I’ve had a few months now, to digest and question some of my fears that I’ve had about my girls’ future. A lot of them actually just boil down to the topic of literacy. If my girls are able to read and write as fluently as any hearing children, I don’t see why their opportunities for their futures, would be any different to mine, for example. I’ve also wondered though, of just how much more difficult it must be to learn sounds that make up words without being able to hear them. Sign language’s structure is also really different to that of English, and some of the “in-between” words are left out, so although a wonderfully expressive means of communication, it is not English, and so if I desire their English literacy to be excellent, we’re going to have to do quite a lot of extra work on developing a love of the written word.
From the day that they were born, I’ve read stories to them and shown them pictures. Story time is an important thing in their lives, they LOVE it and eagerly take turns choosing books from our little collection. Kids love repetition, so often, the same, “Peter Cotton Tail’s Busy Day,” is the favourite choice for the third time that week. It’s always a challenge to point out new things in the story or in the pictures, just to keep things interesting, even if it is only for my own sanity! There’s a weekly farmer’s market just down the road from where we live. Every week, bright and early, I finger through the ‘new’ arrivals at the second hand book stall’s children’s section. It’s so exciting to find several ‘treasures’ for a fraction of the price of new books, so our collection is indeed growing!
When we started learning sign language, I was given a set of fridge magnets of the sign language alphabet. The alphabet was the first thing that I learned, and the girls all looked very interested every time that I showed them a few signed letters. They’ve actually been so interested, that I thought that in my pursuit of literacy, that I’d start teaching them the alphabet, both recognizing the written letters and learning the signs for each letter too. This has resulted in some fun creative hours. Just to mention, that it really doesn’t have to cost much at all. Pointing out big letters in a book, or words and letters on an advertisement in the shop, has also been lots of fun. I started my ABC pursuit with button mosaicking… some square blocks of wood, paints of various colours, and then a bunch of buttons that were used to “write” the letters. This proved to be a great activity for vocabulary! From adjectives like “hard” describing the wood, “rough” for the sand paper, all the colours of the paint, the colours and the shapes of the buttons, and then of course the actual alphabetical letter created, and exposure to the word that our collection of mosaicked squares made. One of the best parts of this, was that in the end, we also had “art” for our own home.
I then found some alphabetical foam letters for sticking onto the sides of the bath. An awesome bath time activity which also distracts from the chaos that usually erupts! Every night I pick the next 3 letters of the alphabet, one ends up with each child. They are quite large and are brightly coloured. We always start right from “A” and end up with the new 3 for the day. Three weeks ago, when we first got these foam letters, Eden got the orange letter “A”. Being Eden, she felt like having a taste, and couldn’t help trying out a bite of the squidgy foam. After making a lasting impression on the corner of the “A” with her sharp little teeth, and the horrified response from her sisters (her police!), she was suddenly terrified of the letter “A”. Every night we start, I hold up a letter and it is sometimes shouted out and always signed out. Predictably, every time the orange “A” appears, there’s a very nervous niggle from the smallest princess. Our alphabet game has really added to the fun of bath time, on a whole, and I’m always amazed to see the girls remember exactly which foam letter “belongs” to each of them. Hadassah’s favourite letter is “E” for some reason, and whenever she sees anything that could be resembling an “E”, like a side-on “M”, her little hand signs “E” in a second. Tahlita loves numbers. Everything is counted! Every time we walk up or down the stairs, they’re counted, and whenever she starts playing, or colouring in, whatever she is using is counted. This is not an obsessive behavior, but rather a fascination with numeracy. Consequently, she refers to a hand as being a “five”, and although I keep trying to teach her the word “hand”, I can’t help smiling when she shows me that the “rabbit bit her ‘five’”. Tahlita will be in her element when the foam number pieces come out soon!
I’ve had a rather large cookie cutter collection for a while. The entire alphabet and numbers from 1 – 10 are included. Keeping with the theme of literacy, we decided to bake some “letter biscuits”. The girls absolutely loved it! As dough was being cut, hands were signing the correct letters and little voices were trying along too. Another great opportunity for other vocabulary, like “mix”, “sift” and “crack”, all the individual ingredients and kitchen utensils and of course the word (sign) “biscuit”. Our little Eden has a passionate love of food. She often has her button-nose in the fridge and can be usually found munching on something that she’s found. Let’s just say, that I’m hoping that the baby-pink icing and sprinkles that dressed up the little biscuit “A”s will help her to get over her fear of this tented shape.
The next step has been to find objects and pictures to link them to the different letters, like the obvious “A” for apple, “E” for elephant. We have started making these associations and will continue to do so and then expose them to the written text of the pictures that they are seeing. This is always such special time, as it also means lots of book time, lots of stories, little bodies on my lap, giggles, delighted eyes and “hot cuppas” (tea… a very critical part of book time for mom!) I‘ve also had to get better at reading them stories. HI HOPES has helped a lot with this. I was shown how to sign words on the page, and make book time more engaging. Since trying out my new approach to story time, all the actions, signs, gestures and facial expressions have often left me with a very captive audience of 3; eyes alight and faces intrigued just wanting more and more!
Literacy ideas, and language development are potentially daunting areas for parents. Again, I have to say, that the ideas, activities and “homework” that HI HOPES provides has been extremely helpful. Another reason why a family based early intervention programme like this, is invaluable! The girls are also being exposed to words and their differences through tools like the “THRASS” chart at school, we are investigating other possible means to improve their phonological awareness (how words actually sound) and I’m trying to read up and investigate ideas on improving literacy with deaf children. There’s lots going on, and my girls really do seem to be enjoying all that they are learning (and mom is too!).
The learning process, really has been about having fun. Fun special times as a family, being exposed to letters, signs and words, and learning loads as a result. I really desire that as they grow older, they will have a fascination with words, a love of books and an appetite for knowledge. So far, the delight and intrigue on their faces as they remember a sign for a letter, recognize a word, or page through a book, makes me feel hopeful and I just need to keep thinking of creative ideas to keep things fun and fresh. This really does feel like an adventure: much uncharted territory on my side, things that we’ll try that won’t work so well, and others that will fit my girls unique needs, lots of preparation where possible and times of just “diving into the deep end”. I’m so grateful for the advice and guidance from people that know so much more about all of this than I do!