Face-to Face Communication

Face-to-face communication develops language in young children. Face-to-screen does not.

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What are the early writing stages of preschool age children?

What are the early stages of writing for preschool age children? 

An essential and early part of the writing process involves children having ample opportunities to draw.  Around the age of three, you will notice that children’s scribbling will start to look like something and say something.  See samples of the different developmental stages you can expect children to progress through as they are learning to write.  Also learn best practices to help promote the emergent writing process.     

Let’s Scrap Letter of the Week!

It’s not that “letter of the week” is horrible, it is not always optimal.

Without going into a dissertation, the biggest problem comes down to the overemphasis on letter instruction.  There is a huge misconception that learning letters is the core of literacy development when, in fact, although important, it is only a small portion of what is needed for children to learn how to read.  (Other important components: receptive and expressive language skills, sound awareness and production, visual and auditory discrimination, phonemic awareness, vocabulary development, memory and sequential skills for comprehension, print awareness, AND motivation – to name a few.  Oh – and those all have subcategories too!).  The result is programs tend to base their entire curriculum around a “letter of the week” format and sometimes neglect the other aspects of literacy development.

So, specifically for a child to acquire alphabet knowledge (which is recognizing a letter and connecting it with a sound), he/ she must have visual discrimination skills, auditory discrimination skills, AND the interest in learning the letter, with that last part being the key.  So, if an entire week is spent on a letter that in no way pertains to a child and he/ she has no interest in that letter, it creates a week of meaningless experiences.  The child will probably “memorize” the letter, but won’t acquire the authentic, foundational knowledge needed about the letter to build upon for literacy development when the time comes.

My recommendations?  Based on my own experiences as a teacher and what all I have read from other child development and literacy specialists:

  •  For children under the age of 4: work on the literacy foundational skills listed above.  Lots of hands-on experiences for visual and auditory discrimination, singing songs, experiencing different sounds, reading books and discussing the content, lots of conversations, lots of language, lots of play, etc.
  •  Specifically for letter instruction at the age of 4: instead of letters of the week, pay attention to what letters will be important to the children.  Start with those letters and provide instruction continually within context.  (Usually the first letters they want to learn are the first letters of their names, their family members’ names, and their friend’s names.)  Create daily experiences all throughout the day, both formally and informally as well as planned and spontaneous, with these letters.  Repetition and reinforcement is important (but not drill and kill) by always coming back to the letters.  So, do the same activities you probably would do for letter of the week – as long as it is DAP – but intermingle them based on the children’s cues and interests.  (Essentially, it is a spiral approach.)
  •  And, like anything else, this does require constant observation and documentation.  It is up to the teacher to keep a journal of some sort to ensure throughout the course of the year that all of the letters have been introduced.  It also requires some assessment to document the children’s alphabet knowledge which will also help the teacher in lesson planning.

Want some more information?  Check out this book.  Or better yet, I have a fun training entitled, “Do This, Not That: Alphabet Knowledge” I would love to share with your school or organization!

So, there you have it.  Just think of how long this would have been if you asked me about formal writing instruction!

The Lost Art of Handwriting

The NY Times published the article “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades” by Maria Konnikova discussing the topic many debate, does handwriting matter?  In my opinion, it is not necessarily the debate for good penmanship and formal writing instruction, but instead, the process of writing and how that experience positively stimulates the brain.

“The researchers found that the initial duplication process mattered a great deal. When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write: the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex.

By contrast, children who typed or traced the letter or shape showed no such effect. The activation was significantly weaker.

Dr. James attributes the differences to the messiness inherent in free-form handwriting: Not only must we first plan and execute the action in a way that is not required when we have a traceable outline, but we are also likely to produce a result that is highly variable.”

An interesting point made in the article is the difference in brain activity when children participated in free writing opposed to tracing the letters.  I am not a fan of dot-to-dot/ tracing pages for letter writing instruction before the age of five due to it not being developmentally appropriate from a physical standpoint.  According to the research presented in the article, there seems to be evidence that those worksheets do not support brain development either!

So, how then do we support handwriting and emerging writers?

For actual handwriting, allow for ample movement at home and school.   Ensure infants get plenty of tummy time.  Let your children climb and play outdoors.  Turn off the screens and encourage them to crawl around on the floor and play with blocks, trains, cars, dolls or whatever they choose.  Provide materials that strengthen the hand muscles such as puzzles, tweezers, tongs, or any type of manipulative material.  By doing this, children’s bodies will be given the opportunity to develop and support the physical demands of handwriting.

As for the emerging writer, allow for plenty of scribbling, drawing, and appreciate the attempt at writing letters freehand when your child chooses to do so.  Give your children blank paper and crayons, and let them draw until they are content.  When they are finished, don’t ask, “What is it?”, but instead say, “Tell me about this”.  Want to extend it further?  Write what your child says and make sure he/ she watches you do so.  What a powerful connection to see spoken words turn into written words and realize that text carries meaning!

With these developmentally appropriate approaches, children will be able to enter school with strong foundational skills to support successful writing!

 

Reading with Babies

We have heard it time and time again – reading to babies is essential in developing vocabulary and enhancing literacy development.  Guess what?  It is true!

But what does that experience look like?  Here are some suggestions for reading experiences with babies.

First of all, just because a book is published in a board book format does not mean the text is developmentally appropriate.  It is fine for the baby holding, mouthing, and experiencing, but if you are going for the reading experience, I suggest a simple picture per page with a plain background and minimal text (one sentence per page at most).  Books to consider:

Peek-A-Who? by Nina Laden

Baby Faces by DK Publishing

Where’s Spot by Eric Hill

When reading with babies, tap on the page to direct their eyes to the picture before you read the text. You might tap on the page again after reading it.

Always follow baby’s cues. If he/she keep turning to a particular page, keep reading that page then talk about it. “What do you see?” or “Why is the baby happy?”

Really and truly, the best thing you can do to promote literacy development is ensure your baby continually hears language (from an actual person, not an electronic device) and create nurturing, positive experiences with books!