Literacy is a universal hot topic in early childhood education and worthy of our attention, year after year. We want children to happily become lifelong readers and writers. After conducting an unscientific survey with a small sampling of willing participants, it was concluded that the adults who love to read and write today are the ones who recall time to read, think, draw and converse without pressure.
How do we make sure that our children become the readers and writers we know they can be, without making the whole process tedious and stressful for both children and adults?
Children need to learn the alphabet, of course. They also need to be able to write their name when they enter kindergarten, and to cultivate an ear that can discriminate sounds and rhymes, but it must be done in a developmentally appropriate manner. The ideas suggested here serve as a reminder that creating excitement around reading and writing should come before we focus on the mechanics of these skills.
Ways to Unharness Storytelling in the Early Childhood Classroom
When we talk about the writing process, we must first talk about the importance of having a story to tell. I suspect no one ever asked Ezra Jack Keats how well he could make a lower case “b” before they published his books. Instead, what we ask from our authors is to captivate us with a tale. Weave us a story from beginning to end. If you have spent any time with young children, you know they have stories to tell but, so often, children don’t receive the attentive, responsive audience that is needed to “grow” these stories.
Gift of Time
It is essential that caregivers give our young story weavers the time and place to let their imaginations run wild or to simply recount a meaningful experience they want to share with someone. Journals are the perfect vehicles for this endeavor. Giving them their own space to write is essential as well. Make sure you have a good writing table in your classroom, too.
It’s great to see that many early childhood classrooms have incorporated journals into their regular routines. Unfortunately, the story often gets lost in the process. Teachers are often rushed and then try to write a child’s words as quickly as possible, losing the chance to have a conversation about the tale being told. What color was the balloon? How big was the dog?
Focus on Fun, Not Drudgery
Another reminder would be that children should not have to write their own name on every page. Isn’t the name on the front of the journal? What we ask children to do should make sense to us and to them. For some children, forming letters can be difficult because their fine motor skills have not yet caught up with their intellect. Why would we begin this wonderful experience with something children might not enjoy or feel competent doing.
Each entry should begin with a drawing. Markers, crayons, colored pencils – all should be available to begin these creations. Whatever is drawn, can almost always elicit a few words from a child. As they become more experienced with the journal process longer stories and more detailed drawings will follow.
Be the Scribe
The adult’s job is to listen carefully, maybe ask a few questions for clarity, and then record those words, acting as the child’s scribe. Make sure you are positioned so the child can observe how you form those letters when writing the words. A wonderful opportunity for a personalized modeled writing experience.
It can be challenging to meet with every child in a thoughtful way daily and teachers are always looking for new ways to make it work. We must remind ourselves that it is quality of the experience not the quantity we are going for. Perhaps not every child has to “journal” every day which might make longer interactions more manageable. Some teachers recruit volunteers to support the process or meet with children throughout the day instead of only within that one block of time in the morning. Who knows, this might be just the right thing for those non-nappers. There is no “one size fits all” here and each classroom needs to explore the possibilities. A wonderful teacher once told me, “explain to me why I should do it and I’ll figure out how.”
Meet the Author
Finally, it is so important to read the story back to each child providing an opportunity to see and hear themselves as authors and illustrators. This can be enhanced even further by providing an opportunity at circle time each day for a different child to present his or her story.
This is truly a flame that just needs a bit of fanning for it to grow like wildfire. According to Robin Moore, story teller and award-winning author, “Inside of each of us is a natural born story teller waiting to be released.” We can unlock this talent for so many children with just a little of our time and attention.
Storytelling and Journaling in Early Childhood
Make sure you have the materials you need to unharness storytelling in the early classroom.
Denise Ellis, M.Ed is an experienced early childhood specialist who has worked in the field in a variety of capacities. For over 40 years, she has served children and those responsible for their well-being. As a Head Start teacher, she provided direct services to children and families – recognizing the important role of the home as first teacher. As an early childhood trainer, she has provided curriculum and environment professional development for educators both locally and nationally.
As an early childhood administrator for the School District of Philadelphia, she was responsible for enhancing instruction in its preschool classrooms, always focusing on hands on experiences and differentiated instruction. Denise is currently a Visiting Lecturer at Community College of Philadelphia where she guides and supports early childhood students in their journey to understand, embrace and demonstrate best practice. Denise is a lifelong Philadelphian who takes pride in the city’s ongoing efforts to provide high quality programming for all young children and their families
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