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Reading in Preschool

February 04, 2016

I can vividly remember learning to read in first grade.  I am old enough to have sat in formal reading groups, where we read Dick and Jane.  I also remember the day that I was moved up a level, and I joined the group that was reading Tip and Mittens.  I can’t tell you what Tip and Mittens were doing that was so interesting, but I do remember that I preferred my new books to the old, and that once I had mastered Tip and Mittens I never looked back.  From that point on, I have always loved to read.

I also have memories of reading that precede first grade.  These memories evoke very different feelings.  As the youngest of five children, I was read to by many family members, however my favorite memories of reading, are reading with my Mom.  Her lap was comfortable, and her voice was soothing, yet full of expression. I remember my home as a very busy place, but these moments of reading together were quiet and relaxed.  Even now when I read Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, or Curious George, I can hear my mother’s voice and remember how special this time together felt to me.  We went to the library each week and left with a stack of books.  These weekly trips were a special occasion.   I remember the day I got my own library card – something very official since I was required to write “Patricia” my full and rarely used first name before receiving my card.  I believe that by making time for books and reading, my mother demonstrated her appreciation of, and respect for reading. Even at a young age I could recognize that reading was something to be valued. 

Today, reading still feels like a treat to me.  My favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird.  I could read it over and over again. While teaching at LEAP, I loved reading Ramona the Pest with soon to be kindergarteners, or Officer Buckle, with a group of dog lovers.   Reading provides us with amazing opportunities – to learn, to laugh, and to imagine. 

In order to know how to read, a child must understand how letters and sounds come together to form words.  In order to enjoy reading, a child must be able to comprehend what they are reading, or with preschoolers, what is being read to them.  Reading becomes enjoyable and important to children when they comprehend the story or the facts and use imagination to allow this information to take form.  As an experienced reader, I can picture Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, and imagine them racing to dig the Town Hall basement, while Henry B. Swap smiled “in a rather mean way”. 

 In order to enjoy To Kill a Mockingbird, I had to imagine what a small southern town would have looked and felt like in the 1930’s.  In order to comprehend a story whether it’s Curious George or To Kill a Mockingbird, it is necessary to understand the vocabulary, follow a time line, and perhaps wonder about events that will happen next, or consider why certain events took place. Experienced readers understand the difference between fiction, and non-fiction, fantasy and reality.  We can identify the type of book or story we are reading, and therefore set our expectations accordingly.  

Adults have been reading for so long that these processes happen automatically.  When working with children at LEAP, teachers consider the fact that children are at the very beginning of this process, and that we are building a foundation of literacy skills.  So we start at the very beginning:  exploring vocabulary, explaining new concepts, helping children to understand the characters and “plot” of a story.  We look at the pictures together, make predictions and share ideas about what might “happen next” in a story. Children need help understanding sequence and timing – what happened first and how that impacts what happens next.  We look for opportunities to practice these skills in all parts of our day – from circle time to snack time, and through every stage of development from Toddlers to TK.  These are language based strategies, which we focus on because solid language skills are an important literacy skill.  

 As I reflect on my own journey to reading, it becomes very clear to me that learning to read happened for me in first grade, under the close supervision of Mrs. Ensly my beloved first grade teacher.  The love of reading was developed much earlier in the experiences I shared with my mother.  For me this process was a much stronger and more powerful experience. 

Each February the American Library Association awards the Caldecott Medal to the artist of that year’s most distinguished American picture book for children.  You can check out winning and honor books for 2016 at http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/caldecottmedal/caldecottmedal .  While on their website, check out the list of past winners.  Do you find any of your childhood favorites among their selections?