Preschoolers and kindergartners thrive in environments in which teachers engage in frequent conversations about topics that interest children. In addition, they are learning about letters and the printed word, so they benefit from lots of exposure to letters and print as well as many opportunities to write each day. Consider these 10 simple tips for finding or evaluating an environment that will foster your young child or kindergartner’s language and literacy development.
- Do the teacher and children talk together often?
Look for environments in which children and teachers talk together about new words and ideas. Environments in which teachers listen to children and ask them questions are best for language development.
- Is there a daily read-aloud time?
Ideal preschools and kindergartens offer at least one daily read-aloud time in which the teacher not only reads to children, but also encourages response and discussion about the book. Many teachers even provide art activities or projects that extend children’s understanding of a book after reading it together.
- Is there instruction in phonemic awareness?
Phonemic awareness, or the ability to hear fine distinctions between sounds, blend sounds together to form words, and break words into individual sounds, is essential for learning to read. Quality preschool and kindergarten programs build in a variety of activities that promote phonemic awareness, from rhyming games to sorting objects beginning with the same sounds, to reading books involving language play.
- Do children learn letters and words?
Quality preschool and kindergarten classrooms weave letters into a wide variety of activities, including reading Big Books (very large size, large print books designed for group reading), doing ABC coloring pages, making cookies with letter cookie cutters and doing ABC puzzles. Kindergartners should also work on learning some commonly used words, such as "the" and "you," as wholes.
- Do children learn about the way that print works?
Gaining a basic understanding of the way print works is essential to learning to read. For example, knowing that print goes from left to right, that one spoken word corresponds to one written word, and that we use periods and other marks of punctuation to separate sentences are important concepts for young children to understand. These concepts can be taught through reading Big Books together and talking explicitly about the way print works.
- Are age-appropriate books available?
For preschoolers and kindergartners, picture storybooks and colorful informational books on topics that interest children, such as animals, transportation and dinosaurs, are a must. Kindergartners should also have access to short books designed for beginning readers. Books should be placed so that children can get them easily and sorted by level, genre or topic so that children can begin to practice selecting appropriate books themselves.
- Is there a comfortable spot for reading?
Preschoolers and kindergartners still love to cuddle up and look at books. Look for classrooms in which there is a cozy "book nook" with pillows or soft seating.
- Are there opportunities for children to write?
Ideal classrooms for preschoolers and kindergartners provide children with many, many opportunities to write throughout the day. Children at this age can learn to write individual letters and write their names. They can also draw pictures and write labels, make lists, write stories, use writing in pretend play, and write cards and letters.
- Do you see your child’s racial or cultural background reflected in the classroom?
All children should have the opportunity to see books with characters who look and speak like them. Make sure that your child will see evidence of her background in the classroom, either through diversity of teachers and students, or through books and other materials.
- Is the link between home and school valued?
Children learn best when their parents and teachers work together. Look for environments in which teachers have ways of communicating with parents regularly, such as newsletters or notes about children’s days. Some schools even offer evening workshops or have lending libraries of parenting resources.