Valerie Baartz is mom to Charlie, age 4 and Heidi, age 2. Her background is in Early Childhood Education. She blogs at The Almost Librarian, and is studying to be a librarian. Recently I got the low down from Valerie about how she manages to fit everything into her day, and she gave me some great tips for parents.
Valerie, I'll bet like all moms everywhere, you're busy, busy, busy. Especially since you're studying to be a librarian, too. Yet I know you are a passionate believer in literacy activities. When do you find time for those activities?
As a mom, as an early childhood educator and as a librarian, I personally hold early literacy, children’s literature and the act of sharing ‘story’ paramount as part of our family values. And because my husband knows how important this is to me, he is on board. So what we try to do is integrate literacy activities into our daily lives so it’s just part of our habit; it’s just a natural part of our day. What then happens is that the experiences for Charlie and Heidi are authentic and real to them – it’s just their life. What I mean by this is that I don’t say “Okay – now we are going to sit down together and read a story about farm animals. And then next we will sing a song about those same animals. And after that we will talk about the sounds they make.” Instead we just read because Heidi picked up a book and if I happen to know a song that ties in, I just casually start to sing it after the story.
To any parent, I would suggest taking a few minutes to think about what your regular, normal routine is for any given day and think about where you can slide in some reading, storytelling, singing or sharing without changing anything else about that part of your day. For example, if your child takes a bath every evening, work in some songs or rhymes that you can do while they’re in the tub or while they’re drying off. Or if you notice that you’ve got down time, add in some books - like while you’re in the car or waiting some place. Or if your child stands right next to you while you’re getting ready in the morning, tell them a story about when you were a kid his age.
Also, if there is a time of day that is particularly hard or stressful, try in advance to think of a way to diffuse the stress. Maybe a story or a song or a rhyme is something that will help. From my personal life, my son’s preschool this year is after lunch and this has wreaked massive havoc on Heidi’s afternoon nap. So by the time we pick up Charlie at 2:30pm, she is a train wreck. She won’t walk nicely. She screams if I pick her up or put her in a stroller. She runs away when I’m getting Charlie at the classroom door or helping him with this jacket. People part like the Red Sea when they see us coming – yes, I am that Mom. So, what I tried last week is singing this Doodle Bug song in her ear and changing the words to her name which makes her laugh – this isn’t a particularly clever solution and it will probably only help a few more days, but it’s helping right this second and that’s good enough for me.
As spontaneous and wiggly as young children are, they in fact crave routine and familiar moments in their day. And as you casually add in some reading, singing and storytelling into your regular everyday life, the children will come to anticipate it, love it and develop it themselves. Nothing is more awesome than when you “catch” your young child “reading” a book and using inflections that you used the night before or telling a story to the babysitter with enough gusto to bring tears to your eyes. It’s fantastic to see the early literacy skills begin to shine.
Your background is in Early Childhood education. Do you incorporate any little things you did with your students into your parenting routines?
Absolutely! I carried many things over from when I taught toddlers and preschoolers. How helpful those experiences have been! Although, I have to say and teachers out there that I’ve spoken with agree, being with your own children is a very different dynamic than when you’re the teacher. I had thought that my day would be so much like a preschool day and we’d do so many activities every single day. Nope – doesn’t work that way. Your own children are more likely to have melt downs and moments of autonomy and such things. I know that now.
But some things that I have carried over include:
· Singing my way through everything from good morning songs to name songs to let’s put on our shoes songs. Heidi, for a while, would say “Mommy stop singing!!” She’s two.
· Talking my way through whatever I wasn’t singing. We talk about what we’re doing right now, what we’re doing next, what we did yesterday, where we’re going, who we’re seeing, what day it is, and what we think about all of it. This has led to Charlie saying “Mommy, I don’t feel like talking about it (his day at school) right now” on our way home from school.
· I give lots of choices throughout every day – choice between Cheerios or oatmeal for breakfast, choice of color of socks, choice of activities (play-dog or play a game). However, when I say that this is a time where this is no choice, I expect cooperation. This is exactly what I did when I taught. Young children are exploring their own sense of self, autonomy and a sense of control. By giving them lots and lots of opportunities to determine decisions and feel ownership, I feel that I have less meltdown situations when options simply don’t exist. This is not a perfect system – with young children, no system is. But I do believe this helps.
· I have toys, books, blocks, puzzles, dolls, cars and music in several rooms of the house at an accessible level. I also try to provide writing tools very regularly. (At this point, I can’t have a writing center available – I would have scribbles on walls, furniture, the dog. This is something that needs monitoring as an activity at our house. But when Heidi is older, then I will have writing materials available all the time as well.) I keep these materials organized, sometimes labeled, and clean – just like in a classroom. I find that young children do not play well in chaos. They create chaos, but then the toys need to be re-assembled or they will never go back to them. Plus, I like to keep track of all the puzzle pieces. Missing parts and pieces make me crazy – just like in my classroom.
· Also from my teaching, I try to thematically link activities, songs and books. I try to provide books about snow, winter, ice, etc during this time of year. I try to sing the songs that go along as well. I try to draw connections between these materials and activities and our world outside.
· I also try to follow the lead of the children’s interests. If they show interest in the caterpillars outside, we bring it inside in a cup with some leaves, twigs, grass and water. We watch him for a little while and then return him to his home. Then I try to find books about caterpillars and butterflies either from our home library or at our local library and help facilitate connections. I take their lead on what interests them today and we explore it together.
How important is reading aloud in your family? What do your kids think of it and what do you believe they get out of it?
Reading aloud is part of us. We honestly started reading to Charlie the day he came home from the hospital. I had never had a newborn before and filling up those whole long days was a challenge. I didn’t know what else to do, so I would read everything – from board books, from story books, from poetry books and even from my own novels. Didn’t matter – I just read. I love to read aloud and so this is something that I am comfortable sharing with my children and I feel grateful that this is an act of love that I can give to them. I’d like to say, though, that there are many people out there who are not comfortable reading aloud. Know that you are not alone and do not to give up. Reading aloud gets easier with more practice, so please keep trying. And if you have books that you read over and over, those books will become easier and more comfortable to read aloud. Children are a fantastic and flexible audience – they will love the individual way that you read to them even if you think you could be doing better.
Because my children haven’t known any differently from the days they were my born, they expect and quite frankly, would demand to be read to probably every day. Heidi runs around the house several times a day carrying three books and saying “I’ve got three”. This is carried over from our general three stories at bed time which makes me smile. Charlie regularly picks one of his super hero books and asks for me to read – again – for literally the tenth time. It’s wonderful.
What do I think they get out of it? I could write a book about that. Or certainly at least a blog!
I believe they get all this and so much more: letters, words, sentences, ideas, thoughts, purpose, communication, story, art, color, texture, focus, listening, rhythm, rhyme, movement, power, voice, questions, reflection, love, togetherness, sharing, trust, touch, bonding, respect, ideas, creativity, exploration, memories, connections, awareness, observation, appreciation, laughter, feelings, pride, self awareness. Goodness – they get so much. What a gift to give them and it has been my pleasure to share it.
Wow! Isn't that a wonderful summary of what literacy does for kids? And as Valerie says, a tremendous gift for parents to bestow. Judging by the way those two in the chair are engrossed in their books, they're pretty happy about it, too. Thanks so much Valerie! Be sure to check out The Almost Librarian blog for more great ideas on incorporating literacy into family life.