Communicating Partners, Summer 1996 Newsletter

Letter from Barbara
     I'm beginning to feel like Grover's mother. I take advantage of playful situations during the day that are based on books we read. Not all reading interactions have to be with story books. I'm beginning to feel like Grover's mother. You know, lovable, furry blue Grover from Sesame Street. My eight-year-old Down syndrome son, Mark, and I have been reading books together since he was very young. I didn't think I had a favorite, there are so many wonderful children's books, but I have become especially fond of "Grover Learns to Read."
     We found this book at the library just about the time Mark started kindergarten two years ago. In it, Grover goes to school and tries not to learn to read; he's afraid his mommy will stop reading to him if he does learn. Of course Grover learns to read, and by the end of the book he is reading to his mommy. She does not stop reading to him but they take turns reading to each other.
     Now that Mark is starting to read to me, I call him "my little Grover." We go to the library regularly where he picks out his favorites. I don't mind reading the same books over and over be-cause we are always adding something new. Once we simply pointed to the pictures and talked about them using words he could say ("Grover's blue"), but now he also takes his turn by reading the words he has learned.
     Our conversations about books are becoming longer and more interesting. This week he has been looking at a large book called "The Best of Disney." It is filled with pictures from all the Disney movies. He enjoys looking at the artists, actors, and actresses who made the movies and were the voices for the animated characters. ("Look, mom, see this lady? She's one of the three little pigs!")
     Most children spend lots of time watching TV and movies. I've found the action and talk move along too quickly for my delayed son to follow, so we enjoy reading the books about his favorites. When we read the Sesame Street and Disney children's books together, I use fewer words and give him a chance to add to the conversation. Of course he likes other books, but these are some he likes the most and will always talk about.
     I take advantage of playful situations during the day that are based on books we read. He enjoys chasing the little, wild bunny out of our garden and yelling, "Get out of my garden, Peter Rabbit!" Now he and his sister are putting out carrots for Peter; they want to tame him, if possible. Mark has his own Curious George toy and Big Red Clifford who look at the books with us. We sometimes have conversations with George and Clifford with Mark doing the talking for them.
     It's fun to act out little scenes from books and make up your own stories with favorite characters. You can use the same words and expressions found in books; this adds new words to children's vocabularies. "Oh bother," from the Winnie the Pooh books is a good example. Mark learned what "trouble" is and "curious" means from reading books about George.
     We're starting to mix-and-match characters to create our own stories at bedtime. Mark decided that Piglet and Babe would make good friends, so now they have their own ad-ventures. We talk about other characters who could be friends; Tigger and Simba, and Winnie the Pooh and the Berenstein Bears are just a few we have thought of. The more books you read with your child, the more creative you can be.
     There are so many products, clothes, and toys of story characters today, making reading with children an interactive playtime activity is easy. Just follow your child's lead and let his imagination direct the conversation often. Comment on whatever your child initiates and use words your child can say.
     Not all reading interactions have to be with storybooks. My son likes to look at family photo albums. We have long inter-actions looking at familiar people, places, and events. Pointing to pictures ("There's grandma!") is often more interesting to children than looking at books. I taught my son how to read our names by printing them under our pictures. Now I'm planning on making our own small books using this idea with easy-to-read words. We also like to look at magazines, ads and catalogs together. Instead of thinking, "Oh, no, Christmas already!" when the toy catalogs start coming out, use them as "toys" with your child. Point to the familiar toys and say, "Nice truck!" Keep your child interacting by following his lead. Mark also likes to look at the large, colorful grocery ads that come in the mail. We discuss what to buy when I go shopping. ("Lets's get a water-melon!" or "Pizza, again?" always start a conversation.)
     Any time I see my son looking at pictures or print, I try to take a few minutes to talk about it with him. I'm sure the first words he learned to read were Cherrios and Kix. He loved going shopping with me and finding these boxes on the shelves of stores. I used the opportunity to tell him he was learning how to read. He started to think of himself as a reader when he was only three or four years old. Now it's one of his favorite activities.
Barbara Mitchell

  Revised: February 22, 1998.