Connecting with Kindergarten: Who Teaches What?

By: Elizabeth Wotherspoon

Kindergarten can be a controversial and/or stress inducing topic for many. In Alberta, parents have the choice to either put their child in kindergarten or wait to start school until grade one. So, should you put your child in kindergarten or should you let your child be a kid for another year and wait for grade one? Waiting wouldn’t be an option if it was going to be a setback for your child in any way, right?

Let’s talk about exactly what your child can get from being part of a kindergarten class. The Kindergarten Program Statement (Alberta Education, 2008) provides learner expectations in seven learning areas. The expectations of these learning areas are not only accomplished in the Kindergarten program, but from the homes and communities of children as well. However, Kindergarten does provide some opportunities for children that simply cannot be taught at home. This is because a lot of what a child learns in kindergarten is taught by his or her peers.  The following, separated by the seven learning areas, is a brief overview of what your child can get out of a Kindergarten class that he or she may not get anywhere else.

Early Literacy

This focuses on children being actively engaged in learning language and forming their own understanding of how spoken and written language works. A kindergarten program provides opportunities to:

  • Experiment with language and to test it in verbal interactions with their peers and adults (other than their parents)
  • Participate in shared listening, reading, and viewing experiences
    • Sharing stories using rhyme, rhythms, symbols, pictures, and drama
    • Class and group language activities
    • Begin using language prediction skills
    • Ask questions and make comments
  • Represent and share ideas and information about topics of interest

Early Numeracy

Provides activities that foster a curiosity about mathematics. A kindergarten program provides the following opportunities that create interest in numeracy:

  • Comparing quantities, searching for patterns, sorting objects, ordering objects, creating designs, and building with blocks
    • Connects numbers to real-life experiences
    • Develops mathematical reasoning skills (a foundation for later success)
    • Develops problem-solving skills
  • Being involved in a variety of experiences and interactions within the environment helps develop spatial sense including, visualization, mental imagery, and spatial reasoning

Citizenship and Identity

This focuses on the development of a strong sense of identity, self-esteem, and belonging. Children are given the opportunity to explore who they are in relation to others – a difficult thing to teach from home. All the children from a Kindergarten class bring their own perspectives, cultures, and experiences to the classroom. Because everyone has a unique background, bringing all the children together provides opportunities to:

  • Become aware of who they are as unique individuals
  • Express themselves by sharing personal stories
  • Discover how they are connected to other people and their communities
  • Express interest, sensitivity, and responsibility in their interactions with others

Environment and Community Awareness

By providing opportunities for children to use their five senses to explore, investigate, and describe their environment and community children become more aware of their surroundings. Using simple tools in a safe and appropriate manner provide experiences that allow children to:

  • Recognize similarities and differences in living things, objects, and materials
  • Learn about cause and effect relationships
  • Make personal sense of the environment
  • Explore familiar places and things in the environment and community
  • Recognize seasonal changes in their environment and community
  • Recognize familiar animals in their surroundings

Personal and Social Responsibility

In order for children to be able to learn, they need to be able to regulate their bodies. An unregulated child will spend all of his or her energy focusing on what is happening in his or her body and cannot attend to what is being taught. This area focuses on the personal and social management skills necessary for effective learning. Each child develops these skills at their own rate and is dependent on personal experiences; however, kindergarten provides children opportunities to:

  • See themselves as capable learners by participating in learning tasks, trying new things, and taking risks
  • Follow rules and learn the routines in a school environment
  • Become more independent
  • Develop friendship skills
  • Demonstrate caring and contributing to others
  • Express their feelings in socially acceptable ways
  • Take turns, contribute to partner and group activities, work cooperatively, and give and receive help

Physical Skill and Well-Being

By participating in physical activities, by becoming aware of healthy food choices, and by learning safety rules, children develop positive attitudes towards an active, healthy lifestyle. Kindergarten provides practice opportunities for the behaviours that promote wellness. Children in kindergarten begin to develop a personal responsibility for health, learn about personal safety, and ways to prevent/reduce risks. Through play, the following skills are targeted:

  • Coordinated movement, balance, and stability
  • Finger and hand precision
  • Hand-eye coordination

Creative Expression

Kindergarten gives children an environment where they can practice fostering respect and collaboration with others through sharing ideas and listening to others’ diverse views and opinions. Being involved in listening to others’ perspectives allows children to learn that people see and learn things in different ways than they do. The following are activities that help to develop these skills:

  • Viewing and responding to natural forms, everyday objects, and artwork
  • Individual and group musical activities, songs, and games
  • Listen to (and begin to appreciate) a variety of musical instruments and different kinds of music
  • Dramatic play and movement
    • Helps with growth in self-awareness and self-confidence

Kindergarten helps to form the base knowledge so your child is ready for English language arts, math, social studies, science, physical education, health, and fine arts throughout elementary school. Children learn these skills at home, in the community, and in the kindergarten classroom. It is unlikely your child would be far behind without the experience of Kindergarten; however, certain skills such as knowing the routine and expectations of a school environment may be something a child who did not attend Kindergarten will have to learn.

 

 

Connecting with Kindergarten: Are They Ready?

By Elizabeth Wotherspoon

In my experience, a big stressor for parents is the concern that their child is not “ready for kindergarten.” This looks differently for everyone, some parents may be worried that their child mumbles through the L-M-N-O-P cluster in the alphabet song and others might be concerned with counting, colours, and writing skills. So, what exactly is your child required to know before entering Kindergarten?

After an extensive search for Kindergarten readiness checklists and articles that state what a child needs to know before entering Kindergarten, I came up short. The only identified requirements for a child to have met before entering Kindergarten is that they must be at least 4 years old on or before March 1st to start Kindergarten in September of the same calendar year.

With that in mind, starting Kindergarten is a big step and there are some things you can do to help your child adjust to starting school!

  1. Encourage your child to get dressed alone, including putting on shoes (remember, the laces might still be tricky).
  2. Take your child to the school playground.
  3. Encourage your child to follow 3-step directions. Example: “Find your crayons, make a picture, and bring it to me.”
  4. When your child comes home from school, avoid open-ended questions and ask specific ones instead. Example: “Tell me about the story your teacher read today.”
  5. Establish a consistent bedtime for your child.

Kindergarten has a curriculum, and even though there are no prerequisites for Kindergarten, here are some things you can do at home while your child is learning at school.

Children learn some basic colours and shapes in Kindegarten. You can help your child become more aware of colours and shapes in the following ways:

  • Give your child options that require him or her to label colours. Example: “Do you want to wear the blue sweater or the red sweater?”
  • Be a shape and colour detective while you’re walking around the neighbourhood. See who can find the most shapes and colours.
  • Make Play-Doh at home, experimenting with food colouring and creating different shapes.
  • Get your child to help with sorting laundry by matching socks by size and colour.

Kindergarten introduces the letters of the alphabet and the sounds those letters make. You can increase your child’s awareness of letters and sounds in the following ways:

  • Trace letters with your finger on each other’s backs and guess what letter has been traced.
  • Have your child think as many rhyming words as possible for simple words like “cat” or “bee.”
  • As your child prints their name on crafts and cards, say the correct letter name.

In Kindergarten, some base skills for math are introduced such as, counting groups of objects from 1-10, learning about patterns, and learning about measurements. You can help your child become more aware and interested in math at home by:

  • Counting the plates with your child as you set the table.
  • Baking together using words such as “empty”, “full”, “more”, or “less” as you add ingredients.
  • Playing games like “Snakes and Ladders”, “Memory”, and “Go Fish.”
  • Encouraging your child to look for patterns in his or her clothes and around the house.

Kindergarten is an important time for your child to develop friendship skills. They are learning to show a positive and caring attitude toward others. You can help your child develop and practice his or her social skills by:

  • Allowing/encouraging your child to have a play date and share toys.
  • Encouraging your child to help friends or family members by doing things like holding a door open.
  • Getting your child to help with making supper by giving him or her simple jobs. While doing this, talk about the names of the foods and utensils being used.
  • Encouraging your child to create cards or gifts (something special) for friends and family members

Children start to learn about science by investigating living things in Kindergarten. You can help your child learn more about living things by:

  • Having your child name each animal while looking at pictures in books or on a trip to the zoo. Talk about where the animals live, what they might eat, and the noises they make.
  • Read simple stories to your child. After reading the story, ask what happened at the beginning, middle, and end, of the story.
  • Making animal puppets out of paper bags or socks and have a puppet show.

In Kindergarten, children learn about time. They talk about the days of the week, months of the year, and the seasons. You can help your child become more aware of time in general and the seasons by:

  • Using a calendar at home to talk about the day, date, and month of the year.
  • Go for a walk and look for signs of autumn, winter, and spring.
  • Go on a treasure hunt for different sizes and colours of leaves and pinecones and then make a craft out of them.
  • Have your child help you rake the leaves in your yard. Have fun jumping in the leaves, throwing, and catching them.
  • Have your child help you shovel the sidewalk.
  • Playing in the fresh snow. Making different footprints, snow angels, and snowmen and going tobogganing.
  • Making paper snowflakes.
  • Encourage your child to talk about the changes they can find outside (e.g., the snow is melting, the leaves are growing, the grass is getting green) in spring.
  • Encourage your child to hang up this or her jacket and hang their jacket when they come home from school to develop a sense of responsibility at home.

Now that you know there are no requirements (other than age) to be ready for Kindergarten, you can send your little one of to his or her first day of school with confidence. Have fun and enjoy this exciting time in your child’s life!

 

Connecting to Literacy Through Wordless Books

By: Elizabeth Wotherspoon

It’s FINALLY time to read your bedtime story which means you will get a little reprieve while your child sleeps. You’ve been looking forward to this moment since you brewed your morning coffee and you are just a few lines away from some peace and quiet. It can be quite tempting to just read the story and call it a day, but if you have a little more energy left in you during this precious learning moment, your child could really benefit.

When reading a story to or with your child, it is recommended to make it as interactive as possible. Sometimes this can be tricky because the words are there for you to read.

Wordless books automatically make reading in an interactive way a little easier because you do not feel obligated to stick to the text that is written.

Here are a couple more tips on how to read a wordless book with your child:

  • Add new vocabulary à explain the action in the picture and describe what else you see in the picture
  • Appreciate that the pictures are telling the story à talk about how the pictures portray the emotions of the characters and mood of the story
    • Emotions are found in the facial expressions and body language of the characters
    • The colours of the pictures are providing the mood (e.g., dull colours = sad or gloomy; bright colours = exciting and happy)
  • Encourage your child to tell the story based on the pictures à prompt him/her to include details about the setting (e.g., where and when the story is taking place); get him/her to describe the characters; encourage him/her to include the key elements of the plot (e.g., the problem and its resolution)
  • Summarize à once your child has told the story in his/her own words, get them to summarize what happened in the beginning, middle, and end – this gives an understanding of basic story structure and helps with comprehension skills
  • Comprehension skills:
    • Encourage your child to predict what will happen next in the story
    • Make connections between the story and real life
    • Talk about what the characters might be thinking and feeling
    • Brainstorm about the overall message of the story

So, you like your routine of reading your child a couple short stories at bedtime and you don’t want it to take too long because you NEED sleep too and that’s okay. Maybe instead of being a night time activity, a wordless story could become part of your day! If this sounds more appealing, add a little more to the activity:

  • Have your child write the text to accompany the pictures à You could do this by making your own story books or you could write the text on post-its and stick them on the pages
  • If your child is not yet writing, it’s okay to write these ideas down for him/her
  • If your child is enjoying this activity, get them to draw the pictures in their home-made books!

Here’s a list of good wordless story books for children ages four and up:

  1. Flotsam by David Wiesner
  2. Tuesday by David Wiesner
  3. Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day
  4. The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
  5. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
  6. The Red Book by Barbara Lehman
  7. Wave by Suzy Lee
  8. Chalk by Bill Thomson
  9. A Boy, a Dog and a Frog by Mercer Mayer

Here’s another list for younger children:

  1. Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathman
  2. Hug by Jez Alborough
  3. Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola
  4. Have You Seen My Duckling? By Nancy Tafuri

Okay, so now you know how to read a wordless story book with your child so here’s your challenge for tonight when you’re reading your child to sleep. FORGET ABOUT THE TEXT! Let your child choose the book they would like you to read, but tonight, make the story up based on the pictures rather than reading the words. Good luck!!

Connecting to Literacy through ABC & 123

By: Elizabeth Wotherspoon

This may come as a bit of a surprise because some people are so obviously good at math, while others are better at reading and/or writing BUT both literacy AND math skills are rooted in language!

As parents and teachers, we want to do whatever we can to ensure our children are going to be successful in school, and ultimately in life. So, what do we do? We teach our children the alphabet, counting, and to recognize letters and numbers. And while these skills are an important step to achieving literacy, children’s language skills are actually more predictive of their reading and math skills!

What to do

The first step in achieving literacy is building your child’s spoken vocabulary. The more words they understand and use, the better their reading and math outcome!

Here’s what to do at each age to build up vocabulary:

  • For your 1-year-old: it is important to expose your child to lots and lots of spoken words. Talk to him/her about what you’re doing when you’re doing it. Narrating your actions is an easy way to expose your little one to a TON of words!
  • For your 2-year-old: it’s important to use a variety of words for this age group and to include some sophisticated words.
  • For your 3-year old: when your child was one and two the amount and variety of words they were exposed to was important, now that he/she is three, the quality of the interaction becomes more important. Have conversations and tell stories. Talk about what you did today or what you might do tomorrow.

Once a child has started using words to request, comment, greet, and negate they have achieved the first step to becoming literate.

Next, we need to delve a little deeper to form those fundamental skills required for literacy. Here are some guidelines for helping your child acquire those skills:

  • Talk about what your child likes
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat – children need to hear new words MULTIPLE times before they begin to use them
  • Aim for a balanced conversation – we want your child to hear new words AND to have time to think about what was said and how to respond
  • Point out objects and concepts in the world around you (e.g., “sticky, this glue is sticky.”)
  • Help your child understand the meaning of new words by using actions, gestures, and facial expressions in addition to words
  • Tell stories together with your child – these can be about real or made-up events. Simply talking about what you did today or what you might do tomorrow builds pre-literacy skills
  • Focus on the SOUNDS of language rather than the letters. For example, “Sam starts with a snake sound: sss.” Become detectives and find all the snake sounds on a page in a book!
  • Enjoy shared book reading with your child – this promotes early literacy socialization and teaches children that reading can be fun and interactive

How is math connected to literacy and language?

I have spent a lot of time talking about how to build vocabulary as a fundamental skill for reading, but when does math come into the picture?

Early mathematics is more than recognizing and reciting numbers, children need to understand concepts and relationships. Research shows that mathematical LANGUAGE is one of the strongest predictors of success in math.

Some Tips and Tricks to Integrate Mathematical Language into Your Day

Introducing concepts and relationships to your child early will be so important for his/her academic success and it’s not even difficult to do!

  • Use numbers to describe or count in daily conversations rather than focusing on number recognition
  • Make comments using numbers (e.g., “You have two cookies! I only have one. You have MORE cookies than I do!”)

Mathematical language includes comparison and spatial concept words, rather than numbers. Here’s an example of some of the words I’m talking about:

  • Comparison words: more, less, some, most, fewer, a lot, a little bit
  • Spatial concepts: near, far, before, after, front, first, above, below, end

Use words like these at any time with your child – including while reading stories. Make comments and ask questions using this language (e.g., “How do you know the duck has the most seeds?” or “The plane is above the helicopter.”)

Challenge Accepted

I bet you’re thinking to yourself that you already do these things. This posts challenge is to really pay attention to comparison words and spatial concepts you’re using when interacting with your child. After you’ve done this, come up with some activities you think it would be easy to integrate mathematical language into and how that might look.

As an example, I might bring a pie plate, some coloured felt, and fake fruit and “bake a pie” as an activity that promotes learning new vocabulary while using mathematical language.

  • First we make the crust (put the coloured felt on the bottom of the pie plate)
  • After the crust is made, we add the fruit
  • We need a lot of fruit to fill the pie
  • Let’s add more fruit – we just need a little bit more
  • Oh, no we have too much – we need less fruit
  • After we’ve got the right amount of fruit, we add the crust
  • Put it on top of the fruit
  • Last, we bake the pie for 30 minutes at 350 degrees

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