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The Heart of the Matter: Helping Children Find Themselves Through Books

The Heart of the Matter: Helping Children Find Themselves Through Books

What was the last book you read? Why did you choose it? Was it for pleasure? Professional growth?  To finesse a skill?  Explore a new concept? Who were you before you read this book and who were you after? Now, consider.  How do you decide which books will be part of your work with children as you teach and facilitate the skills of literacy?  Choosing books for literacy-based learning is a bit like the dilemma of Goldilocks...we stand and ponder.  Which book today?  Certainly, the book should meet criteria:  not too hot, not too cold, not too small, not too big, not too soft, not too hard...something just right that is familiar, cushy and comfortable to get the job done and meet our targeted goals.  After all, just like Goldilocks we are looking for a "just right" fit in the unknown land of what each child brings to the table in regard to cultural, economic, social, religious, political, emotional, health and educational background.  The kicker is: our job in choosing books wisely is critically important.  It requires more than a cursory look at the shelf as we have limited time to reach each child and help be part of the greater goal in growing a literate and whole person in the middle of a very busy educational agenda.  We have an important opportunity in choosing books that not only facilitate our target goals but help empower children to find themselves.


Choosing books wisely is a commitment.  We have an opportunity every day to reach the hearts of children with our decisions.  We can and should lighten their load with books that entertain and weave a web of connection between generations through shared recognition and anticipation of a great story. One of my favorite sessions ever centered around the book The Story of Little Babaji, by Helen Bannerman,  which ended up being the catalyst for three generations of shining eyes listening and exploring the adventures of a crafty boy and greedy tigers followed by a colossal family pancake party!   But, we also must choose books that explore concepts to help children explore problems and issues in a safe context to brainstorm and build schemas for coping.  Comparing and contrasting Little Red Riding Hood and Little Red Riding Hood: A New Fangled Prairie Tale by Lisa Campbell Ernst allowed my students to reach forward into the traditional story of Little Red as a victim and recast her into a smart, savvy, safety-conscious and empowered co-heroine (ha! spoiler alert!) by making different choices.  Books can introduce broader issues that build cultural competency and allow understanding of social, cultural, generational and historical issues to help build respect for all viewpoints and engage critical thinking. Exploring Dia de Los Muertos through Day of the Dead by Tony Johnston and Jeanette Winter, Zen philosophy through Zen Shorts by Jon Muth and aspects of the Great Depression through The Gardener by Sarah Stewart allowed a broader conversation in session and at home for my students from varied backgrounds.

The decision to harness books to help children find themselves can be facilitated by understanding the concepts of bibliotherapy and critical literacy.  A spot-on beautiful and practical article, Children's literature promotes understanding by Melissa Thibault, explores these concepts in detail and helps create a framework for each area of implementation.  In short, bibliotherapy is the concept that books can help children deal with personal situations and begin to heal through better understanding.  Through the catalyst of the book Roger: The Jolly Pirate by Brett Helquist, the concepts of being yourself, coping with bullying and celebrating each person's contributions to a group empowered my students to identify and put into action their unique roles in becoming part of various groups in the new school year. Critical literacy addresses broad issues to allow children to think about and respect others, consider multiple viewpoints and become more reflective on their own lives.  A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams was not only relatable for many of my students but a call to action for them to help their parents save for something special and empathize with tired bodies at the end of back to back jobs.

Choosing books for our own practices as well as the boxes that we create to promote and support the magic of literacy-based therapy through 3D SLP is a process that is heartfelt and purposeful.  There are so many classic books that are beloved that we use in our own therapy sessions because they are so delightful and engaging.  But, to become a part of our boxes, a book has to have something more.  The books we choose are evaluated to tender the true calling of the book to help each child find themselves and understand how important they are.  We choose books to help children find their power, to heal, to discover what makes them special and to open conversational doors to parts of themselves that possibly no one has ever opened.  That in essence for us is where bibliotherapy and critical literacy start in our mission to empower and help children find themselves through carefully chosen books. To find great books, we use many resources, read (and appreciate but reject) many books and finally make our final choices of the heart.  For great resources consider the following: Caldecott Winners, Notable Social Studies Books, www.booksintheclassroom.com



Custom Fit: The Magic of Universal Design

Custom Fit: The Magic of Universal Design

Each individual has the right to an equal opportunity to learn.  The power of this statement and the call to action to serve each learner regardless of ability, disability, age, gender, cultural or linguistic background or sexual orientation is the heart beat of Universal Design (UDL). 

Universal design is about creating materials and environments for learning that are flexible, varied and empowering.  UDL accelerates concept understanding from the expected to the unexpected by setting the stage with a varied cast of methods and means that captures each individual learner and makes their journey accessible. 

I first became fascinated with the impact of integrating universal design concepts, in partnership with literacy-based therapy, early on as a solo practitioner in private practice in a rural, low-income town in Southern Colorado.  Many of my patients had limited exposure to books let alone thematic language and literacy learning to help them visualize the concepts, people and places beyond their every day struggle of getting to school, having enough to eat and returning home to a safe and secure environment.   Tailoring therapy to meet each child’s unique communication needs as well as maximize their journey to becoming literate was a serious concern for me knowing that without literacy their chances of a better life as strong, educated community members was dim.  Additionally, without literate children growing to be competent literate adults, the already struggling community was even more vulnerable to a further plunge into crime, unemployment and despair.

UDL was and is part of the magic catalyzing the journey to literacy.  Why is UDL so important? UDL places the therapist in a multi-dimensional driver’s seat of tools to constantly assess individual student understanding, scaffold a sliding scale, if you will, of support, enrich and support multi-sensory learning opportunities and build deeper vocabulary and concept understanding by providing multiple opportunities of text, symbol, digital and experiential learning.   It allows the student to begin at any place and grow their understanding of the many layers of a concept through varied modalities.  It opens the door for the profound to happen...the 1st grade, second generation, developmentally-delayed child, to move from her only school-based goal of stating a simple sentence, such as,  “I like monkeys.” to expressing in two weeks, “ I like monkeys. They are cute and silly like my Uncle Kevin who lives in a monkey house.” One fabulous book, “Caps for Sale” by Esphyr Slobodkina, background exploration of knowledge about monkeys, probing of adjectives describing monkeys, introduction of similes and idioms about monkeys with focused app practice on Animals Learn Similes and Idioms from Kok Leong Tan and role play with Photo Booth Props to tell and retell the story.  A three word sentence expanding to an eighteen word sentence with two adjectives, an idiom and a personal conceptual understanding in two weeks. Whoa. 

The results of UDL integrated, literacy-based learning are life changing.  It is focused and valuable work.  Creating a thematic unit that is layered with multiple means of representation to build knowledge, multiple means of expression to strengthen the brain’s affective network, multiple means of engagement through neural strategies (hands-on sensory-rich learning, activities, games, digital literacy and target exploration) and multiple means of ongoing knowledge assessment provides a depth of learning as well as professional versatility that is unmatched.   The impact of personal empowerment through rich, individualized learning opportunities moves literacy within reach for many children changing lives as well as communities.




Philly Bound or Why I LOVE Being a Booth Babe;)

Philly Bound or Why I LOVE Being a Booth Babe;)


I would never in a million years have thought that I would refer to myself as a booth babe.  Booth. Babe.  Say, what?  But, that is exactly what I became in July 2014 at my very first booth at ASHA Schools in Pittsburgh.

3D SLP was a brand new baby.  I was scared to death to take the first steps into learning how to do something new and we were still two months from the launch of our very first box.  I knew that there was something inside of me starving to give back in a different way.  Being a HUGE advocate of literacy-based therapy, I was willing to put into motion (and in a box) the monthly planning and coordinating that I was doing for my own patients and work forward to sharing it with others in the hope that it might be helpful and meaningful to someone else.  In order to do that, I had to find a way to put my baby in its buggy and go see the world.  How ironic, that I would then become a Booth Babe.

Being a Booth Babe, is initially terrifying.  The first time around you just hope that you can share something intelligible about your product.  You know what it is.  Really.  You know what it took to get there. REALLY.  But, then your first customer wanders past and registers a moment of interest.  YES!  You think to yourself.  Come forward, I would love to share with you what I have been dreaming about and working on for months and hope that you will understand what it means to me.  Then, they come forward.  All I remember is stammering with a Vanna White wave..."This....is a box." Yes, yes it is.  My first encounter walked away with a kind and puzzled wave and I went back behind the table and blushed. 

Two years, three conferences later, I am ready.  Booth Babe has a rhythm that allows the whole thing to be FUN!  We love sharing what our boxes are about! Alison Schoenfeld, 3D SLP Jr. Curator, and I look forward to seeing old friends, folks we have only met on social media and meeting totally new friends while working our booth.  We know these boxes, we both use them every day in our own therapy and love to hear about what others are doing with their own boxes outside of the suggestions we make in our lesson plans. 

Booth Babes, why, bring it ON! See you soon!


Amy & Alison