Children’s books …. Just how deeply do they impact your child’s development?

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(Article first published on Big Sky Publishing website 25/7/2019)

Children’s Author and Speech & Language Pathologist, Sonia Bestulic shares valuable insight. 

Where do I start?!  When I think about children’s books and the immeasurable benefits they impart on the development of our children, I really need to manage and organise my internal information overload.  The topic is literally a book within itself! (Watch this space!)

So, let’s start by simply saying; children’s books are IMMENSELY important.  They are the introduction to the world of language, communication and connection.  The basic ingredients required for the school of life to interact with others, have our needs and wants met, learn about the world around us and build relationships.

Let me share just some of the amazing benefits of sharing quality children’s books.

Children’s books:

·        Boost and continuously build a child’s vocabulary (to understand a large variety of words; and be able to then use a large variety of words)

·        Model how to put words together to make a range of sentences, using the right word order, and the right grammar

·        Facilitate creative thinking, problem solving skills and basically foster innovative minds

·        Strengthen inferential thinking, the ability to understand implied and subtle meaning of words and pictures

·        Build predicting skills

·        Increase a child’s attention and ability to focus

·        Introduce words, letters and sounds at a visual (seeing) and auditory (hearing) level – foundation skills for eventually learning to read, spell and write

·        Model how to sequence or tell a story

·        Are an investment to building a child’s conversational and social skills; and educational opportunities

·        Introduce children to the richness of the diversity of our universe, world, people, places and things

·        Are hugely impactful in building empathy, and an appreciation and consideration of those we share the world with

·        Gift our children with an array of teachings, messages and reflections, and

·        IMPORTANTLY, create a close bond and connection with parents/ carers and families.

Nurturing a love of books from birth is totally do-able and recommended.  As an experienced Speech & Language Pathologist, one of my most frequent prescriptions for young children and their families is book sharing.  Yes, in the form of reading aloud to a child, but also – super importantly – to share books interactively, within a daily routine to maximise the extraordinary potential children’s books have to offer!

Happy book sharing!

Sonia Bestulic

Learn how to interactively share books with your child, download my free PDF guide; https://chataboutchildren.com/product/pdf-guide-interactive-book-sharing

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Kisses in Your Heart - Book Launch Reflections...

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And so Book Baby number two was born… nine months later! Kisses in Your Heart…

I must say this does remind me a little of having my three children born very close in age. You will certainly be updated on any other additions due to be born into my book family!

For now - let’s relish in Kisses in Your Heart; a book whose words came to me at a time when my desire to express my deep love for my children, and wish for them to go into the world with health, happiness, and strength was at its greatest.

I am just starting to settle down a little from the strongly heartfelt celebration of the book launch. As I mentioned in my speech, being able to connect and inspire others in a valuable form of expression such as writing is an overwhelmingly humble experience.

Kisses in Your Heart goes beyond a tender and simple bedtime blessing that carries all Mum’s heartfelt love inside. Her kisses rest in the heart - always there to help heal hurts, overcome fears and unlock inner courage.

For one such as myself who has an ongoing love affair with words; the celebration of Kisses in Your Heart was such an emotionally felt one, that words could not quite reach the depth of accurately describing the beautiful atmosphere of the room. The coming together of people who felt strongly connected to a loved one, and too shared the great desire to impart comfort, reassurance and ultimately love. Kisses in Your Heart is and will be for many more, that medium of expression, allowing a connection that will empower inner strength for both children and adults alike, for many years to come.   

A big thank you to all those that came along to celebrate, to support my writing, and to share the love of Kisses in Your Heart. A recent review describes it as…

a timeless tale…its wide appeal suited to the generations for its ability to create and reminisce on memories, tighten bonds and provide a level of comfort and strength that children can carry with them anywhere, and always’ (Just Write For Kids)

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HEARTFELT THANKS TO…

·  Big Sky Publishing – for making all this possible!

·  Nancy Bevington – the wonderfully talented illustrator who can “see my mind”

·  Amanda Lieber – my fellow Children’s Author who is amazing… look out for her upcoming books!

·  Harry Hartog Bookseller Miranda Westfield – you are all so fantastic; keep up the wonderful work that you do.

Catering thanks goes to;

·  Mum and Zia Fifa for the home-made Italian biscuits

·  Stella from Baked Creations – for the impressive cake and love heart cookies!

·  Cimini’s Pasticceria – for the canoli and bomboli

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When Little Worries are Big - for Little People

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How my latest picture book, Kisses in Your Heart, can be used as a tool to help children manage their social and emotional skills.

I have worked with hundreds of children and their families over the past two decades of my professional life as a Speech Pathologist; and in this time have witnessed the rise of children who present with various levels of anxiety (for various reasons). As a mother of three young children, I have also had insight into the seemingly “little” worries that can be quite significant in children’s lives.

Managing our emotions can be a challenge regardless of age; and for little people, little worries can be quite big and overwhelming for their minds to process and their little bodies to carry.

Developing the ability to control emotions and behaviour is also a long process. Children continue to develop their social-emotional skills well into their teenage years, or even young adulthood, and strategies to help manage and regulate our emotions are going to differ according to the individual.

As parents/ carers and educators who work with children; we all want to support our children in the best way possible to make them feel safe, secure and supported, to optimise their wellbeing.

My latest children’s picture book Kisses in Your Heart is written with the intention and ultimate hope that a tool can be provided to young children, to grow in resilience, and empower them with a simple way they can start to manage emotions on their own.

A seven year old girl recently told me that during her drama lesson, she was due to go up on stage to practice her lines, and that she felt very nervous; but then she remembered she had kisses in her heart, and she felt brave enough to go up. It really humbled me, that the concept of carrying kisses in her heart, resonated with her, and gifted her with bravery to overcome nervousness.

Kisses in Your Heart was written based on a bedtime routine with my three young children; whereby I would use my hand to place kisses from my lips to their chest (heart); saying “you carry mum’s love with you everywhere you go”.

I found this process to be somewhat empoweringly magical; in that my children’s eyes would beam and ‘sparkle’, as they felt comfort and security knowing that they could access strength from the love that they carry within them.  To extend the sentiment of this routine, my children started placing their kisses in my heart - a beautiful symbolic exchange.

For little people (and big people alike), Kisses in Your Heart offers a very practical tool that can be communicated simply yet strongly.

This article was first published on http://www.justkidslit.com

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Reece Give Me Some Peace! LAUNCH EVENT reflections...

It is now a week post the launch event of Reece Give Me Some Peace! Wow did we have some musical fun!

It was hosted by Harry Hartog Bookseller, at Miranda Westfield, Sydney Australia… (thank you for being wonderful hosts Harry Hartog!) and the guests were amazingly supportive and super enthusiastic too!

I had a ball with the children - interactively sharing Reece Give Me Some Peace, with some vocal read along moments, music making with our bodies and then really making some noise (er, i mean music) with musical instruments - all in the spirit of fun loving, noisy music making Reece!

Of course i couldn’t have a celebration without some tasty treats; so organised my very favourites… the Sydney famous Watermelon cake (thank you Black Star Pastry www.blackstarpastry.com.au), amazing Italian sweets, Ricotta Cannoli and Nutella Bomboli (thank you Cimini’s Pasticceria www.facebook.com/ciminispasticceria/) and gorgeous customised cupcakes (thank you Buttercream Bakery www.buttercream.com.au).

It was such a wonderful and happy occasion to get people together for… i am already looking forward to my next book’s launch! :-)

In the meantime, enjoy some pics!

Build the blocks for learning to spell, read and write.

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Wondering how you can help prepare your preschooler to learn how to read, spell and write?

Ensuring your child has good speech and language skills is important. Also of critical importance is laying down some foundations for learning literacy at school.

So – be inspired and get ready to have some fun with the following activities!

Syllable Counting is learning how to break words up into their smaller parts. For example; “birthday” has two syllables, “birth/day”. “caterpillar” has four syllables, “cat/er/pil/lar”. Don’t forget the one syllable words such as “chair”.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to activities to build skills in counting syllables; here are a few ideas… ensure to make it enjoyable!

  • Get physical – clap it out… or skip, jump, hop!
  • Get musical – toy drums, guitars, keyboards, maracas etc… Are great to tap, strum, play, shake to the beat of the syllables.
  • Name items you can see in the room of a house, or whilst in the car, and count out the syllables.
  • Build a tower- take turns counting syllables using blocks; and build a tower as you go; the tallest tower wins.
  • Syllable word lists can be found easily on the Internet – practice counting syllables in words with 1-4 syllables.

If you aren’t sure where to break words up, remember that every syllable has a vowel sound.

 Rhyming is a great way to teach your child new words and get them to think about how words can relate to each other.  It sets the foundation for your pre-schooler to learn about word families and the different sounds that letters can make. Rhyming words have a repetition of similar sounds e.g. rocket/ pocket; pie/ sky. Some activities include;

  • Sharing books that rhyme – the most obvious start! As your child gets to know the book; have them complete the sentence for you (fill in the missing word). You can make this fun, by substituting a nonsense rhyming word, and have your child give you the correct version.
  • On the go – point to items wherever you are, and take turns thinking of rhyming words. E.g. “tree… see!”
  • Place items on a table, have your child select the word that best completes your sentence E.g. If items include rock, hat, toy, ball; you then make up a sentence – “There was a large cat, who wore a large…???”
  • Roll a ball to each other, exchanging rhyming words with each turn.
  • Sing nursery rhymes!

Even if your pre-schooler comes up with a nonsense word, it’s okay, you just want them to get the idea behind how rhyming works.

Hearing the first and last sound in a word

Be sure to focus on the sounds heard (rather than letter names). For example; “Can hear a ‘ssss’ sound in ‘sun’? What else can we think of that starts with ‘sssss’“?

  • Use family names/ photos
  • Catalogues
  • Story books
  • Sound Scrapbook – create a collage of all things starting with a certain sound e.g. “m” page, “s” page etc…

Hearing the last sound can be trickier…

You may give a visual cue, and emphasise the final sound as you say it. E.g. “Room” (whilst pointing to your lips)

Remember to be clear when talking about sounds vs letters to your child. E.g. The letter ‘s’ makes a ‘sssss’ sound etc.

Sounding out words

This is not about the spelling of the words– it is about sounds!

Pre- Kindy; focus on words structures that have 2-3 sounds E.g. ‘go’  (‘g’ – ‘o’) and ‘cat’ (‘c’ – ‘a’ – ‘t’). With a word like ‘shoe’, there are 2 sounds, ‘sh’ – ‘oe’.

Use visual cues

  • Coloured counters
  • Fingers
  • Objects such as blocks
  • Use movement; steps, jumps, tapping, pointing, whilst saying each sound.

When ready, incorporate practice visually scanning LEFT to RIGHT with objects such as the counters, blocks.

I may as well say it again – HAVE FUN! – That is how kids (and adults) learn best!

This article was published in the November 2014 issue of Shire’s Children www.shireschildren.com.au

Sonia's Fruit & Spice Almond Cookies (Paleo, Vegan, Sugar Free)

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Super easy to make – super tasty – and super healthy!

·         Great pre or post workout.

·         Wholesome clean snack on the go.

·         Kids love them too.

I love getting creative in the kitchen with clean ingredients, so I can indulge in something without the guilt, but rather some great energy to boot!

One of the massive aspects I love about these cookies is how fast they are to make; so it’s super easy to bake them as a regular part of your routine.

Ingredients

3 cups Almond Meal

½ cup Coconut Flour

½ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon cacao powder

½ teaspoon natural vanilla extract

2½  super ripe bananas (by super ripe I mean browning peel)

1 apple (grated with peel)

1 orange rind (finely grated)

Vegan Chocolate (optional – to add as topping)

Method

1. Mix all dry ingredients together

2. Mash bananas separately with the vanilla extract

3. Add banana mixture to the dry ingredients and stir well

4. Grate the apple into the mixture (including the peel)

5. Finely grate the orange rind into the mixture and stir well

6. Shape dough into balls and place on a baking tray

7. Optional: press chocolate nibs/ squares into the dough ball centres

8. Bake for 25 minutes at 180-200 C degrees

9. Cool on a wire rack

Sneak in a cookie taste test while they are still warm… yum!

Buon Appetito – enjoy!

Go nuts over this healthy snack!

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I really enjoy snacks, and especially enjoy snacks that are easy to make, great for you and tasty too!

Nuts in general are a great energy source for you. Activated nuts I’ve found that my gut can tolerate better than non-activated nuts, which is one of the health benefits claimed; i.e. gentler on the digestive system, with another claimed health benefit being that of enhanced nutrient absorption.

I also enjoy playing around with the flavours, so here is one of my favourite combinations, as I share how easy it is to be able to activate your own nuts at home, and save on the super expensive price of buying activated nuts at the store!

1.       Place cashews, into a large bowl (use natural cashews)

2.       Cover them with water (make sure they are completely submerged

3.       Leave to soak for 6-12 hours

4.       After soaking, strain away the excess water

5.       Place the cashews in a single layer on a baking tray

6.       Sprinkle ground cinnamon and Himalayan pink sea salt over the nuts, tossing to spread evenly

7.       Slowly roast at a very low heat (65°C) in an oven

8.       Periodically (every hour or so) gently toss the nuts whilst on the baking tray

9.       The nuts are ready when they are completely dried out, and super crunchy!

Buon appetito!

Do you have the most important things on your list?

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So you think you’re good at writing lists?

Shopping lists, daily task lists, weekly task lists, yearly task list, holiday list… AND THE LIST GOES ON!

In all your listing, have you ever listed;

What makes you happy?

Who you have to forgive?

Ways that you show yourself love?

Think of the times in your life when you were the happiest…

Who was around? What was around you?

Look at the guts of what it was that made you happy.

E.g. being able to laugh at yourself, laughing with others, having more time out for yourself, spending time with family or really good, genuine friends.

Understand what it is that makes you happy, and then go for it!

The material stuff is exactly that; material stuff. We all know the novelty wears off, and that new Porsche you saved up for, for 20 years might make you happy for a while… but only for a while. Remember the happiest people on this planet have the least material possessions.

Read the above line again if you need to drive that point home. (Excuse the pun; “drive”, “Porsche” etc.) Well I had a laugh, so I can tick that off my happiness list for the day  

Think of the people with whom you continue to hold a grudge. Those whose name/ thought brings you pain, anger and/ or sadness…

YOU are allowing all those people to hold onto your energy. It is your energy. You can control where that energy goes, and can reclaim it through forgiveness. It is the best thing you can do for yourself!

Finally and most importantly, think of the ways in which you show yourself love. That voice inside your head needs to be like that of a best friend. A supportive, encouraging, motivating voice that is both positive and patient. Find ways to nurture yourself.

So where to from here? Happiness, forgiveness and self-love is not necessarily automatic; it takes conscious practice and consistent application – and it is worth it. Not only for you but also for the children in your life.

Maintaining one culture whilst living in another

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Top tips for passing on your homeland language and culture onto your children. 

For those of you born and raised, speaking only English – could you imagine if you and your family moved to a completely non-English speaking country? Would you forget all about your homeland culture, and not speak English to your children? Highly unlikely!

I am Australian. I grew up in an Italian speaking household in Sydney; and today feel blessed to be able to speak, read and write in Italian, with a deep appreciation of the culture (especially its glorious food!).

There are many families who would like to maintain/ integrate their homeland culture and language whilst living in another; and wonder about ways to go about doing this successfully.

The very first and important thing to do is – have a PLAN. Ask yourself;

What is the primary goal?

Is it for your child to; understand your native language? Understand and speak your native language/s? Perhaps to understand, speak, read and write your native language? Maybe it’s just to know about the culture itself, and appreciate their heritage.

Once this is established, the goalposts are clear, as are the expectations for your child.

How will your primary goal be achieved?

When referring to language – like anything – if you don’t use it – you lose it. To have your child develop and maintain your native language; it comes down to opportunity and practice.

One of the key factors needed for your child to practice is motivation. Creating a need and a want can be done in several ways;

  • Motivate your child in a way that is specific to him/ her. Be positive and encouraging (rather than threatening and punishing).
  • Provide loads of fun ways to use the language; visiting local extended family; setting up Skype sessions with friends and relatives who live afar; seek out play groups (that use your native language) or start one up!
  • Be an awesome ‘teacher’. Get your child involved in learning more about your culture, such as the, food recipes, songs, fashion, dances etc. Show dedication to your native language by ensuring you are consistently speaking it to your child.
  • Although not always possible, if you can, plan trips, travel to your home land or a country that speaks your native language.
  • Use storybooks, games and movies to complement exposure to your native language. Remember; prioritise more opportunities to practice the language through human interaction (e.g. conversation). Your child will learn a lot from you both watching a show together, and talking about what is happening, what might happen etc…

Parents and carers do not need to switch to English at home because they are concerned their child won’t pick up English. Children will pick up English nicely from the English speaking community around them. In fact children learn language better from a fluently spoken native language than poorly spoken English. This is because they need to set up a good model of how language is spoken.

The most important thing is that whatever language your child is speaking at home they are meeting the usual milestones.

It can add an extra challenge when parents are from different cultures, e.g. Dad speaks English, Mum speaks Italian. Again it’s important to make a plan and be consistent. Families may choose to follow a one parent – one language rule. If they do, each parent should try to be consistent using their chosen language. Yes there is more work for one parent to translate what they are saying to their child, to their partner; but the commitment is worth it!

Maintaining one culture whilst living in another has made Australia the culturally rich country that it is today – what a gift to be able to experience the best of many ‘worlds’.

 

This blog post was published in Shire’s Children magazine, Summer Issue 2015; www.shireschildren.com.au

Building your child’s vocabulary – Why is it so important anyway?

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Between the ages of two and five, children learn at an extraordinary pace, understanding and remembering words they may have heard only once or twice.

Strong spoken vocabulary is linked to high levels of reading comprehension and is necessary for developing skills like understanding and applying information heard. Having a strong vocabulary also helps a child to create information successfully.

So how can you encourage the growth of your child’s vocabulary?

Use the library; it is a great way to add variety to your book list, and gives you a wide range of topics to choose from. You are sure to find something motivating for your child. Bring your child with you and make it a regular part of your routine.

  •  Speak to your child using a variety of words

Be mindful of your own vocabulary, rather than just using the word “big” to describe something, add other words with the same meaning such as “huge”, “gigantic” or “enormous”.

  • Be specific and descriptive

The more words your child hears on a daily basis, the more likely they are to then learn, absorb and use these words. So rather than asking your child to “pick up the teddy bear”, you might say “pick up the teddy bear with the blue pants and striped shirt”. In return you want your child to use specific words, so if they ask for their car, ask, “Which car? The large blue car; or tiny spotted car?”

  • Use everyday life opportunities to reinforce words and the alphabet

There are so many opportunities in your daily routines to build vocabulary. Meal times, bath time, getting dressed, brushing teeth, driving somewhere etc. Talk to your child about what is happening at the time. E.g. During bath time; “Pouring water into the big, blue cup; pouring, pouring, pouring”.  Remember to be specific and descriptive!

To extend this further for your preschool aged child, encourage them to start recognising letters and the sounds they make. You may start with the letters in your child’s name, and focus on one letter at a time. Search for that letter on road signs, shopping lists, catalogues… the list is endless!

  • Make label cards for items around the house

You may do this one room at a time, and label some of the more simple words, such as “bed” and “rug” to start with. Remember to talk about the letters within that word and the sounds they make. E.g. “bed… I can see the letter ‘b’; it makes a ‘b’ sound…                ‘b’ for bed!”

  • Sort and categorise common household items

This will help organise the information in your child’s brain, as they get the chance to see what they are hearing. The idea is that your child can describe and sort items in various ways. E.g. if you have socks, shoes, coloured pencils, and cutlery; you can sort these into categories (groups) such as colour, texture and size.

Last but not least, enjoy being amazed by your child’s wonderful way with words!

 

 

This article was published in Shire’s Children magazine; March issue 2015 – www.shireschildren.com.au