I’m thrilled to introduce Heather Shumaker as today’s guest writer. I have really loved connecting with her and I can’t wait to let you know what we’ve been working on for all of you! For now I’ll tell you this: You do not want to miss out on tomorrow’s post! Today, however, I just want you to enjoy what Heather’s put together for you!
My 5-year-old comes home singing a song from kindergarten. The tune is Yankee Doodle, but they’ve altered the words: “Sentences are fun to write, but first you need a letter, start it with a capital…”
I’m all in favor of songs, but the current focus on formal literacy for young kids is misplaced. There’s no hurry to learn to read. What most young children need is time and space for pre-literacy.
Pre-literacy is getting the squeeze. But it’s vital for all kids – especially those without books and bedtime stories at home. Pre-literacy is simply about filling a child’s world with words – words that give joy, power and meaning.
Nursery rhymes, silly finger chants, songs, picture books, stories told aloud, puppet shows and poems. This is the base of language, rhythm, rhyme and storytelling. It’s fun and joyful. We need to fill their heads with songs, rhymes and stories.
The single most powerful act is creating a new story. The child’s story. Let the child dictate a story as you write it down. Kids love hearing their own words read back to them and adding pictures. Dictated writing creates storytellers.
My favorite time to teach early literacy is during a temper tantrum. That’s when written words can have the most heartfelt meaning. When a child is crying, raging or just plain sad, offer to write down her words in a letter. “Let’s write down how you feel. Dear Mommy, I’m mad…” Kids respond beautifully because words are capturing their deepest feelings. They understand writing has emotional meaning and relevance to their lives.
I admit, most of us feel downright foolish the first time we reach for a pen when our child is squalling. But it works magic.
Here’s what one parent (of a 2-year-old) said –
We just started writing letters to our son in the last few weeks. I will be honest: I did not think it would work. But it sounded so wonderful that I thought we should do it for practice, so he could “get it” later. Well, he got it right away! It’s stopped every tantrum cold, and last night, the most incredible thing happened at bedtime. Our son was starting to ramp up into a tantrum because he wanted to play with the vacuum at bedtime…and as he began to cry he wailed, “Write note!” My heart must have skipped a beat! We raced out to the kitchen and wrote his note, and that was the end of tears.
Teaching the alphabet is a stepping stone that can wait. Don’t stop a kid who’s an early reader, but make sure kids don’t miss out on the rich world of pre-literacy.
Heather Shumaker is the author of It’s OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids* (Tarcher/ Penguin, 2012) which was named one of the Best Parenting Books of 2012 by Parents magazine on Parents.com. She’s a speaker, blogger and advocate for free play and no homework for young children. Heather lives in northern Michigan with her family where she blogs at www.heathershumaker.com.
Have you read Heather’s book? I’d love to hear from you if you have!