at Literacy for Ages 0–3
a teacher in a mixed age inclusion-setting classroom for the very
youngest children, what does literacy look like for my students?
Letter and number recognition is not always the most important
goal for these children. It is really more about the shared experience
of reading together, as well as increasing the child’s knowledge
base of his or her expanding world. So how do I instill and support
a new and growing love of reading and curiosity about the world?
We have a variety of books that are readily available to all the
children in the classroom. They are facing outward on our bookshelf.
Some are board books, and some are the more traditional paper
paged. Even our youngest babies and our children with fine and/or
gross motor delays enjoy maneuvering the heft of the board books
and learning how to turn pages to get to the next picture. We
have stories that reflect our community, with characters that
look like the children and situations that may sound familiar
to them. For example, if a child is expecting a new sibling, we
make sure to have stories about that in the classroom. There are
a number of children’s books that reflect growing diversity in
our communities and we try to tap into as many of these wonderful
resources as we can. Beautiful pictures, colorful pages, poetry,
rhyming books, and fun and silly books are wonderful ways to entice
children to pick one up. But I don’t think a literacy rich environment
is simply about the materials you make available to the children.
Literacy for young children really comes alive when it is experiential.
The loveliest of examples is The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack
Keats. In this story a little boy experiences the
joy and wonder of newly fallen snow. He drags a stick through
it, leaving his own trail, and makes snow angels and a snowman.
He fully feels the presence of the snow and feels his own presence
in it as well. Imagine reading this story to young children, and
then going out into the snow with them. They can drag sticks,
and make snow angels, and snow people. Snow will have so much
more meaning for the listener now, and so will the story, because
it all has become part of her or his personal experience.
Another aspect of experiential literacy, and one of the most rewarding
as a teacher, is the sharing of the experience. A favorite story
in my classroom is Eric Carle’s Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What
Do You See? The children love to hear it over and over again,
at almost every circle time. Recently, while on a walk together,
we saw a peacock that one of our neighborhood churches keeps in
their garden. The excitement and recognition that even the youngest
toddlers had was tangible. “Peacock, peacock what do you see?”
someone shouted out, mirroring the text of Carle’s book. That
day back on the carpet, our favorite book was pulled out, and
we talked a great deal about the peacock we saw in the garden
on our walk. I shared in their excitement as we talked and remembered
seeing that beautiful, large bird. We discovered that it was much
bigger than even our biggest picture in the book! Literacy in
a mixed-age, mixed ability group is essential and joyful, especially
if it is a shared experience.
Our growing coziness and intimacy as a group had been enhanced,
as we all snuggled in a little closer and read the story again.#
Wheeler-Civita is a teacher at the Bank Street Family Center.
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