The Preschool Minutes, Shape Recognition
After studying German and education at the University of Kansas to become a secondary German teacher, I found myself thrust into a classroom full of four year olds. It was not what I had envisioned when I signed on with Teach for America to teach in an underprivileged area. As out of place as I felt in this situation, I was determined to do the best job I could with my 19 youngsters. I'm not sure how much I did in the way of teaching these children, some of whom did not speak English and one of whom who did not speak at all...but I spent a year reading everything I could about early childhood development and education.

The key component to early childhood education, which anyone might guess, is language development. This begins early, with the first coos parents give their newborn and continues each day as family and friends interact with the growing child. Literacy is a combination of skills, each building on prior skills which begin with these first experiences in the home. Learning for the young child is almost automatic as they explore the world around them, mimic important people in their lives, role play situations they have seen or are familiar with and daily expand their vocabulary and experiences in the world.

I am not an advocate of formal education for young children, and see early childhood primarily as a time of discovery and learning to love learning through kindergarten. The most important, to me, is adequate time to play...sometimes freely and sometimes structured. The most important tools for "school" are playdough, crayons, markers, an assortment of books at a variety of levels, blocks, toy cars, toy animals and other favored toys. Water tables are nice, but the same thing can be accomplished in a bath tub. And sand tables are nice, but my son would just as soon dig in the dirt under the bushes in the back yard. All of these types of toys (manipulatives if you want to speak educationese) provede the essential pre-literacy skills of fine motor development, encouraging language development and improving hand-eye coordination while stimulating the imagination through role plays and other types of play.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to outline some of my goals and methods for teaching my young children. The focus is primarily on language development and just learning to explore the world around us. For my little three year old, we have begun learning a shape per week. Right now, we are finishing up with the circle, a familiar shape to him. We looked at circles, made them with our hands, played circle games and hunted for circles around the house. We even decided to make an online scrapbook of our shape discoveries so we can keep track of the shapes we have learned. Later, this will include letters, as well. You can view a sampling of the circles my son found around the house here. This is in a flickr group, so if you would like, you may also join and add pictures of circles you find with your children. You just need to load them in flickr and send them to the group so we can see them. We would love to hunt for the circles in your pictures as well!

Next week, I'll switch shapes for anyone interested in taking a peek and share a little about phonemic awareness along with some of my favorite language games.

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