Category Archives: Family

Nurturing Positive Development in Quarantine Babies and Toddlers

From Always by My Side, written by Susan Kerner and illustrated by Ian P. Benfold Haywood.

With the world in various degrees of isolation for the last year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, parents and caregivers are filled with questions on how this could impact their newborns, infants, and toddlers. There is concern that the loss of socially stimulating environments (like a daycare) could stunt a young one’s early language development or their ability to recognize faces or places. This absence also leaves many wondering if an entire generation will be under-stimulated and anxiety-ridden in the future. While it’s still too early for any conclusive research, now is a prominent time to discuss this topic.

 

The Impact of Past Crises on Children’s Development

 

Some researchers have turned to studies of past crises for possible correlations, specifically children’s responses to life-changing events. For example, parts of the Netherlands experienced severe famines in the 1940s as a result of Nazi occupations. Studies show that children born during this time had higher rates of antisocial personality disorder and shorter lifespans. In another case, 30 to 50 percent of children at the epicenters of Hurricanes Hugo and Andrew developed PTSD and a third experienced recurring symptoms. However, most children reverted to the baseline within a year.

 

Many past studies reflect similar findings in which childhood development may be temporarily altered because of a crisis situation without necessarily indicating long-term effects. Such studies are examples of correlation and not causation. After the Great Depression, for example, children who survived with mild or no changes to their development or personhood were from families who financially recovered from the crisis faster than others. The financial recoveries meant parental figures were less hostile, angry, or depressed, which then had a positive impact on their children.

From Always by My Side, written by Susan Kerner and illustrated by Ian P. Benfold Haywood.

Covid-19’s Impact on Infant Development

 

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, researchers have already begun conducting their own studies. Philip Fisher, a neuroscientist at the University of Oregon, sent questionnaires to one thousand American families in April 2020. By the twelfth week, 79 percent of parents with children under the age of five reported their kids were more fussy and defiant than before the quarantine period, while 41 percent were more fearful or anxious. Throughout the study, which concluded in October, Fisher found that the more distressed parents reported being, the more distress they observed in their children.

 

Other studies also reveal that children’s mental health is significantly correlated to that of their parents. The youngest kids, especially, have the strongest bonds with their parents, meaning their reactions to isolation are directly influenced by their parents’ reactions.

 

From Look at You!, by Star Bright Books.

 

Nurturing Positive Development in Isolation

 

The good news is that while child development specialists conduct these studies and explore correlations, they remain hopeful for children! Dr. Brenda Volling, an expert in social-emotional development and a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, emphasizes that infants and toddlers are most in need of stability and loving parental interactions during unprecedented times. Now more than ever, it’s important to pay attention to the needs of your child and adjust support accordingly so as to avoid lingering damaging effects.

 

Here are some signs that your infant or toddler may need more support:

  • New or worsening behavioral problems (such as tantrums)
  • Regression in behavior
  • Withdrawal
  • Difficulty separating from parents or caregivers
  • Sleep irregularities or difficulties
  • Loss of appetite
  • Thumb sucking
  • General fear, nervousness, stress, irritability, or hypervigilance

 

It’s natural for young children to exhibit signs of distress in a stressful environment, even if it’s not indicative of long-term developmental effects. Because parental interaction and support is the most significant socialization for infants and toddlers, it’s completely feasible to meet your child’s needs right at home!

 

How to encourage positive development in your baby while in isolation:

  • Reinforce social skills at home—like sharing and communicative exchanges—to replicate what babies would learn through interactions with other young kids. Verbal and physical exchanges help to build language development skills and broader cognitive abilities.
  • Encourage self-directed activities to allow your child to develop a sense of independence in an environment where they’re likely only engaging with people they depend on. Such activities include building with blocks, finger painting, or playing with dough.
  • When coloring or creating art, ask your child if they want to send it to a family member. Making a habit of this will help to foster understanding of and connection with people beyond your isolation bubble!
  • Read books that encourage facial recognition to build your baby’s social and emotional skills. Star Bright Books offers books that encourage self-expression and self-discovery, such as My Face Book; Look at You!; and Babies, Babies!.
  • Without sheltering your baby, try to keep them away from heighted levels of stress. This could mean creating a separate working space at home, taking shifts with another caregiver when possible, or saving difficult conversations for while the child is sleeping.
  • Be careful when teaching caution to avoid instilling fear. When introducing stressful topics like social distancing, it’s important to avoid framing other people as threats.
  • Remember to take care of yourself! If your mental health is being pushed to the side, the stress and anxiety your child observes may impact them. Make time to relax whether it is meditation, yoga, a walk, or something else.

 

The pandemic’s impact on the inner workings and responses of infants and toddlers may not be reflected in concrete research for years to come. The most important way to support your baby is to pay attention to their needs and build your relationship with them. What your child needs most while living through this time of isolation is your love and support.

Encouraging Children to Learn About and Normalize Mental Health

Image from Pexels

Have you wondered how to approach your child about mental health? Have they asked questions about a family member or a friend or shown signs of mental health disorders?

 

Mental health stigmas have long plagued our society. It is thus important to normalize mental health at a young age. Building a conversation around this topic can help lay the foundation for more understanding, compassionate, and educated future generations.

 

Why don’t kids know more about mental health?

There are a variety of reasons why children don’t know about mental health issues, such as not knowing the appropriate time to talk about them or the age they can be clearly understood. Mental health can also be subjective for different families. Here are some of the reasons given by mental health professionals:

 

  • The majority of mental health literature is targeted at sixth grade and up, making it inaccessible to younger children.
  • Schools lack funding for adequate mental health literacy.
  • Many parents don’t know how to talk to their kids about it.
  • Some children grow up believing the stigma that disorders are rare, making them unable to recognize symptoms in themselves or someone else.

 

Mood swings, anxiety, depression, and disorders are not rare, and children of all ages should be aware of this.

 

Early signs and symptoms of mental health disorders in kids and teens

If you have noticed any of the following signs in your child’s behavior it is important to tell them without passing judgment. Open conversations are vital for ending stigmas.

 

  • No interest in socializing with friends.
  • Irritable or darkened moods (expressing an unusual amount of interest in death).
  • Lack of motivation in school and a decline in grades.

 

Being vigilant can’t hurt. These are not always signs of a mental health disorder, but they can be.

 

Advice for parents, guardians, and caregivers

Most importantly, listen to a child or teen if they want to talk about mental health. Filter out your suggestions and ask them what you can do to help. Some other ways to make children and teens comfortable are:

 

  • Remind them that mental health issues are common.
  • Don’t share what they’ve discussed.
  • Offer impartial counseling.
  • Don’t minimize what they’re going through by telling them to think differently.
  • Validate their feelings.

 

Talking to specific age groups about mental health

Preschool children can’t understand abstract ideas such as anxiety or depression. They need less information because they are focused on what they can see (conciseness is key). Saying someone isn’t feeling well, but that the person still loves them and needs rest will answer concerns and soothe children.

 

School-age children tend to want specifics and have more pointed questions. Many inquiries will surround their own safety and that of others. Try to answer truthfully and reassure them.

 

Teenagers require an open dialogue since most don’t want to be lectured. Teens tend to have misconceptions about mental health and that makes conversation vital. Keep the conversations active and check in as needed.

 

How can mental health education be more accessible to children?

The first step as a parent, guardian, or caregiver is to educate yourself. Turn to a doctor or mental health provider when kids have questions you can’t answer. Health professionals can help you jumpstart the conversation about mental health. Continue conversations with kids in the hope they talk about it positively with another classmate or teacher.

 

Another way to make the topic of mental health more accessible is to educate children on the signs and symptoms of disorders in people they love or in themselves and assure them of the treatment options. Treatment could include therapy, exercise, writing or drawing their thoughts, positive thinking, and mindfulness activities.

 

Resources on specific disorders children and young adults might face

The Child Mind Institute offers guides to parents and caregivers on gaining a better understanding of how diagnoses manifest themselves. The website also includes umbrella topics that don’t fit under specific mental health disorders. The Child Mind Institute advises on:

 

  • ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Auditory Processing Disorder
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Behavior and Conduct Disorders
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Depressive and Mood Disorders
  • Eating Disorders
  • Elimination Disorders
  • Gender Dysphoria
  • Learning and Development Disorders
  • Non-Verbal Learning Disorders
  • OCD
  • Personality Disorders
  • Schizophrenia/Psychosis
  • Selective Mutism
  • Sleep-Wake Disorders
  • Substance Use and Addictive Disorders
  • Tourette’s and Tic Disorders
  • Trauma Disorders

 

While you might not have to learn about all of these disorders, it’s important to educate yourself on topics that pertain to you, those you love, and those you might encounter in the future. When you know more, normalizing mental health becomes second nature.

Stimulating Social Development in the Time of COVID-19

From Madison’s Patriotic Project, written by Dr. Vanita Braver and illustrated by Carl DiRocco.

Socialization is a critical component of young children’s development. Finding opportunities for safe interaction during COVID-19, however, can be a challenging task. After nearly a year of social distancing to mitigate the spread of the virus, many are struggling with pandemic fatigue. During this difficult time, children can grapple with disrupted routines, emotional challenges, and feelings of instability.

 

Safely socializing within a “bubble” or “pod” is an option that some families have chosen, but there are ways to connect with people outside of this group. Implementing new and different socialization strategies can help children develop emotional intelligence and relationship-building skills while feeling less isolated.

 

How does socialization impact children’s development?

Interacting with others in school, family, and social environments helps children to understand behavioral cues and relationships. By hearing and participating in conversations, they are able to build speech and language skills. This communication provides exposure to new and varied outlooks. Having the opportunity to interact with diverse perspectives is a crucial element in developing an understanding of inclusivity.

 

Utilizing Technology to Stay Connected

In-person gatherings may be limited, but video calls can keep children connected to others. Virtual meetings with classmates, friends, and extended family members allow children to stay connected to parts of their routine that have been disrupted. They also offer a sense of normalcy and combat fatigue.

 

There are many accessible online activities and games available for children too. However, it is important to be cognizant of screen time (especially in the era of virtual learning).

 

Encouraging Children to Play (and Partake in Playtime)

Playtime promotes critical thinking skills for young children. They engage their senses of creativity and imagination. It can also be educational and fun. Challenges like puzzles or card games help develop math skills and spatial awareness.

 

Another benefit of playtime is that it creates valuable bonding opportunities with those in a child’s bubble. Instead of neighbors or classmates, toys—such as stuffed animals—can provide companionship during indoor play.

From Let’s Play Outside, written by Pat Rumbaugh and illustrated by Daniel Nakamura.

Playing outside allows children to stay active and explore new environments. Organizations like Let’s Play America aid in planning virtual and outdoor play events that can safely bring communities together.

 

Establishing a Pen Pal

Children can write letters to their loved ones or friends, thus developing communication skills and fostering connections. Writing to a pen pal is an activity that parents and children can even engage in together! Parents can stay informed and assist children with language and grammar. An added benefit is that children can work on their handwriting.

 

Having a pen pal creates personal communication with someone outside of a child’s immediate bubble. Many people also feel handwritten messages are more meaningful than virtual ones. This exchange can be an especially great option for grandparents or family members who live far away.

 

Reading SEL Stories

Reading books with children that contain social and emotional learning (SEL) messages is a way to promote development at home. SEL stories feature important themes such as responsibility, compassion, self-awareness, and inclusion. Exposure to them benefits students in school and in interactions with others. Families can read SEL books together and discuss significant takeaways.

 

In-person socialization is not the only opportunity to promote relationship-building, behavioral understanding, and emotional intelligence among children. These are just a few strategies that can introduce variety, stimulate development, and reduce feelings of isolation in uncertain times.

Building Vital Intergenerational Relationships through Reading

Many people are losing out on time with family members during the pandemic, but this isolating reality has been particularly hard-hitting on the elderly. They are unable to see their grandchildren, youthful chess companions, or book club members who offer a sense of community.

 

Children, teens, and young adults are losing out too. They don’t get to converse or bake with their grandparents or elderly loved ones.

 

Reading is one of the fundamental pillars of human connection. It allows people across generations to relate to each other and discuss characters or themes that pertain to their own lives. Literature is a staircase into another world, and it is possible for two generations to scale those stairs together, forming a bond that can benefit both parties.

 

Young people and older relatives who live in the same household can read together in-person. For those who live apart, technology exists to connect with family members worldwide via FaceTime or Zoom, and this bonding can be furthered through reading.

 

What are the benefits of forming an intergenerational bond?

Relationships offer mutual benefits we might not consider. Intergenerational bonds reward both young and old people because they can learn from each other (stringing together the past and future). Reading together brings out the inquisitive and social sides to of everyone, but there are individual benefits as well.

 

For elder generations, reading together:

  • Prevents loneliness.
  • Keeps them updated on current trends.
  • Allows them to share their own stories and pass on lessons.

 

For children, teens, and young adults, reading together:

Reading with grandparents is a beautiful and rewarding experience for everyone. (from Read to Me, illustrated by Kyra Teis)

 

Grandparents/elders reading with young children

Children and grandparents can build many fond memories reading together, whether it’s five minutes a day or two hours per week. Children can share their dreams for the future by recognizing themselves in books, and grandparents can encourage them to pursue their interests. This also intensifies a child’s sense of family belonging and reinforces the place a grandparent has in it.

 

Here are some tips to make efficient use of reading time:

  • If reading together remotely, record yourself reading aloud for a change of pace from
  • FaceTime or Zoom.
  • Allow children to pick a book. It shows that you trust their opinion, no matter how many times you reread the same book.
  • Keep a stockpile of genres handy so there are lots of options.
  • Ask each other questions about the book.
  • Make sound effects while reading.
  • Give books as presents.
  • Take turns reading aloud.

 

Grandparents/elders reading with teens, college students, and health workers

A book club is one of the best ways to engage in a cross-generational gathering.

 

A book discussion group can be anywhere with anyone: over an online platform, on a patio, in a church basement, at an assisted living facility, or in any community space where people who love literature can come together.

 

The best way to facilitate a book discussion is to keep the group under ten people with an equal number from older and younger generations. Participants should be excited and willing!

 

Pick books that feature friendship amid a generational gap, use icebreakers during the first meeting, have a set of rules and expectations to build structure, make accommodations for anyone who is hard of hearing or visually impaired, and if online, ensure that everyone is able access the platform and feel comfortable in this environment.

 

Group discussions can be quite rewarding. Other enriching elements are friendships formed outside of a club and creative, book-related group activities.

 

However you choose to read together, be authentic and let the book be a guide toward connection. There is power in shared experience.

Benefits of Singing With Little Ones!

Singing and music have long been important parts of early childhood education and childrearing. Recent studies show that singing to babies and young kids has numerous neurological and cognitive benefits for the child, as well as social benefits for both the child and parent alike.

Interior of our new book Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You! (illustration by Ying-Hwa Hu).

Many parents are uncomfortable singing to their children because they are not confident in their own singing abilities, instead relying on curated playlists and digital music to soothe their babies. Professionals point out, though, that the parent’s voice, not the song quality, is what matters. Singing to babies, both in utero and post-partum, increases babies’ ability to recognize their parents’ voices and appearances and cultivates feelings of safety and comfort in this recognition, thus fostering a strong bond between parent and child.

 

In conjunction with cultivating the parent-child relationship, parents should pay close attention to their baby’s various reactions to songs (cooing, babbling, giggling, pointing, etc.) and respond to them accordingly. In her book Talk to Me, Baby!, the great early childhood expert—and our dear friend—Betty Bardige explains, “The baby’s coos, babbles, and facial and body language let the adult know when they are in sync and when they need to reestablish their connection.” Listening and modifying the networks of communication will help strengthen the bond between parent and child, as well as further establish channels of verbal and non-verbal communication.

 

There are additional benefits associated with singing to babies. Creating a schedule for specific songs at certain times of day can help create a routine for your child. Babies feel secure when they are able to anticipate what will happen next, thus associating certain actions or times of the day—like a diaper change, dinner, or bedtime—with certain songs. This is sometimes called verbal mapping, a term used to describe the adult narration of a baby’s life. Putting this narration into a song routine also helps babies develop more positive associations with everyday activities. 

 

New research suggests that singing to babies helps improve cognitive development in young children. One study shows that singing songs can increase a child’s attention span and positive displays of emotion. Other studies illustrate a correlation between exposure to music and rhythm and positive social connections. This means singing to an infant may not only support their immediate cognitive growth, but can also have a lasting impact on their social development.

Interior of our new book Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You! (illustration by Ying-Hwa Hu).

Furthermore, singing is often a child’s first exposure to language.  Singing a variety of songs and lullabies helps to successfully introduce infants to new vocabulary. By introducing new words in conjunction with actions or visuals (tickling a baby’s tummy or showing a baby pictures of farm animals), babies are better able to learn these words by their association to the actions/objects of action or images.

 

Children’s songs and lullabies can help grow a child’s cultural awareness as well. In multilingual households, singing songs in each language helps the baby learn to make word associations across languages—and is a stepping stone in bilingual speech development. Singing lullabies that celebrate one’s culture or heritage is also a great way to introduce a child to that part of their identity.

 

There are many ways to begin singing to your child or new practices to try if you already do! If you are interested in exploring your creative side, try writing your own song. It does not need to be complex; simple lyrics and rhythm are enough for your baby to recognize. Betty Bardige writes that songs and games “are especially fun (and helpful for building language) when they relate to what the baby is doing or seeing.”

 

Or, you can start with a common children’s song like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and transform it into your own song (as the mother does in our new book Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You!). Other good songs are “You Are My Sunshine,” “The ABCs,” and “The Wheels On The Bus.” 

 

Once you feel comfortable singing to yourself and your baby, there are many musical exercises to try with children of all ages!

Tips and Tricks for Trilingual Households

Photo from Clean Up, Up, Up! / ¡Arriba, arriba, arriba a limpiar! by Ellen Mayer.

It can sometimes be intimidating to think about teaching children multiple languages—especially if one or both parents are not fluent in all of the languages. Living in a trilingual household often comes with its own set of challenges. But, while language learning can, and most likely will, be difficult, it doesn’t have to be scary! Below is a list of tips and tricks for trilingual households to start at birth and continue throughout childhood.

 

Start Early and Use Native Languages First

Many trilingual households in the US are made up of two bilingual parents living in an English-dominated culture. It is thus recommended that each parent only address the child in their own native language. For example, if Parent 1 speaks Spanish and English and Parent 2 speaks German and English, Parent 1 should address their child in Spanish and Parent 2 should address their child in German.

 

Beginning this practice in infancy improves a child’s language acquisition in each language and teaches the child to distinguish between languages depending on audience. This is sometimes called the Minority Language at Home strategy, in which a child will speak and native languages at home while speaking and learning English in public (at schools, parks, shopping centers, etc.).

 

Quality Language Exposure Over Quantity Language Exposure

Children will be less likely to master a language if learning becomes tedious or feels like a task. To avoid this, it can be beneficial to incorporate language learning into a child’s interests. For example, if a child likes singing and dancing, they may enjoy learning a non-dominant language through song lyrics rather than books or worksheets. Similarly, if a child enjoys playing with toy cars, asking questions about what they’re doing in a non-dominant language will expose the child to new vocabulary during playtime. Often, if the child has a positive association with the process of language learning, they will be more receptive to learning and using the non-dominant language in these same scenarios.

 

Photo from Clean Up, Up, Up! / ¡Arriba, arriba, arriba a limpiar! by Ellen Mayer.

Incorporate Culture into Language Learning

Maintaining multiple languages in a household can also mean maintaining multiple cultural identities. A fun way for children to learn native languages at home is by associating the language with an aspect of their cultural identity. This can mean incorporating food, music, books, holidays, and more from each respective culture into a child’s everyday life. Doing so allows the child to make associations between the languages they are speaking and the culture from which they come. It can also make speaking each language feel more relevant and applicable in their daily life.

 

Affirm a Child’s Multicultural Identity and Multilingual Abilities

Throughout the process of language learning, it is important to affirm (and reaffirm!) the progress a child is making in language learning. It will allow a child to see value in their multilingual abilities, as well as instill feelings of pride in their multicultural identity! The more positively the child feels, the more progress they will make. 

Make Handwashing a Fun and Familiar Experience

Good hygiene, especially clean hands, is important for our health and safety. Handwashing helps prevent the spread of icky germs and bacteria like the coronavirus.

 

The Centers for Disease Control recommends washing your hands for approximately 20 seconds. But it is difficult to get children to concentrate for that long. So how can you make handwashing fun for youngsters?

 

Pediatricians suggest washing your own hands with your little one to set an example. Another tip is to tether handwashing to other fun activities, like arts and crafts.

 

Music can also make handwashing fun! Here is a cute “wash up-up-up” song to sing with your child. If you sing along with the audio track (one beat/second), the scrubbing section in the middle lasts for the recommended 20 seconds.

 

Be well and stay safe!

 

Illustration © 2018 by Ying-Hwa Hu (from Clean Up, Up, Up!)


Wash Up, Up, Up!

 

Wash up, up, up!

Wash up, up, up!

This is how you wash your hands:

 

You Wet

Lather

Scrub

Rinse, and

Dry

 

You wet your hands, you can use cold water

You lather your hands with a squirt of soap

Then you scrub your hands lots of different ways

 

You scrub the palms, one, two, three

 

You scrub the backs, one, two, three

 

You scrub the sides, one, two, three

 

You scrub the fingers, one, two, three

 

You scrub the tips, one, two, three

 

Then you rinse the soap off and dry your hands

And you’ve washed up, up, up!

One more time:

 

Wash up, up, up!

Wash up, up, up!

This is how you wash your hands:

 

You Wet

Lather

Scrub

Rinse, and

Dry

 

Lyrics and music © 2020 by Malcolm Pittman

Benjamin Futterman: vocals, guitar, audio editing

Ela Ben-Ur: vocals, fiddle

Malcolm Pittman: vocals, banjo

Courtesy of Star Bright Books

(Hand-washing procedure taken from the Centers for Disease Control)

The Extraordinary Benefits of Bedtime Stories

Reading a bedtime story with your child is a great way to wind down after a long day. You can start reading together at any age—but the earlier you start, the better. However, reading at different stages will allow for different experiences. Babies between 4 and 6 months old will begin to show an interest in books through touch, and by their first year, they’ll be able to understand basic concepts such as colors and shapes. It’s a good idea to start reading board books with children ages 3 and younger. Children ages 4 and up can continue reading a variety of picture books.

Bedtime reading with children can be a magical experience. (images from Read to Me) 

 

Along with introducing your child to early literacy, regularly reading to them has numerous benefits that will help your child as they grow. Here are some of the most important ones!

 

Scheduling a time to read with your child will help establish a routine. Practicing healthy routines at an early stage will prove beneficial. It aids in the development of organization skills, so when children grow older they can practice time management. Separating time to read and relax is just as important as time spent working. Choose a time that works best for you and your child. You don’t have to read every night, but you should set a goal for how much you do want to read. Try not to frame reading as a chore—it should be something your child looks forward to doing with you.

 

Reading stories will broaden your child’s vocabulary. Bedtime stories can be used to practice speech and reading comprehension among all languages. This is an especially helpful tool for homes where more than one language is spoken. If your child comes across a word they don’t know, take time to look up and learn the word together. You may already be familiar with the word, but it is important that your child takes time to practice searching for words unknown to them. This habit will help them when they start reading on their own. You can write down the words you learn together in a notebook and look back at them after you finish each storybook. If your child is learning more than one language, you can write down the word’s translation alongside its definition.

 

Use bedtime stories as a learning tool. You can use storybooks to introduce your child to their own cultural background and ancestry. Or venture from the stories you read growing up and find new, fun retellings of classics. Don’t limit the stories you read—there are countless bedtime tales from around the world. Be sure to research storybooks by authors from diverse backgrounds. Reading stories from various backgrounds will help children learn about different cultures and the importance of diversity and inclusion. Ask your child what types of stories interest them and if there is a country or culture they are curious about. Take time to reflect on the stories you read.

 

 

Read different types of books! Storybooks come in many different forms. Board books are ideal for children in their very early stages of reading and listening, picture books are recommended for children ages 4 and up, and beginner-level chapter books can be read as early as age 5, depending on the content. Graphic novels are also a great choice when your child grows out of the early stages of reading. There are many kid-friendly graphic novels for different age groups. In addition, audiobooks are a practical option, especially after a long day of work and school. You can purchase books that include audio guides or look for the audiobook versions of your favorite storybooks. Play the audiobook and follow along together if you have a physical copy with you. If not, actively listen to the story with your child.

 

A lot of our books make great bedtime stories including Read to Me; Good Night, Little Sea Otter; and Woolly the Wide Awake Sheep.

Using Books to Teach Children Kindness and Acceptance

Image depicts a teacher showing an illustrated book to a group of young students.

Bibliotherapy is usually used to address common childhood and adolescent concepts (Image from Layla’s Head Scarf by Miriam Cohen).

Books entertain, inspire, and educate. But they can even go beyond that. Through a process known as bibliotherapy, books have become useful tools to aid in social and emotional growth for a wide range of people.

 

Bibliotherapy uses different books to aid with different issues, and thus, there are many ways it can be applied. The basics of how bibliotherapy works stay the same, though. Bibliotherapy is composed of three stages: identification (an individual reads a book and relates to a character or situation in the text), catharsis (that person becomes emotionally involved in the text and experiences an emotional release through discussion), and insight (the reader is more aware of their own situation and has gained some new perspective).

 

In academic settings, bibliotherapy is known as developmental bibliotherapy and is usually used to address common childhood and adolescent concepts such as puberty, bodily functions, and developmental milestones. However, bibliotherapy can also be adapted to help children understand a variety of subjects including disabilities.

 

While there is an inherent lack of research on using developmental bibliotherapy to teach children about disabilities, studies have found that bibliotherapeutic instruction can help improve the self-efficacy, feelings, and productivity of children with disabilities. For children without disabilities, bibliotherapy can help create a better understanding of those with disabilities. As a result, a more accepting and inclusive classroom environment can be built.

 

In order to establish an inclusive classroom, two teachers named Ms. Schild and Ms. Stone took part in a 2014 study that analyzed how students in their multiage classes responded to bibliotherapy. The teachers were motivated to try bibliotherapy after realizing how students without disabilities struggled to interact with and respect those who did.

 

Ms. Schild’s class of second and third graders started by reading a book called In Looking after Louis. Through their conversation about Louis’s disability and his behavior, it became clear the children viewed “disabled” and “non-disabled” as rigid categories with set characteristics. However, as the study continued, this outlook started to change.

 

Since the students perceived “disabled” and “non-disabled” so differently, Ms. Schild led a conversation about the meaning of “normal.” Prior to discussion, the class read the books Crow Boy, My Brother Sammy, and Ian’s Walk. After analyzing these works, the students were able to consider the individual differences of the characters in the story, along with differences in how the characters’ disabilities were expressed in each story. This challenged the previous mindset of the class and helped students understand how there are “more fluid boundaries to the definitions of disability and normality.”

 

By the end of the study, the teachers observed a change in how their students with and without disabilities interacted with one another. Students who were once annoyed by their classmates with disabilities became more understanding and respectful of their needs. A few students with disabilities also went through changes during this study. One student who usually did not participate in class discussions felt more inclined to speak up. Seeing himself represented in a book character made it easier for him to voice his opinions since he could look at the character and say, “That’s like me!”

 

While this study can be considered a success, it is admittedly difficult to measure the effectiveness of bibliotherapy. Between a lack of substantial research and the fact that interpretations of literature are highly subjective, results can vary greatly. Because of this, there is no way to guarantee bibliotherapy will prove successful for everyone; however, the worse outcome is that no change occurs. With that in mind, this technique is worth studying in more classroom settings.

A Sweet Story for Sweet Dreams

star-bright-books-good-night-little-sea-otter-cover

Good Night, Little Sea Otter

Written by Janet Halfmann | Illustrated by Wish Williams

Ages 3 – 6

With their sweet faces and mischievous, playful personalities, sea otters may be one of the most “kid-like” animals on the planet. And, like children, they sure know how to have fun! Underwater, they glide, twist, twirl, and tumble with the same enthusiasm as kids on a playground, popping up to float on their backs like little ones lying on the ground to watch the clouds float by.

 

Sea otters also seem to know all about friendship—holding hands, playing in groups, and even sharing snacks (ingeniously prepared and served on their tummies!) When it’s naptime or bedtime, little sea otters are as snuggly as kids—or are kids as snuggly as little sea otters? Either way, both love to cuddle in a warm hug and a cozy blanket as they drift off to sleep.

star-bright-books-good-night-little-sea-otter-saying-good-night-to-harbor-seals

Good Night Little Sea Otter text copyright Janet Halfmann, Illustration copyright Wish Williams.

Janet Halfmann’s and Wish Williams’ adorable Good Night, Little Sea Otter delights in the lively antics of these loveable sea animals as the baby sea otter can’t go to sleep without saying “good-night” to all of her friends. As Little Sea Otter calls out to the seals, seagulls, snails and sea slugs, the fish, crabs, sea stars and sea urchins, they in turn are excited to say “good-night” to her as well. But as the gently rocking waves, twinkling stars, and Mama’s whispers quiet the baby, Little Sea Otter still feels she’s left someone out. Who can it be?

 

Young readers will be enchanted by this charming and joyful bedtime story that reassures them that even as they are going to sleep, they have a world of friends waiting and happy to greet them in the morning.

 

Sweet dreams!

star-bright-books-good-night-little-sea-otter-fish-scene

Good Night Little Sea Otter text copyright Janet Halfmann, Illustration copyright Wish Williams.

Good Night, Little Sea Otter is also published in these bilingual editions:

 

Arabic/English | Burmese Karen/English | Burmese/English | Chinese English/English | French/English | Hmong/English | Navajo/English | Portuguese/English | Spanish/English | Spanish/English (Board Book) 

 

Good Night, Little Sea Otter is available on the Star Bright Books Website:

Hardcover | Paperback | Board Book

 

And with these booksellers:

Amazon | IndieBound

 

You can connect with author Janet Halfmann on:

Her Website | Facebook | Twitter

 

Download These Fun Good Night, Little Sea Otter Activities!

star-bright-books-good-night-little-sea-otter-word-search       star-bright-books-good-night-little-sea-otter-maze

Here are the Solutions: Word Search Solution | Maze Solution