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Literacy in Preschool

Tara Israelson – Nīkau Head Teacher – Preschool

With the topic of literacy featuring regularly in the news this year, I thought I would share the way literacy is approached in our Montessori Preschool.  The language area is often a place we start when orienting new tamariki, with oral language and vocabulary proving to be a great way to build relationships, and also foster a love of learning new words and developing their own spoken language ability.

For the 3-year-old, language games are hugely popular, and one that we begin very early on in their journey with us is the ‘sound game’, which you may know as “I spy”.  This game is to build phonemic awareness in the child – to help them understand that words are made from units of sound that can be broken down such as in the word cat:  /c/, /a/, /t/.  Often when tamariki first begin playing this game they are able to isolate that first sound but it can take months or years before they are hearing each component sound.  This is why we play this game with everyone from day 1 to their last day with us!  This leads the way to the sandpaper letters where ngā tamariki begin to learn the letter symbols to match the sounds.  This lesson is given regularly, for months or years and during this time they are also being introduced to letter formation, first with chalk and then with pencil and paper.  It is important to note that we use the sound of the letter, not the name!  Once the tamaiti feels confident and comfortable we move on to word building with the moveable alphabet.  We always begin with writing before reading, as it is a simpler process for tamariki to build words from their own mind using the sounds they know before they begin decoding and interpreting words written by others.  Children spend a lot of time with the moveable alphabet learning and experimenting with lists and sentences, while being able to plan out their composition prior to writing it down on paper.  Here is where we can introduce punctuation and capital letters once they are experienced writers.  When we begin noticing tamariki attempting to read back what they have written we will begin the journey into reading with phonetic reading first before moving on to more complex words such as “puzzle words” or words with phonograms and blended consonants.  At this stage the child is offered something new to read every day.  They may label items in the classroom or act out actions written on slips, or they may be introduced to the different parts of speech through interactive reading games. This is the general progression through our language and literacy area.

While all children are set up with a strong foundation for sound and letter awareness before moving on to their Primary school journey, it is important to keep in mind that all tamariki develop these skills at their own pace.  Our top priority is self-confidence and a love of learning.

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