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One Woman’s Summer Reading Challenge Supports Learning for All

Amy Grace Ulman faced a challenge. “My first child was an early talker. Check. My second child was a late talker. Hmm, that was not part of the plan. I was a working speech language pathologist, yet somehow my child’s speech delay caught me off guard and I felt unsure of myself.” 

So Ulman did what any professional might: she turned her challenge into a chance to learn. “Navigating early childhood development can be overwhelming, with or without concerns, even for a speech therapist,” she shared. Once she’d navigated a speech delay in her own family, she knew she needed to share what she’d learned with others. 

Ulman has long had a passion for education, bringing her knowledge to the Conservatory as a valued member of our Community Outreach and Education Committee. She was able to merge that passion, her personal experiences, and her professional expertise in the writing of her first children’s book, The Sound Bites. 

The Sound Bites is a playful read-aloud story for kids that focuses on the 24 consonant sounds used in English, presented in the order in which children typically acquire those sounds,” Ulman explained. Ulman makes learning and speech practice fun by taking children on an adventure alongside a troupe of consonants talking through their favorite foods like pizza, chicken nuggets, and french fries! Along the way, Ulman includes plentiful puns designed to help parents and children practice the sounds that are typically trickiest to teach kids. 

Included in the end-pages are practical tips to promote speech and language development at home, as well as a simple guide for when to expect what sounds to emerge. Ulman hopes that “The Sound Bites offers a little extra understanding of the process, with respect for the fact that we are all doing the best we can with what we know.” Not long ago, Ulman shared some of this understanding with a rapt audience in the Conservatory’s Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children’s Garden, delighting dozens of children and families with her fun and educational story. 

Not only does her whimsical and research-backed tale engage kids in learning, sales from her book (now available for purchase in the Conservatory’s Botanica Gift Shop & Greenhouse) also support Conservatory programs for kids. 

For every copy sold, Ulman is donating a copy to a family served by our Discovery Head Start program, which provides educational programming to underserved children. Children in the Head Start program are under the age of five, right in the middle of key speech development milestones. Ulman’s book enriches the language-learning they are already doing, and it complements the work of Conservatory educators who are teaching our robust, nature-centric, STEM-rich curriculum in 11 Columbus-area Head Start classrooms throughout 2022. 

Research shows that low-income children like those enrolled in Head Start experience a literacy gap, with lower rates of reading and language proficiency. Access to books is one of the best ways to help equalize opportunity and set young children up for future academic success. According to Scholastic, “The number of books in a child’s home has been shown to be the best predictor of his or her scores on reading exams.” Yet, 61% of low-income families do not own any children’s books. That’s why Ulman’s initiative is so meaningful for the many families whose lives will be touched by The Sound Bites. 

Using speech to communicate is one of the most complex things we do as human beings,” reflected Ulman. “My hope is that parents and children will think about and have fun with speech sounds–which are not only the basis for talking but the foundation for learning to read. Whether we are worried or not, there are steps we can all take to foster speech and language development at home. Let us be empowered to take the next step, whatever it might be, with confidence. Life is complex enough, setting our kids up for success doesn’t have to be.” 

If you’re ready to set up a young person in your life for success and help children in need get access to high-quality reading and educational materials, swing by Botanica next time you’re here and add a copy to your summer reading library!

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