As an early childhood educator, I marvel in human development.  I believe children are miracles, and witnessing the developmental transformation that unfolds in early childhood is magnificent. There are many amazing milestones, like learning to express original ideas, reason, and show empathy, yet the one that I find the most thrilling is when a child learns to read. It is one of life’s sweetest moments, and one that I will never grow tired of. 

For the past 10 years, I have been on a personal journey to understand the processes of the brain involved in reading. I’ve been a bit obsessed, in a good way, and it has transformed my thinking about reading instruction.  Three years ago, together with my colleagues Head of Lower School Lindsey Noble and EC/LS Counselor Jennifer Hearne, we set goals to define and identify ‘gold standard’ reading instruction so that we can become a ‘gold standard’ school. I believe helping students become excellent readers is one of the most important things a school does.  In our quest to become a ‘gold standard’ school, WCS recently adopted the HMH 2000 Into Reading curriculum in grades K-4. In addition to hosting a parent coffee on February 1 with Lindsey Noble to dive in deeper on this topic, I would love to share a sneak peek into our new curriculum with the information below. 

In all of my research, I have found that it is important to note that learning to read begins long before the child is exposed to visual symbols. It begins with spoken language which takes 2-3 years for the child to learn to speak in clear sentences. Parents are the child’s first teachers as they playfully mimic sounds and words to model appropriate sentence structure, grammar, intonation, and rhythm.  

As the child grows, 3- to 5-year-olds will continue to expand their knowledge of English, build vocabulary, and organize their thoughts into sentences and questions, all of which are essential building blocks for reading. Speech provides the template for the written word to attach to.  At WCS our highly trained and experienced teachers are skilled in teaching children to develop proficient oral language skills. We are also very fortunate to have two exceptional speech and language pathologists at WCS who can provide services for children when a speech delay is identified. 

Unlike spoken language, reading is not a natural outcome of modeling. Reading is a complex, unnatural process in the brain which requires intentional, systematic instruction and practice over several years to learn. With careful instruction children will begin to translate spoken sounds into written symbols and decode print into meaning. It is one of the most remarkable accomplishments in a child’s life, and it is an honor to help a child reach this milestone. To this day, I have found that many of our teachers will comment that witnessing the moments where reading starts to click for their students is a highlight of their career.

Below you will see that I have gathered some learning experiences that will help to reinforce at home the reading skills foundation we are laying here at Wichita Collegiate School. 

Learning experiences to build oral language skills:

  • Rhyming games: It is very important that your child can hear rhyme and generate 3-4 rhyming words on their own. 

  • Manipulating sounds in words in the initial, medial, and final positions. Check out Willoughby Wallaby Woo by Raffi.

  • Listening skills. 

  • Following directions. 

  • Extending the child’s attention span. 

  • A content-rich vocabulary is highly important to bring meaning to the text. In addition, understanding pronouns and words with multiple meanings is necessary before a child learns to read, i.e. there, their, and they’re. “They’re walking over there with their dog”. 

  • And one of my favorite things to talk about is the importance of play in development.  As children play they practice their emerging language skills in pretend scenarios. During these pretend play sessions, they utilize their active working memory to ‘hold’ their friends’ ideas in mind while thinking about their own ideas. When new ideas are introduced they adjust their thinking to respond to the new ‘rules’. Good teachers will listen without interrupting and offer new ideas or props when needed to extend the play. The teacher will also ask them to tell about their play to extend their language experience. Asking ‘why,’ ‘how,’ and ‘what if’ questions lead a child to think critically and creatively about the topic of play. When a child can imagine what might happen next in the imaginary storylines of their group play, they will develop skills that will lead to reading comprehension. I love that play has such great importance in the cognitive development of the child, to go along with the undisputed emotional, social, and physical benefits. Play is truly a child’s work!

Early Literacy Skills:

  • Rhyming activities: identify, match, and generate rhymes with real and nonsense words.

  • Read or be read to 15-20 minutes per day. Talk about where the sentences begin and end. Discuss main points and new vocabulary. Look at the illustrations to determine context and deeper meaning. 

  • Sentence segmentation: Identify number of words in a sentence using counters if needed. (Example: My mother is nice. = 4 words)

  • Syllable segmentation: Identify the syllables of words. (apple =2, watermelon =4, grape =1, blueberry= 3, etc…)

  • Phoneme segmentation: Identify each sound in a word. (sat = 3 sounds s-a-t)

  • Splitting syllables: Identify the parts of words. (mel-low, mis-ter)

  • Splitting phonemes: Identify the first sound in a word, final sound, middle sound.

  • Blending: Put together parts/syllables to make words. (t-ip, wa-ter, cray-on)

  • Use a moveable alphabet to spell words. Start with simple phonetic words with short vowels in word families: cat, hat, sat, dog, log, fog, run, fun bun, etc.  

The early childhood years are incredibly important for language development, which then creates the foundation for reading. And the way the child will learn best is in playful interactions with a teacher who knows her well and supports her learning with positive encouragement and emotional connections. 

Join Mrs. O'Hearn and Mrs. Noble on Tuesday, February 1, 2022 from 8:15 to 9:00 AM as they share more about our approach and curriculum for reading at the early levels.