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!