Literacy is the foundation upon which your son’s academic future will be built. When children learn to read, they gain the key that will open up the doors of learning in every other subject area: language, math, science, social studies, the arts.
This is one of the reasons why a high-quality academic program in kindergarten is so important. It’s when children— guided by their teachers—really get down to the task of learning to read. Most students enter kindergarten knowing a handful of letters and their corresponding sounds. They leave kindergarten able to recognize the entire alphabet, sound out some words, and even read simple books.
That’s a lot of ground to cover in one year.
How does an exceptional kindergarten program help students build a sturdy foundation of reading? To find out, we spoke with Haley Cook, one of the kindergarten teachers at The Fessenden School.
Haley described three ways well-designed kindergarten programs, like Fessenden’s, help lay the groundwork for strong reading skills and a love of reading.
1. By Forging a Strong Home-School Connection
“It takes a village to teach a boy to read,” Haley says. “To help our students build these skills, they need repetition. It’s really important for parents to be on board with that.”
Haley says she makes it a point to keep the parents of her students informed about the reading level their children have reached.
“They can then go out and find books to read together based on that level,” she says. “Parents are usually thrilled to have that knowledge because they often don’t know where to start.”
Haley and the other kindergarten teachers at Fessenden also give parents strategies they can use to help their children practice specific reading skills at home.
“It can be as simple as, ‘If you’re reading a book to your child at night, ask him to find all the sight words they know from school,’” she says. “We give them a newsletter every other week that contains similar strategies that parents can practice at home.”
2. With Individualized Attention
All the students in Haley’s kindergarten class have their own book bins, with books individually selected by their teachers based on where the boys are in the development of their reading skills.
In kindergarten especially, Virginia says, boys enter from a wide variety of backgrounds with a wide range of reading skills. It’s important to meet each boy where he is.
“There’s a balance you have to find to make a boy feel both challenged and successful,” Haley explains. “It’s not easy to strike that balance, but it’s incredibly important in order to maximize their engagement. That can mean very different things for each boy.”
Haley and the other teachers often work with boys one-on-one or in groups on specific reading skills.
“If one particular boy is having a really hard time with the vowel ‘E,’ we will pull that boy from the larger group and work with him individually,” she says. “If we notice that there is a group of boys having a really hard time telling the difference between ‘B’ and’ D,’ we pull the small group and give them the extra attention they need. It’s adaptive.”
3. By Making Literacy Hands-On
As we’ve written about before on this blog, young boys are wired to learn by doing, moving, and handling things. So learning to read in Fessenden’s Kindergarten classrooms is a multisensory experience.
Haley describes one sensory approach she takes to teaching reading, following the Orton-Gillingham methodology:
“They write on a piece of paper over a bumpy sheet, so the word they’re working on really stands out. Then they trace the bumpy sheet with their finger, so they are getting a lot of input that this word is different. Then they stand up and they tap out the letters on their arms. There’s a lot of movement involved.”
Fessenden’s kindergarten teachers also use the Lively Letters program, which brings letters to life with a character, a story, a song, and a movement for each.
“We’re reinforcing each letter from every angle to meet the needs of every learner,” Haley says.
How have you helped your children learn to read?
As Haley says, it takes a village to teach a child to read. We would love to hear your tips for teaching young children to read in the comments section below.
And if you’re searching for a kindergarten program for your child, be sure to get your free copy of the Pre-K & Kindergarten Private School Visit Checklist to take along with you as you visit schools.
My daughter just celebrated her 5th birthday and has been asking us if she can go to kindergarten this year. In your article, you stated that in kindergarten especially, boys enter from a wide variety of backgrounds with a wide range of reading skills. Does the teaching style change if it was only girls?
Thanks for your question and happy belated birthday to your daughter!
In recent years, more and more research has been published regarding the differences between the development of the male and female brain. We now know that the female brain develops more quickly in the areas directly connected to the development of literacy skills (such as verbal expression), memory, impulse control, and the ability to grasp skills essential to reading and writing development. Unfortunately, many male students are still being taught to read and write in a style based on the idea that this is the brain development occuring in all students–regardless of gender. We now know that this simply isn’t true. While the female brain is developing at a more rapid pace in the above areas, the male brain is developing in other ways. Boys more quickly develop the brain’s physical-spacial functions, which is why kinesthetic learning, as well as the use of tangible objects that boys can touch and manipulate, are so important in our classrooms.
Whether in a single-sex or co-educational setting, it is important that teachers are aware of the differences in brain development between girls and boys so that they can make informed decisions about best teaching practice. Skilled teachers will recognize that understanding the brain development is one step in determining how to best teach the individual child. We must also understand who the child is: their culture, their interests, and what motivates and excites them. With the combined knowledge of who each student is, and what science has told us about the differences in brain development between males and females, we will be able to create a classroom environment in which each of our students is able to reach their individual reading potential.