By Lorna Orleans
Director, Strelitz Early Childhood Center Preschool
Early childhood literacy is developed in a variety of ways. In developmentally appropriate preschool programs, teaching literacy is about helping students develop the readiness skills they need to begin reading. At the Strelitz Early Childhood Center, our literacy program develops children’s literacy skills and most importantly a lifelong love of books and reading.
As young as two years old, children begin building literacy skills. At this stage, the emphasis is on developing expressive and receptive language skills. Teachers facilitate conversations with children and between children, they help students join vocabulary into phrases and use verbal direction.
Of course reading aloud to students is a big part of the Strelitz preschool curriculum and the key to developing pre-reading skills. “Read Alouds” are a very interactive way of reading to children. Teachers choose appropriate age level books and offer opportunities during the story for students to make predictions. Through “Read Alouds”, children learn to associate oral language with the written word and begin to develop auditory discrimination and memory skills. Teachers choose books with repetitive phrases, which the children can participate in reciting. Often times they use the oversized board books so illustrations are more visible and they encourage children to express their thoughts about the pictures.
We also have a library of books accompanied by audio CDs. The children learn to listen for the sound that signals the turning of the page. Repeating familiar nursery rhymes, using finger plays and felt story-boards all help to develop expressive language and sequencing skills, an important precursor to reading. As a two year old sits on the floor and retells the story he has heard in class, he is well on his way to being a reader.
The Strelitz three-year-old curriculum also includes “read alouds”. Additionally, the teachers maintain classroom libraries that reflect current units so the students can read independently about a topic that they are learning. The three year old curriculum also includes “Mystery Reader”. Teachers invite students’ family members and friends to come in unannounced to read favorite stories to the class. Positive experiences like this help children develop a comfort level with books as they associate them with family and fun.
Three year olds continue to grow their language development as they share and listen during circle time discussions, retell personal experiences and initiate conversations with peers. Students build auditory discrimination and memory skills as they retell or act out stories read in class, repeat rhymes and learn to participate in the language of songs. With table-top manipulatives for matching and sequencing, students develop visual discrimination and memory skills, all tools for “getting ready to read”.
Word recognition sometime develops in the three year old class. Three year olds are able to identify their names in writing as well as their friends’ names and some can identify beginning letter sounds and connect them to their letter symbols. As teachers offer writing centers with various writing and drawing tools, three year olds begin to experiment with writing letters. They can describe and dictate captions for their art work and they are learning the concept that “writing is talk written down.”
As three year olds move into our Pre-K program they become more comfortable with writing. They become proficient at identifying all the letters of the alphabet and at associating their sounds with the symbols. The our four-year-old curriculum includes a phonemic sequencing program that systematically introduces the sounds of consonant pairs as well as vowel sounds which are grouped into smile, open and round sounds. Students learn about joining consonant and letter sounds to create recognizable words. Additionally some children develop a sight word vocabulary.
Teachers maintain “print rich” classrooms with libraries that include fiction and nonfiction selections. Through the use of “Handwriting Without Tears” concepts students learn to form letters correctly and refine their grip. With well-stocked writing centers and opportunities for creative drawing some students begin to write using inventive spelling as they create captions for their artwork.
All of these important literacy skills are an essential part of a preschool reading and writing curriculum in order to create a strong foundation for an easy transition to kindergarten.