Monday, July 28, 2014

Building Vocabulary

Vocabulary ~ vocabulary ~ vocabulary…many research studies have been conducted that tell us the importance of a large base of words to the future literacy success of children. We know that children, who have been exposed to a wider variety of words, comprehend what they read, write with greater ease, and need less literacy remediation than do children who have not been exposed to what we like to call “juicy” words.   Click here to read more about these studies.

But how to we go about developing a preschooler’s vocabulary? One thing to avoid is flashcards with pictures and words on them. These do little more than make learning new words a chore for young children.  New words need to be a natural part of a child’s world. With our guidance, children can develop a passion for learning new ways to describe their world.

Talking to children about what they are doing and observing is one of the best ways to develop a “juicy” vocabulary. When taking a walk with children, demonstrate different ways to walk. For example, you can show plod or scamper. Have children imitate you while saying the new word in a squeaky or growling voice.

This child played with different words like scurry, for the way he moved and used the word clover rather than flowers to more accurately describe his prized possessions.
Continue saying some of these words the rest of the day. Let children be the guide as to which “juicy” words are appealing to them. If children giggle in delight when you use and demonstrate the word, scurry, encourage children to scurry on the playground, when cleaning up, or ask them to find a picture in a book showing scurry.

Encourage parents to use these words at home. Why not post a white board outside your room and write the words children loved that day? This is a wonderful way to get parents in the habit of using fascinating words with their preschoolers. Children can even draw a picture next to the word showing their interpretation of the “juicy” word.

It doesn't matter if the illustration accurately depicts the word, if it does this in the child's mind, that is what is important.
When children learn to play with words, embrace new words, and find juicy ways to describe an experience or observation, it makes for a lifelong love of vocabulary.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Questions Matter!

Questions are important! They help develop critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, and creative thought. But what kinds of questions help our preschoolers develop these life skills?  We like to think of questions as being divided into two main categories: those that help children remember and those that guide children to think for themselves.We are thinking of questions as recall questions and deep thinking questions.

You might ask a child to recall in what kind of house the first little pig lived in the story, "The Three Little Pigs.” This type of question helps children remember details and encourages them to listen for facts. We don’t want to minimize the importance of this type of question. Asking children to recall information does help prepare them for many aspects of formal school.  

But we believe it is another kind of question that really develops young minds. These are the types of questions that guide children to supply their own answers. They require children to stretch their thinking and rely on their background knowledge. Questions like the following help children think deeply about a book or experience:

What do you think would have happened if the third pig had not made his house of bricks?

What would have happened if all the pigs had worked together?

Should the pig have made his house of sticks? Why do you think he did?

These are just a few examples of ways questions can be posed to encourage deeper thought. Below is a general list of ways we can think about recall questions versus deep thinking questions:

We feel these are necessary questions not just when reading books but when out enjoying the natural world, too. Developing inquiring minds sets the stage for scientific thought. For example, when blowing bubbles children may encounter situations such as one child’s bubbles are larger or travel farther than another child’s bubbles. This is a wonderful opportunity to both pose questions and encourage children to ask questions. For example, you may say, “What do you notice about our bubbles?”

Children may note the difference in size. The adult can then use this observation to ask, “What questions do you have about this?” This open-ended question allows children to guide the resulting observations and to form their answers. They may notice that someone blows slowly and waits for the bubble to emerge on the wand while other children swing their bubble wands in the wand. This leads to experimentation. 

All generations can help children ask questions and then test answers as this grandparent shows.
There are different kinds of questions! While it is important to ask children what they remember about a book or an experience, it is also helpful to ask children questions that require them to think for themselves, use knowledge, or form an opinion.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Letter or Number?

Young children love to mimic adults, older brothers and sisters, or even scenes they see on television shows as they are learning to write. Many point to letters in fun ways.  

Using fun fingernails from Halloween encourages children to play with letters.
They love to “play office” and stamp documents.  

Children can use a variety of fun stamps to find letters. 
This is all part of the learning process. In a past blog post we showed you the process of moving from scribbling to symbol salad to writing that looks like real words.  Click here for more information about the Continuum of Writing. These are all important and necessary steps.

One of the ways you can help children become writers is to talk about your own writing and signs you see in grocery stores, mailers you receive at home, or even street signs as you drive. Help children to point out letters they recognize as they move from thinking random lines on a page are letters or numbers to seeing a B or E.

Most children confuse letters and numbers as they are learning. Even children who count items up to ten do not have a clear identification that B is a letter and 5 is a number. You can help prepare preschoolers for school by talking about the difference between letters and numbers.

When children count, you can write down the number. If a child counts four turtles, write the number 4. Keep repeating over and over that this is a number. It shows how many. Children can even keep this slip of paper all day and talk about it using the word, number.

You can also reinforce the idea of letters. When children see letters on a stamp, in a book, or even on a balloon, say, these are letters. They make words. Help children find letters, like the letter that begins their name by pointing to the letter whenever you see it.

Children love to ask YOU questions. Have a child ask, "Is this a letter or a number? Next, children can ask, "What letter is this?"
This constant talk about the difference between a letter and a number helps children understand basic writing differences.

Technology Tip:
One of our favorite Apps for helping children to trace letters using the correct direction is Letter Quiz by Tantrum Apps. We know many parents who save this App for when a child is waiting in a doctor’s office, bored with a shopping trip, or needs calming. You can even change from upper case to lower case letters.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Learning to Use Scissors

We all know it - many children have difficulty when learning to use scissors. One of the first steps in helping our preschoolers to master this skill is to build the muscles necessary for it and to practice the motion of bring together the thumb on top and the forefinger (and middle finger in many cases) together.

One fun way to do this is to let children explore with clothespins. Have them pinch the clips and put them on various papers or other materials. We'll be offering more fun suggestions on this in future posts. 

Children can have fun clipping a clothespin to different items.
Get children in the habit of seeing the creative possibilities of repurposing ordinary items. Save tops from milk cartons or juice bottles. Use painter's tape or Wiki-Stix to create little finger cymbals as shown. 
Wrap a Wiki-stick around a bottle top to make a repurposed musical instrument. 
 Encourage children to tap their thumb and forefinger together as they sing, using these “cymbals.” The movement mimics the motions of cutting with scissors!

Make sure children are making the motion of cutting as they tap their thumb and fingers together. 
Once you are ready for actual cutting, be sure children are holding the scissors correctly, with the thumb on top. It is helpful if an adult holds both sides of the paper and encourages the child to cut in a straight line - no circular motions yet!

Always be sure to hold the paper for children in the beginning. Encourage straight line cutting. 
Finally children are ready to cut in straight lines by themselves!