by Becky Bidwell-Hanson
Becky Bidwell-Hanson, National Program Manager, is part of the team that supports implementation and continuous improvement of Jumpstart’s program across the country. Here, she shares her favorite New Year’s tradition, with an educational twist for the whole family.
I love to ring in the New Year by sitting down with my husband Paul to look at the “year in review” pictorial from Paul’s sister and her family. This single page of photos, representing their family’s most memorable activities, includes captions that our niece Clara, age 8, and nephew Owen, age 10, write with some help from mom and dad. Not only are the captions hilarious, but this annual letter keeps us connected to Owen and Clara across the miles that separate us in Boston from their home and daily life in California.
We may not have been there for Clara and Owen’s first day of school, but we get to see the excitement on their faces. We share the big and small moments from their year – from Halloween costumes, Clara’s dance recital (performed with her arm in a cast!), and Owen’s school project, to a note about their dad getting in trouble for taking a photo inside the museum – and sometimes end up on the pictorial ourselves…or at least our dogs do! We pour over the photos, read and re-read the captions, and recount the stories and memories shared with us via phone and email throughout the previous year. Then we post the photos on a letter board in our home office. It’s like having the kids in our house every day.
As a member of Jumpstart’s Program and Evaluation Department, I can’t help but think of the educational value of this letter for Clara and Owen as well. When children have conversations with caring adults about things they’ve seen and done, their vocabulary and comprehension develop in ways that support their later reading skills. Putting their memories and thoughts in writing, even if the children are dictating and the adult is writing for them, helps children understand that print has meaning and that specific letters are used to represent the sounds of our speech. This supports children’s reading and writing development in age appropriate ways. And language and literacy skills aren’t all that is fostered when adults and children sit down to talk and write together – positive relationships grow as well. Start a new tradition this year by doing this activity with a child in your life. Happy New Year!
Activity: Our Year in Review
- Spend time looking through the photos you’ve taken of family activities, events, and milestones during the past year. As you talk about your photos, acknowledge what your child says and extend their language and ideas by adding details and using new and different words. Using richer, more sophisticated words supports your child’s vocabulary development – don’t be afraid to use “big words” and explain what they mean.
- Together, pick a handful of photos you would like to share with friends and family. You can arrange these photos and glue them on a sheet of paper or, if you are using digital photographs, you can arrange them in a document on your computer. If you don’t have any photos, you can ask your child to draw a few of their favorite moments from the past year.
- Ask your child what you should tell your friends and family about each photo or drawing you’ve chosen and decide on a caption for each. As your child tells you what he or she would like to include in each caption, write or type it out. Increase your child’s print knowledge by sounding out some words and connecting the sounds to letters, or describing how some letters are formed. You might say, “Dance starts with the /d/ sound so I’ll write the letter d first. The lowercase d has a curved line that looks like a circle that is not closed all the way and a straight line going up and down.”
- Once you have all of your photos and captions together, make copies of your “year in review” and mail them out to your friends and family. Encourage your child to ask friends and relatives about their favorite photos or captions if he or she has that chance later on. This provides even more vocabulary and comprehension support from your child’s growing network of caring adults.