Preschool children’s language skills are some of the best predictors of reading success in first and second grade. Their use of language to listen and speak, as well as their understanding of reading and writing, will be critical to their academic success in the early elementary grades. Effective language and literacy instruction for young children go hand in hand. Young children are learning how to communicate what they want their listeners to know, how to play with language, how to interact with books, how to understand and tell stories, and how to begin to write as a form of communication. Language arts instruction for preschool children involves helping children gain the skills they need to function socially and in their daily lives. While teachers plan for engaging language and literacy experiences, they are also flexible, with room for spontaneity as children joyfully express themselves, explore books and stories, experiment with writing, and listen and learn together.
Preschool teachers pay attention to each child’s capabilities in language arts, recognizing that while there are developmental sequences, each child will demonstrate her capabilities in her own ways and at her own pace. Therefore, teachers are ever ready to provide individualized assistance and support to the child when needed. In fact, many of the preschool benchmarks in the Language Arts domain are written with the expectation that children will receive such assistance from their teacher. Preschool teachers recognize that mastery of listening, speaking, reading, or writing is not something to expect of preschoolers; rather, skills and understandings are emerging and need teacher support to develop.
Effective preschool teachers help young children develop both their expressive and receptive language. Teachers model the correct use of grammar and the pragmatics of communicating with others. They help children learn to speak clearly and correctly, to carry on conversations, and to ask questions. They are attentive to the child’s home language (if it is not English) and turn to the English Language Learner Home Language Development domain of the IELDS to best address the child’s overall language needs. Meaningful and interesting experiences are provided in preschool classrooms that introduce new vocabulary words to children and help expand their abilities to express themselves. “There is a direct correlation between vocabulary development and academic success, so students’ acquisition of new words should be emphasized from the start” (Resnick & Sow, 2009, p. 73).
Preschool children need
- many opportunities to hear and use a variety of new and interesting words,
- encouragement to express themselves in more than a single sentence, and
- time to tell stories and give explanations that involve the use of several sentences.
Preschool teachers also help children learn to listen. Adult language modeling is important! Teachers model how to use language to request information, how to appropriately acknowledge the communication and conversation attempts of others, and how to provide appropriate answers and responses to others’ requests for information. To develop language, preschool children need to be immersed in an environment rich in language. They need opportunities to engage in frequent conversations—to talk and listen with responsive adults and with their peers.
Helping children attend to the sounds of language is another important part of language development. Preschool teachers plan engaging ways to develop phonological and phonemic awareness, important precursors to phonics. Phonological awareness is the general ability to attend to the sounds of language as distinct from its meaning. Phonemic awareness is the understanding that every spoken word can be conceived as a sequence of individual sounds. Preschool teachers plan activities that develop skills such as noticing words that sound alike, rhyming, and counting syllables in words. Many activities used to develop phonemic awareness can also be used to introduce letters of the alphabet, help children recognize the relationship between spoken and written words, and build the understanding that sounds are represented by letters that are combined to form words. Singing songs, chanting rhymes and poems, and playing with the sounds of words, syllables, and letters are beginning steps toward phonemic awareness.
One of the best ways to help children naturally develop phonemic awareness and other emergent reading skills is through the use of children’s books. Many books lend themselves to playing with the sounds of language. They are rich with rhymes, alliteration, and predictable patterns such as Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (Martin, 1989). Children love playing with language through listening to and repeating rhymes, inventing nonsense words, and saying silly sentences.
In order for children to view reading as a skill they desire, they need to hear the language of print in all its forms and be exposed to a variety of texts. They need to laugh at books such as Clifford the Big Red Dog (Bridwell, 1995), learn interesting facts about animals in informational picture books such as What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? (Jenkins & Page, 2003), and enjoy reciting rhymes in stories such as “Little Miss Muffet” and other examples of alliterative and rhyming verse. Preschool teachers offer book-sharing experiences with individual children and in small and large groups. They discuss books with children, helping them to learn more about authors and illustrators and building their reading comprehension by identifying key events and talking about characters and settings. In such discussions, they help children make personal connections with books, comparing and contrasting stories or informational texts to their own lives. They set up a library area and provide books in other play areas so children can look at books alone and with others and can use them to enhance their play (e.g., looking at a book about buildings when building with blocks).
Understanding concepts of books and print is critical to the development of subsequent reading abilities. For example, young children need to know the orientation of the book (that books are read from front to back and from left to right) and how to turn the pages with care. With more exposure, they begin to see that pictures and words convey meaning and that letters are combined to form words that are separated by spaces. High-quality preschool environments offer children plenty of good books and time for reading and discussing them with adults and peers. In addition, preschool teachers recognize that each child experiments with different aspects of the reading process. Very few preschool children are able to identify unfamiliar words. Instead, they imitate what they have seen their family members and teachers do. For example, they hold a book and retell a story from the pictures. The story they tell may be closely related to the content of the book or it may not. Some preschool children figure out that the print on the page is important and consistent and may follow along by tracing over words with their fingers. It is important that preschool teachers accept and celebrate these legitimate stages in emergent reading and recognize that “picture reading” is an appropriate form of “real reading” for preschool children.
Encouraging children’s emergent writing efforts is one way to provide young children with opportunities to apply their growing knowledge of print concepts, alphabet letters, and sounds. Preschool teachers surround children with print and call attention to letters and words in the environment. They also make a special effort to help children learn to recognize their names and to develop the prerequisite understandings and fine-motor skills necessary for writing them. They provide plenty of meaningful writing opportunities so that children experiment with their writing skills. And again, they celebrate whatever efforts each child makes to express him or herself through writing. They let preschool children know that their scribbles, their pretend letters, and their invented spellings are okay. In fact, these beginning attempts are important milestones in the literacy journey.
All children need to feel confident about their growing understandings and abilities in using and understanding language and in emergent reading and writing. In other words, they need to be in a preschool program where the climate is conducive to exploring language, print, and books; where they feel accepted and encouraged to express themselves and to take risks in their initial attempts at reading, writing, and spelling; and where they feel both challenged and supported as they strive to increase their skills and abilities.
In her family child care home, Rosalie cares for children of multiple ages with different language capabilities. She knows that conversations with all of the children are important to develop their listening skills, their vocabulary, and their ability to express themselves. So, she talks with them often and listens carefully to how they communicate. For her preschool children, she listens as they tell her about things that happened at home the night before or plans their family has for a trip to Grandma’s house or a visit to the park. She asks questions to encourage them to expand on their descriptions and tell her more, and she invites them to ask questions of each other. She finds books related to their interests and reads them to the children, then encourages them to look at the books on their own, noticing the pictures and describing what they see or retelling the stories in their own words. She provides writing materials for her 3- to 4-year-olds in a variety of play areas (yet safely away from the fingers and mouths of her mobile infants and young toddlers). She loves it when a child brings her a grocery list full of scribbles or a letter telling her, “It says ‘I love you.’” She reads the scribbles and marks with the child, validating his or her efforts to communicate through writing. And, she communicates with her families to let them know just what to expect of their preschoolers as they learn more about how language works.
Example Performance Descriptors can be found on the List of goals, standards, and benchmarks page.
Goal 1: Demonstrate increasing competence in oral communication (listening and speaking).
Learning Standard 1.A: Demonstrate understanding through age-appropriate responses.
Learning Standard 1.B: Communicate effectively using language appropriate to the situation and audience.
- 1.B.ECa: Use language for a variety of purposes.
- 1.B.ECb: With teacher assistance, participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners (e.g., peers and adults in both small and large groups) about age-appropriate topics and texts.
- 1.B.ECc: Continue a conversation through two or more exchanges.
- 1.B.ECd: Engage in agreed‐upon rules for discussions (e.g., listening, making eye contact, taking turns speaking).
Learning Standard 1.C: Use language to convey information and ideas.
- 1.C.ECa: Describe familiar people, places, things, and events and, with teacher assistance, provide additional detail.
Learning Standard 1.D: Speak using conventions of Standard English.
Learning Standard 1.E: Use increasingly complex phrases, sentences, and vocabulary.
- 1.E.ECa: With teacher assistance, begin to use increasingly complex sentences.
- 1.E.ECb: Exhibit curiosity and interest in learning new words heard in conversations and books.
- 1.E.ECc: With teacher assistance, use new words acquired through conversations and book‐sharing experiences.
- 1.E.ECd: With teacher assistance, explore word relationships to understand the concepts represented by common categories of words (e.g., food, clothing, vehicles).
- 1.E.ECe: With teacher assistance, use adjectives to describe people, places, and things.
Goal 2: Demonstrate understanding and enjoyment of literature.
Learning Standard 2.A: Demonstrate interest in stories and books.
Learning Standard 2.B: Recognize key ideas and details in stories.
Learning Standard 2.C: Recognize concepts of books.
Learning Standard 2.D: Establish personal connections with books.
Goal 3: Demonstrate interest in and understanding of informational text.
Learning Standard 3.A: Recognize key ideas and details in nonfiction text.
Learning Standard 3.B: Recognize features of nonfiction books.
- 3.B.ECa: With teacher assistance, identify basic similarities and differences in pictures and information found in two texts on the same topic.
Goal 4: Demonstrate increasing awareness of and competence in emergent reading skills and abilities.
Learning Standard 4.A: Demonstrate understanding of the organization and basic features of print.
- 4.A.ECa: Recognize the differences between print and pictures.
- 4.A.ECb: Begin to follow words from left to right, top to bottom, and page by page.
- 4.A.ECc: Recognize the one‐to‐one relationship between spoken and written words.
- 4.A.ECd: Understand that words are separated by spaces in print.
- 4.A.ECe: Recognize that letters are grouped to form words.
- 4.A.ECf: Differentiate letters from numerals.
Learning Standard 4.B: Demonstrate an emerging knowledge and understanding of the alphabet.
- 4.B.ECa: With teacher assistance, recite the alphabet.
- 4.B.ECb: Recognize and name some upper/lowercase letters of the alphabet, especially those in own name.
- 4.B.ECc: With teacher assistance, match some upper/lowercase letters of the alphabet.
- 4.B.ECd: With teacher assistance, begin to form some letters of the alphabet, especially those in own name.
Learning Standard 4.C: Demonstrate an emerging understanding of spoken words, syllables, and sounds (phonemes).
- 4.C.ECa: Recognize that sentences are made up of separate words.
- 4.C.ECb: With teacher assistance, recognize and match words that rhyme.
- 4.C.ECc: Demonstrate ability to segment and blend syllables in words (e.g., “trac/tor, tractor”).
- 4.C.ECd: With teacher assistance, isolate and pronounce the initial sounds in words.
- 4.C.ECe: With teacher assistance, blend sounds (phonemes) in one‐syllable words (e.g., /c/ /a/ /t/ = cat).
- 4.C.ECf: With teacher assistance, begin to segment sounds (phonemes) in one-syllable words (e.g., cat = /c/ /a/ /t/).
- 4.C.ECg: With teacher assistance, begin to manipulate sounds (phonemes) in one-syllable words (e.g., changing cat to hat to mat).
Learning Standard 4.D: Demonstrate emergent phonics and word-analysis skills.
Goal 5: Demonstrate increasing awareness of and competence in emergent writing skills and abilities.
Learning Standard 5.A: Demonstrate growing interest and abilities in writing.
Learning Standard 5.B: Use writing to represent ideas and information.
- 5.B.ECa: With teacher assistance, use a combination of drawing, dictating, or writing to express an opinion about a book or topic.
- 5.B.ECb: With teacher assistance, use a combination of drawing, dictating, or writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.
- 5.B.ECc: With teacher assistance, use a combination of drawing, dictating, or writing to narrate a single event and provide a reaction to what happened.
Learning Standard 5.C: Use writing to research and share knowledge.
The Language Arts standards align with the following sections of the Kindergarten Common Core:
- Standard 1.A: Speaking and Listening 2-3.
- Standard 1.B: Speaking and Listening 1-1a, 1-1b.
- Standard 1.C: Speaking and Listening 4 and 6.
- Standard 1.D: Speaking and Listening 6, Language 1a -2d.
- Standard 1.E: Listening 4, 4a, and 5, Language 4b, 5a-5d, 6.
- Standard 2.A: Reading Literature 10, Reading Foundational Skills 4.
- Standard 2.B: Reading Literature 1-4, Reading Informational Text 1-2, 4.
- Standard 2.C: Reading Literature 5-6, Reading Informational Text 5-6.
- Standard 2.D: Reading Informational Text 7, 9-10, Reading Literature 7, 9.
- Standard 3.A: Reading Informational Text 1-3.
- Standard 3.B: Reading Informational Text 7-9.
- Standard 4.A: Reading Foundational Skills 1-1c.
- Standard 4.B: Reading Foundational Skills 1d.
- Standard 4.C: Reading Foundational Skills 1d.
- Standard 4.D: Reading Foundational Skills 3a-3c.
- Standard 5.A: Language 1a.
- Standard 5.B: Writing 1-3, 5-6, Speaking and Listening 5.
- Standard 5.C: Writing 7-8.