As a fully-recovered reluctant reader with a mother who was a reading specialist, I am ever grateful for my early (albeit sneaky) introduction to reading's brother from another mother, writing! One of the very best gifts my mother ever gave me was a blank journal. Back in the 1980s, before blogs and social networking, this was the quickest way to become a permanently published author. Now, I just blog like it's still cool! But back then, I grew from the doodle stage to the dictate and draw stage into the "how do you spell it?" stage (with some creative responses from my older, wiser sister--think correct spelling plus a few dozen extra letters at the end, probably just to encourage practice, no?)...and eventually into the independently writing stage. All the while, unbeknownst to me--a little girl who did not like to read--reading was indeed happening on and in between the lines.
Now that I teach an early literacy preschool enrichment class of my own, I have a strong passion for observing the beautiful metamorphosis of scribblers into wribblers into writers! There's a whole process that for each individual child happens in its own time in which "stories" go from being something they hear and see in a picture book being read aloud to the awareness that those stories are coming from somewhere. Bit by bit, piece by piece, letters go from symbols to components of words to being able to build words, spell words, create sentences and, eventually, authoring stories of their own!
I am confronted by preschoolers each year who claim they do not yet know how to read or write. I love to prove them wrong! Even at a very young age, we are already readers and writers in many ways. Whether it's reading a picture in a book or a letter on a page, recognizing your own name or the word "stop" on a sign--whether you know one letter or 26 letters, you're reading! And that incredible transition when scribbles on a page begin to take shape (and lines), when a slightly crooked circle now represents an object or a person, that's writing! When it comes to introducing young children to their own inherent skills and building upon them, I like to meet them where they are at. I am not a fan of pushing and I strongly believe that these early years are best spent learning through hands on experience and play. In my classrooms and in my own home, I sneak it in by following their lead!
There are a few things I always do in my home/parenting life:
- Read! Read aloud, read alone, read together. Studies show incredible results when it comes to the reading and writing performance of school aged children who had early access to books in the home. On the other end of that spectrum, children in lower income communities who lacked access to books in the home and in classrooms were at a significant disadvantage. More and more, book banks in cities and communities are aiming to fill this gap and are a great resource for gently loved books from your own collection if/when it's time to downsize. When parents ask kindergarten teachers what is the most important thing they must do to prepare their preschool aged children for kindergarten, the answer is almost unequivocally unanimous: read. When it comes to deciding what to read, I take a few things into account. Follow your children's interest levels--if they have a favorite book, it's OK to read it again and again (and again). It's also great to expand on that. Kids who love Pete the Cat might love some great youth non-fiction books about real cats. If you've got a little rhymer on your hands, grab some Shel Silverstein or E.E. Cummings and read poems together. Listening comprehension in the early years is usually one to two grade levels above a child's age--if you've got an avid listener, go for a chapter book to read aloud. And if you're looking for some great suggestions on what to read aloud, I highly recommend The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease as a resource.
- Make books and materials accessible to little people with little hands. As young children become more independent, we parents get schooled in the popular verse "I want to do it by myself." We grow to love and loathe the phrase and yet, it is essentially our jobs to help our children do it by themselves! It's one reason I am a bit Montessori-inspired in my home and it is an investment of time that pays off more quickly and exponentially than one would think. I have posted specifically on how I set up my home through this lens to encourage pre-writing and writing. The main idea that I like to adhere to is making writing materials and utensils available and accessible at child level. Books are also available and accessible. I do not keep all of our writing materials and books available and accessible at the same time. I do try to keep something reading/writing related available and accessible in each room of the house (even the bathroom!).
- Don't leave home without it! Reading and writing need not be stationary activities. You can take it with you wherever you go and you don't necessarily even need to pack anything extra. Sure, it's great to have some audio books in the car or a notepad and pen in your purse. It's also awesome to play some rhyming games on a long drive or talk about construction trucks in depth as you pass a construction site. One of our current favorite games to play while we're waiting on line or for an appointment to begin is to find S's "special letters" (the letters that spell his name) in signs. (Yup, that's my pre-reader finding the letter S in the National Enquirer while waiting on the express lane at Walmart; don't judge me!)
- Go to the library! It's free. It's fun. It's got something for everyone in the family. Need I say more?
S is now in preschool for half a day. He is exposed to plenty of early reading and pre-writing activities there. Some kids come home and want to do more of what they did in school. I lovingly recall a student whose mother thanked me for sending her daughter home with "homework" each day. I scratched my head in confusion until I realized that every day her little girl sneakily placed a few coloring sheets or alphabet activities into her school folder to take home for homework! Then I jumped on board and intentionally sent her home with activities she could enjoy! My own son does not come home necessarily itching to draw or write. He does love to be read to in the afternoons and evenings and he loves to play. He also loves some "less obvious" writing materials in our home.
And one thing we always love doing here is working in the kitchen together. Cooking and baking are great ways to bring together family and developmental skills in one fell swoop. Science and math and reading and social skills converge over a recipe followed, prepared and shared at the table. S loves soft pretzels. My mommy confession of the day is that his favorite breakfast food lately is a soft pretzel (those frozen store-bought ones) with melted cheese. It's practically a bagel, no? C'mon, don't judge me here! I'd heard they are super easy to make from scratch and decided we'd try our hands at it yesterday and make our own Alphabetzel Pretzels!
You can find and choose your favorite soft pretzel recipe. I can't eat regular wheat flour but can eat spelt, so I (selfishly) chose this spelt recipe. It was so easy and so much fun! And all three pretzel eaters in my house enjoyed the results. Y enjoyed some mashed banana...
|S helped check that our egg was kosher and|
beat the egg with a fork. We set that aside for
|He also prepared some cinnamon sugar and another dish with kosher salt for sprinkling and set those aside for later.|
|First we sprinkled the yeast over warm water and mixed it until it was soft...|
|We added and mixed our dry ingredients....|
|...until it was time to mix and knead with our hands! That was a fun way to mix it! And guess what? All that muscle power it takes to knead dough is going a long way toward helping those same muscles grasp and use a pencil later on...|
|Into the oven they go!|
|And just about 20 minutes later, we were enjoying the fruits of our labor!|
|And Y was enjoying actual fruits. Yummy banana!|