Tuesday, August 28, 2018

It’s All Fun: Getting the Attention of Young Children

Do you turn off the lights to let children know it is time to change activities? Perhaps you all sing a clean-up song together. There are different ways we can get the attention of children. But the key to this is to have a “tool bag” of strategies. This is helpful as sometimes one strategy loses its effectiveness. Additionally, we sometimes give a direction and expect it will be immediately followed. Teachers (and their students) benefit when there are a variety of “attention getting” approaches from which to choose.

We believe it is important to make school settings age-appropriate as we want to set the stage for the idea that learning can and should be fun and enjoyable. This is why we encourage teachers to avoid negative comments and to highlight the positive. Even simple statements such as, “I like how Bennett is sitting and looking at me. He is ready to listen,” can be essential.

Notice that not only have you highlighted the positive but you have used the child’s name in a positive way. This contrasts to saying something like, “Bennett you need to sit down.” When children hear their names it is reinforcing, even in a negative context. This means some children may ignore you, just to hear their names! We want to avoid this.

Additionally, the comment, “I like how Bennett is sitting and looking at me. He is ready to listen,” includes information about WHAT is expected – looking at the teacher. Simple statements like this help children learn. They are not just complimented but are reinforced for and are learning the key behaviors. This is essential!

Now back to creative ways to get children to listen and follow directions. We like and use callbacks. There are the oft-used ones such as the following:

1,2,3, eyes on me.       -        1, 2 eyes on you!
Hands on top.              -        Everybody stop!
All set?                         -        You bet!

But you can also integrate learning into your callbacks, too. Clap in a pattern and have children follow that pattern. This encourages listening skills and develops an awareness for patterns.

You may also want to use the titles of books you read or are planning to read. For example you say, “Llama, Llama,” and children respond, “Home with Mama.”

You can also use harmonicas, little bells, or even toy xylophones to encourage listening. You may even want your “helper of the day” to use these instruments.

We like to start the morning by teaching the “attention getter” for the day. You can do this as part of calendar time. Keep in mind that when we change the callback each day, this keeps children listening (an important school readiness skill), is fun, avoids boredom, and keeps a positive atmosphere in your classroom!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

It’s All Fun: Developmentally-Appropriate School Readiness

As you are getting ready to talk with families about how to be sure children are school ready, we are reminded of an important idea. It is more important that schools are ready for children than it is for children to be school ready. We need to be sure we are not pushing children beyond what is developmentally-appropriate for their age. Consider the idea of asking a large group of children to sit, ‘criss-cross applesauce’ for long periods of time on the carpet. Many times, this only leads to antsy children and trouble. It may be beyond what young children should be asked to do. This goes for “sitting on your bottom” in a chair. As a wise teacher one told me, “They won’t go to college bouncing in their chairs.” If you are having management issues in your classroom, it is so important to stop and ask yourself if you are asking children to do things that are beyond their developmental age.

It is also important to explain this to families, too. I have heard of homes where young children were asked to sit with flashcards at night. This is likely not something we want to do with preschoolers. Rather, we want to encourage a love for learning.

There are developmentally-appropriate ways we can encourage children to become school-ready. For example, board games are a wonderful way for children to learn how to take turns and follow rules. They can see counting in action as pieces are moved along a board. Mathematical one-to-one correspondence becomes meaningful. Reading (if a part of the game) can develop print awareness concepts. These are all helpful and age-appropriate ways to encourage children to become a part of a classroom community.

It is also helpful to explain to families that modeling is a key part of developmentally-appropriate school readiness, too. When an adult reads a newspaper or book, a child sees that adult engaged in literacy. We all know that young children like to mimic. They will then be more willing to pick up reading material when they see it as a part of a family’s home life. Often adults do their personal reading after children go to bed. It is important that we show children we read for information or pleasure, too.

Children can see mathematics at work in homes. If following a recipe, encourage families to talk the recipe aloud. Show children measuring spoons and cups and their importance to creating a favorite dish – like three-layer bars!

School readiness is not going into a preschool classroom reading sight words or using scissors perfectly. Rather, it is being able to get along with others and understanding the concept that literacy and mathematics are useful skills that everyone uses. The skills will come later!  

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

School Readiness Skills: Answering Questions

We all know how important it is to read orally to young children. When we share books, in any language, we are modeling fluent reading, including expressive ‘voices,’ proper phrasing, and an appropriate pace. Oral reading supports vocabulary development as children begin to understand that clues to understanding new words can be found in the context of a paragraph and in text features, such as pictures. All of these are necessary components of a child’s future reading success.

But beyond that, we can use the pictures to help give children the idea that we need to use a book (text) to answer questions. This helps children understand the importance of using facts to support our answers. In school, children will be required to answer text-dependent questions. We can help develop this school-ready skill, not to mention that using facts as the basis for responding to questions and forming opinions, helps develop an educated society. 

Here is an example of how you can do this for preschoolers.

From Llama Llama Mad At Mama by Anna Dewdney.
You can easily use the pictures in age-appropriate books to help children respond to questions. In the example picture above, you can ask literal questions like, “What colors are in Llama’s shirt?” After a child answers, you should ask the child to point to the part of the picture that shows the answer is correct. Of course, the child should point to Llama’s shirt.  Literal questions and answers like this are easy to turn into text dependent questions. But, we can and should go beyond the literal level of comprehension.

Ask deeper questions about characters, which are still part of preschoolers' abilities. For example, you might ask, “How is Llama feeling?” This is not a literal question, but it is still possible to use facts from the picture to support a child’s claim. Most children would respond that Llama feels mad. Then ask, “What makes you think that?” Children need to use details from the picture like the look in Llama’s eyes, the shape of Llama’s mouth, or his tongue being out as facts that resulted in them say, “mad.”

Asking all children to support their responses with details from a text is important as it helps everyone develop a sense that facts matter! 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.E.
Head Start - VII.A.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Yes, Really - Children LOVE Interesting Words!

This was an unusual sight - 

While walking on a dirt road through a forest, we saw a kaleidoscope of butterflies. Yes - a group of butterflies is a kaleidoscope, rabble, or swarm. We used the word, kaleidoscope, as it seemed to give a clear picture of the meaning of the word. When talking with children about this, they became excited about the ever-changing picture of a kaleidoscope and its apt description of the way butterflies can have ever-changing colors as they move. 

Other interesting group names can be shared as children look at photos of various animals. You can elicit engaging conversation and creative thought when you show a group of giraffes. Have children discuss what they might call several giraffes together. Amazingly, some might even come up with the actual word - tower - which is a fun description for these towering animals. 

Here is a brief list of some fascinating animal group names: 

Hedgehogs - Prickle
Ants - Army
Cockroaches - Intrusion
Gulls - Screech
Hyenas - Cackle
Leopards - Leap
Tigers - Ambush

These are just some of the fun and unusual words you can lead children to understand and use. Think of how impressed families will be when children come home with this knowledge! 

But back to our initial photo. Did you notice that this kaleidoscope seemed to be focused on a dead frog? Wow! 

This brings up more scientific vocabulary. Words like carnivore and herbivore can be used when describing photos like this. We often tell children when they use Level 3 (content-area) vocabulary like this, they sound like scientists. We also like to stop the class and applaud or give a finger clap when this type of vocabulary is heard in conversation. You know this will encourage more "big word" use by your children!  

Standards Alignment:

NAEYC - 2.D.04, 2.D. 06, 2.G.07.

Head Start - IV.A., VIII.A., VIII.B.