Academic Achievement For All—When Are Children Ready to Learn?

SnipBlog107aWow!  You’ve come a long way, baby! In the 1980s and 1990s, educators and policy-makers were jumping on the bandwagon to provide free kindergarten programs in all public schools. The reasoning then was that after a year of kindergarten, every child would finally enter first grade ready to learn.

Fast-forward to 2015. Now policy makers are clamoring for academic preschool programs so that every child will enter kindergarten ready to learn.

The president proposed that we should provide full day preschool programs for all kids, even though it is well documented that current preschool programs like Head-Start have limited success.

“Head Start has an impact on 4-year-olds’ language and literacy skills while they are in Head Start, but these early gains are not sustained as the children develop and move into the early school years. Furthermore, there is no evidence of impacts on children’s math ability, pre-writing skills, or teacher assessments at the end of Head Start, at the end of kindergarten, or at the end of 1st grade. In other words, the children in the Head Start group ended their Head Start year with moderately higher skills than their counterparts in the control group, but this advantage did not lead to longer term gains when they were in school. At the end of 1st grade, they end up at the same point as the children who were not given access to the program…The Head Start group scores are not statistically different from the control group scores in kindergarten and 1st grade.”  (1)

Not many years ago kids were expected to start learning the ABC’s at age six when they entered first grade. Now it is no longer acceptable for students to enter kindergarten expecting to be taught everything they need to know to move on to first grade. If they don’t know at least some letters and sounds, they are already behind. In a decade or two from now, will we be saying that kids still don’t know enough, therefore we need to provide a full school day for three-year-olds so they will enter preschool ready to learn?

Administrators in my district say they want to “focus more effort on connecting with early learning and child care providers to ensure that they are equipped to help children prepare for kindergarten.” (2)

Maybe we should stop and think about this!  If putting kids in school a year earlier didn’t achieve the desired results back then (since our test scores have remained flat), what makes us think putting children in school yet another year earlier will work now?  A number of studies demonstrate that starting children in school at age four can actually be detrimental to their achievement.

Do we really think that all four-year-old children should be in school for a full day? Not everyone does. Education Corner writes, “Even though children in daycare programs can develop intellectually, children benefit most when parents stay at home with their children and educate them.” (3)

If they are not going to go to school, what should preschoolers be doing? Playing, of course! Play gives children the opportunity to learn to be self-directed, to persevere, focus attention, imagine, experiment, discover, problem-solve and create. Too much formal education at a tender age may detract from this very important part of child development.

Young children learn things informally, from parents and siblings. During parent or caregiver interactions, children learn that something is big or little, sweet or sour, smooth or rough, loud or soft, light or dark, red or blue. Parents naturally teach their preschoolers basic concepts like colors, shapes, counting, sorting, etc.

Children are listening and talking and expanding their vocabulary. We know that exposure to adult conversation with rich vocabulary usage will increase young children’s use and understanding of complex vocabulary words. Parents should be reading books aloud to young children which also helps develop vocabulary. A large vocabulary is linked to better reading comprehension and more successful decoding. Learning to read is critical for school success.

Some children are ready to learn to read as young as age four. I know a few of them. But most children at this age need to be physically active in play, and will not thrive in a formal academic setting. Play helps young children’s brains develop. A number of studies show that play-based preschool learning is good for kids. (4)

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Some will argue that preschool helps children become better socialized, learning to take turns and share. That’s what parents used to teach kids along with their brothers and sisters and friends before formal schooling began! Unfortunately, far too many children are not taught considerate behavior prior to entering school and teachers are now expected to fill in the gaps. This steals time away from formal learning for these children and for those around them who are affected by their lack of self-control.

It seems that the argument for preschool socialization actually isn’t a very good one. “A study by researchers at Stanford University and the University of California showed negative social­ization in the areas of externalizing behaviors, inter­personal skills, and self-control as a result of even short periods of time spent in preschool centers.” (5)

Some states already have a proven track record with preschool programs. Academic gains favoring children who have attended preschool are quickly lost. “More than a decade after offering students uni­versal preschool, neither Oklahoma nor Georgia has shown impressive progress in students’ academic achievement, as measured by the National Assess­ment of Educational Progress. In fact, in Oklahoma, fourth-grade reading test scores have declined since 1998 when the state first implemented universal preschool. Furthermore, the report notes, ‘by the end of first grade, children who did not attend preschool had skills similar to those of Georgia’s preschoolers.’”  (6)

Years ago, parents kept children home until around age six when they entered first grade, and then they learned the alphabet and how to add and subtract. So why did we start sending children to school at younger ages?

“The kindergarten movement was propelled by the industrial revolution and the introduction of women into the factory labor force…Kindergarten, once a half-day affair required by only 40 percent of US states, has become largely a full-day affair required nationwide. Academics, including math and reading curricula, testing and grades, are now the norm in many schools. Programs for younger children have expanded as well…Having your child cared for outside of the home, once looked down upon as an abrogation of a mother’s maternal instinct, is now a socially accepted practice. Indeed, those parents who choose not to put their children in out-of-home settings are the ones perceived as insufficiently concerned with their child’s welfare.”  (7)

The big question is when do we decide that enough is enough?  When are children too young for schooling? When do we stop requiring more academic achievement from children at ever younger ages?  We have seen little gain in test scores in the years since we began providing kindergarten for all children and I strongly suspect it won’t happen when we provide full day preschool for all children either. Let’s let kids be kids a bit longer and let them imagine and build and learn through play until they are really ready to learn.

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References:

1- http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/hs_impact_study_final.pdf  (Chapter 4, page 15)

For more information on Head Start, see this:  http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/strengthenheadstart03/report.htm

And this:  http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2009/05/Does-Universal-Preschool-Improve-Learning-Lessons-from-Georgia-and-Oklahoma

2- http://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/news/education/2015/01/14/salem-keizer-kindergarteners-room-grow/21737253/

3 – http://www.educationcorner.com/importance-of-early-childhood-education.html

4- http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22029435.000-too-much-too-young-should-schooling-start-at-age-7.html#.VLbhiivF_dY

5- http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2009/05/Does-Universal-Preschool-Improve-Learning-Lessons-from-Georgia-and-Oklahoma

6- http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2009/05/Does-Universal-Preschool-Improve-Learning-Lessons-from-Georgia-and-Oklahoma

7- http://www.communityplaythings.com/resources/articles/2010/history-of-early-childhood-education

Information on Early Literacy: http://nieer.org/resources/policybriefs/10.pdf

 

 

Preschool—Learning ABC’s

When you are ready to teach letter names and sounds to your preschool/kinder students, it is nice if you can post large size letters on the wall so your child can look at them frequently.  Just as when teaching colors and shapes, to make it easier for your child, you should post and teach only one letter-name and letter-sound at a time.  It is very important that you teach the sound of the letter as well as the letter name. This will be very useful when you begin to teach your child to read a bit later on.

SnipBlog105bOne or two letters a week is about the right amount for this age group.  Do not post a new letter until your child knows the previous one, even if it takes more time.  If a young child is not able to learn one letter a week, he is probably not ready for this task.file contains black outline letters that you can print onto colored paper or colored cardstock if you so desire.  To alternate colors, print page one on red, page two on orange, page three on yellow, page four on green, page five on blue; then repeat for the next five pages—and so forth. Cut out the letters so the shape of each one is distinct when placed on a white background.

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Have fun teaching the alphabet and the letter-sounds, and take it nice and slow with your preschoolers!

You can get your FREE printable large size black outline ABC’s here.

Beginning Preschool—Learning Numbers

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This week I have a FREE chart for you to help you teach number-symbols 1-10.  You should start with the chart for numbers 1-5 first, and add the chart for numbers 6-10 when your child knows the first five numbers very well. Your child can begin to learn to match number symbols to the correct number of objects.

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A page is included with just the number symbol and a blank space for your child to enter the correct number of objects.  You can copy the same blank page many times and use it in various ways.  If you have a do-a-dot marker, your child can use it to put the correct number of dots beside the number symbol.

We are loving using stickers right now, so we used those colored round spot stickers that are often used as price stickers. You could also use smiley stickers or stars or whatever you have around the house. Your child could also draw the correct number of circles, triangles, or squares in the open space.

Get your FREE Numbers chart right here.

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Beginning Preschool—Learning Shapes

You may want to teach some basic shapes to your younger preschoolers as well as teaching them color names. As I mentioned in the previous blog, it is better to teach one at a time than all of them at once, to avoid confusion. You might like to post them on the refrigerator. Ask your child several times a day to tell you what the name of the shape is.  If she cannot remember it, just tell her what it is and ask her to repeat the word after you. Keep your teaching informal and just do it for fun.

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Don’t miss out on these FREE Learning Shapes Flashcards! You can get them here.

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If you missed the previous offer for the FREE Learning Colors Flashcards, you can get it here.

Beginning Preschool—Learning Colors

SnipBlog102cIf you have preschool students, you are probably teaching them some basic things they need to learn before kindergarten.  If your young student does not know names of colors yet, we are providing a free printable set of flashcards to teach colors.

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Some young children mix up the names of colors when they are learning them.  You can minimize the difficulty they have by teaching only one color at a time. When the child remembers the name of one color, teach another one. You can teach colors in any order. Start with your child’s favorite color.

Print the cards onto heavy cardstock.  You may want to “laminate” the cards so they will last longer.  You can this inexpensively by covering them with slightly overlapping strips of heavy duty packaging tape, front and back, before you cut the cards apart.

Get your FREE Color Name Flashcards here.

Back to School – Make Your Own ABC Book!

It’s nearly fall and children are going back to school.  Whether you homeschool or your children attend public or private school, you may enjoy doing this activity with your preschool or kindergarten student.

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At ages 4 and 5, children should still be playing a lot of the time, so learning should be casual and informal. If your child shows an interest in learning the alphabet, you can teach the letters in many different ways. You might post a large letter on the wall or refrigerator (one at a time) and talk about its name and sound at random times during the day. You can read ABC books together.  You can point out words for objects that begin with a specific letter.

Your child might also enjoy making his/her own ABC book. This is a fun activity for your preschool or kindergarten students that can help them begin to recognize letters and learn letter names. Teach just one letter at a time.  It really does not matter at this age whether you teach a letter every couple of days or one a week. Let your child’s interest be your guide.

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Your child will need to be able to cut reasonably straight lines with scissors first.  Then he/she will be able to do this activity with just a little guidance from you. Use plain white cardstock or typing paper for each page and bind it when you complete the project—or purchase an inexpensive spiral notebook to paste the letters and pictures into. Give your child the pictures for just one letter.  Ask her to cut out each picture for the letter she is learning. Show her how to paste the letters and pictures onto the paper. It doesn’t need to look perfect. Use a glue stick rather than liquid glue. Young children may find it easier to use a glue stick that looks purple when applied, but dries clear, so they can see where they have put the glue.

Here’s where you can get your FREE Cut & Paste ABC Book from Sound Bytes Reading:

ABC Cut & Paste Book – part 1 & part 2

 

Handwriting – When Should You Teach Your Child How to Print?

SnipBlog85aAt what age should your child begin to learn to print letters and numbers?  Years ago, children were not expected to begin formal schooling before age six so this topic was not as much of an issue.  Many parents now fear if they do not teach handwriting at an early age, their child may lag behind the other children in school.

Every child develops large and small motor skills when they are ready—and not necessarily when a friend does.  So you may see one child who is skilled in climbing and jumping, which are large motor skills, but he cannot write well—and another child the same age who is coloring pictures and staying inside the lines, which are small motor skills, but she cannot climb well.

Generally, a child should not be expected to learn to print letters and numbers until at least age four to four and a half at the earliest.  If you try to make a child write before he is developmentally ready, he may develop an intense dislike for writing.  If you wait until he can hold a pencil easily and control it well before asking him to copy letters, learning to write will be a much happier experience for both of you.

How will you know when your child is ready, since some may be ready at age four and others not until much later?  Give your child plenty of opportunity to use crayons, washable markers and pencils to scribble and make early attempts at drawing and coloring. The first time a child colors a picture, she will not stay inside the lines and you should not expect it.  Just let her have fun. As your child gains control over her writing tool, she will begin to draw pictures that are somewhat recognizable.

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If you want to understand just how difficult it is for your child to learn to write, just try writing with your non-preferred hand.  If you are right-handed write with your left hand.  It’s pretty hard to do and it looks much like first-grade writing. Your hand gets tired very quickly and you won’t like the results.  This is how it feels for your child.  The first writing practice your child does should be just a few minutes long.

When you observe that your child has fairly good control when using a pencil, you can then introduce tracing activities so your child can learn to draw vertical and horizontal lines, and later, angled lines. Don’t expect your child to be able to do this at a given age just because your friend’s child can do it.

After practicing writing lines, your child can learn to write some easy capital letters such as:  F, H, I, L, T, X, and V. Don’t introduce letters with curved lines until straight lines are reasonably easy for him to copy. Check out the websites listed at the end of this blog for some free writing practice pages.

Capital letters are easier for a child to write than lower-case letters. Your child can learn the names of the letters at the same time and it is a good idea to teach only one letter at a time so the child becomes familiar with it before learning a new one.

When your child can write capital letters easily, begin to teach her to write lowercase letters—again—one at a time, and this time teach her to say the sound of the letter out loud as she writes it.  This is good preparation for reading.

SnipBlog85cMost children are pleased to learn how to write their own names, as well as a few other words like mom and dad.  Teach them to write words from left to right.  It may take a while for them to remember this, so be patient. It helps if you draw an arrow from left to right at the top of the page as a reminder. Your child can practice writing letters, but should wait to learn to write many words until he/she is also beginning to learn to sound words out and read them.

Find Free Handwriting Worksheets on these websites:

http://www.handwritingforkids.com/handwrite/manuscript/alphabets/

 http://www.worksheetfun.com/2013/03/15/letter-tracing-worksheets-kindergarten-capital-letters-alphabet-tracing-26-worksheets/

Tracing Patterns:

 http://www.shirleys-preschool-activities.com/preschool-writing-patterns.html

Tracing Letters:

http://www.k5learning.com/free-preschool-kindergarten-worksheets/letters-alphabet

Sound Bytes Reading: Top Ten Blogs in 2013—Part 2

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6 – Diagnosing Children with Reading Problems

This blog post will begin to address the difficulties of struggling readers and how parents can begin to understand the problem and help their students.  Reading can break down at any of these points when students are not explicitly taught the sound patterns in English.  We will cover each step in the next few blog posts.  Part One in a Series of Fivehttp://bit.ly/10jioWR 

7 – Preparing Young Children to Learn

What makes children ready to learn? What can parents do to help prepare their children to learn?

Whether your children will be attending school or are homeschooled, they need to be prepared to learn.  Being prepared to learn involves many things.  This includes developing self control, learning to pay attention, managing your time so you can get assignments done, and a willingness to co-operate with others and take turns.  Educational leaders have labeled these things as “soft skills.” Read more here: http://bit.ly/14t04Li

8 – Preparing to Learn—Teach Children How to Clean Up

Children appreciate cleanliness and a sense of order in their lives—but they don’t usually know how to achieve it. It is our job to teach our children how to clean up after they play and how to keep their things organized so they will be prepared to learn when they begin school. Read more:  http://bit.ly/15dX8Pm

9 – 12 Great Activities to Help Prepare Young Children for School

Child’s play is really child’s work.  You can easily provide your children a wide variety of fun activities that will help them develop small motor coordination and finger strength and dexterity. This will also help them be well prepared for school activities. Here is a list of 12 activities that can help your older preschoolers develop their skills and prepare them for more formal learning.  Read more:  http://bit.ly/11wo55q

10 – Why Is Reading So Difficult For My Child?

Does your child frequently guess at unknown words by saying another word that has the same beginning letter? Does your child look at the pictures for clues?  Were you told he/she has “eye-tracking” problems? After reading a passage, is your child unable to tell you what it’s about (low comprehension)?  Does he/she have problems with fluency (not reading smoothly)?  But this same child may be a whiz at math, easily remember in detail anything that you read aloud, and be highly skilled in other areas.  Why does your child have so much difficulty with reading?  Read more:  http://bit.ly/1a092nC

Bonus: You Can Teach Your Struggling Child to Read – Now!

Is your child a struggling reader?  Have you tried to help your child learn to read and it just doesn’t seem to click?  Learning to read does not come easily for many children, so you are not alone.  Many people will tell you that your child just needs to wait longer—but for most kids that’s just not true!  You can help your child become a strong competent reader.  Read more:  http://bit.ly/1c0a81z

 

Sound Bytes Reading: Top Ten Blogs in 2013—Part 1

SnipBlog691 – All Students Reading at Grade Level by the End of Third Grade? 

The goal:  Every child reading on grade level by the end of third grade?  No!  The goal should be:  Every child reading on grade level by the end of first grade!  With this goal in mind, we must  use effective research-based reading interventions as soon as we see children start to fail—before the end of first grade—and before they have fallen so far behind their peers that many of them will never catch up at all. Teach every child to read by the end of first grade!  Read more:  http://bit.ly/145VDFK

2 – Spelling for Beginning Readers – Part 2

This blog is part of a series on spelling.  It includes a game to help your children learn to spell.  Beginning readers often ask us how to spell words they want to write.  When students ask you to spell words, you can help them develop phonemic awareness by telling them the sound of each letter in the word as they write instead of telling them the names of the letters.  This is what phonics is about—learning to associate letters with speech sounds rather than learning words as a whole unit.  The more we use the sounds associated with the letters the more quickly students will remember them and use them when trying to spell words.  Read more:  http://bit.ly/VFdeTD

3 – Spelling for Beginning Readers – Part 3

Spelling is an important part of learning to read.  Learning to spell helps students learn to read and reading phonetically can help students learn to spell.  If you give your beginning students word lists that have consistent spelling patterns, they will learn to spell much more quickly and they will not forget what they have learned.  Read the blog here:  http://bit.ly/Wj1UJV

Get the FREE Spelling Game for beginning readers here:  http://soundbytesreading.com/assets/files/Spelling-Game-for-Beginning-Readers.pdf

4 – Five Spelling Tips for Teaching Beginning Readers 

Our brains are designed to recognize patterns that make sense.  For beginning or struggling readers, learning that is based on consistent patterns will make reading and spelling new words much easier.  Here are five tips to help you teach spelling.  Read more:  http://bit.ly/11TpQcL

5 – Should You Continue to Read Aloud to your School Age Children?

Reading books that are above your children’s reading level will help to increase their vocabulary. Even though they can read for themselves, older children enjoy having longer stories read aloud to them.  Get the book list and read more here: http://bit.ly/ZlKWw

Next week: Part 2

An Art Project in August—Free Family Fun—Part 1

Is the heat keeping your kids indoors at the end of the summer? Need a fresh idea to keep the kids busy?  Here’s an art project that is fun and easy and can be easily adjusted up or down in difficulty depending on the age and ability of each child.

You will need:

  • a few sheets of plain white paper
  • some colored paper or construction paper
  • a pair of scissors
  • a glue stick

This project is very easy for school-age children.   Three and four-year-olds may need you to help with cutting.  You can draw a shape and let them cut on the lines if they know how to cut with scissors.

1.  Create a border for the picture by drawing a text box on the computer and printing it out on a piece of plain white paper.

2.  Ask your children to think about what kind of picture they would like to make.

3.  Let them cut out some geometric shapes from the colored paper.

4.  Your children can arrange the shapes on a piece of paper until they like the way the picture looks.

5.  Then they can glue the pieces onto the piece of paper that has the border printed on it.

Older children may want to make pictures that are more complex.

They might also want to include background images in their picture.

Find a place to display your child’s completed artwork so you can enjoy it!