Saturday, November 15, 2014

Little Voices: Familiar Words

I brought back a few new ideas to the classroom after attending a literacy workshop at NAEYC in Dallas titled:

Wow your crowd with a read-aloud: 10 Strategies to increase engagement and interaction 
By Deb Stewart of Teach Preschool and Vanessa Levin of Pre-K Pages

I learned a lot of great ideas, but a couple pointers that I found helpful were:

Do not put books on the book shelf until they have been read aloud to the children.

If they don't "know" and love the books, than they are less likely to care for them and actually examine them on their own. We have a much younger and newer crew this year and there have been many injuries to our books. The children often pull them off the shelf, but rather than look at them they just stand or sit on them. I realized that I many of the books on the bookshelf had no context to them. They didn't know the story. I have a lot of books that are special to me. Those are my favorites to read. Unfortunately I have them all on a special shelf so they don't get ruined. I read them and then put them away. These are the stories the children would love to hold, because I love to read them. I have decided to start investing in second copies of all those books for them to have on their shelf. 

They also reminded me of the importance to read the children books over and over again. 
I know the importance of repetition for their language skills. I know the importance of them learning a story so thoroughly that they are able to retell it. However, it is easy to get into a routine of reading new books, because as adults we get bored with reading the same books over and over again. Children want to hear the same stories over and over again!

When I got back to the classroom I took all the books off our forward facing book shelf. I decided to start simple. I started reading them all our board books. I put the board books on the shelf. I knew these would be the easiest books for them to handle, but also the easiest books to memorize.  I am not talking about texture and lift-a-flap board books. Many great classic stories can be found in the form of board books. Three all time favorites from our board book collection are Jamberry, Brown Bear Brown Bear, and The Three Bears

Part of our daily routine is to clear from lunch, use the bathroom and then choose a book. They bring the book and their nap bag over to their mat and get everything settled. They read their books alone. Once children have settled into the school year a little bit, we occasionally have "book sharing."

I will invite children to another child's mat to share their books with each other. I felt the difference this week. Everybody is finally settling into the routine. I knew they were ready to give sharing a try.

I remind them to sit next to each other. I encourage them to hold one book on two laps, because that is the true meaning of sharing. The child who chose the book off the shelf is the "reader." Then they switch books and readers.  I was not only amazed with their interest and new ability to sit next to each other and share their books, but I heard something new.

As I walked around peaking at them, I heard them repeating the words to the books that I had recently read. Success. :)

Just a few of the things they are learning:

Language Skills

Sharing space with others

Building friendships

Similarities: Noticing they both have books about bears.

Explaining proper book handling
to our younger friends. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Leader of the Pack: Giving them time to be the role-models.

I think one of the best parts of our preschool program is having the one multi-age classroom. I love having the 2-5 year olds all mixed into "one big family." It has such a home-like feel to it and everybody is learning something from everybody else, just like siblings do. They are learning patience. compassion, nurturing, leadership, empathy and the list goes on.

Recently during a Montessori session at the NAEYC Conference the presenters talked about the benefits of the three-year groups that Montessori children are in. They remain in the same classroom for three years. As they spoke I realized that I follow a very similar philosophy when it comes to the benefits of a multi-age classroom for preschoolers. 

When they enter preschool they are able to observe and learn from the older children who have attended the program longer. As they move up the "totem" and become the bigger kids of the group, it is easy to see the changes taking place. Suddenly they are the big kids. They get to be the leaders. It is time for them to pull together everything they have observed and learned and use it with confidence. 

They get to lead the play. They are the teachers. 

For some children this opportunity is key to allowing them to build confidence and to feel comfortable in their own skin.  It is important that I recommend to each family whether they should move on to Public PreK (4 year old program in public school) or whether they would benefit from having the extra year. The extra year allows many to become the leaders in an environment where they are already comfortable. It is necessary to look at every child as an individual. Some children really benefit from moving on to the public 4 year old program, after just a year or two of being in a multi-age program. Others really need that final year to be the role models and learn valuable leadership skills that will follow them through their school years. 

Are they still learning after being there that long? Of course. They are solidifying all the concepts they have learned as they model them to younger friends. Kids like to feel smart! They get excited when they are finally the ones who are always the "experts" before the littler kids get a chance to answer. They are also gaining critical social skills. 

This is an important conversation for the parent-teacher team to have when advocating for what is in the best interest of the child.

Public Prek is often a bigger group and usually a bigger school. Many parents feel the need to introduce their children to this experience before kindergarten so they are not overwhelmed. I think what is often not considered is, if they wait their child may be entering Kindergarten much more confident. They may be really READY if they are given another year to develop their self-esteem further.

"Character formation cannot be taught. It comes from experience and not from explanation.” -Maria Montessori