Category Archives: Learning

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.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2021

On January 29, Star Bright Books proudly returned as a sponsor for Multicultural Children’s Book Day on Jnau! We appreciate the opportunity to participate in this celebration of representation and diverse stories. Multicultural Children’s Book Day aims to connect young readers with multicultural books and expose them to new perspectives.

 

Volunteers read and reviewed three of our titles—Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You!; The Big Day; and 21 Cousins—for MCBD. Below are some of their kind words. Thank you to everyone who participated and reviewed our books!

 

For more information about Multicultural Children’s Book Day, visit their website, Facebook page, or Instagram account.

 

The Big Day, written by Terry Lee Caruthers and illustrated by Robert Casilla.

The Big Day

Jennifer Burgin (Twitter: @mrsjburgin)

“. . . The Big Day ends with two full-page spreads describing aspects of Women’s Suffrage & surrounding politics of the era. It can help equip educators to discuss topics like racism, riots, suffrage and gender equality.”

 

Karina Elze (Facebook: Elze Kids Online)

“I love this book because I am able to cover so many topics with my students, whether it be the civic duty of voting, equality, or history. The illustrations are very detailed and the real newspaper headlines brought it more to life.”

 

Jason DeHart (Book Love/Dr. J Reads)

“The story is powerfully told in words from Caruthers, and would make a wonderful read aloud or shared reading for younger readers, as well as an independent read. I can even see this book as a powerful site for literacy development and cultural discussion for older readers as an introduction to a unit or prelude to a longer text.”

 

Valerie Williams-Sanchez (Valerie’s Vignettes)

“[E]xplore[s] the past in ways that make[s] history come alive, offering [a] fresh perspectives and reconstructed imagining of [an] important event in our nation’s history. . . imagines the excitement of being the first Black woman to cast her ballot in Knoxville, Tennessee.”

 

Dolisha Mitchell (Instagram: @littleblackbooknook)

“The back matter of this book includes so many fascinating facts and details such as a timeline of women’s suffrage world wide, newspaper clippings, and more details about the life of Agnes Sadler.”

 

Roberta Gibson (Wrapped in Foil)

The Big Day is perfect to share for Black History Month (February), Women’s History Month (March), and around elections. Children, particularly budding historians, are going to be fascinated by this glimpse into an important time. Delve into a copy today!”

 

Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You!, written by Ellen Mayer and illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You!

Zainab Hasan (Instagram: @busyammareads)

“A very sweet board book, Twinkle Twinkle Diaper You! introduces the importance of ‘parentese.’ A form of communication between a child and parent that leads to relationship building.”

 

Sita Singh (Instagram: @sitawrites)

“I love that the book features a family that is diverse and multigenerational, and includes a note that highlights the importance of interacting with your baby. This book is a must-have for all new parents, grandparents, and caregivers!”

 

Jannette Irwin

“I will recommend this book to anyone who wants to have fun while building a warm relationship with his/her baby through playful conversations.”

 

Jolene Gutiérrez

“This beautiful board book features Mommy and Baby as they interact and communicate during Baby’s diaper change. The story serves as a reminder to parents and other caregivers that every interaction with a child can be meaningful.”

 

Kristen Zellner (Eat, Pray, Travel, Teach)

“The illustrations alone are a wonderful addition to any library but I truly think this is one that should be gifted at every baby shower.”

21 Cousins, written by Diane de Anda and illustrated by Isabel Muñoz.

21 Cousins

Patricia Nozell (Wander, Ponder, Write)

21 Cousins is a celebratory exploration of family and mestizo heritage. Readers meet each cousin in this loving family in turn, making it a perfect book to explore how we are the same and different. I love that physical attributes, skills, and passions are highlighted—I think readers may find someone who is just like them (or like one of their family members).”

 

Melissa Mwai (Kid Lit Cliffs Notes)

“[T]here seems to be every different type of person in this mestizo family. Such an immediate “draw”! . . . I love that the English version works in a lot of Español! It feels very conversational.”

 

 

 

 

2020: The Year in Review

As we bid farewell to the trying and difficult year of 2020, it is important to reflect on everything that has happened, both on a worldly scale and within the publishing community.

 

The year started with whispers of a deadly, fast-spreading virus. By April, it seemed the whole world was on total lockdown to try and slow the spread of COVID-19. With every month that passed, a new hardship came to light: calls for racial justice, the fight for a new presidency, and the general uncertainty of the COVID-19 outbreak.

 

In this piece, we recap last year’s hardships and look to 2021 with a new hope.

 

A Look at What Happened

 

Last year brought with it many unbelievable challenges.

 

At the end of 2019 and start of 2020, a mysterious virus started to spread across the world in rapid succession. By mid-February, many countries had instituted restrictive measures, such as lockdowns and shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders to try and contain the virus. The United States declared a national emergency in March.

 

With the restrictive measures in place many stores and other establishments closed their doors to the public, leading to a downturn in business and an increase in unemployment. Those who were fortunate to avoid unemployment transitioned to remote work, which brought its own challenges. However, December ushered in a wave of hope in the form of COVID-19 vaccines, one of which is reported to be 94% effective.

 

Along with the lockdowns and economic instability, there was an increased awareness of social injustice across the US and the world. Calls to end systemic racism and implement changes in police training are not a new concepts, but with people more connected than ever through the Internet and the tragic deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, these issues were broadcast around the world. In a recent roundtable interview with NPR’s David Greene, Lynsey Chutel, a South African journalist, said, “There is a George Floyd in every country.”

 

On top of these obstacles, 2020 was a presidential election year that brought several Democratic candidates. In the end of a divisive election cycle, Democrat Joe Biden defeated incumbent Republican Donald Trump to win the presidency.

 

Finally, 2020 was the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. The Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, was ratified on August 18, 1920. It marked the end of a decades-long fight for women’s suffrage and publically declared, for the first time, that American women, like men, deserved all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

Young Tansy helps Big Mama vote in “The Big Day.” (illustrated by Robert Casilla)

COVID-19’s Effects on Publishing 

 

The spread of COVID-19 also had a profound effect on the publishing world in 2020. At the end of March, when COVID-19 was declared a national emergency, book publishers made tough decisions to delay publication dates for key books. This resulted in a bit of a printing jam when the delayed books ran into the production cycles of other forthcoming titles. Needless to say, the backlog created havoc for authors and publishers alike.

 

The publishing world was forced to learn how to quickly pivot to virtual learning and reading. Publishers turned to more virtual offerings such as book tours, school visits, and book events—all offered online instead of in-person.

 

Many publishing houses also enforced remote work as the new standard. The day-to-day life of producing a book shifted in 2020—from spreading out printing proofs, artwork, and advance copies across huge conference tables to share with office colleagues to sending printing proofs and advance copies by mail to reduce touch points.

 

Dan Potash, VP and creative director at Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, recently said in an Publishers Weekly article, “Working from home has magnified the incalculable value of the impromptu meeting, the in-the-elevator exchange, the outside-my-doorway-lunch-plan-turned-brainstorming-session, or spontaneous detour to a designer’s office to tell them how impressed I am with their work. It’s both the obvious and the subtle power of these moments that are missing these days.”

 

In spite of these challenges, some workflow changes have been greatly beneficial, such as the reduced cost and time efficiency of sending digital book copies for review. Increases in Zoom, Skype, and phone meetings, as well as email communication all worked together in 2020 to ensure that book production continues forward. Due to the expansion of homeschooling and remote learning, sales in juvenile and adult nonfiction books skyrocketed last year.

 

A Peek into Star Bright Books’s Year

 

Star Bright Books was equally impacted by 2020. Like many publishing houses our list was much smaller than usual, but all the more special. We published four new books last year: Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You! (June 30), The Little Red Crane (August 17), Shapes at Play (October 15), and The Big Day (October 30).

 

Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You! is available in English and Spanish/English. (illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu)

 

We also added books in Swahili, Punjabi, and Hopi, bringing us to 29 different language offerings. Hopi is the third Indigenous language on our publishing list.

 

Even with last year’s struggles and uncertainty, 2021 is a time for hope and coming prosperity. With the world working together to produce and distribute COVID-19 vaccines and the increasing demand for books, it is only a matter of time before a return to normalcy takes place.

 

All of us at Star Bright Books wish you a wonderful 2021 filled with new hope, and most importantly, new and inspiring stories.

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!

How To Start (And Continue) Talking To Kids About Race

Talking to children about race, racism, and police brutality can be intimidating and challenging, but we believe it is imperative in the fight for an anti-racist community. Here are 10 multimedia resources (articles, podcasts, interviews, etc.) to assist parents, teachers, educators, and caregivers in starting and continuing conversations with children.

 

Articles

UNICEF: Talking to your kids about racism: How to start the important conversation and keep it going, June 9, 2020

Comprehensive and age-specific advice for talking to children about race. Research is based in some scientific background.

 

PBS: How to Talk Honestly With Children About Racism, June 9, 2020

General advice for talking to younger children. Includes links to outside resources.

 

VOX: How to talk to kids about racism, explained by a psychologist, June 9, 2020

More specific information about discussing protests and police brutality. Information is provided by a licensed psychologist.

 

ADL: Race Talk: Engaging Young People in Conversations about Race and Racism

Information and advice for teachers and educators on talking about race during late childhood/early adolescence.

 

CHLA: Talking With Children About Race and Racism—an Age-by-Age Guide, June 10, 2020

Age-specific, science-based advice from doctors on talking about race with children.

 

Podcasts

EmbraceRace: Supporting Kids Of Color In the Wake Of Racialized Violence, 2016

Interviews with parents, teachers, and expert guests, including several people of color. Discusses when and how to support children of color in the aftermath of racialized violence.

 

NPR: How White Parents Can Talk To Their Kids About Race, June 4, 2016

Discusses some of the negative consequences of not talking to white children about race and racism.

 

Resource Lists

EmbraceRace: 20 Picture Books for 2020: Readings to Embrace Race, Provide Solace & Do Good, 2020

A list of picture books to assist in talking to kids about race and racism. Includes Spanish options.

 

ECEA: Resources for Educators Focusing on Anti-Racist Learning and Teaching, 2015

Resources to assist teachers seeking to cultivate an anti-racist classroom environment. Provides links to many outside sources.

 

Discussion

NYT: Talking to Children About Race, Policing and Violence, December 7, 2016

A roundtable discussion between New York Times employees who are parents (primarily people of color) about how they talk to their children about race/racism.

 

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. 

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.

The Benefits of Telling Old Stories in New Ways

For many of us, classic literature and stories can be daunting at best and inaccessible at worst. The language can be tough to understand and the plots can seem completely outdated and unrelatable. However, retelling old stories in new ways can open up a whole world of literature for people by making it more relevant and understandable. This is especially true for children and teens.

 

When we tell a story, there are two core questions in the backs of our minds: “Why do we tell it?” and “What can we learn from it?” Stories can mean different things to different people, of course, but we tell and retell stories that have an impact on us because at the heart of them are relevant themes: love, hope, perseverance, family, to name a few.

 

Most school systems still have students read works by Shakespeare. If we want people to understand the core messages in a well-known play such as Macbeth—which contains contemporarily relevant questions around tyranny, betrayal, and morality—then why not make it understandable? By using simplified vocabulary and plots, stories like Macbeth can be accessible to a wider audience.

 

As humans, we will always retell stories, modifying them to fit contemporary needs. Consider the Grimm Brothers’ version of Cinderella, for example, and compare it to the more contemporary Disney-movie version. The Grimm Brothers’ version is quite different. It contains some more gruesome elements. Disney’s version eliminates those plot points while keeping other key points, such as the stepmother and stepsisters, similar. There are also other retellings of Cinderella that use the classic story to focus on contemporary issues like feminism.

 

For children especially, stories that contain big words they don’t understand can lead to frustration. While there are definitely benefits to reading stories like The Odyssey to youngsters—such as language acquisition and experiencing the story in its original format— it can be overwhelming. Children also have shorter attention spans than adults, making it much harder to get them to sit and listen to long stories. Starting children off with shorter stories with simpler vocabulary is a great way to build a strong language foundation and love of literature.

Brian Wildsmith (Professor Noah’s Spaceship)

A book like Professor Noah’s Spaceship by Brian Wildsmith allows for the age-old tale of Noah’s Ark to be read in a way that is accessible, exciting, and engaging for young children. They can comprehend the core plot and message of the story, while also being introduced to contemporary worries like environmental protection.

 

When used side-by-side, modern retellings can help readers start to develop an understanding of the original text. For instance, The Lizzie Bennett Diaries series on YouTube is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. While the setting is modern-day and the language fits our contemporary vocabulary, the story itself follows the same path and the underlying plot and message are both still there.

 

Modern retellings can also lead to questions that can help engage with the text, like why something is omitted, why a character’s gender has been changed, etc. Asking these questions and thinking on their subsequent answers allow for a deeper understanding of the original text.

 

There are still immense benefits to reading classic stories in their original languages or translations. However, we should have fun with these texts, transform them, and make them more widely understandable. At the end of the day, stories are meant to be told. Whatever way is most digestible to a given audience, be it children, teens, or adults, should be celebrated and encouraged.

Exploring the Wonders of Clay

There is an abundance of freedom and creativity when it comes to crafting with clay. It can be an amazing way to bond with your child and let them experience the joy of artistic expression. Working with clay can help improve fine motor skills in children and, as with any form of art, help to cultivate creativity and inspire confidence. Plus, you’ll be able to keep your child’s creations for years to come.

 

Clay is an easy enough material to work with that anyone, from novice to master, can experiment and create something fun. We’ve provided some activities below to introduce your child to the wonderful, magic world of clay. These activities are accessible for families with any level of skill in working with clay. All you really need is some clay, which you can get either online or from a local craft store, and some imagination.

 

For younger children ages 4 and up who are still learning the alphabet, a great hands-on way to help them learn is to practice making letters out of clay. Help them form the letters and tell them what each one is. Or, alternatively, you can show a picture of letter and say, “Can you make me the letter L?” and have them try to make it themselves. This activity will make letters more tangible to a child by putting shapes into the child’s hands.

 

Another wonderful way to introduce older children, roughly ages 6 and up, to more classic techniques of pottery-making is to teach them how to make a coil pot. Help your child roll clay into a snake-like shape, commonly referred to as a coil. You can even encourage them to score, or carve, eyes and scales if they want to make the coil really look like a snake. You can use specific ceramic tools to score or even just some toothpicks or forks. Then, have your child begin to layer the coil around and around over itself until it forms the structure of a pot. There can be multiple coils or just one depending on the length of the coil(s) and the desired size of the finished pot.

 

If you want to go even more in-depth, you can help your child “slip and score” the coil pot as they create it. If they’ve already made scores in the clay by adding in scales or other designs, then they’re good to go. Otherwise, have them add in some scratch marks along the top and bottom of the clay in between each coil layer. The scoring allows for the coils to interlock, but also for slip to slide into the scores to create even more of a binding.

 

What is slip, you might ask? “Slip is liquid clay. Slip is made by mixing clay with water to create a creamy liquid,” to quote from The Magic of Clay, written by clay artist and illustrator Adalucía. Slip essentially acts a glue to attach clay pieces together. You can pre-make the slip yourself before beginning the craft, either alone or involving your child. Once the slip is ready, help your child put some in between each of the coil layers.

 

If you find your child enchanted by clay, consider reading them books on the subject to enhance their knowledge. A great book that covers a variety of clay techniques, terms, and science is the aforementioned book The Magic of Clay.

 

There are a ton of available resources and activities involving clay. Keep an open mind when exploring various activities—and don’t be afraid to experiment! Allow the freedom of artistic expression thrive between you and your child.