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Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success Growing Up to Read Birth Through Age Four Children begin to develop their language skills in infancy. Even their babbles and coos and the ways their families speak to them before they really understand can help them to become speakers of their native tongue. When an infant shows excitement over pictures in a storybook, when a two-year-old scribbles with a crayon, when a four-year-old points out letters in a street sign—all of these actions signal a child’s growing literacy development. The more children already know about the nature and purposes of reading before kindergarten, the more teachers have to build on in their reading instruction. Research reveals that the children most at risk for reading difficulties in the primary grades are those who began school with less verbal skill, less phonological awareness, less letter knowledge, and less familiarity with the basic purposes and mechanisms of reading. To prepare children for reading instruction in the early grades, it is best that they be exposed to high-quality language and literacy environments—in their homes, day care centers, and preschools. The best time to start sharing books with children is during babyhood, even when they are as young as six weeks. In this chapter, we offer concrete examples, activities, and ideas for how families, early childhood educators, health care professionals, and communities can bring literacy into the lives of young children.
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Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success Everyday Literacy: One Family Home Promoting literacy at home does not mean creating an academic setting and formally teaching children. Parents and other caregivers can take advantage of opportunities that arise in daily life to help their children develop language and literacy. Often, these are unplanned, casual acts, like commenting on words on an article of clothing or engaging children in conversation. At other times, it is a conscious effort to read good books with children or provide toys that promote good literacy development.
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Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success Three-year-old Carlos has just awakened from a nap and is lying on the floor, not fully awake yet. His older sister Rosa has been watching TV and is playing with her blocks and dinosaurs in the living room. Although their home is modest, these children have what they need to promote good language and literacy skills: a simple but appropriate array of toys and books and, most importantly, attentive parents. In the corner there is a little bookshelf with 20 or so children’s books, including 3 that are due back to the library the next day. (The children go to the library with their mother at least once a month.) There are puzzles, a magnetic board with letters, and, in a canvas bag, some plastic farm animals—treasured for pretend play. Dad is sitting on the sofa, reading the newspaper. In a few hours, the children’s mother will come home from work, and he will leave for his job as a night-shift security guard. Dad takes the children into the kitchen for some juice and crackers. Although he has several chores to finish, he makes the effort to ask if they want to hear a story. “Yes!” The children respond in enthusiastic unison. “Let’s read Tacky the Penguin,” cries Carlos. “No, I want the caterpillar,” Rosa whines. Before they can continue arguing, Dad steps in. “Cut it out, you guys. We’ll read them both. We read The Very Hungry Caterpillar last time, right? So this time, let’s start with Tacky.” The children seem satisfied with this. After their snack, they march into the living room and sit on either side of their father, who begins to read the story of a funny penguin named Tacky. They listen intently, sometimes asking questions about pictures or words that catch their attention. The father is responsive, answering when he can, or simply saying that he doesn’t know. Having heard songs from birth, young Rosa has come to love the rhythm of language. She is so engrossed that she recites the ends of rhyming lines and claps the beat as her father reads. After they finish Tacky, they turn to The Very Hungry Caterpillar. “Okay, guys. I’ve got some stuff to do. You can play here or in your room. No fighting, okay?” Dad goes to the kitchen table with a stack of bills and begins to write checks. Little Carlos is fast on his heels. “I want to do it!” “You want to write?” “Yeah.” Dad gives him a blank piece of paper and a not-too-sharp pencil. “Okay, sit here and write with me.” Carlos climbs on a chair and begins to make squiggles on the paper. “Hey, buddy, that’s pretty good,” Dad says encouragingly. “What else can you write?” Carlos sweeps his finger slowly across his squiggly lines.“Carlos,” he pronounces, slowly and deliberately. He is imitating his older sister, who knows how to write her name. He writes a little longer, then joins his sister in the living room, who by this time has tired of blocks and dinosaurs and is holding a favorite book. Rosa knows many by heart and recites them, as if she is actually reading. Carlos listens attentively. Suddenly aware of her audience, Rosa holds the book up, as her prekindergarten teacher does, and “reads” to her younger brother, suddenly switching to a louder recitation voice. After a few minutes, Carlos proclaims,“I want to read!” “Carlos, you can’t read yet,” replies Rosa, a little impatiently. Suddenly, there is the sound of a key in the latch. “Mom’s home!” cries Rosa. She drops the book, and both children run to the front door. As Mom arrives, Dad says goodbye and hurriedly leaves for work.
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Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success Early research dating back to the 1930s suggested that there was little use in teaching children how to read until they had already conquered specific readiness skills, such as certain fine motor skills and the ability to tell right from left. Today, researchers know more. They know that growing up to be a reader depends mostly on the child’s knowledge about language and print. A wide range of experiences with printed and spoken language, from infancy through early childhood, strongly influences a child’s future success in reading. What is good for a six-year-old, however, is not necessarily good for a three-year-old. Children need activities they will enjoy and can succeed at, without being pushed uncomfortably beyond their current developmental stage. Even when children cannot yet spell, they learn from trying to write. Even when children cannot yet read, they learn from being read to. The following pages describe key aspects of language and literacy for children from birth through age four, along with activities that can be woven into daily life. In this section, we address parents, teachers, uncles, aunts, grandparents, babysitters, and day care providers—in short, everyone who is important in the child’s life, everyone who cares, everyone who is willing.
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Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success Key Aspects of Language and Literacy, Activities for Very Young Children Extended Vocabulary and Language Development Children who are exposed to sophisticated vocabulary in the course of interesting conversations learn the words they will later need to recognize and understand when reading. Vocalization in the crib gives way to play with rhyming language and nonsense words. Toddlers find that the words they use in conversation and the objects they represent are depicted in books—that the picture is a symbol for the real object and that the writing represents spoken language. In addition to listening to stories, children label the objects in books, comment on the characters, and request that an adult read to them. In their third and fourth years, children use new vocabulary and grammatical constructions in their own speech. Talking to adults is children’s best source of exposure to new vocabulary and ideas. Activities Labeling games are just right for little ones, for example, “Where is your nose?” Verbally label objects and events in your child’s world, for example, “Nina is on the swing.” Encourage your child to label objects and events, helping him or her with vocabulary and pronunciation. Do these types of labeling games with pictures in magazines, books, etc. During necessary routines like baths, reading, and eating, be sure to make time to talk with children. Turn off the car radio and talk while you drive together. Watch children’s TV programs together and talk about them. Instead of channel surfing, turn off the TV and use the time to talk. As adults, we sometimes view conversation as a luxury—an extra in our busy lives. But for young children whose developing minds are striving to become literate, talk is essential—the more meaningful and substantive, the better. Set aside a regular “talk time” for adults and children, when having conversations about their lives is your main focus.
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Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success When you take your child on outings, surround these new experiences and events with lots of comments, questions, and answers between you and your child. Talk about what you are going to do before you do it and, afterward, talk about what you did. Structure these conversations to encourage the children to do more of the talking by asking questions and sharing interest in your child’s thoughts and opinions. Support your child’s efforts to communicate complex thoughts by waiting patiently, suggesting words as needed. Let your child sometimes control the subject of the conversations, and encourage her or his efforts to use new words and to describe complex or distant topics. Pick books that connect to a child’s life and talk about those connections. For example, when you read Green Eggs and Ham you might ask your child, “What color eggs do you eat?” “Shall we look for purple eggs in the store?” Try turning the tables during reading time. When most adults share a book with young children, they do the reading and the child does the listening. But once children reach preschool age, parents and teachers can encourage them to become the reader or teller of the story instead. Start by prompting the child to say something about the book. (You can get the ball rolling by asking a question or making a comment yourself.) After the child responds, rephrase his or her answer and expand it by adding information. Continue along in this manner, each time, encouraging the child to expand further on the narration. Phonological Awareness During the preschool years, most children gradually become sensitive to the sounds, as well as the meanings, of spoken words. They demonstrate this phonological awareness in many ways; for instance: they notice rhymes and enjoy poems and rhyming songs; they make up silly names for things by substituting one sound for another (e.g., bubblegum, bubblebum, gugglebum, bumbleyum); they break long words into syllables or clap along with each syllable in
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Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success a phrase; they notice that the pronunciations of several words (like “dog” and “dark” and “dusty”) all begin the same way. Although younger preschoolers rarely pay attention to the smallest meaningful segments (phonemes) of words, gaining an awareness of these phonemes is a more advanced aspect of phonological awareness that becomes increasingly important as school approaches, because these segments are what letters usually stand for. That’s the alphabetic principle. A child who has attained phonemic awareness, for example, understands that there are three phonemes in the spoken word “mud.” Many activities can nurture phonological awareness in the preschool years. Activities Songs, rhyming games, language play, and nursery rhymes—these are all excellent ways to spark children’s awareness of language and sounds. For example, sing the Teddy Bear song. Teddy bear, Teddy bear, turn around. Teddy bear, Teddy bear, touch the ground. Teddy bear, Teddy bear, show your shoe. Teddy bear, Teddy bear, that will do. Teddy bear, Teddy bear, brush your hair. Teddy bear, Teddy bear, climb the stair. Teddy bear, Teddy bear, reach for the sky. Teddy bear, Teddy bear, wave goodbye. Take advantage of everyday activities to talk about words and sounds. For example, when buying fruit at the market, you might ask the child which sound is the same in the words peach and pineapple, or in peach and tea.
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Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success Choose some books that focus on sounds. For example, the Dr. Seuss books can lead to lots of chanting and fun with sounds—but don’t let the author do all the work. Invite the child to supply the last word of each rhyme. Follow the model the book provides and make some silly rhymes that are special for each child. Make up your own games with rhyming words, silly sounds, and chants, like this one: Ba Be Bi Bo Bu-dle-oo-dle-oo! Ba Be Bi Bo Bu-dle-oo-dle-oo! If the words sound crazy, don’t be lazy daisy Ba Be Bi Bo Bu-dle-oo-dle-oo! Have fun creating new verses by substituting different consonants for the letter B. If the child’s name is Sam, use “his” letter: Sa Se Si So Su-dle-oo-dle-oo! Or try this traditional song made famous by the children’s performer, Raffi. Apples and Bananas I like to eat eat eat apples and bananas. I like to eat eat eat apples and bananas. I like to ate ate ate aypuls and baynaynays. I like to ate ate ate aypuls and baynaynays. I like to eet eet eet eeples and beeneenees I like to eet eet eet eeples and beeneenees I like to ote ote ote opples and bononos. I like to ote ote ote opples and bononos. I like to ute ute ute upples and bununus. I like to ute ute ute upples and bununus.
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Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success Falling in Love with Words “Comfortable.” How I loved that word, the meaning, the times to use it, the rolling jumble of consonant sounds. If only I could pronounce it! Though I tried and tried again, only strange sounds came from my mouth,“comdafable” or “cofdumfable.” Sometimes I got so mad I threw a tantrum. Why could everyone say it but me? My mother, amazingly in tune with my spirit, gave me a great approach. “Remember,” she said. “Comfortable has two parts: comfort and table.” She had me practice the parts, then say them fast together. So comfort-table it was—a bit funny with the long “a” in table, but oddly enough, that didn’t bother me—it was a wonderful reminder of my mother helping me. After a while, I just started saying the word the same way everyone else does. But to this day, I always say “comfort” and “table” under my breath when I am writing or typing the word. Years later, I still marvel at how easily my mother seemed to help me get ready to become a reader. By teaching me things like how to say “comfortable,” she helped me understand that a word is not just something that lets you say what you mean, but is also a thing with a form and substance. A word is something you can take apart and put together. This is a key insight in word attack for reading. It’s not just the meaning you attack, but the form. Of course, as it turned out, “comfortable” has more than two parts when it comes to reading the letters. But my mother’s advice was a great start on the central idea that you can think of and talk about a word separate from what it means. She helped me fall in love with words. Speech Discrimination Most young children can accurately perceive the difference between similar-sounding words (“coat” and “goat,” “three” and ”free,” “witch” and “wish”), even though they may mispronounce words quite often in their own speech. Clearly, if a child cannot reliably make such distinctions, it will be difficult for him or her to engage in activities that help to develop phonological awareness, described above. Activities A simple game of pointing to pictures can be used to confirm that speech discrimination is reasonably accurate in a 3- to 5-year-old child. In a quiet place, show the child the array of pictures on page 25.
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Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success Speaking very clearly, say “Listen carefully. Show me the _________,” filling in the blank with a word from the list below. (For fun, you can sometimes let the child quiz you by naming a picture for you to find.) The words are printed here in similar-sounding pairs, but you should jump around, not asking for the two members of a pair in succession. Ask only for words that you’re sure are in the child’s vocabulary, and don’t do this when the child has a bad cold or ear infection. If the child makes more than a few errors, repeat the exercise several weeks later. If performance is not any better, this could indicate a difficulty in hearing or speech perception, and a more thorough evaluation of these skills could be conducted by a professional speech pathologist. Many colleges and universities have clinics where children can be tested, with the cost based on ability to pay. Also, pediatricians can usually provide the names of private speech pathologists in the local area. Show me the: socks—fox mouth—mouse tea—key cone—comb pear—bear clown—crown fan—van tie—pie watch—wash tower—towel girls—curls ring—wing
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Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success
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Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success Listening Integral to speech discrimination and phonological awareness is the basic ability to listen carefully. Activities Teachers can have children listen to books on tape in small groups or one at a time. Teachers can organize play activities, songs, and dances that involve listening to directions. Simon Says is an old favorite and can include sequences of directions at one time, once the children learn the basic game. Oral Language Through interesting conversations with teachers and peers, children learn vocabulary and language structures that will later help with reading. The key is to prepare for content that is rich and important to the children. Activities Make time each day for individual conversations with children. Give each child your full attention during the discussion and be
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Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success sure to spend enough time listening to what he or she has to say. Give the child the chance to take the conversational lead. Add your own brief responses and comments to draw him or her out. Although they may not always be factually accurate in their responses, it is important for children to learn how to use language to express and describe their impressions and ideas. Encourage conversation when children are in a comfortable setting. They’re more likely to open up and talk when they are in a nonthreatening situation, such as a one-to-one reading session, a walk outside, and during snack time. Perhaps the most effective way to converse with children is to take time to join in their play. Make a Personal Experiences Center in the classroom, where young children can talk with teachers about events in their lives while the teachers listen, prompt discussion, and record the experiences. Tell children personal stories. Talk about things that interest you. Acknowledge uncertainty about some things, and show children how you find answers to your questions. Use readings of high-quality storybooks to lead children to reenactments and discussions during class. Have a child dictate his or her own story—”You tell me the story and I’ll write the words”—and then act out the story, including other children in the performance. In story dictation, the teacher should move from taking verbatim dictation to asking the child questions about sequences that are unclear—like “Where did the ogre come from?”—and edit accordingly. Many teachers dramatize children’s stories and edit when the children recognize that something is missing. Encourage children to write their own story. Tell them, “It doesn’t have to be like grown-up writing, use your own kid writing.” Encourage them to “read” it when they are done. Videotape them “reading” their stories from this emergent writing.
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Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success Shared Reading Through teacher-child readings of books, young children learn many of the key aspects of literacy such as book and print awareness, functions of print, and listening comprehension. Activities With storybooks or big books, children should have shared reading experiences each and every day. The teacher must not only read out loud, but develop routine practices that will actively engage the children. Reading With Preschoolers In addition to reading books to preschoolers while they listen, it is important to discuss the books with them. One program successfully taught child care providers and their parents a systematic way to discuss books. This method employs (1) a way of interacting with preschoolers while discussing books—called the PEER sequence—and (2) five types of prompts to use during the interactions—called CROWD. The PEER sequence and the CROWD principles always operate within the larger principles of following the child’s interests, expecting slightly more of the child each time through the book, and keeping interactions light and fun. In the PEER sequence: P Parent (or other adult) initiates an exchange about the book, and E Evaluates the child’s response, E Expands the child’s response, and R Repeats the initial question to check that the child understands the new learning. For example, reading A Mother for Choco: Adult: “What is Mrs. Bear doing?” (Wh-prompt. See below) Child: “Standing on her toes.” Adult: “Yes, she’s standing on her toes and picking apples.” (Evaluates and expands) Adult (Next time through the book): “What is Mrs. Bear doing? Do you remember? (Repeats question) Child: “She’s standing on her toes and picking apples.” Adult: “That’s right, and she’s putting them in her basket.” (Evaluates and expands) The CROWD questions* include: C Completion questions about the structure of language used in the book, for example, “When Choco talked with the Penguin, he cried ‘you have ______ (wings) just like me!’” The child fills in the blank. R Recall questions relate to the story content of the book, for example,“Do you remember how this book ended for Choco?” O Open-ended questions to increase the amount of talk about a book and to focus on the details of the book, for example,“What is happening on this page?” W “Wh” questions to teach new vocabulary, for example,“No matter where Choco searched, he couldn’t find a mother who looked just like him. What is a ‘search’?” D Distancing questions that help the child bridge the material in the book to their real-life experiences, for example,“Does everyone in your family look the same? How do you think Choco felt about everyone in his family looking different?” * The crowd questions are for older preschoolers. Use only ”wh” questions and then open-ended questions for two-year-olds and early three-year-olds.
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Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success Exposure to Books Children need to have high-quality books become a part of their daily experiences. Activities The classroom library should be well stocked with a variety of high-quality books and magazines. Children should have the opportunity to select their own books, and the teacher should also suggest books to extend an idea for a classroom activity or to suit an individual child’s interest. Child Care and Literacy Increasing numbers of very young children are spending time in day care settings, where the main focus has traditionally been on providing good physical care. Literacy enrichment has not been a high priority. One major obstacle to high-quality day care is the lack of good books in many day care and preschool settings. In one interesting program, a private foundation, a major city library system, and five surrounding county libraries teamed up with a university researcher, early childhood professionals, and day care teachers to bring literacy to the care of children from infancy through age five. The goal: to increase exposure to print and meaningful language among very young children. In what they called the Great Book Flood of 1996, 322 child care centers serving 17,675 mainly poor children received large quantities of high-quality books—at a ratio of five per child. They also received materials needed to create book areas and library corners. Teachers received 10 hours of training in early literacy development, storybook reading techniques, book selection, and book-related activities. Libraries participated by offering speakers, activities, and celebrations focused on books. At the end of the program, teachers reported that they read more frequently and for longer periods to their children each day, in addition to giving them greater access to books in the classroom. Children showed substantial benefits, with improvements in their competence at narration, concepts of print, concepts of writing, and letter knowledge. The children continued to show gains at a follow-up study during their kindergarten year.
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Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success Letter-Naming Teachers should help children recognize at least some of the letters of the alphabet. Preschoolers who can recognize and print some letters have an advantage at school entry. Therefore, children should have easy access to letters in many forms: alphabet blocks, letter cards, board games, and ABC’s on wall charts at the child’s eye height, to name a few. Activities Include a number of alphabet books in the library. Share them frequently, inviting the children to name each letter and the pictures on the page that go with it. Have a Letter of the Day for each of three days in a row. For each letter, decorate a big poster with the uppercase letter in the middle. Ask the children whose first name starts with that letter to come and tape their name cards to the poster. On the second day, compare the posters from the two days. On the third day, compare all three posters. Have all the children find the From a Well-Known Book on Beginning Reading When challenged to name these two letters (“C” and “G”), my daughter, now just three years old, looked me squarely in the eye and said firmly,“I call them both ‘C’.” It is not that she could not discriminate their shapes: she regularly performs perfectly on an uppercase letter-matching game on the computer. Nor is she unaware that I like to call these letters by different names: her answer was clearly intended to preempt the correction that she knew I would produce. But she has a point. In what reasonable kind of world would people agree to call a dachshund and a St. Bernard “dogs” while calling one of these characters a “C” and the other a “G”? To us, the answer is obvious: in the kind of world where people use “C’s” and “G’s” discriminately for reading and writing—which, of course, she does not yet do. —Marilyn Jager Adams
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Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success letter in their deck of letter cards and organize a treasure hunt to find the letter in other places in the room. Later, make a big version of the letter on the ground outside—have the children line up and march along the letter shape while chanting something rhythmic about the shape. For example, while marching along the letter “B,” they might chant, “Down up, around, around.” For the last two days of the week, play games with all three letters, encouraging children to see similarities and differences between the letters. Repeat the activity with additional letters. Start with the letters that start the children’s names. When the children are pretending to write, be aware and congratulate them when they start to make letter-like forms. Talk with them about the difference between drawing and writing and, later, between letters and numbers. Encourage them to copy the letters from the wall chart, to sign their drawings, and to label them. Remind them to use the letters of the day. When they ask you to label a picture or write down a story, let them print some of the letters they know and like. Ask the children to bring in their favorite letters for show-and-tell. They can be on a t-shirt, in a book, or on a cereal box. Ask the children to talk about what helps them recognize the letter. One child might say, for example, that a lower case “b” looks like a baseball bat with a ball stuck to it. Writing Through early writing experiences, young children learn many of the key aspects of literacy such as print awareness and concepts, functions of print, and possibly phonological awareness. Activities Children need access to a variety of paper, writing utensils, and materials for bookmaking—glue, tape, stapler, and book covers. A well-equipped art area should offer paper in several sizes and colors, paints, markers, crayons, and colored pencils. You may also wish to set up a separate writing or office area that includes blank books, paper, envelopes, mailing labels, stickers, and stamps. Don’t discourage scribbling and pretend writing, but do provide support and encouragement for writing letters. As you do so, expect, gradually, that more letters will be recognizable. As the children learn to form letters and develop phonological awareness, expect, too, that invented
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Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success spellings will appear. It may take a few years before many conventional spellings come. Some, such as the child’s own name and special phrases like “I love you,” may appear early and be memorized, but a true appreciation of conventional spelling comes later. In addition to letting children experiment with writing themselves, make time to write down their personal dictations. Read back exactly what the child said, without correcting grammar or word choices. This shows that you value the child’s work and helps children begin to understand the connection between spoken and written language. If a child dictates in a language you do not understand, get the help of a parent volunteer as a transcriber and translator. Children can also act out their dictated stories. Computer-Based Literacy Ideally, classrooms would offer preschoolers access to an easy-to-use word processor, printer, software programs for print concepts, stories on CD-ROM, and interactive programs.
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Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success Young Children and Computers In recent years, the consumer and school markets have become deluged with software products for children—products of dramatically varying quality. Following are three examples of highly rated programs for three- and four-year-olds. These were rated for content, user friendliness, adult management features, strength of support materials, and value for the cost, rather than being examined for outcomes on children’s learning. Age Group Program Brief Description Three years and older Reader Rabbit’s Ready for Letters Includes matching, sorting, patterns, letters, and word meanings in five activities. These are Grandma’s Kitchen, Mix & Match Bedroom, ABC Bathroom, Picture Parlor, and Grandpa’s Workshop. Kid Pix Easy-to-use graphics and writing creation program. Mouse is used to draw, dribble paint, stamp letters, erase, and create shapes and backgrounds. Keyboard is used for word processing. Children can record their voices along with the drawings and writings. Living Books These storybooks have approximately 12 pages. The story is presented and each word in the text is highlighted as it is voiced. Each page includes contains 10 to 20 objects that are activated by clicking on them. Examples of stories are Just Grandma and Me, Arthur’s Teacher Troubles, Arthur’s Reading Race. Four years and older A to Zap An alphabet book of 26 open-ended activities exploring letters, letter names, words, numbers, counting, and other concepts. Bailey’s Book House Children explore alphabet letters and sounds, play with rhyming words, manipulate prepositions, construct stories using preset lists of characters, settings, props, and actions, and create and print their own cards and invitations. The Playroom Children explore numbers, time, the alphabet, and other learning concepts. In one game, children type words that are shown on the screen. When the word is completed, the program pronounces each phoneme and highlights each letter.
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Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success Accomplishments of the Very Young Child Children engaged in language and literacy activities, observed at home and in preschools, appear mostly playful and exploratory, although in fact they are hard at work as scholars of language and literacy. A particular set of accomplishments that the successful learner is likely to exhibit during the preschool years is shown in the table on page 59. Because of their importance, we present them in full, as published in Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children (National Academy Press, 1998). This list is neither exhaustive nor incontestable, but it does capture many highlights in the course of literacy acquisition that have been revealed through several decades of research. Of course, the timing of these accomplishments will to some extent depend on maturational and experiential differences among children. Early Childhood Educators Preschool teachers represent an important—and largely underutilized—resource in promoting literacy through promoting the acquisition of rich language and beginning literacy concepts and skills. Early childhood educators should not try to replicate the formal reading instruction provided in schools; instead, their job is to help children develop the basic knowledge, interest, and understandings that will allow them to flourish once it is time for such instruction. Central to achieving the goal of primary prevention of reading difficulties is the preschool teacher ’s knowledge base and experience, as well as the support provided to the teacher; each of these may vary according to where the teacher is in his or her professional development. A critical component in the preparation of teachers before they begin their careers is supervised, relevant, experience in preschools in which they receive ongoing guidance and feedback. A principal goal of this experience is to achieve the ability to integrate and apply the knowledge learned in practice.
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Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success Birth to Three-Year-Old Accomplishments Recognizes specific books by cover. Pretends to read books. Understands that books are handled in particular ways. Enters into a book-sharing routine with primary caregivers. Vocalization play in crib gives way to enjoyment of rhyming language, nonsense word play, etc. Labels objects in books. Comments on characters in books. Looks at picture in book and realizes it is a symbol for real object. Listens to stories. Requests/commands adult to read or write. May begin attending to specific print, such as letters in names. Uses increasingly purposeful scribbling. Occasionally seems to distinguish between drawing and writing. Produces some letter-like forms and scribbles with some features of English writing. Three- to Four-Year-Old Accomplishments Knows that alphabet letters are a special category of visual graphics that can be individually named. Recognizes print in the local environment. Knows that it is the print that is read in stories. Understands that different text forms are used for different functions of print (e.g., a list for groceries is different than the list on a menu). Pays attention to separable and repeating sounds in language (e.g., in Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater: Peter Eater). Uses new vocabulary and grammatical constructions in own speech. Understands and follows oral directions. Is sensitive to some sequences of events in stories. Shows an interest in books and reading. When being read a story, connects information and events to real-life experiences. Questions and comments demonstrate understanding of literal meaning of story being told. Displays reading and writing attempts, calling attention to self: “Look at my story.” Can identify about 10 alphabet letters, especially those from own name. Writes (scribbles) message as part of playful activity. May begin to attend to beginning or rhyming sounds in salient words.
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Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success Collaborative support by the teacher preparation institution and the field placement is essential. Programs that educate early childhood professionals should require mastery of information about the many kinds of knowledge and skills that can be acquired in the preschool years in preparation for reading achievement in school. Their knowledge base should include (at least) the following: information about how to provide rich conceptual experiences that promote growth in vocabulary and reasoning skills; knowledge about word and vocabulary development, from early referential (naming) abilities to relational and abstract terms and finer-shaded meanings; knowledge of the early development of speaking and of listening comprehension skills, and the kinds of syntactic and prose structures that preschool children should be in the course of mastering; information on young children’s sense of story; information on young children’s sensitivity to the sounds of language; information on young children’s understanding of concepts of print and the developmental patterns of emergent reading and writing; information on young children’s development of concepts of space, including directionality; knowledge of fine motor development; and knowledge about how to instill motivation to read. Young teachers need support from mentor teachers as they develop. Even after this training is completed, though, teachers need access to ongoing, career-long development.
Representative terms from entire chapter: