Thursday, May 28, 2009

10 Ways to Boost Your Preschooler's Literacy

Did you know researchers have linked early literacy with high school graduation rates? Here are 10 simple ways to invest in your child's future by jump starting their literacy potential:

1. Think of pretend play as your young child's job! Role play fosters language development, a precursor to becoming a successful reader. Encourage kids to play house, school, store, dolls, cars, or doctor. Their imagination is the only limit!

2. Talk, talk, talk and listen. Silence is NOT golden! Help your kids develop key language skills by getting them to describe objects, their feelings, etc. Show them you're very interested in what they have to say, too. This not only builds their confidence but also models how to focus attention and be a good listener.

3. Give babytalk the boot. Don't "dumb down" things when you talk to your kids. They can handle tough vocabulary. Case in point: when talking with one another about dinosaurs, kids have no problem using terms such as tyrannosaurus rex, brontosaurus or triceratops!

4. Sing a ling and chime a rhyme together. Let your hair down and belt out your favorite songs, chant nursery rhymes, or make silly animal sounds. Create goofy lyrics, smooth jazz scats, or cool hip hop tunes. Add fun dance moves to boost the learning--seriously, research supports a connection between kinesthetic movement and cognition!

5. Let your child see you read on your own frequently. Notice I didn't say you need to read books. Read whatever you like--magazines, newspapers, online articles, or the TV Guide--it really doesn't matter!

6. Post words throughout your house! Hang posters in your child's bedroom, frame a poem for the foyer, put a funny note on the fridge, place a wooden cutout of the word family on the mantle--whatever. Exposing kids to lots of examples of print in their environment is beneficial.

7. Let 'em scribble. Pretend writing develops fine motor skills needed for handwriting but also helps kids understand a very basic concept--that they can convey messages with written marks. If scribbling on paper is a struggle, have kids use their index fingers to practice "writing" in sand or fingerpaint. Teach kids to recognize letter shapes by name, too. Show your child a page with only a few words on it, and ask her to point out a specific letter.

8. Teach every letter individually. Many parents think that learning the alphabet is mostly about the Alphabet Song. While that song's great, kids also need to begin learning the sound(s) each letter makes. Chant all the vowel sounds together or pick a letter of the day and go around the house pointing to objects whose names start with that letter. Help your child practice making each letter sound repeatedly.

9. Read to your child regularly, of course. But again, it doesn't have to always be books. You can even read aloud everyday non-fiction like postcards and catalogs that come in the mail, cereal boxes, etc.

10. Do some Q & A. Before reading aloud, peak through the book with your child and talk about the pictures. Can they predict what will happen? While reading, stop on some pages and ask your child questions about the story. At the end, ask what your child's favorite part was, why he liked it, and how he'd describe the book to a friend. Predicting and summarizing are critical thinking skills!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

5 Make-Your-Own Outdoor Learning Games

1. Phonics Limbo

Make a limbo stick out of an old cardboard wrapping paper tube, 5 paper towel tubes taped together, or a broomstick. When limboing under the stick, each kid has to say a word that starts with a letter (or sound) announced by the last child who just finished limboing. For their answers to count, children must say them aloud while they're still bent backwards but before their bodies finish clearing the stick.

2. Word Families Ring Toss

Collect 5 cardboard paper towel tubes and 15 heavy-duty paper plates. Use scissors to cut an X in the center of 5 plates. Then, push a paper towel tube up through each X, making the plate the base of a ring toss stand. Write a common word family on the top part of the base of each stand (-at, -an, -it, -en, -op.) Cut out the centers of 10 paper plates to create rings, and write a consonant on each ring. Kids toss the rings on the stands and get a point for each real word they create. (For example, if the m consonant ring lands on the -at stand, they earn a point for building mat.) Tip: to get the stands to stay upright in grass, poke large sticks in the ground first and place the stands, through the paper towel tubes, over the sticks.

3. States & Capitals Tag

To be considered safe, a child must yell out the name of a state and its capital before getting tagged. Each state/capital can only be used once during a game. For even more of a challenge, the child who's It yells out the state, and the child in danger of being tagged must say the correct corresponding capital. Otherwise, tag, you're it!

4. Jump Rope Math

Challenge kids to jump rope and say aloud the right numbers while keeping with the rhythm. Cater this game to each child's level. Kids can simply count up or down as they jump, or yell out all the fact families for any equation (4 + 5 = 9, 5 + 4 = 9, 9 - 4 = 5, and 9 - 5 = 4). Ramp up the difficulty by having them say aloud their times tables or even 5-7 fractions (of their choice) in ascending or descending order--phew, a toughie!

5. Rhyming Chalk Talk

Draw 10 chalk pictures representing 5 rhyming pairs of words (such as man and fan or mop and top) on the sidewalk. Then, kids take turns saying aloud the rhyming pairs as they use a watering can to pour water on pictures (to identify the rhyming matches). Water makes it more fun, helps children see which pictures have been matched already (each picture can only be used once), and cleans the sidewalk! (On a hot day, use the hose instead! If water conservation is a concern in your area, save rainwater to use in the watering can.)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Quick Assessment Tip for Centers

As the busy end of the school year approaches, it's easy to get caught up in trying to fit in the most important lessons before you run out of time. (Yes, this time of year is enough to make you feel like you have a bobble head.) Just remember that you're also winding down the school year as a whole. (Whew!) It's even more important to take a big-picture view of the year's successes for each individual child.

When you're looking over each child's accomplishments, include in their portfolios some informal anectodal assessment notes from the very end of the year. That's when kids really shine and show all they've learned! One easy way to do informal assessment is to use your centers.

First, you can pull students aside during center time and do one-on-one assessments. Another option is to just observe students doing center activities. (The observation option is SUPER SIMPLE yet still tells a true story of what the child knows! So if you're out of energy this time of year, don't feel guilty about taking the observation route.) Take anecdotal notes on index cards, sticky notes or a notepad during observations or one-on-one meetings.

Many teachers prefer to use a notepad with line-ruled or grid pages. Then, you can just dedicate each page to a different student. On each line of the notepad, note the date and what the student knows. Sample entry: “5/21/09: While using magnetic letters, Megan knows letter names and initial sounds for a, n, p, b, r and t. She can also build a C-V-C word and track simple words with her finger as she tries to read them.” (Wow! Yes, you can observe all this and more during just one activity!)

For quick reference, keep these notes alphabetized by the child’s last name within the notepad. Then, specific notes will be easy to find when you're ready to place them into each child's portfolio in the next couple of weeks. (Easy, easy, easy--oh, yeah!)