11/3/08

Preschool Pressure

You may or may not know that I come from a long line of educators. My decision to teach, in an earlier phase of my life, was a difficult one for someone who likes to pave her own way, who prides herself on uniqueness (is that really a word?). You get the idea. Following in my parents' footsteps wasn't exactly considered an "honor" in my book. But then I taught. And I liked it. And I embraced the challenge and the reward of educating the future leaders of tomorrow. And I respected my parents that much more. Fast forward to last month when my parents visited.

My dad has taught every grade level over the past 30 years of his teaching career and has, for the last 10, taught First Grade. I know, a man teaching first grade. But there's some logic here. His theory is that in every grade he taught, he encountered students who lacked the proper skills for academic success. Some couldn't read, others couldn't subtract. So he went to the root of the problem; first grade is where all the magic happens. Now he teaches to guarantee that every kid in his class graduates with the basic tools to succeed in every grade onward.

My mom taught elementary school for several years before pursuing her masters in reading. So she works as a reading specialist for grades K through 2.

You get the idea, right? When my parents come to visit, there's a whole lot of reading going on. Shelby wakes up in the morning and makes a beeline to "Gigi and Grandpa's" room where she already has a stack of books, old and new, waiting for her. The three of them usually cozy up in bed together and read books for an hour or more each morning.

When my mom stayed with us for a week last month, her professional side began analyzing the academic progress of my four year old: letter recognition, vocabulary and phonics comprehension. Then she turned on Shelby's preschool and its teachers. "Honey, are they teaching Shelby the sounds at that school?" "Are they singing any songs to her? You know..." (This is where my mom does her stint on the importance of poetry and music in a child's world because it is paramount to phonics and reading development). Strangely, I agree with my mom. I want the best for my daughter. Thanks to my mother, the shiny novelty of Shelby's preschool has been tarnished to reveal a few chinks in the armor, a lack of available literature for the students, and never enough songs and poetry.

Our first year at Shelby's preschool was blissful, flawless. She was thrilled with her new role as a preschooler and I was equally happy to be home alone with our newborn three days a week. They could have taught her pig latin for all I cared. Now we're a few months into Shelby's second year at the same preschool and things aren't quite as blissful. Kindergarten and all those state standard expectations (and my mom's reminders about the tests for incoming kindergarteners) are fast approaching. Is her preschool adequately preparing Shelby for public school? Should she be reading BEFORE she reaches Kindergarten? Is it this the best option for my child? Well, it certainly isn't the cheapest school. But, it is the closest to our home and it is the only accredited preschool in town.

The teacher in me awoke from somewhere in my past, picking up the slack in my daughter's preschool education. "Teacher/Mom" To the Rescue! I busted out a whole phonics reading program from the rafters of our garage that's gathered dust since the day I first gave birth. In one week, without knowing all her sounds, my 49 month old (that's 4 yrs+1 month for you normal moms) can read four early reading books-mostly from memory but who's counting, right? The important part is taht she is recognizing letter value, word association, basic literature knowledge (how to hold the book, which direction to turn the pages, how to use the picture to her advantage, pointing to each word, beginning sounds, and possibly, in time, actual word recognition).

For those of you who are standing on the brink of public education, state standards and standardized testing (the state doesn't test kindergarteners, but they do begin preparing them!) scratching your heads about the quality of your child's preschool and his or her preparedness for what lies ahead I have two words: BOOKS and http://www.starfall.com/. These two resources, when frequently used are sure to pave the way to reading success.



Other fantastic ways to encourage an early reader:

Scholastic's Phonics books can be purchased through most Scholastic book order forms or online. They are small square books that are numbered 1 through 58 and use a mix of "High Frequency Words" (I, see, the, up, hello, more...) and repetition in a slowly graduated format which allows even the youngest readers to listen, look, point and suddenly-READ!

Leap Frog's Letter Factory (and Word Factory) videos. Go to www.amazon.com to find Leap Frog's Letter Factory video.

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