A child in our PreKindergarten class brought me a book about dinosaurs. Each page had a different picture of a dinosaur and two words on each page. The text followed a pattern: big dinosaur, little dinosaur, happy dinosaur, sad dinosaur, etc. You can just visualize the book now. The child happily turned each page and recited the book to me. Two teachers were in the office, and I asked their opinion: did she “READ” it to me? The answers were yes and no.
How does one determine when a child is reading? Is it memorizing the predictable text and reciting it out loud? Is it telling a story in the context of the pictures? Is it decoding the letters and words on each page? Is it understanding the information contained within the words you have decoded? At what point is the child “reading?”
At FUMP, the answer is all of the above measures are a part of literacy education. Each action listed above is an important step in learning to read, and we provide a wide range of literacy activities in the classrooms. This is deemed a “developmental” approach to reading instruction.
- It starts on the most basic level, with shape recognition. Children will learn the basic shapes (circle, square, triangle) as a beginning step of visual discrimination. They learn that each distinct shape has a name.
- The next step is learning the letters of the alphabet. Teachers do not teach letters through items like flashcards, which teach the skill in isolation. Rather, they point out letters within the classroom environment, creating an authentic learning experience for the children. The most common letter learned is the first letter of their name. FUMP teachers teach this within the context of the school day: “Can you find your cubby with the ‘S’? ‘S’ is for Sandy.” and so on. You will see that our classrooms have a print-rich environment for children; there are letters everywhere!
- Children then will add on additional letters of their name, and begin writing those letters. Teachers have children “sign in” on a paper where they may copy the letters printed there. Children sign in, just like their parents, each day. This provides an authentic, familiar activity rather than mandating a worksheet to be completed at group time.
- During this time, letter sounds are being learned. Phonemic awareness is knowing what sounds a letter makes, and children experiment with matching letter shapes and letter sound(s). The variances in the English language make it challenging at times (C and K both say “k”/G and g are the same letter, although they look quite different), and teachers support children as they move forward with this skill. There are numerous alphabet games, songs and chants used throughout the day with children.
- Sight words come on board as well. This can happen in two forms: environmental print and word recognition.
- Environmental print is when your child can recognize a McDonald’s sign but cannot read the word “McDonald’s” in isolation.
- Secondly, children connect the spoken word to the written word on the page. Predictable text is one of, if not the most effective tool in learning sight words. If children have memorized the rhyme and correlate the first letter of a word, they can “read” a particular word. As such, teachers select books with few words per page and predictable text, such as the dinosaur book from the example above. This is why you see toddler board books and nursery rhyme books in the three-, four-, and five-year-old classrooms. Children will experiment with “reading” these books to you and feel a strong sense of accomplishment.
- At times, a preschool child is ready for decoding, which is breaking down the letters/words in a text that is unfamiliar. You can see a child in this stage look at a word and say, “Sssss-T-O-Ppppp. ‘STOP!'” Again, English creates a challenge for the emerging reader, but it is an exciting stage for both children and adults alike. It is rare to see at FUMP, but when it happens, teachers support children in a one-on-one manner.
- Reading comprehension is the final stage: children will be able to read enough words to understand the story they tell. FUMP teachers support this learning by selecting longer stories with more text per page for the classroom. We want to expose them to the coming format of print and the cognitive elements of longer books. Teachers also ask children questions about the story to check for understanding.
As you can now see, reading skills can be placed in a developmental sequence. There are a multitude of skills involved that help your child grow into a successful reader. FUMP provides an environment that values each developing skill as it unfolds. Our low teacher-to-child ratios create opportunities for the teachers to observe children’s individual stages and tailor classroom activities to their needs. We refrain from long periods of children sitting while teachers flash sight words for the group to chant. We value authentic learning for children within the context of hands-on activities. In other words, the absence of worksheets and flashcards doesn’t mean that children are not learning to read. It means that we are teaching them to read developmentally; we place the child’s readiness at the center of the goals and subsequent activities we set forth.
What can parents do? READ TO YOUR CHILD DAILY! We cannot emphasize this enough. Reading will come on board in its own time, so children need exposure to text, stories, rhymes, and most of all, a love of books. Enjoy those cuddly lap moments with your little ones.