As with many other areas of early childhood, there has been a mash down of activities for children. In the beginning years of early care, teachers viewed this younger age group as short big kids – These beginning providers did not realize that there was no physical or cognitive development seen in 7-8 and 9-year-olds. Brain research has opened a new knowledge base and shone the light on what children under 8 years old are really capable of; as well as what their limitations are.

Some of the old ways of teaching are still in many centers. These care providers are still doing the mash down. They are going back to their 3rd-grade experiences, believing that will work for three-year-olds.

Let us look at language. Many classroom teachers are busy and determined to have young infants repeat and look at letters and learn those sounds. Think about it. Young infants are just starting to recognize some words, spoken, and are not able to verbalize anything yet. Why think that they can possibly figure out /a/ when you’ve never shown them an apple? Why would we teach them the sound of the letter /m/ and the poor child cannot even say “mama”. I’ve seen classrooms drill two- and three-year-old children on phonics. Why? Because they believe they are getting them ready for reading. Everything needs a foundation. That needs to be done before we put the house on top of the ground. Otherwise, it will not last. We will hear compliant babies drool and babble “mmmmmmmmm” but never understand what it means or applies to – so it is just a game and not long-lasting.

A good language program would simply help increase both expressive (speaking) and what is said receptive (listening and understanding). A good language program would simply help prepare children for reading by reading to them a LOT. A good language program would simply ask a lot of questions that require deep thinking. Not superficial responses like the color of a banana? The Foundation!

We can define phonics as the way we decode or figure out a word by breaking it up into its sound parts (phonemes). Children do not actually get to that advanced state of analysis until kindergarten (a little) and first and second grade. Babies are too busy learning words and concepts and meanings.

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Where do we start with babies?

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That is listening to the sounds around us.
1) Talk to babies about what is outside and inside (“Do you hear the birds chirping?”) This builds vocabulary and concepts (birds make a particular sound called chirping. Other animals make other sounds).

2) Speak distinctly so that they hear the /h/ and /t/. Thus, they will learn to say the /h/ as in hat and the /t/ as in top in the normal give and take of a conversation.

3) Name objects in the environment – actuals are better because an apple in a book and an elephant in a book are the same sizes. Have an apple and let the child feel it and smell it and, if age-appropriate, taste it.

4) Read books, a page at a time. When I say “read” simply open the book and point and talk about the page. The attention span is only a couple of seconds long. So keep it short. Everything comes in time.

5) Sing lots of songs because that is language, and it has cadence and interest.

6) Have lots of one-on-one time and let them see your mouth.

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Where do we continue?

1) Have children identify the sounds they hear from everywhere. Help them learn new words (vocabulary) to describe what they hear.

2) This is the time to really pay attention to their speech. Make sure it is distinct and complete. If you hear blurring or mispronunciations, check it out. It might be related to not being able to hear from chronic ear infections as a baby or it might be something more severe. Alert the parents to talk to the pediatrician about it. You are the expert who can detect the first warning signs.

3) Go from naming the commonplace objects that they already know because you taught them as a baby, to more advanced and complicated items like other four-legged creatures, shapes of trees, and leaves that we see every day and miss because of not paying attention, different kinds of flowers, etc.

4)Read books that convey ideas and concepts of their world.  Books about a new baby in the family or treating an animal with care; things that they understand and can connect with.

5)Sing, sing, sing, and dance.  Physical movement reinforces learning.

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If toddlers were the doers, preschoolers are the thinkers. By the age of five, they should have at least 8000 words in their vocabulary. They should be able to consider and figure things out.

They should be able to carry on a three or four-round conversation.
What do three or four rounds of conversation look like?

I say something. “What is that?”

You say something that confirms or acknowledges or adds to my something. “A microscope slide to put things on that you want to look at?”

I say something else “What are you planning to look at?”

You continue to say more. “I found a small round bug and I want to see his head.”

I say more. “Why don’t you get the bug box to keep him safe?”

You say something more. “How will that keep the bug safe? Is he in danger?”

Continuing. “Are you being gentle in holding him? Do you think others will be gentle if they come and look at what you are doing?

See how that question was not answered, but another question posed for the other person in the conversation to find the answer themselves? To reflect and consider.

This was a conversation. A back and forth discussion.
How does this help with phonological? It is putting the environment of speech into context.

Now my final question to you is: Are you doing this with every child, if not every day, at least two or three times each week.

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But more to the point of Phonological Awareness.

a. Go on a walking trip and listen to the sounds of nature. Think about recording this so children can listen later.

b. Listen to orchestra music and learn with the children to identify the sounds of different musical instruments.

c. Let children use the classroom musical instruments to learn the sounds of each instrument.

d. Play word games, like “what sounds like goat.”

e. Do chants like “Going on a Bear Hunt.”

f. Do rhythm patterns like “clap, snap, stomp, clap, snap, stomp, clap, snap, stomp.

The next stage of putting sounds and letters together and taking them apart is Phonemic Awareness.

We will do this part in another blog. Get started with the above for now and we will advance in small steps.

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