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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in early literacy

Posted by on in Literacy

Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss! Read Across America 2019! 

Saturday, March 2nd, on a cold but suddenly sunny day in Eugene, so much fun reading Dr. Seuss!

Having a grand time re-reading a bunch of my Dr. Seuss books. Rather than reposting a couple earlier blogs I'm sitting here camped out with warm blanket, scarf, fuzzy slippers with pom poms, but no Dr Seuss hat. Instead a beanie. Mother Nature calmed down a bit in time for Dr. Seuss' birthday. For that I am so grateful. And ready for fun! 

My #oneword for 2019 is "Celebrate", so today's a perfect reading party. I'm waiting for you. Silly hats! Pjs and cocoa or hot cider, too. And bring your favorite Dr. Seuss stories, maybe a costume or too!

Each year, Dr. Seuss' birthday is celebrated on March 2nd. Or close to it. Due to weather, I am reading at the preschool a couple days late. I'm already planning probably two books and matching mini-lessons. I'll have the children pick their favorites. That in itself is a lesson in decision making. Maybe. Have to see. Thinking a nudge toward 'Hop On Pop', 'Ten Apples On Top'. Toss in a little word family action. I'm really sneaky with skills.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

Many years ago, teaching pre-k students about stories, and story structure, it occurred to me that since my students sang their made-up songs in dramatic play, I should share the grown-up version of stories that are sung. That is how teaching opera to young children was born in our classroom. The opera by Englebert Humerdinck, Hansel and Gretel, was one I’d sung in the past. It is usually performed during the holidays, ostensibly for children (though I defy any adult to fall asleep while watching it). The story itself is problematic for early childhood classrooms. A mother/step-mother who wants her children to die so that the couple has enough to eat? A witch who turns children into cookies? The original tale is a typical Brothers Grimm tale, based on many word-of-mouth versions going back to a famine in fourteenth century Germany. To our modern sensibilities, it is a terrifying story. The wonderful James Marshall’s comic version is one children enjoy, but at the end, the step-mother is still dead. Reading this version to children one year, a boy pronounced this turn of events, “Good!” (Good riddance to a bad mommy?). Older school-age children will enjoy comparing all of the versions, but for preschool, Beni Montresor’s version is best. And it is identical to the opera libretto.

Here is a very brief synopsis: A poor mother sends her children out to pick wild strawberries because of their need for food. The children get lost and sleep in the forest, protected by the friendly animals (children in costume), and angels. Here is the scene in the opera which will illicit conversation about feelings of sadness, loss, and how we sometimes need a good sleep to overcome these feelings. Hansel and Gretel find the witch’s delicious house, and meet the old, seemingly friendly woman who owns it. The story proceeds from there as it usually does.

The witch’s character is usually played for comedy, sometimes in even in drag, softening the horror of a witch who eats gingerbread children. After Gretel pushes the witch into her own oven, the other children that were liberated from witch enchanted cookie forms (played by the Met Children’s Chorus in my recommended DVD), and Hansel and Gretel, celebrate, singing and dancing with gusto. The mother and father sing themselves in from the wings, and they joyously reunite with Hansel and Gretel. There couldn’t be a more satisfying ending, provided you don’t mind the children’s chorus ripping the witch/cookie apart and pretending to eat her. Our children loved this part! The storybook and opera prepare children for the themes of overcoming hardship with ingenuity, and the ultimate triumph of love over adversity.

I have always shown the DVD (VHS years ago) in twenty minute installments, making sure to pause and discuss what is happening, and listening to comments and questions. Children have amazing observations to express and discuss.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

I was excited to read Peter Gray’s blog post about the importance of reading stories to young children. This practice has been singled out, with good reason, to be crucial to future literacy. There is more to story reading than cuddles and close relationships, he writes, though these are essential for human growth and development, not to mention human joy!

“Knowing how to deal with evil as well as love, how to recognize others’ desires and needs, how to behave towards others so as to retain their friendship, and how to earn the respect of the larger society are among the most important skills we all must develop for a life.”  These skills are actually something we learn all through life, but giving children stories to reflect on gives them a huge advantage, psychologically, as an early start on braving human relationships, and fostering skillful interactions. Dare I say, also, that stories help children learn to be wise rather than right, as in, “right, not wrong”? Our current political discourse would benefit from wisdom rather than from arguing positions of “rightness” as is currently the case.

Surprisingly, one book that became a favorite with a group of pre-k students last year, and demonstrated the difference between wisdom and “might makes right”, was The Cloud Spinner, by Michael Catchpool and Alison Jay. This entrancing story starts out, “There was once a boy who could weave cloth from the clouds”. The boy sings as he works: “Enough is enough and not one stitch more”. Immediately, Alison Jay’s illustrations captivated our children. The hills and houses reflect the moods of the characters. Our preschoolers noticed this before I did! Smiles on hills are made of trees and sheep. Houses smile with windows and doors. In the beginning, nature is in harmony because the boy with his magical loom only makes what he needs. One day, the king notices the boy in a crowd and madly desires clothing, of both himself and his family, made of the clouds. He commands the boy to weave for him. The boy balks at first: “It would not be wise to have (so much fabric) made from this cloth. Your majesty does not need it.” The king is apoplectic, commanding the boy do his bidding. So he does. He weaves, and the illustrations reflect the sadness of the task with darkening color and forlorn hills.

The Cloud Spinner does not so much have a cheerful ending as a wise and uplifting one. Our children were absorbed in noticing details of the varying shades of color that reflect the boy’s, and the King’s daughter’s moods (She helps him to reverse the tragic disappearance of clouds that cause drought and discontent among the people). The King and his family are astounded by the gratitude of the people, after the clothing ordered is turned back into clouds, causing welcome rain. The boy and princess exult in the restoration of a wise order in nature and among humans. Our children, sitting before me, sigh in contentment.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

welcome to kindergarten

What's the rush? Childhood is a precious time!

"Redshirting", not just in athletics. The competition is fierce. In Kindergarten! 

Mixed emotions. Interesting articles lately about redshirting. It's way more common than I thought and it actually affects all of us, all grade levels. What a big decision. It's more than birthday cut-off dates, or 'maturity'. In some cases it gives a step up to catch up, it can also be used to get to the top of the pack, the delay adding a distinct advantage.

 In our preschool, kids are definitely ready for kindergarten. The 'fives' are showing their collective muscle and I notice a lot more chasing on the play areas. Less looking for worms and snails. More boo boos.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood

letter flashcards

It’s becoming more and more commonplace to see programs using flashcards and worksheets in their attempt to jumpstart literacy development. These early academic activities are touted as best approaches and provide tangible take-homes for anxious parents who don’t want their children to “get behind.”

Unfortunately, what’s really important to early literacy is largely being overlooked and the best opportunities to make learning matter are going unnoticed.

These programs need to stop the nonsense and expense of fancy and unnecessary academic curriculum. Instead, there needs to be a focus on just 5 things, using an approach that is age-appropriate, meaningful, and purposeful to young children.  Research tells us that these 5 are the best predictors of early literacy:

speaking to child

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