Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Becoming Writers, Impacting Lives

How can we help children become great readers and writers? When should we start building their literacy skills? How do children learn through their environments?

Early childhood is an amazing time when children are learning about the world around them. All of their experiences teach them so much. Literacy learning is one part of development which relies hugely on a child's early experiences. As adults, part of our job is to facilitate rich, meaningful experiences that will help children become lifelong readers and writers. This should start as soon as we meet the child. For parents, this means the process of fostering literacy development begins at birth; for educators, this process begins when a child enters the classroom.

Allowing children to feel comfortable in their environments helps them become confident learners and risk-takers. Children who feel comfortable in their environments and the people around them will share their opinions and make their ideas known. The process of expressing themselves holds so many opportunities for great literacy development. Children might decide to make signs for a class or school event, write letters to family members, create a petition for an issue they believe in, film a commercial for a product or event, or start a blog about their favorite things to do. We, as adults, play a role in this personal or group expression by providing encouragement and resources as necessary. We can ask questions about children's thoughts and plan to help them think critically to find productive and meaningful methods of expression. When children are involved in this planning and these thought processes about topics of interest to them, they are learning so much about their roles in the world as writers, readers, and public speakers.

In order to help children become successful writers, we first need to help them understand what a "writer" or an "author" is. Every time a child reads or hears a book, she is interacting with an author, even if she is not aware. To help children develop an awareness of the people behind the books they read, parents and teachers can include the author's and illustrator's names every time they read a book aloud to a child. Providing more information about authors and illustrators, such as photos, biographical information, and additional works, can help children connect more deeply with the books they read. We can point out authors' styles and describe the types of books they write in order to help children think about the wide variety of available texts. All of these connections to books, authors, and illustrators are part of preparing children to be writers themselves. They will begin to use their knowledge of how books are written to create their own stories and books.

Also, don't forge
t to refer to your children as authors, readers, and activists, and treat their ideas with respect! When they see and hear that you value their work, they will be excited to do more, continuing their literacy development.

Already Ready: Nurturing Writers in Preschool and Kindergarten, by Katie Wood Ray & Matt Glover

Negotiating Critical Literacies with Young Children, by Vivian Maria Vasquez

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Reflecting on Tweets: NAEYC Convention 2011

What an amazing way for educators to connect! I have never been interested in having a Twitter account, but looking at this feed made me want to have one. (and to go to the NAEYC convention!)

Some favorite quotes from NAEYC convention tweets (#naeycac):

~"Tech learning/teaching needs to model real-life just like reading/writing should be what real readers and writers do in the world." - bluskyz

I addressed this topic in my previous post. It is something I look forward to learning more about in my own classroom. Using technology meaningfully and productively means connecting it to children's real lives.

~"Childhood has gotten too neat and tidy. Embrace the dirt and celebrate the mess!" - OoeyGooeyLady

Definitely! Allowing children to explore their environments means getting messy sometimes. You have to let go of a little bit of control to see what the children come up with. I think we can all learn a lot from children in this area.

~"If you don't want them to play with it, why do you have it in your classroom?" - HomeCanBeHeaven
Great point! In a child-centered curriculum, the classroom should be entirely accessible to the children. Children should feel ownership of their classroom and the materials in it. This will allow them to feel comfortable enough to be risk-takers.

~"Cute", "we've always done it" & "the parents like it" are not reasons for what we do in our classroom." - bluskyz
It is important for us to believe in what we do. Back up your ideas with reasons. You know your children best and you know when something is right for your classroom.

~"Imagine one child paired with another child...across an ocean...through a book.
" - RescuedReaders
I love this idea - Rescued Readers looks like a great program. I would also love to be able to have a video connection between my classroom and a classroom in another part of the world. The children could do partner reads with children from other countries, or the video connection could be available for children during free play.

~"We need to resist the urge to keep is simple because they are little kids. They want big problems to solve." -bluskyz
We need to allow children to explore real-life topics and issues in their world. This helps them develop critical thinking skills and teaches them so much about how the world works. When we show children that we are genuinely interested in their thoughts, they learn that they are valued as individuals, and they will be excited about learning.

Connecting with the "Digital Natives"

The children of today are growing up in a different
time than their parents and teachers. How are we, as adults, to successfully connect and engage with children who were using touch screens independently by the time they were a year old? (We call these children "digital natives.") The debate about how to best use technology in early childhood - or if it should be used at all - is ongoing.

If teachers are workin
g to connect children's school learning with their home learning (which is best practice), they should be using technology in their classrooms productively. For most young children today, technology such as televisions, computers, cameras, and cell phones are a regular part of the day at home. Teachers should use children's familiarity with these things to their advantage. Technology is a natural link to literacy. It can be used in so many ways to promote literacy development in school, and teachers who use technology activities should provide information to families about how technology is used in school and how this can be carried into their home environments.

Technology can be incorporated in early education in far more meaningful ways than simple letter recognition and vocabulary games. Children can be asked to write or draw about their favorite TV show or video game.
This becomes an interactive literacy activity as children create their own representation of a game or show through drawing and talking. This activity is focused on the process rather than the product, as children may represent actions in their mark-making. (Tip: Try to use the phrase, "Tell me about what you are doing/drawing/writing" rather than "What are you drawing?") Teachers can create classroom websites or blogs to which children are regular contributors. Families can be invited to post with their children, creating an extension of the classroom community. Also, teachers can bring technology into the classroom for children to use in relation to academics, as well as for free choice time. If a school or classroom is able to have portable technology of their own, they can set them up with multiple appropriate applications for use at certain times, giving children freedom to explore these new technology in a safe environment.

A is for Avatar: Young Children in Literacy. 2.0 Worlds and Literacy in 1.0 Schools. - by Karen Wohlwend

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pretend Play & Building Schema

Pretend play is very common in the preschool classroom, but pretending should not stop at the end of preschool. Teachers can use academic areas as well as information from families to create meaningful pretend play experiences for children of all ages.

Pretend play helps children expand their schema - thei
r knowledge based on life experiences. This is very important in preschool and elementary school, so teachers and parents should provide opportunities for pretend play based on a variety of themes that will help children learn about their world. It is especially helpful to create centers relating to places children have been, such as the dentist's office, the zoo, or a theater performance. In order for teachers to provide pretend play centers based on these experiences, families need to share what their children have done, or where their family has gone before. Some suggestions for pretend play center themes include:

- art gallery - bakery - construction site - hospital/doctor's office - grocery store -

- humane society/veterinarian's office - kitchen - mechanic/body shop -

- office - post office - school office - restaurant - science laboratory -

- space station - theatre for performing arts - video/music store -

- weather station - wildlife sanctuary

Teachers and families can incorporate literacy into these pretend play themes by providing: plenty of paper and writing utensils, and materials that fit with the theme (such as tools for a mechanic's shop or cookie sheets for a bakery). Pretend play does not only address literacy, though. All of these pretend play centers can be related to many academic content areas: mathematics, social studies, science, language arts, and visual arts. These centers can be used to talk to children about jobs, different roles people play in a variety of settings, and what types of materials are used in different jobs. It would be great to take a field trip to an actual place represented in the pretend play center to give children an idea of what the real location is like.

Bonus: Teachers can also use pretend play to talk about critical issues such as gender roles. Children may insist on boys and girls playing stereotypical roles, such as boys playing doctors and girls playing nurses. Pretend play can help children break away from these ideas. Teachers can use these situations to help children reflect on roles for men and women and to show them that boys and girls can both play many non-stereotypical roles.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Homework" for Families

One way that teachers sometimes involve families in the classroom or their children's class work is by sending home activities for families to work on together. This is a great way for children to share with their families something special from their classroom, and for families to better understand how and what their child is learning.
Two ideas of take-home activities include:

~Literature Pack: This is a bag or folder of books and activities, usually focused on a particular theme, which is sent home with the child overnight or over a weekend. Families are asked to pick two or three activities to work on together and send back to school with the child. All materials necessary for the activities should be included in the pack.

For example, a literature pack about maps would include several ch
ildren's book about maps, such as Me on the Map, Tough Boris, and As the Crow Flies: A First Book of Maps. It would also include activities such as:
-reading the books aloud with your child

-drawing and labeling a map of your house, street, or back yard
-locating your town and street on state and city maps
-using blocks to build a map

-designing a treasure map

~Classroom Mascot: A classroom mascot is a stuffed animal that is sent home with each child for one weekend throughout the year. Usually on Fridays the teacher would draw a
name of a child who would take the animal home for the weekend to do activities with his or her family. Families are asked to include the stuffed animal in different ways throughout their weekend, but they are not required to do any activities other than their normal routine. The child will be asked to draw a picture or take a photograph of something they did with the mascot and write about it in the provided journal. (The teacher might include a disposable camera for documentation.) Depending on the age of the child, a family member might write down a child's words about their weekend with the stuffed animal. Usually when the child brings the mascot back to school, he or she shares the writing and illustration with the class.

Note to Families: Try not to let this "homework" be a stressful part of your evening or weekend. Talk to your child's teacher if the activities make you uncomfortable or are too much of a time commitment. Teachers know that families have busy schedules, and they should provide plenty of time for activities to be accomplished.

Note to Teachers:
Be aware of family schedules and commitments, and understand that many families are very busy. Keep this in mind when creating activities for children to work on at home with their families, and avoid elaborate activities or unreasonable requirements. Give families plenty of time to work on these projects. Instead of sending activities home for one night, send them home for several, or over the weekend. Let families know that you are open to discussion about how activities can be adapted as necessary. Be sure to include all necessary materials so that families do not have to search for their own.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Playing is Literacy: Building the Skills

Have you ever wondered when your preschool or kindergarten child will really start to read? Do you worry about how to get them off on the right foot for kindergarten? How can you help them develop those skills that they need to learn to read?

If your child plays, she is already working on literacy skills! Children play constantly, and many of their natural play activities are the building blocks to skills necessary for reading and writing. Below is a list of some play activities during which children are developing their early literacy skills.
-Playing with Legos, doing puzzles, picking up small objects builds toward
correctly holding a pencil to write

-Pretend play such as "house" and "restauran
t," pretending that a doll is talking
builds toward vocabulary development

-Creating a castle with blocks, using blocks as a road for cars, using a block as a phone
builds toward
understanding of letters as symbols standing for sounds

-Watching bubbles float through the air builds toward being able
move eyes across a page to read

Many preschools use "play-based learning," which means that a large part of the children's day is spent doing free play or free choice time - children are able to choose materials and activities around the room to fill their time. You may wonder why teachers are not spending more time using direct instruction, but the simple answer is that in the years of early childhood, play is the best way for children to learn. And, in a good preschool, teachers will provide opportunities for more structured activities where children will also develop their literacy and other academic skills.

So the next time your child tells you he is an astronaut, flying to the moon in his rocket ship made of blocks, remember that this is building his literacy skills.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Early Readers: Independent & Unique

There is no formula for learning how to read and write. We cannot say the same words, read the same books, and ask the same things of every child and expect every one to respond by becoming an instant and fluent reader. To me, this is what makes early literacy so fascinating to observe. What a privilege to be a part of this exciting time in a child's life, when he or she is becoming an independent and unique reader and writer!
Advice for parents and teachers:
~Provide plenty of choices and variety in the books in your home or classroom.
~Encourage children to choose books they want, write what they want, and draw what they want.
~Give plenty of time for choosing books, planning for writing, and actually reading, writing, and drawing.
~Make a point of asking children to share their thoughts about a text or their own work.
~Be supportive of new ideas and methods, even if they do not make sense to you as a reader at first.
~Refer to children as "readers" and "authors" - this will help them understand themselves in these roles.
~Appreciate this time in your children's lives . . . It will not last forever, and later you will treasure these favorite books, written stories, and precious memories.

Above all, be creative and facilitate creativity with your children! Let their voices be heard - you will see and hear so many different ideas, and this is what early literacy is all about.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Reading for Meaning

What if you could read words, but not understand the meaning of a whole sentence? Your reading experience might feel like this: word word word word word word. This has no meaning, so why would you continue reading?

One extremely important part of early literacy is comprehension development - understanding what words mean. Although very young children like preschoolers might not be reading yet, adults can begin to promote children's understanding of story lines. When children understand and enjoy stories, they will be more likely to continue reading for pleasure. Families and teachers can facilitate this very simply by reading a book to a child and asking questions before, during, and after the reading. Asking children questions helps them start thinking about aspects or ideas from stories that they might not have thought of during a simple reading of the text. This way, children will be used to approaching books in a thoughtful way, and when they become independent readers, they will be ready to think about the content of stories, rather than just reading words.

Providing children with rich, enjoyable, and personally meaningful literacy experiences will help them develop comprehension skills. Here are some ideas for getting started:

~Reading one-on-one with children and talking to them or listening to their
thoughts throughout a book is a great way to start.

~Storytelling is a wonderful way to connect with a child personally. Families and teachers can tell their own stories or stories that they were told as children. They might also take children to the public library
for a children's story time.

~Once children are able to sit and focus on listening to a story, families or teachers can begin to read longer books that require the child to follow a story line for more time than a short picture book. Some great examples of beginning reader books that children would love to listen to are Frog and Toad, Junie B. Jones, and Magic Tree House. Listening to and following longer stories is a great way to develop comprehension skills.

As usual, keep reading and talking with your children!