Developing Early Reading Skills: It All Starts with Sounds

The more we learn about how children develop reading skills, the more we understand that it all begins with sounds. In fact, a child’s ability to play with the sounds within a word (rhyming, inventing rhymes, adding or removing the sounds within a word) is a key indicator of a child’s future success in developing reading skills. This skill is called Phonemic awareness. It is the ability to hear the individual sounds within spoken words. When we think about what it takes to be able to read, it is easy to see why phonemic awareness is so important. In print the sounds within words are represented by letters. These letters can be taken apart and put together in different ways to create different words. A child who is already familiar with the idea that words are made up of separate sounds that are blended together will have a much easier time making the leap to associating sounds with letters and blending those letters to sound out words.

Exploring the sounds within words is something that anyone can do with a child. It requires no special materials and the child doesn’t need to know anything about the letters of the alphabet (learning which letters go with which sounds will come later). Families, caregivers and teachers can help even the youngest preschoolers begin to develop phonemic awareness just by being silly and playing around with words. Here are a few ideas:

  • Read a lot of nursery rhymes or other rhyming text
  • Sing rhyming songs or songs that emphasize initial word sounds (Baa Baa Black sheep for little ones, and “Apples and Bananas” is a great example for older preschoolers)
  • Say the child’s name then change or remove the initial letter sound (Tommy becomes Ommy or Lommy)
  • Say a word and invent a string of rhymes (Hi there cutie, futie, lutie, putie…)

Phonemic awareness “lessons” can and should be fun, simple and short. It is all about sounds and spoken word. Identifying letters to match those sounds is the next step, and this next step will be a lot easier for kids if they have a solid understanding of the concept that words are made up of individual sounds that are blended together. WoWKit activity binders for preschool and downloads for toddlers are full of activity ideas for developing phonemic awareness. You can check them out at www.wowkits.com.

For more info on phonemic awareness and guidance for educators, check out the resources posted on the University of Oregon Center for Teaching and Learning.

Build a Child’s Emotional Intelligence- Encourage Self-Talk

Success in school, and in life, takes more than just academic skills. Strong social and emotional skills are critical. Our emotional intelligence includes how we view ourselves, how well we understand and manage our feelings and how we relate to, or empathize with, others. Developing these important skills can lead to greater happiness, healthier relationships and increased productivity- in short, success!

A recent article by Dr. Maria Chelsey Fisk gives parents tips on how to help children build the skills they need for strong emotional intelligence. One strategy that can be used easily by parents and teachers is encouraging positive self-talk. Self-talk is the language we use when evaluating ourselves. “I am pretty,” “I am smart,” “I can do it” are all examples of positive self-talk that can serve to counter the all-too-common phrases “I’m ugly,” “I’m dumb,” “I can’t”. Here are a few tips:

  • When you hear a child talk to him or herself in a negative way, don’t let it slide. It’s a teachable moment! Try a comment like, “You’re not dumb, you just made a mistake. You’re a smart kid who made a mistake!”
  • Catch kids being good and reinforce it by modeling self-talk for them. When they are helping a friend say something like, “look at you helping your friend. You’re a real helper. You can tell yourself, hey- I’m a helper!”
  • Acknowledge children’s perseverance or efforts, “You tried and you tried and you tried and you did it! You are a doer. ‘I can’ is your motto!”

Encouraging children to leave behind the negative self-talk and showing them how to give themselves a pat on the back with positive self-talk is a simple way to give a child strategies for managing frustration and can help a child along the path to positive self-esteem.

Discovering the Importance of Trust

As educators, we realize the important of developing trust. We want families to trust us with the education and well-being of their children. We want kids to feel safe in our classrooms. We want those we work with to trust us and our judgment. All of this is important, and all of this is focusing on whether or not people trust us. But now I challenge you to think about how much you trust the children in your program…

At a recent visit to an area preschool classroom I watched a veteran teacher go through a typical, early-in-the-school-year circle time experience. Some children were singing the morning welcome song, but many others were pushing, hugging, grabbing or otherwise handling one another, chatting, lying down and one child was even rolling across the floor in the center of the circle. The teacher corrected the behaviors with a look or touch when she could, but rather than reprimand the group, or work on appropriate circle time behaviors, she chose to end the circle time quickly and dismissed children individually or in groups of 2 to find something to work on among the variety of manipulative and materials available within child’s reach along the classroom shelves. Amazingly, within five minutes, every child was engaged in some kind of activity. The chaos of circle time was replaced with the buzz of children happily engaging in the productive work of play.

What struck me about this experience is the level of trust that the teacher had in her student’s abilities and desire to select an activity and become actively engaged. It made me remember that trust is a two-way street. Children will be more likely to trust us if we trust them. The same holds true of our colleagues and the families we serve. What do you do to promote trust?

Check out this article about one teacher’s perspective on trust: The Challenges and Rewards of Trusting Children

Great Ideas for Making Music Outdoors

Music has the power to lift us- body, mind and spirit. This is especially true for young children. Making and moving to music promotes all areas of development:

  • physical– coordination, muscle tone, fine and gross motor skills develop as children play instruments or dance to music
  • cognitive– creating and listening to music includes problem solving, logical thinking, patterning, counting, cause and effect, scientific discoveries, imagination and creativity
  • language– vocabulary, phonemic awareness, and rhyming can all be developed through songs
  • social– cooperation, turn-taking, give and take and the creation of shared experiences are all a part of the music making process
  • emotional– self-expression, personal reflection and the exploration of moods and feelings

When we take music outdoors all of these wonderful qualities are enhanced. Outdoors children (and teachers) have a heightened sense of freedom. Outdoors we feel more comfortable to let go and explore. We can sing loud, we can play loud, we can get silly and experimental.

So consider creating a music corner in your outdoor space. Every-day items can make wonderful instruments.

  • Plastic flower pots or 5 gallon tubs make great drums
  • a variety of old spoons hanging on a coat hanger can be chimes
  • PVC pipes of various lengths can be tapped with an old flip-flop to create all kinds of cool sounds
  • Pea gravel makes a neat sound when poured over an old washboard
  • Put a little water into a metal bowl and tap it with a stick to hear more funky sounds

Let the Children Play is another blog full of all kids of photos and ideas for musical fun outdoors. Check it out! And if you want even more info on how to create fun and inexpensive musical experiences to your children check out our Music with Little Ones binder for Infants and Toddlers, or our Making Music binder for ages 3-8.

Can a Standardized Test Measure Skills in Preschool?

Standardized tests and young children are not a good mix. Head Start tried it for five years (from 2002 until 2007) and the results were not good. According to Samuel Meisels, president of the Chicago-based Erikson Institute, items were timed, had cultural bias and were only given in English and Spanish when 98 other languages were documented as being the home languages of children enrolled in Head Start across the country. All of this was in direct contrast to what we know is important for early learning, namely children’s need to feel safe and supported, to work at their own pace and the importance of the development of the home language. The format and values of standardized testĀ  are not a good fit if our goal is to have a clear picture of what our children are capable of.

But with more and more states looking for ways to trim the budget, early childhood programs are feeling pressure to find a way to measure the progress of very young children. What is the answer? In a recent article in Tulsa World, Meisels points to observational assessments.

“As you work with kids in a sandbox or in other parts of the classroom, you can learn their abilities,” he said. “In observing, you have to learn how to do it – observe without bias, while in action with a child and how to take yourself away from a child for observation.”

To do this well takes some training, support from staff or even parent volunteers so that teachers can be freed up to do these observations. Teachers also need a process for documentation and a program that supports hands-on, experiential activities that allow children to learn, grow and show off all they can do. Young children cannot be successful in a one-size-fits-all evaluation structure, but, as any adult who has looked up when a young child shouts, “Watch me!” all children can show us what they can do through play.

Tips to Help Your Preschool Child Make Friends

Toddlers are very content to sit next to another child and play, each doing their own thing, basically ignoring one another. But as children grow and develop, this “parallel play” transforms into a need for social interaction. By the time children reach the age of 4 or 5, the need for friendships and playing with peers becomes very important to children. But for many children, wanting to play with friends does not mean that they know how to make it happen. When the desire is there, but the skills are not, children get frustrated. They may become aggressive as they try to get other children to interact with them. Or you may notice children becoming reclusive as they try to avoid the frustrating situation.

As a parent or caregiver, you can help. Successful play experiences, and eventually friendships, require important social skills like empathy, problem solving, and communicating. Children who have difficulties in any of these areas may have a harder time making friends. Here are some strategies to support a child’s social development and encourage friendships:

  • Bring your child along as you go out in the world and interact with others. Children learn by watching and seeing you successfully interact with people you don’t know very well can help your child to learn some of these skills.
  • Give your child many opportunities to meet and interact with peers. Whether through play dates, group activities like story time, music classes, etc. or frequent visits to a local playground, the more your child is able to meet and interact with peers, the more opportunities he will have to develop and practice emerging social skills.
  • Pay attention to your child as she navigates play opportunities. Watch her verbal and non-verbal interactions. How does she approach peers? Does he play cooperatively? Is he able to communicate with playmates? Is there a pattern to when and how problems arise? Once you have a better idea of where or why your child is having troubles playing with others, you can better support him in developing new skills.
  • Model the behaviors that you would like to see in your child. Listen to his thoughts, feelings, ideas and stories. Be kind to others, greet them, give compliments, show empathy. Avoid complaining. Have a sense of humor about your own weaknesses.
  • Help your child to see her strengths and feel good about herself.
  • When arranging play dates, start small. Begin with one friend for one hour and then gradually increase the length of time and number of friends as your child’s skills grow. This will help to avoid frustrating or overstimulating your child.
  • Don’t be afraid to guide your child through activities as he learns about social and behavior expectations. You don’t need to be a “helicopter parent” but instead support your child as needed to encourage success.

Friendships areĀ  important to young children and learning how to start and maintain friendships is an important life skill. Like everything else, children are not born with these skills and some will need more guidance than others as they navigate the world of friendships.

Supporting the Learning Process for Babies

Babies are natural learners. They are curious and eager to explore and experiment. As care providers, the best thing we can do is sit back and support the explorations that drive them.

This video was taken by Janet Lansbury, a trained parent educator, and highlights the innate curiosity of infants. In her blog, Lansbury reminds us:

All babies need is a safe, peaceful environment, some basic objects to examine (unnecessary until they are 3 or 4 months old) and many opportunities throughout the day to move freely and make their own choices without our interruption.

As you watch this video clip, notice:

  • the child is free to move about and develop his motor skills
  • the simplicity of the materials that the child chooses to explore
  • the opportunities the child has to problem-solve as he explores these simple materials
  • many of the child’s senses are supported and engaged (visual, tactile, auditory)
  • adults respond to baby when he initiates interaction (getting adult attention through eye contact or sounds), and don’t intrude upon his exploration

As caregivers we want to make sure we are doing all that we can to help our babies learn and grow. What we need to remember is that there really is very little that we need to do! Our babies are experts at doing. All we need to do is have confidence in their abilities as self-directed learners and be there to support them when they need us.

 

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