Category Archives: Literacy Skills

Multilingualism in the Early Years

Despite years of research to the contrary, the idea often still persists that using more than one language  to speak to very young children somehow delays or confuses their language acquisition…

But children’s brains are HARDWIRED to learn language — as much and as many language[s] as they possibly can — and it is actually hugely adaptive and beneficial for them to do so!

We’ve gathered some of our favourite external resources in one place to help spread this message! Let us know if you love one that we’ve missed!

Patricia Kuhl “The Linguistic Genius of Babies”(available with subtitles and transcripts here)


Mia Nacamulli “The Benefits of a Bilingual Brain”




“BILINGUALISM FINE-TUNES HEARING, ENHANCES ATTENTION: Dual language speakers better able to encode basic language sounds and patterns” (April 30, 2012 | Northwestern University | by Wendy Leopold)
“Why Bilinguals Are Smarter”  (March 17, 2012 | The New York Times | by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee)
“The Benefits of Multilingualism” (May 1, 2010 | Institute of Applied Linguistics, University of Warsaw  | Michał B. Paradowski)

“The Pros and Cons of Raising a Multilingual Child” (2004 | Multilingual Children’s Association)
“Preserve rare languages to spread benefits of multilingualism, says expert” (February 15, 2016 | The Guardian | Press Association)

bubble talk watercolor abstract background. hand drawn illustration. language and speech

It is important to remember that multiple languages are best learned from people who can speak confidently and fluently using them! Our models for language-learning can be found easily in a culturally diverse city like Calgary! Make new friends that can speak languages you can’t! Encourage family and friends to speak in their first languages around your children! Join a fun bilingual program! Open your lives up to the sounds of multiple languages and you’ll also open up to some amazing benefits and experiences!

Babies and Board Books

It’s no secret that babies need books, and it just makes sense that the best books for babies are the hardier, more durable Board Books that are a unique joy of modern parenting.

Mother and her daughters reading a book.

Often printed on recycled cardboard with vegetable and food-grade inks, these books are meant to be explored by babies in the same way they explore everything — orally.

Yes, they’re going to get soggy; yes, they’re going to have chunks taken out of them; and yes, you are going to have to recycle them eventually… but that is literally what they are built for.  If you need to “learn to stop worrying and love the destruction of baby books”, check out this great blog post from A.J. O’Connell at Book Riot.

Providing a stock of board books for our babies to devour fosters an early love of reading, an exposure to words, language, and literacy, and  a comprehension of the mechanics of books (In English we read books from left to right across a page, top to bottom, and turn pages to the left)! On top of that, sharing a book with YOU also provides them with a huge rush of those feel-good hormones (dopamine, seratonin, and oxytocin) that increases the bond between you both, and builds positive associations around reading and learning.

Keep your eyes peeled for board books for every age and stage including high-contrast black and white books for newborns and their developing eyesight, bathtime books that can get wet, and books with lots of flaps and movable parts — we’ll follow-up next month with a list of our favourites!

Favourite Activities for Fall

Our practicum student, Miss Becky, shares her favourite activities, crafts, songs, and rhymes for you to enjoy with your little ones during the beautiful autumn weather that seems to be sticking around (knock on wood)!

Little boy in a pumpkin patch

Pumpkin Patch and/or Corn Maze

What better way to embrace fall than to go a Pumpkin Patch?! Picking the perfect pumpkin can be a great deal of fun! It sure beats scrimmaging through a bargain bin only to find the ‘perfect’ pumpkin is at the very bottom of the bin — or not there at all! The fresh air and many acres provide for lots of space and running around, to blow off some of your little one’s steam.

Here are some tips for visiting a Pumpkin Patch:

  • Dress in layers
  • Arrive early and plan to spend a couple of hours there
  • If allowed, bring along a picnic lunch to really enjoy the fall atmosphere

Follow this link that allows you to find a Pumpkin Patch near you:

Scavenger Hunt

This activity is free and gets both you and your child/ren outside for some fresh, fall air! Here is our example of a quick and easy scavenger hunt checklist.

fall scav hunt


  • Laminating a checklist and using dry erase markers allows you to take this scavenger hunt to more than one place.
  • Finding multiples of the same item encourages counting and numerical skills. For example, 3 red leaves or 5 lawn decorations! Reinforce the valuation of the numbers!
  • Turning ‘Twig’ into ‘Twig that looks like the letter Y’  helps to develop alphabetical skills.

Leaf Prints

This is a cheap and easy craft to keep children entertained! Below is a link from Nurture Store with easy-to-follow ideas as well as picture resultss — lots of opportunity to get creative with using colors that aren’t associated with fall (pinks, purples, blues), and/or adding glitter, gems, buttons etc. to create texture!


Reading books associated with seasons and holidays is a great way to get children excited about upcoming or current events. Below is a link with some great recommendations, as well as what age they are directed to.


Some of our favourite fall songs include:

Five Little Pumpkins/Witches/Scarecrows

Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate.

The first one said, “Oh my it’s getting late.”

The second one said, “There are leaves in the air.”

The third one said, “But we don’t care!”

The fourth one said, “Let’s run and run and run.”

The fifth one said, “We are ready for some fun!”

Then OOOhh OOOhh went the wind

And out went the lights

And the five little pumpkins rolled out of sight.

Autumn Leaves are Falling (to the tune of London Bridge)

Autumn leaves are falling down, falling down, falling down

Autumn leaves are falling down, all around the town.

The wind will blow them round and round, round and round, round and round

The wind will blow them round and round all around the town.

They’re drifting gently to the ground, to the ground, to the ground

They’re drifting gently to the ground, all around the town.

Take a rake a rake them up, rake them up, rake them up,

Take a rake and rake them up all around the town.

Have You Ever Seen an Apple? (To the tune of The More We Get Together)

Have you ever seen an apple, an apple, an apple

Have you ever seen an apple, that grows on a tree?

A red one, a yellow one, a red one, a yellow one

Have you ever seen an apple, that grows on a tree?

Autumn Winds

Autumn winds are blowing free,

Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh!

Leaves fall down from ev’ry tree,

Ooh, ooh, ooh!

Red and yellow, gold and brown,

Softly leaves come tumbling down,

Autumn winds are blowing free,

Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh!

Autumn winds are whistling ’round,

Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh!

Leaves go spinning to the ground,

Ooh, ooh, ooh!

Big or little, all will fall,

As they heed the windy call,

Autumn winds are whistling ’round,

Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh!

A Squirrel Song

I’ll be gathering all the acorns till they’re gone.

I’ll be gathering all the acorns till they’re gone.

I’ll be gathering all the acorns, gathering all the acorns,

Gathering all the acorns till they’re gone.

And I’ll put them all inside my little home.

I will put them all inside my little home.

I will put them all inside, put them all inside,

Put them all inside my little home.

And I’ll eat the nuts until the winter’s gone.

I will eat the nuts until the winter’s gone.

I will eat the nuts until, eat the nuts until,

Eat the nuts until the winter’s gone.

Then I’ll do it all again come next fall.

I will do it all again come next fall.

I will do it all again, do it all again,

Do it all again come next fall.

Adding objects, finger puppets, movement, and/or instruments are enthusiastic ways to interactive ways for children to participate in these songs and rhymes

Leaf Play

autumn fallen maple leaves isolated on white background

This activity makes for a interactive afternoon for both you and your little ones, and is sure to tire you both out!  All you need for Leaf Play are leaves and an imagination — if you don’t have a yard full of leaves, adventure to the nearest public park or field, take a rake, and start piling! Jump in the leaves, throw them as far up as you can so that it’s ‘raining leaves’, bury one another, make tunnels, organize smallest to biggest piles, etc. This can go on for hours, so pack a picnic and make an afternoon of it!

Carving/Painting Pumpkins

Since visiting the Pumpkin Patch, your family has now picked the perfect pumpkin(s)! So, what better way to celebrate your victory than to carve or decorate them? From our experience, especially with younger children, it typically ends with the adults doing most of the work for carving; the kids usually want to play with the ooey gooey insides (and we have no problem with that)! A great way to get children involved in creating their own pumpkin design is to have them paint and/or decorate their own. Go to the dollar store, pick up some cheap acrylic paint of their choice, and some accessories: buttons, gems, sparkles, stickers, beads etc., and let them get creative. Whatever the result, they’ll be incredibly proud!

Decorate pumpkin for halloween night on wooden background




NOOOO! (a.k.a. tantrums and how to deal)

We always discuss in our classes that tantrums often occur when we are transitioning from one activity to another and the child resists or isn’t prepared for the change. To (try to) prevent this, we recommend using songs to ease the transition from one activity to the next. Well! I recently got the chance to try it out for myself. About two weeks ago, my normally good-natured son turned into a tantrum-throwing monster, seemingly overnight. SO. MUCH. FUN.

My initial response to these tantrums was probably like most. This was my 3-step plan:

  1. Clench fists
  2. Scream
  3. Pour wine (once said tantrum-throwing monster was safely in crib, of course)

But then I remembered our class teachings and thought that this would be a perfect opportunity to practice what I preach. (I make this sound so fluid, but in actuality I spent about a week responding to the tantrums with above 3-step plan).

The first step of my new 3-step plan was to figure out the times that were most often causing his tantrums:

  • Getting dressed/undressed
  • Getting out of the bath
  • Leaving the park (the popular out-in-public tantrum…though at least at the park you are likely surrounded by other moms, as opposed to the grocery store which is filled with judgemental college kids)
  • Bedtime

So far so good. The second step of my new plan was to assign a specific song to each activity. This would signal to my son that we were now transitioning to a new activity while also providing an enjoyable distraction during this transition time. Therefore:

  • Getting dressed/undressed – we now sing:
    Baby put your pants on, pants on, pants on
    Baby put your pants on, 1-2-3.
    Baby put your shirt on, shirt on, shirt on

    Baby put your shirt on, 1-2-3.
  • Getting out of the bath – we now sing:
    Fishies in the water, fishies in the sea,
    We all stand up on the count of three!
  • Leaving the park – we now sing:
    The ponies are walking, they’re walking along
    Walking along, walking along.
    The ponies are walking, they’re walking along
    Woah! Woah! Woah!
  • Bedtime – a lullaby of course! However here’s where the plan breaks down and exemplifies why we say that transition songs will often work (but not always): lately when I try to sing a lullaby to my son he responds by screaming NOOOO in my face, over and over and over. So there you have it…even the teacher’s son can be a little jerk sometimes, despite my best efforts.

Which brings us to step 3 of my new 3-step plan: pour wine.

So the moral of the story is to try out the transition songs. Maybe they will work! Maybe they won’t! But hopefully they will work at least part of the time and that makes your life partly better. Right? And when it doesn’t? Go directly to step 3!!

Make the Outdoors your Classroom

puddleNow that it’s summer, my 1-year-old wants to spend all of his time outside. Before we’ve even had our breakfast, he’s running to the door, shoes in hand, shouting, “Outside? Outside?” If you’re child is anything like mine, you’ve packed up and relocated to your backyard for the summer too. Here are a few activities you can do that are not only fun, but will turn your outdoor space into a little classroom of sorts.

Sidewalk Chalk
Summer is a great time to let your little one get messy. The rain will wash away any toddler-graffiti and if your child gets a little dirty, it’s pretty easy to give them a quick douse of water on the lawn to clean up. Chalk is a fun way to explore art and drawing together. Let them draw on their own, or take turns drawing lines until you’ve created a collaborative masterpiece! Of course chalk is also a great opportunity to practice scribbling and writing letters. We like to write little messages on the sidewalk for daddy to read when he comes home from work.

Water Painting 
Similar to chalk, paint brushes provide a great opportunity for writing and drawing. You may be wary of using actual paint, so why not try a clean brush and a pail of water. Wet the brush and then draw on the sidewalk for some (very) temporary works of art.

I think all kids love bubbles, and they are an easy and relatively cheap activity in the summer. Older kids can develop their gross motor skills chasing after and popping them, and will also develop hand-eye coordination as they learn to dip the wands and blow. Even the youngest of babies will enjoy watching bubbles, while also developing their eye sight and eye muscles as they track the bubbles floating in the air. I love this little rhyme about bubbles too:

I dip my wand, and gently blow
A tiny bubble begins to grow!
And grow…and grow…and grow…and…

Sensory Nature Walk
When you venture outside your yard, take a little sensory nature walk with your little ones. Encourage them to use their senses as they smell flowers and fresh cut grass; listen to the birds chirping; and see the clouds moving across the sky. Stop in a park and see how many textures you can find: a rough pinecone,  a smooth pebble, a wet puddle! And remember to name the things that you see as you walk. A leisurely stroll around the neighbourhood is a great opportunity for some vocabulary development.

There are lots of ways to have fun this summer while incorporating some learning and literacy development, and they don’t have to cost a lot of money. I am always looking for more ideas to keep my little busy-body occupied…what kinds of activities do you like doing with your children in the summer?

Guest Blog: Top Ten Books for Toddlers

brin twitterThe Adventures of Huckleberry Brin is a great resource for all levels of children’s literature and programming, but today Brin joins us to specifically speak to her Top 10 picks for Toddlers! Featuring concept books with letters and colours, and lots and lots of animal stories, these choices are sure to be a hit!

Thanks for joining me in my countdown of my Top Ten Books for Toddlers! These are not in any particular order because I like them all for very different reasons and who can really pick a favourite anyway?

Number One: Oh, Daddy! by Bob Shea

Does your Daddy need help getting dressed or giving big hugs? This story is lots of fun! Little Hippo’s Daddy needs help with everything from getting dressed to eating his carrots, or that’s what Little Hippo thinks. Have fun with your child by getting them to participate in telling this story, they’ll love sighing along with you when you say “Oh, Daddy!”

Number Two: Dancing Feet! by Lindsey Craig

A guessing game and a movement game in one?! This book offers a lot of opportunity for vocabulary building and play.Guess who is dancing based on their feet and then practice dancing like that animal. Your child will be introduced to a variety of concepts such as animals, colours, and movement adjectives.

Number Three: Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard

Everyone gets grumpy sometimes. Help your little bird get out of their cranky pants by joining Bird on his walk through the forest. Bird woke up grumpy, too grumpy to fly, so he’s decided to walk. Along the way, his friends join him and end up playing a bit of a copycat game that cheers Bird up. For added fun, join Bird and his friends in their game!

Number Four: Kiss Kiss! by Margaret Wild

Baby Hippo left home in the morning and forgot to give his mama a kiss! As he waddles through the African landscape, he sees all of the other baby animals kissing their mamas. Suddenly, he remembers that he forgot to kiss his mama and rushes back home. Try making this story interactive by kissing your little one as the other baby animals give their mamas a kiss.

Number Five: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr.

Who doesn’t love a good alphabet book? This book has a great rhythm and begs to be read over and over again. I love the use of colours and both lower and uppercase letters. Have your child point out colours and letters they recognize as you read the book and point to the letters as you read each one to strengthen the connection between the letter and its sound. Also, Weston Woods has done a fantastic video of this book with a killer beat!

Number Six: From Head to Toe by Eric Carle

I love this book because it encourages participation and movement. You can demonstrate the movements of each animal and have your child copy them. You can even extend the fun and make up animal movements of your own!

Number Seven: I Am Small by Emma Dodd

The world is a scary place, but with your help your little penguin can do anything. This book is beautifully illustrated with simple text that allows you to elaborate as much or as little as you’d like. I’d recommend this book for a cozy bedtime story where you can cuddle your little one and give them a little extra security.

Number Eight: Who’s Laughing? by David Bedford

It should be no surprise by now that I love interactive books and stories. This lift-the-flap book is very well done and a lot of fun to read. Enjoy making the different sounds of animals laughing and then guessing who is laughing like that. Extend the fun by making up more animal laughs!

Number Nine: Wow! Said the Owl by Tim Hopgood

As far as colour books go, this one is my favourite. Not only does it introduce the colours of the rainbow, but also the concepts of night and day. Extend your child’s knowledge by talking about how some animals sleep during the day and are awake at night. Also, see how excited you guys can make the owl sound throughout the book!

Number Ten: Zzzzz: A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na

This is a great bedtime book. The relaxing illustrations are interesting enough to hold your child’s attention, but not so stimulating that they will get wound up just before sleep. Another great thing about this book is the little owl that is present on every page discovering how all the other animals sleep.

Thanks for your time, I hope you find at least one book on this list that will become an integral part of your child’s personal library!

— Huckleberry Brin


DIY: Featured Literacy Activity

Here’s an easy, fun, and educational activity for an indoor play day — make a giant game of “Memory”!


What you need:

  1. Painter’s Tape
  2. Single Sheets of Paper (the bigger the better!)
  3. Crayons and Markers

What you do:

  1. Tape out a matrix on your floor (using easy-to-remove, no-residue painter’s tape) with grids large enough to hold each piece of paper (tip: try laying the papers down first, then taping the correct size around them!)
  2. Print out (or make your own!) double-sets of images. Try two snails, two basketballs, two letter “F’s”… etc, and scatter them face-down in your matrix.
  3. Play Memory! Have your child flip over individual pieces of paper and try to find the matching images. To start, leave the pictures face-up after they’ve been flipped, so your child can use a trial-and-error process to find the correct picture. Help them out, and if another match comes along while you’re looking for a different one, make sure to point it out, and take both pictures off the grid to show success! After your child has mastered this portion of the game, make sure to flip images back over if they are not the right match. Did you flip a “Gorilla” first, but the next picture you picked was of a rhino? Flip both images back over, and try again!

What it does:

Playing Memory is great for developing a lot of different skills — first, of course, is your child’s “short-term” memory; remembering where an image is that they’ve already looked at, and being able to match it to another similar image. It also helps with goal-oriented tasks — being able to hold a single goal in mind and work towards it. At the same time, as your child gets better at the game, they will be able to hold several objects in their mind at a time and remember the locations of more and more images simultaneously, increasing their “working memory”. This game also develops our childrens’ “spatial awareness”, as well as “phonemic and letter awareness”. When we see or hear different letters and words with visual pictures attached to them, it helps cement these concepts in our brains. On top of all that, because we’re playing on such a large scale and in such a big space, it’s also increasing our gross motor skills, like bending and jumping and moving around from one side of the grid to another.

Extended Activities:

  • 16-24 month-olds will require simple and identical pictures to start with, so make sure the images don’t have more than one focal point in them, and that it’s match is exactly the same image
  • Use images of objects and things that your child is already fond of, to keep them engaged. Are they crazy about bugs? Love the characters from a certain book or movie? Use those! Then try mixing in some images of things you and your child don’t see every day. An exotic animal? Interesting Fruit?
  • Try including one or two letters from your child’s name into the pairs as well (two A’s for “Adam” or two J’s for “Jillian”, for example).
  • Children ages 2-3 can start playing with “concept” matches — Pair a lower case letter with it’s upper case version to make a set, or a baby animal with it’s parent. Or try matching an animal with the food it might eat: Monkey and Banana = 1 set.
  • Print out black and white sets of images so your child can colour them in. Learning how to hold writing tools is an important pre-literacy skill!
  • You can also start playing with “emotion” images — find close-up photographs of people’s faces who are laughing, crying, yelling, smiling, etc. Being able to correctly identify the way people are feeling will increase your child’s emotional maturity and ability to empathize.
  • 4 and 5 year-olds love a good challenge. Try using more complicated concepts like colours — “I need two papers that make the colour Orange” (Red and Yellow = 1 set), or increasing the size of the matrix so there are even more pairs available.
  • Give your child enough blank pieces of paper to create their own pairs — allow them to colour or draw their own matching sets! And if they want to hide them for YOU, enjoy their creativity and the exercise it will give your own brain!

Parentese vs. Baby Talk

Adults have an innate and built-in way of speaking to babies. Most people use it automatically, but some people train themselves out of it and others train themselves into entirely different behaviours, either because they don’t want to condescend to their babies, or because they think it is necessary to; they want to simplify language and make it cuter, because they think that’s what babies need.

Turns out, babies DON’T need that. Infants have an amazing ability to learn languages, and everything they need to do it is hardwired right into them! Adults just need to trust their own instincts when it comes to talking to them.




So what IS “Parentese”?

Parentese is that slower, higher-pitched, overly-exaggerated way of speaking to babies that you see most adults using. We open our eyes wider, put on big smiles, and over-enunciate the words we’re saying. It is often sing-songy and stretches out vowel sounds, so that an ‘apple’ becomes an ‘aaaaaapple’ and objects aren’t just ‘big’, they’re ‘biiiiiiig’.

Baby Talk is something else completely. When people “baby talk”, they change regular words into words that are basically nonsense. Instead of telling you that you have a cute little baby, they might instead say: “What a toot wittle beebee!”. They aren’t changing real words to emphasize meaning or pronunciation… they’re using invented words with no meaning whatsoever!


When should I use Parentese, and when should I use Baby Talk?

You should NEVER use baby talk. Don’t use it around kids, don’t use it around infants, and DON’T use it around adults.

Baby Talk will actually delay speech and language development and teach children the wrong way to speak. For example, if your child grows up thinking that you “wuv” her, and that she is “stwong and smawt”, she will not recognize the words ‘love’, ‘strong’ and ‘smart’ when she hears other people say them — she will have no comprehension of what those words mean, and will continue to say them the wrong way so that other children, in turn, will misunderstand what she is trying to say. She might not even learn how to properly form some sounds… if she hears a lot of words with w’s in them where l’s should be, she might always pronounce words that way.

The good news is, you can feel confident in your use of Parentese. People use it all over the world and in every language we speak! Even very young babies turn their heads and are more attentive when people talk to them this way. They suck faster when they’re breastfeeding and are better able to mimic these sounds than those of regular-patterned language. They LOVE being spoken to this way.


Why talk to babies anyways?

Sometimes people feel foolish talking to infants who “can’t understand them”. Babies can’t answer questions, or ask any in turn. They can’t tell you with words how they’re feeling, or follow instructions to complete tasks. They can rarely do anything more than babble and giggle and cry…

But that babbling, giggling, and crying IS their way of communicating. When you talk to a baby and leave space for them to make their own noises, it teaches them how conversations work: first one person talks, then it’s the other person’s turn. When you respond to a baby’s gurgles by saying things like, “is that so?” it teaches them that their voices are heard and recognized. And when you speak confidently to a baby using the full, rich vocabulary of your native language, they learn to do the same! If you want your baby to learn how to talk, you have to model how! You have to talk to them.

All. The. Time.


Does Parentese dumb down language?

Using Parentese makes it easier for children to learn language. That is true whether you’re talking about a “biiiiiig dog” or a “gigaaaaaantic canine”. Whichever words you use around your child are the ones they will learn, so use as many as you possibly can!

And don’t worry about continuing speaking this way for too long. As soon as your child stops reacting to Parentese the same way they used to, you’ll naturally phase out using it and start using regularly-patterned speech.

Global News Calgary — Calgary’s Child Morning: Parentese vs Baby Talk