Teaching Our Youngest - Part 5

From the time children are born, print is a part of their lives. Words decorate their blankets, sheets, and PJs. They appear on the posters and pictures that decorate their walls. They are on the blocks and toys that they play with and in the books that are read to them. Although printed words may be all around them, young children are not often aware of them. And, of course, they do not yet understand the role printed words will play in their lives.

It is important for young children to:

  • Recognize print in their surroundings.
  • Understand that print carries meaning.
  • Know that print is used for many purposes.
  • Learn about print through experimental writing.
  • Children learn about print by seeing many examples. In your classroom, these examples should include:

  • Books and other printed materials for the children to look at and pretend to read. For very young children, have soft-covered and board books that are washable.
  • Photographs and pictures with captions and labels.
  • Posters, calendars, and bulletin board displays that feature print.
  • Labels and signs for special areas of the classroom.

In addition, you should also have available a variety of props with printed letters and words for the children to use in dramatic play. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Menus, order pads, and play money.
  • Recipes, empty food cartons, and marked plastic measuring spoons and cups.
  • Old telephone books, memo pads, envelopes, and address labels.
  • Price tags, stickers, and large paper bags (with printed words).
  • Toy cars, trucks, and farm and construction equipment (with printed words).

Of course, always keep plenty of pencils, markers, and crayons handy for the children to use. Here are some other things that you can do to help your children learn about letters and words.

Show the children that printed materials are all around them by reading examples from everyday life.

Teacher Talk

Jessie, that's a great T-shirt you're wearing today. It has words on it. What do you think those words say?
Look at the sign above the door. It says, "Exit." What do you think that word means?
Have the children help you make signs and labels for projects or for special areas in the room.

Teacher Talk

We need to make a sign for the fish tank. Let's see can you help me? "F-I-S-H", we need to start with "F."
Wow, you made a castle. Do you want to make a sign for your castle? Do you want the sign to say "Tim and Harry's castle"? OK, T-I-M, (say slowly, sounding out the word) "T" (say the sound) we need to start with a "T" (say and write the letter).
We use this door to come in and this one to go out. These signs I've made say, "In" and "Out."
Draw the children's attention to the many ways that you use printed letters and words everyday.

Teacher Talk

I'm going grocery shopping later, so I wrote this list of the things I need to buy. Can you tell me how many things are on the list?
I want your parents to know how well you re-doing, so I'm sending them an e-mail.
Here's today's newspaper. I like to read papers every morning so that I know what's happening in the world.
Let's go over to the computer and see if we can find out some more information about butterflies.
Look at this menu I brought from my favorite restaurant. Here are some pictures of their desserts. This one looks good. It is a cake. Let's read it. C-a-ke (sound out slowly).
Distinguish between children's beginning writing and drawing.

Teacher Talk

I like the cat you drew. She is a pretty orange cat. Can you tell me your cat's name?

As adults, we do not pay much attention to the routine features of books and book handling. We just know that, in English, we read from left to right and from the top to the bottom of a page, that words are separated by spaces, and that sentences begin with capital letters and end with some kind of punctuation mark. We forget that when we were children, we also had to learn these things.

It is important for young children to:

  • Know how to handle books appropriately.
  • Recognize book features such as the front and back covers, and the top and bottom, of a book.
  • Recognize that a book has a title, was written by an author, and has drawings done by an illustrator.
  • Recognize that printed letters and words run from left to right across the page and from and from top to bottom.

Here are some things that you can do to help children learn about books:

Help the children learn how to hold a book and show them that we read from front to back and that we go through a book page by page. For older children, point out features of books such as the front cover and the title.

Teacher Talk

This is the front of the book. It tells you the name of the book and who wrote it and drew the pictures. This is the name of our book: If You Give a Pig a Pancake. Here's the name of the woman who wrote it: Laura Numeroff, and here's the name of the woman who drew the pictures: Felicia Bond.
As you read from big books, occasionally emphasize the direction in which we read print by pointing to the first word on a line and running a finger or hand beneath the words as you read from left to right and from top to bottom.

Children who enter kindergarten knowing many letter names tend to have an easier time learning to read than do children who have not learned these skills. In fact, it is unreasonable to believe that children will be able to read until they can recognize and name a number of letters. To read, children recognize letters and know how to connect these individual letters and sometimes combinations of letters with the sounds of spoken words.

It is important for young children to be able to:

  • Recognize and name letters.
  • Recognize beginning letters in familiar words (especially their names).
  • Recognize both capital and lowercase letters.
  • Relate some letters to the specific sounds they represent
As you plan your instruction, make sure that the children in your care have many opportunities to learn to identify letters, to write letters, and to find out how letters function to represent the sounds in words.

In your classroom, you should have at children's eye level displays of the alphabet, such as large alphabet cards. Alphabet blocks, large plastic or paper letters, and materials for making letters, such as yarn, pipe cleaners, and play dough also should be available. A writing center can be creating in your room where children can go and experiment with different writing tools. And, of course, you should have a collection of alphabet books to read aloud and alphabet songs to teach the children.

Here are some things that you can do to help your children learn about letters:

  • Encourage the children to notice that letters are all around them.
  • Encourage the children to play with letters.
  • Give children plastic alphabet tiles and encourage them to spell their names and other words they like.
  • Say to the children, "See the letters on this keyboard? Press one and watch the letter come up on the screen."
  • Play games with line segments where children try to guess which letter you are writing as you draw parts of the letter one at a time
  • Allow children to experiment with letters, using magnetic letters on the chalkboard.
  • Help the children write letters.

Teacher Talk

Here are some crayons and markers. I am going to write my name with the blue crayon. Can you help me write your name? Which color should we use to write your name?
We just read a book about Pete the pig. Pete starts with the letter "P". Let's use finger paint to practice writing the letter "P".
Look, I made the letter "C" out of play dough. Now, can you make a letter "C"? Good. What other letter should we make together?
Please write your names on your picture. I will help you start the "S" if you need help.
Help the children learn the alphabet.

Teacher Talk

Let's sing "The Alphabet Song."
Say the name of each letter as I point to it on the alphabet chart.
I'm going to read you an alphabet book. Help me read the alphabet book.
Help the children hear the sounds the letter's can make.

Teacher Talk

Linn, your name begins with an L (emphasize the beginning sound). Who else has a name that begins with the same sound? Yes, Larry! Larry's name also begins with an L.
I'm going to read you an alphabet book. On each page, there is a letter and a picture of something that starts with the sound that this letter represents. Let's say the name of the letter first. Then, we'll say the name of the picture. Then, we'll think of some other words or names that start with the same sound. Here we go: A A is for apple). What other words start like apple? Adam. Okay! Adam, your name starts like apple. What else? Animal! Right! Animal starts like apple, with the letter A.
Here are some words that begin with the letter M: mother, monkey, mud, map. What sound do you hear at the beginning of those words? (Emphasize the beginning sound.)

The more children know about their world, the easier it is for them to read and learn when they get to school. You have an important role to play in helping children learn new information, ideas, and vocabulary and how to use this knowledge to become full participants in their own learning. You can help children to connect new information and ideas to what they already know and understand.

It is important for young children to be able to:

  • Know about what things are and how they work.
  • Learn information about the world around them.
  • Extend their use of language and develop vocabulary.
  • Develop children's abilities to figure things out and to solve problems.

Here are some things that you can do to help children build knowledge:

Provide them with opportunities to develop concepts by exploring and working with familiar classroom equipment and materials in a variety of ways. and materials in a variety of ways.

Children learn about substances and changes in substances by cooking.
Children learn about plants by planting seeds and taking care of the growing plants.
Children learn about social situations and interactions through real interactions and dramatic play.
Share informational books.

Children enjoy learning about their world. They enjoy looking at books about things of interest to them perhaps how plants grow, how baby animals develop, or how vehicles carry people and things. Fortunately, many wonderful informational books are available today books with spectacular photographs or illustrations and descriptions that children can understand easily.
Teach the children new words and concepts. Explain new vocabulary in the books that you read with them. Teach them and name all of the things in the classroom. In everyday talk with children, introduce words and concepts that they may not know, for example, beauty or fairness.

Teacher Talk

It's silent time now. Silent means that we don't say anything.
Look at the seeds we planted. They're sprouting! See how the seedling is pushing through the dirt? See the tiny green leaves?
Have children write, draw, build, and engage in dramatic play. These experiences will help the children to incorporate what they are learning with what they already know.

Take the children on field trips. Any time children go some place, especially some place new to them, they can learn something. Even if it is just a walk around the block, children can learn something new if you talk with them. Point out things they might not notice. Explain events that are taking place. Answer the questions the children have and praise them for looking and learning. Before you go to a place the children have never been, such as a zoo or a museum, discuss what they will be seeing and learning. After the trip, have the children talk about their experiences.

Teacher Talk

See that sign? It says stop. "S-t-o-p."
Look! You see the round, brown thing up there in the branches? That's a bird's nest up in the tree. I wonder if there are any baby birds in the nest?
See that bulldozer? It's that big machine with a big blade in front of it. It's clearing out a place where they're going to build a new house.
Today, we're going to go to a special park. There are some statues in the park. Before we go, let's look at some pictures of statues and talk about them. When we get back, I want you to tell me what statues you saw.
Provide a variety of materials for your children to explore. For example, wire, cardboard, water, tubes, tissue paper, and funnels.

Invite visitors to your classroom.

Classroom visitors can teach your children a great deal. They can bring interesting objects or animals to talk about with the children. Visitors can talk about their jobs or their hobbies or show pictures of faraway places they have seen or tell stories about life long ago.

Adapted from U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Early Childhood-Head Start Task Force, Teaching Our Youngest, Washington, D.C., 2002.