Wordy Birds: ArtPrize Artist Hopes Exhibit Inspires Childhood Learning

Wordy Birds: ArtPrize Artist Hopes Exhibit Inspires Childhood Learning

Cindy Sommerfeld didn’t set out to create children’s books.

The adorable birds that flit and fly throughout two volumes of her Speech Sound Stories started out as learning aids she could use with young clients of her speech pathology services. Pip Pip, the Boo Birds, Dit, Dot and other characters were designed to help youngsters learn early consonant sounds, but encouragement from her boss led her to flesh out the concept with rhyming stories and turn them into fully formed books.

“Research shows that rhyming and repetition help kids retain language information,” she explained.

Cindy Sommerfeld with part of her ArtPrize entry.

Cindy Sommerfeld with part of her ArtPrize entry.

The feathery friends are taking on new life as an ArtPrize exhibit called StoryLines. Sommerfeld hopes her high-flying creations will attract and delight children, while providing an opportunity to engage with their parents about the importance of early language development.

Sommerfeld’s work will be displayed at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s downtown Grand Rapids headquarters, at 86 Monroe Center NW. This is her first time exhibiting work at ArtPrize, an international art competition recognized as the most-attended public art event on the planet.

The quirky birds and backdrops that bring letters to life for kids were initially formed with needle and thread and a variety of different types of wool and fabric. The resulting books were made by taking photos of the crafty scenes and overlaying type onto the images. The ArtPrize exhibit features Sommerfeld’s handiwork in its original state, with new characters and educational components.

Her work is informed by research that shows the importance of experiencing language at a young age, when the brain is most receptive. There’s a powerful relationship between the number and variety of words a child hears in the first year of life with how well they will do in school and beyond. In fact, infants need to hear approximately 30,000 words a day for their brains to develop to their full potential. In households with a so-called “word gap”, children often start life with a learning deficit, which can negatively affect them throughout their life.

Sommerfeld hopes her books and ArtPrize entry can reach families and motivate them to incorporate more talking, singing and reading into everyday life and play. Read some of her tips here. [will link to AHM blog]

“Most families are interested in expanding their child’s vocabulary and language experience,” she said. “If they knew that just a little bit more language in their baby’s day could make an amazing difference in the long run, they’d change.”

ArtPrize returns to downtown Grand Rapids Sept. 21 through Oct. 9. As you plan your trip, make sure to include Sommerfeld’s StoryLines on your list of must-see exhibits. Sommerfeld plans to be on-site to talk about her work on Sept. 23 from 1 to 4 p.m. and Sept. 30 from 2 to 5 p.m.

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