When I first started making resources for teachers and my classroom it was simply to teach my class and to help my fellow teachers. I focused on upper elementary because I taught 3rd and 4th grade. Recently I wanted to step outside my comfort zone and learn all about building a reading foundation in Early Literacy. I have always felt if we could tackle the early literacy deficit our number of students dropping out because school is frustrating or a struggle would fall drastically. If a student doesn't build a strong foundation in the primary grades it is a struggle to get them caught up. So, my journey has begun to learn everything I could to support Early Literacy. I am not an expert but I am learning new stuff every day and love to share my experiences with others.
As I started this journey, I paid close attention to my sister "playing games" with her daughter. Everything she was doing was educational starting from the time she could talk but nothing was stressful. They loved playing games whether it was looking at the flashcards hanging on the walls, reading books or singing nursery rhymes. Everything was fun and she started to pick up so many words and loved "play time". I decided as I took my journey, I could help make games my sister and my niece could play at home. Now I am my nieces BEST FRIEND! Yes, she loves her games so much that she said I am her best friend. We started by making her a book with the alphabet and activities. We found the best way to use these activities over and over was putting them in page protectors so she could write on them with dry erase markers. This allows for hours of fun. She started wanting more games to play and was interested in numbers, so we took time to find some activities for her with math too.
We added some number games and activities and my sister started having her help cook. Even though the focus was on early literacy, I saw just as much need for practicing math skills. We simply added some number pages to her alphabet book and easily had another set of activities. One math game she adores is Uno. She also loves rolling dice to determine the number. If she plays with a friend, she likes to see who has the bigger number.
As she grew we wanted to add more games for her to select from so she has cards where she can choose the correct beginning sound and word family bees. She can also choose Word Family and Sight Word Videos (these are free on my website for a short time). Everything is laminated or in plastic sleeves so they can be reused over and over again for hours of fun. YES, we even laminate her color by code pages. Lucky for me she also wants more, so I will be mailing her more fun activities soon! I think she is ready for finding missing vowels sounds! I definitely did work with my own kids at home when they were little to make sure they were learning but I didn't do as good as a job as my sister has done. My niece will be starting kindergarten soon and she is going to be beyond ready for sure!
Not only are these activities good to prepare kids for kindergarten, I have been able to use many of them with my kindergarten kids and struggling readers in first grade. It is all about how you use the activities and what you expect from the students. In school, we need to focus on what skills are needed to build a strong foundation and make sure we provide all the skills to our children and our students.
Don't forget about poems because rhyming is one of the first skills a child needs to develop before learning to read. We have been doing a poem of the week in our kindergarten and first grade classes and seeing great growth with it. The kids are doing so good that with the switch to online learning we started making daily lessons for them to watch (click here to access the videos). We have built a solid way to practice sight words and high frequency words. We use a regular phonics program with fidelity. We have taught the basics like letters and sounds and a lot of different reading strategies in guided reading groups. The kids participate in writing workshop and use invented spelling (which they absolutely love).
Writing connects to reading and builds the kids reading skills, so make sure they have opportunities to authentically write without just copying sentences. I even created a video on how to make a book, so when working virtually the kids can still continue this activity (click here to access the video). We do daily IRAs and model thinking while allowing the students to discuss what is being read. We do purposeful literacy centers to build the skills the students need. One of the most important things we have been doing is
letting them read and doing guided reading EVERY day. We don't choral read and we let them struggle, but encourage them to figure out unknown words out using their strategies. Then we celebrate together. Reading is the focus of our classrooms. A teacher that had been on maternity leave came back and said, "It looks like someone threw up literacy in here!" I took that as a compliment because it was the focus so I am glad it showed!
Our mid-year data showed that 60% of our kids in kindergarten (in a Title 1 School with low proficiency levels) were already at the reading level they needed to be for first grade and 25% were almost there! Let me tell you this was SUCCESS and we celebrate this together. I can't even imagine how well these kids would be doing if they ALL had the background of "playing games" prior to entering kindergarten.
I don't share this to get a pat on the back, I share this because I know every kid can be successful but we need to work on building a strong reading foundation. We need to bring more educational activities into the homes for our toddlers. This will be the things that help fix the struggles we see in our schools. If you’re a parent or a primary teacher remember you are the person that will build children up to have a successful education. They depend on you but I know you can do it! If you are unsure of what to do just ask questions, ask for help, ask for a training. I had taught 17 years in intermediate grades prior to this journey and I didn't realize I NEVER learned how to teach a child to read. Now I know I can teach a class to read and enjoy every minute of it. I have been lucky enough to support some amazing primary teachers that are learning with me and making a difference in the students we teach EVERY DAY!
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