Choosing Books for Preschoolers

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There are over 2,000 children’s books published each year, so choosing books for preschool children can feel like an overwhelming task! Walk into any local bookstore or your neighborhood library and you will undoubtedly be faced with rows and rows of books from which to choose. Where do you begin?  There are a few guiding questions that you can ask yourself to decide if a book is worth reading.
1.       Are the illustrations appropriate, engaging, and relevant?  Young children will gravitate more towards the pictures than the text so look at the illustrations carefully. In addition, children will often use the pictures to “read” a story independently so see if the pictures reflect the text.
2.       Are the text and the illustrations bias-free? It is important to choose books that do not perpetuate stereotypes about race, gender, religion, and physical/mental ability.
3.       Is the text appropriate for my child’s developmental level?  You have to walk a fine line here. You want to choose books that your child can comprehend, but also look for books that will introduce your child to new concepts and vocabulary!
4.       Does the story inspire the imagination?  Some of my favorite children’s books have been turned into movies because of their ability to inspire imaginations of adults and children alike. Search for stories that will give your child opportunities to use his/her imagination!
5.       Do you as the adult find the book interesting?  This may seem like an odd thing to look for in a book for children, but remember that your joy is often contagious! So why not share your excitement with your children or students!
6.       Will your child be interested in the subject? Children will often develop their own interests; Sometimes their interest may last for a few days, a few weeks, or it may turn into a life-long interest or hobby. Nurture those interests! This is also a great way to pull in the reluctant reader. The little girl who is not so interested in reading but loves horses may find an interest in books about horses!
7.       Does the book encourage interaction? Some of the books that children love the most encourage participation. Pop-up books, Lift-the-flap books, I-Spy stories, and books with rhythmic, repetitious or call/response text are hot ticket items for the five and under crew!
8.       What is the purpose of the book? Expand your child’s literary base by exposing them to all types of books – fiction, biography, how-to/why books, and nature books provide children with opportunities to look at our world from different points of view!
9.       Is this a non-fiction book, and if so, is it accurate? When choosing books that are written to provide children information, be sure it is accurate. I once read a book that referred to Africa as a country! So choose books that will give children an accurate picture of our world.
10.   Will my child want to read this book more than once?  Children learn, as we all do, from repeated exposure to information. So, choose books that your child will want to read more than once.

Journal Writing with Young Children

When most of us think of journal writing, we often conjure up an image of a cute little diary with a lock and key that contains pages of feelings, and is often tucked away in a nightstand or under a mattress. So let’s take a moment to erase that preconceived notion from our heads. Officially,   journal writing is “a personal record of occurrences, experiences, and reflections kept on a regular basis.” Preschoolers have “occurrences, experiences, and reflections” so why can’t  they write in a journal?! I know what you are thinking…preschoolers cannot WRITE so how can we expect them to write in a JOURNAL?
It’s widely established that literacy activities in early childhood are essential building blocks for future school success. However, too often, we think that “literacy” just means that we read books to children and provide a print-rich environment. Children need opportunities to learn that they can use language to communicate with others. Journal writing with young children serves five major purposes:
1.       It teaches children that their thoughts, feelings, and words can be transferred from their minds onto paper for others to see and read.
2.       Children learn to value writing, and to respect the writing of others.
3.       Journal writing gives children REAL and RELEVANT opportunities to learn the conventions of print such as:  a)print goes from left to right; b) there is a difference between pictures and text; c) print goes from the top to the bottom of a page; d) letters make up words, and other rules of the written language.
4.       Young children need to experiment with letters, letter sounds, and inventive spelling in a non-threatening way.
5.       Writing gives children time to practice the fine motor control that will help them become better writers.
When you begin journal writing with young children, there are some general rules to keep in mind:
1.       Involve children in creating and decorating the journals. Make it fun and allow them to be creative so that their journal feels special and unique. The journals can be a few pieces of paper tucked in-between construction paper or tag board, or it can be more elaborate. Keep a few blank books handy so children who use up all their pages will be able to continue their writing without missing a beat!  Here are some links to book-making for children:
a.       Book projects
2.       I suggest using plain paper on the inside of the journals as opposed to paper with lines. Children will have enough time to HAVE to “write on the lines.” Journal writing should not have such steadfast rules. Besides, if you look at children’s story books, text is not ALWAYS at the bottom. Sometimes the text is next to the pictures, sometimes above, and sometimes below. Let children be the boss of their own writing!
3.       The adult (parent or teacher) is NOT allowed to make any corrections. Journal writing is purely free expression and children should not be worried about writing their letters and words the “right” way.
4.       Only write in the child’s journal if they ask you to. If a child dictates a sentence to you, ask them WHERE on the page they want you to write and write it EXACTLY as they say it. Do not make any edits. Give the children control over their work.
5.       Pictures convey meaning so it’s ok if a child does not want to write words (real or pretend) in their journal.
6.       DATE each entry. I would give the children a choice, they could copy the date from a sentence strip that I prepared (sentence strips are easier than writing on the chalkboard because children can take the paper right to their seat) OR they could stamp the date using a stamp and inkpad.  Dating the entry helps teachers, parents, and the child see progress over time!
7.       Provide a regular time and place for writing. Make the special time happen at least once a week. Also, don’t require children to sit at the table/desk while writing. If they want to curl up in the corner with a pillow and a handful of crayons, then that’s OK. We often impose so many classroom rules that we stifle children.  Allow children to choose crayons, markers, or pencils. Again, it’s about giving children some level of control over their creations!
8.       Encourage children to use inventive spelling. If they write a string of letters and words, ask them to read those “words” to you.  Help them to understand the power of their writing. If you are tracking progress, you may want to write the child’s dictation on a post it note and date it. You can save the post it note with your classroom anecdotal records, but do not rewrite what the child said in his journal. Doing so sends the message that their spelling was incorrect or not good enough.
9.       Provide time for children to share their journal with a friend or teacher. After journal writing time, I would randomly pair the children and let them go to any place in the classroom to share their journals with each other. Think of it this way: would the author of a book be happy if NO ONE read her work? Most authors write because they have something to say that they want to share with other people. So give children this same opportunity to share.
10.   Most importantly, make journal writing fun and relaxing!  
Write On!

Music and Literacy…A Perfect Match!


What “universal” language promotes reading, creativity, and comprehension skills all at the same time? MUSIC!

According to neurobiologist Norman M. Weinberger, music exists in every culture. Parents all over the world sing to their babies. Music provides us with a natural and rhythmic way to learn. Do you ever wonder why children learn to sing their ABCs before they can say them? Do you notice that so many of our favorite children’s books have a certain rhyme or rhythmic pattern? Many studies show that there is a very strong connection between literacy and music. Through music, children learn to:

·         Understand language (we must comprehend language in order to become “true” readers)
·         Experiment with rhythm, words, tempo, and melody (which are important skills in reading aloud)
·         Think creatively and holistically
·         Make the connection between print and spoken words
·         Practice motor development and motor coordination while experimenting with various instruments and dancing
·         LISTEN (we sometimes forget that listening is an important literacy skill)

Does this mean that we pipe classical music into the background all day and expect preschoolers and kindergarten children to miraculously begin reading at a third grade reading level? Of course not! Here are some more reasonable and practical ways to assimilate music into the lives of young children:

1.       Expose children to a variety of music from a young age. Different music has different tempos and rhythms so exposure to all genres of music, according to some experts, helps brain development.
2.       Do not use music as background “filler” all the time. I have been in classrooms where music is playing non-stop. Sometimes it’s ok to just let children hear their own chatter and their own thoughts! Besides, you don’t want children to become immune to the music as background “noise.” You want music to catch their attention rather than just be part of the background!
3.       Recognize the effect music has on children’s behavior. Classical music or jazz played at the right time of day can have a calming effect.
4.       When introducing a new song or poem to children, write it down on chart paper. This helps children make the connection between written and spoken language.
5.       Don’t rely only on recorded music. Sing to your children. Recite poems and finger plays. These activities should be a part of children’s daily routine.
6.       Provide children with a variety of instruments. While children should have time to experiment with instruments on their own, the teacher should also provide structured time where children learn to play their instruments to a certain rhythm or they can echo a rhythm played by the teacher.
7.       When listening to music, encourage children to listen and try to identify  various instruments that they hear.
8.       If you have parents that play an instrument, invite them into your classroom to show the children.
9.       Contact your local symphony to see if they have a free or low-cost outreach programs. If not, check with your local college or high school! The members of the band may be able to visit your childcare center or school!
10.   Hum a song and let the children guess what it is! This seems like a simple activity but it really encourages listening, thinking, and problem solving.
11.   DANCE! Some children are kinesthetic learners and movement is important to these students!

I have a ton of favorite children’s songs – too many to list here. But some of my favorite children’s musicians are

·         Ella Jenkins
·         Thomas Moore
·         Raffi
·         Greg and Steve
·         Hap Palmer
·         Putumayo Kids (This series has a great collection of world music.)
Here are some books that may inspire the musicians in your class:
·         The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin
·         Musical Instruments from A to Z by Bobbie Kalman
·         Meet the Orchestra by Ann Hayes
·         Ah, Music! By Aliki
·         Music, Music for Everyone by Vera B. Williams
·         Charlie Parker Played Be Bop by Christopher Raschka
·         Mozart Finds a Melody by Stephen Costanza
·         Ben’s Trumpet by Rachel Isadora
·         The Magic Flute by Kyra Teis
·         I Know a Shy Fellow Who Swallowed a Cello by Barbara Garriel
·         This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt
Other Musical Resources:
·         Songs for Teaching
·         Music for Little People

Check your local symphony to see if their website has a link for teachers or children. For example, The Dallas Symphony Orchestra has the DSO Kids Club and The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has a link for BSO Kids
Written by Tonya Wright

Technology and Literacy in the Early Childhood Classroom


Remember the old Jetson cartoons where George would call home and his image would appear on the “telephone” screen? And Elroy had a computerized homework helper? We may not be living in apartments in outer space and we certainly aren’t flying around in space cars (yet), but some of that Jetson technology has become closer to realty than science fiction. These days most people and many businesses are Skyping, Tweeting, Blogging, Instant Messaging, and connecting through Facebook; these words didn’t even exist a few short years ago!

For a variety of reasons, the early childhood community has been slower to catch when it comes to technology. A recent survey of early childhood professionals by Child Care Information Exchange revealed that among child care centers, most that use technology only do so for administrative purposes such as accounting or record-keeping; and classroom use is often limited to educational software.

Technology can positively impact classroom practices.

Not only can teachers use the web to find endless lesson plan ideas, recipes, and classroom themes, but technology can also be used in the classroom even by preschool students! But first we must first get away from the concept that “educational software” is the only way to use technology with young students.

Children can use photographs that they (or a teacher) have taken and create slideshows or stories. Websites such as Slideshare and Voicethread can be used to enhance literacy in the early childhood classroom. There are e-pal sites where classrooms can communicate with other classrooms across the state, across the country, or even across the world! Teachers can also scan student artwork or work samples and create electronic portfolios.

Word-processing and desktop publishing software can be used with students to creates student books, classroom labels, signs, and much more! My kindergartners were able to type “Do not touch” signs, print them out, and label their block creations. They could also type and print “Wet paint” signs to put near their art projects. While traditional methods should not be abandoned, technology can be used to enhance literacy-teaching strategies that we already know are effective.

Chances are, if you are reading this blog, you have a certain degree of technology know-how. I hope that you take what you know about technology and share it with an early childhood professional that may be able to learn from you. Knowledge is power and we have to spread the word about technological literacy!

Written by Tonya Wright

Science and Literacy: What’s the Connection?

Did you know that the teaching of science has a direct connection to literacy development?

Science encourages logical thinking, communication skills, making predictions, drawing conclusions, and interpreting information; all of these skills enhance literacy development for students of any age! Science also provides a springboard for reading and writing activities.

Young children are curious learners and therefore, natural scientists. They don’t walk into our classrooms with closed-minds and preconceived set-in-stone ideas. As teachers of young children, we should take the opportunity of these “wonder years” and provide our students with the chance to make discoveries, develop theories, and test their hypotheses. We must give them a safe environment with adequate materials to help them extend their understanding of the world around us.

But let’s not be confused about the nature of science: Science isn’t just a set of experiments or a table in a corner that we fill with magnifying glasses and leaves. Science should be happening every day in most areas of the early childhood classroom.

  • In the block area, children are learning about cause and effect, weight, balance, classification, and many other science concepts.
  • The water and sand areas should be filled with items that support discovery: eye droppers, funnels, food coloring, ice cubes, spray bottles, soap bubbles, sink/float objects. In the art center, have students actually help you make play dough and clay and talk about the chemical reactions between wet/dry ingredients.
  • Every cooking activity that you do can be a science activity! Get a class pet or at least a fish aqaruium to learn about animal life cycles.

And let’s not forget those teachable moments; you know, those moments that are not planned, but present themselves as a chance to teach something:

  • Outside on the playground, do you help the children notice the wind, a bug, rain droplets, or shadows?
  • Have your students discovered that sometimes static electricity makes your hair stand up when going down the sliding board?

Look around your classroom and see what types of science discoveries can be found; I am sure that you’ll find plenty!

© Tonya Y. Wright