It can be difficult for parents of young children to figure out how the songs, games, and stories their children enjoy at preschool can be preparing the youngsters for future academics. While it may look as though the children are “just playing,” the play is carefully designed to teach content standards.
According to Early Learning Content Standards for Ohio, three important content areas in English Language Arts are Phonological and Phonemic Awareness, Word Recognition, and Fluency.
Phonological and Phonemic Awareness in Preschool
Activities are designed to help children learn to identify matching sounds, recognize rhymes, hear sounds by isolating syllables in words, and differentiate between sounds that are the same and different.
Childrens’ literature with rollicking rhymes makes little ones laugh, but these stories also teach the concept of rhyming. Learning to identify matching sounds takes lots of practice. Children often take quite a while to understand the difference between rhyme and alliteration, since “sounds like” can be a confusing description. “Cat” sounds like “bat.” Both of these words also sound like “hot”, “knot”, “bit”, “kit”, and many other words that have similar vowel and consonant sounds. Rhyming games and silly songs give children the chance to play with these concepts until they come to understand them.
Teachers will often ask children to clap, snap, or tap the syllables in their names. This combines avenues of learning, using physical and auditory means to reinforce the idea that words have distinct parts.
Many games and songs involve animal sounds or other environmental sounds, such as “beep-beep” for a car horn. Usually, several different sounds are imitated, developing the children’s awareness that different sounds are associated with different things. The classic songs, “Old MacDonald” and “The Wheels on the Bus” are excellent examples.
Word Recognition in Preschool
Children learn to recognize when words share phonemes, to recognize their own names in print, and to recognize and name some upper and lower case letters in addition to those in their names.
Making lists and charts that record classroom activities is a great way to engage children with the written word and develop their awareness of shared phonemes. A teacher might write, “We had carrots at snack time” on an activity chart. William may notice the capital “W” that is just like the one in his name. “I have a ‘W’ too,” declares DeWeese. Rachel may be intrigued by the lower case “r” that is repeated in the word, “carrots.” It sounds just like the beginning of her name but looks different.
Children should find their names prominently displayed around the classroom, on cubbies, overcoat hooks, on helper charts and on graphs and lists. Finding the same familiar arrangement of letters in different places reinforces the idea that those letters, in that order, always spell the same name.
There is enough print in the typical preschool classroom to enable children to become familiar with the entire alphabet. In addition to the ABC’s, many things in the classroom are labeled, such as the sink, door, art supplies, block corner, and music area. Over and over, children receive the message that print carries meaning, and this helps prepare children for reading.
Language Fluency in Preschool
Children learn that words are made up of letters. They realize that they can recognize and “read” some environmental print. They demonstrate fluency by giving proper intonation, phrasing, and expression to stories that encourage children to participate by supplying the expected phrases. Stories that use repetition or rebus pictures reinforce fluency.
Environmental print also promotes fluency. The words take on life and meaning when they are associated with familiar places and things.
Although much preschool activity can accurately be termed, “play,” it is play with a purpose. For young children, play is always about learning, and in a preschool setting, fun, natural learning experiences are planned right into the environment and every part of the program.