Language Arts Overview

pkp_ms_sb_spinning_song.jpgThese language arts lessons include activities which range from matching and labeling to the processes essential to understanding letter-sound relationships. These lessons include activities to sharpen visual perception and memory, and they include activities to sharpen auditory perception and memory. Other activities join these two processes. Those which join the two are either story dictation activities (narrative) or letter sound games which introduce children to symbols and to the symbolizing process (phonics).

In using these lessons, please:
-- Note that the order of lesson plans s not inviolate. Each lesson plan has several objectives, so each should accommodate younger and older children.
-- Do not feel that by year’s end a child must attain most sophisticated objectives on the most difficult lesson plans.
-- Remember that the purpose of language is communication: pace your activities to allow for plenty of conversation about the activity itself and anything else children may want to talk about.

Also, it is important to recognize that this set of lessons is dependant on other sections of Circle’s curriculum. The Dramatic Arts unit, with its attention to literature, enhances both the children’s appreciation for language and their ability to compose and dictate their own stories. The Math unit provides many sorting, classifying, and sequencing activities. Of major importance is the Materials unit: it emphasizes kinesthetic exploration and fine motor tasks, and it augments the visual and auditory processes emphasized in this Language Arts unit. Both the Materials and the Cooking units offer many activities paced in a way which allows extensive conversation among all the participants.

One other essential component of the Language Arts curriculum must be stressed: read, tell, and enact stories for children. Reading stories from books, however valuable, is not sufficient. Relate stories to children using books, felt board pieces, and puppets. See the Dramatic Arts unit for other ideas on making literature come to life. Most stories which are successful as plays also lend themselves to felt board or puppet show adaptations.

Last of all, we urge you to notice the interactions and mental processes that these Language Arts lessons involve. Then, whenever possible, invent your own lessons or variations to reverse these processes or to reverse the roles of the participants. For example, if an activity has a child giving clues to the group, make sure you later do an activity in which the group gives a clue to an individual. If an activity has children talk about an experience and then draw it, develop another activity in which children draw situations and then talk about them. If an activity has children hearing sounds and then describing the object which makes those sounds, reverse that process by having children describe an object to a child who is then asked to produce the sound that object makes. One more example of consciously reversing mental operations takes us to the phonics activities: some activities have children hear a sound, then they name the letter; some activities have children see the letter them make the sound. Both processes are important.

Notes on Pre-Reading and Phonics Activities in Preschool

Spoken language is universal among all groups of people. Every normal human being learns the language system of the group within the first few years of life.

Reading is a visual representation of the sound-meaning system of oral language. Both the auditory and visual symbols for language are arbitrary and must be learned by the child. The language patterns—syntax, structure, and rhythm—are represented in both auditory and visual language systems and provide the basis for precise, subtle comprehension and expression.

For the young child, learning that a letter has a name and represents a sound (or sounds) is not fundamentally different from learning that an animal has a name (cat) and a sound (meow). We have no hesitations about teaching the latter, but controversy ranges around the former.

Children learn readily by rote and imitation during their preschool years. The decoding process in reading is a rote memory function. In our view, it is desirable to take advantage of the child’s natural learning style and interest to introduce the concept of decoding—representing sounds by visual symbols. It is not important or desirable that every child learn the long and short sound for every vowel, a given number of constant sounds, common diphthongs, or the long vowel-silent e rule. To accomplish this kind of program would require an unwarranted amount of time and drill. It is valuable, we feel, to teach letter recognition and some examples of simple sound/letter connections to develop the concept of symbols representing sounds.

Our approach is to teach only short vowel sounds and selected consonants*. We introduce some sight words—the child’s own name, for example—but don’t stress the “sounding out” process in these words. We recognize that most children will not develop the skill of combining the individual letter sounds to identify words until a year or two (or even three) after they leave our program. But they will have a basis for acquiring the decoding system at the appropriate time.

In addition to decoding, two other pre-reading skills are crucial to later reading ability: familiarity with the sound and structure of written language (as distinct from daily conversation), and sequential memory as exemplified by the cause-effect relationships in literature. Becoming familiar with the sound and structure of written language will enable the child to make accurate use of context cues in reading. Developing expectations and anticipation of the sequence of events will foster comprehension ability.

Initially these three strands of the reading process are essentially independent functions. Later, these functions merge into a coordinated effort which results in reading ability. With a solid foundation in these skill areas, the child will be capable of learning to read, truly read, with comprehension. The child will be able to use decoding and context cues not as major exercises, but as tools to achieve understanding of the written message.

Current theories of reading assume, with strong supporting evidence that all area’s of the child’s development bear on the learning process in reading. That is, all preschool activities may be considered “pre-reading” activities. Although it seems unnecessary to justify sensory, motor, social, or other activities on the basis of their contribution to acquiring reading ability, the interrelationships of all developmental areas should be borne in mind. It’s worth reminding ourselves that the categories we use in describing development are arbitrary and only for our convenience. The child is not an assemblage of developmental areas, but a single functioning person.

*Phonics Handbook for the Primary Grades by Alta Mellin is a useful and sensible guide to phonics. Fearson Publishers, Inc., San Francisco, 1962.