Tuesday, May 15, 2018

But My Child JUST Memorized That Book!

So many times we hear family members say that a child is not reading because the child has memorized a book. You may see this in your classroom or center as children pick up a much-loved book again and again. Take a look at the video below. What looks familiar?

You may see young readers mimicking your expression, the way you turn pages, or you pointing at illustrations/words. It is important to remember that these are necessary components of reading. It is our responsibility as educators to not only teach children, but to also help families appreciate the important role they play in literacy development.  

When families read to children, their expressive reading is a vital component of the experience. When children hear text read in different "voices" and with different pacing, this model sets the stage for future success. Not only does it demonstrate one of the five components of reading, fluency, but it also serves as a motivating factor for children. 

Another feature we see in this video is the use of pictures. Too often, we hear a family member expressing concern about a child's "over-reliance" on illustrations. But, we need to see the use of pictures as a valuable strategy. When a child looks at a red bird on a page and says, "red bird," it reinforces the idea that we can and should use context cues, whether these cues are pictures or words. 

Additionally, turning pages, moving from top to bottom, and even identifying the cover of a book are necessary skills that are demonstrated when children memorize a book. Reading and rereading a book can and will make these early literacy skills automatic. 

So - remember that valuable lessons are learned and practiced when children "memorize" a book. This IS reading! 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.E.04, 2.E.06, & 2.E.07.
Head Start - VII.A., VII.B. & VII.C.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

How Does Your Garden Grow?

What fun we have in our preschool classrooms this time of year. It is a time when we often plant bean seeds in little cups. It is exciting for children to watch their plants sprout and grow. Many of you have children measure these plants and keep track of how they are growing as they turn toward the sun. This is a wonderful way to connect math, science, and appreciation for the Earth. 

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Always plant a few extra seeds as sometimes a child's plant does not sprout. This can be devastating. All these years later, I still remember that I was the kindergartner whose bean seed never grew. Please keep a few that you can substitute if necessary. 
  • You may want to think about planting a tray of seeds - in fact plant several trays of beans, peas, etc. You can then compare and contrast how these mini-gardens grow. This helps oral language development. It also shows children the importance of working as a class. These class "gardens" encourage togetherness. 
  • If you have the room and appropriate environment, think about planting outdoors. This will help your children observe the natural features of our environment and how these features are necessary for plants: sunshine and rain. This will add more importance to your daily weather report. Children can then discuss and describe how the day's weather will help or hurt their garden.

The extension to this activity is to discuss healthy food. How do the vegetables that you grew help children grow? We know children who have started to eat beans because they grew a bean plant. Families will thank you! 

Additionally, you can talk about how locally grown food is fresher and also helps the environment. Share the idea that we often use trucks to bring in food from far away. When we grow food or buy it from local gardens and farms, this means that the gas from these trucks is not polluting our air. 

All of these points about gardens will lead to important discussions. Remember, that any opportunity to get children sharing and talking is a necessary school-readiness skill. This is also helpful for our English learners as they are exposed to content area and academic vocabulary in a meaningful way. 

Standards Alignment: 
NAEYC - 2.K.01 & 2.K.02.
Head Start - I. A. & B.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Wildflowers = School Readiness Skills

Continuing our encouragement of getting children outside, this week we delve into using the beauty of nature to develop verbal and critical thinking skills. As an example, we share the following photos of wildflowers along with suggested open-ended questions to help you consider how you can use walks, nature, and talk to develop needed school-ready skills. 

Ferns can invoke good discussions. You can have children count fronds on an assigned plant and then compare their numbers. You may want to ask, "How would this feel if you rubbed it against your face?" This invokes a sense of more than a visual appreciation for nature. You might want to have children imagine they are tiny bugs. How would it feel to climb on a fern during a wind or rainstorm? 

This may seem like an uninspiring setting for children. But bend down and examine all that is here. Some children may describe the many colors they see. Others can predict what might be living under the dead leaves. You may even want to do a mini-science lesson about decomposing as children can then develop a sense of wonder about the cycle of life found in natural settings. 

What a treasure trove this plant brings to children. Ask "I wonder" questions such as, "Hmmm....I am wondering what made those holes in this plant?" Let children hypothesize. It's also a good opportunity for children to understand that you do not always know all of the answers. This can lead to a discussion about how to solve the mystery. Let children offer ideas about the scientific process as they can consider how to determine the architect of the holes. Your children will enter school thinking like scientists! 

This is one of my favorite wildflowers. You can ask children to describe this plant (green leaves). Discuss their guesses and then show the group how to gently lift the leaves to reveal small, gentle wildflowers thriving under the leaf. These are mayflowers or arbutus. I love the idea that often we need to consider what may be just below the surface! An important lesson for children, even if they are too young to appreciate the symbolism. They will remember the experience in later years and may use the lesson of arbutus - I did! 

Standards Alignment: NAEYC - 2.G.03. Head Start - XI.B.1.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Let's Run and Jump!

Now that the warm weather is here (finally!) we wanted to highlight important research for you and your children. While these are concepts most of us who are with children everyday know, it is always helpful to be reminded that our understandings are reinforced by research. This research can then be helpful in supporting our beliefs and actions. It's as simple as: Children benefit from exercise! 

Let's examine why this is important. Researchers tell us that frequent exercise is necessary for developing bones. Additionally, aerobic exercise helps the heart muscle. We can't forget that exercise also encourages good mental health. These are all reasons we should integrate large muscle play into our daily activities. 

The research shows that at least one hour of moderate or vigorous activities should be a part of a child's day. This includes climbing on play structures, reaching hand-over-hand on outdoor equipment, or crawling through tunnels. While these ideas assume you have access to a safe and well-constructed playground, there are other activities that can be done without expensive structures. 

You can encourage a rowdy game of tag, set up a simple obstacle course, draw a line in the sand or mulch and have children jump back and forth over the line. These are all fun activities that are made even more entertaining when you participate. I remember playing tag with my students. It had the benefit of encouraging everyone to run and laugh plus it gave me needed exercise, too! We all felt better after playing together. 

Encourage families to participate in exercise, too. Dr. Stephanie Walsh, the medical director of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, notes that not everyone lives in a safe neighborhood.  She suggests that families create obstacle courses in their homes. These allow children to climb, crawl, or even jump. She says that if families take walks together, this may not always "count" as vigorous enough exercise for developing bones and muscles. Why not have children run in place or skip and jump as adults walk? This can make the activity meet the needs of a young child. 

While we are on the subject, we would be remiss if we didn't discuss the unfortunate trend of eliminating or shortening recess time in public schools. Preschool teachers can help educate families about the importance of play time. Everyone can then advocate for outdoor experiences in the school day. When children do not get this "release time" it can lead to many problems. When children do not get a break, it can result in students who have trouble concentrating on "work." It is especially important that recess not be taken away for a child who has not completed his or her assignments. Often these children especially need the time to run, jump, and shout. 

So - let's celebrate recess and play! 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.K.01.
Head Start - I. A. & B. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Oral Language: Verb "Rules"

Do you have children who add an extra syllable to words with the ed ending? For example, a child may say, I walked to the lunchroom. Many children will say walk ted. These are children who have generalized the rule” that a second syllable is voiced when the base word ends in a d or t sound. For example, past tense verbs like startstarted or endended, are pronounced as two distinct syllables. But, children may apply this rule to all past tense verbs. How can we help children express themselves in accepted English? Follow the scaffolded steps below to guide your children and share these steps with families, too, so they can offer support at home.

We suggest playing a game like “Mother May I?” to involve children in acting out verbs. Use the following as you say, “Your teacher says walk.”


Then add –ed to the words. Have children listen carefully as you say these words.

Then play again with verbs ending with the d or t sound:


Then have children act out the past tense. This will be fun and creative. It will help develop vocabulary for your English learners, too.

When you play the next day, have children clap the words. Guide them to discover that some of the words have two claps (syllables) while other words have one clap.

We suggest making a mystery from this – saying something like, “Wow, what a mystery! I wonder why some words have two claps. This is something we need to explore!” I usually hold a giant magnifying glass to heighten curiosity.

On a subsequent day, guide children to conclude that words which end in d or t have two syllables. Have a bit of a dance party to celebrate this discovery! When we add this element of fun, we can then gently correct children who do not follow the “rule” when speaking.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.B.01 & 2.D.04
Head Start - VI.A. & IX.A.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Teaching Homonyms: Key For ELLs

This week our weekly activity - (box to the right) focuses on homographs and homophones. These can be especially difficult for English learners. In this post we discuss those words that sound the same and are pronounced the same way but have different meanings. These are homonyms, which are problematic for many preschoolers.

There are words like bark and bark. A dog can bark and a tree has bark on its trunk. 
We can hold a soup can but we can jump and skip.
A fair can be a place to see enjoy rides. We should be fair in how we treat each other.

The first step in helping our early learners pay attention to these confusing words is to heighten our own awareness about them. Sometimes these are so ingrained in our everyday speech that we forget these can be puzzling for children - and as mentioned this is something that needs explicit teaching for English learners. 

After we identify those words that can bewilder children, we can discuss these words as they are encountered in speech and books. We should point out these words and have children act out the differences. These little skits can be a source of laughter, which makes the word differences easily remembered for children. 

You can also show pictures depicting the differences and have children "teach" one another about these differences. When we are responsible for explaining something, the learning is active and memorable. 

Of course, a final step is to have children draw their own pictures. Give each child a large piece of paper, divide it in half, and ask children to draw the two meanings. You can print out the words (like can) and children can glue them to their art. This means families can learn along with children! 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.B.01 & 2.D.04
Head Start - VI.A. & IX.A.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Importance of Clean Air and Exercise: A Preschool Lesson

This week we offer ideas to help you show your children the benefits of a clean environment along with the importance of exercise. Below are suggested lesson steps to achieve this objective.

You may want to begin with a play stethoscope. Ask children to explain what a doctor does with a stethoscope. Discuss the importance of a healthy heart and lungs. Lead children to the understanding that clean air and exercise can help our bodies stay healthy.

Show pictures of mountains, forests, lakes, etc. Ask children, “How do these pictures make you feel?” Encourage children to talk about clean air and water along with the idea that these places can help us feel happy and peaceful.

Next show children pictures of smokestacks and other areas that emit dirt into the air. You may even want to share a picture of people smoking. Tell children that when people breathe dirty air, they can get sick. Discuss the importance of clean air.

You can ask children to draw pictures of places with clean air. Have children share these pictures. You may even want to take dictation from them so these pictures have captions.

The next day you can continue your lesson by talking about the importance of getting outdoors to play. Show pictures of parks, playgrounds, hiking trails, etc. Hold a ‘grand conversation’ about the importance of exercise in keeping hearts healthy. Have children put their hands over the hearts to feel their heartbeats. Tell them that their heart is a muscle that needs exercise just like their body. By running, jumping, and walking, the heart muscle will stay strong.

You can finish your class discussion by playing a game based on “Mother May I?” Use the words, “Healthy people…” Say sentences like:

Healthy people run.
Healthy people watch television.
Healthy people jump.
Healthy people walk.
Healthy people play video games.

For each sentence that is true about healthy people, children can act out the activity (run in place, jump, walk around the room). This is a fun and meaningful way for children to demonstrate their understanding of the importance of exercise. 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.K.01.
Head Start - I. A. & B.