Learning begins with language, building words upon words. The more words children hear, the more they learn, and the better they do in school. All of this leads up to reading readiness. So, if I can give children hundreds and thousands of words in a variety of ways, they will have a head start.
How do I do this?
When we have a guest visit the class, or we want to ask someone questions, or we want to tell our own story, we write a giant letter. In that way, I am helping children to visualize what is on their minds. But there’s more; children need to touch and feel to ‘cement’ an idea or a concept. I have them decorate and draw on the big letters. The words are reinforced and children feel as though they have written the words themselves. Often, they add their own writing. This week we wrote a letter to our Pen-Pals:
Children have much on their minds. They’re constantly learning, soaking up information at a rapid clip. In late September I ask each child what they like to do in school. This is not a casual question; it’s the first time their teacher has asked, one-on-one. First, they have to think. I can almost visualize a fast-forward movie playing in their brains. With no other prompting or questions, I get “the story”. Each child watches as I write his / her exact works. I have not only put their thought into a written image, I have validated that what they say is important. Because it is. Next, each child draws a picture of their story. I mount the story along with their photo and hang it in the hallway. Of course we have a field trip to the hallway to read aloud everyone’s picture story. As the year progresses, I have children write more picture stories. Yes, we are learning about dinosaurs!
I tell stories for two reasons: hearing words without an image requires brain work and concentration. It is much the same with chapter reading. Children make the images in their head and vocabulary grows in leaps and bounds. Secondly, telling classic fairy tales with voices and animation is a favorite, along with Jennie Stories (true stories of my childhood), as it connects the children to me. There is the element of love, that intangible feeling of wanting to be part of the story and also part of the teacher who was once just like them.
And what does all this language do, along with reading a gazillion picture books? It gives children the skills to learn to read! There is both visual and auditory processing at work, plus making all those connections with what they hear, what they see, and what they write. This also translates into focusing- learning and listening at school in all areas.
Children are natural storytellers. After they hear stories, and after they write their own picture stories, they are ready to tell a story, as a group. This is big, because it’s a group collaboration.
Of course the children told a dinosaur story. It was detailed. The words filled the entire chart paper! I wrote every word. The story is hanging alongside the picture stories in the hallway.
Finally, it is fun for children. When the big chart paper comes out to write a letter, or when they hear the words “It happened like this”, or when the lights go out for chapter reading, children are excited and engaged. Words make all the difference in the world.