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.

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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.

Making a Difference Every Day

Whether you are a teacher, a parent or a child care provider, your simple, every-day interactions with children are powerful. The way you say “good morning”, the way you show your support, the simple questions you ask or comments you make can build confidence, self-respect, inspire learning, provide motivation and build a stronger relationship between you and your children.

These “powerful interactions” don’t have to be complicated. Simple moments like these can do wonders for a child’s self-image and interpersonal relationships:

  • Say good morning with full eye-contact and your full attention. A hug is great too!
  • Sit quietly next to a child while the are absorbed in a task or project and watch with your full attention. You don’t even have to say anything. A simple smile of awareness or appreciation for their efforts lets them know you’ve noticed them and value their abilities.
  • Catch a child being good and thank them for their actions.
  • Ask permission before joining in a child’s activity.
  • Acknowledge children’s emotions- you don’t have to agree with their behavior, but let them know you understand or are aware of their feelings.

These simple actions can help you to make a difference in a child’s life every day. Do you have a favorite simple moment to share?

Encouraging Self-Control in Young Children

Whether you are a teacher or a parent, nothing is more frustrating than trying to manage a child who struggles with self-control. To be successful with friends, in school and in life, children need to learn how to control their bodies and manage their impulses. For some children this comes naturally, but for many others, it takes work. Here are some strategies for parents and teachers:

  • Make sure your home or classroom is safe– close off areas of the room that you don’t want children to access. Put away objects that you don’t want children to touch. If some things can’t be removed from your space, teach children how to handle things carefully and praise them when they do.
  • Be reassuring and supportive– no matter how independent or “tough” a child may seem, all young children need to feel confident in the love of the adults in their lives. Be aware of the subtle (or not so subtle) signals that your child sends you to let you know they need your support. Take the time to snuggle often and don’t make fun of them for needing a hug. Lots of love when they are young will help them develop a stronger sense of self and confidence.
  • Show confidence in your child’s abilities– “I can do it myself!” is a phrase young children say often. Take them at their word and set up the experience to be successful. This might mean having non-breakable cups and small pitchers on hand so that children can pour their own drinks, or setting aside more time to leave the house so that children can put on their coats and hats by themselves. If they make a mistake, help them to fix it without judgment. Offer a sponge to clean up spills. Don’t chastise the child for spilling. We all need to practice new things.
  • Offer choices that match a child’s ability– If your toddler doesn’t want to get ready for bed, offer a choice of 2 pajamas to put on. Invite your preschooler to pull a wagon or ride a tricycle when you go for a walk. Giving children the power to make choices shows them that you are confident in their abilities. Even discipline can be accomplished through choices. “Would you like to use a quieter voice and stay here with us, or would you like to leave? Your job is to set up appropriate choices and follow through. Start with just 2 for toddlers and more for older children.

Children are a lot like adults. When we feel we have no control over our situations we get frustrated. Children often act out just to have a voice. With these tips we can let them know we hear them, we love them, we trust them and we can give them the opportunity to be successful with some appropriate responsibilities.

Invest in Early Ed and Care- The Video

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This video is worth so much more! Through the voices of 4 children (an infant – 4 years old) we hear and see the effects of poverty and a lack of a positive environment in the early years. The video clip is targeted to New Mexico legislators, but the facts and statistics presented apply to every community across the country. We can invest in children and save money. It’s a win-win!

Music as a Bonding Experience

Routines and rituals are important. They help to guide children through transitions (cleaning up, starting the day at school, getting ready for bath or bed, etc.). They connect us to our past, our cultures, our communities. Songs can be an important element of any routine or ritual, and by singing with our children, not only are our voices connecting, but our hearts are as well.

At a recent event for Gryphon House authors I had the opportunity to meet Jackie Silberg, a very kind person, wonderful musician and prolific author. She is a wealth of information about music and young children. In her blog she promotes music as a family experience and provides several example of how music can bring families closer together. She begins with infants, and goes on to give family music tips for all ages.

When you hold a baby and sing to him, all of his senses are stimulated. He hears your voice, he sees your face, he smells your  body and  feels your vibrations as you sing.

Through song we can be present with children, even if we are not right next to them. We can guide their actions through gentle words and music. Songs can teach children about seasonal changes or prepare them for big events. Traditional songs also help children connect to the past and to their greater community.

Teachers and families can learn from one another when it comes to music. Parents who struggle with transition time issues can use music to prepare children for a change of activity or place. Learn or make up clean up songs, bath or bedtime songs, travel songs, etc.

Teachers can move beyond typical transition or large group songs and explore sharing a song with an individual child or small group. Get silly with a child or two and make up songs together.

The holiday season is an especially wonderful time to make the effort to bring positive musical experiences into your home or classroom. With all that is going on families and teachers are stressed. Kids feel this and it effects them. Music is a great stress reliever. Just by sharing a song we can build and reinforce positive relationships with our children.

For ideas on how to share music with your infants and toddlers, check out the WoW Kits Making Music with Little Ones Bag or Binder.

Baby Brain Map

Zero to Three, an organization promoting the healthy development of infants and toddlers, has a wonderful section of its website called the “Baby Brain Map.” Here parents and caregivers can learn about the specific areas of the brain that are especially active or developing during different age spans.

To use this tool, chose an age-range to focus on from a drop-down menu. You’ll see an image of the brain and depending on the age you have chosen, different developmental areas (language, gross motor, etc.) will be marked on the brain image. Then, you can click on an area you are especially interested in, say, “Language”, and all kinds of tips and information about promoting language development in a child of this age will appear. Pretty cool!