they were very proud ofher knowledge of how to handle books—she oriented them correctly and had developed the fine motor skills to carefully turn the pages—weneeded to get her to play with something other than books. My husband and I were puzzled—after all, our favorite toys were books, so whyshouldn’t hers be as well? But we dutifully got her a kitchen set and dug out some of the dolls she didn’t like to play with. She approached thekitchen and explored all of its features. Then she noticed that it had a high chair incorporated into it, so she picked up a doll, put her in the highchair, and got a book to read to her!
Her therapists were frustrated, but we saw this as a display of temperament as well as a preference for visual rather than tactile stimuli, whichcontinued to be the case throughout all of her schooling. To give another exle of this preference, after her first year of preschool, I placeda chart of the signed alphabet on the wall at her eye level when she was sitting, and over the course of a summer, she sat in front of it andtaught herself the letter signs from the chart—a pretty remarkable feat for a 3-year-old!
While her teachers tried various methodological interventions, Emily continues to learn best from independent interaction with books and othervisual input, rather than direct instruction or motor learning. Even at the age of 21, she continues to learn visually by using the close captioningfeature on her DVDs to develop her reading vocabulary. The important thing to notice here is that she has consistently approached each ofthese activities as play.
How do you like to “play,” that is,use your leisure time? How doyour preferences align with yourtemperament?
Our second daughter, Blair, did not display the same interest in books. She is very activeand excels in gross motor activities and interpersonal communication. As a young child,she would sit still for a book or a DVD just long enough to get a sense of the charactersand the setting, and then she would be off to enact her own version of a story. Her toyboxwas thus full of dolls, puppets, flannel boards, dress-up clothes, and props rather thanbooks.
The takeaway lesson of this tale of two sisters: Pay attention to how a child plays and whatshe likes to play with, and incorporate books, stories, and activities that respond to her interests.
The second most important part of literacy instruction from the very beginning is real-world motivation. In order for a child to want tolearn to read, literacy must have a meaningful context. You don’t make grocery lists so that you become a better writer or reader; you makegrocery lists so that you have the ingredients you need to make a week’s worth of meals. Children don’t write an e-mail to Grandma so thatthey can become a better writer or reader; they write so that they can share their day with her or tell her what they want for their birthday.Children don’t read Where the Wild Things Are to become better readers; they read it because it’s an entertaining story that helps themunderstand and manage difficult emotions. And according to Bruno Bettelheim, they ask for a book again and again because something aboutit is helping them learn and work through unconscious conflicts, as we noted in (Bettelheim, 1976). You get the idea: You read and write forreasons that extend far beyond exercising the ability to read and write. Children need this sort of motivation—that reading and writing areuseful tools to get them something they want—in order to become interested in learning to read and write.
To sum up, then, a few principles should guide all of your interventions in establishing a meaningful multiliteracy environment forprereaders:
· Activities and materials should be varied so that different temperaments are honored and engaged.
· Literacy instruction should be presented as play.
· Explicit literacy activities should be embedded in their natural contexts.
In this chapter, we have explored how audio and linguistic literacy develops in the prereader from before birth through the preschool years.The process of making meaning begins with a rich experience with both conversation and the sharing of literature orally. As infants becometoddlers, they move from the developmental stage that Erikson called the trust/distrust stage and seek more autonomy and independence. Bypaying careful attention to how children play and what their temperaments seem to be, parents, childcare providers, and educators can selectbooks that help children feel secure as they begin their imaginative experiments toward independence. Children’s poetry and music also playa pivotal role in helping children learn to use language to express their needs and desires. Literacy instruction in the preschool years shouldfocus on enhancing children’s audio experiences with language, literature, and music. Parents and teachers should follow the child’s lead andrecognize that children learn best when they perceive these experiences as play. Literacy learning should also proceed naturally out ofmeaningful contexts where using language is important for communicating children’s real needs and desires.
Websites to Save and Explore
The Children’s Music Network is a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote music in children’s lives. On their website, you can findinformation about events in your area, as well as links and lists of contemporary children’s music:
Thousands of children’s songs, lyrics, sound clips, and teaching ideas available for purchase and download from Songs for Teaching: TheDefinitive Source for Educational Music:
The Children’s Music Portal features links to resources on children’s music and storytelling:
The Children’s Music Web is a nonprofit resource for children, parents, teachers, and performers:
The National Storytelling Network provides information about storytelling events around the nation. It is searchable by geographical area:
Joy Steiner is a storyteller whose folktales are very popular with preschoolers:
Mike Lockett, the Normal Storyteller, makes some of his stories available free online:
Children’s Books in the Chapter
Lists of Recommended Books:
For Siblings of New Babies ()For the Trust/Distrust Developmental Stage ()To Focus on Sound Vocabulary ()Nursery Rhyme Collections ()
Buckley, Michael. Kel Gilligan’s Daredevil Stunt Show. (2012)
Cannon, Janell. Verdi. (1997)
Child, Lauren. Charlie and Lola series. (2000–present)
Clifton, Lucille. Everett Anderson series. (1970–1992)
Falconer, Ian. Olivia. (2000)
Fogliano, Julie. And Then It’s Spring. (2012)
Galdone, Paul. The Little Red Hen. (2012)
George, Kristine O’Connell. Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems. (2011)
Krauss, Ruth. The Carrot Seed. (1945)
Leaf, Munro. The Story of Ferdinand. (1936)
Lee, Spike. Please, Baby, Please. (2002)
Macken, JoAnn Early. Baby Says Moo! (2011)
Milne, A. A. Winnie-the-Pooh. (1926)
Munsch, Robert. Love You Forever. (1986)
Seuss, Dr. The Cat in the Hat. (1957)
Shannon, David. No, David! (1998)
Silverstein, Shel. The Giving Tree. (1964)
Thompson, Kay. Eloise. (1955)
Wells, Rosemary. Max’s First Word. (1979)
Willems, Mo. The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog. (2004)
Click on each key term to see the definition.
The “music” that underlies human conversational exchanges, including tone of voice, vocal patterns, and rhythms of turn-taking.
The idea that children see themselves as an extension of their primary caregiver, usually the mother.
The specific kind of spoken language adults use when they speak to babies; characterized by heightened emotional inflections, slower,simpler utterances, and exaggerated vowel sounds.
The conscious understanding of the rules of language.
The internal representation of the world and how it works.
The addition of gesture and movement to infant-directed speech to call attention to an object or the special features of an object that anadult is trying to teach a baby to identify.
The practice of providing names for objects a child is interested in.
The smallest units of sound in a language.
The ability to distinguish the sound structures of spoken language, such as initial consonant sounds, individual syllables, and the portion ofthe syllable from the vowel sound to the end (for instance, the –at sound in cat, fat, mat).
The sound elements of language, such as rhythm, stress, and intonation.
The ability to think in images and symbols, such as words.
The ability to understand mental states, such as beliefs, knowledge, intentions, desires, and pretending—in oneself and others—and torealize that other people can think differently than oneself.
Chapter 5 Flashcards
Critical Thinking and Discussion Questions
1. What is the symbolic function and why is it important for children to develop? How do experiences with literature assist the developmentof the symbolic function?
2. How does early exposure to stories, nursery rhymes, songs, and print texts encourage literacy development?
3. What are mental models, and how do we use them? How does literature support the development of more complex mental models?
4. How might you, as a daycare provider or early childhood educator, assist parents in encouraging the development of literacy in theirchildren?
5. What are some methods parents, caregivers, and educators can use to encourage the development of audio and linguistic literacies inpreschool children?
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