How are literacy skills developed in the preschool classroom?

January 6th, 2017 by Bonnie Pauska

At CLC, we recognize the importance of early literacy instruction. Current research suggests that children who are given many language and literacy opportunities during the preschool years will become successful readers. Using a balanced literacy approach, literacy is developed through thematic units at CLC. The themes are meaningful as they engage the students in genuine projects that interest and challenge them.

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During the months of November and December 2016, the children were engaged in a theme titled “Hearth and Home.” We asked questions to promote critical thinking: What makes a house a home? How do our homes today differ from homes during colonial times? What makes your home special? Bringing in photos of their own houses, the children were able to build from their personal experience as they created two-dimensional and three-dimensional representations of their homes. As they worked with the teachers in small groups, they were encouraged to express their ideas verbally and develop a rich vocabulary. According to researchers such as Lesley Mandel Morrow of Rutgers University, oral language ability plays a critical role in a child’s success in reading. At CLC, we encourage our children to practice sharing ideas, asking questions, while responding to each child individually. Throughout our unit, we emphasized new vocabulary words, such as foundation, elevation, and structure.

Math concepts were integrated through our activities as well, e.g. noticing the sides and corners of our homes and comparing those aspects of our homes to basic shapes. In our block building center, the children worked collaboratively to build homes with floors, walls, and divided rooms. This was quite a challenge for many of them, but over the course of six weeks, we noticed how their buildings expanded and improved. Where is the roof? Where are the windows? Positional words were certainly an essential part of our experiences. We placed all of our three-dimensional projects together to create a neighborhood and asked our preschoolers to think about what makes a community and what is means to have caring friendships within a neighborhood.

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We read aloud to our students daily and our goal is to provide a positive experience with literature. How do we do this? We carefully select books that will inspire and stimulate our children’s hearts and minds. When we read a book, we encourage the children to share their ideas and respond to the literature. Rereading favorite books provides a higher level of listening, understanding and comprehending a text. We believe in “teachable moments” such as integrating spontaneous drama interpretations of our literature. The children often want to express their understanding by becoming a favorite character. Our dramatic play or “housekeeping” center is always open to the children and is a place where children can engage in fantasy play. Language development is stimulated as the children create play scenarios, sharing ideas verbally and solving problems. During this unit, we incorporated real world props, such as whisks, baking pans, and aprons, to encourage complex play related to our study of homes.

We always offer an art extension of our reading as well, allowing the children to share their ideas through hands-on and creative expression. During our “Hearth and Home” unit, we enjoyed many wonderful fictional and non-fiction texts. One of our favorites was The Big Orange Splot. After reading this delightful story, the children created their own dream home using paints and then dictated their ideas to the teacher. With our non-fiction text, If You Lived Here: Houses of The World, we compared homes around the world. The homes built on stilts in Venice were very intriguing to the children. The children related to this topic because many of our students have seen houses being raised up after recent hurricanes and storms. There were many questions and much discussion about these homes. As part of this study, the children were excited to represent their thoughts through an art project where they created homes with popsicle stick stilts.

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Because we know that children who write become better readers, we include writing in our early childhood curriculum. We recognize “preschool inventive” writing as the beginning stage of writing and support each child’s efforts in this area. One child may want to express her ideas by writing the first phonemic sound of each word while another may be scribbling ideas at our writing center. Some children are ready to put letters together and begin forming words. During November and December, the children were excited to create written signs for their block structures and often spent much time writing the signs and discussing their placement on the buildings and neighborhoods they created.

Involving parents in our literacy program is an important part of a child’s success. During our “Hearth and Home” unit, we invited all the families to come into class to share a favorite home recipe with the children and read a favorite book. The children were very excited to share their favorite stories with their classmates, further encouraging interest in literacy and language. To culminate our studies, we put together all of the recipes into a class recipe book which was given to each of our families.

In conclusion, our “Hearth and Home” study encompassed all areas of our curriculum, with special attention to literacy skills. Print and book concepts, oral language development, phonemic awareness, auditory discrimination, visual discrimination, and comprehension skills were developed as part of this meaningful and exciting study of homes. Throughout the unit, the children were engaged in creative, fun-filled, and child-centered activities, all leading to higher level comprehension.

How many days should I send my child to preschool?

January 3rd, 2014 by Bonnie Pauska

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to deciding how many days your child should attend preschool. Whether your child attends three, four, or five mornings per week is ultimately a personal decision based on the particular needs of the child and family.  That being said, there is one critical factor parents should not overlook in this important decision: consistency. When a child attends preschool on a consistent basis, typically four consecutive days and often full-time five days per week enrollment, experience has shown that regularity of attendance with the same group of students and teachers encourages the child’s sense of security and self-confidence. The importance of routines and consistency for children cannot be overemphasized. They provide a sense of security and help young children thrive!   Offering your child a challenging yet supportive preschool experience will build a strong foundation for their future school years.

Alternatively, there is a downside in overbooking young children with too many after-school activities.  Developmentally, they need to have time to play freely in their own home environment.  Children require a balance of free play and a structured environment.  Rather than committing your child to a multitude of after-school programs, I recommend that the preferred route is to provide a consistent preschool schedule. This will set the stage to benefit your child’s overall development.

What’s the buzz about block building?

December 19th, 2013 by Bonnie Pauska

Walking into one of our preschool or primary classes, you will notice a large number and variety of hardwood unit blocks available as well as large spaces designed for block building activities.  As early childhood educators, we know from the most current brain research how essential blocks are to the overall development and future success of our young students. We recognize that young students learn best by making their own discoveries and through their interactions with classmates in a supportive learning environment.  Blocks are an excellent open-ended and flexible material that support children’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development.

In our primary class, the children have been studying ancient Egypt and they decide to work together to build a pyramid.  Jason has an idea of how to get started and shares it with his classmates.  David, Chloe, and Mark add their ideas, insisting on ramps as necessary components.  “We need a secret passageway!” exclaims Mark. The group begins building, all the while communicating their thoughts with each other.  They are moving around the block center, adding and subtracting blocks.They notice which blocks make the structure balance and start using patterns to create a symmetrical structure.  The teacher asks the children thought-provoking questions to stimulate critical thinking, such as “What will happen if you put that block on top?”  Susi joins the group and decides that they need signs for the pyramid they have created.  Two children go to the writing center and use “inventive” spelling to create these signs.  “Pirmd” stands for “pyramid,” while another child writes, “We are making Egypt.”  The children are starting to build up the sides when suddenly the building collapses.  A big sigh is heard from the group, but not for long.  David states rather emphatically, “Our foundation just wasn’t sturdy enough.”  They immediately start rebuilding the structure. They continued working on their building for another thirty minutes.

During this block building activity, all the children were extremely focused and demonstrated strong connections to the content they were learning in class. Planning their structure and working through the challenges involved critical thinking skills.  They were using math skills in their patterning, symmetry, and recognizing how the different geometric shapes worked together in their structure. Science concepts included a study of balance, gravity, and ramps. Strong language and literacy skills were evident as the children communicated their ideas and used writing skills to make signs for their building.  In the area of social-emotional development, the children were cooperating with each other, listening and respecting others’ ideas, and demonstrating resilience when they began rebuilding their project after it fell.

What do you notice your child learning when she or he works with blocks?

Why is it important for children to be involved in the arts?

November 10th, 2013 by Bonnie Pauska

Art, music, drama, and dance are some of the best ways to promote literacy and brain development in early childhood education. The right hemisphere of our brain is activated when we participate in creative and intuitive activities.  Arts offer young children open-ended playful types of activities with an emphasis on “hands-on” active learning.  While engaged in art experiences, all the domains of learning are being developed, from cognitive to social-emotional to fine motor and multi-sensory skills.

Watch a young child as she mixes primary colors and creates a “magical” secondary color and you will see total immersion and joy!  The child who is encouraged to imagine, create, and express herself through art is given a gift, one that leads to greater self-confidence and self-esteem.  When art experiences are integrated with an ongoing theme, the child makes meaningful connections through the art.  For example, when studying ocean life and reading The Rainbow Fish in our preschool classes, the children were asked to create their own imaginary fish from a multitude of open-ended materials such as paper, wallpaper, corrugated cardboard, pipe cleaners, ribbon, and so forth.  The children were engaged in critical thinking as they worked cooperatively to transform their ideas into a two-dimensional project.  Following the creation of their fish, they were asked to paint an ocean scene and represent what they had learned about ocean life through their classroom studies.

Here’s a fun art project that we love to do with our students.  It is very open-ended and encourages creative expression.  We call it “Fluffy Goop” and it makes a quick and inexpensive art medium with an enjoyable texture.

How to make Fluffy Goop

1.    Have an adult pour about 1/2 cup white glue into a small bowl.
2.    Let your child add shaving cream on top until it mounds slightly.
3.    Encourage your child to mix it up by whipping the glue and shaving cream with a spoon until it’s smooth and thick.
4.    If you like, your child may add food coloring or powdered paint to add color to the mixture.
5.    The fun begins when your child spoons the goop onto paper or cardboard and spreads it around with a brush or fingers.
6.    Your child may want to add sequins, beads, feathers, or other items to the mixture.

Think of all the skills your child will develop through this activity!  Measurement, sequencing, sensory skills, eye-hand coordination, self-expression, new vocabulary, and listening skills are just a few!  Most importantly, your child will experience the joy of creativity and the satisfaction of mastery.

Do you know the difference between “arts” and “crafts’?