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May 4, 2005

First Lady Patti Blagojevich helps kick off new exhibit at the Chicago Children’s Museum
First of its kind English and Spanish interactive exhibit invites families to share in activities explaining how language is learned

CHICAGO- First Lady Patti Blagojevich today underscored the importance of parents getting involved in their children’s education from the earliest stages, as she spoke at the Now You’re Talking! The Story of How Children Acquire Language Exhibit Opening at the Chicago Children’s Museum.
“I am pleased to participate in the opening of Now You’re Talking! The Story of How Children Acquire Language,” said Mrs. Blagojevich. “One of my most important goals as First Lady of Illinois is to educate parents on the importance of early childhood education and childhood literacy. The Now You’re Talking! Exhibit clearly illustrates the importance of early learning and language acquisition in children, as well as the vital role parents play in this process.”
The exhibit, presented in English and Spanish, employs engaging interactive and documentary techniques to tell the story of how children acquire language. It places particular emphasis on the enabling role caregivers play in the process. The exhibit was created in collaboration with the leading early childhood graduate school Erikson Institute, and was funded with generous support from the McCormick Tribune Foundation’s Partners Aligned for Literacy Program.
Now You’re Talking! The Story of How Children Acquire Language reinforces the importance of the caregiver-child relationship in language development, and provides exhibit elements that are engaging to children as well as adults. Visitors can learn the process through which language is acquired by participating in activities, as well as listening in on real conversations between parents and children. Speech bubbles, stories, quizzes, cartoons, games, and graphics are used to create an engaging and interactive environment. Model strategies for caregivers to help children in the language learning process are provided throughout the exhibit. The main goals of the exhibit are:
·        To emphasize the ability of babies and young children to learn language
·        To understand the critical relationship between children’s ability to learn language and their caregiver’s use of language
·        To recognize how caregivers enable the learning of language
·        To recognize the connection between language learning and literacy
The importance of childhood literacy is a focal point of the exhibit. Language acquisition is the first key step in learning to read. Language acquisition depends on the ability to hear and distinguish the sounds in words, learning new words, learning to put words together, and becoming comfortable with the forms language takes in books. The significance of reading is integrated into each section of the exhibit, as are messages about the connection between language acquisition and literacy. Books appropriate for children of different ages and at different stages of the language learning process are featured throughout the exhibit, as are resources to help caregivers reinforce early literacy skills.
As visitors progress through the exhibit they will encounter four interactive areas, each one designed to represent an aspect of a child’s language acquisition process. The areas focus on speech, vocabulary, grammar, discourse, and literacy. The first area, “Baby Talk,” allows visitors to examine how speech, facial indicators, and body movements differ when an adult speaks to a baby as opposed to another adult. The area features a video playing of a father speaking to his infant son in both English and Spanish. The video shows the impact of his speech on the baby’s language development.
The next area, “Words, Words, Words” focuses on a child’s first words and increasing vocabulary. It emphasizes the idea that new words are learned through both hearing them used, and then using them on one’s own. Visitors can read from a mobile of first words hanging overhead, and contribute to the exhibit by documenting their own child’s first words.
The “Talking by the Rules” area uses interactive tools and games to help parents understand how children learn nouns and verbs, and provides parents with guidance on how to use positive reinforcement to correct children’s developing speech patterns.
In “Consider the Possibilities,” visitors are encouraged to explore multiple scenarios where parents and children talk to one another. They can visit the Conversation Station to
develop new ideas on how to spark conversations with young children on different topics of conversation. The area includes a “living room” where families can enjoy numerous books available for them to read. They can also explore a large selection of baby books, and materials authored by children and parents.
Childhood literacy is an issue particularly important to Mrs. Blagojevich. In February, The First Lady launched “The Children’s Reading Club” literacy initiative to encourage parents to read with their children. “The Children’s Reading Club” consists of a recommended reading list of books the First Lady and her daughters enjoy reading at home. Each month, the First Lady selects a featured book that she believes children, as well as their parents, will enjoy. May’s book selection is The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. Previous book selections include In their own words: Abraham Lincoln by George Sullivan, The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, and Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. Each month’s book selection is featured on the First Lady’s website, http://www.illinois.gov/firstlady


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