reading

Providing a Foundation for Academic Success in Preschool Friendly Ways

Back to school

I am firmly in the learning through play camp when it comes to preschoolers and early academics. Done in a good way, this doesn’t mean just let them play and they’ll be ready. It means thoughtfully providing academic experiences in fun, engaging and play based ways.

Early Literacy Skills to Keep in Mind – Early literacy is focused on the experiences we can provide children to later become successful readers.

Vocabulary – There are so many ways to build a young child’s vocabulary; read aloud everyday, talk about all the things they are seeing and doing, take them on outings and highlight the new vocabulary of that place and aim to teach one new word in context every few days.

Print Motivation – This is a child’s interest in and awareness of books. Motivation can be encouraged by having books available on every level of the house and in the car, and using reading as a reward (“You can stay up late if you are reading”). You might also offer extended learning activities, if you read Blueberries for Sal then make blueberry muffins. Attending library and bookstore activities with read alouds and checking out library books also build motivation.

Print Awareness – This is the child’s understanding about how books go cover to cover, and the words go top to bottom and left to right. It is a gradual understanding of word spacing and later sentence structure. This comes from a child’s shared and independent experiences with books. Reading aloud everyday and occasionally following along with your finger is a good ways to call attention to the print. Pointing out words that match pictures in books may help. Listening and looking at books on tape together is beneficial.

Narrative Skills – Narrative skills include being able to retell a story, understand the order and be able to eventually sequence events. Answering questions about what’s been read and recalling specific details of a story is a good place to start. Occasionally discussing what happened at the beginning, middle and end of a story is helpful. Calling grandma each Monday and retelling a story about something that happened over the weekend is a good way to practice this.

Letter Knowledge – This is the child learning the shapes, names and sounds of each of the letters. It’s tempting here to go more old school academic with flashcards and worksheets, I’d still err on the side of play. Have a letter of the week and collect small objects in the house that start with that sound. Go on letter hunts in the grocery store to find as many individual letters as you can and cross them off a list, have a B shopping trip to buy bagels and butter, blueberries and beans and go home to a B lunch. Paint and sculpt the letters. Play matching games, memory and go fish with the letters.

Phonics – This is being able to put the individual sounds together to make words, pull individual sounds out of words, recognize beginning, ending and eventually middle sounds of words and later learn the common patterns of sound blends. It is helpful to play rhyming games, have listening challenges and sing nursery rhymes. It can be helpful to read aloud books that have basic rhyming patterns such as Dr. Seuss and Mother Goose books.

READ ALOUD EVERYDAY – The Department of Education cites reading aloud as the most important activity to build the knowledge and interest for children to become successful readers. There are many ways to enjoy reading aloud with young children and with children as they get older. The main idea is to start on day one and continue to build the love of books and reading together as long as they will listen. For younger children just enjoying books together, looking at and talking about the pictures, making up stories, finding details in pictures all count as time with books. For older children you might alternate who reads, read their homework aloud or read separately and have book club talks.

Early Math Language to Keep in Mind – There are four areas of math language that can be built in to all the play and activities you are doing in the regular flow of the day. This language builds the foundation for understanding basic math concepts.

Numbers and Counting – Count napkins when you set the table and apples as you put them in the bag at the grocery store. Count often and challenge children to gradually count larger groups of things. Estimation language is a piece of this. Once children are versed at basic counting, estimating how many cookies in a jar or marbles in a bag helps with later math skills.

Position – Position language includes in, on, over, under, near, far, above, below, next to, in front of and behind. You might hide toys and give clues to finding them using this language. You might build an obstacle course and narrate or have people narrate themselves moving through. You might play Simon Says or Follow the Leader using this language.

Measurement – Measurement language is talking about how big or small, short or tall, heavy or light things are. For younger children this might be sequencing big, bigger, biggest. For older children this might be measuring things in inches or feet and then comparing.

Amount – Amount includes some, more, a little, a lot, more than and less than language. This also includes actual amounts like a quarter cup, half cup and whole cup. Baking and cooking activities are an easy way to build in actual amount.

Motor Skills to Keep in Mind – There are many fine motor and gross motor skills that are important for later academics, particularly for handwriting which is important across academic areas.

Pincer grasp and in-hand manipulation are important for eventual pencil grip and pencil pressure. Pincer grasp is practiced by putting pennies in a bank, using tweezers to move cotton balls and putting together puzzles with gradually smaller pieces. In-hand manipulation is practiced playing with small manipulatives including duplos and legos, bristle blocks, Lincoln logs and tinker toys.

Bilateral integration is important for eventual coordination for handwriting. Bilateral integration is using both sides of your body and in this case both hands in a coordinated way. For using your whole body this includes crawling, skipping, and swimming. For your hands this includes most craft activities such as lacing and sewing cards, weaving looms and latch-hook rugs. Midline activities and crossing midline activities include songs with clapping and simple motions like The Wheels on the Bus and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. This also includes popping bubbles and throwing or rolling and catching balls on one side of your body and the other.

Offer a wide range of art supplies – There is a different pencil grip and pressure to using thick and thin markers, different crayons, pens, pencils, dot art, roller art and pebble and ball crayons. The wider range of experience the better. Once they are comfortable provide a wide range of writing activities. This includes scratch paper, invisible books, dot to dots and mazes.

Offer in range of postures – Think of the different postures for art and writing at a table versus on the floor, or in a bean bag versus at an easel, or laying on your back with paper taped to the underside of a table. All of this benefits handwriting.

Ways to Encourage Early Writing

Preschool Kids Education

Before they are writing

There are lots of ways to encourage the skills that support writing from long before they are writing letters and words.

Fine motor activities – Starting in the first year, you can give activities that practice the pincer grasp and exercize the fingers. This is picking up small food like Cheerios or raisins. Later it is using tweezers, putting coins in a piggy bank, dress me dolls and playing with small manipulatives like bristles blocks and legos. This is making small balls with playdough and folding paper for planes and oragami.

Gross motor activities – This includes crawling, climbing, swimming, ball games, frisbee and gymnastics. This is anything that encourages the strength, flexibility and coordination of their arms and hands.

Lots of art supplies early and often – The goal is to encouarge a wide range of art supplies early and often. There is a different pencil grip and pencil pressure using thin markers, thick markers, crayons, pencils, dot art, roller art and paintbrushes. Spray bottles and hole punches build hand strength.

Writing props in play – If children are playing store, give them long paper for shopping lists and a notepad for writing reciepts. If they are playing office, give them a calendar for meetings and a legal pads for taking notes.

A writing supply drawer – By three and a half or four years old, it can be helpful to have a writing supply drawer or box separate from your other art supplies. This might have list paper, notebook paper, staitionary, pens and pencils.

Other writing activities – In preschool this includes maze books, dot-to-dot books, Color Wonder, stencils and scratch paper. In elementary school this includes tracing paper, spirograph, and invisible ink books.

Encourage new positions – When they are coloring with crayons, you can encourage them to color sitting at a table, laying on the floor, standing at an easel, or under the table with the paper taped to the underside. Each position gives a new view on arm and hand position, pencil grip and pencil pressure.

Once they are writing

Once they are writing letters and words, the goal is to encourage writing often.

Give them jobs – There are several fun jobs that encourage writing. The ‘list maker’ writes all the shopping and activity lists. The ‘navigator’ draws maps or traces the route on an actual map for car trips. The ‘historian’ keeps a journal of family activities. The ‘mail carrier’ writes postcards to grandparents weekly.

Notebooks, journals and diaries – Especially over the summer months, it can be helpful to encourage writing daily. This might be easiest with a dated journal or diary. It may also be helpful to keep a writing notebook and pencil in the car.

Writing prompts – For young children, this might be having them draw a picture and then tell or write a story to go with it. As they are older, this might be giving them a starting story line or topic and encouraging them to write the rest.

Book making activities – You can make a book with a few pages of paper, a pencil, crayons and a stapler.

For more writing and other academic supplies, visit: Lakeshore, Kaplan, Discount School Supplies and Community Playthings

 

 

 

Ways to Encourage Confidence in the Classroom from Home

Teacher with children in kindergarten

Build a broad base of knowledge – When the teacher talks about a new topic in class, it’s helpful if your child has a fund of related knowledge. There are several ways to build this.

  • Focus on building your child’s vocabulary – A child’s vocabulary scores are often reflective of their overall cognitive scores. A rich vocabulary supports confidence in the classroom and reading comprehension.
  • Lots of outings – Everywhere you take your child, you are exposing them to new vocabulary and information. While museums, art galleries and nature walks are great, the beach, pumpkin patches and sports outings also count. Be sure you are answering questions and talking to your child about all they are seeing and doing at each.
  • Read aloud everyday – Aside from being cited as the single most important factor in building successful readers, reading aloud builds a child’s vocabulary and broadens their base of knowledge.

Play school – You might play school at home and encourage your child to be the teacher. During this game they can teach you about any topics they are learning in school.

Playdates with classmates – The more they know and are comfortable with classmates, the more likely they are to be comfortable speaking in front of them. It can be helpful to arrange playdates with a wide range of children from their classes.

Challenges in play – If your child is building a tower, you might challenge them to build it taller or think of two new ways to build the base. When children have a lot of practice at taking on challenges in play, they are more likely to do the same in the classroom. When the teacher says, “who can do this problem on the board?” they are a little more likely to raise their hand and try.

Encourage risk taking in moderation – Children have to take risks to learn to ride a bike. It can be a risk to stand up in front of the class and speak. Encouraging a healthy level of risk taking in play and in life can help them feel confident to participate in class. This might be jumping off something at the park that’s a little higher than the last time or holding just one hand not two for balance.

Ask about school – It can be helpful to shake up the questions you ask after school. If everyday you ask, “how was your day?” Kids tend to give the easy answer, “fine.” There are hundreds of other questions you could ask. Here are a few related to participation and confidence:

  • “Was there anything really hard to do today?” and, “how did you figure it out?”
  • “What did you learn about in science class today?” and, “did you already know anything about that or was it all new?”
  • “Did you have to work in groups today?” and, “how did it go?”
  • “Did you raise your hand and answer any questions today?”

School skills in real life – If your second grader is learning how to count money, carry cash and let them be your banker. Let them count the money to and from cashiers. For a seventh grader learning to calculate percentages, have them figure out the tip at restaurants.

Teach flexible thinking – Flexible thinking includes teaching kids to brainstorm ideas or solutions and think about the range of related outcomes. This might be encouraging children to come up with a plan B when their first plan doesn’t work. You might practice plan A vs. plan B for small issues often. You can also teach flexible thinking by playing games like Gobblet, Connect Four and Labrynith which require players to make new strategies often.

Encourage persistence – When a child is stuck, you might give a bit of empathy and ask them questions or give them hints to help them move forward. You might help them break the task down into smaller pieces. I’d also highlight the benefits of practice and that the more they try, the more likely they are to solve and the easier it may seem the next time.

Focus praise on effort, process and progress more than outcomes – When a child gets a good grade, it can be helpful to focus your language on how much they studied and how hard they worked. When they win a race, focus on how often they practiced and how much they’ve improved their time.

Ideas for Reading Aloud with Young Children

mother and child reading

The Department of Education cites reading aloud with children as the number one way to build successful readers. The goal is reading aloud to children for a minimum of 20 minutes a day in order to build a love of stories and books. Reading aloud with very young children can be a challenge.

Here are a few tips to keep it going:

  • Start from day one and build it into your routine – The idea is to start reading aloud early, before you think they are really listening. Make it a habit from the beginning. Books offer a well edited version of the language which is beneficial for young children to hear.
  • As an alternative, spend time just looking at, labeling and talking about pictures together – As your baby is a little older, they might not have the patience for listening to stories. It is beneficial to share time with books in other ways.  Spend time looking at the pictures together, point to and label objects, have them find new objects. It’s fine to just look for and label colors, or tell pieces of stories in your own words as well.
  • Read aloud daily even if they aren’t paying much attention – Once your toddler is up and moving around, they might not want to sit long enough for a story. Let’s say you try to read, and they are up and down to play with toys. At least occasionally, the answer is to stay seated yourself and continue to read aloud. They are in the room so they’re still hearing the language. You are also modeling reading aloud.
  • Read aloud when you have a captive audience – Read aloud when riding in the car, or when you are waiting in line at the grocery store and they are buckled into the cart.
  • Share more active books – Introducing lift-the-flap books, puppet books, pop-up books and picture search books can increase their interest.
  • Go for books based on their interests – Okay, this is an obvious one but if they love trains, go for train books often.

Ideas for Reading Aloud with Older Children

Leisure time for mother and daughter

The Department of Education encourages parents to read aloud to their children 20 minutes a day at a minimum. The idea is to read aloud to them for longer stretches and more often as you are able. It’s also suggested that you continue to read aloud to your children long passed the time you thought they’d listen. Children who read aloud through high school do better on Verbal SATs than those that read to aloud through middle school, and those who read through middle school better than those that do through grade school.

I know most parents reduce their reading aloud time as children become more fluent, independent readers. The trick is to give time for both. When my older daughter wanted time to read to herself, we added that to the bedtime routine rather than replacing our read aloud time. So they got 20 minutes of read aloud, and an additional 20 minutes of reading books independently.

There are lots of good ideas to help read aloud continue:

  • Keep it part of the daily routine – This way you don’t have to find the time each day, it’s already there. It also makes it expected. If you stop reading aloud for a long stretch of time, children may be more hesitant or think “it’s for babies” when you try to start again.
  • Let your children pick the books – At any age, it is helpful if children feel they have some choice in the matter. Letting them pick the books is an easy way to give this. When the girls were little, I’d read the same books 20 nights in a row if that’s what they picked. Now we take turns choosing chapter books. I almost always pick a classic because they never do.
  • Take turns reading aloud – Once they are fluent readers, it can be nice to take turns during this read aloud time.
  • Occasionally read more active participation books – This might be a fill in the blank book or a quiz book. This might be something along the lines of the Choose Your Own Adventure series that let the reader make plot decisions throughout the book.
  • Shake up the types of books – As they are older, some children are drawn to biographies or sports books, others to how-to books or articles from magazines.  You might also try poetry or plays. Any reading is fine.
  • Read picture books longer – Once you start chapter books, it’s good to include picture books occasionally. There are so many picture books that really are aimed at older kids. You might try Stripes or Mr. Peabody’s Apples.
  • Occasionally, read their homework aloud – Not often as they need to be doing this reading, but I think it’s fine once in a while to read their homework aloud. I’ve done this, especially when they are struggling with a topic or the reading seems particularly dry to them.

Any other ideas? Please share them here!

Reasons to Teach Your Children Cursive

The Common Core State Standards, which help to guide what education is provided by our public school system, has left teaching cursive off the list. There are SO MANY REASONS to teach children cursive, and each is as compelling as the next.

Cursive….

  • Helps children with spelling – Because the letters are connected, cursive helps children to learn common letter patterns. It also provides improved muscle memory which reinforces correct spelling over printing the words.
  • Boosts their letter recognition – Cursive heightens the differences between letters that are more similar in print including ‘b’ and ‘d,’ or ‘p’ and ‘q.’ This provides a benefit to early reading skills.
  • Fewer reversals and inversions – As cursive helps differentiate letters, children who learn cursive tend to make fewer reversals and inversions in their writing overtime. Children who rely on printing more commonly make these mistakes and do so over a longer period of time.
  • Additional boosts to reading – When a child prints, they are thinking about reading one letter at a time. Cursive encourage the brain to think about whole words at a time. Reading with fluency requires children to take in and think about whole words.
  • Often more legible than print – Because of the connections between the letters, cursive encourages more spatial planning between letters and words. This focus tends to make a child’s overall writing more legible.
  • Increases their ability to concentrate – As cursive writing takes sustained effort and attention overtime, it gives children active practice at staying on task.
  • Benefits to fine motor and visual-motor coordination – The start and stop movements of printing are very different from the flow of cursive writing. Cursive builds muscle endurance and dexterity beyond printing. These are all skills that are beneficial over their lifetime.
  • Benefits brainstorming and note-taking – As cursive is faster and more efficient, it allows more flexibility in brainstorming and more detail in note-taking. Handwriting lecture notes is better than typing in that the physical process itself supports retaining information.
  • Supports creative writing – Fourth grade students who write stories in cursive tend to write longer stories and express more complex ideas than students who keyboard.
  • Higher SAT scores – As if those weren’t reason enough, it’s reported that students who write the essay portion of the SAT in cursive tend to score higher on that section than students who print. It may be that the writing itself is allowing students more time to focus on content.

Please, encourage your schools to teach your children cursive. If not, teach them cursive at home.

I’d also like to thank my 4th grade teacher Ms. Rhoda-Jo Stress for challenging and not so gently encouraging my cursive.

Ways to Avoid Summer Academic Loss

Sisters reading book in summer park

Many studies site that children have an average of a two month academic loss over the summer months. With a little effort, you save their hard gained knowledge and may even help them make gains! Here are some ideas to support them while still having fun:

  • Practice school skills in real life – If your second grader was learning to count money, make them the “family cashier” for the summer. Stop using your cards and carry cash, let them count the money to and from at each transaction.
  • Play school – Little ones may willingly take turns being the teacher and the student. When they are the teacher, ask them to explain a math skill they recently learned. When they are the student, ask them to read aloud to the class.
  • Take field trips – My family is lucky to live in the Washington D.C. area. We have the Smithsonian Museums, National Zoo, Virginia battlefields and Baltimore Aquarium all within an hour drive. Within a day trip we can travel to Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown Island and fantastic museums in Philadelphia. Take advantage of academically related field trips in your community.
  • Take nature walks – There is so much to be learned in the world around us. Summer is the perfect time to get them out in nature. A great book about this is Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Louv.
  • Make writing fun – When you travel, encourage them to write post cards and keep a daily vacation journal. Provide other writing activities like invisible books, spirograph, stencils, mazes and Mad Libs.
  • Challenge math in everyday ways – Talk about the math involved when you pump gas. For older children, teach them to calculate miles per gallon since the last fill up.  If you eat out, teach them to calculate the tip. Take them bowling and teach them to keep score.
  • Read aloud everyday – Reading aloud to children everyday is sited by the Department of Education as the single most important activity to build successful readers. Aim for 20 minutes a day and enjoy when it’s longer. Read aloud to them through high school if they’ll listen.
  • If they are reading aloud – Encourage children to practice their own read aloud skills. This can be reading to a sibling, to the dog or even a stuffed animal.
  • Encourage quiet reading time everyday – Again, aim for 20 minutes and appreciate when it lasts longer. Make this easy for them, bring books in the car or let them stay up later at night if they are reading.
  • Plan a book club – If they are at all interested, invite a few friends to read the same book with them. Then plan a party to celebrate.
  • Investigate library activities – Public libraries in our area host many fun children’s programs in the summer months. They also have a children’s reading challenge that ends with earning a coupon book for area businesses. Check out your local library!
  • Focus on vocabulary when you travel – There is new vocabulary available everywhere you travel. Discuss all the things you see with your children, provide definitions as you are able. There is beach vocabulary, zoo vocabulary, farm vocabulary, airport vocabulary…
  • Puzzles, board games, cooking and crafts – Play provides learning opportunities such as puzzles for spatial reasoning, board games for social skills and often math skills, cooking and crafts for following directions, tending to details, math and fine motor skills. Spend time this summer playing with your children.
  • Workbooks – My least favorite, but probably most reliable, way to do a little summer review work is workbooks. My children didn’t mind the Summer Bridge Activities workbooks. http://www.summerbridgeactivities.org/

Please share your own ideas below!

Ideas for Introducing Chapter Books

Chapter books can be a great addition to your read aloud time as early as three to four years old. If you already read picture books before bed, the easiest way to introduce chapter books is to finish your picture book and tuck them in like normal. Then, when you would have been turning out the light and leaving, announce that you are going to add a special reading time. Let them know this is a book with no pictures, that they should lay down in bed, listen to the story and can make the pictures in their imagination. Next read for a few pages or more. When you finish reading, maybe review what just happened in the story, ask them what they think will happen next or another question about the story. If they are unable to answer a question, just tell them briefly what you liked about the story or what you think might happen next.

The next night read a picture book, tuck them in then let them know you are going to read again. Spend a minute or so reviewing what happened the night before. Each night it can be helpful to talk about the story or ask what might happen next when you finish the reading time. Each night when you start, review from the previous night. When children are very young, you have to read some every night consistently. If you miss a few days, likely they will lose track of the story.

As they grow, you can read longer each night and longer stories over time. The idea is to read aloud to them long passed the point you thought they’d listen. Read aloud through high school if they will listen. Children who read aloud through high school tend to do better on verbal SATs than children who read aloud through middle school, and middle school better than elementary school. Unfortunately, most parents stop once children are reading to themselves. It’s better to build some read aloud and some independent reading time into the bedtime routine. There are benefits to both. It can also be nice to let older children pick the chapter books or alternate who picks.

Ask Them How They Want to Be Helped

Whether your four-year-old is working on a hard puzzle, or your fourth grader is struggling through math homework, when they ask for your help, start by asking them how they would like to be helped. If you swoop in and give them your brand of helping, you may be doing too much, which discourages independent problem solving or frustrating the system.

I learned this the hard way. When my older daughter was learning to read, she asked me to please just give her the word when she got stuck. I explained that, if I just gave her the word, she wouldn’t learn how to best sound out words on her own. Her valid point back was that when she was reading and had to stop to sound out words, she would lose the storyline and be confused going forward. She also said she was getting plenty of practice sounding out new words at school, thank you very much. So, I started just giving her the words when she was stuck. This lasted a few months as she was gaining skills at school and then it tapered off.

When my younger daughter was learning to read, and she would get stuck on a word, I just gave it to her. We went on like this for the first several months. One day after I gave her a word, she stopped and said, “please stop doing that! If you keep giving me the words when I am stuck, I will never learn how to read them myself.” She was right, I was slowing her progress and should have asked her how she wanted to be helped.

Soon after they are old enough to ask for help, they are likely old enough to explain how they would like to be helped.

Play Builds Academic Foundation

Our Preschool Play Program is very play based. Open play is available the whole class time, with group play activities presented throughout. While we don’t focus on academics, we have a firm belief that play provides a strong foundation for later academics. Here are a few ways:

  • Challenges in Play Build a Sense of Industry– The more you can challenge kids to do something faster, build something taller, to problem solve together or think about something in a new way, the more they are having experiences at rising to meet challenges. As children meet challenges, they build an ‘I can do it’ or ‘I can try it’ attitude which is helpful later in the classroom.
  • Pretend Play Builds Representational Thinking– It is a cognitive jump when children start using representation in play. This happens when they use the block as a ‘telephone,’ or the sidewalk as their ‘pool.’ Representational thinking happens most often during pretend play. It lays foundation for later symbol use and academic representation. This means the letter ‘B’ can more easily represent the sound ‘buh,’ and the number 3 can more easily represent three objects.
  • Open Ended Toys Pull for More Flexible Use and Creative Problem Solving – Children playing with basic toys such as blocks, balls, art and craft supplies and dolls tend to use the toys in more flexible ways. Buy toys that do less, so the children will do more. This means, if you are buying a doll, buy the basic one rather than the one that talks or grows hair. When the doll has a given function, children play in a more narrow way; buy open ended. Flexible use of toys often includes more creative problem solving in play.
  • Reading Aloud Daily Helps Build Successful Readers– Reading aloud with children to encourage a love of stories and books is one of the single most important factors in their eventual reading success.
  • Social Problem Solving Practice Benefits Group Work – Much of elementary school work happens in groups. The more practice children have at solving social conflicts the better.
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