One of our greatest joys as teachers is sharing our love of reading, writing and literature with our young students. It’s important that we work together, as teachers and parents, to create supportive literacy environments at both home and school.
At school, one of our clues for “where to start” is from our children’s home literacy experiences. We quickly learn about our children’s exposure to stories and nursery rhymes, and discussion (listening to others and speaking aloud) and book handling skills. We observe their familiarity with using paper, pencils and crayons and can sense if the children feel that their scribbling, drawing and printed work is, and has been, valued. We build upon those experiences by providing our children with a myriad of activities where they can use their literacy skills and develop them further. The processes of reading and writing go hand-in-hand: Good readers become good writers, and good writers become good readers.
One of the most important things we do is provide as many opportunities for oral languageas possible. This includes Storytime, chanting poems and singing songs, brainstorming vocabulary, classroom discussions and teaching questioning skills. In addition to teaching phonological awareness, the development of the children’s oral language is an important part of a balanced approach to reading instruction.
During Storytime and other oral language activities, here’s what we’ve noticed about our Kindergarten children’s story awareness:
-they love to rhyme and predict patterns
-they chime in to read the parts of the story they know (with and without cues from the teacher)
-they ask a lot of questions about the story
-they try to make connections between the story and their personal experiences
-they ”read” the picture clues and any known words in the text
-they show interest in what the words say on a page or a chart
One of the most popular Activity Time Centres in the classroom is the Imagination Station. Here, the children are encouraged to write, draw and create to their heart’s content. We supply colouring supplies, scissors and glue. We add in colourful and patterned paper scraps, stickers, envelopes, small booklets we’ve made from leftover paper, lined paper and any other doodads (scrapbook embellishments) we might have to encourage the writing process. Sometimes we have to create a secondImagination Station at another table because everyone that day has something important they want to express in print. This is all in addition to our daily Alphabet and Theme writing activities. Your children are writing, printing, drawing and colouring a lot in class. This has been one of our most prolific years in Kindergarten.
During Alphabet and other writing activities, here’s what we’ve noticed about our Kindergarten children’s print awareness:
-they recognise their own name in print around the classroom and love to look for it
-they show an interest in the names of their classmates
-they show interest in reading and copying the environmental print around the classroom (eg., names, daily schedule, numbers),
-they show interest in printing independently (“I don’t need any help; I can do it by myself”)
-they pay attention to the sounds and sound sequence when printing words
-they enjoys receiving notes with messages from their classmates and parents (in lunch bags)
-they enjoy communicating with classmates by writing messages
Read aloud daily to your child. As parents ourselves, we can say this is one of the most precious times you will spend with your child. Enjoy every single story because the time will come when your child wants to read independently. Besides the weekly Library Book, build a bedtime story routine into your evening so you can enjoy some cosy time with your child. You can add a little bit of alphabet practice during your story (“Let’s look for the words beginning with the letter S”) and ask questions to develop understanding, but the idea is simply to enjoy reading and the pleasure of sharing a good book together.
Sing songs and listen to music. Singing songs and listening to music, like nursery rhymes, is very important to develop an awareness of rhyme, rhythms and patterns. Children learn songs and quickly memorise them; this contributes to their ever-growing oral language base which will help to make them stronger readers.
Visit your local library regularly. Does your child have a library card? Do you visit your public library every week? In addition to visiting our own amazing school library and our Teacher-Librarian, Mrs. Kennedy, regular visits to your local public library is a great outing for everyone. Your child can borrow books, audio recordings and children’s magazines, and you can pick up some great new reads for yourself. Your child will love to see what you’ve borrowed to read!
Model your own love of reading to your child. Let your children see you reading books, the newspaper, the calendar, recipes, and let them know why you are reading. They are learning from you that reading is purposeful, as well as fun. Try sharing aloud funny things from your own reading, and your child will start to do that with you. Children need to see moms and dads, grandparents and siblings reading. When they understand reading is an activity valued by the people they love, they will come to love it, too.
Provide a variety of reading materials. We have a lot of books in the classroom, but we also have a Listening Centre, a Book Nook, reading wands to “read the room,” alphabet puzzles and games and now, Home Readers. At home, your child can also play board games, read the environmental print on grocery packages, the fridge magnets, your shopping lists, the North Shore News and all of its accompanying flyers.
Spend time just talking with your child. Respond to your children’s questions, take the time to explain concepts to them and use the correct vocabulary. We all need to model good oral language. The children will love to hear stories about your day, themselves when they were toddlers and preschoolers, and they will especially enjoy stories about you when you were young. Time spent sharing between your child and you, or your child and grandparents, is an opportunity to share the history of your family. Activities such as crafting, baking, cooking and gardening all have their own vocabulary, skills and processes which are not only fun to do, but doing them together creates shared memories of special times.
Provide a variety of writing materials. The sky is pretty much the limit for what is available for your child in the way of school supplies and craft materials. In our classes, Mr. Sketch (smelly markers) have been a huge hit every year. With the exception of some inky noses, these are great markers for our Littles. The children are used to using the larger pencils in class, but they do enjoy our fancy pencils, pens, skinny felts, pastels, bingo markers and paints and paintbrushes. We give them a lot of recycled materials like old cards, envelopes, little notebooks and scrapbook paper for cutting, gluing, creating and writing. Colouring book pages continue to be very much loved. The children are very interested in using tape and staplers, hole punches and ribbon scraps to gather their work into booklets. For outdoor writing and drawing, sidewalk chalk is very fun!
Model that you are a writer, too. Through your own work, at home or out of the house, you can show your child that writing is an important part of everything you do. Let your child see you write cards, shopping lists, cheques, or a short email so they understand that writing has a purpose. You can respond with interest to your child’s writing, and answer the messages they write to you. We often ask the children what a scribble, string of letters or drawing is all about and they are happy to oblige. You can also take a moment to label your child’s work for her, show him the correct formation of letters or spelling of some words if he asks. Your response demonstrates to your child how much you value their literary efforts.
Still looking for more ideas? For further reading, you can visit these two posts where we describe in further detail additional ways to support literacy at home.
Sources: The Phonological Awareness Companion. LinguiSystems, Inc.1995; Conversation Connections Parent Program, Workshop 2: Handout M. The Psychological Corporation, 1993; Strickland, S.D., Mandel Morrow, L. “Family Literacy and Young Children,” The Reading Teacher, March 1989, pgs. 530-531; Schiller, D., Quigg, J., Wylie, K. “Stress Free Reading at Home: A Handbook for Parents.”