Playing with Print
Print awareness refers to the ability to recognize print and understand that it carries meaning. This is a necessary pre-reading skill. Preschool classrooms should be print-rich environments with plenty of books and written words. Fill your classroom with words by labeling cubbies and coat hooks with each child’s name. Post words on various objects in the room such as "door", "window", and "closet". Have letter magnets, foam letters, and letter blocks available. Younger preschoolers may need to learn how to handle books by turning pages and holding them right side up.
Most children enjoy playing with rhyme, which is important for development of phonological awareness in preschoolers. To facilitate the understanding of rhyme, read rhyming books and sing songs and fingerplays containing rhyme. Another method that is sure to get a laugh is to call the children by nonsense words that rhyme with their real names. For example say, "The next person to line up is…Tella (instead of Bella)." The skill of identifying rhyme ("Do these two words rhyme…?") is a precursor to generating rhymes ("What rhymes with…?).
Another skill to begin working on around the age of 4 1/2 or 5 is clapping syllables. Working on syllabification will hone listening skills which are important for understanding that words are made of segments. To drive that point home it’s often helpful to refer to syllables as "word parts" with this age group.
Learning Letter Names and Sounds
These days it is imperative that children know their letters upon entering kindergarten which means the time to work on them is in the preschool years. A multi-sensory approach is a great way to teach letters. For example, use finger-paints to color in letter outlines. Trace letters in sand or a layer of shaving cream. Glue beans inside of a letter "B". Wikki Stix or Bendaroos can be used to form letters, either independently or on top of written letters.
Alphabet songs and songs containing alliteration are also fun ways to teach letters. In addition, a plethora of great educational games are available, as are some wonderful alphabet books. "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" Bill Martin Jr. is the sentimental favorite, but other engaging alphabet books are also available including "Alphabet Mystery" by Audrey Wood and Bill Wood and "Shiver Me Letters: A Pirate ABC" by June Sobel and Henry Cole.
Reading to preschoolers every day is essential. Books with repetitive text are highly recommended. Children learn to anticipate the repeated phrases allowing them to participate in telling the story. Some examples of books with repetitive text are "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" by Eric Carle and "Is your Mama a Llama?" by Deborah Guarino. During shared reading with the children, be sure to follow the text with your finger to demonstrate left to right progression and that each written word corresponds with a spoken word. Using over-sized books can be very helpful.
In addition to being read to, it’s important for children to tell their own stories. You can utilize wordless picture books as a group or individual activity to get your students talking. Also, have them re-tell stories after hearing them, using the pictures in the book for visual cues. Encourage your students to "write" or draw their own stories.
As a preschool teacher, you play a vital role in sending your students down the path toward literacy. By implementing the suggestions set forth in this article, you’ll be well on your way. Enjoy the journey!
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