A walk around the classroom-
Library or reading corner:
The connection here to the literacy program is more obvious than others but none-the-less critical to attend to. For early readers having many books that are highly interesting and highly predictable to be immersed in and to practice reading with, is essential. To have the human resources to read the books to the children and to be there to hear them read and assist them so that reading is a pleasure and not an onerous lonely task nor a locked treasure chest is critical.
What we might see:
• clearly displayed and accessible books of all kinds, shapes, sizes, genre, published by the children or other publishing houses, expository texts and fiction, poetry and prose... as long as there are lots of interesting books (What determines the quality of a book will be looked at later).
• books organized according to text sets, possibly in bins or on shelves that are labeled. It is important that young children be able to see the invitations of the covers of books readily to facilitate their self-selection.
• certain books highlighted or celebrated that may pertain to an interest or text set that you are currently exploring, books that are new or about technology or...are just great picks.
• recordings of many of the books for assisted reading. These self-made recordings may be attached to books by means of sticky-backed library pockets, packaged together with the book in a plastic bag or be displayed on a chart with library pockets and easy identification to the relevant book. We have discovered that children love to listen to the recordings made during a read-aloud in their classroom with their teacher and their friends best of all, so we recommend that you train some children as recording technicians and have the equipment on standby, ready to capture the next read-aloud.
• a listening post or at least a tape recorder, DVD player and earphones
• magazines that would appeal to young readers with various interests- Ranger Rick, Young Naturalist, Owl, Chickadee... (get some current titles here)
• a filmstrip projector and filmstrips. It is interesting how many wonderful filmstrips that we have found in old storerooms no longer being used because of the new technology. This is one machine that little ones can use independently and there are a number of things that they can learn as they use it- cognitively, motorically and socially-hmmm. A small piece of white bristol board stuck on the wall or a cupboard makes a great just-above-floor level projection screen. Plugs- why don't classrooms ever have plugs where you need them?
• good lighting so that the children can actually see the text and the pictures. Add a large magnifying glass so that the details of the illustrations won't be allowed to escape an inquiring eye.
• items of comfort like big stuffed toys, pillows, a rocking chair, a rug, a big book stand, ...
• paper and pencils and markers and crayons and more paper available to make notes and book marks and to write books the moment you are inspired.
• charts on the wall that record thinking and work done in that centre- e.g. books we love, goose bump raising adventure books, books by Phoebe Gilman...etc. These provide implicit invitations for readers to explore or add to.
• date stamps and reading logs so that the children can record what they have read. If you run a Borrow a Book program the bags and comment books could be kept here.
Note: Books shouldn't just remain in the library but should be where they are most likely to be read or referred to in the learning process. For example, books about cooking logically could be on a shelf in the housekeeping centre, books about building and technology might be found useful in the block centre, a book about how to make a pop-up book could assist one while cutting and pasting in the arts centre and science books related to a particular topic being explored should be handy to the explorations.
Young children will write if they have been immersed in writing and drawing and understand the possibilities, if they have witnessed lots of demonstrations of writers writing (like their mom making a list, their father writing a note, their grandmother writing a letter, the gas man filling in forms), if they have the tools available to them (for example when they are handy in play contexts so that the invitation is explicit, and especially if someone pays some attention to what it is they are writing. Writing for young children is part of their play, it is a way that they can make their mark. Initially writing is pretending very much like early babbling is. If it is adequately reinforced and facilitated as opposed to being squelched or forbidden writing will be practiced and will eventually move towards conventional forms of the relevant sign system. As children become more sophisticated or as their writing becomes more developed, there are many things that teachers/parents can do to facilitate this development. A writing centre in the home or classroom is critical. IT is basically a place where the writing tools may be found as opposed to a place where all writing must be done. Children should be able to pick up and pack up the materials to take them to where they want to do their writing.
What we might see:
• date stamp and pad so that all of the children's work can be dated so that development can be tracked.
• paper of all shapes, sizes, bound and unbound, colours, textures, and some that suggest specific uses such as graph paper, shopping list paper, note paper, onion skin for tracing, envelopes, etc. The papers should be stored so that they are kept tidy and yet remain accessible and inviting.
• writing tools of all kinds: pencils, markers fat and thin, typewriters that people no longer seem to want, letter stamps, computer, chalk...
• illustrating tools: markers, pencils, crayons, scrap paper, plasticine, glue, glitter, junk for collage, ...
• alphabet boards in multiples so that young writers, when they begin to relate sound to symbol, have something to refer to, to twig their memory, give them a clue, or to provide the model to copy.
• revising tools such as staple removers, paper clips, masking tape to cover up mistakes to get a fresh start, erasers, non-toxic whiteout, scissors and tape, ...more paper to start over…
• publishing tools such as a stapler, cover stock, binding tape, thumb tacks, tape, examples of possibilities and a willing hand to assist.
• dictionaries, word books, thesaurus, word cards from the current text set or interest, all of the children's names in the class including the teacher's ...
• clip boards for writing on the job
• recycling box and scrap box for used paper
• whatever else the students think would be helpful
• writing folders. These may be individually marked boxes of the children's writing, large folders to hold their writing and pictures or books, or whatever works for you and the children.
This is a writing depot really- a place where children come to get what they need to go about their writing. Writing centres work best in a handy central spot.
Visual Arts Centre:
There is a very critical connection between literacy and early arts expression. Children explore, extend and communicate meaning as they manipulate, create, paint, draw, cut and paste, model, sculpt and print. If you listen as they work you will recognize that they are composing and storying. The decisions that students make in the process indicate many things that are parallel to decisions one makes in activities of literacy. Line and space, shape, size, direction, and design are just some of the elements of art that take discrimination, prediction, scanning, planning, hand-eye coordination, fine motor control and decision making- all important elements of literacy as well. As children manipulate and explore possibilities of the media that they are working with, they learn about the probabilities and potential. It is important that they have ample time to mess around before expectations of a product are raised. Talk is critical for this process. A teacher suggested that when the children were working with clay they kept track on a chart of the vocabulary they used to describe what they did to the clay- pinch, push, pull, stretch, indent, coil,... . This kind of vocabulary is important to the children for describing many things orally and through their writing.
As children engage in making art they choose things from their lives and environment that hold some importance to them and begin to explore the relationships between them. Eventually they are arranged in a personally meaningful system or design and the story is there. We have observed that young children create things that are to them significant parts of their environment and use an order which makes the most meaning or sense to them, while usually fitting themselves into the story. While they are making art and reconstructing things in their way, they tell us a lot about their thoughts, understandings and feelings and shape new ones. It is interesting how so many children find it much easier to compose first in picture and then write the story that has emerged. There are others who work best the other way, but much fewer. It is no wonder to us that drawing is easier for young learners because of the fine motor control and the sophistication of the system of spelling and letter formation, especially if there are the dreaded lines in two colours involved! Art is a critical part of the reading process for early readers because so often the illustrations not only support the text, they tell the story. One good example of this is Rosie's Walk where the picture tells the story of the fox and the text never refers to it- intertextuality( or the children's experience with other texts informs them of the inherent danger in the proximity of foxes and hens).
Visual art also connects with literature through illustration. If children can have an appreciation for how some of the work is done they will attend more critically (be more engaged) to the details of the pictures and hence find more meaning. They also will be able to illustrate using a variety of media. The most important literacy benefits however are that through art the children are making meaning by using their imaginations to story, to think, problem solve and create. They are learning to observe their environment carefully, to organize ideas, to problem solve using trial and error, to communicate meaning, to discover their points of view and to appreciate others (sharing of art is as important as the sharing of any other product and process), and they discover a wide range of media they can utilize to create change in their world.
Some of the things that might be made available in this literacy centre are:
• moist real clay (stored in an airtight container), warm bees wax for tactile involvement, play and manipulation
• squares of vinyl on which to use clay
• other modeling materials- playdough, bakers dough, salt ceramic
• junk- wonderful stuff from anywhere you find it- home, car wreckers, art yard. This junk provides invitations for the imagination to run wild- it suggests possibilities because of the connections the child makes with his/her prior experience. The junk suggests a story.
• objects that are interesting to handle including natural things like shells, rocks, cones
• yarns, strings and fabric scraps
• paint- liquid tempra preferably for ease and good colour. You might mix up special colours with the children related to interests- fall colours, circus colours
• containers for water
• sponges, paper towels
• paint applicators different size brushes , spatulas, rollers, sponges, feather dusters, house paint brushes, cardboard pieces notched, cloth
• crayons, chalk, oil pastels
• marker pens- water soluble, fat and thin
• empty roll-on deodorant bottles filled with paint mixed with a little liquid starch
• different kinds of paper- different sizes, textures, shapes, kinds: e.g. foil, paper towel, newspaper, corrugated paper, factory cotton, paper fabric, rolls of mural paper
• screening, for simple stitchery- e.g. onion bags put between overhead frames, other weaving materials such as fruit baskets, carpet non slip backing, open weave fabric, weaving frames
• wool or string with ends glued or masked can be used without needles for simple stitching and weaving
• glue, paste, masking tape
• boxes, tins, containers to make box scuptures
• wire, pipe cleaners, telephone wire
• printing objects
So many stories are composed and enacted in the blocks. The more intriguing the 'stuff' that is available close at hand, the more imaginative the stories. It is fascinating to observe the socio-dramatic play themes modify according to the suggestions or invitations of the materials available. For example when I taught early primary grades, I visited a car wreckers and returned with two bushels of 'junque' such as old steering wheels, door mechanisms, window cranks, dials, old radios, knobs, pieces of threaded pipe with attachments and so on. Amazing creations and hence stories and divergent thinking and problem solving came out of those bushels! Language worth celebrating developed and burgeoned. Many, many young boys ( and I am not making a gender biased statement here- just stating the facts ) have learned to read and write in the blocks- this context just invites them to get hold of information that fascinates them to read and the roles they play seem to involve writing and recording. It's our job to facilitate this natural interest.
Possible materials: (that can be adequately stored and well organized)
• various and lots of construction materials such as blocks both big and small, fences, Lego, Constructs, etc.
• creatures of all types- people and animals, domestic and prehistoric
• cars, trucks, trains, planes, space vehicles
• signs and materials to make signs ( e.g. tongue depressors, plasticene and cardboard)
• boxes, tins, tubes, etc. and 'junque'
• hard hats and other hats- watch out for lice!, plastic hats can be cleaned easily
• books about construction, communities, technology, do-it-yourself projects...
• magazines that are related to technology, construction, urban planning, cars, etc.
• blueprints and graph paper to make your own
• clipboards, paper and pencils
• telephone (toy or discarded real), walkie talkie, taperecorder
• digital camera to record the structures or constructed products
• large mural paper for making maps, roads, site cross sections on the floor
• tape, scissors, stapler, glue, etc.
• expandable space...
• one great thing that was part of my classroom was a workbench with tools and beside that an old stump from a reasonably soft wood tree. That stump had hundreds of nails and screws pounded and turned into it each term and when there were no spots left, a trusty caretaker sawed off a layer and it happened again. The children pretended it was everything. Other than storying and having fun, we aren't certain what it had to do with literacy learning but it was great...!
Traditionally one of the most popular centres in classrooms is the housekeeping centre. Children love to play house. It is so fascinating to observe them act and listen to them interact as they play out their notions of family relations, house work and life dramas. We can learn much about the things that concern specific children here. I heard my three-year old daughter exclaim while playing house with a little friend, " I am the mother and you are the little girl and whatever you want to do you can't, I am studying!". This observation told me that I had better spend a little more time playing with my daughter in a less restrictive situation ( oh the guilt!!! ) but it also demonstrated that Krysten's notion of a mother's role included studying (celebrate a new role model). Many times through observation of play we have made sense of who children are and their context of life helping us to understand why they act or react in certain ways. The richness of the context affects the opportunities and invitations for storying. When you think about it, there are many natural ways that reading, writing, listening and speaking occur in the context of the home. Using these instances as possibilities for creating or reading text in play by providing materials that suggest this, makes sense. We watched a "mother" check all of the bottles and boxes in the cupboard for the poison sign because her baby was very ill and appeared to have the symptoms of poisoning as recorded in the Reader's Digest Health manual. She looked up the number for poison control in the telephone book, couldn't find it and resorted to dialing 911. When her "husband" rushed home from the blocks, having been dragged out unsuspectingly and unwillingly because of the "'mergency", he suggested that they call the doctor in the book, found the number and immediately left for work again. We noted that the mother was doodling on the pad as she waited for the doctor to be found and get organized to answer. The players had to find a doctor and had some difficulty because everyone was engaged in something else. Finally the plea that a baby was dying and it would only take a minute to save her life, caused an altruistic boy to respond. (Unfortunately they only invited the boys to be the doctor- things haven't changed much...)The doctor diagnosed over the phone as he jotted a "description" down prescribing digestive cookies. He assured the young mother that the baby would be fine, while she made notes of the conversation on the phone pad. An "aunt" helped check the newspaper for ads for the prescribed cookies but came up with nothing. Just look at the number of times that reading and writing were part of the play!
What might make this centre interesting and a literate play environment:
• table, chairs, an easy chair, a stove, refrigerator, sink, baby crib, desk, computor, lamp, magazine rack, bookshelf, ...
• a big old television that has had the insides removed so that the children can create their own shows for others to watch, a radio or tape recorder
• dishes, pots and pans, cutlery, utensils, small appliances,...
• minimal linens that are regularly laundered by hand in the classroom as a demonstration and real play (sometimes a good bleaching and cleaning needs to be done in a laundry, but rarely)
• food boxes and tins or even plastic pretend foods- money- playdough
• dressup clothes and hats( beware of lice) Linda used to have wigs in her classroom until most of her class, including Linda got lice and found that the wigs were the lice hotels)
• tools in a small chest
• baby dolls ( black, white, Oriental...)
• telephones- at least 2!!!
• telephone book, address book for the children to record their numbers and addresses as well as other frequently called numbers- emergency numbers, pizza place, taxi...
• recipe books and cards to record recipes they have made in class
• do-it-yourself fix-it books
• memo paper and pads, shopping list paper, note paper for corresponding, envelopes, recycled birthday cards or special occasion cards, invitations, ...
• magazines that would interest different family members, newspapers, television guide, bus maps...
• computer…what house would be without one?
• reference books about health and fitness etc.
Water and Sand Centres:
Typically interest centres are chosen that are seasonally relevant or connected to something that is happening such as a field trip or a special event or just something that is of particular interest to the children in the class. Ideally projects develop with the children and expand with their interest. Only those topics which are real, meaningful and relevant to the children and in which they have some ownership, make a real difference to their learning. The more intrigued one is with learning about something, the more learning occurs to be retained and applied. We are fascinated with how much some children know about dinosaurs for example, including the correct spelling of the names when they don't seem to be able to remember the spelling of simple words. I brought back a collection of wonderful shells, sand, pinecones and literature from a popular beach resort to set up a thematic unit on the seashore. My inner city children however had never been to the sea, nor were they intrigued by the idea, consequently they had no robust questions to inspire research, no interest to pursue and so it flopped! Inexperienced and very enthusiastic about the ideas, I tried to push the theme because of the investment I had in my curriculum. Fortunately some learning did occur- it was mine. I learned about teaching and learning and about the importance of involving the children in the choices of topics to learn about. The most effective projects or topics of study come from the robust (real) questions of the learners. That does not mean that we sit back and wait for the children to come up with profound questions before we prepare anything. In fact it is from what we do and provide and read and talk about that the robust questions emerge not from out of a vacuum. We were in a kindergarten classroom and a young boy was playing that he got a snake bite. ( He had just been finding worms in a bushel of dirt and wrigglers and we guess that's where the idea emerged.) He came to the 'hospital' to get fixed up and the discussion with the doctor about whether or not the snake was poisonous occurred. I overheard the conversation and entered the drama as a poison expert directing the boys to a book about snakes so that they could identify the kind so that 'treatment' would be appropriate. From there the questions about how to treat snake bites and where certain snakes live and what can happen to you if you get bites and ... led the boys with several other students into some very intriguing research. The librarian paired them up with some older students who were experts on reptiles to assist them and away they went. The snake theme caught on and soon almost everyone was reading about (looking at pictures and accessing what they could), writing and drawing about and definitely talking about snakes. The teacher knew nothing about snakes except that she was afraid of them. She became intrigued by the things that she was learning with the children and her phobia lessened.
This could be drawn in a flow chart:
snakes------poisonous how do you recognize a venomous snake? --------venoms----other poisons--------antedotes-----------adventures involving poison---------fairy tales and the use of poison------------witches----------...
poison----marking poison-------things around our environment that are poisonous and should be avoided or treated wiwth the utmost of care
snakes-----no legs-------locomotion -----rectilinear movement, concertina climbing, sidewinding--------other ways to move
snakes-------no eyelids----------what are eyelids for? how do our eyelids work?
snakes and their life history- male combat?!!!
snakes-------geography where and why do they live in certain places
what kinds of snakes are local etc.
snakes and how are they related to lizards and other reptiles------what is a reptile and wht are their characteristics?
snakes----ecosystem--- who are their enemies and who are afraid of them
What did this project look like? It had charts with the ongoing developing questions recorded to follow, expository books about snakes, reptiles and poison to use for research, an increasing collection of folk and fairy tales that had a poison motif, empty containers that had the poison symbol on them, information from the government on poison control, stories written by the children involving poison and snakes and other gruesome things, and so on. There were lists of poisons to avoid- chemicals, plants, animals and so forth.
What did the teacher and the children learn? This is quite immeasurable- the project affected attitudes, behaviours, raised awareness, taught about how to do research, increased the amount of reading and writing for real purposes, informed the students about where to find resources and so on. What happened in that classroom far exceeded the teacher's expectations about the learning possibilities or the probabilities for these young children.
The project culminated (actually it really never did end because the connections and reflections kept popping up) with a visit to the zoo and a visit from a man who brought several snakes for the children to visit with. The teacher even held the boa constrictor, her phobia under control! Can you think of some stories or books to read aloud in connection with this theme? How about some songs or physical education activities (locomotion)?
Kindergarten Learning Centres