Letter recognition is one of the many priorities we face in the early childhood classroom. As educators we want our children to be prepared when it’s time for them to say goodbye to their preschool years. Often I find teachers incorporate letter recognition by utilizing the “Letter of the Week” strategy. However, best practice in early childhood education informs us that we should plan based on the individual child and their interests. My question to educators: is there a more natural and meaningful way to introduce children to the letters of the alphabet?
If you observe closely you will find that incorporating the letter of the week strategy is not of interest to many children. From my experience, I often observe most children wriggling around, talking to friends, playing with “closed” materials, and generally disengaged as the letter of the week is introduced. Why are so many of these children disengaged? Could it be that they don’t care about this letter because it’s not meaningful to them? The letters that children are most focused on in this stage of development are the letters in their own name. The letters in their name and the letters in the names of their peers are very important to young children!
In this classroom, the teacher created a fun activity for children to match wooden alphabet blocks to the letters on their name card and on the name cards of their peers
So how can we utilize this interest and expand it to meeting the goals of letter recognition? Is there a way to incorporate letter activities as children play? Below are some of the ways you could incorporate the use of children’s name cards for various purposes in the classroom. Children could:
- Find and use their name card to save their work
- Copy the letters from the name cards to create a waiting list or write a letter home
- Hang their name up on an attendance or interactive chart
- Hang the names of their peers up on an interactive chart
- Find their names at the lunch table
- Fill out a “lunch request” form asking to sit next to a peer at lunch time
As children utilize their name and the names of their peers, they are recognizing many letters of the alphabet in a natural, meaningful and fun way. Then as children are developmentally ready and interested to gain more letter experiences outside their own name and the names of their peers, conversations and activities about other letters will become more natural and meaningful.
If we force children to focus on something they are not interested in, it becomes work or a chore to them. It feels like a test and drill situation. As educators we understand that children learn best through hands on activities and through play. According to best practice we should be focusing on what the child is interested in and plan from there, even when it comes to letter recognition.
For more great ways to enhance children’s literacy development please look into the training: “Moving Beyond Letter of the Week.” This training and many others can be located on 4C for Children’s online professional development opportunities catalog: http://www.4cforchildren.org/pdo
As of April 1, 2014, my children had 43 days left of this school year. And my Sam who is wrapping up his junior year has 218 school days left to complete high school. I’m not completely sure where the time has gone. It seems as if just yesterday I was putting him on the bus to the first day of kindergarten and next September I will watch him drive away to the first day of his senior year. College seems so overwhelming. If memory serves, kindergarten seemed overwhelming too.
The funny thing is, some of the things that I remember helping Sam think about as we were gearing up for the first day of kindergarten seem to be the same things we are thinking forward to with college.
Everywhere I turn I see ads for kindergarten registration for next school year. As classroom teachers I think it’s important for us to remember that not all families have a comfort level with what getting their child ready for school means. As professionals in the field, we can support our families by sharing some of what we know.
- Inform: As you hear your families talk about kindergarten registration, and even if you don’t, share information about events that are happening within the community.
- Encourage: Tell families how important visiting their child’s potential school can be. Help them think through questions they may ask and some of the differences that they may see.
- Investigate: Ask families where they plan to send their child to kindergarten. Talk about kindergarten in your classroom to help children feel excited about the changes that are coming.
- Connect: Sometimes it helps to have a partner along the way. If families are open to sharing information with one another, introduce them to each other so that they can bounce ideas off of one another about things related to kindergarten.
- Be positive: Transitions, especially big ones, for both adults and children can feel scary. Help both families and children see the fun possibilities that lie ahead.
- Communicate: Talk with other professionals about the skills necessary to help children be and feel successful as they move from preschool to kindergarten. Share those skills with families so they can reinforce them at home.
As I look at the next 251 school days until my Sam transitions to college, I know I have a lot of work ahead of me. It’s really not much different than the work of families preparing children for kindergarten. I need to make sure that Sam and I have the necessary information to choose a good college, just like parents need to choose a good kindergarten. I need to connect with other families who have children at the colleges he is interested in so we can get the scoop on deadlines and fun activities, just like parents who are getting ready to send their children to kindergarten. And most importantly, I need to connect with Sam and his teachers so that I can learn about anything extra I can do at home to support him as he transitions from high school to college.
As early childhood educators, I hope you’ll take time to share with your families and children the things they can do at home to prepare themselves and their children for what’s next. So twelve years later as they start the preparation for college, they can remember the work you did with them to prepare for kindergarten and not feel so overwhelmed.
I’ve decided I want to get the word “Be” tattooed on my wrist as a reminder. For me, it would be a reminder of a lot of different things. Relax. Be in the moment. Let the children be. Let the activity be. Watch. Observe.
It’s becoming increasingly stressful to be an early childhood educator. The demand to get children ready for school is an ever-present thought in every educator’s brain. My reaction to these demands is to BE. Be with the children. Grasp those teachable moments. Be in the process. Give children finger paint and let them explore. Be outside. Participate in the wonder of nature. Be amazed at the children’s curiosity. Read books. Be in the story. Be quiet. Listen to the environment. Listen to the children. You may be surprised at how much children learn during these moments. You may also be surprised at how much YOU learn, as well.
As we are being, we are teaching and children are learning. Children are learning the scientific process while interacting with paint. They are learning about textures while exploring nature. Children are learning writing skills while using crayons and markers. They are learning math skills while working with blocks. Children are learning self-regulation while engaged in dramatic play.
Most of all, children are learning to BE. They are learning to be competent learners. They are learning that school is fun. They are developing a passion for learning. Children are learning to trust their adults. They are learning to trust themselves.
My advice to early childhood educators? Bask in the attention that’s currently being paid to our field. Showcase your talents. Advocate for your children. Educate society on what the children are learning because you are BEING with them. Have an understanding in theory and developmentally appropriate practice so that your BEING is rooted in a firm foundation. Know why you are doing what you are doing. Soon enough everyone else will realize the value of being, too.