There are certain milestones in parenting that are special. The moment that your child sings that familiar ABC melody signifies a sweet turning point in their language skills. Language and communication are the key to reading mastery. The question of how to nurture language learning may actually be answered by an afternoon outing and fun observation games. By using environmental print—signs, road markings, and eye-catching graphics—you will begin to pave the path for your emergent reader.
Atlanta is filled with signage and graphics which make downtown fun for little eyes. In order to scale the field trip into a kid-sized adventure, we've focused on the Atlanta Metro suburb of Decatur, Georgia. Decatur lies on the Eastern side of Atlanta and has a walkable downtown area with interesting shops, bookstores, and popular restaurants. It is accessible by MARTA on the blue line heading east.
Your adventure preparations
Begin your preparations by visiting the city's website and downloading the special kids activity book that is prepared each year. The 2012 edition is now available for young children and can be printed as supplemental activities to do together. One mapping activity featured on page 7 of the activity book provides the landmarks, but challenges you to fill in the street names. As you walk along you can ask your child to recognize the street signs and then spell the street names shown on each one. As you help your child spell out those specifics, he will see the use of shapes and words for the purpose of city navigation.
The city also provides a set of six walking tour itineraries to try and a collection of video overviews of the city and its "small town meets Berkeley" attitude, which makes it a walkable city for all residents and visitors.
You should also pack a small supply bag with the following items: camera (or use your phone camera), crayons (some with their labels removed), copy paper or a sketching notebook, pencils, wipes, sunscreen, water, and snacks
The writing is on the wall
In a series of city art meant to beautify empty walls, the Living Walls Murals Project are fun to see as you explore the city. A listing of the sites can be found on Decatur's map of Living Walls and used as a conversation starter with your child. Letters and sayings are found on some murals and in others, things like an upside down alligator will delight their eyes. Ever and Freddy Sam designed the alligator wall on Pryor Street toward Mitchell Street on an old historic building. At the corner, the alligator tail curls up the wall, avoids the signage, and climbs the fire escape...that's one big alligator! Let your child tell the story of how the alligator became in such a predicament and you will marvel at their ideas.
Rub it off
A statue in Decatur's Square near the gazebo gives tribute to fallen officers. At its base is a collection of honored names, which are perfect for finger tracing. After the touching, bring out your collection of crayons (labels peeled off) and either sketchbook or copy paper. Lay the paper over the letters and show your child the magic of crayon rubbings by holding the crayon sideway and sweeping it across the desired words. When it is their turn you can become their assistant in holding the paper steady as they rub with the crayon.
Near the courthouse is a statue titled "Celebration" by the artist Gary Price, which is dedicated to the accomplishments of Decatur's first African-American Mayor, Elizabeth Wilson. Her quiet and steady leadership lead to the family-friendly environment Decatur is praised for today. The statue features a quote by Mayor Emeritus Wilson:
Imagine a world without limits, without boundaries, without prejudice and blame. Imagine an existence full of self-confidence, self-esteem and not only tolerance but love for others regardless of color, socio-economic or any other standing. To me that is what the future holds. That is what children represent and that is the type of world I would like to help others imagine can come to pass.
Words of inspiration for a crayon rubbing with a child...perfect! Find the word love and let your child do a crayon rubbing. This activity is ideal for the hands-on learner—and honestly, aren't all children hands-on learners at this age?
Take photos as you go along of the signage, interesting landmarks, graphics, and fun memories you create on your adventure. Once home compile a book which allows your child to revisit the day and it's learning. Include the rubbings (or photos of the rubbings if they become fragile) activity and stories near the statue or location you created them. Memories make learning stick in a little one's mind.
Photo courtesy of the City of Decatur.
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