We're in this Together: Teacher to Family Communication Monthly Tip
Deborah Diffily and Kathy Morrison are editors of the NAEYC publication, 'Family - Friendly Communication for Early Childhood Programs'. They have compiled mini articles for teachers to share with their students' families.
Each month STARNET Reg I and III will post one of the mini-articles for teachers potential inclusion in school to home newsletters and communication strategies. The NAEYC has granted permission for adapting the material to match your program. The book includes expanded information on each of these article's topic and cross-referencing 'Family - Friendly Communication for Early Childhood Programs' is available for loan in the STARNET Reg I and III Resource Library.
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Make Your Own Storybooks
Children love stories and love making things, so take advantage of this terrific combination and make some books with your child. Preschool children are ready to help write and illustrate stories from their own experiences or imaginations.
Here’s an idea:
- Write down a story as your child tells it. Be sure to write the child’s words, not yours, and repeat the words as you write. This process helps a child recognize that print is “talk” written down.
- Place an appropriate number of words at the top of separate pages and reread the story with your child.
- Invite your child to illustrate each page and, if she wishes, to create a cover, title page, and dedication.
- Arrange pages in order and place in a notebook.
- Encourage your child to “read” this new book to you.
This same process can be used with photographs that describe a trip to the zoo, a vacation, or a visit with Grandma.
These unique books make wonderful gifts. You might want to photocopy them (color photographs are great!) and give them to several members of the family or close friends.
Remember, whatever the topic, we adults act only as the scribes for the child’s words and as assistants in putting the book together. Children should make all the decisions about the content and creation of their storybooks!
Bringing Books to Life
Books should be an integral part of a child’s life. You can bring books to life for your child by finding books that relate to the family’s activities and by extending books that you’ve already read together.
Books about family activities are relatively easy to find. For example, if you go to the zoo, find a book about animals; if you walk along a park pond, get a book from the library that discusses pond life; if you have a new baby, find a book about infants and siblings. The possibilities are endless.
Ask a children’s librarian or someone who works in the children’s section of the bookstore to help you find books of interest. Look for other books at used book sales, or yard sales and flea markets.
Extending a book the family has already read is easy, too. It’s as simple as providing materials for children to draw or paint their favorite part of the book.
Or you can act out what the characters in a book do. If the characters are firefighters or astronauts or chefs, gather a few props to spark the child’s play. If the characters plant a garden, you and your child can, too. If the story or a part of it takes place at a bakery or grocery store, in a forest, or at a swimming pool, read it just before you set out for the same kind of place. Then, with your child you can notice things you saw in the book, point out things you haven’t seen before, and look at the book again when you get home.
When children read about familiar activities or when they act out favorite stories, books come alive for them. Reading becomes more meaningful, more memorable, and more fun.
Booking and Cooking
When we cook in class, children combine ingredients, mix, stir, and taste. They also use the descriptive words of literature—nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs—to describe the what, how, where, and why, as well as the movements, textures, tastes, and feelings, associated with food and cooking.
This combination of cooking and books can be continued at home. As Sunday morning pancakes are cooked, consider referring to Eric Carle’sPancakes, Pancakes(Simon & Schuster 1990) or Tomie de Paola’s (Pancakes for Breakfast (Harcourt Brace Jovanich 1978). Make split pea soup from the George and Martha series by James Marshall (Houghton Mifflin) or porridge after reading a version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Buy or bake different kinds of breads after you read Bread, Bread, Breadby Ann Morris (Mulberry 1989).
Literature and cooking experiences are limited only by your imagination. Use your child’s food preferences as a starting place and expand the experiences from there.
As in any other shared reading time, talking about the story is just as important as reading the book. Make comments about the plot as you read, helping connect events in the book to the child’s life. For example, when reading The Very Hungry Caterpillarby Eric Carle (Collins 1979), you might remark, “Remember when we bought those good plums at the grocery store?” Ask questions that help your child think about the story: “How do you think you would feel if you ate everything that the Very Hungry Caterpillar ate on Saturday?”
Connecting books with enjoyable family experiences—like cooking or conversation—sends your child the message that reading if fun for children and grown-ups too.
Learning the names of alphabet letters—like all early learning—is best done in the context of what is meaningful to young children.
Many children first learn the initial letter of their own name. which has a great deal of meaning and importance to them. For the children who loves jello, J may be an important letter while the children who knows that Daddy works at the Texaco station may begin to notice the letter T.
Some children learn to read without knowing the names of the letters or the sounds associated with them. But research shows that for most children, associating names and sounds with the alphabet comes before conventional reading.
However, this finding does not mean that letter names should be drilled into young children. There are far more effective and enjoyable ways for children to learn about letters. For instance, children enjoy labeling items that they choose. Sound out the name of the object together to determine which initial letter to use, then cut out big letters from magazines or newspapers and invite the child to tape them to items she wants labeled.
At home or out together, point out letters and words that are likely to be of special interest to your child. Try simple activities such as reading logos of favorite foods and store, identifying street signs, writing grocery lists together, and playing with magnetic letters on the refrigerator door while singing the alphabet song. Remember, children learn through play!
Entering the World of Words
Print surrounds us. In our homes we have mail, newspapers, magazine, books, and various boxes and cans of food. When we drive down the highway, we encounter traffic signs, billboards, and signs that identify stores. At the grocery store we see advertising and logos.
Children begin to make sense of this print in their environment very early in life. Any parent who has driven down the street and heard their toddler cry out, “French fries!” or “Stop, Mommy!” knows that the child is finding meaning in that big M that signals a certain fast-food restaurant.
Children often recognize the name of the grocery store or the drug store where they go with their parents to shop. When children’s attention is called to the logo and the name of the store is shown to them, they are likely to remember it.
The same is true of a child’s favorite foods. Toddlers can tell Fruit-Loops from Cheerios. Initially the children use the logo for clues as to what the words say; they for instance, will occasionally “read” the word Crest as toothpaste. This is normal when children are first learning to make sense of the print they see.
Parents can begin making children aware of environmental print very early on. In doing so, they help their children establish important reading skills.
Label It, Learn It
As you enter your child’s classroom, you discover the door has been labeled with a sign that says Doorandthe wall is labeled Wall. What is going on?
When young children begin to associate the name of an object with that object, they start to realize that words have meaning and power. From their first realization that saying “water” gets them a drink and that “outside” lets other people know they want to play outdoors, children use the spoken word to get what they need and want.
The next step is to begin to associate letters and words with objects. One way we introduce this idea is by labeling objects in the room.
This link can easily be made at home, too. Just remember to keep it simple and label only a few things at a time.
- Begin with signs that incorporate only one letter—wear one that says Mfor Mother and Dfor Dad. Let your child watch as you print the letter.
- Wear signs or stickers that announce your first names.
- Label those objects your child asks you to label.
- Encourage your child to make his or her own signs to display around the house.
While the labels are posted around your house, talk with your child about them. Find other things that begin with the same letter sound.
When children see the same labels day after day, they have a tendency to tune them out. So as they seem to lose interest in some labels, make new ones.
Whole Language or Phonics? No, It’s Both!
You may have heard the complaint that a whole-language approach means not teaching phonics. Don’t believe it! Just about everyone agrees that children should learn phonics. The question is only whether young children should be taught phonics as a memorized set of sound/letter connections beforethey begin learning to read.
As we see it, there are various skills and understandings that children develop in moving toward becoming readers. What seems to work best is for kids to develop these simultaneously – phonics included – through experiences that are meaningful to them.
In our program we plan a wealth of experiences to spark children’s interest in learning to read and write and to acquaint them with various skills and knowledge that they need to do so. Here are a few of the things we do.
- Read favorite stories and poems again and again, making sure the children can see the text and pointing to words as we say them so kids begin to make sound/letter associations.
- Involve children in making charts that show sound/letter patterns of special interest to them – for example, words that start the same way as each child’s name or words that rhyme with our hamster’s name.
- Encourage children to use their own invented spellings for representing the sounds of words, which helps them develop their phonics sense as well as their writing – later they will move to conventional spellings
In every classroom, at any time during the day, the potential for a “math moment” exists. The room is one big learning center where strands of mathematical discovery are continually being woven. Children learn to make sense of their world through everyday experiences.
To stimulate a math moment, teachers use a variety of materials and ideas to create an environment in which children explore math concepts. In the math center are board games, dominoes, cards pattern blocks, and collections of objects that give children opportunities to recognize numbers and build math skills.
But math moments do not occur only in the math center. Look around the room. In block play, children construct cities (by sorting and organizing) and use words like long, short, small, andtall. At snacktime a child passes out one napkin per child and the same number of crackers for each person. We take attendance and keep track of how many days we’ve been in school. When the class takes a vote on what stories to read or for some other decision, children compare quantities.
Parents can accept the challenge to find math moments at home and about town. With your child, identify numbers and shapes in your junk mail. As you cook or do errands together, you can make comments or ask questions that encourage meaningful math understandings. For instance, “We need a bottle of juice for each person in the family and your friend Sally, too. How many shall I get?” Children love to be consulted on such issues. Just keep it all in fun!
The Shape of Things
Shapes are all around us, in natural objects, architecture, signs, and even in the numerals and letters we use. Shape knowledge underlies algebra, geometry, and other domains of higher mathematics.
This complex knowledge begins with the very simple foundation of recognizing shapes – circles, squares, triangles, ovals, rectangles, and diamonds. Children can begin to notice these shapes in the world around them, and you can help them to do so.
As you walk or drive along together, point out shapes you see in signs, rooftops, and windows. Involve the child in shape-spotting games: Who can find the first triangle? How many shapes can we find in that building? Can you find two oval letters on that billboard? You’ll find that your child enjoys getting “in shape”!
Picking Up Patterns
The ability to reproduce and create patterns is an early math skill that we adults can encourage in young children. Patterns occur throughout mathematics, but children’s first experiences with patterns are with objects rather than numbers.
Children between 3 and 5 begin to be able to reproduce a pattern created by someone else. For example, if an adult uses blocks to create the pattern of rectangle, square, rectangle, square, and so on, the child will be able to look at that pattern and use his own blocks to make the same pattern.
Almost any set of objects around the house can create a simple alternating pattern (ABAB):
-spoon, knife, spoon, knife;
-blue napkin, red napkin, blue napkin, red napkin;
-nut, bolt, nut, bolt;
-crayon, marker, crayon, marker
After children perceive and create the simple patterning, adults can offer more complicated patterns, such as nut, nut, bolt, nut, nut, bolt (AABAAB) or nut, nut, bolt, bolt, bolt, nut, nut, bolt, bolt, bolt (AABBBAABBB).
Encourage children to create their own patterns with objects. Ask them to predict which object would come next in one of your patterns. Invite them to sketch their patterns.
Finding patterns in the world around them and creating patterns themselves will help children see patterns in more complex mathematics later on.
Children learn many math skills long before they are ready for the basics of addition and subtraction. One of these skills is the ability to sort objects.
When they sort, children group things that belong together in some way. Kids often sort by color—red blocks in one group, blues blocks in another—or by shape—triangle blocks here, rectangle blocks there.
When children’s rooms are organized, their toys become natural objects to sort. At cleanup time, alphabet blocks go into one container, colored blocks into another, farm animal figures in one tub, and toy cars into a box.
In helping with the laundry, children can sort clothes into piles of shirts, shorts, pants, underwear, and socks. After dishes are done, kids can put away knives, forks, and spoons, In helping to put away the groceries, children can divide boxes from cans or bathrooms items from kitchen items. By lending a hand in sorting things into the appropriate recycling containers, children also develop earth-friendly habits.
Early in the child’s explorations of sorting activities, adults play a useful role by providing words for what the child is doing (“I see you are putting all the square blocks together”). We also can help extend the sorting (“Let’s see if we can find all the rectangle blocks.”) In time the child begins to use these words and expand hi or her understanding of the mathematical world.
Counting Doesn’t Add Up to Math
Sometimes we tend to think too simplistically about mathematics and your children. You head someone say, “My daughter knows all her numbers. She can count to 20.” While counting is an accomplishment, it is only one very small part of knowing numbers.
Counting to 10 or 20, or even 100, is called rote counting and requires only the memorization of number order. The child may or may not have any real understanding of amount or quantity.
Number vocabulary and concepts that young learners can begin to use in meaningful ways include some, more, less, bigger, smaller, pairs, groups, parts, andwholes. Talking and thinking about numbers and quantity as a part of doing activities is a natural way for children to develop mathematical concepts.
Parents can point out math-related aspects of everyday situations. Use number words in conversation: “Let’s put these two shirts here” or “I need three more glasses on the table.” Estimate how long it will take to get to Grandmother’s house. Measure how far the ball roles. Divide a dozen cookies among four family members.
A simple math vocabulary grows from experiencing cooking and measuring, understanding that numbers have names and written symbols, guessing and estimating, and talking about days and weeks. These experiences lay the groundwork for beginning math.
Parents play an important part in building children’s initial math understandings. Look for ways to help kids see the fun and usefulness of knowing more than how to count to 100.
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To Button, Zip, and Tie
Getting dressed on time in the morning can be a real challenge for many of us, but it is particularly difficult for young children who have to contend with buttons, zippers, and shoelaces when their fine motor skills are still developing.
When families are trying to get ready to leave the house at a certain time, parents will probable need to help your children with the dressing process. Preschool children want to be independent but get easily frustrated when the buttons won’t do what they want them to do or the zipper will not cooperate. That frustration leads to an even more stressful morning.
Helping kids learn to contend with the logistics of buttoning buttons, zipping zippers, and tying shoelaces is best done during less stressful times. Concentrate on one skill at a time. Work together and assure children that they will be able to do this with practice. As a parent, you might want to consider shoes with Velcro fasteners, as well as other clothing items that young children can manage more easily as these skills are developing.
Learning to control hands and fingers according to information received from sight is a coordination skill that will aid children in early attempts of reading and writing
We adults can provide many different opportunities for children to develop these skills. Dressing and undressing dills and dramatic play with clothes that have buttons and zippers are good for practice. Activities such as shaping playdough, stringing beads, and placing pegs into pegboards also enhance the fine motor skills needed for dressing.
With appropriate experiences, your child will gradually master all the intricacies of getting dressed and undressed.
Children begin very early in life to acquire language skills. Language helps children gain independence, interact with others, and participate in the surrounding culture. It plays a role in social interaction and expression of emotions, as well as learning.
Most children follow a sequence of language development: crying and cooing, babbling, first words, and first sentences. By the age of five most children have developed a proficiency in oral language and us it effectively to accomplish their purposes and meet their needs.
Even very young children are soothed by the mere voices of loved ones. Sing, chant, and carry on casual conversations with children—whether or not they answer or even before they are able to understand. Children tune in more that we sometimes realize. The language they hear is the raw material from which their own language develops—and through which much of their learning about the world takes place.
Kids learn a lot when adults simply talk to them in the course of daily activities such as cooking, bathing, and doing chores. Riding in the car or on a bus—or even pushing the shopping cart—parents can comment on what they see along the way. And there is a fringe benefit of keeping up running conversation: the child is less likely to get bored and misbehave.
When you plan a family outing or special event, talk about it with your children beforehand and afterward. Anticipating and recalling experiences not only promote children’s language development but also increase their knowledge and understanding.
Songs, fingerplays, and nursery rhymes are especially good for introducing children to the patterns and rhythms of language. And being read to is a joy. When we take the time to read aloud and converse with our children, they learn to value language—as well as our company.
Fingerplays and Action Songs
Rhymes and movements for the hands and fingers, some of which date back almost 2,000 years, are still used in early childhood classrooms, as well as the more modern action songs that involve the whole body.
As children learn fingerplays and action songs, they learn the names of body parts, numbers, and shapes. They also learn other concepts and skills, including
• manual dexterity and muscle control;
• sense of rhythm of speech and music;
• new vocabulary;
• ability to follow directions;
• grasp of order and sequence;
• increased attention spans; and
• listening skills.
Fingerplays and action songs are a fun way to learn. They are a great way to pass a few minutes of transition time—while you are waiting in the car, in the line at the grocery store, before or after dinner.
Children love repeating familiar rhymes, so come back to the same songs often enough that your child can learn the words of the rhyme and the movements that accompany the words.
Perhaps you remember a fingerplay from your childhood that you can share with us. If you like to learn more fingerplays or action songs that are hits with kids of your child’s age, just ask us—we’ll be happy to share some great ones.
Rhythm and Rhyme
Poetry paints verbal pictures for children, tells them stories, and expresses emotions that they are feeling. Poetry is a unique use of language. From an early age children love hearing it read aloud.
The rhythm of poetry, and sometimes its rhymes, provide young children with predictability that is important in their development and understanding of language and literacy. Poetry helps children develop auditory discrimination and it provides pleasurable listening experiences with sounds, repetitions, and imagery. Kids particularly love nonsense verse and the marvelous sound of poets like Dr. Seuss, Edward Lear, and A.A. Milne—and, of course in the Mother Goose Rhymes.
Here are a few suggestions for using poetry with your child.
• Provide a variety of poetry books.
• Help collect poems from birthday and other cards.
• Listen to songs that use poetry.
• Read aloud riddles and nursery rhymes.
• Engage in fingerplays together.
• Invite the child to illustrate poems that he or she particularly enjoys.
• Encourage creation of original poems—be available to take dictation.
Through the creative and meaningful use of poetry, children grow in language development. They—and you—can have a wonderful time in the process.
Getting It All Together
Think about how your child learned to speak. Did you teach your child one sound at a time to say, “I – need – to – go – pot – ty”? Of course not! Language is learned through listening, speaking, and practicing in real situations.
Children learn to read and write when real-life opportunities make learning fun and easy. In our classrooms, you may find the dramatic play area transformed into a restaurant, a bank, or an office. Such play presents a variety of opportunities for language use.
Paper and pencils are always available in every center to encourage children to attempt to make meaningful communications to their friends. Boys and girls may choose to communicate through drawings or paintings, in strings of circles or lines that imitate adult writing, or even in words that you can read.
Just as your child learned language in context from you and other people around her, kids are learning the beginning of reading and writing in meaningful contexts here in the classroom.
We grown-ups encourage children’s writing in many ways. “I love getting notes from you” or “This will help me to remember to buy more ice cream” or “Will you read me what you wrote?” says that we appreciate their efforts. What joy you and your child can share when she “reads” you her first written communication!
“Mark-It Tips” for Young Writers
The motor skill required for writing began when your baby first grasped a rattle and continued to develop as she inspected dandelions between her thumb and forefinger. It takes lots of practice for fine motor control to develop. By the time your child was 2, holding a marker with her whole hand was possible.
Throughout the preschool years, children need frequent opportunities to work with an assortment of writing materials. Because the child’s control of the small hand muscles is not yet very refined, large blank surfaces for drawing are very important. Try to offer several choices of white and colored paper, construction paper, and cardboard.
Provide markers, minimarkers, crayons, pencils, with erasers, colored pencils, paints, and chalk – as many choices as you can. Variety keeps children experimenting with different writing tools and combinations of paper.
Not all experiences need to be on paper, however. Chunky pieces of chalk for drawing on the sidewalk are great. Later, house-painting brushes dipped in a bucket of water will easily get the chalk off the sidewalk. Activities like these help your child learn to write.
To encourage children to write, we always have paper and markers available. We are glad to see that children not only use them to draw but also put them to use in many other ways – from labeling a block structure the don’t want anyone to knock down to putting price tags on items in their grocery store.
Stages of Children’s Writing
Educators look at writing very differently than they did a generation ago. The things that young children seem to do naturally when given paper and markers are now viewed as true forms of writing.
There are at least six different stages of writing:
Children draw and “read” their drawings as a form of communication. They may draw an unrecognizable form and say, “I played in the home center today with my friends.” Or they may draw a treelike form and say, “This says remember to take me to the park.”
Young children believe they are writing when they scribble and often “read” what they have just scribbled. Children often will move the pencil like adults, making their scribbles from left to right.
Invented letters. Many young children make up their own letters. A circle with a line drawn down from the bottom (resembling a lollipop) is a common invented letter. Again, children believe they are writing.
Random letters. As children become more aware of the alphabet, they often write the letters in long strings, usually at random.
Invented spelling. Invented spelling takes many forms but is related to the sounds the child hears in each word. At the beginning of this stage, children may write one letter to represent one word. Later, words are represented by two letters, the initial and ending letter sounds. As the child’s writing continues to mature, most sounds are represented in their invented spelling.
Common spelling. The child begins writing more and more words spelled as adults spell.
Write Before Your Child’s Eyes
Children learn about writing by observing people who already know how and by participating with those people in simple writing experiences. Parents and older siblings serve as models for children, showing them what writers do.
Kids are more like to want to communicate in writing if they grow up in a home where they often see people writing. The more they see you writing, the more inclined they are to want to write.
As children begin “writing,” they may use drawing, scribbling, or invented letters and spellings to express themselves. These are legitimate forms of writing and to be encouraged!
Share your writing tasks with children. For example, include your child when you write out the weekly grocery list or jot down a reminder to yourself or another family member. And get the child to help with writing party invitations, thank-you notes, and cards or letters to relatives and friends.
When you have writing tasks to do–even something as humdrum as your to-do list—try to get in the habit of doing them when your child is around. Before you know it, you’ll have an eager writer on your hands.
The Rewarding Ritual of Reading Aloud
Parents are children’s first and most influential teachers. Reading together is one of the earliest shared experiences of parents and children. When you read a story to a child, you are her reading teacher.
Children learn to read by being read to, Research shows that early and good readers come from homes where reading is values and experienced regularly. The desire to read starts with the early enjoyment of being held in a lap and cuddled as a story is read.
In addition to the feelings of warmth and security fostered by laptime reading, reading aloud to children expands their world and vocabulary. It creates an appreciation of the value of print, promotes knowledge of the mechanics of reading from the top to the bottom of the page and from left to right, and helps create and understanding of sequence of events.
Setting aside time every day to read to your child says, “I love you and I want to spend special time with you.” It further demonstrates your love for books and sets the stage for developing in your child an interest and desire to become a reader.
Let your child pick a story. Then cuddle up together to enjoy exploring the power and magic of the printed word.
A Book of One’s Own
Children are more likely to become avid readers if they have a few books of their own. There is a special pleasure—eve for a young child—in being able to go to their own bookshelf and browse through favorite books.
Books can be expensive, though, especially if they are new and hardback. Paperback and used books are much less expensive yet just as cherished. Quality children’s books, at very reasonable prices, often can be found at half-price bookstores, yard sales, thrift shops, or public library book sales. Take your time browsing and be choosy. The cost savings is worth the time it takes to look for good books.
Books make wonderful gifts. Tell grandparents and others that you welcome gifts of storybooks. And remember that when you but a book for your child and read it together, you are laying a strong foundation for the child’s lifelong learning.
Read Me a Story—Again!
As they finish reading a storybook to a child, grown-ups often groan when they hear the words “Read it again!” Many of us grown-ups tire of reading the same books over and over, but repeated reading is actually very good for young children.
Children learn important things from hearing a book again and again. They learn basic grammar and story structure. They also learn new vocabulary words and learn to associate the words with the illustrations on the page. In time, they will be able to tell the story themselves, using the visual clues of the illustrations.
Children who hear and retell stories refine their retellings until their memory of the words they have heard is so close to the text that they correct themselves as the “read” the story. Although their “reading” is primarily recitation rather than word identification, they gradually associate the text with the words they are saying.
As children incorporate stories into their memories, familiar words and phrases appear in their vocabulary. A child inspired by Bill Martin Jr.’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Holt, Rinehart,& Winston 1983) may ask a friend “Tiffany, Tiffany, what do you see?” Or, having just read Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Collins 1979) a child may say, “On Monday, I ate through one sandwich, but I was still hungry.”
To develop into lifelong readers, children need opportunities to learn to love books. What better way than snuggling up as Mom, Dad, or another family member reads a favorite book—again!
Written language is acquired by children in many of the same ways they acquire oral language. Two crucial aspects of learning oral language are having opportunities to be a language user and having adult role models.
We can engage children in the exploration of written language by writing with them. Written communication is tied to reading. For the family who enjoys books, many opportunities will present themselves for book projects.
For example, after reading a story about a family, you might suggest making a family book together. You can discuss with the child whom to include in the book, how big the book should be, what shape to make it, and how many pages it should have. The child can decide how to depict family members (in drawings, photographs, or other means), as well as what to write and how to design the cover.
Another opportunity arises when your child makes up a story or tells you about something he did with his class. Perhaps he would like to make his story into a book. If so, he can dictate the words to you or do the writing himself—in his own way, whatever that is—and add pictures.
By providing an accepting, encouraging, and stimulating environment, we foster in children a strong self-image and positive attitude toward writing and reading.
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Computers and Young Children
In this age of technology, we recognize the value in introducing computers to young children. Computers in an early childhood classroom are another tool for kids to explore, to investigate, and to market.
We believe that computers are a valuable asset to our program, but only because our approach to computer use is geared to the way young children learn and develop. For example, we know that young children are developing social skills during these years, so we place the computer where children can interact as they work with it. At least two chairs are at the computer at all times. The arrangement allows for collaborative problem solving and sharing ideas.
Children need to have opportunities to work independently of adults. The computer software that we use allows independence menus that allow children to work with little adult interaction.
Kids learn by doing. The software that we choose allows the child to explore concepts, determine the pace and the direction of the experience, and use their creativity. Developmentally appropriate software is open-‐ended and calls for thinking and active problem solving.
Just like blocks and paints, computers are a beneficial tool in and early childhood classroom. Children have the freedom to explore this tool in a supportive environment that encourages active exploration.
A Recipe of Learning
To children, the world of cooking is magical. We combine all kinds of ingredients, the stir, simmer, boil or bake, and .... Presto!.....something delicious is created.
Being asked to help with cooking makes kids feel grown up and important. And when they cooperate with others to make a dish, they take great satisfaction in producing something for everyone to eat.
Cooking with children...pointing out key words on the recipe as we go along, having them measure, pour, and stir...is a time of learning as well. Reading, science, and math concepts abound in cooking experiences. Children learn to recognize numbers and words from recipes. They begin to use vocabulary related to cooking. And they observe how ingredients change when they are mixed together.
Kids also learn basic math concepts such as counting, measurement, and part-‐whole relationships. It will take years before young children fully understand concepts like numbers, weights, measurement, time, and temperature, but repeated experiences with cooking promote the development of those concepts.
Cooking with young children does take more time than cooking alone. But the learning that accompanies cooking and the closeness fostered by the shared experiences are worth the extra time.
The Play-Full Prop Box
The ability to pretend is very important to a child’s future success. To pretend, children must be able to recall experiences they have had and then re-‐create them. They must be able to picture experiences in their minds.
Children like to try on different roles, act out experiences, recall past events, and work out anxieties. One day a child may act out going to the grocery store, making a list, gathering items, paying at the checkout counter. Another day the child may pretend to be a dentist or a firefighter.
One way to encourage dramatic play – “pretend” experiences that enhance your child’s cognitive abilities and encourage creative thinking and problem solving – is through the use of prop boxes or bags. Prop boxes contain an assortment of items centered on a dramatic play theme.
For a day –at-‐the-‐beach theme, a box may hold beach towels, old swimsuits, flip-‐flops, empty suntan-‐lotion containers, old sunglasses, and magazines. Or a box may contain a baker’s hat, rolling pin, cookie cutters, playdough, pans, spoons, aprons, and dish towels.
Clearly label the containers, perhaps with pictures and words, and store them where your child can reach them. Keep adding to your collections. Yard sales and flea markets are great places to find props. As your child’s interests change, start new collections.
Your child will benefit from these collections in many ways other than just having fun. For instance, research indicates that children who have many opportunities to participate in dramatic play use more sophisticated language and become better readers and writers.
Prop boxes are only as limited as the imagination.
Making Friends with Puppets
Valuable tools for the early childhood classroom, as well as great toys for your child at home, puppets have many users with young children. They enhance spoken language, and social play, promote prosocial behaviors, and allow children to express negative feelings without risk. Puppets often help children relate to difficult situations by allowing then to identify with the puppet and still maintain an emotional distance. Kids who may not feel comfortable talking to an adult about personal problems might be willing to share those feelings with or through a puppet – either confiding to a puppet or assuming the puppet’s character to express their feelings. For example, one child may tell a puppet, “When my mommy’s not home, I get scared.” But another child may slip on a puppet and have it say, “I know it’s scary sometimes when Mommy is gone. When I get scared I talk to my friends, like I’m talking to you.” Adults who are sensitive to stresses a child may be experiencing can offer an appropriate puppet for the child to use. We can model the use of puppets, talking about feelings. If a puppet talks to children about his fear of the dark, kids who share that fear get the chance to work through their own fears. The adult can have the puppet present the problems: “I’m so afraid when my daddy turns out the light at night! I don’t like the dark. What should I do when Daddy turns out the light?” Children will offer the puppet suggestions: “You can ask your parents to leave the hall light on.” Puppets can be made, found at yard sales or flea markets, or purchased from toy stores, children’s bookstores, museum shops – even department – store kitchen sections (where they are often sold as pot holders).
Real Art for Real Children
We grown-ups provide the time, the space, the materials, and the atmosphere needed to create the wonderful works of art that only children can create. In valuing a child’s first artistic attempts, however, we should appreciate the beauty of the color and design rather than worry about the finished product. Real art for real children is….
personal. Art can be as simple as colors representing a pretty day or as complex as a series of lives which express a sad feeling. It is important that each idea be developed by the child without adult preconceptions.
spontaneous. Always be ready for that creative moment!
inventive. Children need to have access to a variety of materials. Some art masters paint with egg yolks, mash berries for color, and use sticks for brushes. Experiment!
imaginative. Cows can be purple, tears gray with glitter. The moon really can smile, and mommies can have six arms.
unique. An original idea, combined with imaginative expression and materials of the child’s choice, encourages ownership and a positive sense of self-esteem. No two works of art look the same when young children are the artists.
therapeutic. Art provides children with the means to gain control over their feelings. A completed creative work establishes feelings of self-satisfaction and self-confidence.
fun. Whether kids concentrate alone or work in a shared creative group, a positive, enthusiastic atmosphere of enjoyment is essential!
Creativity is Craftless
Remember when you attempted to put together your child’s first instructions-enclosed, all-parts-included, no-batteries-required toy? So many steps had to be done a certain way that you had to refer to the instructions many times. And if you are like most of us, you felt uncertain, inept, and uncoordinated. When a child is asked to duplicate a given pattern following a series of steps that result in an end product, the same feelings emerge. Class craft projects may be cute to put in the family scrapbook or to send to Grandma, but they do little for your child’s self-esteem, and cognitive development, and creativity. That is why blank paper, scissors, paint, markers, glue, and a variety of other materials to choose from are available at all times in our classrooms. Children are encouraged to use the materials to make their own creations. When we do a special art activity with children, we may introduce a new material or even demonstrate possible ways to use some tools and materials, but the children themselves decide what they want to create and how. The children care more, learn more, and enjoy an activity more when they produce their own creations—not copies of ours!
The Art of Books
You don’t have to go to art galleries to appreciate beautiful artwork. Watercolor, oil painting, pen and ink, collage, and other forms of artwork can be found in children’s literature. In our program we choose books not only for the stories they tell, but also for their wonderful artwork.
A trip to the library or bookstore offers the opportunity to compare the styles of different illustrators. Eric Carle, Tomie de Paola, and Ezra Jack Keats all have distinct artistic styles that even young children can learn to recognize with very little adult assistance.
Children enjoy experimenting with the art materials used by illustrators they know. One of their favorite artists, Stephen Gammell, illustrator of Monster Mama, Old Henry, and Song and Dance Man, uses watercolor and chalk to create splashes of color across the page.
Check out these books from the library and offer watercolors and chalk to your child. Create Gammell-like pictures together.
Extending literature in this way expands a child’s horizons in many ways. But more than that, it’s just plain family fun!
Legos and Playdough - A Dynamic Duo
Children are not born with fine motor control. The process does begin early, when infants and toddlers reach for and grasp objects. But development and coordination of wrist and finger muscles—necessary for handwriting later—come slowly and require lots of practice.
Adults can help children develop fine motor control by providing appropriate materials. Playdough and Legos are two of the best materials.
One of the many skills learned through playing with playdough and Legos is the development of strength and dexterity in hands. Simply through inching, rolling, and shaping playdough, children develop strength in finger and wrist muscles. Connecting Legos together develops hand muscles and the pincer grasp, the touching of the thumb and fingers that is important for holding pens, pencils, silverware, brushes, and other tools.
Playdough and Legos are both open-ended materials. Children can experiment with these however they choose. These materials not only help develop fine motor skills but also provide opportunities for practice and discovery of many math-related skills.
Playdough can be made at home or purchased. Legos are a considerable investment but worth it. Both materials provide hours of enjoyment, many ways to enhance fine motor skills, and great opportunities for intellectual development.
Have you ever wondered why young children have difficulty working with scissors? Managing scissors requires that a child combine fine motor skills—control and coordination of small muscles, especially hands, wrists, and eyes—with an intellectual task.
Closely related to motor development is physical growth and brain development. As the body grows physically and the brain develops, children are able to perform more intricate motor skills.
Most children are eager to cut with scissors. If a child is reluctant, it is probably because she is not ready.
A prerequisite to cutting with scissors is tearing, so we should allow young children many opportunities to practice tearing paper and materials such as lettuce and clay prior to teaching them how to use scissors.
In introducing kids to scissors, we first discuss safety rules and provide each child with appropriately designed scissors (initially with rounded points). So that we at school and you at home can work together on this skill, here is our approach to showing children how to use scissors.
Show them how to hold the scissors. Have them practice opening and closing the scissors several times before they try to cut paper. Show children how to hold the paper in one hand and the scissors in the other, to open the scissors and slip the paper between the blades, close the blades, then open them.
Let the children practice snipping small pieces of paper, old wrapping paper and greeting cards, and those catalogs and pieces of junk mail that you are recycling anyway. As the child develops proficiency, let him practice by cutting pictures from magazines, cutting along a straight lin, and cutting along a curved line.
Puzzles help kids develop eye-hand coordination, an important skill. Learning to control their hands and fingers according to information received from their sight is a coordination skill that aids children in early attempts of reading and writing.
Three–or four–piece wooden puzzles, in which each piece fits into its own hole, are usually the first type of puzzle given to toddlers. As children mature and advance in their abilities to rotate pieces to match holes and find pieces that fit, they can handle increasingly complex puzzles.
Good quality puzzles usually are expensive but are a worthwhile investment because they can be used by many children, year after year. Also look for puzzles at yard sales, thrift shops, and toy lending libraries.
Homemade puzzles make great gifts. Appealing pictures, such as those in nature magazines or on holiday cards, can be mounted on cardboard and cut up for puzzles. Parents can look for pictures on topics of special interest to the child.
Children who are developing the ability to use scissors can use pictures from magazines to create their own puzzles. Making an playing with puzzles offer concrete experiences for young children to develop eye–hand coordination as well as cognitive skills.
Celebrations and Holidays
Some early childhood programs seem to build their curriculum around holidays, just going from one to the other on the calendar. We don’t take that approach, but we like to celebrate! We are just as likely to celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday by enjoying Green Eggs and Ham (Random house 1976) as we are to celebrate Presidents’ Day by reading Just Like Abraham Lincoln (Houghton Mifflin 1964).
We also honor the traditions of the children and families in our program. We believe in the importance of family traditions and holidays in strengthening the connection between home and school.
As you know, upon enrollment, we gather information from families about the varios heritages and traditions that make up our home-school community. With this knowledge, we plan activities to reflect the diverse cultures of our group and to foster respect for their cultures.
All preparations involve children in hands-on activities. Kids are invited to explore the special objects and foods that reflect different traditions.
We encourage each of you as families to join us in our celebrations. Even if you cannot be with us, please share your family traditions, recipes for holiday foods, and any special items that reflect your heritage and family history.
Note from the authors:
Because programs vary so much in the way they respond to holidays, you will need to customize this letter to your own practices and the reasons behind them. And if parents are part of the decision-making process with respect to the holidays, you will want to add something explicit about their participation.
Some teachers and directors may choose to use this article early in the year or even hand it out at enrollment. Others may decide to use it a week or so before the first big holiday looms on the calendar.
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Learning With Blocks
Blocks are open-ended materials that stimulate young imaginations, provide choices for discovery and invention, and promote the development of problem-solving skills. One day a block may be an airplane. The next day that same block in the hands of the same child can be a sofa for the house he is building.
Building with blocks helps develop young children’s eye-hand coordination, visual perception, and large and small motor skills. It builds self-confidence and provides opportunity for creativity and dramatic play. These things occur naturally when children play with blocks.
We also find that working with blocks often deepens children’s engagement with literature and literacy. A child may be inspired, say, to construct the three bears’ beds and chairs, a pirate boat, or an enchanted castle.
We sometimes take photographs of children’s block creations and invite the children to caption the photos. We also encourage girls and boys to make their own signs for their creations. In these activities, children are exposed to print in meaningful ways.
Inviting children to reconstruct buildings and other things they have seen on field trips is one way we encourage their thinking in relation to social studies. They work with the concepts behind maps and models, and as they build block cities, farms, and factories, they work out their own understanding of these complex sites and concepts, such as balance and gravity, as they work with blocks.
Blocks are engrossing and fun for young children, of course. They are also invaluable tools for promoting children’s development on many fronts.
The Reading Area
Our reading area is full of wonderful books that children love, and learn from. We have a good collection ourselves, and we are always bringing in fresh books from the library.
Children have the opportunity to slowly leaf through good books that have been read to them, look at the pictures, examine the print on the page, and “read” to someone else. These experiences create a love of books that helps children become eager, and eventually proficient, readers.
The quiet, comfy atmosphere of the reading area gives children a pleasant place to escape from the noisy, vibrant classroom. This is a place for kids to rest, to have some time alone.
We continually look for quality books to add to our reading area. Let us know if you have any suggestions of books to add or if you would like to donate a book or help get good books from the library.
To instill a love of reading and to expand your child’s vocabulary, read to your child at home! Be a partner with us in instilling a love of books in your children.
The Write Stuff
Long before a child learns to form letters with a pencil or marker, she has taken many steps toward learning to write. Children must have many opportunities to use their hands to do various things before they can successfully print letters.
Molding with clay, using large and small Legos, picking up beads, and playing with knobbed puzzles all prepare the fingers and hands for writing. Scribbling with markers and crayons, controlling a pencil for use with a stencil, using chalk on the sidewalk, and painting with fingers and large brushes are a few of the ways children practice for later writing.
We stock our room with plenty of paper, paper clips, staplers, pencils, markers, and crayons, and we make sure that these materials are available for children to use whenever they choose. Children may want to ?write? notes to their friends or messages to their teacher or parents. They use materials in their dramatic play ? making signs for a store, tickets for a show, menus for a restaurant, and so on.
As children experiment, developmental stages of writing become evident. Children move from random scribbling to controlled scribbles, to random alphabet letters, to consonants that represent words. Only with lots of opportunities to practice can children move through these stages.
If your child does not have a proper pencil grip, cannot purposefully manipulate a crayon, or simply shows no interest in learning to write, he or she probably is not ready to do so. Take care not to push. Children enjoy learning a new skill only when they are ready for it. Getting ready is just as important as mastering the skill.
The Listening Center
Listening is the language ability that develops first and is used most often. True listening means not only hearing sounds in the environment but also taking meaning from and responding to those sounds.
Listening is an essential part of the development of both written and oral language. We can best help children develop listening abilities by providing experiences that encourage careful listening. Many of these experiences take place in our classroom listening center.
The listening center, a comfortable area where children can use a tape recorder, headsets, and a variety of audiotapes, gives them daily opportunities to listen to oral language and music. Through songs, poems, and stories, children identify and differentiate between familiar or similar sounds, rhyming words, letter sounds, and speech patterns.
Children?s vocabulary, comprehension, and critical-thinking skills also get a boost. Listening experiences stimulate kids to express their own reactions in various ways, including verbal discussion, art, drama, or stories of their own. Through these activities children relate what they hear to their own experiences.
Families can extend this focus on ?listening with a purpose? at home or during car trips. Try to identify particular sounds. Point out the differences in pieces of music. Play games with words by finding rhyming words or words that begin with the same sound. Don?t make this a task ? just have fun.
The Sound of Music
Kids of all ages are naturally drawn to music. Infants coo at lullabies, toddlers bang on pots and pans with a wooden spoon, and preschoolers sing and dance to music.
Children learn a variety of skills from musical experiences. Shaking, tapping, and beating instruments enhance fine motor development. Children listening for a beat, the sounds of different instruments, tones, and lyrics are developing auditory discrimination.
Kids can experience the emotional effects of music by listening to and creating music that is soothing, exciting, or funny. Music promotes creative development as children experiment with new rhythms, sounds and movements at home.
Kazoo – Let children decorate toilet paper tubes with construction paper and crayons. Help them put a square of wax paper over one end and secure with a rubber band. Blow through the open end while humming a tune.
Tambourine – Give the child two sturdy, luncheon-sized paper plates. Place a small quantity of dried beans or rice in one plate, then glue the plates together and allow to dry. The child can decorate with crayons, paints, and scraps of ribbon or other material. Shake the tambourine with one hand or tap it on the heel of the other hand.
Drum – Help the child cover the outside of a two-pound coffee can with heavy construction paper and decorate as desired. Replace the lid of the can and beat with hands or spoons.
Sand blocks – Sand two small pieces of scrap wood to prevent splinters. Help your child glue coarse-grit sandpaper onto one side of each block. Rub the blocks together to make a noise.
Moving to Music
Young children are natural dancers. Even infants bounce up and down to the best of music.
Enjoyable and natural as it is, creative movements helps children learn many concepts. It teaches them balance and coordination through challenging moves and postures. It teaches rhythm and beat as children choreograph their movements with music. It even promotes children’s ability to predict what comes next by hearing repeated musical phrases. Creative movement is also an important tool for developing children’s self-esteem and body awareness.
It’s easy to engage children in dance and creative movement. Just move with them. Kids love dancing with their families. Turn on the radio or put on your old tapes or records and enjoy singing and dancing together.
Add to the experience by using movement props. Sheer or silky scarves are fun to use when dancing. These can be found at local thrift shops or dime stores. Streamers are also great fun for children. Just glue ribbon or paper streamers to short pieces of dowel rods. Rhythm sticks, used to keep time with the beat of the music, also can be made at home. Foot-long lengths of dowel rod can be sanded smooth and painted or left bare.
Try creative movement with your child. Play different kinds of music to expand the experience. This is a wonderful way to have fun together – even to get some exercise.
Dionika is at the water table, pouring water back and forth between two containers. She watches at the water overflows and runs down the side of one jar. She feels the cool liquid against her skin and listens to the sounds of the water as it moves. She observes the containers that float and those that sink, and she tries to get one of the heavier tubs to float. Dionika is exploring, discovering, and testing objects in the water.
Children, and adults as well, are naturally drawn to water. Water is comforting and soothing. The feel and sounds are pleasing. The natural attraction makes the water table a perfect activity center for a preschool classroom.
Just think of all the learning that goes on! Children experiment with cause and effect, refine problem-solving skills, and learn basic math concepts such as volume, measuring, and comparing.
As your child takes a bath, encourage water play by adding different size containers to fill and empty or different household objects that will float or sink. Colanders and other objects with holes are sure to create some intriguing challenges. As your child and you explore the materials, talk about your discoveries together. Guide and extend the learning by asking questions such as “What would happen if ___________?” “How does the water feel?” “Why do you think that happened?”
More opportunities for home water play include watering plants, adding water to the sandbox, blowing bubbles through a variety of frames, and freezing or melting water.
You’ve probably noticed – in your yard or at the playground – how much your child likes to dig in the sand. Sand is great fun, but it’s also a wonderful material for learning.
Children learn mathematical and scientific concepts from playing at our sand table. For instance, when kids pour sand from measuring cup to measuring cup, they are likely to be learning about estimation, volume, texture, and even counting and simple physics.
As children play with sand, we encourage them to talk about what they are doing or experiencing. For instance, we might ask, “Does the sand feel different when it is wet?” or “How did you get the sand so smooth on your castle?”
Have you ever longed to dig your toes into the sand? Sand has the same soothing effect on children. We find that kids who are frustrated, annoyed, or angry often choose the sand center to work out those feelings.
You can encourage sand play at home by providing a sandbox. It does not need to be large. One excellent and inexpensive sandbox is a bin or busboy tray (available at restaurant suppliers and some discount stores and flea markets) filled with sand. Bins and trays are portable, easy to clean, and easily stored. Provide measuring cups and spoons and other plastic containers to support sand play.
Of course, spills and stray sand go with the territory. With indoor sand play, a sheet or large piece of plastic will help contain the mess, but the benefits are well worth any temporary inconvenience.
Let’s Go Outside
Kids love to play outside! And teachers love outdoor time, too. It’s relaxing, stress-‐reducing, tension-‐relieving part of the day, and a time when much development and learning take place.
Physical development is evident outdoors as children learn about their bodies in space, practice important physical skills, and exercise and strengthen muscles. Children also learn social skills – cooperation, turn taking, being on a team. And kids learn about the world around them: they observe changes in plants and the differences in the seasons; they watch living things as worms and crickets; they learn about the earth by collecting rocks and leaves.
The outdoor environment is an extension of the classroom. We plan for this part of the day just as we do for the other parts of the daily routine.
The environment includes equipment that helps encourage learning. For example, climbing equipment helps children develop their motor skills and judgment about what they can safely do; trikes and other riding toys develop balance and coordination; the sand area is used for creating cities and harbors and for exploring the properties of dry and wet sand.
We often bring classroom equipment outside to enrich the outdoor environment. One day you may see children painting at the easels and another day you might notice children bathing their babies and taking them for a ride in a wagon. The time spent outside is a valuable part of our daily schedule.
Growing with Group Games
Watch children at play and you'll see them creating their own group games as well as playing old standbys - enjoying the time spent together with other children. But the value of such games goes far beyond the fun kids have in playing them. Group games promote children's development in a variety of ways.
There are several types of group games: aiming games like Drop the Clothespin in the Bottle; races like Spoon Race; chasing games like Duck, Duck, Goose; hiding games like Button, Button; and guessing games like Charades.
In many games, children develop their large motor skills, as well as their eye-hand coordination. Chidlren also develop many social-cognitive skills, from turn taking to negotiation, and they are challenged to see things from different perspectives.
In some group games, children need to make comparisons and inferences and solve problems. Children who play games on a regular basis often begin adapting them or inventing their own games, which then adds another dimension to their learning and development.
These days, many children have fewer opportunities than in the past to play games in their neighborhoods. In our program, we introduce new games, actively foster game playing, and enhance the developmental benefits through our conversations with children about their games.
Large Motor Development
Running, jumping, climbing, skipping, hopping, throwing, and balancing come naturally to young children, but kids need plenty of opportunities to practice them. These large motor activities are an important part of your child’s day here. With daily large-‐motor experiences, children practice fundamental movement skills that help them develop good self-‐esteem and physical competence.
A developmentally appropriate movement curriculum facilitates basic movement skills and physical fitness, such as those named above. Children get the chance to run, jump, skip, walk on balance beams, and throw and kick balls. As with all skills, motor skills must be practiced to improve.
You might see us moving like snakes, cats, bears, dinosaurs, or frogs. Music gets us moving -‐ we sometimes jog to release tension and we occasionally jump simply for the joy of it.
We want children to be physically fit because it’s important to their health. But we also know they learn better when they are healthy and in good physical condition.
Fine Motor Development
To many people, fine motor development means the way a child holds and uses pencils, crayons, and scissors. But fine motor development is much more. To understand fine motor development it is important to understand a little about how the human body develops.
Human development progresses from the head down and from the trunk outward. The torso and shoulders develop long before the elbows, the hips long before the knees, and so on. In other words, skilled use of one’s hands and fingers is the last in a long process of development.
Fin motor development is enhanced early in life by many opportunities to develop and refine large motor skills. It is developed by giving young children big pieces of paper and large crayons, allowing them to practice their movements. We also help children’s fine motor development through a variety of activities, such as working with playdough, constructing with Legos and Tinkertoys, stringing beads, doing puzzles, and playing with pegboards and other table toys.
Such engrossing activities are better than tasks at which a child may “fail” or those that are very repetitive. Through these fun, natural activities, children improve their fine motor development without frustration or boredom.
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What is Developmentally Appropriate Practice?
You probably have noticed that our classroom has a lot of bustle and noise, that children are up doing things, talking, playing, and exploring. Such a classroom environment differs from the old gradeschool images of a teacher doing a lot of talking at a black board while children sit and listen quietly at their desks.
Research and experience tell us that to be effective with young children, teaching practices need to be “developmentally appropriate”. What this means is simply that educators need to think first about what young children are like and then create an environment and experiences that are in tune with children’s characteristics.
Early childhood, after all, is a time of life quite different form adulthood, and even from the later school years. Children 3-6 learn far better through direct interactive experiences than through just listening to someone talk. They learn extraordinary amounts through play and exploration. And the younger children are, the more what they learn needs to be relevant and interesting on the day they learn it, not just in the context of some future learning.
Based on such knowledge about what children of this age are like, we design our program to fit them. It works a lot better than trying to redesign children!
A developmentally appropriate program like ours is ageappropriate. But that’s not all. To make the program a good place for every child, we gear our classroom environment and activities to this community and the families involved. We’re eager to learn as much as we can about each child’s family, cultural background, past experience, and current circumstances. With this knowledge we work to create a program that fits the children and the families we serve.
The Power of Play
Have you ever heard someone remark about an early childhood program— even ours, perhaps –“All the children do there is play”? At good early childhood programs there is a lot of play—and there should be!
Years of research on children’s leraning and development document the many beneEits of play for children’s intellectual, social, emotional, physical, and language development. Children at play are actively involved in creating themes, exploring and establishing environments, solving problems, and developing shared understandings.
Children play in many ways. They play independently, sometimes near each other but with each child engrossed in his own activity. They engage in what is called “parallel play,” perhaps using each others’ toys or even talking, but not coordinating their play. They also play cooperatively, organizing roles and scenarios for group play. As they get older, children are capable of more cooperative, coordinated play. But all kinds of play are valuable.
As kids play with each other, they learn to see other children’s points of view and begin to become more empathetic and caring. They come to understand customs and rules in their own culture and to appreciate those of others. They learn to use language in new easy to describe their play and to interact with others. And in play, children develop their muscles and coordination.
Adults support children’s play by providing space, opportunity, and materials. We set up areas where kids can play without fear of damaging furniture or injuring themselves. We make sure that they have the time to choose and to become engaged in their own play activities.
Play is fun. But it also is serious business that pays big dividends to its eager, young investors.
The Best Learning Is Active Learning
Active learning takes advantage of children’s natural desire to move and touch. Young children love to manipulate items and explore new ideas. They enjoy the opportunity to see how things work and to test their own theories.
Active learning takes advantage of children’s natural motivations, abilities, and interests. Kids get lots of opportunities to investigate what interests them—to solve problems, discover relationships, and make comparisons.
Children use all their senses to make discoveries: how heavy is it? Does it smell? Can I find another one that feels the same? What does it sound like when I drop it? How is it different from the other items? Using their hands, eyes, nose, ears, and mouth to explore an item, children gather more information and remember what they learn.
As they interact directly with the environment, children not only gather sensory information, they also refine their senses and motor skills. For example, it takes very refined movement of the hands and fingers to produce the penmanship required for writing. Squeezing clay, picking up puzzle pieces, and lacing threads through beads are ways for young children to practice using hands and fingers.
We organize the classroom environment to promote active learning, and we do lots of things to encourage children to thing and talk about their discoveries and creations. The next time you want your child to learn about something, provide the materials, space, and time. Then step back and watch. You will be surprised at how much more the child will discover through active involvement.
The Best Learning is Active Learning
Active learning takes advantage of children’s natural desire to move and touch. Young children love to manipulate to see how things work and to test their own theories.
Active learning takes advantage of children’s natural motivations, abilities, and interests. Kids get lots of opportunities to investigate what interests them – to solve problems, discover relationships, and make comparisons.
Children use all their senses to make discoveries: how heavy is it? does it smell? can I find another one that feels the same? what does it sound like when I drop it? how is it different from the other items? Using their hands, eyes, nose, ears, and mouth to explore an item, children gather more information and remember what they learn.
As they interact directly with the environment, children not only gather sensory information, they also refine their senses and motor skills. For example, it takes very refined movement of the hands and fingers to produce the penmanship required for writing. Squeezing clay, picking up puzzle pieces, and lacing threads through beads are ways for young children to practice using hands and fingers.
We organize the classroom environment to promote active learning, and we do lots of things to encourage children to think and talk about their discoveries and creations. The next time you want your child to learn something, provide the materials, space, and time. Then step back and watch. You will be surprised at how much more the child will discover through active involvement.
Letting Children Choose
Why do we as adults pursue hobbies such as golf, crochet, or gardening? We spend time in such an activity because we fin it enjoyable, we have some control over the activity, and we see it as offering some probability of success. We choose what we will crochet or plant; we decide where, when, and with whom we will play golf or tennis.
Children, too, learn best when they have some control over their learning, when activities are meaningful and relevant, and when they can make choices in the materials they will work with and how they will use them.
Children thrive when they have opportunities every day to make choices in their learning. We facilitate children’s choices within a carefully planned environment. We create the environment to allow each child to choose activities that are developmentally appropriate for his or her age. The children choose the peers with whom they will work and play and usually determine how they will use the available materials.
These choices empower children to take control of their own learning. Children use materials and equipment in far more creative and innovative ways than we could ever plan, and they use the materials in ways that meet their own developmental needs.
Research indicates that intrinsic motivation – when we work on a task primarily because we find it satisfying – is the most effective and engaging way to learn. In this program we make an effort to provide materials and activities that provide choice and interest for the children. That’s a key reason that you’ll see busy, involved children when you visit the classroom.
Process and Product
As adults, we are concerned with the outcomes or the product of our efforts. We want the report to look nice, the cookies to taste great, or the hedges to be perfectly straight. We participate in few activities just for the fun of doing them.
In part this is because we are not still learning how to do most of these activities. But do you remember when you learned how to play tennis or golf? Or use a new computer program? In the beginning you needed to do a certain amount of “messing around” – exploring what would happen if you did this or that.
That is the way it is with your child. Kids are learning new things all the time, and they need the freedom to try things out without worrying about the product.
Luckily, young children tend to be more involved with the process or results. That is why your child may draw all afternoon yet still not be able to tell you what he drew. And why one child can pour rice back and forth between pitchers all day long, and another will string beads every day for a week.
It is hard for us adults to look beyond the product of an activity and see what the child is learning from the process. Perhaps he’s learning coordination or beginning writing skills or making discoveries about triangles or gravity. He’s certainly finding out that doing for one’s self is very satisfying – and that builds confidence.
Be patient. Allow your child the time to grow and learn through the various processes that are part of the task. Enjoy watching his or her involvement. Later, we all can be proud of the product.
More Than One Kind Of Smart
“He has a low IQ.”
“She’s very intelligent.”
Sometimes we talk as though intelligence were a single commodity that people have in greater or lesser supply. Yet we see all around us adults and children who are very smart in math but not at all good with words, musically gifted but klutzy on the athletic field, and so on. Most of us, in fact, struggle with some tasks and sail through others.
Educators now know more about this variety in individuals’ “intelligences” – the modes we use to interact with the world – thanks to the work of psychologist Howard Garner. Seven of these intelligences are described by Gardner.
Children with musical intelligence have a natural ear for melody, rhythm, and other musical elements; spatially oriented children enjoy reading maps and exploring how mechanical devices work. Other children are more at home using their linguistic aptitude – telling stories, playing with words, and reciting tongue twisters. Strong logical-mathematical intelligence shows up not only in math aptitude but in enjoyment of games and problems requiring logic and reasoning. Children who learn best when they are moving and handling things rely on their bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. Children who learn best when they are moving and handling things rely on their bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. An affinity for the natural world and its creatures stands out in children with a naturalistic mode of intelligence. Finally, children who make friends easily and have plenty of “street smarts” are interpersonal naturals, while quiet thinkers and strong-willed debaters shine in the more internal, reflective intrapersonal mode.
All of us have preferred modes of intellectual functioning. At the same time, we need to use each of the modes in one situation or another. Recognizing the various ways that children think and learn, teachers can help children both to use their individual strengths and to become more adept in learning modes that are not their strong point.
Asking Open-Ended Questions
A Question like “What color is that block?” evokes a one-word answer. But an open-ended question, “Tell me about the blocks you are using,” encourages a child to describe the blocks or explain what she is doing. There is no right or wrong answer here.
An answer to an open-ended question gives us a window into what the child is thinking and feeling. And the response is sometimes wonderfully creative. In explaining or describing, children also use language more fully.
In our program, we try to think of good questions to ask children. You might hear one of us say to a child.
- Tell me about your picture.
- What else can you do with the playdough?
- What could you use to make the tower stand up?
- What do you think would happen if ________?
- Is there another way to ________
It is difficult to change the closed-ended-question habit. But when we ask open-ended questions, children reap great benefits as they think through their responses to express what they want to say. And with their answers, we find out more about what they want to say. And with their answers, we find out more about what they think and feel.
Fostering Tolerance and Respect
Children are born without biases about other people of any race, culture, gender or disability. We sometimes wonder if we can raise children free of prejudice by just leaving well enough alone and making sure not to pass on negative attitudes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work this way; society’s messages are too pervasive. As parents and teachers, we need to take positive action if children are to grow up comfortable with who they are and respectful of others.
We want to work with you to create a program that helps to counter society’s messages of bias and reflect the cultural background of all children and families. To begin with, we choose books, dolls, and even pictures on the wall, with an eye to finding balance and showing children what they see to little of elsewhere. For instance, we make a point of showing men and women of all ethnic backgrounds doing a variety of jobs, men as will as women doing household chores and spending time with children, and different kinds of families enjoying themselves.
Are we doing all this to be “politically correct”? Not really. We’re committed to helping children grow up confident of their own identity, respectful of their people, and aware of the rich diversity of their community and world. We can do this only by finding out more about the cultural background that each child brings to the program.
Parents are even more important than teachers in children’s development of attitudes. If you have any questions about how our program is addressing issues of bias and diversity or if you want to talk over issues of bias and diversity or if you want to talk over issues that arise at home, please let us know what you’re thinking or wondering. Of course, we are far from having all the answers. We want to hear what you’re thinking, and we’re always happy to talk things over.
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The Artful Classroom
A child becomes totally engrossed, immersed in the process of making a work or art. The sensation of feeling the smooth thick paint sliding onto the easel paper calms the child and brings pleasure in the creation. When the child grapples with the challenge of representing an object or person on the page, she is engaging in a task that is both demanding and satisfying.
Teachers provide an assortment of art materials that children may choose from to make their own unique creations. We do not have the children copy a teacher’s model or make a designated product. We encourage them to use the materials in different ways. Art is a vital and vibrant part of the early childhood program, contributing to all aspects of the young child’s development.
As they draw, paint and sculpt, children think creatively, make decisions, and solve problems. Children’s fine motor skills are developed naturally through manipulation of brushes, crayons, scissors, and clay. All of these activities prepare children for writing in later years. Language also is developed as kids talk about color, shape and size, and as they describe their work to friends and teachers.
To encourage your child’s artistic enterprises, provide large blank paper (the ends of newsprint rolls can be purchased at a nominal cost from your local newspaper, or you can recycle paper by letting your child use the back of office paper), watercolors, markers, or chalk for use at home. Art supplies also make great gifts!
Value your child’s efforts and expose him or her to quality artwork through visits to museums and art shows. Recognize that young children learn in a variety of ways and that creative activities provide positive, satisfying experiences for all children.