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by Juliann Woods, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

As promised in yesterday’s blog, today we will share a few strategies to help support language and literacy development simultaneously within family activities with family members who are home and who may be deployed or stationed elsewhere.

But first, we left you with one word of caution related to early literacy intervention – Try to control the summer camp persona.  It is important for home visitors to remember that not everyone has or loves glue sticks, paints, and safety scissors.  You can substitute sidewalk chalk for paint, use water or soap bubbles to draw pictures outside, draw or write letters on tablets or smart phones and screen capture the image, or use fruit for edible art.  Joining in with the family and expanding on what they already have and do promotes their engagement with their child’s learning.  Talking together about how to increase vocabulary, awareness of sounds or word endings, or how to include print to an activity supports the caregiver’s learning regarding how and why these practices are important as they engage with their child.

Sharing the Everyday Stories

Cell phones and computers are important communication tools for families with members who are deployed (and for everyone).  When talk time is short or includes multiple participants, having a message prepared in advance can decrease the stress of participation or the child’s performance anxiety.  The anticipation can be overwhelming for young children and result in tears and disappointment all around.  Making a story with photos, line drawings, or any scribble is a great visual support.  If the parent adds words then the activity of preparing the story becomes even richer for the child.  The parent on either end can communicate with the child by “reading” the story if the child isn’t able to do so independently.  This does not need to be fancy to be functional.  Everyday stories about going to the babysitter, feeding the pet, getting dressed, or watching a cartoon can become a short “book” with vocabulary, sequencing, past, present and future tense, and an enthusiastic ending complete with sound effects.  If sharing the story in the moment is difficult, a video made on a phone can be shared later or saved for watching again on demand.

Emotions and Emojis

Learning about emotions is important in child development and can be supported through everyday language and literacy experiences.  Many children’s books are in print and available describing different emotions including stories to support children with parents deployed in the military.  OneOp has a list of some of these books here.  Just as vocabulary develops from the familiar words in the child’s environment, vocabulary and comprehension about emotions develop from the concrete and familiar to the more abstract. Children are able to recognize emotions earlier than they can express them with words to others. Emotion words can be hard to teach because they tend to occur in the moment and are often situational.  For example, a child becomes frightened when a dog barks at the park or angry when another child visiting takes a favorite toy and won’t return it when asked.  Reading books with children that include emotions can help support their understanding of their feelings and the meaning of those feelings when they occur.  Book reading is something that parents and caregivers can do whether home or away.  For more information about supporting reading together for military families with deployed service members see this blog post.

A more recent strategy for sharing emotions is the use of Emojis.  We see them in email, on Facebook, texts, and even in movies!  Emojis are visual representations of emotions and many other symbols that can make story writing a snap activity while waiting at the doctor’s office, in line, or simply for fun.  Children may like to create long lines of the same emoji, encourage parents to write short stories with their children using a variety of emojis.  These stories can be easily shared with others to stay in touch.

The Family Fridge! 

How can the refrigerator become a vehicle for increasing the components of early literacy development?  Easy!  The refrigerator is often a central meeting place throughout the day and therefore can also easily be used to boost the child’s language and literacy development.  Families can use the refrigerator as a focal point for photos, notes, artwork, magnetic letters, and more for your conversations and storytelling.  Talking about the objects posted on the fridge or telling a story about a recent field trip that resulted in a lovely leaf and twig art project is a quick and effective way to review recent events, repeat new vocabulary, plan for the next adventure, and practice the names of important objects or people.  If alphabet letters or common words are included families can work on print and letter awareness, as well.

Below you can see how one mom used magnetic alphabet letters to help her son practice letter awareness.

The fridge can also be organized to make it easier to display artifacts by creating colorful frames with magnets to keep the family photos together, another frame for the latest artwork, and a section for magnetic letters, numbers or figures.

Framing a special section and including photos and notes from family members who are deployed offers an opportunity for children to say good morning, blow a kiss, and share a story to loved ones they might be missing.  It is also a great place to save messages to send in the next letter or to share in video so they aren’t lost.

Image from, CC0