If your classroom has all of these quality indicators that relate to literacy and developing pre-reading skills, and you are able to articulate what and how children learn from these things, you will be in a much better position to address parents who want their children to be bringing home daily worksheets. Many very well intentioned parents think that children are not learning if they are not doing worksheets, and do not understand that children learn best through hands-on, meaningful play experiences within a prepared environment.
Ultimately the children benefit the most from these developmentally appropriate practices. They are then able to learn these concepts in a way which is both meaningful and fun to them - instead of by rote or by being forced to sit and write a page full of'R's. Learning should be spontaneous and fun when you're 4!
Enhancing Classroom Literacy With a Print Rich Environment
A print-rich environment includes:
- Child-made books (individual and group-process made)
- Teacher-made books
- Books made by the class based on shared experiences
- Picture books
- Children's magazines
- Pillows, rugs, rockers (to create a soft, comfortable area)
- Flannel board with stories children can re-tell
- Familiar books that children can 'read' from memory
- Pictures of children reading
- Story tapes
- Books for reference
Dictation taken by the Teacher and posted on large sheets of easel paper.
Children should be asked open-ended questions (preferably on the curriculum topic of interest for that week) and then their quotes should be written down verbatim. This gives children the message that there are symbols for their words. You will also find when you write down exactly what children say as they say it, over the course of time you can see real strides in language development.
Quotes on children's artwork, again word for word. Ask the child if he/she would like to tell you about his/her work.
Ask if they would like for you to write it down, and where they want it on the picture. What children say about their own work tells us what they are thinking and feeling and their views on the world. It is also a great communication enhancer between parent and child.
Items labeled throughout the classroom.
Again, this is to give children the message that everything has a set of recognizable, common symbols that are written down that universally identify it
A Few Tips on Labeling
Don't label everything in the room.
It becomes too visually stimulating and overwhelming. Label 5 chairs not all 20.
Make sure your labeling is neat.
If you cannot print neatly, do your text on a computer.
Use the style of writing that is consistent with what your school district teaches,
as that is what your children will be learning to recognize. Big 'puffy' letters in all capitals may be confusing to children when they are just learning to recognize letters.
When labeling shelves for toys, try to use a picture as well.
If the toy is off the shelf and there is no picture, the word itself usually is not helpful to the pre-reader.
Allow the child (4 and up) to label his/her own cubbie
If they are only able to write a 'C', but they know that symbol means them that is far better than anything cute thing we do to label their cubbie. (Adding pictures of the children works well for this too and is more meaningful and personal.)
Things are written Left-to-Right, starting at the top left hand of the page.
With the exception of a child's preference on his artwork, all writing in the classroom should start the same way in which children will be taught to read. We are training their eyes to naturally look to the top left hand part of the page. Also, when reading, sometimes the Teacher should use a finger to 'track' the words as he/she reads them, illustrating the progression of the story by text.
- Rebus Charts. There should be a rebus chart (or real pictures) illustrating the handwashing procedure step-by-step, with the words right along side the pictures. Cooking is another excellent way to incorporate rebus charts into a classroom. A pictorial schedule of the day is much more meaningful to a child, and gives them the feeling of being more in control of their day and environment.
- Charting and Graphing. This extends over into math, but again, also shows children the correlation between language and the process of putting symbols onto paper. If your learning theme for the week is transportation, you can make 5 categories (bus, plane, train, boat, car) then have children place their (pre-made) name markers by which mode of transportation they have used. Responses should 'stack' (at even intervals) creating a graph. Children can then come up and visually see which answer had the most responses and make comparisons themselves. This should not be done in place of open-ended questions, but in addition to, as it teaches a different skill.
- Real, concrete objects that children can physically handle if letters are being 'taught'.If you are going to put up an alphabet chart (older 3's and up), it needs to be interactive, as this is how children learn most effectively - not just something children look at. Have pictures of real objects that the children have cut out of magazines glued by each letter. Will your alphabet look as nice? No, but what is your goal here? You can buy two of the exact same alphabet charts and make it into a matching game. You can also round up small items (or pictures of items) for each letter, put a magnetic strip or Velcro on them and let the children match them in that way. You can have a "Letter of the Week" table where children handle and talk about small miniature objects that all start with the same letter. Children are experiential learners - they learn very little from an 'Alphabet Train' located 9 feet from the floor, bordering the ceiling. Instead of having children color an 'apple' ditto - have them make applesauce!
- Many choices available of small motor manipulatives that will develop those important muscles for when a child will need the fine motor skills to hold a pencil and begin to write. Using scissors is one of the best ways to develop small motor skills and eye-hand coordination. Children should be doing all of their own cutting from the ages of three on (with supervision, safety scissors, and instruction initially.)
- Small pads of paper and pencils throughout the classroom in different areas. Make sure that this will not be a safety issue for your group of children. Typically, children who are 4-years-old and older can be taught to handle and respect pencils and use them correctly. What will you see when you do this? Children in the block area drawing 'blueprints'. Children in the homeliving area making 'grocery lists'; or 'taking an order' in a restaurant. This spontaneous child-initiated learning and acknowledgement of the printed word is our goal. This demonstrates that they understand and are making the connection.
Skills Acquired in a Print-rich Environment
Childrean learn the following skills and concept in a print-rich environment and through books and the library area.
- The correlation between speech and the written word being symbols for people, places and things in their world
- Increased vocabulary
- Language development
- Books and reading as a pleasurable activity
- Books and reading as a source of finding out information
- The acquisition of knowledge and information
- Expanded creativity and imagination
- Opportunities to work through real life experiences
- Fine motor development
- Development of an understanding of the sequencing of events in storytelling
- Memory enhancement
- Visual Discrimination
- Eye-hand coordination
- Opportunity to role-play
- Exposure to diversity
- Increased understanding of their world
- Enhanced self-esteem as they master concepts and recognize letters
- Increased success upon entering school
- Appreciation and respect for books and fine literature
- Cognitive skills such as prediction and hypothesis