- holds a Highly Qualified, Master's Level license in Birth-Kindergarten; is a mother of four and grandma to a cutie pie named Arlo West.
Are you a parent? Welcome to the teaching profession. Your child will have many teachers throughout his life, but his first teacher will be you! No worries-it's not as difficult as you may think - nor do you need a Master's level license to do a fantastic job.
Have you heard, "Kindergarten has become the new first grade?" Unfortunately, this is true for many schools. With all the academic pressures your child may face as a 5 year old, you may be wondering what you should do to help him succeed.
Let them play!
Educators of young children have long known that children learn through play. Young children learn best when they're allowed to move around, explore, think and make sense of the world around them.
Play is the foundation to learning.
The other day I watched as my grandson picked up rocks and threw them across the yard. He did it over and over again, sometimes choosing to just drop them instead. Arlo is 18 months. If you look at this activity through an educator's eye you might pick up on what he's developing.
1. Play Develops Fine Motor Skills
By picking up rocks, sticks, pebbles, Arlo is developing his fine motor skills. Fine motor skills refer to the small muscles of the hand and the ability to move them /use them. A child in kindergarten uses these skills when he writes, tracks print in reading, counts objects in math, experiments in science, etc..
Young children naturally use these muscles to explore the world around them but you'd be surprised how many children come to Kindergarten with little to no fine motor skills. Formal writing with a pencil and paper won't come until much later for Arlo, but by playing with items that allow him to use these muscles, he's developing the skills he'll need.
2. Play Builds Schema
Through this rock activity Arlo's also learning something else... science concepts. Later in his school life, Arlo will be taught the words: "gravity," "velocity," "properties," "Senses," "Motion." When he's taught these words, he'll have schema already in place to make sense of these words.
Schema is the brain's way of organizing incoming information into categories.
For example, when a young child learns the word "dog," he'll refer to any animal he sees as "dog," even if it's not a dog. It's his brain's way of making sense and connecting it with something he already knows. Later, as he learns more words and sees more animals, his brain will adapt and label the schema "animals." In this way the brain expands its understanding
School curriculum often builds upon schema already in place. For example by the time Arlo does learn about gravity, chances are the teacher will not have to show him how things naturally drop to the ground. He'll simply be reminded that he's seen things fall-now here's the theory as to why.
3. Playing Develops Reading Skills
Reading comprehension also relies on schema . Think about it for a moment. If you have no medical background and open up a medical textbook, you'll become confused pretty quickly. Even though you know how to read, the meaning of the words will be unfamiliar since your brain would have little to no schema. Having some schema would help you to read and understand the text. This approach to reading is true for children as well.
I once had a Kindergarten student come across the word salamander. Even though there was a photo of a salamander he couldn't use the typical tip we give in reading ( look at the letters and use context clues -in this case the photo) because he had never seen a salamander. Child after child in the class that year couldn't read the word. Then came "Dan." His family lived by a creek and he often played in that creek with his siblings. He wasn't the strongest reader in the class but as soon as he came across the word he followed with his finger and read "sal..." looked up at the photo and said "salamander." When I asked how he knew the word was salamander he said because that's a salamander and those are the letters for Salamander! Building schema is so important in the early years. So much so that often children with little experiences in life fall way behind their peers in school for lack of schema.
You can help!
Integrate the 3 R's (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic) into Play Time!
As your child grows older, you can use what's referred to as the "Three R's" of education (Reading, Writing, Arithmetic) when it's relevant to his play.
For example if he builds a tall tower ask him:
How tall is it?
How can he be sure?
What tool could he use?
Can he write this number on a paper to show others ?
If he's interested in playing with dinosaurs, encourage him to:
Draw a picture
perhaps label it with the name of the dinosaur and a few facts.
Maybe he can write a short book about it.
Have him share that book with the family.
What words does he want to learn to spell?
What's important to him?
Incorporate his interests and the three R's when choosing books to read.
Plan activities that can build his schema even more!
Learning through Play in the Classroom:
In my classroom, we offer the children time to explore developmental centers (blocks, home-living, art, etc...). You'll often find books, pencils and papers at these centers. These things help them to explore while developing more literacy skills.
Children will often choose to write to enhance their play for example, two students in Dramatic Play walked over to me to hand me the menu they had written, "Here's our menu, Ms. Pabon, what would you like to eat?" I thought $5 was a lot for a soda so I chose water since that said “ free.”
Over in Blocks, a sign had been written by a student who had worked hard on a boat, the sign read, "No tuching!" He had misspelled the word but he got his meaning across. In these ways, children are using reading and writing in relevant ways. They are using them as tools to convey meaning and that is the purpose of literacy.
Through play time, children are using reading and writing in relevant ways. They are using them as tools to convey meaning and that is the purpose of literacy.
You are your child's first teacher.
Let him or her play, play, play!
Give your child the words of objects and concepts he's exploring to expand his vocabulary and schema.
Encourage him to solve problems:
Why do you think those blocks are falling?
What can you do to fix that?
Read to him, especially things he's interested in so that he begins to feel books are enjoyable and informative.
In allowing him to explore and make sense of the world around him, you'll be raising a thinker and that develops a life long learner.
Becoming a lifelong learner is the crux of what he'll need to be successful in school and life!
~ Cindy Pabon