Parents can help little kids think big now

October 29, 2004|by Lisa Tedrick Prejean

There's no dispute that Sept. 11, 2001, has become a defining moment for an entire generation. People remember where they were and what they were doing when they first heard of the terrorist attacks against our nation.

Coleen Paratore, a writer who lives in Albany, N.Y., recalls that she was bathing her goddaughter, Lauren, when she first heard the news. Because she couldn't leave the child to answer the phone, she listened as her answering machine recorded a frantic message from a friend who was calling to see if Paratore had heard of the attacks.

It was a freeze-frame moment, and Paratore remembers one thing quite clearly.

Lauren's little hand wrapped around her finger and held tight.

The next day as Paratore sat in her office staring at a blank computer screen, she couldn't shake the vision of that tiny hand and the warmth its grip bestowed.

She thought of how children become frustrated when their little hands can't do the things bigger, stronger hands can. Then she remembered how comforting it felt with Lauren's hand in hers.


She gazed around her office walls to the photos, writings and artwork of her own children. Her eyes rested on the words of her then second-grade son, Connor, in a piece he titled "This Hand."

As she read his take on all the things his little hands could do, these words came to her: "Your hands are small, but they do BIG things that make this a wonderful world."

That thought became the first line of Paratore's ABC picture book "26 Big Things Small Hands Do."

She views the book as a celebration of how children make the world a better place. She wants them to realize that they can make a difference in a world that's constantly changing.

"I wanted to do something comforting for children," says Paratore, a mother of three.

Written for children ages 2 and older, the book is one that encourages interaction. Children might want to mimic the actions portrayed, from the "Small hands applaud" A page to the "Small hands Zzzzzz goodnight" Z page.

Paratore notes that sometimes all a discouraged child needs is an adult who remains positive and who points out the good things in life. Her examples from the book include: Small hands can color rainbows, explore the earth, give gifts made with love. Small hands help. Small hands invite new friends to play.

Adults may want to encourage children to come up with other "how-I-can-help" words, starting with each letter of the alphabet, Paratore suggests.

"Children are people with great imaginations and huge thoughts," she says.

The words themselves can turn into a learning experience.

As I was reading the book to my 5-year-old, she asked the meaning of two words: Lend and nestle.

"Mommy, what does lend mean?"

I explained that it means allowing someone to use something of yours.

She thought about that, said, "Oh, I know!" and then broke into song, "Lend a hand, Lend a hand. When you see a friend in need, lend a hand."

It was a song we learned this summer. I think the meaning of the words just clicked.

That's the beauty of exposing children to language in various forms. After a while, the pieces start to come together, aiding a child's comprehension.

When my daughter asked the meaning of nestle, I gazed over and saw her baby doll, Mary, resting in the crook of her arm.

"You are nestling Mary right now. You're holding her close, keeping her warm and helping her stay safe."

She looked at me and then at Mary. A smile formed on her lips, and I knew she understood.

Small hands can do big things.

For more information about "26 Big Things Small Hands Do," go to

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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