Monday, March 12, 2012

We're Learning The 3 R's. But Not The Ones You Might Expect.

There are an infinite number of things this child can
be learning by playing this simple game.
Our children have had the good fortune to have been enrolled at The Sunshine Shack, a Reggio inspired preschool, for the past 2 1/2 years. The philosophy of the school's director, and the talents of the teachers, have allowed the natural curiosity of all of the children to be constantly encouraged. Each child's interests and inquisitiveness has been expanded upon, used to form lesson plans and resulted in learning experiences for the entire classroom. One of the greatest gifts our children have received so far from school is a genuine love of learning.

I've been leading tours at our school over the last few months and there are always parents who visit who say something along the lines of "I love the idea of a play-based program, but exactly how do the children learn what they need for Kindergarten?". I think, for many, the idea that children would actually learn things like reading or writing in a way other than with the use of flash cards, memorization or structured study seems impossible. But it's not.

There is opportunity for learning in many unexpected places. Use your imagination!
Image borrowed from Discovering Nature's Alphabet.
Our school director recently wrote some of her thoughts on this subject and has kindly allowed me to share with all of you. 

Literacy In Preschool 
by Sara Schuelein Perets

"Teaching children to read is a complex amalgam of language competency, visual awareness, understanding how to decipher the codes and symbols of the formed letters, and sometimes memorization (depending on the style in which it is being taught). But seeing the words is just the basics of reading. Understanding what has been read to allow for deep comprehension is different from basic memorization, and I believe it is just as, if not more, important.

Why do we read? What is the purpose?

At The Sunshine Shack, a preschool I founded five years ago, reading is about the love of literature, passion for stories, the ability for children to express themselves, and most importantly about creating an enjoyment of reading. We accomplish this by embracing Relationships, Relevance, and Reflection as an integral part of our curriculum. These three elements are woven into our classroom culture, thus creating the platform for children to gain the ability to read well and to read with joy. 

Learning to listen is just as important 
as learning to read.
Perhaps if children just learn to read early for the sake of knowing how to recognize words it won’t sustain their interest in reading for a lifetime. The evidence is clear that if a child is pushed to read early for the sake of knowing just how to read by both parents and educators, it has no relevance on their “being ahead” later. Often times, children that take their time in the process will catch up to those who were early readers. Our wish is for children to read for enjoyment rather than necessity.

How do we tie the 3R's into our school's curriculum? 
  • Relationships: Young children learn through relationships: their relationships to people, making connections to materials, and their relationships to their environment. An environment rich with literature and storytelling invites the child to create a positive relationship with reading. Learning through relationships helps a child form connections and builds an enormous foundation for reading. We believe that if we just focused on “teaching children to read” we would be in danger of focusing on mechanics instead of wonderment, expression, and creativity fostered by the relationships that surround them which, in turn, inspire stories.
  • Relevance:  An important aspect of thinking critically is to be able to take relevant information out of experiences and situations. This ability lays the foundation for future study habits when relevance needs to be extracted from pages of textbooks or even lectures. We need to help support children doing this if they are to become good readers throughout their schooling. It all comes down to comprehension verses memorization: are we raising children who are able to understand and follow the story, or just able to read it?
  • Reflection: Empowering children to reflect on what they have experienced is central to our approach and enables children to become aware of their thinking processes. When we read books out loud to children, it allows them to actively listen. When they have opportunities to learn that skill, they can build relationships through the stories they are listening to and draw relevance out of the material being read ot them. This exposure to literacy will provide children with skills to then talk about what they have heard, to share their ideas, and express their imagination. Learning to listen is just as important as learning to read. 

Literacy is developed in many ways.

Absorbing and then thinking about written language are skills that take practice and are developed in many ways other than just “reading the words”. When children are given the opportunities to reflect back what was read through dialogue or drawing, we are fine tuning their listening skills and their awareness of thinking. Those principles are important in developing the pathways that allow for complex strategies to take place and to be able to absorb information on a deep cognitive level.

A child has many ways of expressing
what she has learned.
A Child's sense of imagination as well as their ability to listen and to be more visually aware can be developed and further enhanced by the exposure to art and music. Having creative expression through art allows for the same stories that children might read and write to be expressed in a different medium and can expand upon the depth of the imagination the same way as showing children great works of art can visually stimulate their sense of wonder. 

We don't learn in a vacuum.

Education is all interconnected and the more we create curriculums where the children’s ideas can take on many forms, the more they begin to think in complex ways in context instead of seeing the world through an isolated lens. Literature, art, and music, are the tools in which we build our identity, so connecting all of those elements for children will help them not only to read with comprehension but build an important base for who they are."

Thank you for reading (and thank you to Sara for sharing)!
We'd love to hear your thoughts on these ideas. Please feel free to share them in the comments below. 
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