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Kindergarteners spend a great deal of time telling stories. There is always a story brewing during morning and afternoon experiences. We have stories unfolding at the block, sensory, and light tables in the classroom currently.

"Pretend that I am a giraffe and I am going on an adventure with my mommy."

"OK, but pretend that I am a teenager, and I am lost in the jungle."

"Everyone this is the lake where the animals take a bath."

The children are listening to each other and adding on to the story. It may not be a sequential storyline with a problem and solution, but the story is widening. The children are clarifying the story, establishing their place, and negotiating the plot line.

Sometimes a child prefers fact to fiction but they are still creating a literacy as they pursue and catalog these facts in their head.

As teachers, we promote the understanding that stories and facts exist between the pages of a book. This provides a reason to read and hopefully the motivation to sustain the process. We scaffold the children as they take small steps (and sometimes leaps) towards decoding the lexicon of our language. Our work is to understand the social emotional being of each child and this understanding is essential as we create an environment that allows for risk and embraces mistakes as necessary for learning.

We host a session each fall for the Kindergarten parents as they navigate this part of their child's development. A child's literacy is another milestone in their journey which also means that it will occur when there is an internal readiness. However, we can intentionally offer experiences that match their zone of proximal development and scaffold the incremental steps some children will require to break the code.

Each year parents ask questions, and we have collected a few of the most frequently asked questions.

What is the difference between phonics and phonemic awareness?

Phonemic awareness is auditory and does not rely on print. Children listen to and manipulate the sounds of speech as they rhyme, delete, segment and blend sounds. Children often arrive in kindergarten with a working knowledge of letters and even their matching sounds, but we continue to play with sounds as we read, sing, and enjoy games. The work of phonemic awareness appeals to young children and is also a fundamental piece of both reading and writing literacy.

Phonics supports students as they begin to understand the relationship between phonemes
(the smallest unit of language) and the printed letters. The lower school classrooms use the Words Their Way curriculum to structure the skill set of phonics but we primarily examine phonemes in context----in the midst of the books the children read.

"Is it possible for that word to read as horse when it begins with the letter m?"

"Why does the vowel in the middle of the word say its name?"

"My child has memorized the book sent home and is relying on the pictures to read. They are not really reading."

Many parents each year express this observation. We read each book at school with the children so they often do not need to decode the words when they read at home for the second time. As children reread a book they are practicing good reading habits such as pointing to each word, sweeping their eyes from left to right, using the illustrations to support decoding, and repetition of bridge words (the, and, you, me, etc.). If there is interest, you might consider asking your child to spell words, identify blends, count the number of words in a sentence, look for words with matching beginning or ending sounds, or ask them to think of a word that rhymes with one in the text.

My child seems to be a strong writer rather than reader.

Children often come to reading through the back door. Writing text offers more control to the writer than reading offers to the reader. A writer has the freedom to change direction or write what they hear when capturing words on paper. A reader must stick with decoding the words on paper to make meaning and connect the text. For some children it is easier to segment sounds when writing than blending sounds when reading.

My child is noticing what the other children are reading and is beginning to feel anxious.

Anxiety during the reading process should be avoided. We make every effort to keep it fun,inclusive, and free of stress. If you observe the stakes becoming high for your child, immediately and resume read-alouds only (add some additional cuddles and laughter). The reading process will unfold for each child in their own way and at their own time. Stress will interfere with their excitement and perseverance.

We will continue this conversation discussing literacy in the Kindergarten. We invite you to read an earlier blog entitled "The Nuances of Literacy."

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.

—Emilie Buchwald

About the Author: 

Mary grew up inspired to teach by her family of educators. In addition to teaching for over ten years at the lower school level, she spent several years implementing a state Instructional Support Team initiative designed to enhance teachers’ skills in the application of best practice. The initiative sought to provide instructional support through collaboration, problem-solving, and the utilization of data for classroom and school decisions. Subsequently, she continued her work with the Instructional Support Team initiative as a Virginia Department of Education consultant, visiting sites across the state, developing curriculum, training teachers to facilitate local teams, and working to develop assessment and validation tools to evaluate progress at each site. Mary s educational background includes a bachelor’s degree in Education from St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia and a master’s degree in Reading Education from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Mary has been teaching Sabot at Stony Point since 2006. "It is a joy to be present with children as they take ownership for their learning in the midst of a collaborative and creative environment." Mary has had an instrumental role in the curriculum development for the Lower School. She was one of several professionals researching, writing and supporting the literacy curriculum and Sabot's progressive student assessment report. Mary has presented at several institutes and conferences including the 16th Annual SURN Leadership Academy, a partnership between the School of Education at the College of William and Mary and Virginia K - 12 school divisions to conduct relevant research and provide professional development in order to provide quality teaching and learning. She also presented at the Sabot Institute - Personal Pathways and Paradigms.