Getting children ready for kindergarten is on the front burner these days. When it comes to literacy, what's the best way to "bring those children to the door"? It isn't with flashcards, flashy computer games or worksheets. It takes an integrated approach to three big ideas:
Oral language - Our speech and how we use our words is the foundation for how we understand what we read. Rich conversations about the child's immediate world and the world beyond, engaging in frequent chats, exploring new words are all a part of this foundation. Stay off the "regimented" channel.
Exploring books together. I don't often use the term "reading aloud to children" anymore because it seems to draw up images of a circle of children all sitting passively and quietly while the teacher reads an entire story from beginning to end or an individual parent or teacher "shushing" a child into quiet submission. Occasionally, if the language is rhythmic and musical and has great power, just listening to a story is OK. But most of the time it needs to look more like the entire group up to their eyeballs in thick rich meaning, interacting with the text. That's how children get the message of what reading is all about. The technique is called Engaged Interactive Read Aloud.
Playing with the language and its patterns. I underscore the word "play" because too often I see preschool teachers believing that structured lessons like those in first grade and kindergarten work for young children. They don't. You can teach children to "parrot" that way but you cannot teach what is essential - concepts. For that, children need to have concrete connections, integrated introductions, full of games and playful experiences with rhymes, alliteration, the movement and flow of the language. So sing, and have fun manipulating the language and talking about words apart from their meaning; don't make it a drill.
Want to know more? Check out sample activities from my new book, Before They Read, from Maupin House.
How do you focus on these three big ideas in your preschool environment? How do you keep the instruction developmentally appropriate while taking children as far as they are ready to go? Everyone will benefit from comments and dialogue!