Alpine Academy: Language Arts
The first step to reading is learning the phonemes, or the sounds people make to communicate. There are over 70 phonemes in English! For example, “m,” “oo” and “sh” are phonemes. We use the Spalding program to teach the sounds and the matching letters. We start with simple consonants. Then we move into blends, such as “ch” and “tr.” We also study the vowels, which are hard because each vowel makes so many different sounds.
The goal is for each student to master enough phonemes so he can see how they fit together. Each student moves through this process at his own pace. For example, one child may be working on “mop” and “hop” (changing the initial consonant.) Another child may be working with “big” and “bag” (changing the vowel in the middle of a word.) Still others may be working on harder phonograms such as “ou” or “ph.” We do not hurry the children along. We simply expose them to the sounds and letters as much as we can, so when their minds are ready, the opportunities are right here.
We do other language activities throughout the day. For example, the teacher may set a pile of letters on the table and ask a group of students to build all the “--at” words they can think of (bat, hat, that…). The teacher may give a group of students a piece of paper with an “a” written on top and a column for each of the three “a” sounds. Then, she might ask the students to walk around the classroom and write down the objects they see that have the different “a” sounds in them (apple, table, water…) Typically, students spend a half hour per day with these kinds of activities.
We also teach reading with “sight words.” These are the words the children memorize simply because they see them so often, such as “the,” “I,” “love” and “Mom.” The children enjoy pointing out sight words when they read. For example, if the class is baking cookies, the children will be sure to point out all the words they know in the recipe. We often post sight words in the classroom. As the children grow, each child keeps track of his own sight words. Eventually, the children have so many sight words they can no longer keep track of them.
Writing New Words
Writing is another main goal. In the beginning, the children practice the basics. They create straight and curvy lines, follow patterns, write their names, and write sight words. Eventually, they start writing new words, such as “dg.” (That’s dog.) Providing opportunities for the children to "just write" is very important. To this end, we may have the children label pictures. We may write out the stories they have dictated, then ask them to copy parts. We may give them mini-dry erase boards, so they can write answers to questions. The children may also copy important words from the board. For example, after the Science Alive program at school, the students listed the exotic animals they saw and all the descriptive words they could think of. The teacher wrote the words on the board. Then, each child copied his favorite words. The important thing is to give the students a huge variety of writing opportunities.
The teachers also work on comprehension and critical thinking. They may practice remembering details from a piece of non-fiction. They may hold a discussion about a character’s personality. The teachers emphasize the beginning, middle and end of every story, planting the seeds for future study of plot and resolution.
People often ask at what age our students start reading. At the end of preschool, most students can read many entire words. At the end of Young Fives, most students can glean meaning from simple text. Some of them may be really, truly, reading, although none of them is reading the New York Times!
When a child starts reading depends a bit on the quality of the teacher, a bit on how much individual and small-group time the child gets with his teacher, a bit on how often he practices with his parents, and a lot on when he
is ready. The great thing at Alpine Academy is that each child has the opportunity to grow at his own pace, whatever that pace is.
Parents also ask when we work on handwriting. We begin teaching the children to use the "standard strokes" when they are two or three years old. We work on it consistently when they are three and four, and it becomes a major focus in Young Fives.
Besides teaching phonemes and sight words, we create literacy-crazy classrooms. We leave pencils and paper in the playhouse. We label everything. We practice reading the daily schedule, the student job list and the morning message. We sing songs, recite poems and make up our own stories. The students love having all these opportunities.
Click on the above video to hear little Chloe spell her name!
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3100 W. Gunn Rd., Rochester Hills, MI 48363