It's never too late to build literacy skills!
Summer is a great time to continue working on literacy skills in your home. Literacy, both reading and writing skills, are so important to individuals with complex communication needs (CCNs). The only way to truly say what you want, when you want, to whomever you want, wherever you want is to build literacy skills and be able to spell out words that are not in your communication system. Research has shown that 70-90% of individuals with CCNs will not develop the same literacy skills as their peers (Koppenhaver and Yoder, 1992). So what can you do?
One favorite activity at our house is signing up for our local library's summer reading program. We visit the public library and check out books. This is a time that I let my kids pick out anything that they love. I steer them in the direction of books that are at their level and let them pick out three books each. For my 8 year old, I have her pick out one chapter book, one informational book (non-fiction), or poetry. My 5 year old and 3 year old pick out books that look interesting to them and have loved informational texts, too. My oldest picked out a National Geographic book on birds because she wanted to figure out what kind of bird had made a nest in the bird house that she made with Daddy. My middle picked out a book about sea life, and my youngest recently picked out a Curious George book about swimming, because we are going to the lake over the 4th of July. They've all really loved "books on CD" this summer, too. We even check out magazines such as "Ranger Rick". Our library also has "book bags" that are filled with manipulatives and activities to go with a book all stored in a bag that you can check out. This is a time that they can pick out texts that are motivating and engaging to them. It gives them a sense of empowerment. They LOVE having a "card" in their own wallets, and one of their favorite things is to check out their own books at the self-checkout.
We make a BIG deal about having your "own" library card and not having to use Mom's card anymore. It is a big rite-of-passage in our house, and something to be super proud of. My three year old went around telling the cashier at the grocery store, a random mom at the park, our neighbors, and just about everyone else who would listen to her about how she got her very own library card this summer. She was SO excited. With kids with CCNs, so much of there world is decided for them, so use the library as a chance to pick out whatever they want. Hold up a few books and let them choose something that interests them. Let them try different types (books on CD, magazines) and different genres (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels). Engage in shared reading opportunities. My kids LOVE the attention they get when reading a story with mom or dad.
One GREAT option for this summer is the Rett University book club! Every Friday they are posting a book read aloud. Susan Norwell reads a book and also models the vocabulary on a Tobii Dynavox communication device. You will see her pointing to the words and modeling some of the language from the book. She also shares the Communicator pageset that you can download and load on your Tobii Dynavox Device if you use the same system. If your system isn't the same or you don't use Communicator, just pause the video and model the language using your system. Build communication and modeling into your shared reading experiences. Books are a great way to work on many different pragmatic functions! Talk about the characters, make predictions about what might happen, comment on funny parts, define new vocabulary words (my kids are constantly asking "What does that mean? Make sure the individual you're working with can quickly say, "What's that?" or "I don't get it/understand." Relate the story to your life and things that you do. My girls have always loved "Pinkilicious." In one story she turns pink because she ate too many pink cupcakes. In order to turn back to normal she had to eat a diet of "green foods." Now, anytime my kids eat vegetables or have too much junk food we always reference this book and laugh about how they're going to turn pink or not turn pink based on what they're eating! And don't forget, quality not quantity. Just read a couple pages, modeling language along the way, talking about the book and making it interactive, and if you don't make it through more than a couple pages, that's OKAY. Pick it up later in the day or week. Elementary age kids learning to read, work on building their reading stamina. It's okay to only be able to attend for a limited time. And don't forget, do repeated readings! My youngest has her favorites and we read them so often that she's memorized most of the books. I will often pause and let her "read" some of the repeated lines throughout the book or tell the story in her own words. She loves "reading" like her big sisters and it's a great opportunity for her to build confidence and see herself as a "reader."
There's so much more I could blog about reading, but that's for another post. The entire point of this post was to share with you the summer book club from Rett University, so here are the links to the first two weeks:
Happy summer reading, and don't forget to enjoy a little summer reading of your own!