Saturday, July 30, 2011

Teaching Children ABC's: A Guide for Parents

I am often reminded that parents need guidance and encouragement when they are helping their children learn at home.  Here are tips you can share with moms and dads, grannies and uncles, friends of young children to support what you do in preschool.  Many of these have adaptations for the classroom as well.  Feel free to share the link to this blog in your next email to families or electronic newsletter.  Publishing the full content with a "cut and paste" from this blog is prohibited, without permission from the author (me!)

First, always remember that the interaction you offer your child with letters of the alphabet should be meaningful and not just isolated memory tasks.  Make it fun and playful, not a structured lesson or drill.  Begin with uppercase letters, as they are easier for children to recognize.  Most print occurs in both upper and lower case so you may choose to teach both, according to the abilities of your child.  Let your child help you see which is best for them.

Go on a letter hunt! Watch your child as he interacts with his world and everything in it. Letters are everywhere! Does he notice certain signs and logos, such as "exit" signs, store or restaurant logos? When he does, point out and name letters with him. Start with the first letter of a word.   Pick a letter of the alphabet and look for it everywhere it might be.  You can hunt in the house, while driving in the car (street and store signs), down the hall at the preschool or the store, letters are everywhere!

The importance of our name. Help your child learn to recognize her own name and the letters that spell it. Begin by showing your child her whole name in print. Maybe you print her name on a sign for her door or the refrigerator. You can also put name labels on her backpack, lunchbox, or on a nameplate or inside the covers of her favorite books.  Don't just label everything for the sake of letters; it will make them "visual white noise" rather than showing print as meaningful.  Show your daughter her name on mail like doctor appointment reminders, calendars, or junk mail.

To help your child learn the letters in her name, write it slowly, saying each letter aloud as you print. Then encourage her to copy the letters. The best way to help your child learn how to write at this age is to involve her in activities that help her feel large motions of writing. Squiggles are OK.

Playing with Magnetics Once your child has a small bank of letters he can easily recognize (maybe letters from his name and those he sees in his world), play with magnetic letters on the refrigerator or even simple blocks. Arrange them to say the names of other family members or spell simple words or words your child is interested in. Pick up on words your child is using (milk, hand, toes, etc.).  You can even make your own "play" letters out of cardboard (old cereal boxes are easy to use for this - the reverse/inside with no print). 

Whenever you and your child are playing and learning, encourage and be positive, know that learning letters or many other things takes time and that your child should improve over time.  If you don't see improvement as you think should happen, talk it over with your child's preschool teacher or someone who has studied early childhood development (even your pediatrician).  They can help you understand what is normal for your child.

A friendly checklist for literacy development can be found in Anytime Reading Readiness, a book for parents of 3-6 year olds from Maupin House Publishing.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Unity on the Subject of Quality

Quality Matters

This posting will be a little bit more "musing", rather than practical into the classroom advise but the time seems right so bear with me and put your thinking cap on:

Whether you are a teacher or director in a child care center or preschool, a family home childcare provider who works from his/her home, a floater or an educator with a dedicated room (or as is the case in my home state of Alabama - a exempt or non-exempt center) - you all have one thing in common - quality is where your future lies.  As the country talks more about high-quality care for infants, toddlers and preschoolers, we are beginning to get a clearer picture of how distinctly different development in preschool is from the school years.  And as parents learn more about what quality looks like, that is naturally what they will want for their child and where the early childhood care business will go.

Now you've probably all heard that before 
but here's what I'd like you to think about. . .

The national trends are moving toward more educational requirements (a CDA/Child Development Associates degree or even a four year or advanced degree in Early Childhood Education) in order to teach preschool children or to be involved in their care as an professional.  Yes, it's hard to go back to school.  But I'm here to tell you that you won't get any better support than from ECE colleges and programs.  They understand as you do the importance of the early years.

Why do I need the degree?  I've been teaching for 20 years you might say.  I KNOW children.  The challenges are that as more research is being conducted (which often confirms your knowledge), there is so much more we know about children's development in these critical early years.  Attending training and gaining certification or a degree provides you with an incredibly rich foundation on which to connect what you've learned in the field and continue to grow your understanding of how children develop:

For example, did you know . . .

A three year old's brain is twice as active as the brain of a college student.

Talking with young children leads to important oral language development during the critical years when mastering the spoken language comes easiest.  That in turn is a powerful foundation for reading.

Writing develops in stages with, often, the final stage of conventional printing not coming until kindergarten.
Conventional "perfect" printing only comes after four developmental steps.

Higher levels of training opens the door for raising quality. It also increasingly leads to more realistic, professional-levels of pay.

Quality is Bigger Than Just You

In my own community, I see a distinction:  state funded preK is very much about quality, Head Start has standards from the federal government, several private, for-profit centers provide excellence services.  On the other end of the spectrum, there are child care facilities who sit children in front of a TV most of the day (pediatricians recommend no TV for children up to three and limited afterwards within the preschool years).  Children hear demonstrative statements like "no", "stop", "don't" more than they do real conversations.  There are certainly child care providers all long the spectrum in between.

A practical way to raise the quality overall is to begin talking within the early childhood community.  Sharing resources is another.  Although often family child care providers have their own association, meetings and conferences, as do preschool care centers, its important to find time to talk together about your differences, your strengths, your challenges -- as professionals.  That will raise everyone up.  Talk to those who offer early childhood conferences and encourage them to include discussions about quality in their program and provide specific training for various deliveries of childcare service in your community.

I'd love to hear about your own experiences with becoming a more highly-qualified teacher. 

What motivated you? 

What have you learned? 

How are the children you care for (and their parents)  in a better place because of what you have realized about quality early childhood experiences?

What advise would you give teachers who are just beginning to follow that road?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Calling all professional early childhood teachers - you have important information about how children develop.  Don't hide that under a bushel basket; share it with parents, and fellow educators!


Recently I was speaking to a group of parents (most very highly educated) about their 4-5 year old children and the big "learn to read" event coming within a year or two for most of their children.  It was amazing to me that the science I know was foreign to them. 

For instance, did you know that, within a few 1,000 brain cells, every child (unless there is a major developmental issue) comes into this world with out 100 Billion brain cells?

Do you know how they grow?  Check out Child Care Aware!

The type of talk young children hear is very important to their later reading abilities and how easily they will learn to read?  View Dr. David Dickenson's Powerpoint and check out his research below:

The art of reading aloud to children is going away and we're not doing an adequate job of helping parents understand its important.  Instead of "wagging and nagging", let's try a different approach (plenty of modeling, facts that are meaningful to families, and a warm, caring approach. 

Literacy is my thing but you can probably list all kinds of information you need to be sharing in the areas of emotional/social development, motor skills, concepts and counting, etc.  Get those conversations started and share what you are learning through those and the successes you have had with families when you share your knowledge.  I'd love to hear!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Answer The Survey - Let Your Voice Be Heard!

United Way Worldwide, an organization with many local affiliates throughout the U.S. and the world has started a simple new survey/poll on Education.  It is one of their key areas of focus along with Income and Health. 

Please take the time to visit their Town Hall and answer a few questions.  Your local United Way (be sure to share it with them) can also log in and capture responses from your local communities by zip code, providing valuable insight into what is important in YOUR community. 

Here's a picture of some of our local United Way volunteers and organization staff, those stars who work hard in OUR community.

Please share this poll/link with as many folks as you can!

I'd love to hear about how United Ways in your community are involved in supporting quality early childhood education.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Debunking A Harmful Myth


For the past few years, I've seen an increasing wave of commercial products promising to help you "make sure your child isn't behind" when it comes to academics.  This barrage of advertising is marketed, not at families with elementary school children but at parents of children ages 3 months to 3 years. 

I encourage every professional early childhood educator reading this blog to explore the truth about these programs and communicate the science behind it to the families whose children you influence.  Take a moment to share this blog with the parents of children you care about and community leaders supporting high quality early childhood.  Our voices need to be stronger than the "hype".  Here's just one example: 

Myth #1: Your Baby Can Read:   Individuals more interested in making money than addressing rigorous scientific research (i.e., the same results in several studies and with several different populations), can easily create a report and use the catch phrase "research-based".  That's exactly what the clever fellow who created this program has done.  Clicking on the header in this paragraph takes you to a Today: Money interview where the truth is revealed.

In the world of education and reading, I always caution professionals to look for at least three independent studies that prove the validity of a program before even considering it.  Not only is this program ineffective in teaching babies who do not have the mental connections to read but it can be harmful in later reading development. 

My book for parents, Anytime Reading Readiness, addresses this important issue of the "rush to read"; earlier is not always better. Many other voices are speaking out to help families and early childhood educators understand this phenomenon including Literacy Connections, Educationworld, and The Learning Disabilities Association of Washington.

As always, I welcome comments for those who read this post and dialogue about understanding language and literacy development in young children. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

We're In This Together: Are You About Quality?


Slowly but surely the message is getting out.  Preschool teachers are professionals, they have degrees or certification or are increasing working toward those certifications, are improving the support, care and instruction they provide young children, are one of a parent's best partners in understanding how young children learn.  We can see this in

  • the rise of colleges listed on the U.S. CollegeSearch website which offer early childhood degrees (did you know there are now over 2,000?)
  • the large number of states funding voluntary pre-K classrooms (only 12 are not providing according to NIEER and some of them like Mississippi are approaching quality early childhood education from a different angle.
  • according to an article by Dr. Jean Fahey, a professor at Lesley University, and countless other experts, a child's brain is more curious and malleable during the first five years than any other time in their lives - that demands high-quality, developmentally appropriate instruction.
Those of us in early childhood have reason to be proud but we are on the edge of the wave.  We need to do more.


One of the best way I know is to have honest, constructive conversations, based on current research and best practices.  Go to authorities such as NAEYC, PreK Now, and the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).  Start a local discussion on what high-quality care of young children needs to look like in your community.  Engage children's policy councils, local schools, and educational foundations.  Begin to organize discussions between preschool and kindergarten teachers.   Get your local PTA/PTO involved in reaching out to families who will be potential members at their school in a year or two.

With this terrific window, created because leaders have spoken up about this important issue, we have a better chance than ever to make a real difference:  to turn children on to learning, prepare them well for the 21st century workplace and empower parents as their child's first and forever teacher.

Policymakers are promoting early high-quality child care, while warning of the dangers of pushing academics too early to the neglect of other developmental areas.  What can we do on the "grassroots" level?  There are many things.  I'd love to hear your ideas.

THIS IS MY IDEA:  I'm starting a FIRE!

One of my initiatives is to partner with Region IV Head Start Association in a collaboration with my company, TLA, Inc.  We have joined the competition for $250,000 in grant money from the Pepsi Refresh Project. 

Especially if you live in the SE states of AL, FL, GA, KY, MS, NC, SC and TN, helping win this grant will have a direct impact on your Head Start classrooms.  Even if you live in another part of the country, the pilot of this program could, as it proves successful, become a model for building authentic partnerships between home and school in the preschool years.

How do you do that?

It's easy.  In five minutes, you can do nearly all these; certainly in only 10 minutes' time.  That's less than a coffee break to make an incredible difference!  Vote now. . .

1) go to the Region IV/BIG 3 Literacy Project link and vote yourself.  Mark a tickler on your calendar and bookmark the page so you can go back and add 7 votes to our totals by voting each day between now and September 30.

2) while you are on that page, capture the Widget and put it on your Facebook page, blog, or website.

3) before you leave the Pepsi Refresh page, also copy the instructions for texting in votes and share that with your friends (text 102675 to Pepsi (73774).  Use the convenient "Promote This Idea" area to share the link with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, or Linkedin. 

4) While you are in the social networking world, follow litambassador on Facebook and Twitter and "retweet" when you see us discussing the project and asking for votes.  That's a great way to get more and more folks voting and sharing!

5) team up with your local Head Start staff to start a wildfire.  Encourage every teacher and parent and staff person (don't forget Board Members) to do the same thing you are doing with voting and sharing.

6) get the local media involved.  Head Start has great stories to tell and the excitement is contagious.

Remember we only have one week.  What will you do to help spread the word?  I'd love to have comments here!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Special Chance for Preschool Teachers to Make A Difference

Tip for the Day:  Take a moment to hug a child, to get down on his/her level and share a book, a story, a moment of connection.  Those are priceless to you and that child!  One of the best ways to take a time out and show some love is with children's books.  My favorite new book for young children is L, M, N, O, P by Keith Baker and, if you don't know it, you should also look at Platypus Lost by Janet Stevens (new to me!).  Check them out!


At 12:01 AM I was up, checking to see if the dream might really have a chance AND IT DOES!

Region IV Head Start Association, serving Head Start families and children in 8 SE states (AL, FL, GA, KY, MS, NC, SC, and TN) is partnering with my company, TLA, Inc. to bring an innovative, comprehensive project to this region.  It's called the BIG 3 Literacy Project and involves providing resources, training, support and materials to nearly 880 classrooms that serve within this Region IV's area.  You can learn more by watching our video and reading about our project at THE BIG 3 Literacy Project.

But it will not happen unless everyone we know (yes, everyone I know and everyone you know)casts a vote.  It's simple:

Visit The Big 3 Literacy Project, register and cast your personal vote.  Put a note on your calendar to come back and vote daily from September 1 (today) all the way through midnight of September 30.  This repeat voting is what will get us the numbers we need.

Share this blog or a link to the project with your friends and colleagues in the early childhood world.  Through this project, we have a chance to enhance and support the work of Head Start (and Early Head Start) in this area, where a lot of children and families need it most.

You can conveniently text your vote by simply texting 102675 to Pepsi (77374).  Remember that regular texting rates apply. 

If you have a blog you'd be willing to post a widget to, visit our home project page, to capture it.  Look to the right side of the page, scroll down slightly and you'll find it. 

Of course, Tweets, Linkedin sharing, and Facebook postings, other social media sites are all welcome.  We cannot do it without you!  I love new friends on these sies (litambassador at Twitter and Facebook).

Together we can make a difference -- Stay tuned!