Category Archives: Literacy

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Exploring Early Literacy at a Family “Open Door” Day

We recently invited families to join us for a family “Open Door Day” when we could talk together, share perspectives about how children learn and why we approach curriculum development the way we do, and focus on one important area of development that we are all thinking about. Our area of focus was early literacy and beginning reading.

We teachers know that many family members wonder about the best ways to support their children’s literacy skills. An “Open Door Day” format offers a perfect opportunity to meet with teachers and other parents, collect information, and ask questions. After a discussion, the classrooms are set with activities that are engaging at school and that can be easily replicated at home. There’s no better way to get a feel for how developmentally appropriate, engaging, playful activities and interactions support learning than spending an hour or so playing with the children in the classroom!

We talked about many things, including:
• The importance of conversation – listening, talking about topics or experiences that are personally meaningful to children, sharing feelings and ideas about shared experiences
• The values of reading to children, even as they begin to read on their own
• The importance of developing a rich and expanding vocabulary
• The continuum of developing reading, from infancy on
• How children develop an understanding of symbol, and the importance of pretend play in that process
• The development of writing from drawing
• Using sensory materials like shaving cream, finger paint, or sand to support fine motor development, alphabet knowledge and writing
• Helping children develop an understanding of why reading and writing have value – reading and writing as communication
• Joining children as they discover print in their environment
• Developing language and an awareness of how lines come together through descriptive conversations about children’s artwork
• Beginning stories and storytelling
• The values of puppetry in developing a sense of story and character
• The relationship of musical experiences to early literacy
• Breaking down skills that children need to read, with an understanding that skill development without a meaningful context is insufficient
• Choosing good books for beginning readers

Here are photos of children, families, and teachers together:

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FirstPlay2

Storytelling, updated

It’s spring again, and this year’s chickadees (our youngest class) are immersing themselves in stories, storytelling, and beginning writing. As I began to think about sharing some of the current stories they have created to act out together, I discovered the following post from last spring that describes their processes well. Here are a few samples of first stories:

Once upon a time there was a dragon. It was a dinosaur too. Two more T-rexes! And 2 more dragons. The dragons had fire. There was a volcano. The volcano didn’t have fire. The T-Rex said “Stomp!” He stomped his foot. There was a truck. He threw the truck. He was building a tower. He finished the tower. The End.

Once upon a time, I was a blue princess wearing a pink dress. Rapunzel came. And a dragon came. And he blow fire. “Hi, friendly dragon!” And rain came down. And we had tea. The children had snacks. The End

Once upon a time, there was a princess, a queen, and a prince and a king. And a dragon came. And Andrasandra came too, to watch. The king and the queen were scared. Everybody was scared. They ran away, The dragon said, “I’m a friendly dragon!” They said, “Hi, hi new friend!” The End

Once upon a time there was a princess. One was a knight. There was a dragon. It was a mean one. That one was supposed to be nice but it wasn’t. He blows fire. The princess, the knight and everyone else runs away. The dragon leaves adn he runs away. The princess the knight and the people come back to the castle. They drive to Boston in their car. The End.

Once upon a time there was a big dragon. A baby dragon. And there was a big dragon that blow fire at his dog’s house. It caused fire! And the fireman came in and sprayed water. And then they build a new dog house for them. The dog said, “Hey, that’s a good house!” The End

Once upon a time a princess came. A dragon came. There was a wizard. The wizard was a baby dragon. The a birdie came up. Then a spider was on the wizard’s shoulder. Then a bird went into the tree. Then a pizza box went into the trash. The End

Once upon a time, I was with my dad. And my mom. And my brother. I was bringing my brother in school in the bus. Grandma and Grandpa came. The End

It’s clear from this sample that many children collect ideas and themes from other children and develop them to make them their own.

The original post with more detail about how story acting supports storytelling  among 3 year children at Learning Circle follows:

Throughout our school year, we have been finding a variety of ways to encourage the children to think about story forms and storytelling. We’ve told “dream stories” at meeting, retold favorite folktales with flannel pieces, and enjoyed books together. We’ve sung stories and songs, and used books or song cards to help choose songs and remember them. We’ve used favorite books and stories to create our own props for plays and acted out stories. We’ve encouraged children to “tell about” their work, whether it was at the easel, in journals, or in block or dramatic play. We’ve asked children to talk with parents about favorite stories, and found out that parents often share their favorites from childhood with their children.

Following the model offered by Vivian Paley (loosely) we have also encouraged children to write stories that we can act out as a class. To write such a story, children sit in the “writing chair” to dictate their ideas. Stories must fit on one half page of paper (that way we have had more time to give everyone a turn) and include no illustrations. Children simply tell a teacher the words to write down, and then the teacher reads the story back to its author.

Later in the day, roles are assigned at a story telling meeting. The author chooses a role to act out, and we go around the circle asking for other volunteers. We’ve found that because we offer the next role to the next child (regardless of gender, etc) children have gained an understanding of pretend and acting (Girls can be princes and boys princesses; we can be animals even if we are people, because we are pretending and we need to help tell the story). The actors stand up to act out the story, narrated by a teacher, while other children become the audience.

We have two short videos of this storytelling process in the two day class, and have some sample stories written down. Every child participated in the story acting experience. Some have preferred to act out stories told by friends, and some prefer the audience role right now. Every part in the storytelling process is an important one.

We’ve noticed that children have clear themes that recur in their stories. Some of these themes are related to ideas from friends, so look for similarities between stories written on or near the same date.

Look for the writing patterns in the stories as well. A basic story follows along like a list (And he did it, And she did it, etc.) We often ask children “And then what happened?” to move a story forward.

Those children who have included many characters figured out early in the process that if we have more characters, more children are actually in the story when it is told. It has not been uncommon for teachers to be the only audience.

We hope you enjoy this sampling of our beginning stories.

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For families with children currently at the school, you may log in at this link to see some short videos of children acting out their stories.

Literacy Family “Open Door” Day

Our latest Family “Open Door Day” was focused on literacy and young children. After joining a parent discussion, family members joined their children in the classroom where teachers had set up centers featuring a variety of playful literacy activities. Teachers also posted suggestions for play and the rational behind using these materials. The final element was a documentation wall featuring photos of children engaged in playful literacy activities, along with sample work.

What a terrific turnout we had! We were happy to see so many family members spending the morning with us, and the children were so pleased to have their families participate at school!

There was a lot to talk about, but some highlights from our discussion follow:

  • Foundations ideally focus on reading and writing as communication – children who understand the values of these activities will learn the complex set of inter-related skills associated with reading and writing because they are excited about learning, connecting, remembering, and sharing ideas
  • Spend lots of time reading with children at home and at school
  • Good readers develop strong language skills and knowledge of words:
    o Children need environments in which they experience language in meaningful contexts (children need lots of meaningful experiences to talk about!)
    o Language develops through talking, singing, interacting, and social play
    o Children need to feel they are listened to – the responsiveness of adults in children’s lives to their language is crucial
  • Read high quality literature to children:
    o Children develop language and vocabulary through interactions around reading literature
    o Children become comfortable with the differences between book language and conversational language
    o Children develop an understanding of story structures
  • Support children’s growing phonological awareness:
    o Children develop awareness of the sound structure of language
    o Word play, rhyming, musical activities, use of nursery rhymes all support phonological awareness
  • Support comprehension:
    o Children need context and background knowledge to draw on as they develop comprehension skills
    o Encourage children to talk about book content, share ideas, make connections to their own experience, and ask questions
  • Writing depends on sound physical development, which can be supported in a wide variety of sensory experiences and informal activities that support each child’s use of their fingers and hands
  • It takes time before children understand that writing is recorded speech
  • To write letters, children need to understand that letters are symbols that come together to represent sounds and meaning.
  • Symbolic thinking is supported by pretend play.
  • Writing skills grow out of drawing – encourage children to make a mark!
  • With experience and by noticing more and more details, children discover that lines come together to form letters (how letters look), and then that letters are used to form words

There is a lot going on as children move along the continuum of learning in their own way. We can take cues from the children, support their interests, encourage conversations, questions, and finding out more about interesting topics, make sure there is time for meaningful pretend play, and enjoy a wide variety of books and stories together!

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Let's act out the story!

Using Music to Enhance a Literacy Experience

In every classroom, we’ve been reading and retelling folktales, and one of the favorites has been The 3 Little Pigs. We decided to use an afternoon music group to see if the children would be interested in creating a sound script that could liven up their story, and, maybe, encourage some of the children to ask to act out the story.

We started by reading the story together (using a favorite version that clearly implies some sounds and actions) and talking about the various characters and what they do. Then, children used a variety of body sounds and percussion instruments to represent the important actions:

• Building a house of straw – ch ch ch ch with seed and other gentle shakers
• Building a house of sticks – tapping rhythm sticks and hands
• Building a house of bricks – loud slow thumping on the carpet (bricks are heavy and it’s hard work) with a large low drum
• Knocking at the door – knocking on the floor while tongue clicking
• Running away – quick patching in a running pattern
• Falling in a pot of hot water – splish splash

Children agreed that a wolf has a low voice, and the pigs had higher voices so everyone acted accordingly, and we told the story with sounds while a teacher narrated (read the book).

The chickadee class has been retelling the story spontaneously ever since. Not all the children were in the first music group experience, but now everyone uses the same sound effects for their play. Children choose roles now, and some are the audience and musicians, watching with the narrator as the story is acted out. Whenever the book is chosen at reading times, a crowd comes over and requests for the chance to act out the story are often made. And we’ve been watching as many children build “houses” in the block area, create pretend games, and tell stories.

Giving children opportunities to put stories into action (have a play) and use their growing pretend skills adds enthusiasm and excitement to our shared readings of familiar stories. A play gives structure and action to the parts of a story or book that we teachers would like children to be able to identify – titles, authors, characters, narrators, etc. in a way that is engaging and meaningful for just about everyone.

Music helps represent the characters and actions in a way that is both clear and memorable to the actors. In working together and taking a part, children come to realize that there are times when working together leads to a different, and sometimes more interesting, result than working alone. They also begin to understand that practicing improves the result, and that it is often worthwhile to try more than once and develop ideas and skills together. But one of the best by-products of these experiences is that children create and take ownership of the play with all its parts on their own and discover they can accomplish great things – in their pretend, in their own stories, and with stories that everyone knows and loves.

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2day-writingtable

Telling Stories and Making Books on the Road to Literacy

When we talk about books and stories with our youngest preschoolers, at times we ask them to share what they know. For many children, stories are in books, pictures help tell stories, grownups read books, and children who are 3 “can’t read books or write stories yet”. It does make sense, but unfortunately for some, this feeling that they must rely on adults to access stories can inhibit a child’s capacity to trust in their own ability to develop literacy skills. We want children to “read” the pictures in picture books and tell their own stories. We want them to trust that their scribbles represent important ideas and to value their own writing – whatever it looks like. So what can we do to help validate each child’s personal relationship to words, story, books, drawing and writing?

Our approach is to find ways to encourage every child, whatever their development or skill, to “make their mark” and tell their story. This might be a process that includes asking children to “tell about their work”. It might include children describing and labeling their creations, while the adults in their lives write down their ideas, ask questions that can clarify their intentions and celebrate their ideas and successes. It might include getting to know which patterns of lines indicate a child’s signature or other early writing, then celebrating that child’s ability to make a mark that has meaning and that can help us all remember something important. It might mean that adults tell children’s stories, including personal ones, that are not in books but are simply shared orally, and that they encourage children to do the same. It might include adults sharing the joy of well-developed pretend play or a puppet show. And it might include offering children paper in book format so that they can make their own books, write their own words and drawings, and tell friends and family their own stories by “reading” from these personal creations.

When children start making books, we talk together about the form of books: where the book starts, the details on the front cover, the title and author. We help children notice that in picture books there is something on every page. We point out that the last page is “The End.” We help children notice that in some picture books there are words and pictures on each page, but in others there are just pictures. And we offer a model for getting started (Is this a ‘once upon a time’ story or does it have facts?), a model for continuing (What happens next?). Along the way we pose questions that we hope will help children add detail and extend their descriptive language as they tell their story. And then we watch and listen.

Unlike other classroom writing experiences like journaling or dictating descriptions of work, teachers don’t write in a child’s book because “each child is the author and they know how the story goes”. If a child is concerned about the quality of their writing, we encourage them to appreciate that “in the chickadee class, children use chickadee writing” and that their writing will change as they change and grow. When the book is finished, we take a video of the author “reading” the book from beginning to end, supporting the author as the process unfolds.

As children make more and more books on their own, their confidence with writing tools, their pretend play, and with picture books grows. We see more children “reading” on their own or with friends at our quiet book times. Puppet shows begin to have dialogue and clear beginnings, middles and ends. Children notice details in picture books more carefully, and retell familiar stories with increasing detail as they take in more clues from the pictures. More children join in the spontaneous word play, rhyming and chanting that occur throughout the day, and more children express a growing interest in letters and words around our classroom. It’s an exciting process to watch unfold!

We are in the process of setting up a page for parents of children currently enrolled at LCP on the website (www.learningcirclepreschool.org) so that you’ll be able to see some sample videos of children reading their books (some use names so these stories are in a privacy protected area). We hope you will look for them soon, and appreciate all the learning taking place!

3daywritingtable