Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wordless Books Puts Words In Their Mouths

Two pages from the classic, No! David, a book by David Shannon, I first bought this book hoping to correct Number 1's world-class impulsivity
WHAT: Wordless and Almost Wordless Books
DOES:  Helps children work on various language skills including making longer and grammatically correct sentences.
INVEST:  most books are $10-$15
TOOLS: Foment Love of Language

How do you read a book that doesn't have any words?   Do you just look at it and marvel at the art or would you just pass it over because there aren't any words to read?

I have done both because for years, I had no idea that these books could have a very special purpose for a child who isn't the best reader, writer, or speaker.

How does a kid improve his language skills with a book that has no words? Makes no sense, I know.

Number 1 knew his letters before he turned 2.  By the time he was 3 or 4 years old, my friend told me about a website called and I let him sit in front of the computer and sort of did a set-it-and-forget-it-move.  I would walk away and think he would absorb some words and reading and have some fun.  To my surprise, I am not sure how long it took but, my child actually ended up really reading.  

If this happens to you, you can't help it, you think you're child is smart smart smart.   It was a thrill. 

I really don't know how the brain works but what I do know now is that just because my kid can do that, doesn't mean my kid is good at reading.

Somewhere along the line, you get to know your child and get to see how he reads.  Can he figure out what an unknown word means just by the rest of the words in the sentence?  Does he know what the character is thinking when she did what she did?  What do you think will happen on the next page?  If your child often answers "I don't know,"  you will feel like me; frustrated.  

Like I said, I am not sure how the brain works but what I do know is that making language is a process and sometimes you are good at processing certain things and not so good at others.  Number 1 has and most likely Number 2 will have challenges here but thanks to the all those who've helped them, I found out about wordless books.  These books are timeless treasures.  

Is it possible to have a high vocabulary but not be able to tell a story?  In this house, the answer is, absolutely!  That is, Number 1, would say things like "not negotiable" and "trespassing" at the age of three.  However, he is the same child who has such difficulty in making up a sentence about something he read and sometimes even about a picture that is sitting right in front of his eyes.  It is even harder to write such a sentence out on paper.  Imagine sitting down to write about how great this blog is and you write, "I love the toys, she says about them, reviews, what she is thinking, so many things, interesting, and...."  Have I lost you yet?    I think this skill is called "sequencing" and it is an important part of reading and writing.

To me, not being able to make up that sequence of words to say what you are thinking does not mean you are not smart.  I like to think that it just means that this is hard right now.  I have a friend who barely spoke until she was five but when she grew up, she became an advertising queen (must have good language skills) and is now a terrific public health educator.   How do we get to be Queen?  I suppose between five and queen, I think there are things we can do to practice good speech.   When you open a wordless book with your child and invite your child to narrate it to you, he gets to practice speaking (in words, phrases, then sentences) and telling you a story with the visual answers right in front of him.  To examine further, I spoke with Stephanie Sigal, a New York City speech and language pathologist, who helps many young children form their first sounds, words, and sentences.

Being Playful is Key

We talked about how you can teach a child to use wordless and almost wordless books to improve grammar skills.  Yes, this is true! By using the example of the very popular (almost wordless) David Shannon book, No! David, where on one particular page, David is writing on the wall with crayons, Stephanie is able to model good speech.  The child may say, "crayons!" (instead of a phrase or sentence).  She will then say, "'Right! We use crayons on the paper... not on the wall!"  I love that she is telling them that they are "right."

"Because they are right, they just need to say more, and I'm not correcting them," she said.  After modeling a great sentence with a lot of oomph and excitement while still pointing to the deed in the picture, she told me that she would then pause and in most cases, the child will repeat something that she's said.  What a wonderful and fun way to build a child's grammar skills!  (You can read more about the many uses for wordless books in her blog.)

Another great tactic to get them talking more is to say something like, "I wonder."  Instead of asking "closed questions which I suppose to me, are only questions that produce one word or short answers and generally don't elongate any conversation.  (The most infamous of such answers are "Yes" and "No.")  Stephanie suggests that parents can ask questions such as asking what might be happening in one area of the picture, with a lot of curiosity, after the child has described a bit of the picture already.

I have also been taught how to ask my kids, "I wonder what/where/how.." questions to get my child to expand his sentences or say more sentences because kids will be excited to tell you things, especially if it's about something funny and obvious.  So if David is sitting in "time out" with a teardrop on his face and I wonder out loud with a little over-dramatized confusion about why he's there, Number 2 will start cracking up and tell me that it was because he broke the vase with the baseball. Silly Mom!   Stephanie thinks being playful is key. "It's getting to their level and engaging them," she advised, "It's fun. It's where they're going to learn."

So if you are thinking of what gift to give this holiday season to a young child.  Consider a nice bundle of these books.  They are timeless gifts to any family.  Children of varying ages can use them and if you put it down and come back to it six months later, you get to see how much your child has improved. I don't think any other book can do this for you quite like the wordless books can.

Toys are Tools' Favorite Wordless Books (and almost-wordless books)

Younger kids (preschool)- these books make little ones talk!
No! David by David Shannon
Piggy and Elephant books by Mo Willems (including: Can I Play Too? and Should I Share My Ice Cream? Number 2 is in love with all Mo Willems books and is excited to be going to Knuffle Bunny- A Cautionary Musical- whoo hoo! )
Chalk  by Bill Thomson (for the older little kid and early elementary)

Older Kids (early elementary)
The Lion and The Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
Flotsam by David Weisner
Tuesday by David Weisner
Art & Max by David Weisner
Chalk  by Bill Thomson (for the older little kid and early elementary)
The Secret Box by Barbara Lehman
The Red Book by Barbara Lehman
Trainstop by Barbara Lehman

More tips:

  • Don't want to buy or borrow a wordless book?  Take a favorite picture book and just cover up the words and encourage your child to tell you what is happening. 
  • Want to drill your child on observing and writing sentences about what he sees?  Take a wordless book, put a post-it note with a number on the page and then on a separate sheet of paper, ask him to write a sentence with the coinciding number. He can be an honorary author!  Give a set of vocab words if spelling will stall him since he is practicing hammering out sentences.  The cooler the book, the more incentive to write.  All the books above have amazing art, some of it is very intricate and induces awe in anyone's eyes.  It's hard NOT to have something to say.
  • This is a slippery slope but I'm going to say it.  I love Pingu.  I am referring to a claymation cartoon series where Pingu, a penguin, has interesting adventures with his sister, Pinga, and his friend, a seal, and other penguins on the ice.  They are all talkiing but it is some sort of  mumbo-jumbo and thus, it is universal because there are no words at all.  But, it sure is funny!   My children sometimes give commentary ("Did you see that? He was eating the lettuce when....") while watching the show and sometimes when they don't, but they crack up, I ask them what happened and they tell me.  It's all very covert.
last minute edit: Toys are Tools has decided to be more positive about this latest tool introduced here.  Thanks BA for the question about this particular tool in our toolbox.  Rather than trying to sneak in the improvement of reading skills by calling this tool, "Excuses to Learn Unwanted Subjects," I've decided that what it really is about opening a child to this very important and very fulfilling aspect in academic learning.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Love the ideas for different ways to share books with children that encourage their active involvement. My daughter's s/l therapist uses wordless books to practice "wh" questions and prepositions.