Everyday routines and activities are a wonderful way to naturally and meaningfully teach phonological awareness skills, alphabet knowledge, and concepts of print. I purposefully set goals, target standards, establish timeframes for activities, and carefully choose materials as I create lessons for all areas of development. These are all important aspects of teaching and things that I would encourage all teachers to do. We need to be intentional in our practices. Too often though, we can be so focused on the written lesson plans that we have prepared ahead of time that we miss those teachable moments. The children remind me of this almost every day. Often their curiosity about print leads to meaningful conversations and at times teaching concepts that I never would have considered.
Two weeks ago: We were all sitting on the rug during circle time and one of the children’s job was to do the calendar. I asked him what day of the week it was and he just stood there looking at the weekly calendar. I encouraged him to say the days of the week as he pointed to each one on the chart. He did this and stopped on Thursday. (It was Thursday by the way.) I said, “Good, so what day is it?” He responded, “Tuesday.” I had him do it again and he gave me the same response, “Tuesday.” At this point I was slightly confused and wondered why he kept saying Tuesday when he accurately stopped and even said Thursday, which is where the star was. I said, “Today is Thursday.” Can you say that? He didn’t respond or repeat what I said. I was getting even more concerned because this was a child who I thought knew the days of the week and understood the daily routine. I didn’t understand what he was thinking and why he wouldn’t say it was Thursday.
Now, at this moment I could have simply moved on. The children on the rug were getting a little restless, and I was watching the clock to make sure we finished circle time “on time” so that children had plenty of time to play in centers. Instead I asked him what was wrong, and if he needed more help. His brilliant response was, “Yes, there is a problem. I see a “T” and it says “t” but Thursday doesn’t make that sound. It has to be Tuesday.” I was so thrilled by his observation, and it all made sense to me now! Partially because this was a child who up to this point hadn’t really attended to print too much or seemed very interested in literacy activities, but yet he just made a very insightful discovery.
I then focused all the children’s attention on this and took the time to explain that he was correct and that the “h” changed the sound. (Not a concept I typically teach or would plan for in my lessons, but it came up, and he needed an answer so that it made sense to him, and he could move on.) The other children were interested in this too and began asking questions and naming other words that made the same “th” sound. I was no longer concerned about finishing circle time because we were having a great conversation and we were learning!
Last week: We read a Scholastic Magazine about bears during shared reading time. I pulled up the story on the SMARTBoard as they began to look at their own individual copies. The title on the cover read, “Shhhh…. The Animals Are Sleeping!” The child from the previous week quickly responded while he was looking at this paper, “It’s happening again.” Another child said, “Yeah it is!” I said, “What’s happening again?” He said, “ The “h” is doing it again. I don’t hear an ‘s’ sound.” Once I realized what they were talking about, I enthusiastically responded, “Yes, you are right! You guys made a great observation and are really looking at the words.” They were quite proud of themselves and several others got excited about this discovery as well. Once again, not what I was planning to cover, but I was so proud of their thinking, and it was necessary to follow up on our previous discussion about letters and sounds.
At that time another child asked about the dots after the “shhhh.” I explained what those dots meant and then introduced them to a period. They enthusiastically began to scan their papers for more of those “dots.” It was another great discussion and lead to others asking about other punctuation marks on their papers.
To top it all off, the next day, yet another child in the class proudly handed me a book he had written the night before at home. It only took me a second to notice the “shhh” written on the cover followed by a period. The child said, “I knew you would like it, and I even put one of those dots at the end.”
These are wonderful moments for me as an educator! I love seeing my children get excited about learning. I am so glad I did not rush through the daily routine of calendar time, and that I gave the child a chance to express himself. His question about the letters on Thursday enhanced the learning experience for the entire class. I know that they still may not fully understand these concepts, but I believe that these small teachable moments are laying a foundation for their future reading, and it makes learning meaningful. May we all remember to allow time for discussion and take advantage of all those teachable moments that come up naturally in our classrooms.
This post is brought to you by Cassandra Mattoon, M.S. Cassandra teaches Pre-Kindergarten at Thomas Metcalf Laboratory School at Illinois State University in Normal, IL. She has been teaching in the field of early childhood education for 19 years. She has a bachelor’s degree in ECE and a master’s in curriculum and instruction. She has experience teaching first grade, third grade and been the director of a child development center. Check out Cassandra’s past post on the blog here!