Monday, August 29, 2016

Take Your Time and THINK!


Does speed equal success? Sometimes we are asked to assess children by how quickly they can name letters, pictures, or sounds. Is this really thinking? We do not agree that children should be evaluated by how quickly they accomplish a task. We value careful thought. We believe that critical thinking is important and should be encouraged and celebrated, even in our youngest children. We encourage you to avoid giving any assessments that equate speed with success.

When we read a book aloud, are we going beyond the questions that ask, "Who are the characters in this book?" or "What happened in this book?" We can encourage careful and critical thought by posing questions such as these:

  • How is this character like you (or someone you know)?
  • Do you think the character(s) acted good or bad? Why?
  • What do you think about the ending of this book? Explain. 
  • How are this character and that character alike/different?
  • How would this book be different if...?
  • Is there a different way this book might end? Tell more about your idea.

Question stems like these encourage young learners to think about books and their world. Many children are ready and eager for this type of thought. They don't always like recall questions and get bored. We challenge you to challenge them this year! 

When you ask your entire class to slow down and think, this gives your ELLs time to process questions. This is a help as you are giving the gift of time to not just English learners but to everyone in your class.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.B.04.
Head Start - IV. A.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

It's About Time: Analog and Digital Clocks

Do we teach children to tell time using analog clocks? This is a question many teachers are posing. As preschool and kindergarten teachers, telling time may not be required, but it is helpful to get our youngest learners thinking about clocks and their role in our lives.

So much of our time these days is displayed digitally. We, at Maggie's Big Home, like to have our youngest children compare time pieces. Show an actual analog clock along with a digital clock. Have a 'grand conversation' about the likenesses of each clock. Children may begin by talking about numerals. They may notice how the clocks work. For example, show children the electrical cord or batteries. Encourage children to also explain that clocks help us keep track of time passage. In other words, physical attributes, along with the helpfulness of clocks are important discussion points.

Next have children discuss what is different about these clocks. It is always interesting to hear them talk about the hands on an analog clock. Talk about the sweep of these hands. For children who are ready, we like to show them the word hour and the word minute. Help them understand that the word hour is a shorter word and that the hour hand is shorter on an analog clock. Of course, discuss other differences.

When you are finished bring out chart paper. You can make a Venn diagram to help children understand the concept of compare and contrast. This also helps develop concept of word as terms such as hand, numerals, battery, or even phrases like time passage will be put on your chart.

While actually telling time may not be part of your curriculum, it is helpful to start children thinking about clocks. And this is a wonderful way to engage families, too. Encourage children to find examples of clocks in their homes. Describing these clocks is a valuable expressive language activity, followed by illustrating favorite clocks. 

  • Pair children so they can discuss clocks and explain their experiences with clocks. You may want to pair children who speak the same language so they can share details. 
  • Describing clocks from home gives children a tangible way to share and celebrate a part of their culture with others. 
  • Use the clocks as concrete objects to help our ELLs learn English words and phrases.
Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.F.13.
Head Start - VI.B.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

New Beginnings: Making a Connection

Some of you have been working with children all summer. For others, the new school year will start with fresh faces, excitement, and perhaps a few jitters. To help calm anxious children (and families!), it is helpful to get to know the interests of your children and to use these passions during the first few days of the new year.

If you visit homes prior to the start of school, keep a list of the interests of each child. We realize not everyone makes home visits. It may take time to make phone calls, but you can glean important information to help make those early days smooth for everyone. Even a mailer, with a postage paid return envelope, can help.

Ask questions like:
  • What toys does your child like?
  • What animals are a favorite for your child?
  • What is your child's favorite food?
  • What sports does your child enjoy?
  • What outdoor activities does your child like?
  • What is your child's favorite movie or television show? 

From responses, you can stack your room with appropriate books and pictures. Try to find something for everyone. If a child cries or exhibits signs of nerves, you can lead this child to an appropriate and comfortable spot that contains his or her favorite things.

You will note the importance of being nonjudgmental about television, etc. This is the beginning. There is time for moving away from too much screen time or a sedentary lifestyle. For now, we just want to make connections! 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.A.04.
Head Start - II.A.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Setting the Stage For the Day

Many of us start our teaching day with circle time, morning goes by many names. We do the calendar, count the days we have been in school, talk about a letter of the day, and so on. But we can also use this time to help our young learners share more about themselves. This can be an important time to develop verbal skills and to encourage children to care for one another. 

You can begin by asking children to show how they are feeling that day. Have children go around the circle and say their name and then hold up 1 finger if they are feeling good, 2 for feeling okay, and 3 if there is a problem. This will give you a quick idea of what each child is bringing to you that day. Saying names helps children learn to speak in front of their peers. It also is a wonderful way to practice taking turns. You may want to encourage children to help those who are feeling sad, etc. and/or you can speak to those children individually later.

This can be expanded as the days progress. Ask children to share what they had for breakfast, what they read yesterday, or how they got to school. This will not only give you a good opportunity to learn more about your children, but it will give them a chance to talk in front of a group and wait their turn.  

This is a good chance to include all, especially newcomers, in your classroom routine. Some children may begin by repeating what another child shared. That is fine as it gives them a voice. Using hand signals is also a wonderful way to include everyone. You can even ask children to share using their language of comfort. This way you are valuing what everyone brings to the class. 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.B. & 2.D.
Head Start - II.A., B., & D., VIII.A. & B. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Phonemic Awareness and Alphabetic Principle: Both Are Important

Many times people confuse the terms phonemic awareness and alphabetic principle. Both of these are important for our young learners. Be sure you know the difference so you can help children be school-ready. 

Phonemic awareness is the ability to manipulate the sounds of the language. This means children should be able to take off the first sound of words like mat, /m/, to say the remaining word is at. Additionally children should be able to say the three sounds (phonemes) in the word, mat - /m/, /a/, /t/. This should also be done in reverse. Can children say the word mat if you say the three phonemes, /m/, /a/, /t/? 

The key is that practice in phonemic awareness is all done orally! There are no letters involved. Sound "play" is key. And the results of a child having strong awareness of language sounds are compelling. The National Reading Panel (2000) cites the link between strong phonemic awareness and later abilities in phonics.

If phonemic awareness is all oral, then what do we call it when letters are involved? This is alphabetic principle. This is often confused with phonemic awareness and the result is that children do not get enough exploration with only sounds. 

When children are taught that this is an m, that is part of alphabetic principle. A child who can point to letters in his or her name, is exhibiting alphabetic principle. When a child points to m and tells you it says /m/, this is alphabetic principle.

Obviously alphabetic principle is important, but we can't forget about phonemic awareness. There is such a strong research-based correlation between phonemic awareness and later reading abilities, that we need to be sure we are allowing for this all oral language "play."  

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