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Join us April 29 for a special visit of our Montessori classrooms and our natural playground.

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It all starts as a story to soothe the little one before bed or a way to encourage vocabulary as chubby fingers scan through a board book. “Time to sleep little mouse, little mouse, darkness is falling all over the house” (Mem Fox).  Many times I have quoted that, while drowsy myself, as I put the youngest of four to sleep. Maybe we recite “Left foot, left foot, right foot, right. Feet in the morning and feet at night.” The cadence of the Dr. Seuss books entices children to play with words and sounds. In small children, this is the beginning of phonological awareness, a skill that is foundational for learning to read and a strong predictor of children who experience early reading success. It includes being able to hear, identify, and manipulate onset and rime. Onset refers to the beginning sounds while rime refers to what comes next, often known as “hunks and chunks” or word families. Phonemic awareness is an auditory skill and does not involve words in print. However, children eventually begin to see the words on the page take shape in their own minds.

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Goodnight Moon soon advances to a chapter book read aloud to the children as they beg for just one more chapter before the lights are out. When children are old enough to read on their own, there is an evolution from stumbling through the words to devouring chapters and winding seamlessly into novels. A whole new world has opened up for them. Research books facilitate fact-finding about their favorite snake or a country to which they’d like to travel. Science fiction novels take them to planets and places not yet explored. Dystopian novels or historical fiction introduce character traits such as bravery, strength, persistence, and courage. They can relate to humorous stories of characters, boys and girls who experience the same struggles with friends, siblings, and parents. History books transport them to the past to allow them to shape the future. Children’s passions are often fueled at this time by the findings on the pages.

Books can be powerful in helping children to see within as well. Sometimes it’s the character on the page who helps them to put a finger on their emotions. Friendship struggles, jealousy, anger, worry, fitting in, and special needs are just a few topics that can be found in children’s books. I could almost see the lightbulb go off in my child’s head as I read Kevin Henkes book Julius, the Baby of the World when her brother was born. Koala Lou by Mem Fox reassured each of my four at one time or another as they felt failure. Stories can also be a bridge to topics that are initially too painful to address with children. Books about children experiencing divorce, the loss of loved ones /pets, and family illness might allow them to feel less alone.

Although my children are 19, 16, 14, and 12, my nights of snuggling and reading to my children are far from over. Just last night, in the comfort of my teen’s bed, I read aloud from The Book Thief. And every now and then as I do so, my two oldest can be found milling around within earshot! So while research tells us all of the benefits of reading and being read to, the power is often in that intangible, warm feeling one gets when in the company of a good book. Happy reading!

Molly Bernhart,

Lower Elementary Teacher

Most people believe that reading starts at the visual level at around age five or six, but really the underlying skills for reading start from birth.  Spoken language does not have to be taught, as it happens at a preconscious level and is innate. The process of both hearing and speaking creates the first building blocks in the development of reading.  After many years of research, we now know that there are specific skills that we can help children develop that will provide the best opportunity for reading success.

Phonological awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate parts of spoken language. Counting words in phrases or sentences, counting syllables in words, identifying rhyming words, or using alliteration are some examples of phonological awareness. Games and activities that practice these concepts are easily incorporated into play for children.

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Phonemic awareness is a type of phonological awareness; the discovery of its importance in reading is said to be the single greatest breakthrough in reading instruction in this century. Instruction in phonemic awareness teaches children to notice, think about, and work with sounds in spoken language. A phoneme is the smallest unit of spoken sound; the word cat has three phonemes, c-a-t.

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Andrea Thomas, M.Ed., C.A.L.T.

Intervention Specialist

 

Children today often struggle with handwriting and many schools have scaled back handwriting instruction, choosing instead to focus on reading and mathematics skills.  But don’t they have it backwards?  Research shows that sequential finger movements activate massive regions of the brain involved in thinking, language, and working memory.

Learning is linked to the hand. By training very young children to refine their fine motor skills and ultimately to put their thoughts on paper, thinking is developed. Parents can encourage the development of fine motor skills in young children to help strengthen their three-finger grip (necessary for holding a pencil), refine their movements, and sharpen their attention to detail.  All this while having fun!

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Puzzles with knobs, punching paper designs with large pushpins, sewing on burlap or stringing beads with large plastic needles, using small tongs or tweezers to pick up objects–all require a pincer grip and all require focused movement.  Mastering scissors strengthens the hand, and careful cutting along a line builds concentration.  These are classic early childhood activities with a purpose and are much more valuable to brain development than time spent moving a finger across an electronic screen.

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Give your child lots of opportunities to refine small motor development, strengthen the hand, and pay attention to detail.  These are the skills that will help prepare the child for the sequential finger movements required to master handwriting.

Lynn Fisher,

Head of School

Did you ever hear a 2-year-old swear?  The first time a shocked parent hears inappropriate words out of the mouths of babes, with the exact tone and inflection used by adults, it’s a revelation.

It shouldn’t be.  Children from birth to age 3 are acutely attuned to every sensory experience, taking it all in without discriminating.  They miraculously absorb at least 1 entire language — vocabulary, syntax, grammar, every nuance.  Unlike adults, they haven’t yet developed a filtering mechanism.  Everything is equally important to their rapidly expanding minds.

Consequently, birth to age 3 is the critical period for the development of language.  This is the time to help your child develop a rich vocabulary, a pre-requisite for high-level thinking and reading.  The more precise the language young children hear, the better understanding they will have as they begin to sort and categorize the world around them.

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Describe what you are cooking for dinner.  Name everything within the young child’s vision. As early as 12 months some babies can point to the objects as you name them such as the aquarium, the thermostat, and the chandelier.  Make it a game.  Babies and toddlers don’t know that these are big words most adults don’t think they can understand.

Very young children see details, especially when we encourage them to look and ask:  “What’s that?”  Or in the case of a 13 month old: “Dat?”  When you take the time to talk intelligently with your tiny child you are setting the stage for an explosion into detailed language and detailed thinking.  In the words of one 3-year old,  “That painting is exquisite.”  Wow!

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Lynn Fisher,

Head of School