Early language arts experiences can shape the way that children communicate through the written and spoken word as they grow and develop. Young children develop the building blocks for later language learning during the first years of life. You can help your preschool students set the stage for literacy learning with language arts activities that are hands-on, child-centered and experiential.
Interactive Story Time
Reading a book is an obvious literacy lesson. Instead of letting your preschoolers passively sit, build their language skills with an interactive story time experience. Activities that invite young children to ask questions and communicate promote early language development. Whether you choose a kids' classic such as Dr. Seuss' "The Cat in the Hat" or a more modern tale such as "Pete the Cat" by James Dean, create a story time environment that encourages discussion. Ask questions as you read each page, pointing to the words and the pictures. For example, if you're reading "The Cat in the Hat," ask the students, "Why do you think Sally and her brother were bored before the Cat came over?" Invite the students to ask questions by raising their hands, or have a "Q and A" session after you're done reading.
Letter and Sound Match
Making connections between letters and the sounds they make is essential for children to become proficient readers as they transition from preschool into kindergarten. Help to build your students' language skills with a letter-sound match game. Make one deck of alphabet cards. Write the letters onto individual index cards, with one per card. Make another deck of picture cards. Choose photos or images of objects and items that match each letter of the alphabet. For example, "Cat" matches "C" and "Boy matches "B." Glue the photos onto index cards. Make the game manageable for the preschooler's learning level and work with two or three letters at a time. Set the letter cards out, along with their picture matches. Mix up the cards, and invite the children to match the letter to the word sound. Ask the preschoolers to say the name of the picture and then the sound that the letter makes as they match the cards.
Creative Arts for Language Arts
There's no one best approach for teaching language arts to preschoolers, notes NAEYC in its position statement on "Learning to Read and Write." While some of your students may benefit from talking during story times, others may need a more hands-on approach. The visual arts provide a way for your students to connect letters, language and writing. Get creative and try a letter collage or make an alphabet animal. Give your students child-friendly magazines and a letter to look for. Say the sound that the letter makes, and ask them to cut out pictures that start with that sound. For example, for "D" they could cut out "dogs," "diamond," "dirt" and "daddy." The preschoolers can then make a collage with the pictures on a piece of poster board. Another option is to have the students make a matching sound animal with its letter. You might ask the students to draw the letter "C" and then decorate it with triangle ears, eyes and whiskers to make a cat.
Pretend play experiences can promote language development in preschoolers. Setting up a dramatic scene or providing props for your students to play with encourages the use of language through social communication. For example, ask a group of three or four students to act out a family scene in the play kitchen. Two of the children can play the roles of the parents, and the others can act as the children. Give the pretend family a problem to solve or an activity to do such as "what to do when the refrigerator breaks" or "making breakfast." The students must talk to each other in their character roles to act out the scene.
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