CA Preschool Curriculum Framework, Volume 1

CA Preschool Curriculum Framework, Volume 1
Volume 1
Volume 1
Social-Emotional Development
Language and Literacy
English-Language Development
Publishing Information
The California Preschool Curriculum Framework, Volume 1, was
developed by the Child Development Division, California Department of Education. It was designed and prepared for printing by
the staff of CDE Press and was published by the Department,
1430 N Street, Sacramento, CA 95814-5901. It was distributed
under the provisions of the Library Distribution Act and Government Code Section 11096.
This publication was edited by Faye Ong, working in cooperation
with Desiree Soto, Consultant, Child Development Division. It was
designed and prepared for printing by the staff of CDE Press, with
the cover and interior design created by Cheryl McDonald. It was
published by the Department of Education, 1430 N Street, Sacramento, CA 95814-5901. It was distributed under the provisions of
the Library Distribution Act and Government Code Section 11096.
© 2010 by the California Department of Education
All rights reserved
ISBN 978-8011-1682-7
Ordering Information
Copies of this publication are available for sale from the California
Department of Education. For prices and ordering information,
please visit the Department Web site at
pn or call the CDE Press Sales Office at (800) 995-4099.
The guidance in the California Preschool Curriculum Framework,
Volume 1, is not binding on local educational agencies or other
entities. Except for the statutes, regulations, and court decisions
that are referenced herein, the documents is exemplary, and
compliance with it is not mandatory. (See Education Code Section
A Message from the State Superintendent
of Public Instruction ................................. v
Acknowledgments ........................................vii
to the Framework ............ 1
California’s Preschool Children ...................... 3
Overarching Principles ................................... 5
Organization of the Framework ...................... 9
English-Language Development and
Learning in All Domains ........................... 10
Universal Design for Learning ...................... 13
Curriculum Planning ................................... 13
The Daily Schedule ...................................... 16
The Curriculum-Planning Process ................ 19
Implementation of the Framework................ 24
Bibliography ................................................ 25
Endnotes ..................................................... 27
The California
Early Learning and
Development System .... 29
Preschool Learning Foundations .................. 30
Preschool Curriculum Framework ................ 31
Desired Results Assessment System ............ 32
Program Guidelines and Other Resources .... 35
Professional Development ............................ 36
In-Depth Understanding and Planning
for Children’s Integrated Learning............. 36
Development ................... 37
Guiding Principles ....................................... 39
Environments and Materials ........................ 42
Summary of the Strands and Substrands .... 44
1.0 Self-Awareness .................................. 46
2.0 Self-Regulation ................................... 48
3.0 Social and Emotional Understanding .. 52
4.0 Empathy and Caring .......................... 55
5.0 Initiative in Learning........................... 57
Bringing It All Together ............................. 60
Social Interaction .......................................
1.0 Interactions with Familiar Adults ........
2.0 Interactions with Peers ......................
3.0 Group Participation ...........................
4.0 Cooperation and Responsibility ...........
Bringing It All Together ............................
Relationships .............................................
1.0 Attachments to Parents ......................
2.0 Close Relationships with Teachers
and Caregivers ....................................
3.0 Friendships ........................................
Bringing It All Together .............................
Concluding Thoughts .................................. 87
Map of the Foundations ...............................
Teacher Resources .......................................
References ...................................................
Endnotes .....................................................
and Literacy .................... 97
Guiding Principles ......................................100
Environments and Materials .......................103
Summary of Language Foundations ............109
Summary of Literacy Foundations ..............109
Summary of the Strands and
Substrands ............................................. 110
Listening and Speaking ..........................110
1.0 Language Use and Conventions ... 111
2.0 Vocabulary .................................. 117
3.0 Grammar..................................... 122
Bringing It All Together...................... 125
Literacy ......................................................128
Reading ..................................................128
1.0 Concepts about Print ....................129
2.0 Phonological Awareness ................133
3.0 Alphabetics and Word/Print
Recognition ..................................140
4.0 Comprehension and Analysis
of Age-Appropriate Text ................146
5.0 Literacy Interest and Response .....151
Bringing It All Together.......................154
Writing ....................................................158
1.0 Writing Strategies .........................159
Bringing It All Together.......................165
Concluding Thoughts .................................168
Concluding Thoughts .................................224
Map of the Foundations ..............................169
Teacher Resources ......................................170
References ..................................................171
Endnotes ....................................................172
Map of the Foundations ..............................225
Teacher Resources ......................................226
References ..................................................228
Endnotes ....................................................230
Development ..................177
Guiding Principles ......................................180
Environments and Materials .......................181
Summary of the Strands .............................183
Summary of the Strands and Substrands ...184
Cultural Context of Learning.......................185
Stages of Second-Language Development ....185
Assessment Approaches for Preschool
English Learners ....................................186
Listening ....................................................188
1.0 Children Listen with
Understanding ..................................189
Bringing It All Together ...........................194
Speaking ....................................................196
1.0 Children Use Nonverbal and Verbal
Strategies to Communicate
with Others ......................................197
2.0 Children Begin to Understand and
Use Social Conventions in English ....200
3.0 Children Use Language to Create
Oral Narratives About Their
Personal Experiences ........................201
Bringing It All Together ...........................204
Reading ......................................................206
1.0 Children Demonstrate Appreciation
and Enjoyment of Reading
and Literature...................................207
2.0 Children Show an Increasing
Understanding of Book Reading ........209
3.0 Children Demonstrate an
Understanding of Print
Conventions .....................................210
4.0 Children Demonstrate Awareness
That Print Carries Meaning ...............212
5.0 Children Demonstrate Progress
in Their Knowledge of the Alphabet
in English .........................................213
6.0 Children Demonstrate Phonological
Awareness ........................................214
Bringing It All Together ...........................217
Writing ......................................................219
1.0 Children Use Writing to
Communicate Their Ideas .................220
Bringing It All Together ...........................222
Mathematics ..................231
Guiding Principles ......................................233
Environments and Materials .......................237
Summary of the Strands and Substrands ...239
Number Sense ............................................241
1.0 Understanding Number and
Quantity ...........................................242
2.0 Understanding Number
Relationships and Operations ...........251
Bringing It All Together ...........................256
Algebra and Functions (Classification
and Patterning) ......................................259
1.0 Classification ....................................260
2.0 Patterning.........................................264
Bringing It All Together ...........................269
Measurement .............................................272
1.0 Compare, Order, and Measure
Objects .............................................273
Bringing It All Together ...........................279
Geometry ...................................................281
1.0 Shapes .............................................282
2.0 Positions in Space.............................286
Bringing It All Together ...........................294
Mathematical Reasoning ............................290
1.0 Promoting Mathematical Reasoning
and Problem Solving .........................291
Bringing It All Together ...........................294
Concluding Thoughts .................................295
Map of the Foundations ..............................296
Teacher Resources ......................................297
References ..................................................298
Endnotes ....................................................300
Appendix A. The California Early
Learning and Development System ........303
Appendix B. Reflections on Research:
Phonological Awareness ........................304
Appendix C. Reflections on Research:
Alphabetics and Word/Print
Appendix D. Resources for Teachers
of Children with Disabilities or
Other Special Needs ...............................319
Glossary .....................................................323
A Message from the
State Superintendent of Public
am pleased to present the California
Preschool Curriculum Framework,
Volume 1, a publication I believe will be a
major step in working to close the schoolreadiness gap for young children in our
state. Created as a companion to the
California Preschool Learning Foundations,
Volume 1, this framework presents strategies and information to enrich learning
and development opportunities for all of
California’s preschool children.
Like the first volume of the preschool
learning foundations, this curriculum
framework focuses on four learning
domains: social-emotional development,
language and literacy, English-language
development, and mathematics. Topics
include guiding principles, in particular,
the vital role of the family in early learning and development; the diversity of
young children in California; and the
ongoing cycle of observing, documenting,
assessing, planning, and implementing
curriculum. The preschool curriculum
framework takes an integrated approach to
early learning and describes how curriculum planning considers the connections
between different domains as children
engage in teacher-guided learning activities. A description of California’s Early
Learning and Development System, which
places the learning foundations at the
center, explains the alignment of the
components to the foundations.
The remaining chapters focus on the
learning domains. Each chapter provides
an overview of a domain, the foundations
for that domain, principles in planning
curriculum, and curriculum strategies
illustrated by vignettes. The strategies pertain to both the learning environment and
teachers’ interactions with children. These
chapters offer key principles and a rich
variety of ideas for early childhood educators to support the learning and development of preschool children. There are specific principles and strategies for teaching
children who are English learners.
Two themes are interwoven throughout this volume: young children learn
through play, and their families are their
first teachers. As young children play, they
use language to create meaning, explore
social roles, and solve mathematical problems. Through studying their play, early
educators discover ways to build on young
children’s lively engagement with learning. Another strategy for expanding young
children’s learning is to collaborate with
their families. Together, early educators
and family members can create meaningful learning experiences for young children
in preschool and at home.
The preschool curriculum framework
speaks to new early childhood educators
as well as experienced ones. It recognizes
the best practices already used by preschool programs and provides new ideas
that bring the preschool learning foundations to life for everyone responsible for the
care and education of young children.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
he development of the preschool
curriculum framework involved many
people. The following groups contributed:
(1) project leaders; (2) principal writers;
(3) community college faculty advisers;
(4) universal design advisers; (5) project
staff and advisers from the WestEd
Center for Child and Family Studies;
(6) staff from the California Department of
Education; (7) early childhood education
stakeholder organizations; (8) participants
in the formative and review focus groups;
(9) participants in the Web posting process; and (10) participants in the public
hearing process.
Project Leaders
The following staff members are gratefully acknowledged for their contributions:
Peter Mangione, Katie Monahan, and
Cathy Tsao, WestEd.
Principal Writers
Special thanks are extended to the
principal writers for their expertise and
Chapter 1: Introduction
Peter Mangione, WestEd
Mary Jane Maguire-Fong, American
River College
Katie Monahan, WestEd
Charlotte Tilson, WestEd
Cathy Tsao, WestEd
Chapter 2: The California Early
Learning and Development System
Peter Mangione, WestEd
Melinda Brookshire, WestEd
Jenna Bilmes, WestEd
Jan Davis, WestEd
Chapter 3: Social-Emotional
Janet Thompson, University of California,
Ross Thompson, University of California,
Kelly Twibell, University of California,
Chapter 4: Language and Literacy
Roberta Golinkoff, University of
Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, Temple University
Judith Schickedanz, Boston University
Chapter 5: English-Language
Linda Espinosa, University of Missouri
Marlene Zepeda, California State
University, Los Angeles
Chapter 6: Mathematics
Osnat Zur, WestEd
Appendix B. Reflections on Research:
Phonological Awareness
Appendix C: Reflections on Research:
Alphabetics and Word/Print Recognition
Judith Schickedanz, Boston University
Community College Faculty
Special thanks are extended to the
faculty advisers for their expertise and
Caroline Carney, Monterey Peninsula
Ofelia Garcia, Cabrillo College
Marie Jones, American River College
Margie Perez-Sesser, Cuesta College
Universal Design Advisers
The following universal design experts
are gratefully acknowledged for their
Maurine Ballard-Rosa, California State
University, Sacramento
Meryl Berk, Vision Consultant, HOPE
Infant Family Support Program,
San Diego County Office of Education
Linda Brault, WestEd
WestEd Center for Child and
Family Studies—Project Staff
and Advisers
Linda Brault
Melinda Brookshire
Caroline Pietrangelo Owens
Teresa Ragsdale
Amy Schustz-Alvarez
Charlotte Tilson
Rebeca Valdivia
Ann-Marie Wiese
Osnat Zur
California Department
of Education
Thanks are also extended to the following staff members: Gavin Payne, Chief
Deputy Superintendent; Rick Miller,
Deputy Superintendent, P-16 Policy and
Information Branch; Camille Maben,
Director, Child Development Division;
Cecelia Fisher-Dahms, Administrator,
Quality Improvement Office; and Desiree
Soto, Consultant, Child Development
Division, for ongoing revisions and recommendations. During the lengthy development process, many staff members of the
Child Development Division were involved
at various levels: Anthony Monreal,*
Michael Jett,* Gwen Stephens,* Gail
Brodie, Sy Dang Nguyen, Mary Smithberger, Maria Trejo, and Charles Vail.
*During the development of the framework, these
individuals worked for the California Department
of Education.
Meredith Cathcart, Consultant, Special
Education Division, contributed her
Early Childhood Education
Stakeholder Organizations
Representatives from many statewide
organizations provided perspectives
affecting various aspects of the curriculum
Action Alliance for Children
Alliance for a Better Community
Asian Pacific Islander Community
Action Network
Association of California School
Baccalaureate Pathways in Early
Childhood Education (BPECE)
Black Child Development Institute (BCDI),
Sacramento Affiliate
California Alliance Concerned with
School-Age Parenting and Pregnancy
Prevention (CACSAP/Cal-SAFE)
California Association for Bilingual
Education (CABE)
California Association for the Education
of Young Children (CAEYC)
California Association of Family Child
Care (CAFCC)
California Association of Latino
Superintendents and Administrators
California Child Care Coordinators
California Child Care Resource and
Referral Network (CCCRRN)
California Child Development
Administrators Association (CCDAA)
California Child Development Corps
California Commission for Teacher
California Community College Early
Childhood Educators (CCCECE)
California Community Colleges
Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO)
California County Superintendents
Educational Services Association
California Early Reading First Network
California Federation of Teachers (CFT)
California Head Start Association (CHSA)
California Kindergarten Association
California National Even Start Association
California Preschool Instructional Network
California Professors of Early Childhood
Special Education (CAPECSE)
California School Boards Association
California State Parent-Teacher
California State University Office of the
California Teachers Association
California Tomorrow
Californians Together
Campaign for High Quality Early Learning
Standards in California
Child Development Policy Institute
Children Now
The Children’s Collabrium
Council for Exceptional Children/The
California Division for Early Childhood
(Cal DEC)
Council of CSU Campus Childcare
Curriculum Alignment Project
Curriculum & Instruction Steering
English Language Learners Preschool
Coalition (ELLPC)
Fight Crime, Invest in Kids California
First 5 Association of California
First 5 California Children & Families
Infant Development Association of
California (IDA)
Learning Disabilities Association of
Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP)
Mexican American Legal Defense and
Education Fund (MALDEF)
Migrant Education Even Start (MEES)
Migrant Head Start
National Council of La Raza (NCLR)
Packard Foundation Children, Families,
and Communities Program
Preschool California
Professional Association for Childhood
Education (PACE)
Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA)
University of California Child Care
University of California Office of the
President (UCOP)
Voices for African-American Students, Inc.
Zero to Three
Public Input
Ten focus groups consisting of 147 members gave valuable feedback, and others
offered suggestions during a public review
of the draft that was posted online.
Many photographers contributed to a
large pool of photographs taken over the
years and collected by WestEd. Special
thanks are extended to WestEd and the
photographers. The following child care
agencies deserve thanks for allowing photographs to be taken of the staff, children,
and families:
Chandler Tripp Head Start and Chandler
Tripp Preschool for the Visually
Impaired, Santa Clara County Office
of Education, San Jose
Child Development Center, American River
College, Los Rios Community College
District, Sacramento
El Jardín de los Niños, University Preparation School, at California State University, Channel Islands
Friends of Saint Francis Childcare Center,
San Francisco
Hoopa Child Development Program, Hoopa
Supporting Future Growth Child Development Center, Oakland
to the Framework
oung children enter preschool with a sense of wonder and a love of
learning. They have an insatiable appetite for knowledge when they
have learning experiences that are engaging and enjoyable. Positive
experiences in which children can make choices and explore help them
feel competent and confident. How can we offer them engaging and enjoyable learning experiences that fuel their intellectual engines and build
their confidence? How can we connect children’s fascination with learning
in every domain and make the most of their time in preschool? With these
questions in mind, the California Department of Education (CDE) developed this curriculum framework for preschool programs, which include
any early childhood setting where three- to five-year-old children receive
education and care.
This curriculum framework provides
an overall approach for teachersa to
support children’s learning through environments and experiences that are:
• developmentally appropriate,
• reflective of thoughtful observation and
intentional planning,
• individually and culturally meaningful,
• inclusive of children with disabilities or
other special needs.
The framework presents ways of setting
up environments, encouraging and building upon children’s self-initiated play,
selecting appropriate materials, and planning and implementing teacher-guided
learning activities.
As much as possible, the writers of this
document have used everyday language to
describe curriculum concepts and strategies. However, technical terminology does
appear in the text. The use of technical
In this document, a teacher is considered an adult
with education and care responsibilities in an early
childhood setting. Teachers include adults who interact directly with young children in preschool programs and family child care home settings, as well
as those who provide special education services.
In family child care, teachers may be referred to as
terms reflects the need for precision of
language and offers the reader the opportunity to connect practice to theory and
abstract ideas. To aid the reader, technical words that are highlighted in boldface
are defined in the Glossary.
What children learn during the preschool years is presented in the California Preschool Learning Foundations,
Volume 1.1 As preschool teachers plan
learning environments and experiences,
the foundations provide the background
information to:
• understand children’s developing
knowledge and skills and
• consider appropriate ways to support
children’s learning and development.
In essence, curriculum planning
should offer children learning opportunities that are attuned to their developing
abilities and connected with their experiences at home and in their communities.
In the National Association for the
Education of Young Children’s accreditation criteria, it is stated that a curriculum
includes the goals for the knowledge and
skills to be acquired by children and the
plans for learning experiences through
which such knowledge and skills will
be acquired.2 A preschool curriculum
typically defines a sequence of integrated
experiences, interactions, and activities
to help young children reach specific
learning goals. A curriculum framework
provides general guidance on planning
learning environments and experiences
for young children. Thus, as a curriculum
framework, this document provides:
• principles for supporting young children’s learning;
• an overview of key components of curriculum planning for young children,
including observation, documentation,
and reflection;
• descriptions of routines, environments,
and materials that engage children in
learning; and
• sample strategies for building on children’s knowledge, skills, and interests.
Four domains are the focus of Volume 1
of the CDE’s preschool learning foundations: social-emotional development,
language and literacy, English-language
development, and mathematics.
California’s Preschool
is their early experiences with language.
Language and literacy development contributes to young children’s learning and
long-range success in many different
ways. Children who enter preschool with
competence in a language other than
English rely on their home language as
they learn English. Building competence
in English, while continuing to build competence in their home language, allows
children to draw on all their knowledge
and skills as they engage in learning in
every domain. In response to the need to
support children with diverse early language and literacy experiences, the CDE
has developed Preschool English Learners:
Principles and Practices to Promote Language, Literacy, and Learning3 (hereafter
referred to as the PEL Resource Guide)
and preschool English-language development foundations. This curriculum
framework offers strategies aligned to
those foundations and the content of the
PEL Resource Guide.
Socioeconomic diversity is another
trend that merits attention. The percentage of children living in low-income
homes is high; almost 20 percent live
below the poverty level.4 At the same time,
the benefits of appropriate or high-quality
fundamental consideration in
planning curriculum for individual
children is being responsive to the competencies, experiences, interests, and
needs each child brings to the preschool
classroom. The state’s preschool population includes children who are culturally
diverse, speak a language other than English, possess different abilities, and come
from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.
When teachers and other program staff
partner with families, they make curriculum individually and culturally
An increasingly prominent factor
in the diversity of California’s children
preschool are more pronounced for children from low-income backgrounds than
for other population subgroups. Children
from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds
are more likely to benefit from preschool
when the curriculum is attuned to their
learning strengths and needs.
Children with disabilities or other special needs are another part of California’s
preschool population. Children with disabilities or other special needs benefit
from learning in inclusive environments
with typically developing children. Studies have shown that children in inclusive
environments, with appropriate support and assistance, achieve more than
children in segregated environments.5
Inclusive environments benefit not only
children with disabilities or other special
needs, but also typically developing children.
As the following information suggests,
the diversity of young children means
that every preschool program needs a
flexible approach to curriculum in order
to be responsive to all children who enter
its doors.
Compared with most other states,
California has an extraordinarily diverse
population of children, particularly those
under the age of five. Of the over six million children enrolled in California’s K–12
schools in 2006-07, 48.1 percent were
Latino, 29.4 percent were white, 8.1 percent were Asian, 7.6 percent were African
American, and 2.6 percent were Filipino.6
Similarly, among the 2.7 million children
from birth to age five living in California
during 2006-07, 50 percent were Latino,
24 percent were white, 8 percent were
Asian American, and 5 percent were African American.7 This trend is anticipated
to continue over the next several decades.
English learners
In the 2008 California Report Card,
Children Now estimates that 42 percent
of five-year-old children in California are
English learners, a 3 percent increase
from the previous year.8 Children Now
also reports:
The majority of California’s children
living in immigrant households, between
the ages of 5-17, speak a language other
than English at home. Nearly 30 percent
of these children live in linguistically
isolated homes where the adults living in
the home do not speak English well.9
In an earlier report, Children Now
and Preschool California indicated that
“. . . young children living in linguistically isolated homes are less likely to be
enrolled in preschool programs.”10
The broad range of languages spoken
by children in the state is clearly a significant factor in developing curriculum
for preschool children who are English
learners. During the 2006-07 school year,
85.3 percent of California children in kindergarten through twelfth grade who were
English learners spoke Spanish, followed
by Vietnamese (2.2 percent), Filipino (1.4
percent), Cantonese (1.4 percent), Hmong
(1.3 percent), and Korean (1.1 percent).11
Many families may come from similar
geographic regions outside the United
States but may not necessarily speak
the same language.12 Preschool offers an
important opportunity for children whose
families speak a different language at
home to learn English while continuing
to learn their home language. Competence in two languages will allow children
to become adults who can contribute to
both the global economy and their local
communities. Preschool programs can
best support young children by planning
curriculum that fosters English-language
development and keeps the children connected to the language of their families.
Socioeconomic status
Approximately 20 percent of children
in California under the age of five live in
families whose income is below the poverty level.13 Compared with other states,
California ranks 20th in the nation in
the number of children under age eighteen living in poverty.14 According to the
National Center for Children in Poverty,
younger children (birth to six years) are
more likely to live in a low-income household.15 Young children of immigrant parents are 20 percent more likely to live in
a low-income family compared with children with native-born English-speaking
parents. Young African American, Latino,
and Native American children in California are also more likely to live in very
low-income families compared with white
Children with disabilities
or other special needs
There are approximately 45,000 children with identified disabilities in the
CDE preschool system. This number
does not include children at risk of a
disability or developmental challenges.
Children with disabilities represent the
diversity of California’s entire preschool
population and necessitate unique educational considerations in the preschool
setting. Three-, four-, and five-year-old
children with identified disabilities have
individualized education programs (IEPs)
that reflect the CDE’s preschool learning foundations. Under the Individuals
with Disabilities Education Act (2004),
all children must have access to the general curriculum and have their progress
measured accordingly.17 In California,
the CDE’s preschool learning foundations
serve as a guide for curriculum planning.
Together, the foundations and curriculum framework offer a comprehensive
approach to planning access to inclusive
learning opportunities for all children.
Overarching Principles
ight principles have guided the
development of this curriculum
framework. Grounded in early childhood
research and practice, the following eight
principles emphasize offering young children individually, culturally, and linguistically responsive learning experiences
and environments:
Relationships are central.
Play is a primary context for learning.
Learning is integrated.
Intentional teaching enhances children’s learning experiences.
Family and community partnerships
create meaningful connections.
Individualization of learning includes
all children.
Responsiveness to culture and language supports children’s learning.
Time for reflection and planning
enhances teaching.
The rationales for these principles
Relationships are central
Relationships with others are at the
center of young children’s lives. Caring
relationships with close family members
provide the base for young children to
engage with others, to explore with confidence, to seek support when needed,
and to view interactions with others as
likely to be positive and interesting. Recognizing the power of early relationships,
preschool teachers and programs build
strong relationships with children and
families. Just as important, preschool
teachers nurture the social-emotional
development of young children through
those relationships. Research shows that
healthy social-emotional development
helps young children learn, for example,
to sustain attention more easily, to make
and maintain friendships, and to communicate needs and ideas. Under the
guiding eye of teachers in close partnership with families, young children build
their ability to engage in relationships
with adults and other children. Preschool
offers children a variety of opportunities for social interactions (with familiar
adults, peers), group participation, and
for cooperation and responsibility. A
climate of caring and respect that promotes nurturing relationships between
children and within the community of
families supports children’s learning in
all domains.
Play is a primary context
for learning
Play is at the heart of young children’s
explorations and their engagement in
learning experiences.18 During play, children maximize their attention span as
they focus on self-selected activities that
they regulate themselves. When children
make their own choices, engage other
children in interaction, and spend time
amusing themselves on their own, they
learn much about themselves, their own
capabilities, and the world around them.
At the preschool level, play and learning should be seamless. Children need to
be engaged to learn. As Zigler observes,
children bring more than their brains
to school.19 When children’s hearts and
minds are engaged, adults can help them
learn almost anything they are ready to
learn. In a program where play is valued,
children’s interests, engagement, creativity, and self-expression are supported
through a balance of child-initiated and
teacher-guided activities. The environment reflects an appreciation for the
value of pretend play, imaginary play,
and dramatic play. Play not only provides
the context for thinking, building knowledge, being attentive, solving problems,
and increasing social skills, it also helps
children to integrate their emotional
experiences and internalize guidance
from their teachers. For some children,
it may be necessary to make special
adaptations to create access to learning
through self-initiated activities and play.
Learning is integrated
Learning engages young children in
every possible way. Young children continually use all their senses and competencies to relate new experiences to prior
experiences and try to understand things
and create meaning. Their learning is
integrated while often having a specific
focus. For example, during book reading,
children use their knowledge and thinking abilities, emotional responses, under-
standing of language, and the full range of
experiences at home and in the community to make new connections and understand. Children come to preschool as
experts about many things—among them,
their families, their home language(s),
and their belongings. When learning
builds on what children know and allows
them to expand their skills playfully, they
are happy to participate in any learning experience or activity, to recite any
rhyme, and to count any set. That is why
offering children experiences that are
personally meaningful and connected is
so important. In addition, since children
learn using all of their sensory modalities in an integrated way, it is essential
to strengthen the modalities with which
individual children need special help and
build upon their areas of strength. Integrated learning is further described in the
section titled Curriculum Planning.
Intentional teaching enhances
children’s learning experiences
Effective curriculum planning occurs
when teachers are mindful of children’s
learning and are intentional or purposeful in their efforts to support it. In the
National Association for the Education
of Young Children (NAEYC) publication
titled The Intentional Teacher, Ann Epstein
offers the following description:20
. . . the intentional teacher . . . acts with
knowledge and purpose to ensure that
young children acquire the knowledge
and skills (content) they need to succeed
in school and in life. Intentional teachers
use their knowledge, judgment, and
expertise to organize learning experiences
for children; when an unexpected
situation arises . . . they can recognize a
teaching opportunity and are able to take
advantage of it, too.
With an understanding of early learning and development, the teacher works
to help young children reach the learn-
ing destinations identified by California’s
preschool learning foundations. The
intentional teacher is flexible in order to
accommodate differences in children’s
learning strengths and needs. Intentional
teaching strategies span from planning
learning environments, experiences, and
routines to spontaneous responses suggested by the moment-to-moment focus
of the children.
Family and community
partnerships create meaningful
Strong connections with families grow
from respecting and valuing diverse
views, expectations, goals, and understandings families have for their children.
Programs demonstrate respect for families by partnering with them to exchange
information about their children’s learning and development and to share ideas
about how to support learning at home
and at school. Partnerships with families
extend to the community where the families live, come together, and support one
another. Building connections to the surrounding community allows a program to
become known and make use of community resources. Getting to know the community also gives teachers insights into
the learning experiences and competencies that children bring to the preschool
setting and informs efforts to make preschool meaningful and connected for
Individualization of learning
includes all children
Each child is unique. Preschool teachers use their understanding of each
child’s blend of temperament, family
and cultural experiences, language experiences, personal strengths, interests,
abilities, and dispositions to support
the child’s learning and development.
Through recognizing and adapting to
each child’s individual development,
teachers are able to offer learning experiences that are meaningful, connected,
and developmentally attuned to each
child. Creating a classroom environment
in which all children feel welcome is
important. When children with disabilities or other special needs are included,
the partnership with families is especially
important. The family is the primary
bridge between the preschool staff and
special services the child may be receiving. The family, teacher, and other program staff can team together and include
other specialists in the preschool setting.
Adapting to an individual child may mean
modifying the learning environment to
“. . . increase a child’s access, potential
and availability for learning through
thoughtful organization of materials and
space.”21 Specifically designed professional support and development opportunities, as well as specialized instructional
strategies, can help teachers deliver individualized education and care to meet the
needs of all the children in a program.
Responsiveness to culture
and language supports
children’s learning
Responsive preschool programs create
a climate of respect for each child’s
culture and language when teachers
and other program staff partner and
regularly communicate with family
members. They work to get to know the
cultural strengths each child brings to
preschool. An essential part of being
culturally and linguistically responsive is
to value and support each child’s use of
home language, for “continued use and
development of the child’s home language
will benefit the child as he or she
acquires English.”22 Equally important
are nurturing interactions with children
and their families in which “. . . teachers
attempt, as much as possible, to learn
about the history, beliefs, and practices of
the children & families they serve. . . .”23
In addition to being responsive to the
cultural history, beliefs, values, ways of
communicating, and practices of children
and families, teachers create learning
environments that include resources such
as pictures, displays, and books that are
culturally rich and supportive of a diverse
population, particularly the cultures and
languages of the children and families in
their preschool setting.24, 25 Community
members add to the cultural richness of
a preschool setting by sharing their art,
music, dance, traditions, and stories.
Time for reflection and planning
enhances teaching
Preschool teachers are professionals
who serve an important role in society.
In nurturing the development of young
children, teachers engage in an ongoing
process of observation, documentation
and assessment, reflection and planning,
and implementation of strategies in order
to provide individualized learning experiences. As increasing numbers of children
with diverse backgrounds, including
disabilities, participate in preschool programs, it becomes essential to have collaboration, teaming, and communication
to extend the benefits of preschool to all
children. Curriculum planning requires
time for teachers to reflect on children’s
learning and plan strategies that foster
children’s progress in building knowledge
and mastering skills. Preschool programs
that support intentional teaching allocate time in teachers’ schedules to allow
them to reflect and plan both individually
and as a team. With appropriate support,
teachers are able to grow professionally
through a continuous process of learning
together and exploring ways to be responsive to young children’s learning interests
and needs.
Organization of the
his preschool curriculum framework
builds on the California Preschool
Learning Foundations, Volume 1, which
describes the knowledge and skills that
preschool children typically demonstrate
with appropriate support in the following
four domains:
Social-emotional development
Language and literacy
English-language development
In this introduction, curriculum planning for these domains is presented in
an integrated manner (see pages 14 and
15). Within this integrated approach to
planning learning activities and environments, each specific domain is the focus
of a chapter. Each chapter provides a
look at integrated curriculum through the
lens of the particular domain addressed
by that chapter. For example, Chapter 6,
“Mathematics,” highlights how vocabulary
development relates to children’s math
learning. Information on strategies to
support children’s learning may appear in
more than one domain chapter because
the same strategy or similar strategies
apply to multiple areas of growth and
development. In essence, this curriculum
framework is designed to allow the reader
to examine the breadth and depth of
each domain in the context of integrated
The domain chapters begin with an
overview of principles and strategies for
supporting preschool children’s learning.
Each domain is divided into strands that
define the scope of the domain. In each
chapter, the strands are introduced, along
with information about environments and
materials that promote learning, a “Bring-
ing It All Together” vignette, “Engaging
Families” to support home–school connections, and “Questions for Reflection”
to encourage teacher reflection.
Each strand is further divided into
substrands. Each substrand section
• A brief overview of the substrand;
• Sample interactions and strategies
(e.g., conversations, activities, experiences, routines) for helping children
make progress in the specific area of
learning identified by the substrand;
• Vignettes that illustrate the strategies in action. (It is important to note
that the interactions illustrated by
the vignettes might take place in any
language; individual children would
appropriately engage in such communication using their home language.)
The sample strategies that are presented range from spontaneous to
planned. Some sample strategies focus on
how teachers build on children’s interests
during interaction and instruction. Some
rely on planning and teacher initiation,
and some reflect a combination of teacher
planning and spontaneous responses to
children’s learning. Taken together, they
offer a range of ways in which early childhood professionals can support children’s
learning and development. The sample
strategies are intended to include a broad
range of teaching approaches as well as
to reflect a variety of ways to address
the individual needs of a diverse group
of children. However, the sample strategies are neither exhaustive nor meant
to be used as recipes to follow. Rather,
they are starting points, or springboards,
for teachers as they plan and implement
their own strategies.
It is noteworthy that some strategies
for one domain can just as easily be used
to support learning in another domain.
The fact that many strategies overlap
across domains reflects the integrated
nature of young children’s learning.
For example, the language and literacy
chapter recommends on page 103 the
general strategy of providing opportunities
in the daily schedule for adult–child and
child–child interactions. Of course, adult–
child and child–child interactions foster
social-emotional learning and Englishlanguage development as well as learning
in all other domains addressed by the
preschool learning foundations. Specific
strategies in this section include “Create
a block area” and “Create an art area.”
Creating a block area may sound more
like a strategy for the mathematics
domain, and an art area may sound more
like one for the visual and performing
arts domain. However, a preschool
environment with those areas will surely
promote learning in all domains.
Each domain chapter includes “Teachable Moments” to address the balance
between planning for children’s learning
and being spontaneous and responsive
when a child or a small group of children
may be absorbed with solving a problem
or excited about a new idea or may show
emerging understanding of a concept.
Planning creates the context for teachable moments. In various places, this
framework offers information on “Planning Learning Opportunities.” Intentional
teaching includes planning interactions,
activities, environments, and adaptations.
Teachers plan such learning opportunities based on their observations and
assessments of children and what they
learn from the children’s families. When
teachers plan learning opportunities,
they have in mind how the children might
respond. But the plan needs to be flexible
to allow the teacher to be responsive to
how the children actually engage in learning. The teacher observes the children
and listens for the teachable moments
made possible by the plan.
Development and
Learning in All Domains
he English-language development
foundations and recommended
curriculum strategies address the need
to give additional focused support to
preschool children whose home language
is not English. As Chapter 5 states:
“Children who are learning English as a
second language form a substantial and
growing segment of the preschool population served by California state child
development programs.” The Englishlanguage development foundations are
distinct from the foundations in other
domains because they describe the process of learning important language and
literacy concepts as preschool children
acquire a second language (as dual-language learners). Children’s progress with
learning English varies greatly from child
to child. Some children enter preschool
with practically no prior experience with
English. Other children have some experience with English but still do not possess the basic competency necessary to
demonstrate knowledge and skills outlined in other domains when the curriculum is provided mainly in English. And
there are other children who are learning
English as a second language who may
be fairly advanced in their understanding
and use of English.
Given the great variation among children who are learning English as a second language in preschool, their knowledge and skills in the English-language
development domain are described at
the beginning, middle, and later levels.
In other words, the English-language
development foundations reflect a continuum of second-language (English)
learning regardless of an individual
child’s age. This continuum shows that
children who are learning English while
they are also developing their home language abilities use their knowledge and
skills in their first language to continue
to make progress in all other domains.
Children who are English learners also
vary greatly in the level of proficiency in
their first language, which, in turn, influences their progress in English-language
In an integrated curriculum, the key to
supporting all children is to plan learning activities and environments based on
an ongoing understanding of each child’s
interests, needs, and family and cultural
experiences. For young children who are
learning English, this approach means
focused attention to each individual
child’s experiences in acquiring a second
language and an understanding of how to
use a child’s first language to help them
understand a second language. In applying an integrated approach, teachers take
advantage of every moment to provide
children with opportunities to communicate with greater understanding and skill
while engaged in play or in adult-guided
learning activities.
The curriculum framework for
English-language development is based
on a number of key considerations for
supporting children learning English in
preschool settings. Chief among these
considerations are:
1. Children who are learning English as a
second language possess a home language upon which effective teaching
strategies can be based.
2. Children who are learning English as
a second language may demonstrate
language and literacy knowledge and
skills in their home language before
they demonstrate the same knowledge
and skills in English.
3. Children who are learning English as a
second language may need additional
support and time to make progress in
all areas that require English knowledge and skills; therefore, the English-language development curriculum
framework presents strategies to support English learners in particular
ways so that teachers can both scaffold children’s learning experiences
and utilize multiple modes of communication (e.g., nonverbal cues).
4. The English-language development
foundations and curriculum recommendations focus mainly on language
and literacy learning, because it is,
by nature, language-specific; it is also
recognized that English learners will
demonstrate competence in other
domains in their home language.
5. An intentional focus on the process of
learning English as a second language
is necessary at all times in an integrated approach to curriculum in early
care and education settings.
The level of additional support and
time English learners need to demonstrate the knowledge and skills described
by the foundations in domains such as
social-emotional development, language
and literacy, and mathematics will be
influenced by the children’s development in both their first language and
English. The language the child uses for
communication at home as well as the
amount of rich experience the child has
in the home language will likely affect
the amount and type of support the child
needs. For example, if a child’s home language does not use the alphabet for writing, that child may need different support than a child whose home language
uses the alphabet. Regardless of home
language, individual children may make
progress with some foundations earlier
than with other foundations. For example, children may need additional time
to make progress in the language and
literacy foundations, which are specific
to English, such as language conventions, vocabulary, and grammar.
The California Department of Education’s DVD titled A World Full of
Language: Supporting Preschool English
Learners highlights the importance of
a climate of acceptance and belonging
as the starting point for giving children
who are learning English as a second
language additional support. In effective
programs, intentional efforts:
• focus on the children’s sense of belonging and need to communicate;
• allow children to participate voluntarily; and
• create opportunities for interaction
and play with peers.
Children need to feel comfortable
with everyone in the preschool setting
and with use of their home language to
express themselves nonverbally while
learning and trying to use English.
As Chapter 5 states: “Language is a
tool of communication used in all developmental domains. Children who are
English learners need to be supported
not only in activities focused on language
and literacy, but across the entire curriculum.” All children, particularly children at the beginning and middle levels of
English language acquisition, may show
knowledge and skills in other domains,
such as mathematics, using their home
language. The preschool Desired Results
Developmental Profile (DRDP) recognizes
this possibility by considering children’s
demonstrations of knowledge and skills
in their home language as evidence of
developmental progress.b
Because first- and second-language
development varies among English
learners, the English-language development foundations and the language and
literacy foundations are to be used in
tandem with the curriculum framework.
It is recommended that, when planning curriculum for all areas of learning,
teachers begin by reading and considering the English-language development
foundations and the curriculum framework guidance as they gauge each child’s
current comprehension and use of English. Teachers then develop a plan for
how to integrate and use the suggested
activities or strategies to support areas of
learning that take into consideration the
It is important to use the appropriate Desired
Results instrument. For children who are typically
developing, the Desired Results Developmental
Profile (DRDP) is the appropriate instrument.
( For
children with disabilities receiving preschool special
education services, the appropriate instrument
is determined by the Individualized Education
Program (IEP) team, which includes the family
and the child’s preschool teacher. All three-, four-,
and five-year-old children with an IEP who receive
preschool services, regardless of instructional
setting, must be assessed using either the Desired
Results Developmental Profile (DRDP) or the Desired
Results Developmental Profile access (DRDP
access). The DRDP access is an alternative version
of the DRDP with measures that have an expanded
range for assessing preschool-age children with
disabilities (
diversity of English learners. Intentional
teaching requires an ongoing awareness
of the home-language development of
each child as described in the Englishlanguage development foundations as
well as the English learner’s ability to
use English in activities suggested in the
other chapters.
Universal Design
for Learning
he guidance in this preschool curriculum framework applies to all
young children in California, including
children with disabilities or other special
needs. In some cases, preschool children
with disabilities or other special needs
demonstrate their developmental progress
in diverse ways. Recognizing that children
follow different pathways to learning, this
framework incorporates a concept known
as universal design for learning.
Universal design provides for multiple
means of representation, multiple means
of engagement, and multiple means of
expression.24 Multiple means of representation refers to providing information in
a variety of ways so the learning needs
of all children are met. For example, it
is important to speak clearly to children
with auditory disabilities while also presenting information visually such as with
objects and pictures. Multiple means of
expression refers to allowing children to
use alternative ways to communicate or
demonstrate what they know or what
they are feeling. For example, when a
teacher seeks a verbal response, a child
may respond in any language, including
American Sign Language. A child with
special needs who cannot speak may
also respond by pointing, by gazing, by
gesturing, by using a picture system of
communication, or by any other form of
alternative or augmented communication
system. Multiple means of engagement
refers to providing choices in the setting or program that facilitate learning
by building on children’s interests. The
information in this curriculum framework
has been worded to incorporate multiple
means of representation, expression, and
Although this curriculum framework
presents some ways of adapting or modifying an activity or approach, it cannot
offer all possible variations to ensure that
a curriculum meets the needs of a particular child. Of course, the first and best
source of information about any child is
the family. Additionally, there are several
resources available to support inclusive
practice for young children with disabilities or other special needs. The resources,
Web sites, and books listed in Appendix D
are recommended for teachers’ use.
Curriculum Planning
Curriculum planning to support
children as active meaning
reschool children possess an amazing capacity to organize vast amounts
of information. When we watch a preschooler alone in play, in play with
friends, or engaged in a conversation,
we see an active mind making meaning.
Preschool children experience the
world and build knowledge in an integrated manner, during simple moments
of play and interaction with objects and
with other people. They constantly gather
information and strive to make sense of
it. Their minds take in words, numbers,
feelings, and the actions and reactions of
people, creatures, and objects and integrate new information into an increas-
ingly complex system of knowledge.
Effective curriculum for young children
engages their active minds and nurtures
their enthusiastic search for meaning
and understanding.
Integrated curriculum
The principle that preschool children
actively make meaning in an integrated
way offers an important starting point
for preschool curriculum. Of most value
to young children engaged in inquiry are
experiences that support their inclination to explore math, language, literacy,
art, and science within meaningful
moments of play and interaction. In guiding children’s integrated approach to
learning, teachers may use a variety of
strategies (e.g., interactions, scaffolding,
explicit instruction, modeling, demonstration, changes in the environment
and materials, and adaptations, which
are especially important for children with
disabilities).25 By adapting the physical
environment, materials, and the curriculum, teachers gain a better sense
of individual children’s strengths and
abilities and how best to support their
play and engagement in making meaning. For example, for a child who relies
on a wheelchair for mobility, pathways
in the classroom are arranged to allow
the child’s passage to all interest areas,
and tables and shelving are set up to
allow the child to see, reach, explore, and
manipulate the learning materials and
thereby make meaning.
Integrated curriculum often has a specific focus yet engages children in multiple ways. The following vignette from a
class of mostly three-year-old children
illustrates how the children’s interests,
exploration, and meaning making unfold
when their teachers introduce a new
learning opportunity.
After observing the children’s interest
in snails outside, the teachers brought
in snails for the children to examine on
trays in the science area. Many children went over to see them. Some simply watched, while others held a snail.
Whether watching or holding a snail,
each child bubbled with curiosity.
Observing the children’s curiosity, the
teachers decided that the snails might
serve as a common interest for children to explore over time, with many
possibilities for learning language,
math, science, social skills, art, and
literacy. Exploring snails offered potential for tapping into many of the children’s emerging skills and concepts
with increasing complexity over time.
The teachers thought of the snails as
a ready science investigation. The children would come to know one of the
creatures that live in their play yard.
The teachers also envisioned possibilities for children’s social learning
while exploring the snails. Most of the
three-year-olds were new to the program and were adjusting to the many
new and different faces, languages,
and expectations for behavior. The
teachers thought that exploring snails
would offer experiences supportive of
children’s progress in various developmental areas. There would be possibil-
ities for discussing how to treat living
creatures in respectful ways, conversations with the children about how to
care for snails, and being gentle with
creatures and also with each other.
Caring for the snails might spark much
discussion in small groups, a perfect context for children to build new
vocabulary and language skills, notice
cause-and-effect connections, solve
problems, engage in counting and comparing, draw shapes, and use print to
capture ideas. The teachers also wondered about how children might weave
pretend play and stories into their
exploration of snails. Later the teachers reviewed their notes to determine
if the children’s observed progress in
these areas could be measured by
the DRDP—cooperative relationships,
sharing, developing friendships, conflict negotiation, awareness of diversity, empathy, and self-regulation.
The environment: Interest areas
to support children’s play and
child-initiated learning
Preschool curriculum includes ways
in which teachers plan the indoor and
outdoor physical environments to support
children’s play and learning. Intentionally
designed play spaces for children are like
a studio for an artist or a laboratory for a
scientist. When the physical environment
is planned with children’s self-initiated
learning in mind, children encounter
places where they can freely explore
what things are like and how things
work. In such an environment, children
investigate, invent, and experiment. To
support children’s self-initiated play
and integrated learning, teachers create
environments with a network of interest
areas. Each area has a distinct focus
and a predictable inventory of materials.
Teachers use interest areas to extend
children’s active search for knowledge.
Interest areas are designed to offer a
basic inventory of materials with which
children can apply emerging skills and
develop concepts while they play.
As teachers plan curriculum, they consider ways to augment or add new interests to the basic inventory of materials in
an area. Such curriculum plans, which
are focused on the play environment,
extend or add complexity to the children’s
play. For children with disabilities, teachers can consider what adaptations should
be made to provide greater access. For all
children to take full advantage of interest areas that a well-planned curriculum provides, they need long blocks of
uninterrupted time for self-initiated play.
Interest areas in a preschool environment
include the following examples:
Dramatic play area
Block area
Art area
Book area
Writing area
Math area
Science area
Family display area
The example of the snail exploration
shows how the teachers made use of the
different interest areas in their classroom.
After observing and reflecting on the
children’s engagement on encountering the snails, the teachers began to
add snails to several of the interest
areas in the environment. There were
possibilities for children to explore
both real snails and pretend snails
in play.
In the science area, one of the teachers
arranged four trays on the table. On
each tray, the teacher placed snails,
cut grass, leaves, a small jar lid filled
with water, and an eyedropper. As
the children played, many of them
came to explore the snails, some just
looking and listening to comments,
others touching and holding the snails.
Arranging the snails and the materials
to make snail “habitats” was the
children’s primary interest. Teachers
were close by to keep the snails safe
but did not direct the children’s play.
That morning, teachers had also
added several books on snails (in
English, Spanish, and Russian, the
home languages of children in the
group) as well as a snail puppet in
the book/story interest area; a few
laminated photos of snails in the art
area; and a basket with small plastic
snails in the math manipulatives area.
This part of the vignette illustrates how
an interest the children first encountered outside was integrated into various
interest areas in the indoor environment.
Just as the outdoor environment can be
brought indoors, so can the indoor environment be brought outdoors. Indeed, the
outdoors offers extended opportunities for
children’s play and exploration. Planning
the outdoor environment should include
materials and possibilities available in the
interest areas indoors.
The Daily Schedule
well-rounded program has a variety
of activities indoors and outdoors in
small groups and large groups, supervised by teachers.
Child-initiated play
Children should have ample time during the preschool day to initiate learning
through play. When free to make their
own choices, children gravitate to different areas of the indoor and outdoor environments and explore materials and ideas
playfully and creatively. They choose to
cluster in small groups to play together,
for example, in the block area or in the
dramatic play area. Teachers use this
time to observe and note ways to build on
children’s ideas and further engage the
children in learning.
Teacher-guided activities
Planning curriculum for preschool children also means planning activities that
teachers, rather than children, initiate
and guide. Some teacher-guided activities
are best done in small groups of four to
eight children, in quiet spaces away from
distractions of the entire group; others
take place in a large group and include all
children in the class.
Teacher-guided activities
in small groups
Small groups provide a manageable
context for children to discuss and
explore ideas and experiences. The
teacher acts as a guide, listener, and
“problem-poser.” In small groups away
from the distractions of a large group,
teachers can easily observe, listen, and
converse with children. Teachers can
focus on how the children think, express
ideas, and use their emerging skills.
Teachers’ conversations with children
can enrich learning in all domains, particularly the children’s language learning and vocabulary development. In
addition, in order to intentionally guide
the development of certain skills, teachers can plan small-group activities (e.g.,
songs, games, shared reading) that playfully engage children for short periods of
time. In programs with English-language
learners, small groups can be a time to
foster learning among children. The PEL
Resource Guide provides several suggestions for promoting peer learning.26 Small
groups offer excellent times for monitoring a child’s developmental progress, for
meeting his or her needs, and for providing scaffolds that help a child engage
in new and more complex thinking. The
chance for teachers to observe, listen,
and document children’s developmental
progress is an important advantage that
small groups have over large groups. The
snail exploration example illustrates how
the teachers included documentation in a
small-group activity.
During one of their discussions about
their observations of the children’s
interest in the snails, the teachers
reviewed the measures on the DRDP
that might relate to the children’s
small-group experiences with snails.
They decided to do focused exploration of snails, with small groups of
four to six children. In a small group,
children would have an easier time
building relationships with each other
and with the teacher, a learning goal
for the whole class. With each small
group, the teacher helped the children
create a snail habitat in the science
interest area. The children could
return to the interest area throughout
the day for exploration. The teacher
and small group worked together
over days to transform a glass ter-
rarium into a habitat for snails, with
dirt, plants, and enough space for
other small creatures. That morning,
the parent of a child whose home
language was Russian had helped
a teacher write out in Russian the
words snail, eyes, and shell on each
of three folded index cards, with the
corresponding words in English on
the opposite side of each card. These
cards were placed next to the snail
habitat in the science area. A parallel
set of Spanish and English cards were
also next to the habitat.
During one small-group discussion,
the teacher introduced an illustration
of a snail labeled with the words eye,
tentacle, and shell. Pepe, whose home
language was Spanish and who was
not yet speaking English, had spent
much time playing with the snail
habitats in the science area the past
week. With a look of excitement, Pepe
walked to the illustration of the snail,
caught the teacher’s eyes, and then
pointed to his own eyes. The teacher
responded, “Eyes! Yes, those are the
snail’s eyes, Pepe. How do you say
eyes in Spanish?” The teacher waited
for Pepe to respond and then commented, “You’re making the tentacles,
too, I see!”
Teacher-guided activities
in large groups
Large groups work well for singing,
playing games, engaging in discussions,
sharing stories, building a sense of community, and organizing the whole group’s
schedule and activities. When children
gather as a whole class, they can share
experiences with one another and engage
in large-group activities such as singing and acting out a song or listening to
a story. Storytelling allows teachers, as
well as storytellers from the community,
to connect with children’s knowledge
and experiences in meaningful ways.
Teachers can also use large-group time
to share what new experiences will be
available in the interest areas or what
will happen in small groups. Large-group
gatherings at the end of class time provide opportunities to review noteworthy
happenings that day and to anticipate
what will be available the next day. While
doing the snail exploration, the teachers
used the large-group context to support
the children’s learning in several ways.
For example:
To generate interest in snails, the
teachers announced to the children
during large-group circle time that
the snail trays would be available for
exploration. The teachers also used
the large-group circle to read books
and tell stories about snails. One
teacher invented a simple clapping
chant to play with the /s/ sound in
the new and now popular words—
snails and slugs—“slippery snails and
slugs slowly slithering make slimy
stripes.” She knew how much the
children enjoyed chants, songs, and
finger plays. She also knew the value
in helping children to hear and make
distinct sounds of oral language.
In the large group, the teachers
pointed out that a new kind of helper
had been added to the helper chart.
Now, two of the children would be
“snail helpers.” From then on, each
day during large-group time, children
checked to see whose name cards had
been placed next to the snail photo on
the helper chart. In the large group,
children reported on some of the things
they had been doing in their smallgroup explorations of snails.
Daily routines as curriculum
Curriculum plans include ideas for
involving children in daily routines and
making routines an important context for
learning, in general, and for social-emotional development, in particular. Daily
routines provide natural opportunities for
children to apply emerging skills, take on
responsibilities, and cooperate. Teachers
integrate engaging learning opportunities into the everyday routines of arrivals, departures, mealtimes, naptimes,
hand washing, setup, and clean-up, both
indoors and outdoors. Children enthusiastically apply emerging skills to daily
routines: when they are helpers who ring
the bell for coming inside; when they
count how many are ready for lunch;
when they move a card with their photo
and name from the “home” column to the
“preschool” column of a chart near the
room entry; when they put their name
on a waiting list to paint at the easel; or
when they help set the table for a meal,
making sure that each place has a plate,
utensils, and a cup. Such routines offer
opportunities for children to build language skills, to learn the rituals of sharing time with others, and to relate one
action in a sequence to another. Over the
course of the snail exploration, the teachers planned ways to extend children’s
learning within the daily routine.
With “snail helpers” added to the
helper chart, teachers involved children in setting up the snail trays in the
science interest area. The designated
snail helpers counted out four trays as
well as the specific number of snails
for each tray. Children learned how
to check and replace the frozen water
bottle. The surface provided snails
with moisture and water from condensation. The children also counted out
paper towels to use for cleaning the
glass walls of the habitat.
The Curriculum-Planning
lanning preschool curriculum begins
with teachers discovering, through
careful listening and observation, each
child’s development. Observation is an
essential skill for a teacher. When teachers mindfully observe, they discover how
individual children make meaning in
everyday moments of play and interactions and how to deepen their relationships with children.27 Observing for the
purpose of assessing individual children’s
learning means carefully watching and
listening, with thought and reflection. In
doing so, teachers find evidence of individual children’s meaning making. It may
be evidence that pertains to individual
children’s emotional, social, cognitive,
or physical development. If the evidence
is clear and significant, teachers hold it
in memory with, for example, a note, a
photo, or a sample of a child’s work. The
evidence will often relate to the descriptive levels of the DRDP, which provide a
full range of measures of children’s developmental progress. Teachers working on
the snail exploration found various ways
in which the children’s engagement in
learning about snails related to the developmental profiles of different children.
For example:
As the children’s interest in the snails
continued, the teachers looked for
ways to expand learning opportunities
and integrate them into the
multifaceted experience. The teachers
also reviewed individual children’s
developmental profiles to be mindful
of children’s developmental progress
in different areas. In addition to the
many counting opportunities in the
environment, the teachers decided to
integrate counting into the children’s
exploration of snails. Younger children
who were making progress with learning to count objects between five and
ten were invited to set up a specific
number (less than ten) of trays and
Before the children started, the teachers reminded them of an earlier
conversation about how to care for
snails. In response, one of the children asked to show the others how
to handle the snails gently. (Learning
about counting was happening at the
same time as learning about controlling the impulse to handle other creatures roughly instead of being gentle
with them.) Teachers suggested to
other children who were continuing
to make progress with counting to
count out a quantity of sticks, bark,
or leaves greater than ten. Other children were asked to divide the snails
evenly between the trays. The children kept saying to themselves, “Be
gentle,” and handled the snails with
great care.
As teachers observed each group,
they helped children develop mathematical thinking by prompting them
and asking questions. For example, at
one table, a teacher noticed that children were counting some sticks twice.
She said, “I wonder what would happen if we put each stick on the other
side of the tray after counting it.” The
children tried out this idea. Teachers
noted children’s efforts and placed
the notes, with the date recorded, into
the children’s individual portfolios to
be used as evidence for later refer-
ence when considering developmental
progress on the DRDP measures of
number sense and impulse control.
As teachers observe children’s play
and interactions, they discover ways to
support children’s learning. Ideas for
the next steps in curriculum planning
emerge as teachers reflect on how they
might extend or expand children’s thinking, language, and interactions. Observation, reflection, and documentation in the
moment simultaneously launch an ongoing assessment of each child’s progress
in learning as well as the curriculumplanning cycle.
Observe, reflect, record
Observation means being present with
children and attentive as they play and
interact with others and the environment.
This mindful kind of presence is different from participating in children’s play
or directing their play. Whether for one
minute or five, an attentive, mindful presence means waiting to see what unfolds
in order to gain a complete picture of
children’s play. A teacher who observes
children as a first step in supporting
learning discovers small scientists at
work—experimenting, comparing, making assumptions, evaluating assumptions
through their actions, and, over time,
building mastery of a wide range of concepts and skills. The vignette about the
snail exploration illustrates the role of the
teacher as observer.
During small-group time with the
snails, the teacher noticed a child who
had been reluctant to hold a snail.
This child had a visual impairment.
As the teacher gently placed a snail
on this child’s hand, two children
watched and listened as the teacher
commented, “He’s sticking his head
out now, and he’s turned toward your
fingers. Can you feel him crawling
toward your fingers?” The other children who had been watching intently
began to repeat the teacher’s encouraging words, saying, “He’s sticking
his head out. He’s going toward your
The teacher wrote down her observations and added an interpretive note
that the children’s behavior may be a
The curriculum-planning cycle
growing sign of empathy as measured
by the DRDP, and the other child’s
willingness to hold the snail, a growing sign of curiosity and initiative, also
a DRDP measure.
Documenting means gathering and
holding evidence of children’s play and
interests for future use. A common form
of documentation in early childhood settings is a written note, often referred to as
an observation anecdote. Anecdotal notes,
along with other forms of documentation,
in particular photos, video recordings,
and work samples, serve a dual purpose.
First, they hold memories of a teacher’s
observations of children’s expressions of
feelings, their thinking, and their learning
that are guides to the next steps in dayto-day curriculum planning. And second,
anecdotal notes and other evidence can
be used to support a teacher’s periodic
assessment of a child’s progress in competencies measured by the DRDP. An
episode during the snail exploration highlights the dual purpose of documentation.
During their initial encounters with
the snails, the children asked questions and made comments about
the snail shells, the way the snails
moved across the tray, and what the
snails ate. Although several children
were reluctant to pick up the snails,
others were challenged by having to
wait. The teachers recorded children’s
distinct responses, writing down significant elements of what children
said or did. For example, for a child
with identified special needs related
to self-regulation, a teacher noted:
“Jasmine pushed aside Yuri in order
to pick up the snail crawling off the
tray. Yuri stumbled, fell, and began to
cry. Jasmine continued to focus on the
snail, saying nothing to Yuri.” For the
teacher, Jasmine’s behavior was significant. This anecdotal note provided
some evidence of Jasmine’s struggles
with impulse control. It added to the
growing evidence that Jasmine was
still developing impulse control and
empathy. Later, as the teacher shared
her observation with her co-teacher
and with Jasmine’s father in a conference, they discussed how the smallgroup work around keeping the snails
safe might support Jasmine as well
as other children in reading cues of
others and in thinking before acting in
order to keep people safe.
Reflect, discuss, plan
As teachers reflect on children’s play,
they discover possibilities for designing
curriculum to sustain, extend, and help
children’s play to be more complex and,
consequently, support the children’s continuing learning. Teachers review ideas
for possible next steps in the curriculum. Possible steps might include adding
materials to interest areas, books to read
with large or small groups, activities to
do in small groups, or a topic to investigate over time with the children. With
clear ideas or objectives in mind, teachers
plan curriculum that includes strategies
to enhance the learning of all children
in a group, as well as strategies to support the learning of individual children.
How reflection, discussion, and planning
worked in the snail exploration is what
will be examined next.
While the children were exploring
snails, teachers met each week to
reflect and plan for the next steps
in the children’s explorations. They
decided to schedule time for small
groups of children to explore the
snails in a more focused way, hoping
to extend the children’s learning and
add complexity. The teachers planned
a series of walks that would allow all
the children to find snails in natural
Once a plan is written, teachers implement it. While implementing a plan,
teachers observe, reflect, and document.
The curriculum-planning cycle begins
again (or continues) as teachers watch
to discover how children respond to the
planned curriculum and how children
show evidence of their development during the planned learning encounters.
Teachers often approach this step with
a sense of wonder, for they may be surprised and amazed by the children’s
responses. To hold the responses in
memory, teachers may record notes,
take a photo, or label, date, and keep a
work sample, all of which they can later
review to assess the impact of the curriculum plans. The evidence collected will
help teachers to come up with ideas for
supporting and assessing the children’s
learning. Teachers might ponder the following questions:
• Are children responding as predicted,
or were there surprises?
• What do the children’s responses tell
us? How might we name the children’s
interest(s) or intention(s)? What concepts and ideas are the children forming within their play?
• How might children who are English
learners and children who speak English collaborate in small groups to
learn from one another?
• Are children showing evidence of progress on any of the measures of the
Here is what happened when the teachers implemented their idea of going on
walks with the children to find snails in
natural habitats:
Before going on their snail hunt, a
small group of children gathered on a
blanket with the teacher. Each child
was provided with a clipboard with
paper for taking “notes” while the
teacher explained how the walk would
be a way to find snails that lived outside their classroom. Some children
pretended to write while the teacher
talked, while others drew pictures of
snails. In this group, teachers included
two children who were fluent in Spanish and learning English. The teachers
anticipated much conversation among
children during the search for the snails
and wanted to give these children a
chance to converse in their home language as well as to share experiences
with peers who spoke only English.
Before heading off on the hunt, the
teacher suggested, “Let’s estimate.
How many snails do you think we will
find? Each of you can guess.” On a
large sheet of paper that the children
could easily see, she wrote each child’s
name, saying each letter as she did
so, and next to each name, the number
guessed by that child.
Armed with magnifying glasses, the
children went off to collect snails.
There were many discoveries along
the walk, not just snails. As children
found snails, they carried them to a
large examination tray set up on a
table. Some children took a break from
their snail search to examine, touch,
and draw the snails already collected.
At the end of the hunt, the children
lined up the snails on a small log and
counted them. The teacher suggested
they compare the number they counted
with their estimates.
Before returning to their classroom, the
children put the snails back into their
natural habitats. The children were
excited about sharing their experiences
with other teachers and peers when
they returned.
The teachers examined and reflected
on what they saw in the children’s
writings and drawings on the clipboards. They decided that some of
the work samples were significant in
showing how individual children were
developing an idea, concept, or skill.
They filed those samples in the children’s portfolios as evidence of developmental progress.
Partnering with families
in curriculum planning
As the snail-exploration vignette illustrates in several places, teachers also
include the children’s families in supporting children’s learning. Teachers find it
particularly helpful to share documentation of children’s learning with children’s
family members. When families and
teachers reflect together on documentation of children’s play and learning, family
members offer insights into the children’s
behavior and ideas, as well as share
expectations of their children at home or
in the community. Teachers also provide
resources to families in order to bridge
children’s experiences in preschool with
experiences at home and in the community. For example, the teachers used
the children’s interest in the snails to
support family members’ participation
in creating learning opportunities in the
following way.
During the snail exploration, teachers
posted near the entry a note with a
photo of children exploring snails at
the science table. They suggested to
families to consider doing a snail hunt
on the way to school, in a park, or in
a yard. A stack of copies of the snail
diagram with the words eyes, tentacles, and shell written in Spanish,
English, and Russian was available
for family members to take with them.
Connections: Fertile ground
for making meaning
The snail vignette illustrates how
teachers can help children make connections and thereby make meaning. This
exploration allowed children to investigate and learn about creatures from the
outdoor environment in the classroom. In
doing so, the children were able to make
meaning about snails’ natural habitats
while encountering opportunities to
engage in integrated learning in every
Young children’s experiences at home
and in their communities are a powerful
source of connections. Teachers nurture
children’s appetites for learning and
making meaning by building upon the
knowledge children bring to the preschool
setting. For example, children may come
to preschool with knowledge of many
family stories. Their teachers may have
observed that the children used the stories in the dramatic play area. However,
the children did not seem to be aware
that their stories could be written down
and then read by someone else. In such a
case, teachers can partner with families
to create a story dictation study. In planning the snail exploration, the teachers
and family members may ask:
• Would the children be interested in
seeing their family stories written
down, and would such experiences
help them increase their awareness of
print in the world around them?
• What strategies or adaptations might
help a child who is nonverbal to
become engaged in family storytelling?
• Would children in the group who are
English learners make the connection
to print more easily if they can dictate
their stories in their home language
to family members or community
• What topics may be interesting and
engaging for children to dictate? What
kinds of questions would help individual children, English learners, or children with diverse cultural experiences
to get started with dictation?
• How might the activity be adapted to
accommodate children with disabilities
or other special needs?
• Would asking children about how
their family helps them get ready for
preschool encourage them to dictate
a meaningful experience?
• Would a child who likes to draw pictures have an easy time dictating
a story about a drawing?
Teachers can explore these questions
and see where the exploration leads.
When teachers embed children’s learning
into their lives, into contexts that they
have experienced, teachers make everything more comprehensible for them.
Teachers also engage children’s emotions,
making the experience both cognitive and
pleasurable. The key is to find out which
connections are meaningful for each
individual child. When teachers discover
what may be personally meaningful for
a child, there is a good chance of fully
engaging that child in making meaning
and learning.
Implementation of the
he concepts and strategies require
thoughtful planning and implementation. They are grounded in evidencebased practices that have evolved in the
field of early childhood education over
decades. The ability to apply a broad
understanding of early learning and
development in the preschool setting
takes time and experience. For teachers
to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to approach curriculum as this
framework envisions, opportunities for
professional development are essential.
The CDE’s preschool learning foundations and the preschool curriculum
framework offer well-researched documents informed by practice that can be
used for both preservice and in-service
professional development. Those two documents are part of California’s Preschool
Learning System, along with program
guidelines, the PEL Resource Guide, professional development activities, and the
Desired Results assessment system. With
appropriate professional development,
preschool administrators and teachers
can use this curriculum framework to
guide their planning and implementation
of environments and experiences that
allow all young children to prosper during
the preschool years.
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The California
Early Learning
and Development
hapter 1 highlights how all preschool children
enthusiastically engage in learning. Their active
minds continually explore ideas and seek to
make meaning as they play. To make the most out of
their lively engagement with the social and physical
worlds, young children need teachers who share and
guide their learning experiences. Research on the
benefits of high-quality preschool confirms the essential role of the teacher. It is important for teachers
to be knowledgeable about young children’s learning
and skillful at helping individual children and small
groups of children build their knowledge and skills.
To support early childhood teachers,
the California Early Learning and Development System (see Appendix A) provides an
integrated set of resources based on stateof-the-art information on early learning
and development and best practices in
early education. Each component area in
the system provides resources that focus
on a different aspect of supporting preschool teachers and links to the resources
provided in every other component of the
system. This chapter provides an overview
of these different component areas and a
highlight of some of the resources. One
of the system’s resources, the Desired
Results Development Profile (DRDP),
is described in greater detail than the
others. This resource allows teachers to
assess children’s progress in key areas
of learning, which is integral to curriculum planning. A description of each
component area follows.
Preschool Learning
t the center of the California Early
Learning and Development System
are the California preschool learning
foundations. The foundations describe
competencies—knowledge and skills—
that all young children typically learn
with appropriate support. Three volumes
of foundations are being developed that,
taken together, cover nine developmental
domains. Already published, Volume 1
includes foundations in the domains of
social-emotional development, language
and literacy, English-language development, and mathematics. Volume 2 will
cover the domains of visual and performing arts, physical development, and
health. Finally, Volume 3 will focus on the
domains of history-social science and science. Together, the foundations present
a comprehensive view of what preschool
children learn through child-initiated
play and teacher-guided experiences and
environments, offering rich background
information for teachers to consider as
they plan for children. The foundations
describe major areas of learning in which
intentional teaching can support young
children’s progress in preschool.
The foundations identify key areas of
potential learning. While moving in the
direction identified by each foundation,
each child will progress along a unique
path that reflects both the child’s
individuality and cultural and linguistic
experiences. In essence, the foundations
help teachers to understand children’s
learning and focus on intentional teaching. Other resources for supporting intentional teaching are organized around the
foundations. As explained in Chapter 1,
strategies for fostering children’s learning in each area are organized by the
domains, strands, and substrands specified in the three volumes of the foundations. In addition, the DRDP is currently
undergoing alignment with the foundations. The final alignment will occur after
the third (final) volume of the foundations
is completed. The alignment of the DRDP
with the foundations will promote a more
integrated profile of each child. Instead of
a developmental profile of a large number
of indicators, the fully aligned DRDP will
provide a profile of individual children’s
progress in each domain. With DRDP
information focused on the domain areas,
teachers will be able to use the curriculum framework to support each child’s
learning in various domains in an integrated way.
The foundations are also central to
the other components of the California
Early Learning and Development System:
namely, program guidelines and other
resources and professional development. The program guidelines and other
resources cover a broad range of policies
and practices that influence program
quality, including the design of indoor
and outdoor learning environments, partnerships with families, cultural diversity,
inclusion of children with special needs,
and professional ethics. In implementing recommended policies and practices,
program directors and teachers set the
stage for intentional curriculum planning
aligned to the preschool learning foundations. As for professional development,
the California Department of Education
has initiated a multifaceted strategy of
providing training and technical assistance, which is aligned with the preschool
learning foundations to support the use
of all resources in the early learning
Preschool Curriculum
ngoing classroom planning is an
integral part of intentional teaching. The California Preschool Curriculum
Framework, Volumes 1, 2, and 3 will be
the resources in the early learning system
that pertain to planning for children’s
learning. Each volume of the curriculum
framework addresses domains in the
corresponding volume of foundations.
Volume 1 has chapters on each of the
domains addressed in the California Preschool Learning Foundations, Volume 1:
social-emotional development, language
and literacy, English-language development, and mathematics. The curriculum framework presents an integrated
approach to the planning of environments, interactions, and strategies to
support young children’s learning in
those domains.
Each chapter offers an in-depth look at
ways to help children acquire knowledge
and skills in a specific area, always in
the context of an integrated approach
to support learning. In other words,
each domain chapter puts the spotlight
on a particular domain, for example,
social-emotional development, and the
strategies presented in the chapter foster
learning in other domains.
The alignment between the curriculum
framework and the foundations is easy
to see. In a nutshell, the content of each
domain chapter in the curriculum frame-
work is organized into the strands and
substrands of the corresponding domain
in the foundations document.
In the early learning system, the curriculum framework is the resource that
supports teachers’ ongoing planning.
The curriculum framework includes
principles, concepts, and practices that
reflect a developmentally appropriate
approach to plan learning environments,
interactions, experiences, and daily routines for young children. In contrast to
the approach of some preschool curricula, the curriculum framework does
not prescribe activities that teachers
are expected to follow. It is flexible and
designed to foster respect for the diversity
of preschool children, teachers, communities, and programs in California. The
curriculum framework encourages teachers to adapt to individual and cultural
and linguistic diversity while supporting
children’s ongoing process of making
Desired Results
Assessment System
Desired Results Developmental
Teachers gain general knowledge of
young children’s learning from the foundations and ideas for supporting learning from the curriculum framework, but
neither of these resources inform teachers about individual children’s learning and developmental progress. The
resources in the early learning system
that assist teachers with documenting
individual children’s progress are the
Desired Results Developmental Profile
(DRDP) preschool instrument and the
Desired Results Developmental Profile
access (DRDP access),a both components
of the CDE’s Desired Results assessment
system. The DRDP is an observational
assessment instrument that is being
aligned to the foundations. It provides
teachers with a developmental profile of
each child’s progress. In addition, teachers can look at the individual profiles for
an entire classroom to see the extent to
which all children in a group are making
progress and benefiting from the teachers’ ongoing classroom planning.
Information gained from the DRDP
helps teachers plan for both individual
children and for small groups of children.
As illustrated in the snail example in
Chapter 1, teachers review individual
children’s developmental profiles for any
emerging knowledge and skills that might
be supported in a small-group learning
experience. In the example, based on the
review of younger children’s progress
with learning to count objects between
five and ten, the teachers invited the
The DRDP access is an alternative assessment
instrument that can be used for children three
to five years of age who have a disability. This
observation-based assessment instrument is based
on a continuum that reflects a broader range of
developmental abilities. Each child’s Individualized
Education Program (IEP) team determines which
assessment instrument will be used. Most children’s
progress will be documented by the DRDP. In
the remainder of this chapter, unless “preschool
instrument” is specifically indicated, the term DRDP
refers to both the DRDP preschool instrument and
the DRDP access.
children to set up a specific number (less
than ten) of trays and snails. (The entire
snail vignette appears on pages 14–23 of
Chapter 1.) Teachers suggested to other
children who were continuing to make
progress with counting to count out a
quantity of sticks, bark, or leaves greater
than ten. Other children were asked to
divide the snails evenly among the trays.
Teachers noted children’s efforts and
placed the notes, with the date recorded,
into the children’s individual portfolios
to be used as evidence of developmental
progress on the DRDP measures of
number sense. This example illustrates
how teachers observe and document
learning as children engage in play.
Documenting an individual child’s
learning is key in teachers’ efforts to
deepen their understanding of how to
support each child’s learning and development. As teachers observe and document what engages children in learning,
especially during child-initiated play,
they simultaneously reflect on what they
observe, document significant aspects
through notetaking or a photo, and begin
to appreciate each child’s creation of
meaning. Ongoing observation, reflection, and documentation occur throughout each day. Teachers continually gain
insights and find new ways to connect
with the children’s developing competencies, expand children’s thinking,
and encourage further exploration of an
emerging idea or ability. The day-to-day
documentation of children’s learning
experiences becomes the source for periodic assessment of children’s developmental progress.
Teachers use the documentation they
have gathered over time to complete a
DRDP for each child. These assessment
instruments produce developmental
profiles for each child across the major
domains of learning and development,
such as social-emotional development,
language and literacy, English-language
development, and mathematics.
To facilitate curriculum planning, the
DRDP preschool instrument summarizes
children’s progress along a continuum of
four levels:
• Exploring: Child shows awareness of
the new knowledge or skill and tries it
• Developing: Child gains some control
of the new knowledge or skill, demonstrating basic competency.
• Building: Child refines and expands
new knowledge or skill.
• Integrating: Child connects and combines the new knowledge or skill with
other knowledge or skills.
The resulting developmental profile for
each child shows the domains in which
the child has made progress and whether
there are any domains in which he or she
needs additional support. As the vignette
about investigating snails in Chapter 1
illustrates, teachers use information
gained from the DRDP to provide each
child with an appropriate level of challenge in specific knowledge and skill
areas as children engage in an integrated
learning experience.
At all times, young children’s learning is integrated. Every experience offers
them an opportunity to develop a wide
range of knowledge and skills. Likewise,
every experience typically engages more
than a single competency as children
learn. One of the most important competencies that preschool children possess is
language. As described in Chapter 1, children who are learning English as well as
their home language use both languages
as they learn in all domains. Because
English learners may show their knowledge of, for example, mathematics, or the
arts using their home language, teachers
often document and assess demonstration of knowledge and skills in a child’s
home language. The DRDP user’s guideb
and training information provide guidance to teachers on how to document
and assess competencies that English
learners demonstrate using their home
Families play an essential role in their
preschool children’s learning. They know
their children better than anyone else and
are able to provide insights and ideas that
add to teachers’ understanding of children. Reflection on documentation and a
child’s individual profile of developmental progress in partnership with family
members strengthens the entire curriculum-planning process. Partnering with
families in this process honors their role
in their children’s learning and communicates respect. Together, teachers and
families can generate ideas and activities
to foster children’s development of emerging knowledge and skills at both school
and home.
The DRDP is part of the Desired
Results assessment system, which, in
turn, is part of the larger California Early
Learning and Development System. In
addition to the DRDP, the Desired Results
system includes the Desired Results
Parent Survey and the Environment
Rating Scale (ERS). Information collected
through the system of Desired Results
assessment instruments allows early educators to review, evaluate, and reflect on:
• the strengths of their program (for
example, a program may already
provide a rich collection of literacy
• ways to increase the quality of their
programs (for example, a program may
discover a need to increase the variety
of activities and interactions it offers
to support children’s mathematics
The DRDP user’s guide is available at http://www.
learning both in the preschool classroom and at home by partnering with
the children’s families); and
• the effectiveness of their curriculum
(for example, information on the children’s current progress in engaging in
cooperative play would help teachers
focus their curriculum planning on the
area of social-emotional development).
Desired Results Parent Survey
The Desired Results Parent Survey
is used (1) to assess parent satisfaction
with the early childhood program, and
(2) to gain an understanding of families’
strengths and needs in supporting their
children’s learning and development and
in achieving their goals. Programs conduct this survey annually as part of the
program’s self-review.
Teachers reflect on information from
the survey to understand additional
information about the children and the
program, to identify program strengths,
and to determine ways to facilitate family participation in the program and help
family members build their capacities
to support their children’s learning and
Environment Rating Scale
The Environment Rating Scale (ERS)
assesses the quality of the learning environment (see Harms, Clifford, and Cryer
2005, p. 92). Specifically, teachers use
the ERS to assess the quality of the interactions, the space, the schedule, and
materials they provide to their group of
children. The ERS is completed, summarized, analyzed, and then considered
in program improvement plans once
a year. Teachers combine information
gained from the ERS with other sources
to engage in long-term planning and continual program improvement.
Program Guidelines
and Other Resources
Prekindergarten Learning &
Development Guidelines
The CDE offers several resources:
The Prekindergarten Learning & Development Guidelines recommends policies
and practices that enhance the quality of
preschool programs. In addition to giving
an overview of preschool children’s learning and development and curriculum
planning, the publication covers a broad
range of topics that contribute to program quality:
Planning the Preschool Environment
Addressing Cultural Diversity
Planning for Assessment
Including Children with Disabilities
or Other Special Needs
• Involving Parents and Families
• Organizing Staff Preparation and
Development Programs
As stated earlier in this chapter, the
recommendations set forth in the prekindergarten guidelines set the stage
for intentional teaching and curriculum planning centered on the preschool
learning foundations.
Preschool English Learners
Resource Guide
The CDE publication Preschool English
Learners: Principles and Practices to Promote Language, Literacy, and Learning
(PEL Resource Guide) provides guidance
on how to support preschool children
who are learning English as a second
language. This resource guide highlights
the role of families in language and literacy development as well as the importance of connecting preschool and the
home language. It is organized around
ten principles and accompanying practices. For example, Principle 2 states:
“Children benefit when their teachers
understand cultural differences in language use and incorporate them into the
daily routine.” It goes on to state: “Culturally responsive teaching practices in
the preschool classroom create a positive
learning environment. They incorporate
the linguistic and cultural resources that
children bring with them and thereby promote their learning and overall growth.”
The PEL Resource Guide works in tandem with the preschool learning foundations. It provides expanded information
about the domain of English-language
development. It also provides details on
strategies to support children’s ongoing
learning and use of their home language
as well as English. Teachers can draw on
these strategies as they engage in curriculum planning.
A World Full of Language:
Supporting Preschool English
A resource that complements the
PEL Resource Guide is A World Full of
Language: Supporting Preschool English
Learners. Available in both English and
Spanish from the CDE, this DVD first
gives an overview of the discussion of
second-language learning in the resource
guide. It then presents the following five
strategies that support second-language
Honor the Home Language
Create a Climate of Belonging
Provide Scaffolds
Focus on the Children’s Interests
Encourage Peer Support
These strategies are followed by the
following five strategies that support
preschool children’s inclination toward
• Strengthen Interest in Print
Build Letter Knowledge
Draw Attention to Sounds
Make Books and Stories Come Alive
Link Literacy to Home and Community
Of course, the above strategies apply
to all children. The DVD shows how the
strategies contribute to the learning of
children who are developing knowledge
and skills in two languages—their home
language and English. If supported well
during the preschool years, children who
are on the path to bilingualism have an
opportunity to become competent in two
languages and cultures and therefore better equipped for an increasingly global
Professional Development
rofessional development makes the
California Early Learning and Development System come alive for teachers
and program directors. The CDE is taking
a multifaceted approach to promoting the
use of the early learning system in professional development. Initiatives include
the preparation and ongoing professional
development of preschool teachers in twoyear and four-year colleges. In addition,
a network has been created to support
the continuing development of current
preschool teachers. To guide efforts to
foster professional development, the CDE
has partnered with First 5 California to
develop Early Childhood Educator Competencies that are aligned with the preschool learning foundations and all other
resources in the California Early Learning
and Development System. These competencies describe the knowledge, skills, and
dispositions of early childhood educators
and will become the CDE’s cornerstone
for professional development, training,
and technical assistance.
In-Depth Understanding
and Planning for
Children’s Integrated
he different resources and activities
that make up the California Early
Learning and Development System offer
preschool program directors and teachers
opportunities to explore a wide variety of
topics in depth. Likewise, this curriculum
framework reflects a dual emphasis on
breadth and depth. Teachers can use this
framework to consider the details of curriculum planning in different domains. At
the same time, rather than being isolated
from learning in other domains, the strategies presented for one domain are connected with learning in other domains. In
deepening understanding of each domain,
one can see new possibilities for integrating curriculum planning and connecting children’s learning experiences. The
chapters that follow in this curriculum
framework explore in depth the domains
of social-emotional development, language
and literacy, English-language development, and mathematics. As the snail
vignette in Chapter 1 illustrates, teachers
draw on their in-depth understanding of
children’s learning in different domains.
As teachers observe, reflect upon, and
document each child’s engagement in
making meaning, their knowledge of strategies that support learning in various
domains helps them use an integrated
approach when planning curriculum. With
in-depth knowledge of how to support
knowledge and skill development in every
domain, teachers can more easily focus
on a specific area of learning while being
responsive to each child’s entire learning
ocial-emotional development indicates how preschool children
acquire the social skills, self-awareness, and personal qualities
that are interconnected with learning in a classroom. This developmental domain is divided into three interrelated strands.
• The first, Self, covers the qualities of
self-awareness, self-confidence, and
personality that enable young children
to be competent learners.1, 2, 3 Included
in this strand are the development of
self-awareness and self-confidence;
self-regulation (of attention, feelings,
impulses, and thinking); social and
emotional understanding; the growth
of empathy and caring for others;
and preschool children’s initiative as
enthusiastic, active learners.
• The second, Social Interaction, includes
the skills for interacting competently
with adults and peers in formal and
informal learning contexts.4 Included
in this strand are the growth of social
skills for interaction with familiar adults
and with peers, understanding of the
roles and responsibilities of group
participation, and acquisition of the
capacity for responsible behavior and
cooperation with adult instructions.
• The third, Relationships, focuses on
how close relationships influence young
children’s learning in direct and indirect
ways.5, 6 Included
in this strand,
for example,
are preschool children’s attachments
to parents and the bridges between
home and the preschool program that
support children’s learning, close relationships with special teachers and
caregivers, and friendships with other
Why is social-emotional development
important to early learning? One
reason is that many social-emotional
qualities—such as curiosity; self-confidence as a learner; self-control of
attention, thinking, and impulses; and
initiative in developing new ideas—are
essential to learning at any age. Learning,
problem solving, and creativity rely on
these social-emotional and motivational
qualities as well as basic cognitive skills.
Another reason is that when learning
occurs in groups, such as in preschool
classrooms or family child care programs,
the social environment significantly influences how learning occurs. When young
children enjoy interacting with adults and
other children, they are more enthusiastic
about activities and participate more.7, 8
Furthermore, the interest and enthusiasm of others fuels the child’s own
excitement about learning, and children
are also motivated by others’ acknowledgment of the child’s accomplishments.
Interviews with preschool and kindergarten teachers indicate that children
who have the greatest difficulties in learning are hindered by the lack of these
social-emotional qualities more than by
the inability to identify letters or numbers.9, 10 Children who are delayed or
impaired in developing these socialemotional and motivational qualities:
• may have difficulty controlling their
emotions or behavior,
• may not readily work independently or
in a group,
• often appear to lack curiosity or be
uninterested in learning, and
• may have difficulties getting along
with others, which may undermine the
learning environment for all children.
Finally, the importance of socialemotional development to early learning is
consistent with the research on brain science.11 The developing brain is not neatly
divided into separate areas governing
learning, thinking, and emotions. Instead,
it is a highly interconnected organ with
different regions influencing, and being
affected by, the others. This means, for
example, that young children who experience emotional challenges (perhaps
because of stress) are less ready for learning because brain regions related to memory are being affected by other regions
governing emotion. This conclusion from
brain research is, of course, consistent
with the everyday experience of teachers
of children whose stressful lives often lead
to emotional, behavioral, and learning
Early learning is thus supported by
attention to social-emotional development.
Indeed, rather than taking time away from
activities promoting learning and thinking, attention to the development of self,
social interactions, and relationships is an
essential component of an early childhood
curriculum designed to promote learning
in all young children.
Guiding Principles
Support social-emotional development with intentionality
Attention to the domain of social-emotional development is important. Most
children learn in this domain somewhat differently from the way that they
acquire language, number concepts, or
other academic skills. Growth in social
and emotional competencies is not primarily the outcome of specific content
taught in a program of organized lessons, but early childhood educators
must be as deliberate and intentional
in promoting social-emotional development as they are in designing curricula to encourage literacy or number
skills. Indeed, they must be even more
thoughtful in doing so because supporting learning in this domain is
implicit in the design of the classroom
environment, in the formal and informal
moment-by-moment interactions they
share with children, and in many other
planned and spontaneous activities. In
addition, some children need intentional
teaching of specific skills and content to
acquire social skills.
Children also need ample opportunities
to practice the skills in order to internalize them.12 Social-emotional development is supported in an early childhood
classroom only when adults are mindful
of the many ways they influence preschool children’s self-awareness,
social skills, emotional understanding,
personality, and other qualities.13
Attend to the impact of overall
program design on social-emotional
Creating an early childhood program
that supports social-emotional development depends on how the overall program is designed, the child’s role in the
learning environment, and the kinds
of social interactions that occur there.
Group activities specifically planned to
focus on caring, cooperation, or friendship skills can play an essential role in
the curriculum. That role, however, is
to reinforce and extend broader lessons
that are learned through (a) the ways
that teachers interact with children
throughout the day, and (b) teachers’
intentional modeling and coaching in
many formal and informal social contexts.
Utilize curriculum practices that
support healthy social-emotional
Research indicates that there are
practices that support healthy socialemotional development in children.14
These include an overall program
curriculum that provides guidance
for designing the indoor and outdoor
environment, routines and activities,
and teacher–child interactions. To
successfully support social-emotional
development, the curriculum must be
designed to:
• allow many opportunities for practicing social interaction and relationship skills;
• provide support for the growth of
age- and developmentally appropriate self-regulation abilities;
• encourage curiosity and initiative;
• provide each child a network of nurturing, dependable adults who will
actively support and scaffold his or
her learning in a group setting.
Children and Stress
dults hope to protect young children
from trauma and adversity, but for
many children, experiences of overwhelming stress are part of everyday life. Living at
home with a depressed parent, experiencing
physical or sexual abuse, witnessing domestic violence, coping at home with a parent
who has an alcohol or other substance
abuse problem, chronic poverty, and similar experiences can be crushing for young
children. Such experiences are called “toxic
stress” and can lead to physical and mental
health problems (National Scientific Council
on the Developing Child 2005). Those experiences exceed young children’s capacity for
coping, especially when children lack the
support of a warm, competent adult to help
them manage the stress. There is growing
evidence that the experience of chronic,
unpredictable, and overwhelming stress
in the early years can lead to the development of neurobiological stress systems in
the brain that are sensitive to threat and
lead young children to overreact to ordinary
stressful events (National Scientific Council
on the Developing Child 2005).
Stress is a part of everyday experience, of
course, and this is as true for young children
as it is for adults. In most cases, children
encounter stresses that are manageable
for them, whether they involve getting
an immunization, tolerating a sibling’s
teasing, or recovering from a frightening
fall. Moreover, young children can usually
rely on the assistance of trusted adults to
help them cope with everyday stresses.
Research has shown that toddlers in secure
relationships with their mothers are better
able to manage frightening events, both
emotionally and physiologically, compared
with toddlers in insecure parent–child
relationships (Nachmias et al. 1996). Because
young children ordinarily rely on the support
of trusted adults in coping with stress in their
lives, experiences in which their caregivers
are threatening or unavailable can be
especially difficult for them.
Teachers in an early childhood education
program are often the first persons outside
the family to become aware that a young
child may be experiencing overwhelming
stress. They may notice a child who reacts
Encourage play-based active
A play-based, active learning approach
is most effective in accomplishing
these goals.15 Children must be allowed
to freely choose and pursue interests
and activities, both alone and with others. They must be allowed to translate
their own thoughts, ideas, and preferences into new activities and experiments.16 They must also have access
to these opportunities for activity and
exploration, in a thoughtfully planned
environment, for a substantial portion
of each preschool day. Children with
significant disabilities or difficulties in
with uncharacteristic aggression to a peer’s
comment that would not bother another
child, or they may notice that a child has
become unusually quiet and withdrawn
lately. Young children convey their stress in
individualized ways: some are emotionally
overreactive, while others are emotionally
overcontrolled; some become clingy, others withdrawn; some become provocative
and defiant. A common characteristic is
that young children under stress exhibit a
marked change from their ordinary behavior. They often lose their capacity for competence and self-control that they previously
had. When teachers observe these changes
in a child, it can be helpful to consult with
parents to discover whether recent events
have created challenges that children are
having difficulty managing. Often these
challenges arise from within the family.
How can teachers assist young children
under stress? One of the most important
things they can do is provide the child with
a predictable, safe haven where children can
feel secure. Teachers can create a comfortable and comforting everyday routine that
choosing or pursuing activities deserve
support and strategies to enable them
to participate in active learning. In
this context, play is essential and is
enhanced if materials are available
to encourage creativity and teachers
are attentive to the social interactions
that surround play. Active learning is
essential and is enhanced (1) if materials are readily accessible to children
and (2) if teachers are sensitive to the
growth that they can foster through
children’s chosen activities.17
This approach of promoting children’s
active engagement with activities,
materials, and other people requires
is child-centered, individualized, responsive,
and helpfully structured to give young children a sense of control and predictability
that may be lacking in other aspects of
the child’s life. Central to these efforts is
providing children with supportive adult
relationships that are reliable and helpful.
This may be more difficult than one would
expect because young children under stress
often test these relationships to see whether
teachers and other adults will remain
responsive to them even when children act
defiantly or negatively.
In some circumstances, it can be helpful for teachers to obtain the advice of an
early childhood mental health consultant
who can observe the child in the classroom,
talk with the teacher about the child’s
behavior, and suggest strategies for providing supportive assistance. Early childhood
mental health consultants can be valuable
resources to an early childhood education
program. They can help teachers provide
much-needed support to young children
who may not have other such sources of
support elsewhere in their lives.
teachers’ own active engagement and
planning. The following strategies
are key to ensuring social-emotional
• Create a program environment and
daily routines that offer children
opportunities for responsible and
cooperative roles in the classroom or
family child care community.
• Model desirable behavior and attitudes in interactions with children
and other adults.
• Use the family culture to create
bridges between the program and
the home, supporting children’s
pride in their family experience, and
understand individual differences
in background and viewpoint.
• Enlist adults as active co-explorers
in children’s chosen activities.
• Encourage children’s ideas, initiative,
and contributions to shared activities.
• Observe children attentively, as they
play, to understand each child’s
needs and interests, strengths, and
areas of growth in social-emotional
• Establish developmentally and culturally appropriate expectations for
children’s behavior, especially expectations for self-control and selfregulation.
• Narrate for children what they are
observed doing and expressing, providing language to describe their
thoughts and feelings and to clarify
others’ feelings.
• Provide specific feedback to children
about their efforts, reinforcing their
choices that support learning and
linking their actions to outcomes.
• Coach and guide children’s behavior
by using positive, respectful phrasing
and tone to prompt problem solving and to give brief instructions and
• Use the experiences and emotions of
characters in children’s books and
stories to illustrate social problem
solving, cooperative behavior, and
other concepts.
• Provide intentional teaching of social
skills, friendship skills, and emotion
Environments and
he physical environment provides
young children with expectations for
behavior.18 When educators are mindful of the aesthetics, organization, and
function of each area in the space, challenging behavior is likely to decrease
while constructive, cooperative behavior
increases.19 A program’s vision for learning and philosophy of care dictate how an
environment is designed.20 For example,
if the curriculum is based on the view
that children are competent directors of
their own learning, educators develop a
physical setting and activities that reflect
children’s emerging interests and provide
easy access to meaningful play materials. Shelves for manipulatives and other
materials are near the floor where children can easily reach them. Special areas
in the room are designed for individual,
small-group, and larger-group interactions. Play materials and other materials
are carefully selected to reflect children’s
emerging interests, as observed in the
context of play and conversation. In this
environment, adult–child interactions can
expand children’s questions and comments. This broader vision for children’s
learning and care thus helps to promote
synchrony between the environment,
routines, and teacher–child interactions.
High-quality learning environments
set the stage for social-emotional explo-
ration and growth.21 When children are
presented with a warm, inviting, and
culturally familiar environment, they feel
comfortable and secure.22 The attractive
spaces adults prepare for children communicate expectations of responsibility
and cooperative care (we all play in and
care for this beautiful place together).
Preparing a variety of learning areas with
open-ended materials encourages each
child to participate in meaningful play
experiences that match their individual
temperaments and abilities. Incorporating elements from the home creates an
atmosphere of community while simultaneously acknowledging the presence of
A physical environment that supports
social-emotional learning has the following characteristics:
Challenging and developmentally
appropriate materials
It provides children with challenging,
developmentally appropriate materials
that encourage both creative, flexible
use (e.g., open-ended materials such
as blocks and art supplies) and practice in problem solving (e.g., closedended materials such as puzzles and
matching games).
Ample supply of materials
It offers plenty of materials to avoid
conflict between children or long waiting for a turn. Materials are labeled in
the languages of the children in the
group (e.g., using pictures, words, and
symbols) to offer children a menu of
opportunities for play.
that all children physically have access
to all areas.
Appropriately sized small-group
It limits the size of small-group activities to promote peer interaction and
struggles over turn-taking and use of
A variety of small-group activities
Activities are planned so that a range
of adult supervision exists: from activities that children can do with minimal
adult supervision (e.g., dramatic play,
familiar books, and puzzles) to ones
that require close adult supervision
(e.g., messy art activities, preparing
food, learning to use new toys, materials, or games).
Aesthetically appealing
The aesthetics (e.g., colors, textures,
furnishings, other physical elements
of the environment) are designed so
that children are comfortable and their
energy and attention are focused on
the activities. An overstimulating environment is avoided.
Public and private spaces
There are both public spaces that
encourage peer interaction and private spaces where children can take
a break from sociability (areas with
materials such as storybooks, pillows,
blankets, or stuffed toys).
Organized learning areas
The space is organized with designated
learning areas for large-group activities
(e.g., circle time), small-group explorations (e.g., a work table or science
project), and individual activities from
which children can choose, ensuring
Furnishings and materials accessible
to children
Low shelving and child-sized furniture
enable children to feel comfortable
and confident as they take initiative
in choosing activities (collaborative or
individual pursuits) without requiring
adult assistance.
Display of children’s work
Children’s artwork and other accomplishments are displayed at the child’s
eye level.
curriculum, so too does the design of
the daily schedule. Young children are
better able to manage themselves and
their relationships when daily routines
and activities are predictable, transitions
are signaled and supported, and there is
a balance between relatively active and
relatively quiet play and between group
and individual activities. In the sections
that follow, strategies to support socialemotional development are described in
Space for children’s belongings
There is a space for children’s personal
belongings, including treasured items
from home.
Summary of Strands
and Substrands
Reflective of diversity
The books, photographs, artwork,
music, and other materials reflect the
diversity of the families of the children
in the group. Relationships, cultures,
ethnicities, and people of different
ages and abilities are portrayed in the
Space for arrivals and departures
The physical space, as well as classroom
routines, supports arrival and departure
experiences with family members.
Supportive of children’s active
Physical and verbal support are provided to assist the active engagement
of children of all developmental abilities
in the early learning environment and
daily routines.
Outdoor areas supportive of socialemotional development
The “outdoor classroom” and natural
play spaces are considered an extension
of the indoor explorations and are part
of the social-emotional curriculum.
Just as the physical environment helps
young children successfully meet the
social-emotional demands of the
he domain of social-emotional development encompasses three strands:
self, social interaction, and relationships.
The strands and their substrands are as
1.0 Self-Awareness
2.0 Self-Regulation
3.0 Social and Emotional
4.0 Empathy and Caring
5.0 Initiative in Learning
Social Interaction
1.0 Interactions with Familiar Adults
2.0 Interactions with Peers
3.0 Group Participation
4.0 Cooperation and Responsibility
1.0 Attachments to Parents
2.0 Close Relationships with Teachers
and Caregivers
3.0 Friendships
Please refer to the map of the socialemotional development foundations
on page 88 for a visual explanation of
the terminology used in the preschool
learning foundations.
arly learning deeply engages the self.
Most preschool children approach learning opportunities with enthusiasm and
self-confidence, excited by the prospect of new
discovery.23 Their successes (and occasional
failures) shape their sense of what they can
do and sometimes drive their efforts to acquire new skills. Their achievements and occasional disappointments also provoke the responses of
others—adults and peers—that further influence children’s self-concept
and self-confidence. Young children value learning for themselves because
it is valued by the people who matter to them.
In a preschool program, learning is a social activity. Therefore, preschool
children’s success in learning depends on their capacity to understand
and participate constructively in the social environment. Early childhood
is a period of rapid growth in social and emotional understanding in
which the children’s capacity for empathy and caring is also developing.24
This is also a period of growth in self-regulation as young children are
acquiring skills for sustaining their attention, focusing their thinking and
problem solving, managing their behavioral impulses, and controlling their
emotions.25 Even so, lapses in self-regulation are as apparent as are young
children’s successes, and developmentally appropriate expectations for
children’s self-control are essential.
Therefore, a thoughtfully designed preschool curriculum that supports
social-emotional development devotes considerable attention to the direct
and indirect ways that children’s classroom experiences shape the self.
In this section, specific strategies are discussed that support development
in each of the following substrands:
Social and Emotional Understanding
Empathy and Caring
Initiative in Learning
reschool children enjoy interacting with adults they know and are
becoming more skilled in sharing their
thoughts or feelings, cooperating in play
or problem solving, following instructions, asking for assistance, and taking
the initiative in social interaction.26, 27
Adults contribute to these skills when
they respond positively and enthusiastically to children’s initiatives, model
respectful communication and social
interaction skills, coach children in
their interactions with other adults,
and encourage children to confidently
share their ideas and experiences with
them.28, 29
Four children work in the block area, racing small cars down two
large wooden ramps and arguing over whose turn it is to use each
ramp. Later, as they communicate about their morning’s activities in a
small group, the teacher observes, “Everyone wanted to use the block
ramps for their own cars, but there were only two ramps, so you figured out how to make the plain boards into ramps by propping them
up with the small blocks. That made enough ramps for all of you!”
The teacher observes attentively as the children work in the
block area, waiting to see whether they will need her help to
guide them in solving their dispute. Later, during a group discussion, she tells them what she has observed. She describes
specifically the solution they worked out to their problem
of needing enough ramps for everyone, and her means of
communication, including words and tone of voice, convey
how impressed she is with their cooperation and successful
problem solving.
A child in a wheelchair enters the housekeeping area where three
children are pretending to be a family. They have dishes on the table
and dolls in the doll bed. The child in the wheelchair moves closer to
the table and tries to join the play but cannot get close enough. After
a few minutes, one of the children takes some dishes and puts them
on the wheelchair tray. The two children play together. Mr. Luke comments, “I like your idea to use Andy’s tray as a table.”
The teacher observes attentively as the child using a wheelchair enters the housekeeping area and watches to see how the
children will include him in play. When a child uses the wheelchair tray as a table, the teacher comments about the solution
using positive words.
The following interactions and strategies can help children grow in selfawareness:
Designate learning areas to help children select preferred sites for exploration. Place active play zones away from
quiet areas to better support children
in their choices for play. Children seek
appropriately stimulating spaces as they
learn to monitor their own internal needs.
Observe individual children attentively
during a variety of activities to find out
about each child’s characteristics and
preferences (e.g., active, quiet, dramatic,
persistent), communication skills, interests, and challenges.
Incorporate artwork and play materials
that reflect children’s home cultures to
help children and families feel comfortable
and welcome in the preschool program.
Describe aloud for children observations of what they do and express as
they play, explore, and participate in
group activities. Use language that labels
thoughts and feelings: “You’re standing
back to admire your block tower, Felipe.
You look very pleased about how tall you
built it.” Or “David, you laughed and
thought it was funny when Emma mixed
up your puzzle pieces, but Leo looks upset
when you do that to his puzzle pieces.”
Compare aloud children’s past and
present abilities as you observe them:
“When you first came to preschool, Kim,
you couldn’t turn on the water by yourself, and now you can turn it on and off.”
Or “Marco, you used to want to keep all
the cars just for yourself, and now you’re
sharing them with Ben and Jorge. You figured out how you could all play with the
cars together.”
Give specific feedback to children
about their efforts. This shows that
adults notice and appreciate their hard
work, cooperation, and successful problem solving. Describing specific observations also helps children remember the
positive roles they played in an event and
will help them repeat similar actions in
the future: “You noticed that I was having
trouble understanding what Lucia needed
at the art table, so you asked her about
it in Spanish and then told me that she
needed more yellow paint. Thank you—
you helped both Lucia and me.”
Use planned activities and children’s
own observations to draw attention to
people’s similarities and differences,
including preferences and feelings.
Play circle games that ask children to do
actions based on things that distinguish
them from each other (e.g., “If you like
rainy days, . . . have curly hair, or wear
glasses . . . point to yourself or stand
up and jump!”). Follow up on a child’s
comment that “grandmas don’t live
with you—they just visit,” with a group
discussion about where various children’s grandparents live, including those
in the child’s household. Use children’s
observations about each other’s characteristics to begin conversations about the
many ways that people are the same and
Set up opportunities to practice problem solving with children who have
not yet developed those skills. When
serving a snack, ask the children what
to do since there is only one apple for
four children. As children struggle over
the cash register in the dramatic play
area, help them think through what the
options are that would allow everyone
to play—setting a timer, having an extra
cash box for a second register, making
one person the manager who can help
when there is a problem at the cash
register, and so on.
reschool children work hard to manage their attention, feelings, impulses,
and thoughts. They seek to cooperate
with others, manage their upset feelings,
and participate in classroom routines and
transitions, but they need ongoing adult
support for their efforts.30, 31 Preschool
children differ significantly in their abilities to pay attention in a group, finish a
task, cooperate with adults and peers,
and express their strong feelings in ways
that do not hurt others. Even young children who are sometimes able to do these
things will probably not manage them
independently all the time, but they will
be more capable of self-regulation given
adult guidance and support.
Ms. Caitlin stumbles in the play yard while carrying a tray of bowls
containing acorns, leaf pods, pinecones, and leaves. The items spill
across the ground. She describes the accident: “Oh, no! I just sorted
all of these, and now it looks like I’ll have to do it all over again! It’s
so frustrating when things like this happen.” She sighs and takes a
deep breath. “Well, I guess I’ll start with the acorns. It shouldn’t take
too long.” Several children nearby offer to help and begin to pick up
and sort the items. Teachers and children all work together for a few
minutes, picking through the grass and sharing with each other about
how many of each item they have found. When all the natural play
materials have been sorted back into their bowls, Ms. Caitlin thanks
the children and comments on how fast the job went with so many
people helping.
In this situation the teacher models self-talk to turn an upsetting situation into a teachable moment about constructive
emotional coping strategies. She describes the accident and
expresses her feelings about it. She continues by modeling a
constructive course of action to remedy the situation. The children nearby respond by starting to help pick up the various
items (displaying empathy and caring). At the end of the job,
she concludes the impromptu lesson by thanking her helpers
and commenting on how much faster a job goes when so many
people work together (generalizing from action to principle).
The following interactions and strategies can support children’s growth in
self-regulation skills:
Use appropriately stimulating aesthetic elements such as soothing colors,
natural woods and fibers, and soft textures. When children feel calm and comfortable, they constructively interact with
adults, peers, and learning materials.
Neutral walls and furniture should fade
into the background so that children
can focus on their “work.” Visual clutter
should be avoided as much as possible.
Eliminate or reduce background noise
to help children with learning disabilities, speech and language impairments,
and hearing impairments attend to auditory input. Reducing background noise
helps all children, including English
learners, focus more readily on oral language as conversations take place near
them while they are playing. For more
information about strategies to support
children who are English learners, see
Chapter 5.
Observe individual children closely,
especially as they interact with peers,
encounter frustration, and are asked
to cooperate with adult requests and
group routines. Observing each child
individually will help identify where that
child needs the most adult support for
learning (e.g., can the child maintain
attention during group activities, show
understanding of classroom routines,
use language to express emotions, play
cooperatively and negotiate disagreements with peers, ask for help when
Model behavior and attitudes toward
others as an effective way of teaching
self-regulatory skills. Because young
children closely observe and imitate
the behavior of adults they care about,
Research Highlight
Self-regulation is important to school
readiness and early school success. One
of the most important indicators of selfregulation is a young child’s ability to pay
attention in the classroom. In one recent
study, researchers combined the results
of several large-scale, long-term studies
of children beginning from the preschool
years and continuing well into school.
They were interested in the qualities of
preschoolers that best predicted how
well they would do on school-age math
and reading tests. The researchers found
that early skill in math and reading was
important to later success in these areas,
of course. Beyond this, however, they also
found that differences in self-regulation,
particularly in attention, were important
in later school success. Children who concentrated and listened attentively to the
teacher as preschoolers and who were
less impulsive and distractible achieved
higher scores on math and reading tests
after entering school.32
teachers can intentionally model desired
behavior for them. Adults model appropriate concern for others’ well-being by communicating with children in a respectful way and treating them the way they
would like children to treat each other.
They can model enthusiasm for persisting
at a task until finishing it by sharing their
thoughts while working alongside children (e.g., “It’s taking a long time to finish
this puzzle, but when we figure out how
to fit in the last five pieces, we’ll get to see
the whole picture”). Finally, adults can
model emotional self-control by expressing their own feelings constructively when
encountering a problem.
Maintain developmentally appropriate
expectations for preschool children’s
behavior. Make allowance for children’s
relatively limited capacity to sit and
maintain focused attention by planning
brief large-group activities and longer
periods of self-initiated activity. Help
children to manage complex tasks (e.g.,
getting ready to go outside in the rain) by
breaking them down into simpler steps.
Ensure that expectations for emotional
self-control and behavioral control are
appropriate for the child’s age or developmental level. Supplying plenty of play
materials decreases excessive frustration
and increases on-task exploration.
Guide and coach children’s behavior
by using positive, respectful phrasing
and tone to prompt problem solving and
to give brief instructions and reminders: “Can you start by telling Jonah
why you’re so angry? Then we can work
together on solving the problem,” or
“Since lunch will come soon, it’s almost
time to clean up our room and wash our
hands so we’ll be ready to eat.”
their expectations, energy, and activity.
Be flexible enough to follow children’s
emerging interests and allow them to finish projects when possible. Adults can
prepare children ahead of time for occasional major changes in the daily routine
in order to prevent unease and off-task
behavior (e.g., “Today we are walking to
the fire station before we eat snack. Usually we go outside after snack, but today
we are doing something different”). Many
children appreciate having the schedule
in picture format, so they can independently check the schedule themselves.
Taking pictures of the children themselves engaged in the various activities
can be a fun way of making the schedule.
Then, when there is a change, a new picture, such as one of a fire truck, can be
put in place as a reminder of the change.
Reinforce children’s good choices
and link their actions to positive outcomes. Express pleasure and acknowledge children’s efforts when children
handle situations in mature ways. Draw
attention to specific ways a child’s behavior made an experience successful: “I
know you really wanted to share your
story right away, but you waited patiently
during Angela’s turn. She was so happy
to get to tell us about her papa.”
Provide a consistent but flexible daily
routine. A consistent daily routine facilitates children’s trust and focus on the
learning environment. This consistency
helps English learners predict the day
and navigate through it. When children
can anticipate what comes now, next,
and later, they are better able to regulate
Alternate between active and quiet
activities. Guiding children through
appropriately varied levels of stimulation encourages self-regulation. It leads
to more positive behavior and increases
children’s ability to fully engage with
their learning environment, peers, and
Time group experiences to match
children’s developing attention spans,
social skills, and self-control. Attending to a group experience can be difficult
for young children. Group experiences
should be brief—between 10 and 15
minutes and, in some instances, up to
20 minutes—depending on children’s
ages, understanding of the English
language, past experiences, and levels
of functioning. Ignoring a group’s need
for a transition can lead to more disruptive behavior and a general lack of
cooperation (e.g., a teacher’s insistence
on finishing a book during a large-group
story time despite children’s restlessness
may cause more problem behavior and
work against learning goals). For more
information about strategies to support
children who are English learners, see
Chapter 5.
Introduce children to relaxation
exercises. Stretching and relaxation
exercises assist children in self-reflection
and build self-regulation skills. Teachers can use calming activities informally
as well as during group experiences and
program transitions. An adult can soothe
a frustrated child by drawing attention
to the body’s response to stress: “You
look really upset! Your face is red and
tense. Can you feel how fast your heart is
beating?” Then guide the child through a
deep-breathing exercise and comment on
its effects. Initiate a brief group stretching and relaxation exercise between
active and quiet routines to help prepare
children for more focused exploration.
Prepare “private” spaces for children.
The sounds of active learning can be loud
and, at times, overstimulating. In these
and other situations, many children need
“private” spaces where they can find a
retreat from group participation. Teachers can make private spaces inviting by
including comfortable pillows, blankets,
stuffed toys, and a small table for the
child who would like to engage in an
activity on his own.
Plan developmentally appropriate
transitions. Transitions can cause a
typically positive classroom climate to
unravel as activity and intensity levels
increase. Teachers can plan transitional
activities to maximize focus and encourage constructive participation. Songs,
visual prompts, and key phrases in
children’s home languages remind children of what is currently occurring, what
the child’s responsibility is during the
changeover, and what a child can do to
help self-regulate through the transition.
For example, an adult may lead a group
of children in singing a “clean-up song”
throughout the time they spend picking up and reshelving toys and materials
together. Transitions should be kept to
a minimum.
Play games with rules periodically to
help children learn to focus their attention and regulate their impulses in order
to achieve a goal. Small, organized groups
are easiest for preschool children to
manage. Simple bingo games, matching
games, or active games in the play yard
such as Red Light, Green Light or Simon
Says encourage children to pay close
attention and to practice pausing first
instead of acting impulsively. Turn-taking
in pairs or small groups encourages cooperation. Providing visual cues (e.g., pointing to a picture of a traffic signal or using
gestures in coordination with Simon
Says), in addition to auditory prompts,
helps all children participate in games
with success.
3.0 Social and Emotional Understanding
reschool children are beginning to
understand how people are similar to
and different from one another, not only
in the ways they can observe directly,
such as appearance and skills, but also
in ways that they cannot observe directly,
such as thoughts and personality. They
are learning that people vary in their
ideas, feelings, and perspectives and
that differences in personality and
culture are important.33, 34 Young children
are curious about these differences, and
teachers help them learn and accept how
people’s feelings, thoughts, and behavior
are related. Teachers share and discuss
everyday events. Teachers can also help
preschool children better understand
their own feelings, personality, and other
social and emotional characteristics.35, 36
Myesha watches Linh being comforted by her caregiver. She goes over
to Mr. Kyle sitting at a table, puts a hand on his shoulder, and suggests, “Linh was crying because she thought her mommy wasn’t coming.” Mr. Kyle nods his head gently and replies, “I noticed that, too. Do
you remember when preschool was over and you were the last one
waiting for your mom? You cried because you were worried that she
wouldn’t come to pick you up. I think Linh was feeling the same way.”
In this situation, the adult facilitates social and emotional
understanding by using the child’s observations of a peer’s
emotional experience to explore the causes of feelings, to explore
similarities in emotional response, and to introduce complex
emotion vocabulary.
Tien watched carefully as Romo interacted with Ms. West, his teacher.
After Romo walked away, Tien said “How do you know how to talk to
Romo? He talks funny.” Ms. West explained, “Romo talks differently
than you do because he hears differently. When Romo talks to me,
I watch carefully and sometimes he points to things to make it more
clear. When you don’t understand him, maybe you could ask him to
show you. He is playing with the farm animals now. Would you like to
join him?”
The teacher responded to a question from a child who noticed a
difference in Romo’s mode of communication by explaining how
Romo communicated and inviting the child to use the information. By providing information and inviting the child to pursue
interaction, the teacher was supporting social understanding
while responding to an underlying emotional concern.
The following interactions and strategies can help children grow in their social
and emotional understanding:
Observe the levels of social and emotional understanding that children
already have when they begin preschool.
For teachers, the most helpful observations of children’s understandings are
made in the course of typical daily activities. Teachers will want to note whether
a child is able to label, in any language,
a range of emotions expressed by self
and others; notices and indicates curiosity about physical differences between
people; is able to describe some personality characteristics of others (e.g., friendly,
timid, grumpy); and can sometimes
accurately describe the reasons behind
someone’s emotion-driven behavior (e.g.,
crying when missing a parent). See the
Research Highlight, below.
school children that people can mask
their feelings and that the emotion shown
may be different from the one a person
really feels (e.g., “I know you are afraid of
big dogs, but when Peter’s dad brought
his dog to visit today you acted very calm
and brave. That must have been hard”).
Introduce more complex emotion vocabulary in their conversations with children (e.g., anxious, delighted, cautious,
Label the emotions people express
and communicate with children about
what may be provoking those feelings.
Discuss causes and consequences
(e.g., what often makes people sad, angry,
or excited). Acknowledge with older pre-
Research Highlight
Early social and emotional understanding helps children get along better with other children
and teachers in school, but how important is it for school success? This question was explored
in a study of young children who were tested on a simple measure of their emotion knowledge (e.g., understanding when someone is surprised or angry) at age five, and then measures
of their social behavior and academic achievement were obtained at age nine. The measure
of emotion knowledge asked five-year-olds to match emotion labels to facial expressions of
emotions. The researchers found that children’s performance on this task was significantly
associated with their social skills and academic achievement at age nine. Children who had
greater emotion knowledge had more positive social skills, showed fewer behavior problems,
and had higher academic achievement—perhaps because of how their emotion skills (e.g.,
ability to deal with frustration) enabled children to get along better with others in ways that
encouraged academic as well as social success.37
Generalize from specific examples to
broader realities, when appropriate, to
help children understand psychological
complexities and emotional processes
they cannot observe directly. “David
gets upset whenever you come near his
block buildings because you used to try
to knock them down. When you have
been unkind to someone over and over,
it takes a long time for him to trust that
you will be kind now,” or “Aya does cry
every morning when her papa leaves. She
has never been to school before, and she
doesn’t know us very well yet. Sometimes
it takes people a long time to feel comfortable in a new place.”
Discuss characteristics openly while
expressing interest in, and appreciation
for, differences. Answer children’s questions about physical characteristics,
abilities, and different cultural practices
with information or find out the answer
together. Listen to children and counteract stereotypes expressed by using concrete examples whenever possible. For
example: “Yes, all the firefighters in that
truck were men, but my neighbor, Sarah,
is a firefighter, too. She drives a fire
engine and fights fires just like they do.”
“Mrs. K in the office uses a white cane to
find her way around our school. It helps
her to know where she is and keeps her
from bumping into things.” Seek books,
tell stories, and display pictures that represent a wide variety of people engaging
in activities familiar to the children.
Make use of the experiences and
emotions of characters in stories to
provide additional examples of ideas and
feelings that lead to actions, as well as
the fact that people can see things from
different perspectives. Read interactively,
asking children questions and wondering
together about how a character will feel.
Near the end of the picture book We’re
Going on a Bear Hunt, by Helen Oxenbury, the family tiptoes into a cave, not
knowing what they will find. The readers
can identify the waiting bear about to be
encountered. “We know there’s a bear
because the picture shows us,” the adult
reader can say to a group of listening
children. “Does the family know yet?
How do you think they will feel when
they discover him?”
4.0 Empathy and Caring
reschool children respond with concern when a child or adult is distressed. Children may be confused about
why another child is upset, how he or
she will be affected, and what can be
done.38, 39 Teachers can help them understand why another person is upset and
what the child can do to help. Teachers
can also encourage children to respond
helpfully to the needs of other children.
Chloe cries in Ms. Julia’s arms. Ms. Julia pats her back softly and
communicates in a soothing manner. “It sounds like that hurt. You can
tell Paz you don’t like that. Say, ‘I don’t like that, Paz.’” Chloe tucks
her injured arm in toward Ms. Julia’s body, shakes her head slowly
side to side, and looks out warily at Paz. Paz stands close with her
head lowered. “Chloe is upset because you pinched her arm. It hurt
her quite a bit. Is there something you think we could do to help her
feel better, Paz?” asks Ms. Julia.
Paz responds softly, “Sorry, Chloe,” and reaches forward to give Chloe
a hug.
Chloe whimpers and clings more closely to Ms. Julia. “When a friend
is hurt, giving a hug often helps. I guess Chloe isn’t ready for a hug
right now. Thank you for trying, Paz. Maybe we can ask her again
The adult in this scenario models empathy as she provides
nurturing care to the injured child. She labels emotions and
prompts a helpful action. Despite the injured child’s lack of
interest in a hug, the adult expresses appreciation for the
thoughtful attempt.
The following interactions and strategies encourage and focus children’s
empathic responses:
Model behavior and attitudes that are
warm, respectful, and caring. Give your
full attention to a child who is communicating with you and show your interest in the child’s perspective. Show your
concern when the child is distressed and
respond in helpful ways. Suggest that
another child help, if appropriate (e.g.,
bringing a cup of water for a coughing
friend). Show children consideration of
their needs when planning activities
(e.g., “You all seem tired on this hot day.
Let’s take time for water and then a story
so you can relax before we go on with our
Label children’s feelings of upset, sadness, and other emotions that convey
distress. Children often still need adults
to describe a situation, including the
incident or action that prompted distress, and to emphasize the link between
causes and consequences (e.g., “You told
her that she couldn’t play with you, and
she is upset about that”).
Prompt and guide desired behavior.
Adults can help younger children learn
appropriate responses by suggesting
specific, caring actions that may help
another child in distress (e.g., “She seems
very frustrated that she can’t move her
wheelchair through the hallway because
of the backpacks that are on the floor.
Could you move them for her?”). Adults
can also suggest specific, caring actions
to help children engage with and include
English learners in their play.
Acknowledge and express appreciation
for children’s empathic responses by
drawing their attention to specific ways
their actions helped and providing them
with a general principle that they can
remember in future, similar situations
(e.g., “When a friend is sad, giving a hug
often helps,” or “When someone gets
hurt, it’s important to find an adult to
help right away”).
Participate in and elaborate on
children’s pretend-play scripts that
include rescue and caring themes.
“Oh, no! It looks like one diver is injured.
Should I call 911? What else can we do to
help her while we’re waiting for the rescue boat?”
Read and tell stories that include
characters in distress as well as the
caring responses of others. While reading The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret
Wise Brown, for example, draw children’s
attention to the many ways the mother
bunny shows her care and concern for
her child. Encourage children to tell
about how people in their own families
show their care for each other.
Encourage empathy and caring for the
natural world, including plants and
animals. Program activities that involve
nurturing plants and taking care of pets
and outdoor life provide opportunities for
the expression of empathy and care.
Initiative in Learning
reschool children are active, enthusiastic learners who take pleasure in
the ability to discover new things. They
have confidence in their capacity to learn
more and acquire new skills.40 Teachers
support young children’s learning initiative when they invite children to share
Mr. Manuel watches Taiga build a structure with blocks. He smiles
as he manages to finish an elaborate wall. As Taiga moves to add a
piece to the tall tower, he knocks down the foundation. He drops to his
knees and slumps his shoulders. Mr. Manuel moves closer to Taiga
and responds with an enthusiastic smile. “Wow, Taiga! This is a big
tower! (gesturing with his arms). When you stacked the pieces that
way (points to the broken section), they seemed a little shaky (moves
his hand, palm face down, side to side). Is there something more stable you could find to use this time (points to flatter blocks)?”
Adults who observe children’s interests and needs individualize their support to build confidence and encourage
persistence. The teacher in this example notices a child’s
exploration and sees an opportunity to promote problem
solving. His obvious enthusiasm communicates respect and
interest in the child’s activity of choice and can do much
to encourage persistence. By including physical gestures
along with words, adults give English learners a deeper
understanding of language as children participate in and
observe this teacher-child interaction. For more information
about strategies to support children who are English learners,
see Chapter 5.
The following interactions and strategies can encourage children’s initiative in
Provide ample space, use child-sized
shelves and furnishings, and adapt
materials to make all learning areas
and activities accessible. Children’s
sense of efficacy is enhanced when they
are able to seat themselves in a chair or
their own ideas, ask questions, or take
the lead in investigating a new discovery and when they respond positively to
children’s eagerness. Teachers are also
helpful in encouraging young children
to persist rather than give up when they
encounter challenges.41, 42
sit at the table in a wheelchair, reach a
sink to wash hands without assistance,
or collect materials for play. Children
are better able to engage in smallmuscle activities when their feet can
reach the floor or are flat on a surface
while seated. Accommodations must be
made to ensure all children’s successful
movement and autonomous exploration
of the early learning environment, particularly children with special needs. Create
wide pathways and remove obstructions
so that all children have access to all play
spaces (e.g., for a child who has limited
arm movement, toys of interest can be
placed on lower shelves).
something intentionally if they have lost
interest in an initial activity. Ensure
that classroom materials are attractively
labeled and accessible, and furnishings
are child-sized. In this way, children can
make choices without requiring adult
Make use of adaptive tools and play
materials to help the autonomous
exploration of children with special
needs. Include tactile activities for children with visual impairments. Modify
classroom tools by adding handles or
grips for children with orthopedic impairments. Specially made “communication
books” in the languages of the children
in the classroom make possible plans for
play for children with autism spectrum
Engage in play and exploration with
children instead of simply supervising
their activities. Adults who are at the
child’s eye level and engaged with
children can help give language to
shared discoveries (e.g., “The cars seem
to be zooming down these two ramps
at different speeds. I wonder why”),
question together how something works,
and build on each other’s ideas. A
teacher’s active presence models a
spirit of inquisitiveness.
Observe individual children while
they pursue their own activities to
determine the child’s general level of
engagement with classroom activities and
materials; the amount of curiosity and
enthusiasm a child usually displays; the
child’s level of self-confidence in abilities;
and the amount of persistence the child
shows when trying something difficult.
Model curiosity and enthusiasm when
you learn new things. Attitudes are
contagious, and children will be drawn
to imitate an adult’s spirit of exploration
and pleasure in making discoveries.
This is especially important to model for
children who may not previously have
been given the message that individual
experimentation is a valuable means of
Encourage children to choose activities
based on their own interests. Asking
children periodically about their plans
reinforces the idea that they have the
power to make their own choices and
can help them to refocus on pursuing
Provide ample time for free exploration, scheduling play and exploration
periods of at least one uninterrupted
hour at a time. A child’s initiative as
a learner is encouraged when teachers
provide sufficient time for in-depth
experimentation and exploration.
Additional time for open-ended play
should be included throughout the day,
in both indoor and outdoor learning
Help children generate ideas for
solving problems they encounter as
they use materials (e.g., balancing blocks,
dressing dolls, fastening together collage
materials). Express enthusiasm for
children’s ideas and encourage them to
try solutions rather than tell them that
an idea will not work.
Model persistence during challenging
tasks such as writing a sign, building
a marble track, or stringing small
beads. Express to children that their
unsuccessful attempts to do something
are not failures, but simply steps toward
learning what will work (e.g., “When
you balanced the pieces that way,
they seemed a little unsteady. Is there
something more stable you can use as
the foundation this time?”).
Document and display children’s work.
Pictures of unique explorations, original
projects, and dictated stories posted at
children’s eye level positively influence
a child’s sense of self as she sees herself
and her creations reflected in the environment. These displays also remind
children of previous investigations and
inspire them to take part in new explorations.
Periodically reassess the preschool
environment to ensure that the materials and activity choices support the
abilities and reflect the interests of all
children in the group. A curriculum
and environment that reflect children’s
emerging interests will maintain their
engagement and eagerness to learn.
Bringing It All Together
Yoon Seo ran around the block area
swinging one arm wildly up and down
and making loud crashing sounds
with his voice. All around him, small
groups of children were noisily at play.
His teacher, Ms. Gloria, watched Yoon
Seo carefully to see if his behavior
would decrease on its own or increase
in intensity. When it was clear that
Yoon Seo was becoming more and
more agitated in his surroundings,
Ms. Gloria walked over slowly and
put a gentle hand on his back. “Yoon
Seo, you look really excited. It’s pretty
busy over here.” He continued to move
around haphazardly and did not seem
to notice Ms. Gloria’s comment. “I know
it’s sometimes hard to play in our busy
classroom. Let’s go take a rest together
in the book area where we can look at
books, and you can snuggle with your
special blanket.”
Ms. Gloria and Yoon Seo spent several
minutes in the book area looking at
books while Yoon Seo held his special
blanket up to his cheek. When Yoon
Seo appeared relaxed and focused, Ms.
Gloria said, “Sometimes we all need a
little rest to feel better. When the room
gets too noisy for me, I go to the play
dough table. It looks like play dough
and your blanket help you feel better.”
The strategies described above had
been planned for Yoon Seo, but similar
techniques can help many preschool children. In this situation, Ms. Gloria recognizes that Yoon Seo is overstimulated by
his environment and works to help him
attend to his personal cues and preferences. Her interaction style is warm and
reassuring and helps maintain a positive
sense of self for Yoon Seo. She also lets
him know what seems to help him “feel
better” as a point of reference for the next
time he begins to feel overstimulated.
Engaging Families
he following ideas may be suggested
by teachers, published in classroom
newsletters, or mentioned in parent–
teacher conversations, as ways families
can enhance their children’s social and
emotional understanding and self-regulation abilities at home.
Share stories with their children about
what they were like as babies and
converse together about the ways they
have changed and grown.
Respond to children’s observations of
other people’s characteristics by sharing ideas about the many ways people
can be the same and different.
In circumstances that evoke frustration or sadness (e.g., accidentally
spilling something in the kitchen,
missing an absent family member),
model for children constructive coping
strategies. Letting children know that
frustrating and sad things happen
to everyone sometimes allows family
members to share ideas about how to
handle strong feelings.
While sharing a storybook with children, wonder together about how the
story’s characters might be feeling and
why. This is one way families can help
children identify emotions and learn
words that describe them (e.g., excited,
surprised, and frustrated).
Think about the range of activities
their children engage in most days
and help them balance vigorous activity with calm and focused times.
Questions for Reflection
1. What aspects of your program are most likely to present
self-regulation challenges to children? What could you modify
to help children with these challenges?
2. What elements of your program’s physical environment have you
changed or could you change to help children regulate their own
behavior more successfully?
3. How do you communicate information about behavior to children’s
families in ways that help all of you work together to support
children’s self-regulation?
Social Interaction
roup learning always involves social interaction. The ease and skill
with which children interact with adults and peers (in a preschool
classroom or family child care program) and the competence with
which they assume their roles and responsibilities as group members
significantly influence how they learn. The development of these skills in
the preschool years is a foundation for children’s capacity to be socially
skilled and competent classroom members in the primary grades.43, 44 For
some children, unfortunately, difficulties in social interaction—because
children are timid and inhibited, are aggressive or disruptive, struggle
with being cooperative, or have physical or behavioral characteristics
that often result in them being excluded—can pose significant obstacles
to benefiting from social interactions with adults and peers. For them
and for all children, attention to social interaction skills can be a significant contribution to preschool children’s learning in early childhood
A thoughtfully designed preschool curriculum that supports socialemotional development devotes considerable attention, therefore, to the
direct and indirect ways that classroom experiences shape the growth of
children’s social interaction skills. In this section,
specific strategies are discussed that support
development in each of the following
1.0 Interactions with Familiar
2.0 Interactions with Peers
3.0 Group Participation
4.0 Cooperation and
Interactions with Familiar Adults
reschool children enjoy interacting
with adults they know and are
becoming more skilled in sharing their
thoughts or feelings, cooperating in play
or problem solving, following instructions,
asking for assistance, and taking the
initiative in social interaction.45, 46 Adults
contribute to these skills when they
respond positively and enthusiastically
to children’s initiatives, model respectful
communication and social interaction
skills, coach children in their interactions
with other adults, and encourage
children to confidently share their ideas
and experiences with adults.
Ju-Hye paints her palms and fingers with a rainbow of colors. With
focused concentration, she slowly pushes her palm onto a piece of
paper where she has already painted a “stem.” She lifts up her hand
quickly. Ju-Hye smiles widely and then picks up her paper to show
Ms. Betty, who is playing on the floor with two babies. Ms. Betty looks
up and responds with a grin: “You finished your flower. You worked
hard at mixing colors to make the color of green you wanted for your
Abigail moved to the raised sand table in her wheelchair. Using her
left hand to stabilize her right hand, she filled cups with wet sand and
carefully dumped them. When her teacher approached, Abigail said,
“Look at my cupcakes.” The teacher responded, “I watched how hard
you worked to make those cupcakes. They look yummy.”
Children want to share their work with adults who are important to them. In this situation, the caregiver matches the
child’s positive expression to convey shared excitement about
the completed activity. She provides additional descriptive
feedback as an affirmation of the child’s important work.
The following teacher interactions and
strategies can support children’s participation in comfortable and positive interactions with familiar adults:
child’s social cues (e.g., eager to engage,
slower to warm up). For more information about strategies to support children
who are English learners, see Chapter 5.
Get to know each child by observing
the child’s interests, personality characteristics, and preferred interaction style.
Interact warmly with the child’s family
members at arrival and departure times.
Match interaction approaches to the
Be at the child’s level as much as
possible by sitting in a low chair or on
the floor near where she is engaged in
activity. This sends the message that the
teacher is interested in what the child is
doing and is available to participate or
help. This is also important to do when
outside. Finding comfortable places to
perch while interacting with children
outside can enhance the children’s social
interactions with adults.
Initiate conversations with children
about their activities and experiences
at home and in the classroom. Respond
with interest or information to children’s
comments and questions. Taking opportunities to engage in conversation about
what children are thinking, planning, and
doing builds their confidence in initiating
similar conversations in the future.
Communicate observations, verbally
or through other means, and offer
comments or questions about children’s
explorations. Provide words to clarify,
elaborate on, or explain a child’s behavior
and allow the child to respond with affirmation, correction, or clarification.
Provide specific feedback to children
about their efforts instead of general
words of praise (e.g., “Good job”). Adults’
reactions are important affirmations of
support for children’s hard work, cooperation, and problem solving. Acknowl-
edging a specific effort allows a teacher
to avoid making broad statements that
imply judgment of the child’s worth based
on a product or behavior (e.g., Try “You
worked hard at blending colors to make
exactly the shade of green you wanted for
your painting,” rather than “You painted
such a pretty picture”).
Show respect for cultural differences
in your expectations of adult–child
communication. Teachers and caregivers
must become knowledgeable about the
families in their program and find out
about their expectations and goals. If a
child’s culture emphasizes maintaining
a respectful distance between teachers
and children, teachers can modify their
behavior to remain approachable and
friendly but not inappropriately casual or
familiar. Alternatively, if the child’s family
is exceptionally affectionate and physical with one another, the teacher can be
warm yet maintain a comfortable boundary with the child while acknowledging
the difference (e.g., “I know you and your
Uma grandma like to give each other lots
of kisses. I like to get just one kiss from
Encourage children to see familiar
adults as resources and become comfortable in asking regular volunteers and
assistants for help and support when
needed. Teachers may coach and accompany more hesitant children as they
practice approaching other adult helpers
and guests (e.g., “It looks like you have a
question for our guest reader. Would you
like me to come with you to ask it?”).
Interactions with Peers
reschoolers enjoy interacting with
other children and are rapidly developing the skills to socialize cooperatively,
negotiate conflict, and respect the feelings of another child. Their interactions
become longer and more complex, with
greater sharing and mutual communication.47, 48 This development can be seen
especially in pretend play. These abilities are limited, however, especially when
children are in conflict; thus adult guid-
ance is necessary to support constructive
social interactions and help children find
ways of managing disagreements. Adults
also encourage the development of peer
interaction skills by helping children
understand the feelings of other children,
suggesting and modeling interaction
skills, such as turn-taking, encouraging
the use of words when disagreements
arise, and reinforcing cooperative efforts.
Myrna and Emma sort through dresses in a trunk in the dramatic play
area. They dig deep into the pile, tossing aside unwanted costumes.
Then, their eyes open wide as they both reach for the pale blue
“princess” dress.
“I want to wear it. I’m the princess,” shouts Myrna with furrowed
Emma tugs back and says, “No! I want it. It’s mine!” The tugging and
shouting continues to increase in intensity when Mr. Charlie notices
the struggle and walks over to mediate. Mr. Charlie gets down and
kneels between the two girls.
“Myrna, you look upset. And Emma, you look mad too! What’s
“I want to wear the princess dress. I’m the princ—” exclaims Myrna.
“I’m the princess!” interrupts Emma.
“It sounds like you both want to wear that dress. You both want to be
the princess. We have a problem. I can hold the dress while we think
of what to do.” The two girls slowly let go of the dress and lower their
“I know. I can have a turn and then Myrna can have it,” says Emma,
popping her head up with bright eyes.
“I want to be first,” Myrna responds with a small scowl.
“You both want to go first. Hmm . . . let’s see if we can think of another
idea,” wonders Mr. Charlie.
“She can wear this one,” says Myrna, holding up a purple dress.
Emma looks at the dress and shakes her head. “I’ll wear the blue
dress, and you can have it in five minutes,” offers Emma, holding up
five fingers.
“What do you think, Myrna? Emma says she would like to wear the
dress for five minutes, and then you may have a turn.”
Myrna folds her arms in front of her chest, sighs, and then nods her
head slowly. “Five minutes,” she says firmly.
Children with positive experiences in conflict resolution
approach such situations with attention and persistence.
With practice they are quite capable of offering and agreeing
upon solutions. In this situation, Mr. Charlie sees an
opportunity to guide children through effective problemsolving techniques. He provides calm support and patience
as both children assert their ideas for a reasonable solution.
The above example describes children who readily verbalize
their emotions. Some children will communicate their strong
emotional reactions in other ways. Teachers should be alert
to different cues expressed by different children in order to
support skill development in this area.
The following teacher interactions and
strategies can support children as they
learn and refine their skills in interacting
with peers:
Observe the level of social interaction
skills that each child brings to the
group. Social skills will vary across the
preschool age range, depending partially
on the amount and type of experience
with peers that children have encountered prior to preschool. Note especially
whether a child can initiate or enter into
play with another child; work with others
to accomplish a simple, shared goal (e.g.,
putting together a puzzle, dividing play
dough so that each person has some);
communicate with others in acting out a
complex pretend-play script (e.g., going
on a trip with a family, including assigning and playing family roles); negotiate
with another child to resolve a conflict
about play materials or behaviors; and
ask for and respond to adult coaching in
resolving peer disputes and practicing
new social skills with peers. Young children with developmental differences or
younger children in a mixed-age setting
may need additional support and teaching to develop these initial skills with
other children.
Model effective and respectful interaction by joining pairs or groups of
children as they play and work together.
Follow the children’s cues about your
participation. Teachers can thoughtfully
partner English learners with Englishspeaking peers to help scaffold social
interactions and English-language
development. Be an interested observer
or play supporting roles in pretend-play
sequences or constructive play projects
(e.g., “You are discussing the animals
that will live in the zoo you’re building.
How are you deciding which ones to
choose?” or, “Yes, I could be your new
next-door-neighbor. Shall I ask if your
family needs any help moving in?”). For
a child who is still learning this skill,
the teacher can provide more explicit
cues and guided interactions (e.g., “You
are looking at the truck Pedro is holding
and reaching for it. Why don’t you ask
Pedro ‘Can I play with that truck?’” Colby
reaches for the truck saying, “My play wif
truck?” Pedro hands the truck to Colby
and gets a different truck from the shelf
for himself. “Pedro, Colby really looks
happy that you gave him the truck. That
is great sharing”). For more information
about strategies to support children who
are English learners, see Chapter 5.
Verbalize observations. Provide language to describe children’s actions,
feelings, and responses observed during play. Be especially sensitive to doing
this for children who may find it hard to
speak for themselves in a group situation
(e.g., “It looks like you are all slithering
around like crocodiles. I notice Marcos
is standing here watching you. Marcos,
would you like to be a crocodile, too?”).
Incorporate play materials that promote and encourage peer play. It is a
good idea to include indoor and outdoor
materials, such as large wooden blocks
or heavy loose parts (e.g., tree cookies,
small logs) that require the effort and
cooperation of a pair of children. Purposefully planning a “birthday party”
in the dramatic play area brings about
discussion of friendship and inclusion.
Think of encouraging peer play while
outside as well. A child who is less able
to move quickly or ride the wheeled toys
can be the person who takes the toll payment at the bridge or pumps gas at the
pit stops.
Suggest extensions for children’s
cooperative play to add complexity
to their interactions and negotiations.
Teachers can stay nearby to support
them as they practice more complex
problem solving together.
Coach young children, step by step,
as they learn conflict resolution skills.
Model a predictable, effective sequence
of steps children can eventually use on
their own: acknowledge feelings, gather
information about the conflict, restate
the problem, ask children to suggest possible solutions, help them choose one to
try, and then check back with them soon
after as they implement their solution. As
they mature and practice, gradually step
back and take a less central role in solving problems, prompting children if they
“get stuck” on the path to resolution.
After they do resolve a conflict, briefly
summarize the ways children solved the
problem successfully. This reinforces
children’s skills for the next time a
problem arises. See Sample Developmental Sequence: Conflict Negotiation, below.
Generalize from actions to principles
to increase children’s understanding of
the things that helped their interactions
Sample Developmental Sequence
Conflict Negotiation
As children mature, they are able to
better understand the perspectives of
other people and can negotiate more
constructively with peers to resolve
with each other to be successful. “You
two both wanted the big blue tricycle,
so you told each other that and worked
out a plan to take turns for three minutes each. Sharing ideas with each other
about problems helps us solve those
Use books, puppet stories, and group
discussions to reinforce children’s social
interaction skills. Select materials and
topics that relate to what children in the
group are encountering frequently in
their interactive play or skills they are
struggling to master.
Beginning level: Children can express
to each other (using words, actions, or
facial expressions) their own desires, but
adults need to provide ideas for resolving
Next level: Children begin to use appropriate words and actions to express their
perspectives and desires to each other
and seek adults for help during disputes.
Next level: Children not only express
their own needs and desires to each
other during a conflict but can suggest
simple solutions based on their own perspectives.
Mature or proficient level: Children can
consider each other’s perspectives when
there is a disagreement and can suggest
and agree on some mutually acceptable
Plan for project work, based on
children’s emerging interests, in pairs
and small groups. During projects,
children can explore materials together,
collaborate to solve problems they
encounter, and communicate with each
other as they work. Adults can facilitate
the interactions, using language and
techniques that match the needs and
abilities of the children.
3.0 Group Participation
reschool children enjoy being part of
the classroom and are learning the
roles and responsibilities of group participation. These include taking turns,
sharing, participating in group activities,
taking other children’s interests into consideration, knowing what to do during
group routines (e.g., circle time) or games
(such as Follow the Leader), helping to
prepare for and clean up after activities,
and understanding and applying rules for
classroom behavior.49 These skills require
considerable self-regulation, which is
why preschool children benefit when
adults provide guidance and coaching,
offer reminders about expected behavior,
explain why things are done the way they
are, reinforce constructive conduct, and
use prompts, such as songs or games, to
support effective group participation.
Ms. Luisa gathers a small group of children outside for an activity.
“Okay, everybody. To make a really large bubble that covers Claire,
we all have to work together to lift the hula hoop up around her.
Do you we think can do it?” The children respond with excitement,
“Yeah!” Ms. Luisa smiles and continues, “Well, how will we all know
when to lift? Does anybody have an idea? It’s really important that
we all start at the same time.”
Noah asserts, “I know. We can count like a rocket ship.”
“You mean a countdown? We could say, ‘ten, nine, eight, seven, six,
five, four, three, two, one and then lift?” clarifies Ms. Luisa.
“Yeah! Like a rocket ship!” agrees Erika.
“Do you all want to try Noah’s idea?” asks Ms. Luisa. The children
eagerly agree, and Ms. Luisa leads them in a countdown. On cue,
they lift together to surround Claire in a large bubble. Claire smiles
Shayna exclaims, “It’s working!”
Meera adds, “We did it!”
Ms. Luisa applauds the group. “It did work. Noah, your idea helped
everybody make a giant bubble around Claire. We all make a really
good team!”
In this situation, the adult plans a group-learning experience
intended to build cooperation and practice group problem
solving. Through this playful activity, the teacher intentionally
highlights individual and group strengths.
The following teacher interactions and
strategies can support children as they
learn the challenging skills required of
them for participation in preschool
Model cooperative behavior and
attitudes. Engage in authentic conversation with a small group of children.
Use appropriate eye contact and touch
with each child. Acknowledge a child
who wants to respond to a book or song.
Actively listen and respond to a child’s
idea. Participate in the group interaction
with enthusiasm, animation, and full
Plan large-group gatherings with
flexibility. Get to know each group of
children well enough to learn what they
can participate in successfully. Plan for
a group dialogue rather than a teacher
monologue while reading a story, singing
a song, or introducing a concept. Allow
for children’s active participation and
be flexible in changing the lesson plan
to follow the group’s interest or activity
level (e.g., when counting together the
ladybugs on a book’s page, try to respond
to, and possibly extend, a child’s comment about the ladybugs the class found
on the playground yesterday. If children
are restless, briefly flying around the
circle like ladybugs may also be a helpful
activity extension). Provide an alternative
to group participation (e.g., “cool-down
area”) where a child can self-regulate away
from the group. If the group experiences
are meaningful and reflective of children’s
interests, the children will return to the
group activity as their bodies and minds
are ready to participate effectively.
Guide and coach children’s behavior.
Use positive, respectful phrasing and tone
to give brief instructions and reminders
(e.g., “Jonah, it’s easier for all our friends
to see the book when you sit down,” or
“Remember, if you have an idea to share
during circle time, please raise your hand
first to let us know you want a turn to
share your idea”). Quietly suggest an alternative activity to a child who is not able to
stay with the group successfully.
Comment on children’s actions: “You
are all jumping just like frogs!” or “I see
that Maddie is trying to find a spot on the
rug where she can jump without being
pushed. Jorge, thank you for making
space for her.” Be especially sensitive to
doing this for children who may be less
inclined to speak up for themselves in a
group setting, including children who
are English learners and children with
physical disabilities.
Rehearse and prompt desired responses.
Move to a new activity by reminding the
group about how to transition into it
successfully (e.g., “We still have time to
sing, ‘Everybody Do This’. Let’s stay on our
carpet squares so we each have enough
space to move”). Sing call-and-response
songs, such as Ella Jenkins’s collections
of traditional African American and
Caribbean songs, to practice listening
and responding in unison to a leader.
Acknowledge positive choices. When
children participate in positive ways
during a small- or large-group activity,
comment on what they did that made
the activity successful and draw their
attention to how it helped (e.g., “When we
were exploring the tub of sand at smallgroup time today, you decided to take
turns using the big scoop. That way,
everyone got a chance to feel how heavy
a big scoop of sand would be”).
Generalize from action to principle.
After commenting on children’s helpful
actions, state the general group goal that
their actions help to accomplish. Children
can understand that they make positive
contributions to building a classroom
community (e.g., “During circle time, you
moved over so the children behind you
could see the pictures. In our class, we
take good care of each other”).
Build a sense of community through
planned group experiences. Largegroup experiences that are age- and
developmentally appropriate make
an ideal setting in which to establish
community and build shared knowledge.
Children learn turn-taking skills and
active listening techniques as they
participate in cooperative conversation.
Build a repertoire of songs and games,
some of which incorporate children’s
names. Activity props (e.g., parachute,
large ball) that require teamwork are
useful. Dramatize familiar stories (e.g.,
Caps for Sale, Ten in a Bed) that have
roles for everyone and do not require
advanced English-language skills or
specific physical movements. Teachers
can help children to lead group inquiries
based on their experiences and ideas
(e.g., “When Luis and Kim were weeding
our garden, they noticed big holes in
some of the lettuce leaves. Here’s one they
brought in to show us. What do you think
could have made these holes?”).
Arrange large-group meeting spaces
to enhance planned activities. Choose
a large, open-area meeting space away
from attractive play materials. Sit together
in a circle so each individual has a clear
view of teachers and peers, enabling
members to attend and respond to verbal
and nonverbal communication, as well
as visual prompts. Carpet squares help
young children maintain ample personal
space and encourage self- and attentional
control. Children with physical disabilities
or who use special equipment for mobility
can maintain the same (or similar) spacing parameters.a
Structure small-group activity areas
to maximize focus. Choose a space that
is comfortable for work, such as tables
or enclosed carpeted spaces. For younger
preschoolers, a consistent meeting space
builds their knowledge of routines,
enabling them to recall and apply group
rules and expectations. Older preschoolers demonstrate familiarity and flexibility
When the group includes a child who uses a wheelchair,
consideration should be given for finding a way for children
to be at the same level, perhaps through small chairs or
stools for all the children. Sometimes, assigned seating can
help children be in the spaces that will promote their greatest participation. For example, a child who needs gentle
physical touch from an adult to remain focused can be
placed next to the teacher. A child who is hard of hearing
and needs to see the teacher’s face can reliably sit directly
across from her. Additionally, attention should be given
to seating for children who are visually impaired or blind
so that they can participate in large-group activities (e.g.,
Claire is very sensitive to glare because of albinism, so she
must sit with the window behind her. Tomas is blind and
sits next to the teacher during circle time, so he can touch
the things she uses during the activity).
with routines. After meeting in their designated space, older preschoolers are able
to engage wherever the selected materials
are located.
Think through group size and composition. Choose to plan large-group activities (e.g., musical games) with smaller
groups of children. Smaller, large-group
activities may be more manageable for
younger preschoolers who are new to
teacher-initiated experiences that require
children’s knowledge of routines and
higher levels of self-control. To form wellbalanced groups, use your knowledge of
individual interests, energy, developmental age, and emerging friendships. For
more information about strategies to support children who are English learners,
see Chapter 5.
Prepare materials ahead of time.
Preparing materials in advance of activities is essential to create high-quality
learning experiences. Books, songs, and
curriculum materials should be intentionally selected based on observations
of children’s ongoing explorations in
the classroom. High-quality curriculum
reflects an awareness of the child’s home
culture and community. Having ample
amounts of materials eliminates waiting
and ensures the active involvement of all
Incorporate nonverbal prompts. Nonverbal prompts, such as props and picture or symbol cues, remind children of
routines and expectations and can facilitate communication, group participation
and responsibilities, and event knowledge. Showing a picture of musical notes
at large-group time may indicate it is time
to sing. A picture of an ear can illustrate
that it is time to listen to a story. Visual
prompts are especially effective in engaging children who are developing Englishlanguage skills and children with delays
in language or cognition. Posted guidelines for group participation (including
pictures and symbols) increase shared
understanding. Gestures may be taught
to and used by children to express their
ideas or choices (e.g., a child may make a
gesture for “more” after hearing a favorite
song). Teachers may also use gestures to
communicate expectations for behavior
(e.g., a teacher makes a gesture for “sit”
as she says “We sit at circle time”).
Address individual needs through
the use of strategies and tools. Some
children may require extra individual
assistance to successfully participate in
group experiences. Many strategies were
mentioned earlier. In addition, providing
something tangible for a child to hold
(e.g., a small squeeze toy such as a stress
ball or squishy ball) assists children who
need something to manipulate with their
hands to self-regulate and maintain selfcontrol. Real objects that represent items
in a book or a song will help the child
with a visual impairment successfully
participate in group experiences. For
children who blurt out ideas regularly,
teachers can have a message board ready
to document the child’s ideas for a song
to sing or a book to read at another time.
This can help the group stay focused and
reengage a distracted child’s behavioral
and attentional control.
Cooperation and Responsibility
reschool children seek to cooperate
with adult instructions in order to
obtain the adult’s approval and be viewed
as helpful, constructive classroom contributors.50, 51, 52 As self-control is slowly
developing, however, young children
often need adult support, especially
when they are distressed or frustrated.
Adults provide this support when they
ensure that classroom expectations
are developmentally, culturally, and
linguistically appropriate. Children are
reminded of expected conduct and of
ways in which they can contribute to a
classroom environment where children
enjoy cooperating with one another.
Mr. Ravi and his group of preschool children enter the play yard on
Monday morning. As several children run to the sandbox, Vicente
shouts with dismay, “Oh, look! Somebody ruined our fort and messed
up all the hiding places we dug for our food! That was mean!” Mr.
Ravi comes over quickly to join them. He surveys the logs and boulders strewn around in the sand and notes the children’s distress and
sense of outrage.
Mr. Ravi responds sympathetically, “You all spent so much time working together to build this last Friday. It does seem unfair that it has
been destroyed. Do you have ideas about what to do?”
Vicente suggests, “I know! We can make it over again and then you
can write a sign that says, ‘Keep Out. This is OUR fort.’” The other
children agree.
Mr. Ravi says, “It sounds like you have a plan to rebuild and protect
your project. I know that Marcos can write words and likes to make
signs. Why don’t you ask him if he would be willing to make the sign
you need?” The children agree with this idea, and Mr. Ravi accompanies them to talk to Marcos, who sits alone on the stairs. “This is
going to take a lot of teamwork,” comments Mr. Ravi.
“Yeah, but we’re getting really good at teamwork,” responds Vicente
In this situation, the teacher affirms the group’s sense of outrage and stays involved in guiding them to a positive solution
while allowing them to take responsibility for making good
decisions. He refers them to another, more socially isolated
child who has the writing skills their project requires. The
teacher follows through to facilitate his inclusion. He affirms
the importance of teamwork and conveys his confidence that
they are capable of repairing the damage together. An intentional adult draws attention to instances of cooperation and
the positive outcome of shared work.
The following teacher interactions
and strategies can strengthen children’s
ability to demonstrate cooperation and
responsibility in the preschool setting:
Develop a warm and secure relationship with each child. The quality of
adult–child relationships motivates children toward cooperation and responsibility. Children are motivated to cooperate
with adult requests and standards partly
because of their emotional attachments
to those adults and their desire to maintain positive relationships with them.
Preschool children need a strong sense
of connection and attachment with the
teachers and staff. Try to spend at least
a brief, special time with each child regularly to maintain a close bond.
Ensure that adult expectations for
children’s behavior are developmentally appropriate. Preschool children are
active and are usually most successful
when involved in self-initiated learning activities that engage their interest. Large-group activities that require
long periods of quiet attention often do
not match their capabilities. Appropriate learning goals can be accomplished
through a well-planned program of activities tailored to children’s maturity levels.
Enlist children’s participation in
creating examples of school or classroom expectations. Expectations of
classroom behavior, such as “We are
safe, we are respectful, we are friendly
and kind,” can be used across all settings
within a school. The children can help
come up with examples of how they
show safety, respect, and teamwork.
Photographs of the children engaged
in teamwork, for example, may be
posted as a reminder. The expectations
can be reviewed regularly, as well as
acknowledged when observed by the
adults, in order to support the learning
of the social guidelines.53
Focus on building a sense of classroom community among children and
adults. Teachers can model and facilitate friendly, responsible behavior that
shows respect for other people and for
program materials. Enthusiastically draw
attention to instances of cooperation and
teamwork among children who accomplished a goal together. Group meetings
are held to make decisions (e.g., “What
shall we name our new guinea pig?”)
or to brainstorm solutions to problems
Move beyond rules to expectations
to emphasize guiding principles or
values. State a reason along with a
request. Communication such as, “Let’s
all move back a little to make room in
the circle for everyone,” informs children
of the immediate goal of the request.
Adding, “In our class we make sure that
everyone is included because we are
friendly and kind,” broadens that goal
and states the general principle/expectation behind it: that of including or taking
care of each other.
that arise. Encourage brainstorming and
problem solving in pairs or small groups
to build children’s trust in their own
social competence and good judgment.
Refer children to each other, instead
of to an adult, for assistance to facilitate connections. This practice can
also serve to include or emphasize the
strengths of children who may be overlooked in other social situations. Encourage children to work together on tasks
to help maintain the indoor and outdoor
program spaces. In this way, children
gain a sense of cooperative ownership
and responsibility for the space.
Rehearse and prompt desired actions,
especially for transition times. Do with
children what you are asking them to do
until they understand your expectations.
Post the daily classroom routine and
refer to a picture/word/symbol chart,
as appropriate, so that children can
anticipate and prepare psychologically
for transitions. A transition song or
chant can help children focus on a
transition task (e.g., “Come and Make a
Circle”; “Clean up, Clean up, Everybody
Everywhere”). Give individual reminders
about behavioral expectations ahead of
time to children who have more difficulty
complying with requests or managing
transitions. For English learners,
individual reminders will help prepare
them for behavioral expectations and
provide an opportunity to clarify English
words and phrases. Prompt a specific,
desired behavior by making a request
in the affirmative (e.g., “Please move
carefully around people’s block towers”)
instead of a negative prohibition (e.g.,
“Don’t run in the block area”). For more
information about strategies to support
children who are English learners, see
Chapter 5.
Bringing It All Together
Lucas stands close to his caregiver,
Ms. Mai, who is sitting in the block
area. Ms. Mai observes Lucas watching his peers at play as they build a
large train. “This train is getting really
big,” she comments to Lucas with a
soft smile and a gentle hand on his
back. Lucas nods his head slowly.
“I wonder if Martin needs a helper.
He said he is the engineer, but an
engineer needs a conductor. Would
you like to hand out and collect tickets?” Lucas nods his head again and
reaches for Ms. Mai’s hand as she
gets up to move closer to the train.
Ms. Mai provides Lucas her hand and
another reassuring smile. “You could
let Martin know you want to help. Tell
Martin ‘I can collect the tickets.’”
Lucas pauses and then mumbles (or
signs), “Martin, I can collect tickets.”
“You all look like you are having fun
over here. Lucas wants to help too.
Where are the tickets for Lucas to
pass out to your riders?” restates
Ms. Mai.
“Oh! Over there,” responds Martin,
pointing over to the basket of torn
pieces of paper.
“Thanks, Martin, for your help. Lucas,
let’s go get the tickets and hand them
to our friends. I think these builders
will want to fill the train with passengers,” observes Ms. Mai excitedly.
This anecdote illustrates the importance of quality teacher–child relationships as a foundation for interaction with
peers and group participation. A warm,
caring adult can serve as a model for
exploring social skills and as a reassuring
presence. Providing prompts, narrating
social experiences, and participating as a
co-explorer in children’s play all support
social interactions.
Engaging Families
he following ideas may be suggested
to families in newsletters or parent–
teacher conversations as ways of helping
their children learn and practice skills for
constructive interaction and cooperation.
Have conversations with children
about things they are thinking, planning, and doing. Offer specific comments or questions about children’s
activities and ask children to describe
in more detail things they bring home.
Encourage children to work out a
disagreement with a sibling or friend
by suggesting to each other ideas for
solving the problem. Remind children
to consider each other’s needs and
feelings as they choose a solution to
try. Stay close by to help children as
they practice using words to resolve a
Ask children for help with household
chores or projects. Discuss, while
working together, some things each
person can do to help the family.
Emphasize to children the family’s
values about such things as cooperation, teamwork, good manners, and
kindness toward other people.
Questions for Reflection
1. How do you help a child who has trouble entering a group already
at play?
2. What kinds of social skills have you been able to effectively help
children learn by modeling for them?
3. What are your most difficult challenges when you try to support
children during their dramatic play?
elationships shape young children’s learning. From infancy,
parent–child and family relationships guide and motivate children’s
love for discovery and learning and provide a
secure foundation for the growth of exploration and
self-confidence.54 In the classroom, special adults and
friends make preschool an inviting place for children.55, 56
The teacher is a bridge for the child, connecting her
to relationships at home and in the classroom. Young
children’s close relationships contribute in concert to the
growth of early learning.
A thoughtfully designed preschool curriculum that supports
social-emotional development devotes considerable attention,
therefore, to the direct and indirect ways that children’s
relationships at home and in the classroom or family child care
program are important to early learning.
In this section, specific strategies are
discussed that support development
in each of the following substrands:
1.0 Attachments to Parents
2.0 Close Relationships with
Teachers and Caregivers
3.0 Friendships
Attachments to Parents
reschool children bring to their
classroom the security they receive
from their primary family members.57, 58
Their attachment can be seen most
clearly at the beginning and the end of
the day, when children affectionately
depart from and later reunite with
their family members, excitedly sharing
achievements or asking for help. It can
also be observed when young children
are distressed and seek the special
comfort and support that their family
members provide. Teachers recognize
the importance of family to preschool
children when they initiate conversations
about events at home or family culture
and language. Teachers may encourage
children to bring things from home
to share with the group while helping
new children manage separations. A
consultation with family members may
be needed when teachers notice that a
child in their care is showing unusual
behavioral or emotional difficulties.
Araceli sits quietly at the writing station. Her family child care
provider, Ms. Cindy, notices squiggles and letter-like forms on her
paper. “What are you working on, Araceli?” Ms. Cindy asks.
“A letter for Mamá. She is on an airplane,” Araceli replies with a
sad expression on her face.
“That’s right. Mamá had to fly to Los Angeles to take care of
Grandma. It sounds like you are thinking about her,” Ms. Cindy
responds as she sits down and leans close.
“I am telling her I miss her. And kiss kiss. She likes kisses.”
Ms. Cindy nods her head and offers, “It’s hard when moms and dads
go on trips. We miss them very much. Would you like any help writing
your letter?”
Araceli looks up and responds, “Write ‘come home soon.’”
In this situation, the family child care provider sensitively
discusses a child’s separation from her mother. She offers her
warm support and writing skills to comfort the child, validate
her experience, and communicate her respect for family
The following interactions and strategies can help to affirm children’s sense of
continuity and connection between home
and preschool:
Establish a warm and collaborative
relationship with each child’s family,
beginning with the first meeting of the
family and continuing through the time
of enrollment and beyond. Arrange a
“getting-to-know-you” meeting with the
child and family or conduct a home visit.
Collaborate with the child’s family in
completing an initial child assessment
that includes family goals, expectations,
and concerns (e.g., How do the child’s
family members describe the child?
What do they hope will be accomplished
at preschool?). A photograph of the
child and family may be displayed on a
“family board” (at the child’s eye level)
in the classroom. Invite each family to
visit the program and share time, skills,
or projects with the group. The child’s
achievements (e.g., artwork, dictated
stories) should be prominently displayed
in the classroom for family members to
see. Draw parents’ attention to the
display with appreciative comments.
Talk with children regularly about
their families. Listen to and sympathize
with children’s feelings about separation
from their family members. Help children
to manage separation by providing
consistent, nurturing support during
the preschool day. Ask children about
their home activities and experiences
and encourage them to bring items or
share news from home with the group.
Communicate positively about each
child’s family and cultural practices.
Find out what language the child speaks
at home and incorporate that language
in classroom activities. Incorporate
family photos and home materials in
the classroom environment.
Create predictable arrival and departure routines. Provide a warm and
welcome area for children and families
at the beginning of the day. Help families
design a predictable good-bye routine
for their child. Invite them to make use
of quiet areas in the classroom to allow
slow-to-warm children to make the
transition to the space. Offer parents
the idea of reading a book or enjoying
a simple activity with their child before
leaving. Remind parents to avoid
sneaking out after their arrival.
Communicate frequently with family
members about children’s preschool
activities, progress, and any concerns
you have. Use documentation displays,
photos, and examples of children’s work
as a tool for engaging parents and family
members in meaningful conversation.
Ask family members to share with you
information that could help you to
work better with the child. For more
information about strategies to support
children who are English learners, see
Chapter 5.
2.0 Close Relationships with Teachers and Caregivers
reschool children develop special
relationships with teachers and caregivers and rely on these relationships for
security and support in the program.59, 60
This dependence can be observed when
young children seek the assistance of a
special teacher when distressed or needing help (sometimes refusing the assistance of other adults) or look to a special
caregiver to play a game, display a new
discovery, or share an experience from
home. Teachers recognize the importance
of these close relationships to a young
child’s self-confidence and feelings about
preschool when they affirm the child’s initiatives, convey enthusiasm for the child’s
accomplishments, pay attention when the
child needs assistance or comfort, and
seek to develop a friendly, cooperative
relationship with the child’s primary
family members.
Tanya eagerly comes through the front door and greets caregiver
Natalya with her news: “Ms. Natalya, we went to the fair last night,
and I got to pet goats and sheeps and chickens, except Papa said to
stay back from the ducks, because they have bills that can bite you
Ms. Natalya knelt down, and Tanya reached out to her. “Wow, Tanya!
You sound really excited about your night at the fair. Did your whole
family go, Grandpa too?” she asked, looking at Tanya’s papa, who
had accompanied her to the family child care home. Mr. Terebkov
smiled and nodded, responding that it had been an enjoyable but late
night for all of them. Ms. Natalya prompted Tanya to hug Papa goodbye, and then Tanya reached for Ms. Natalya’s hand as they moved
together into the play area. Ms. Natalya asked Tanya more about her
favorite part of the county fair.
In this encounter, Tanya’s family child care provider
demonstrates her warm, responsive relationship with both
Tanya and her father at arrival time. She responds with
warmth when Tanya reaches out to her and then wants to
hold her hand while entering the play area. She expresses
interest in the news Tanya shares excitedly and pursues the
topic enthusiastically as Tanya makes the transition into her
day in Ms. Natalya’s program.
The following interactions and strategies can help develop close relationships
between teachers or caregivers and
Build and maintain a pattern of warm,
nurturing interactions with each child
in the designated group. Ensure that each
child has a primary teacher or caregiver
who will greet, support, and consistently
respond to the child’s needs, especially
at times of distress. Engage each child by
name frequently. Match the adult’s interaction to the child’s social cues.
Demonstrate in the child’s presence
a friendly, cooperative, and respectful
relationship with the child’s family.
Greet, communicate with, and touch the
child in ways that are consistent with
the values of the child’s culture (e.g.,
whether a child is expected to wait until
the teacher speaks or whether he should
address the teacher using a formal name
rather than a first name).
Encourage child–adult collaboration
in learning. Participate as co-explorers
in children’s projects and explorations.
Convey enthusiasm for each child’s
efforts and interest in their ideas. Engage
in extended conversation about topics a
child introduces.
Research Highlight
How important is the relationship
between young children and their
teachers for school success? In one
study, researchers measured the quality of child–teacher relationships in
preschool, kindergarten, and first grade,
and also measured children’s social and
academic skills in first grade. They found
that academic and social skills were
each positively associated with measures of child–teacher closeness and
negatively associated with child–teacher
conflict. Teacher–child relationships at
all ages—preschool, kindergarten, and
first grade—were important.61
reschool children enjoy the friendships
they develop with each other. They
typically have one or two particular children whom they identify as friends and
with whom they play and share other
activities.62 Teachers recognize the importance of friendships to social and emo-
tional development when they encourage
young children to enjoy shared activities
with friends. Teachers help children recognize and respond appropriately to their
friends’ feelings and preferences, assisting
in conflict resolution while also encouraging participation in group activities.
Adrian enters the classroom with twinkling eyes and a wide smile. He
runs to the cubby shelf and quickly stows his backpack. After popping
back up, he speeds over to Ms. Caitlin, who is sitting at the art table.
“Where’s Jorge?”
Ms. Caitlin smiles, kneels down next to Adrian, and says, “Good
morning, Adrian! You seem excited to find your friend Jorge. I know
how much you enjoy playing with him. Let’s see . . . I think I see him
building over in the block area.” Ms. Caitlin walks with Adrian across
the room over to the block area. “I wonder if your plan today is to
make a train with Jorge? He looks pretty busy over there.”
“I’m gonna help too! Jorge! Jorge!” exclaims Adrian excitedly as he
skips over to join Jorge in the block area.
In this situation, the child utilizes his close relationship with
his teacher to connect with an important friend. The teacher
thoughtfully puts language on a developing friendship and
helps the child find his preferred playmate in the classroom.
The following teacher interactions and
strategies can acknowledge and support
the role of friendships within the classroom group:
activities for extended, uninterrupted
periods of time. Respect a child’s preference for play at times with only one friend
or group of friends.
Plan a program that offers choices of
activities and associations with peers.
Develop learning areas that reflect the
various interests and abilities of members of the class. Provide several areas
that comfortably accommodate only two
or three children so that friends have
opportunities to engage in more complex
Use ongoing observations to inform
your social structuring of experiences.
Consider existing friendships when organizing small-group activities or mealtime
groups. Stucture small-group activities
so that more-hesitant children work on
projects with others whose interests and
styles seem compatible. Coach and sup-
port a child who is more socially isolated
to enter into play with another child who
shares similar interests and characteristics. Work intensively with children
whose social skills are lagging to coach
them in social situations. Coach preschool friends through the often intense
interactions that may occur between
friends with strong emotional attachments to each other.
Use books, puppet plays, and group
discussions to identify and reinforce
friendship skills (e.g., negotiation and
conflict resolution, sensitivity to others’
feelings, loyalty). Interactions between
the characters in a book, such as the
neighborhood children in Chester’s
Way, by Kevin Henkes, can lead to
discussions about ways to show loyalty
to an old friend while including a new
one, and the choices children face when
playmates have a variety of personality
Communicate with children’s families
about their preschool friendships and
encourage out-of-school contact with
school friends, if possible. Reassure family members about age-typical friendship
behavior. Concerns about any problematic social behavior observed at preschool
should be shared with them, too. Communicate with the families of children who
are more socially isolated about strategies
used at preschool. Families can reinforce
the strategies at home and in the community. Asking families for their ideas about
other strategies to try strengthens the
home–school connection.
Bringing It All Together
“No, you’re not!” shouts Michelle. “Yes,
I am! I’m the Mommy!” screams Lily.
“Well, you are a Silly Pilly. You’re not
my friend anymore” counters Michelle,
standing with her hands on her hips
and a scowl on her face.
At Michelle’s words, Lily’s lip begins to
quiver. Tears form in her eyes as she
yells, “I am your friend! I am!”
Miss Sandra moves over to the confrontation, kneels between the girls, and
says with concern, “You both look
really upset. Something is wrong. Can
you tell me what is happening?”
“She said I am not her friend!” exclaims
Lily, trying to overcome her tears.
“She is being a mean-y pants. I don’t
like her,” says Michelle.
“It sounds like both of you have hurt
feelings. Being friends with someone
means that sometimes we disagree
and we get mad or sad. It sounds like
that is happening right now. What can
we do?”
“I am going to play with David,” huffs
Michelle as she marches off. Lily leans
into Miss Sandra.
Miss Sandra considers what she
knows about each child’s individual
temperament before responding: “It’s
tricky sometimes with friends. Why
don’t we take a little break from playing with Michelle? I’ll bet she will be
ready to play later when you are both
feeling better.” Miss Sandra helps Lily
get involved in a new activity and then
makes a mental note to check with
each child’s parent at departure time.
Children express interests and needs
within a peer relationship in a variety of
ways. Not all children will be as overt as
Michelle and Lily, but the astute teacher
can identify these differences and support
peers much as Miss Sandra did in the
As young children explore friendship, they rely on their relationships
with adults for support. Teachers and
caregivers serve as a resource for understanding individual interests and needs
within a peer relationship. Opportunities
for independent and guided learning are
required for children to build their relationship skills. Sensitive adult support
helps children build the flexibility and
resiliency needed for the challenges
typical in any healthy relationship.
Keeping families informed includes them
as partners in their child’s learning and
development at preschool.
Engaging Families
here are ways to both strengthen
adult–child relationships and to help
children practice relationship skills. The
following strategies can be suggested to
families for use at home.
Start a special good-bye ritual to use
with a preschool child every day
(e.g., a hug, kiss, or special words,
followed by a wave at the window)
when it is time to leave. A predictable
routine is reassuring and makes the
transition easier.
Find at least a few minutes every day
to spend as special time with each
child. Family members may choose to
read a book together, go on an errand,
sing favorite songs, or converse about
the day as they do a chore together.
Meet the child’s primary preschool
teacher or caregiver and greet each
other in a friendly way at each arrival
and departure. Showing that parents
and teachers are working together
helps a child see that both value
learning and share in teaching.
Make sure that a preschool child has
opportunities—at home, in the neighborhood, or with relatives—to play
with other children and to practice
positive social skills.
Questions for Reflection
1. How did the adult’s response in this situation affect the two
friends involved? How would you have responded in this
2. What things do you do to help preschool children manage the
strong emotions that are often part of their friendships?
3. What kind of information do you share with families about their
children’s preschool friendships? How do families help inform you
about their child’s relationships with friends?
he heart of a curriculum that nurtures children’s socialemotional development is play. A play-based, active learning
approach allows many opportunities for practicing social
interaction and relationship skills. It provides support for the
growth of age- and developmentally appropriate self-regulation
abilities. It encourages children’s own curiosity and initiative.
Finally, play in a well-planned early learning program provides
each child with a network of nurturing, dependable adults who
will actively support and scaffold their learning in a group setting.
To be effective in accomplishing early learning goals, an active,
play-based program must allow children to freely choose and
pursue interests and activities, both alone and with others. It
must encourage them to translate their own thoughts, ideas, and
preferences into new activities and experiments. It must give them
access to these opportunities for activity and exploration in a
thoughtfully planned environment for a substantial portion of each
preschool day. And most importantly, it must be planned and led
by teachers who actively participate as co-explorers in children’s
chosen activities. In this context, play is essential and is enhanced
if materials are available to encourage creativity and problem
solving, and if teachers are attentive to the social interactions that
surround children’s play. This active, enthusiastic engagement of
children and adults together in a learning community can lead to
dramatic growth in children’s social-emotional understandings
and competencies and their readiness for the challenges of school.
Map of the Foundations
Social Interaction
12 | Social Interaction
Interactions with Peers
At around 48 months of age
At around 60 months of age
2.1 Interact easily with peers in shared
activities that occasionally become
cooperative efforts.
2.1 More actively and intentionally
cooperate with each other.
Children interact comfortably with one or two
playmates, although sociability is still basic.
Children sometimes share materials and
communicate together, occasionally working
cooperatively on a mutual goal or project,
especially with adult support.
Children initiate and participate in more
complex, cooperative activity with peers. This
may involve working together in groups to
achieve a shared goal or communicating about
how to share materials so all can use them.
• After watching another child dig in the sandbox,
begins to dig alongside in a similar fashion;
eventually the two children are digging together.
• Invites several children to help dig a hole in the
• Paints with other children on easels side by side,
with the children looking at each other’s pictures,
occasionally conflicting over the sharing of paints,
and commenting about their own painting.
• Responds appropriately to another child’s ideas
about how to build a better car track on the floor.
• Uses rhythm instruments together with several
other children.
• With adult prompting, shares the blocks she is
using or participates in turn-taking with another
• Suggests taking turns riding the tricycle.
• Shares play dough so another child can make
• Talks for several minutes with another child about
how they are dressing up in adult clothes for pretend play.
• Joins several other children to create a train track,
using blocks on the floor.
• Holds the bubble wand for another child so she
can blow bubbles.
• Sets the table with another child, communicating
about what is needed next.
Includes notes
for children
with disabilities
* Children may “play” whether or not they are communicating orally, narrating the play, or motorically engaging in activities.
For example, they may ask an adult or peer to assist in the motor aspects of play.
Teacher Resources
Bell, S. H., and others. Challenging Behaviors
in Early Childhood Settings: Creating a
Place for All Children. Baltimore: Brookes
Publishing Company, 2004.
Bilmes, J., and T. Welker. Common Psychological Disorders in Young Children: A Handbook for Early Childhood Professionals. St.
Paul, MN: Redleaf Press, 2006.
Birckmayer, J., J. Cohen, I. Doran Jensen,
and D. Altman Variano, comp. “Children’s
Books About Family Relationships and
Experiences.” Beyond the Journal: Young
Children on the Web (May 2005):1–5.
Brault, L. M. J., and T. J. Brault. Children
with Challenging Behavior: Strategies for
Reflective Thinking. Phoenix, AZ: CPG
Publishing Company, 2005. http://www.
The Center on the Social and Emotional
Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) is
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Language and
anguage is one of the most crucial tools that children acquire, one
that is essential for cognitive development, reading achievement, and
overall school performance, as well as for social relations. It allows
people to share a society’s achievements and history and the deepest
emotions. Language includes conventional sounds, gestures, and visual
symbols, such as writing, that are used separately and jointly for purposes
of communication. The human brain is “hard-wired” to learn language,
a process quite similar in all children. Yet children differ a good deal as to
when they use their first words, start
to combine words into sentences,
and use complex sentence forms
to communicate meaning. Though
children begin to develop language
and literacy at birth, with nonverbal
cues such as eye gaze and gestures,
they arrive at preschool ready to
communicate with symbols: words,
signs, and pictures.
Children’s early language and
literacy environments often vary, with
the amount and kind of experiences
differing across families. Some children
experience more conversations and book
reading than other children1, 2 and more
than one language. Some children see
print primarily in the environment (e.g.,
street signs, store coupons, labels on
containers).3 Other children engage with
print in many contexts, including books
read to them regularly. Some children
have opportunities to scribble, draw,
and write with crayons and markers
long before they come to preschool,
while others have few of these emergent
writing opportunities. Teachers should
encourage all preschoolers to join in
activities that will expand their language
and literacy skills. Each child’s family
should be invited to participate in this
exciting process.
The following components constitute
oral language:a
• Phonology—the sound system of language, such as noticing that hat, cat,
and mat differ by only a single initial
• Semantics—the meaning conveyed by
words, phrases, and sentences;
• Syntax or grammar—the rules that
govern how sentences are put together
(e.g., the English language relies on
word order to convey meaning: Manuel
throws the ball to Bertha versus Bertha
throws the ball to Manuel);
The term oral language is used to indicate the
inclusion of a phonological component. The other
components of language (semantics, syntax, morphology, vocabulary, and pragmatics) are present in
both oral languages, such as English and Spanish,
and visual languages, such as American Sign Language (ASL).
• Morphology—the units of meaning
within a language, also called morphemes, such as ed for past tense
(e.g., walked) and s for plural (e.g.,
• Vocabulary—the words in a given
language; and
• Pragmatics—the rules of language
used in social contexts (e.g., one would
talk differently to the president than
to one’s mother). Pragmatics includes
gathering information, requesting, and
communicating. Good conversations
depend on staying on the topic and
These components are used in the
auditory (i.e., listening, speaking) and
visual (i.e., sign, reading, writing)
Language allows children to express
their feelings and needs, acknowledge the
feelings and needs of others, and to talk
about emotions.4 It is critical that teachers and caregivers be responsive to young
children’s attempts at communication
Research Highlight
The principles and curricular suggestions
offered in this chapter are based on 40 years
of scientific research on language acquisition and literacy development. Here are just
a few of the amazing discoveries that form
the background of this chapter. The following findings come from this vast body of
from the left to right and top to bottom
on a page). When book reading is accompanied by explicit comments (e.g., “This
is the title of the book: Whistle for Willie”)
and actions (e.g., underlining the title as
it is read), children learn even more about
the features of books and how print
• Even in infancy, children are active learners who use data from the language they
hear to grasp patterns.5 Children learning
language behave as young mathematicians who respond to patterns and calculate, for instance, that in English –ed
generally comes at the end of verbs to
indicate the past tense (e.g., he walked or
it dropped).6
• Children’s storytelling skill and vocabulary development are supported through
shared reading experiences. Stories have
a predictable structure: setting, characters, a problem, and its resolution. As
children hear stories, they learn this basic
structure and begin to use this knowledge to shape the stories they create.8
Children also learn the meaning of new
words from listening to multiple readings
of good stories,9 “friendly explanations
of words” (explanations with wording and examples within the preschool
child’s grasp rather than a more formal
definition from a dictionary) offered by
teachers and parents as they read stories
to children,10, 11, 12 and from engagement
with adults in discussions during story
reading.13, 14
• When young children hear language
around them, they are accumulating the
data they need to use their skills and to
grasp the features of their native language. In addition, the very practice of
reading with children (e.g., starting at the
front of a book and moving page by page
to the end) teaches the patterns of book
structure and handling and the general
ways that print works (e.g., English is read
and language by focusing on things that
are meaningful to the children and their
families. No single component of any curriculum will have more impact on a preschooler’s development than language.
Preschool is also an exciting time for
written language development and for
promoting interest in reading. If the social
and physical environments in preschool
and the home support the development
of reading and written language, children
will want to hear stories from books
and to use books to find out more about
things of interest. They will also be
inclined to create marks that approximate
letters and to learn how to write their
own names. They will enjoy playing with
the sounds of language, as well. All of
these experiences are foundations for the
conventional reading and writing that
come later.
Children say or sign what they
hear or see
A rich language environment is key for
preschool children’s language learning as well as for their development as
readers and writers. The more language
children hear, the more their language
grows.18, 19, 20 Children say, sign, or use
touch screens to express what they
hear or see. When teachers use conventional language, they provide a model
from which children learn how to use
language themselves. The same is
true for reading and writing. The more
adults read and write with children and
show children how they use reading
and writing in their own lives, the more
children grow in their understanding
of what it means to be a reader and
writer. Adults also have many opportunities to answer children’s questions
about how print works.
Guiding Principles
Children learn everywhere
Adults can act as detectives to find
language and literacy opportunities everywhere and then use them
as teachable moments. For example,
when a child relates a personal experience and leaves out information
critical for a listener’s understanding,
asking a question that prompts the
child to provide this information helps
develop narrative skills (e.g., “Where
were you when the wind blew your hat
off?”).21 Caregiving situations can provide strong physical support for word
meanings and help children learn new
vocabulary (e.g., “Rub the palms of your
hands together, like this, to work up
a lather”).22 Teachers may refer to the
label on the soup can a child tips into
the play pan in the house area to cook
soup (e.g., “I see we’re having tomato
soup for lunch”) to support print skills.
Finding these everyday moments also
Language and literacy work together
Language and literacy support each
other. Children with well-developed
oral language are likely to succeed in
reading comprehension in later grade
levels than children with less welldeveloped oral language.15 Children
with strong oral vocabularies are likely
to make more progress in developing
phonological awareness.16 In addition,
language and literacy learning often
occur together in the same context.
For example, talking with a child about
what happened the day before supports both language development and
narrative skills.17 Helping children find
their names on the helper chart and
explaining how the helper chart system
works support both literacy and language.
enriches children’s appreciation for the
many uses that language and literacy
Children learn best from experiences
that are interesting, useful, and fun
The world and preschool are interesting and satisfying places for children
when they offer experiences that
engage and delight children and satisfy
their desire to know.23, 24 When children
learn that language can be fun (e.g.,
singing silly songs and reciting poems
with surprising endings) and also gets
things done, they will be motivated to
use their language. When children hear
the words in songs (e.g., “When You’re
Happy and You Know It”) that indicate
movements to make or when language
learning is embedded into routines
(e.g., “If you have a pocket in your shirt
or blouse, please go to the sink to wash
your hands”), they see a reason for
attending to language and for using it.
When they find out that books are full
of interesting characters and information (e.g., an ant is an animal!), they
will want to hear more books.
Celebrate and support the individual
Children differ in temperament and
also in their language and literacy
experiences. The child who is timid,
the child for whom English is not the
home language, or the child who uses
sign language or an alternative communication system may be reluctant
to communicate. Some children hear
more books read aloud than do other
children, and some are encouraged
to share their thoughts about the
story while others are encouraged to
just listen or to recite portions of the
text.25 Children’s access to pen, pencil, and paper in the early years also
varies. Knowing that individual children have different starting points, a
teacher accepts and delights in each
child’s path to language and literacy
and expands each child’s experiences.
Children with disabilities or communication differences benefit from teachers who understand their differences
in language and communication and
make allowances for them in the daily
Connect school and home
Building connections with the child’s
family members gives parents an
opportunity to get more involved in
their children’s learning. When parents
are provided with certain materials and
are helped to learn strategies supporting their children’s language and literacy development, children’s learning
benefits.26 Reaching out to families also
gives teachers opportunities to learn
about the strengths that each child
brings to school and about important
individual differences. For example,
teachers should ask family members to
provide information regarding a child
who uses (or is learning to use) an
alternative communication system. It
is also important to consult with specialists. This knowledge helps teachers
to build on and extend the experiences
that children have at home.
Create a culturally sensitive
Around the world, children in some
cultures are encouraged to speak up
while children in other cultures are
encouraged to remain silent. Teachers
need to be respectful of home expectations for language at the same time
that they support children to speak
up at school.27 In a preschool classroom that is too silent, children will
not experience enough language to
learn to use it or to gain knowledge
and skills for literacy. Children must
be surrounded by language to acquire
the vocabulary and sentence structures they need to read and write and
think.28, 29, 30, 31 This means that preschool teachers must talk and also
encourage children to use language for
negotiating with other children, asking for what they want, and expressing
their emotions.
Encourage children to take a turn
Children learn language and learn
about reading and writing through
social interaction, especially when
there is a lot of “back and forth” in
a conversation.32 Strike a balance
between surrounding children with
language and letting them talk too.33
Research suggests that children “talk”
very little in the preschool classroom, 34
even though doing so would promote
their language development. Children
should be asked open-ended questions
that require more than one word to
answer (e.g., “What are all the foods
you like to eat for breakfast?” rather
than “What did you eat this morning?”). Then teachers can follow up
with additional questions, for example,
asking about what the child’s family
does in the morning. Questions should
not test or quiz but serve as prompts
that encourage children to generate
language. Children will also learn as
teachers model for them how to engage
in back-and-forth exchange with other
children. When teachers ask for children’s opinions and ideas, children’s
confidence soars. Additionally, when
teachers encourage children to make
choices, for example, about which
of two literacy activities they wish
to engage in, children will be more
invested in the activity.
Make thoughts more explicit to
children by thinking out loud
Teachers may share their thinking
in a demonstration of how to write
a letter to a child who has asked for
help. They describe their actions (e.g.,
“To write the letter K, you start with
a long vertical line like this, and then
you draw a short diagonal line like
this, and then another short diagonal
line from here down to here.”). Teachers may also share their thoughts during routine tasks, such as cleaning
out the clogged spout of a glue bottle
(e.g., “I’m going to open up this paper
clip and place it in the bottle’s spout.
If I can get the dried piece out of the
spout, the glue will come out again.
See the hole? I’m going to stick the end
of the paper clip right in there . . .”).
Hearing the teacher describe his or her
actions increases children’s language
and literacy learning.35, 36 Learning can
benefit from explicit thinking out loud
in routine contexts, just as in planned
instructional contexts.37
Support curiosity and confidence
Children should not be afraid to ask
“Why?” and “How come?” Children
ask questions in environments that
are cognitively interesting and challenging. They are more confident and
learn more in environments that are
emotionally supportive.38, 39, 40 Asking questions, such as “I wonder what
would happen if . . .” and using comments, such as “Tell me about. . . .,”
engage children in wondering and
thinking and in sharing their thoughts.
These prompts also let children know
that adults think children’s ideas are
Create literacy-rich environments
Interesting materials, organized attractively to create specific areas in the
indoor and outdoor learning environments, prompt children to talk,
explore, build, draw, paint, move,
inquire, and enact roles in pretend
play. Literacy materials and props,
embedded throughout the learning
environment, make using language
and engaging in reading and writing
a routine part of each preschool day.
Observe children
By observing children’s engagement
with language and literacy, teachers
find ways to enter their world to support and extend their learning. These
observations become a guide for intentional classroom practice. As teachers
implement planned activities, their
observations of children’s responses
provide vital information that helps
teachers meet children’s specific needs.
Environments and
ow the learning environment is
arranged affects how children learn
to talk, read, and write. An environment
that fosters language development, twoway communication, and literacy skills
provides rich curriculum content. The
daily schedule accommodates a variety
of groupings (e.g., large group, small
group, and individual), and the learning
materials fascinate children. Children
learn more when adults model language
and literacy as well as provide playful,
purposeful instruction. Play spaces with
literacy props (e.g., signs, lists) allow children to congregate and to make choices
that foster rich language and literacy
The daily schedule for adult–child
and child–child interactions
Program leaders need to create opportunities within the day for adult–child
and child–child interaction. Consistency in the daily schedule, routines,
and locations of interest areas helps
all children, especially those with cognitive or social behavior challenges
or with visual disabilities, because it
reduces uncertainty. The most beautiful room is only as good as the interaction that takes place inside it. Conversation with adults and with peers,
exposure to print, and writing and
drawing materials are key to fostering
language and literacy.
Large-group space
Sitting together for group songs,
games, and discussions and facing a
wall with attractive and uncluttered
displays allow children a clear view of
teachers and peers. They can attend
to and respond to verbal and nonverbal communication, as well as visual
Small-group spaces
During some portions of the preschool
day, teachers might gather children in
small groups. Small groups allow more
individual interaction with adults than
do large groups, and they help ensure
that each child interacts with a teacher
every day.
Most literacy skills interventions with
demonstrated effectiveness have been
done in small-group settings,41 no
doubt, because these settings allow
teachers to adapt both interaction
levels and teaching strategies to meet
individual needs (e.g., language development for children who are English
learners). Small groups also benefit
children with disabilities, as adults can
demonstrate for all of the children how
accommodations increase the child’s
ability to communicate. For example,
having picture symbols available that
the child uses to initiate comments or
respond to questions illustrates the
skills needed for fluent conversations.
A space to display family-related
The link between home and school
may be strengthened by display-
ing family photographs, child–parent
drawings and projects, or drawings of
family members that children create at
school. Document school-based family activities with photos and display
them. Rich lists of words may accompany illustrations to match the occupations of family members or the favorite foods enjoyed in each child’s home.
Centers or interest areas
Individual centers or interest areas,
each focusing on a unique kind of
experience, give children a range of
choices. These special places encourage preschool children to work collaboratively and to communicate with
one another. They also provide children
with opportunities to work alone, if
they wish. Areas with quiet activities
are separate from those with more exuberant activities. Paths leading to areas
are free of barriers for children who
use mobility devices, such as walkers,
and large enough to allow children to
interact around the materials. Relevant
books, signs, and other print artifacts
may be placed in each of the areas,
along with writing supplies to support
children in using print props in play
(e.g., notepads and telephone directories, menus and order pads, road
signs) and in routines (e.g., paper for
a turns list, name tags for an activities chart, a helper chart). (See more
specific suggestions in “1.0, Concepts
About Print,” page 129).
– Create a dramatic play area
The basic dramatic play area is a
“house area” filled with dress-up
clothes, furniture, toy dishes, empty
food containers, and dolls.
Ting dresses up like a mother with
high heels and a fancy hat. She
serves a bowl of plastic noodles
complete with make-believe chopsticks. David joins, asking if he may
serve the toy hamburgers. They talk
about the different things their families eat and how they eat. As other
children join in to create a banquet
of pretend foods, the play and the
language exchanges become more
Using basic clothing and other props
from home and community environments, rather than commercial outfits, encourages children to create
their own play scenarios. Sometimes
dramatic play introduces cultural
differences in preferred foods, clothing, or eating utensils. The children’s
pretend stories serve as platforms
for high-level language and support
understanding of stories they hear
in books read to them. Using additional play themes during the year
(e.g., grocery store, pet store, post
office, repair shop) provides more
opportunities to introduce cultural
variations. It also supports children’s
varied interests and extends the
contributions of dramatic play to
children’s understanding of a larger
range of stories and other kinds of
– Create a block area
Block play often enlists small groups
who are learning to collaborate and
communicate as they build a fire station or the tallest tower. As children
work together, they use language
and learn words such as above and
below. Adults who comment on
children’s work by using sentences
model good sentence structure and
also the complex spatial language
that is related to later spatial and
mathematical abilities.42, 43 Adding
related books and writing materials to the block area encourages
literacy development and appeals to
children’s delight in adding details to
buildings and streets (e.g., signs) to
make them resemble what children
observe in the real world.
– Create an art area
As children hold pens, paintbrushes,
markers, and crayons and manipulate scissors, glue bottles, and clay,
they not only create works of art
but also build the fine motor skills
needed for writing, drawing, and
painting. Including materials with
a variety of handles (e.g., built up,
round) enables the child with a different kind of grasp to participate.
As children use art to represent
their experiences and feelings or
to capture something created by
their imagination, they also use and
develop skills in the use of symbols
that support oral or sign language
and the composing of messages and
stories that can be written down.
– Create a writing area
Although children have opportunities
to write in all interest areas, an area
devoted specifically to writing materials increases children’s interest and
engagement in writing. White and
colored paper (drawing, manila, and
copier) in several sizes, along with a
variety of writing tools (e.g., markers, crayons, pens) are available. To
avoid conflict over materials, teachers make writing tools (e.g., markers, crayons) available in small sets
suitable for use by one or two children rather than in large tubs.
A large whiteboard or an easel make
writing accessible to children with
limited fine motor skills and those
too “busy” to sit down to write. The
classroom includes tilted surfaces
and writing tools that are adapted
for use by children with physical or
motor difficulties. (See strategies in
the Writing strand, on page 162, for
more suggestions.) Some children
may need assistance in emergent
writing either through assistive
technology or through the direct
help of an adult. Assistive technology, either low tech or high tech,
may be as simple as increasing the
width of the marker or pencil so that
it is easier to grasp or as sophisticated as using a computer. Another
possibility would be for an adult
or peer to “write” for the child, who
would then approve or disapprove
by indicating yes or no.
– Create a cozy library or book area
The classroom has plenty of books
reflecting the different languages,
cultures, and current skill levels of
the children. Books should be displayed cover-forward on shelves.
Include narrative and information
texts, as well as books of verse. A
cozy mat or small couch allows children to curl up and read. Flannel
boards and flannel stories, puppets,
stuffed animals, soft dolls, and story
character props in a nearby area are
provided. Only a few of these materials are placed in the library area
at one time, and the selections are
rotated over time to provide a variety
of experiences.
Too many materials at a time can
overwhelm children and crowd the
physical space needed to use materials comfortably. Teachers may post
signs in the library (e.g., Reading
Zone, Reading Is Fun, Be a Bookworm). Signs for reading and writing
areas can also be placed outdoors.
Illustrated books are augmented with
texture to accommodate children
with visual or cognitive disabilities,
and books with large print or braille
are included for children with visual
impairments. Photo albums (e.g., of
children engaged in activities at preschool, field trips, celebrations) and
class books made by the children
help them to connect reading with
their lives and also support language
development as children discuss the
photos and help compose captions
for the pages.
Some children may need assistance
in holding a book or turning the
pages either through assistive tech-
children explore science content, they
learn rich vocabulary, ask questions,
and describe what they see and hear.
They also can learn to document
investigations with drawings or writing, some of which they dictate to
– Create a game area
When children play language games,
they hear and use rich language
in the context of the game as well
as in their discussion around the
game. Negotiating whose turn it is
and discussing what happened give
children the opportunity to use their
language and work with printed
nology or with the help of an adult
or peer. For example, a book can be
mounted so that a child need not
hold it, and sturdy tabs placed on
a book’s pages make them easier
to turn. Another option for children with motor disabilities severe
enough to limit book handling is to
provide books on CDs.
– Create a science area
The science area is full of items
that spark curiosity and wonder
and prompt children to explore and
find out. It has plants and animals
under the children’s care and many
objects to explore (e.g., shells, seeds,
rocks, bark, magnets). The outdoor
play space is also a science area,
with wheels and sloped areas; a
variety of interesting substances
(e.g., puddles, sand, mud); clouds,
wind, and sun; spiders, birds, and
leaves; and shadows. Information
books, placed in the indoor science
area as well as outside in suitable
tubs or on a cart, extend children’s
firsthand science experiences. As
– Create a math area
When children play with shapes,
find patterns, or play with tangram
materials, they are building early
mathematical skills, including the
language of mathematics (e.g.,
three sides and three corners; same
and different; triangle, square,
and hexagon). Board games, such
as those with dice and spinners,
encourage children to learn number
words used in counting as they
move ahead three or four spaces.
Building knowledge of the quantities
represented by number words and
the language terms to talk about
number relationships helps children
learn the foundation of mathematics
(e.g., five is more than three).44 The
teacher’s participation in the math
activities helps support children in
learning math-related vocabulary
and prompts children to talk about
their actions and discoveries. The
activities are important opportunities for children to practice using
the math terms the teacher models.
Prepare materials ahead of time for
maximizing language and literacy
Think ahead about what you want
to accomplish with the children and
select and prepare materials needed
in advance of small- and large-group
activities. Books, songs, and other
activities are more effective when they
relate to children’s interests and when
the teacher is intentional in their use.
Children’s experiences will be particularly meaningful if their home culture
is tapped. Another way to plan so that
classroom time is used effectively is
to gather enough materials (e.g., costumes, blocks, books, dolls) to minimize the amount of time that any child
spends waiting.
Arrange learning environments
to fascinate children and prompt
Think ahead about what will fascinate
children and make them want to learn.
Perhaps a spot in the classroom may
be designated for inspecting interesting
things (e.g., shavings from the pencil
sharpener, paintbrush bristles,
feathers, a collection of seeds, or
collections of rocks or shells) with the
naked eye or a magnifying glass. Place
drawing materials there to prompt
children to sketch what they see, if
they are interested. The intentional
teacher joins children as they explore
in learning environments to ask what
they are noticing, to help them notice
more, and to use new vocabulary (e.g.,
shavings, bristles, pebbles, speckled)
in authentic conversations with the
Extend the classroom beyond
its walls
Being on the playground or going on
a class trip gives children engaging
opportunities to learn important
language and literacy content. For
example, provide road signs for an
outdoor tricycle path and paper and
writing tools for making speeding
tickets. Child-made flyers advertising
lemonade stands and drive-through
restaurants can be utilized for outside
play. Clipboards support children in
writing and drawing outside. Provide a
tub of information books outside that
relate to natural items children might
observe (e.g., insects, worms, flowers, trees). On a field trip—even a walk
around the block—read road signs
and house numbers, answer children’s
questions, and point out things the
children might not notice at first (e.g.,
a bird’s nest in a tree, workers on a
scaffold washing a building’s windows).
The opportunities are endless.
Summary of Language
Listening and Speaking consists of three
substrands. Language use and conventions focuses on how children use their
language for a number of purposes,
including learning how to participate in
short conversations. Vocabulary learning
is one of the most important accomplishments of early childhood and is related to
later reading comprehension. Grammar
allows children to go beyond mere naming with their vocabularies to express
their ideas in sentences. Understanding
how words are put together in a sentence
(i.e., grammar) is strongly related to reading comprehension—to understanding
the meaning in books and stories. Speaking can be accomplished through oral
language or sign language.
Summary of Literacy
Reading consists of five substrands.
Concepts about print involves the understanding that print is meaningful and
can be used for a variety of purposes.
Phonological awareness concerns
learning to notice that spoken words
have parts. Alphabetics and word/print
recognition includes identifying alphabet
letters and linking letters in printed
words to sounds in spoken words.
Comprehension and analysis of ageappropriate text involves thinking that
leads to understanding stories and other
kinds of books. Literacy interest and
response includes children’s engagement
in and motivation for reading.
Writing focuses on understanding that
print represents ideas and on learning
to move from drawing and scribble
writing to using letters and words. Much
exploration with paper and writing tools
occurs before children will try to write to
convey specific meanings. When children
write to convey meaning, they are using
their language, their physical ability to
hold a crayon or pencil, and the cognitive
understanding that the marks they make
on the page are symbols that represent a
meaning that can be shared.
Summary of the Strands
and Substrands
Listening and Speaking
1.0 Language Use and Conventions
2.0 Vocabulary
3.0 Grammar
1.0 Concepts about Print
2.0 Phonological Awareness
3.0 Alphabetics and Word/Print
4.0 Comprehension and Analysis
of Age-Appropriate Text
5.0 Literacy Interest and Response
1.0 Writing Strategies
Please refer to the map of the language
and literacy foundations on page 169 for
a visual explanation of the terminology
used in the preschool learning foundations.
Listening and Speaking
anguage takes place all around us—in social interactions between
teachers and children, in classroom management, in play between
children, and in instructional activities. For example, when children
learn mathematics and science, they learn
them through language as well as
through meaningful, multisensory
experiences. Language also
enhances or limits children’s
ability to choose playmates
and join in games on the
playground. The Listening
and Speaking strand
has three substrands:
language use and
conventions, vocabulary,
and grammar.
Language Use and Conventions
ow does a child ask for what he
needs in a way that is polite and
respectful, clear, and easily understood?
A four-year-old wants to use the swing
that his peer has been on for over ten
minutes. A five-year-old wants to share
a story about the family celebration
of Chinese New Year. Learning to use
language effectively is a crucial life
skill that develops from describing to
predicting, from merely greeting someone
to seeking new information about him
or her. The very climate of the preschool
classroom depends on how well children
use language to communicate their
needs, ideas, and feelings. Teachers
can support young children in the area
of language use and conventions by
repeating and extending what children
say in conversations, by telling stories
themselves, and by modeling appropriate
language usage.
Four skills are described in this substrand, each of which is a foundation.
Each of these skill areas calls for a distinct set of practices based on research
evidence; therefore, the following curricular suggestions are organized by skills
or foundations. This organization offers
teachers a structure for creating their
own links between foundations that focus
on different skills and activities in the
The four skills are as follows:
• Use language to communicate with
• Speak clearly.
• Use accepted language styles.
• Tell a short story or retell something
that happened earlier in the day.
Use Language to Communicate with Others
Everyday moments provide special opportunities for children to
develop the basics of communication when they describe what
they found, comment on an item of interest, or even greet a peer.
Armand finds a worm on the playground and gently carries it to
show the teacher. A group of excited children follow him, eager to
learn more about the worm. Ms. Krim asks, “What did you find
there, Armand?” as she signals to others to join the conversation.
“Is it alive?” one child asks. The teacher responds, “What do you
think? How could we tell?”
Building on the child’s interest and being “in the moment”
with the child, this teacher demonstrates back-and-forth
communication and begins a conversation. She engages the
children by making it interesting and fun, by encouraging
children to take a turn, by taking children’s questions
seriously, and by letting children contribute to the
As the four-year-olds gather for small-group reading time, Ting
sits quietly behind a much taller and more energetic Fernando.
A child who speaks Chinese at home, Ting rarely talks in class,
never raising her hand amidst the flurry of children who want to
be constantly recognized. Her teacher wisely chose a book to read
that told a story about Ting’s favorite topic: butterflies. For the first
time, Ting quietly contributes to the conversation using English,
“My grandfather has a butterfly like that.”
The teacher, capitalizing on the moment, asks, “Where does your
grandfather keep his butterflies?” drawing Ting out further. Other
children join in the dialogue and continue to talk as they make
paper butterflies in the art area.
By choosing a topic of interest to Ting, the teacher encouraged Ting to contribute to the class discussion in her
second language. The teacher chose the topic that allowed
Ting to be the expert, thereby connecting school and home.
The teacher encouraged the other children to solicit more
information from Ting, continuing the discussion and
making the topic into an interesting activity. For more
information about strategies to support children who are
English learners, see Chapter 5.
In every classroom, there are planned
and unplanned opportunities that spark
language use and effective communication. The teachers in the vignettes used
the following interactions and strategies
to support preschool children:
Set the stage for language use. Teachers can make sure that children have a
chance to talk by setting aside time for
them to discuss and to share their ideas.
Teachers know that some of children’s
time in the classroom must be spent listening, but they also understand that
children need to hear their own voices
too. Children who communicate with sign
language or another system need to have
their expressions acknowledged and be
included in the conversations and interactions among children.
Acknowledge children’s contributions.
Treating children with respect helps
children become curious and confident.
Making eye contact with them at their
level when they attempt to communicate,
greeting each child by name, and recasting their talk to indicate that they have
been heard tells children implicitly, “Your
contribution is valuable.” Teachers can
also show children that their talk is valued by providing an explanation when
children ask questions about what a
word means and by building upon what
children say.
children an object they have never seen
before—maybe a real kitchen or cleaning
tool (e.g., a sieve or a bottle brush). Give
each child an opportunity to ask questions to figure out what the item does
and what it might be called.
Play games and make them interesting and fun! Use games that prompt
children to talk and ask questions. Hide
a toy in a pillowcase and ask children to
reach in without looking and describe
what they touch. Bring food with a familiar aroma—perhaps the ethnic foods
children are acquainted with—and ask
children, “What does this smell like?
Banana, guava, or chocolate?” Show
Engage in “getting to know you”
conversations. Help children to use language to comment on and learn about
others in an engaging way. Have teachers
and children teach each other how to say
hello and good-bye in other languages.
Model the use of conventional greetings
when others enter the room, as in
“Hello, Ms. Schwartz! How are you?”
Speak Clearly
Communication is effective only when people are understood. When
teachers speak clearly, they model good pronunciation, which gently helps children refine their own speech. Sometimes children will
be difficult to understand. Most children will improve with time. If
teachers see little improvement, they should refer the child to someone who can assess the child and recommend specific strategies that
can help the child make progress.
Luka announces in circle time that tomorrow is his “birfday.” The
teacher says with delight, “Your birthday is tomorrow? Yes, your birthday is very soon, and I can see that you are getting excited now that
your birthday is almost here.”
Pronouncing th as f is a common mispronunciation that
usually goes away if children are exposed to the conventional
pronunciation over time. By consistently using the correct
production without embarrassing Luka, the teacher can help
children hear the contrast between f and th. Treating the
mispronunciation this way is an example of children saying
or signing what they hear or see because most children will
eventually say words the way they hear their teachers say
The following strategy supports preschool children:
More games. Teach children a nonsense
rhyme to music that requires clear enunciation. Model the syllables for them with
great exaggeration and have them say the
rhyme together. For example, “A benny
dicky doom bah. A lassa massa mossah.
Oh ben away ben awo ben awah.” The
popular song “Apples and Bananas” also
provides opportunities for language play.
Exposing children to a variety of such
experiences over time keeps their interest high and requires different speech
adaptations. Objects or pictures with
names that differ by a single sound may
be placed in a box. As a child pulls out
an object, ask or invite the whole class
to say the word and then the contrasting
word (e.g., bat/hat; bow/toe; hand/band).
Children with oral motor involvement who
may have difficulty in saying words or syllables as they learn to match, synthesize,
or analyze syllables and sounds may demonstrate their knowledge by indicating yes
or no in response to an adult’s production
of sounds or words.
Use Accepted Language Styles
Teachers can help children begin to learn accepted language conventions and styles so that they do not interrupt other children, so
that they are polite, and so that they speak in quiet or strong voices
where appropriate.
Gloria just spent her weekend at the beach collecting seashells. She
comes to show Ms. Lutz one of her prize shells. Ms. Lutz asks, “Where
did you find these beautiful seashells?”
Tony chimes in before Gloria can answer: “I got new shoes.”
Ms. Lutz turns to Tony and says, “I really want to hear about your
shoes, and you can tell me later about them. Right now, let’s find out
more about Gloria’s seashells.”
Ms. Lutz illustrates the importance of staying on topic and
of respecting others’ rights to continue a conversation. By
suggesting that Tony wait his turn and listen to Gloria, she
reinforces that conversation is a give-and-take. When she asks
questions of the children, she encourages them to take a turn.
The following strategy supports
preschool children:
Model the use of language conventions and encourage children to do
the same. By using complete and clear
sentences, the teacher in the vignette
showed children how to speak clearly.
When teachers use polite and appropriate
language, children will follow their lead.
Teachers should also ask questions and
encourage children who are hesitant to
respond in their “big voice” while encouraging loud children to speak in their
“small voice.” Teachers can also help
children learn when to use their big and
small voices (e.g., on the playground—big
voice, but during naptime—small voice).
Tell a Short Story or Retell Something
That Happened Earlier in the Day
Oral narrative, or storytelling, is often considered a bridge between
language development and reading. When telling a story about
something that happened earlier in the day or inventing a fictional
tale, one must take the listener’s perspective into account and fill
in details that are often not included in a conversation. Telling
stories demands not only the use of vocabulary and sentences but
also a particular structure: a setting, characters, a problem, and a
Producing narratives at these ages may vary for children who are
communicating with sign language or an alternative communication system. As is true for all children, teachers can support
young children’s communication knowledge and skills by repeating and extending what children say in conversations. Teachers
can also provide opportunities for children to repeat or tell stories
as a way of encouraging them to produce narratives.
Azadeh and Alberto are dressing up to act out the book the class
has read several times. The teacher and the children in the audience remind the actors when they forget to portray crucial moments
in the story. Jorge hollers, “Then he saved the frog!” and the actors
laugh and depict that scene.
Through guided dramatic play, the children act out a
story for the class. The children themselves begin to notice
key story elements and remind each other about these
moments, all in the spirit of having fun. Silence is not
always golden as the children, eager to share their recall
of the story, tell the actors what they missed.
Adelita is eager to tell the class about the holiday gathering at her
house. In her home language, she says, “Vino mi abuelita. Y vino
mi tía. Y vino mi tío.” (My grandma came. My aunt came. And my
uncle came.) The teacher, who knows Spanish, tells the class what
Adelita said and then asks her some questions first in Spanish and
then in English (e.g., “Did baby Ana come too?”). Adelita’s answers
delight the class as she tells them about baby Ana’s visit.
The teacher’s explanation of what Adelita said enabled
everyone to feel included. By making this story engaging for
all, the teacher is implicitly valuing Adelita’s home language.
Follow-up questions to the child’s story allow the teacher
to not only help Adelita to express herself but also to build
narrative skill.
It is Lara’s turn to share a special story from home. Lara, who is
beginning to use an assistive technology communication device, had
some key words added to her device that enable her to share. As Mr.
Tony holds up the pictures, she pushes the button that labels the picture. Mr. Tony expands the label by saying “Tango. This is your new
dog, Tango.” Lara beams as the children get excited. “I got a dog like
that!” Emilio says, “He is black too.” Mr. Tony holds up another picture
and asks, “What is Tango doing in this picture, Lara?”
Mr. Tony expands on the information because he had the
background provided by Lara’s father. Mr. Tony makes it
possible for Lara to join the others and have a turn at sharing.
Children’s interactions with Lara may increase because now
they have a connection to Lara and her dog.
The following interactions and strategies support preschool children:
Build on preschool children’s own
experiences. By asking children to
recount simple daily experiences such as,
“What do you do when you wake up in
the morning, before you come to school?”
teachers give children a chance to tell
a story about a routine they know very
well. Children will often take more risks
in their home language. A teacher who
invites stories from children in their home
language conveys respect for the home
language. Children also learn English
from the teacher’s translation. For more
information about strategies to support
children who are English learners, see
Chapter 5.
Use dramatic play and co-construct
stories. Encourage children to dress
up and pretend. The scripts children
create for their play (e.g., baby gets sick
and must go to the doctor; Grandma
is coming for a visit, and the house
must be cleaned) are stories. Creating
their own stories in play helps children
understand stories that are read to them
and is preparation for reading. In circle
time, teachers start a story with, “Once
upon a time there was a big brown bear
who walked quietly up to . . .” and let
each child add a piece of the story while
moving around the circle.
Give story stems. Sometimes if the
teacher just suggests, “The funniest
thing that happened to me was . . .”
children will fill in the blank with interesting responses. Or ask children in a
small-group setting to close their eyes
and imagine that they are somewhere
else instead of in preschool . . .” Then the
teachers asks the children to take turns
answering, “Where are you? And who else
is there?”
he number of words that children
learn is strongly related to later school
success, because reading comprehension
depends on it.45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50 So too, is the
diversity of the words they know. Children
who know many names for things, for
example, can be more specific in representing what they mean, in telling people
what they want, and in understanding
what others say to them and the meaning of language in books. Children who
know names for actions and events can
use their language fluently to describe
the things going on around them, as well
as what was and what can be. The language children develop as their vocabulary grows allows them to escape into
new imaginary worlds, to solve problems
with words (e.g., “How can I get the swing
when Jonny is still on it?”) and to predict
what will happen next in a book or story.
When children know literacy-related
vocabulary (e.g., word, vocabulary, pronounce, sounds, meaning, letter, sentence),
they will better understand instructional
language they hear in school settings and
children can better ask questions about
language and literacy contexts (e.g.,
“What letter is that?” “Whose name is
that?” “What does extinct mean?”).
The vocabulary substrand is organized
around three areas:
• Understanding and using words for
objects, actions, and attributes
• Understanding and using words for
categories of things and actions
• Understanding and using words for
simple and complex relations between
Understanding and Using Words for Objects,
Actions, and Attributes
Preschool children need a vault filled with common words at the
start of their journey into language and literacy. That journey
begins when they learn the conventional names of familiar objects,
actions, and attributes. Some children may speak a dialect of English that uses different words, and others will speak a different
language or communicate through sign language or an alternative
system. All children need exposure to conventional words.
In response to the construction outside their classroom, the room
is filled with activity as children use their plastic hammers and
wrenches, tool belts, and benches. The planned curriculum includes
a Construction Unit. Outside the window, the children can see the
cranes move and the workers in hard hats. They hear the sound of
hammer against nail. This week the teacher reads to the class stories about construction equipment and information books about how
tall buildings are made. The construction outside gives Ms. Vase an
opportunity to expose children to the names of common and even
not-so-common tools. Ms. Vase sent home a one-page newsletter in
the languages of families represented in her classroom, telling parents about the Construction Unit and about vocabulary children are
learning. She asked if any parents who are builders or carpenters
would like to come to class to share their experiences.
What a fun, engaging, and meaningful vocabulary experience this is for children as they watch the construction outside! Ms. Vase also found ways to connect with families. Ms.
Vase tells the class the names of some of the common tools
in another language children speak. She brings some tools
from home to put on display, labeled in several languages.
The following interactions and strategies support preschool children:
Build on children’s interests. Notice
where children look and then talk about
the things that are the focus of attention and action, using interesting, rich
vocabulary. This simple but basic strategy makes people more sensitive listeners
and children better learners. “Oh, that is
a . . . (e.g., solid, heavy) truck. How are
you thinking that you might use it?” Be
sure to follow a child’s interests. If you
see a child examining a door hinge, you
might ask, “I think you might be wondering what that is. It is called a hinge,
and it attaches a door to the wall but
also allows the door to move. Do you see
where the hinge is attached to the door
and to the wall? Yes, it’s interesting to
open and close the door to see how it
works.” After a few moments, suggest
that the child find other hinges. If possible, bring an unattached hinge for the
child to explore the next day. This will
increase a child’s understanding of how
a hinge is designed and what makes it
What’s my name? Names of things
come at different levels. There are types
of trucks (e.g., tow truck, dump truck,
cement truck), the general category
“truck,” or the larger category, “vehicles,”
that includes trucks. Young preschool
children know the names of categories
they encounter frequently—toys, food,
clothes, or animals. Many children may
know those words in two languages. As
preschoolers develop their understanding
of things in the world, their use of categories expands: reptiles, planets, vehicles,
fruits, vegetables, and furniture. As caregivers, teachers, and parents name and
describe the things that children notice,
children learn more names of things.
Yet it is desirable for children not only
to know nouns, but also to learn common names of actions (e.g., “Wow, you
run really fast. Can you run even faster?”)
and properties too (e.g., “It looks like this
brush has stiffer bristles than that one”).
Young preschool children also use words
such as under, in, and different. Older
preschool children begin to use words to
describe relations between objects such
as next to and in front of.
Language in, language out . . . Narrate!
Narration is another effective way to
build children’s vocabulary. Preparing
for snack time is a teachable moment for
the children who are near the teacher
as she shares, as if to herself, “Okay,
let’s put the apple juice on the table and
then we’ll need to get eight napkins.
Even “long” words, such as herbivore,
can be a part of natural conversation if
that word is used many times and across
contexts. For example, a teacher may ask
a class, “Did you know that the dinosaur
called Apatosaurus is an herbivore? (said
slowly). That’s right—herbivores don’t
eat meat—only plants. Do you know any
people who don’t eat meat? What do we
call people who don’t eat meat?”
More word games. Familiar games such
as Simon Says can teach language. For
example, “Simon Says point to the squirrel. Point to the alligator.” Playing the
game I Spy as in “I spy . . . a rectangle,”
is also language-rich. Sing songs in the
home language and in English. Words
accompanied by melodies are easily
Understanding and Using Words for Categories
of Things and Actions
Most words name categories rather than single objects; for
example, chair can be applied to many kinds of chairs, from
dining room chairs to beanbag chairs. And chair fits into another
category called furniture. When we learn the names of categories,
we are learning where one category begins and another ends.
For example, what defines walking versus running?
“I’m gonna play the drums, the flute, and the guitar today,” said
“That’s great,” responded the teacher. “You play a lot of instruments! Does anyone in your family also play an instrument?”
Here the teacher responded directly to the child and offered
a new category word. The teacher also took the opportunity to continue the conversation by connecting home and
school. By adding to the conversation, the teacher was even
able to use the new word instrument twice.
There are many words for many different actions. Teachers
can make a list of different actions they see children doing
while outdoors. On another day these action words can
guide a movement game for children (e.g., “Can you hop
on one foot?”). In action songs at circle time, teachers can
build in various large- and small-motor actions by adding
more verses to those in the original songs.
Many strategies for building better
vocabularies work equally well for category
learning. Teachers may use categories of
actions and attributes. Even though running looks very different when done by an
Olympian and a toddler, both examples
are called running. Similarly, categories
for attributes such as colors or shapes
contain items that look very different.
The following strategy supports
preschool children:
“Can you put the circles in the green box
and the squares in the red box?”
“Let’s put the fruit in the bowl and the
vegetables in the box.”
“All the children with curly hair, please
wash your hands for snack.”
One of the best ways to learn categories
is by having a stock of books that constitute a category, such as shape books,
animal books, and food books.
Playing category games. Four- and fiveyear-olds love sorting games:
Understanding and Using Words for Simple
and Complex Relations Between Objects
Words that describe relationships such as in front of and behind
or big and little can be difficult for children. These words can also
be more difficult because some of these words vary by language.
For example, Korean children do not use words such as in and
on but rather describe items as fitting tightly (e.g., an interlocking
block on another interlocking block or foot in a sock) or loosely
(e.g., apple in bowl or a book on a table).
“Okay. We need to get organized so we can take a picture. You will
know your place if you listen closely as we play the Where Do I
Go? game. Ying, would you please stand at the front of the line?
Vang, would you please stand at the back of the line? Sayed, can
you go next to Po? John, please go to the middle of the line. Ivan,
please go behind Sarita.”
Here the teacher incorporated specific language learning
in a transition, making it necessary for children to listen
to the words for various spatial relations. Even simple
routines, such as going on a neighborhood walk, can be
full of language that children need to learn. A language
game allows children to learn vocabulary about spatial
relations without even realizing it and have fun, too! From
the child’s perspective, she is getting ready to do something
or to go somewhere, even though the teacher also has clear
language goals in mind.
As before, vocabulary is best learned
in the context of meaningful exchanges
and by following children’s interests.
The interactions and strategies listed for
vocabulary on pages 118–120 work well
with a few additions:
Detective work. Same and different:
Show three pictures of bears, two that are
exactly the same and one that is different. Can children find the one that is the
same? The one that is different? When
children seem to understand same and
different, make the game a little harder
by playing it at a higher category level.
An example is the category of animals. A
bear and a cat are in the same category,
but an airplane is in a different category.
Do the same thing with concepts, such
as big and little: Three toy elephants of
different heights and weights are placed
side by side. “Can you find the big stuffed
animal?” Or this strategy may be used
with raisins: “Can you find the big (small)
raisin?” Every so often, put all the plastic
dishes and flatware used in the dramatic
play area in the water table. Add sudsy
water and provide dishcloths for children
to wash and dry them. To put them back
in the dramatic play area, children must
notice the difference between big and
little plates and type of item (e.g., glasses,
knives, forks). The teacher can talk about
the difference that children are noticing
(e.g., “Oh, you put the big plates on the
table today”).
Routines: Here we go again! Daily classroom routines represents the many ways
for teachers to use language over and
over again to name categories and spatial
and numerical relations. Simple, repetitive classroom routines, with a little forethought, can be a goldmine for children‘s
language learning. Phrases such as, “Put
the chairs under the table,” “Make sure
everyone gets the same number of crackers (at snack time),” and, “Who has more?
Jorge or Chaya?” all use spatial and relational terms that children need to know.
Language opportunities in children’s
art. Children love to draw. As children
express themselves artistically, use spatial language to engage them in telling
about their drawings. “What is in the
middle of the picture?” “Tell me about
this part down here near the bottom.”
“This part up here at the top reminds me
of an animal or a person. Can you tell me
about this part?” By exposing preschool
children to spatial terms and category
names and by asking them to talk about
their drawings, teachers tell children that
their drawings have meaning worthy of
rammar holds words together to
form sentences. Children learn to
use grammatical words and elements
during the preschool years from parents
and teachers. When children say the
simple sentence, “The boys want milk,”
they are using English word order and
the grammatical elements the and s that
indicate meaning. The s on boys tells the
listener that there is more than one boy;
the suggests that this is a specific group
of boys. More complex sentences involve
describing the item (e.g., chocolate milk)
or joining two thoughts (e.g., “The boys
want chocolate milk, but the girls want
juice”). Preschool children move from
using simple constructions to complex
sentences with two separate thoughts
and even complex connectors such as
but and before (e.g., “I want to go play at
Juanita’s house, but my mother said I
need to help her with my baby sister for a
little while before I go”).
As children learn grammar, they sometimes notice a pattern—such as ed on
verbs such as cracked and played to
indicate that something took place in the
past. Sometimes children extend the use
of ed more widely than they should, (e.g.,
cutted, eated, breaked, and falled). These
charming overgeneralizations show that
children pay close attention to the language they hear and are thinking. Children also make errors using pronouns,
saying, “Her and I played” when “She and
I . . .” is correct. Children also say, “Her
did it,” and “It’s hims.” Teachers can help
children learn conventional grammatical
forms by repeating what children communicate, using the correct forms (e.g.,
“Oh, I see. Your brother broke your pinwheel. I’m sorry. How did it happen?” Or,
“Oh, you are telling me that this paint-
ing is his, not yours? Thank you. I didn’t
know it was his”). When a teacher’s turn
in a conversation recasts or expands on
what children have said and uses complete sentences rather than just words,
it builds on what children already know
while helping them learn more. These
strategies are particularly helpful to
children who are English learners or to
children who may have special difficulties
in learning language. For children who
are deaf or hard of hearing, a teacher of
the deaf and hard of hearing should be
consulted about the grammar of sign
The grammar substrand is organized
around two areas:
• First, it focuses on how children
understand and use increasingly
complex and longer sentences.
• Second, it focuses on how children
understand and use age-appropriate
grammatical bits such as subjectverb agreement (e.g., He walks; they
walk), progressive tense (e.g., walking),
regular and irregular past tense (e.g.,
walked, went), regular and irregular
plurals (e.g., pails, oxen), pronouns
(e.g., him, it), and possessives (e.g.,
mine, not mines).
Understanding and Typically Using Age-Appropriate Grammar
Communicating effectively often requires that children knit
together two or three ideas into a single sentence. Teachers
can encourage children to use increasingly complex and longer
sentences by modeling them, especially in conversations with
“Her hitted me!” an indignant Pedro says loudly as he marches
over to tell on Maristella. Ms. Futman is pleased that Pedro did not
hit back.
Ms. Futman says to Pedro, “Pedro, did she hit you?’” Pedro shakes
his head violently. Ms. Futman notices that Maristella is watching
and suggests to Pedro, “Please tell Maristella, ‘We don’t hit people
in our classroom.’” Ms. Futman invites Maristella to think of how
she can make Pedro feel better.
Language and communication are involved in all areas in
the classroom: from conveying lessons in good behavior
to sharing necessary social conventions. By rephrasing
what Pedro said and by giving him a rationale to repeat to
Maristella for why hitting is not acceptable, Ms. Futman
serves as a model of increasingly correct and complex usage.
Noticing that some children used their pronouns incorrectly, Mr.
Gold invented a game that required children to use pronouns. He
gathered some children in a small group and gave one child a small
box. He asked the group, “Who has the box?”
They all yelled, “Sadie!”
Then he said, “Whose box is it?”
They said, “Sadie’s!”
“Who would have the box if Sadie gave it to the child next to her?”
Again they responded, although much slower this time. “Jorge!“
Mr. Gold said, “Give it to Jorge, Sadie. Is it her box now?”
“No,” Susie yelled, “It’s his box!” and on and on.
A teacher can plan an enjoyable activity that models correct
pronoun usage. The more often children hear correct pronoun usages modeled by their teacher and other children,
the more likely they are to correct their own pronoun errors.
The following interactions and strategies support preschool children:
Talk one on one with children. Have
conversations with individual children
whenever possible. Talk about what
children are involved in and eager to
discuss. Make responses depend on
what they say, repeating children’s
contribution with more elaborated
sentence structures, modeling appropriate grammar when children make
an error (e.g., foots £ feet), and adding
grammatical elements when they leave
things out. When a child says, “I see
Sarah coat,” the teacher might say, “You
are right! That is Sarah’s coat” with
emphasis on the possessive s.
Spin narratives. The teacher, Ms. Shipley, told the children one morning, “What
do you think happened yesterday when
I went to the grocery store? I saw a man
in a clown suit! He had a big red nose
and giant floppy feet! Why do you think
he was there?” If you tell stories about
everyday events, children will be encouraged to do the same. Asking children to
predict what will happen next and other
questions about a story models language
and gets them to talk, too. By having
children use language without an immediately relevant context, teachers are
preparing them for learning to read. See
the “Research Highlight” on page 99.
Know your families and individual
children. Children whose home language
is not English often need special encouragement to talk in their new language.
Children with language or cognitive
disabilities often need additional clues to
help them know when and how to join a
conversation. Starting with topics that
children know a lot about makes it is
easy for them to enter the conversation.
Family members, foods, and toys are
good choices for topics, as all children
have experiences with them. For more
information about strategies to support
children who are English learners, see
Chapter 5. Children with disabilities may
also need encouragement or additional
cues to join a conversation.
Bringing It All Together
Small-group reading time was finished,
and Ms. Harrington placed the “builder”
book that some had been reading
face out on the shelf as the children
dispersed to choose their own activity. Peter, Mariana, and Julio made a
beeline for the block area. “I’m going to
be the builder,” announced Peter. “Let’s
build a fire station!”
“Okay, I’ll use the hammer,” Mariana
suggested as she reached for the plastic
hammer and pretended to pound each
brick into place.
“Let’s put all of the big blocks on the
bottom,” continued Peter.
Their play continued as they arranged
and talked about the squares and
rectangles, the opening for the doors,
and the place for extra trucks. After six
minutes, Julio, who was watching from
the sidelines, made an abrupt move,
grabbing Peter’s hammer while insisting in Spanish, “Me toca a mí (It’s my
turn),”as he pushed Peter to the side
knocking down some of the carefully
placed blocks.
Ms. Harrington gently intervened,
“Julio, ask Peter, “May I use the
hammer when you are finished?”
Julio modeled after his teacher, using
both English and Spanish: “May I use
the martillo (hammer)?” Peter agreed to
share “in two minutes” and continued
to build with Mariana.
Ms. Harrington then put her arm
around Julio, stooped down to his level,
smiled, and asked, “Would you like to
use another tool until Peter is done?
There’s a wrench and a screwdriver,”
as she pointed to the remaining plastic
tools. As Julio now joined the others,
she asked the three children, “What
are you using to build?” They excitedly
responded, naming some of the tools
they had just learned.
Here the teacher has done a superb job
of integrating the reading at small-group
time with opportunities during childinitiated play. Understanding that reading and language work hand in hand, she
prepared the block area with construction tools and the dramatic play area with
dress-up clothes used by builders. Ms.
Harrington also knows that when she
makes learning language interesting and
fun, the children will use the language
they learn in new contexts. This strategy
helps children cement their understanding of word meanings. They talk about
hammers and wrenches, big blocks,
rectangles, and what is on the “bottom”
of what—all vocabulary terms that were
introduced in the book they read about
builders. These words are about both
objects and relations.
When Julio changes the play context
into one of confrontation, the observant
teacher gently intervenes while allowing
the play to continue. She also reinforces
that she understands the child’s home
language while encouraging the use of
English. She models context-appropriate
speech for Julio, as children will say what
they hear. She wisely offers Julio new
options, which makes it easier for him
to wait for his turn and also exposes him
more to the vocabulary of tools. Stimulating even more talk, she then asks a
question at the end that puts the children
in charge as they tell her about their
Engaging Families
he following strategies can help families in developing their children’s
listening and speaking abilities:
Take the learning home. To get families talking, send them ideas written
in their home language of what to look
for on the weekend (e.g., a blackbird).
Topics to talk about and stories to tell
together can be used to spur conversation, reading, writing, scribbling,
and drawing. Teachers can also send
home a brief newsletter to give parents information about what is happening at school. For example, if the
class went to the zoo, parents might
be encouraged to borrow books about
animals from the library to read with
their children or just to extend conversations about zoo animals by talking
about animals at home.
Communicate with parents. Teachers and parents are always partners in
allowing each child to thrive. Teachers
should be comfortable about sharing
triumphs with the children’s families.
Share some of the stories about children’s accomplishments with parents,
such as when a child who is new to
the program asks a question in front
of a group of children. If a child has a
favorite book or friend, parents would
love to know this. If teachers can
share collections of each child’s work
with parents—including art, writing,
and books they have heard—this will
encourage parents to keep the conversation going at home.
Invite parents to come to the classroom and speak with you. Parents’
sharing of their stories, hopes, and
concerns with teachers helps teachers
understand what is happening in children’s lives. A new baby? A divorce or
even a visit from Grandma may influence children’s behavior in the classroom. When teachers are partners
with parents, they can better understand changes they see in children.
Connect home and school. Think
about doing projects in which children
bring something from home. Perhaps
a picture of a brother or sister will
inspire children to talk to their peers
and maybe to draw their own brother
or sister.
Questions for Reflection
1. Examine your daily schedule, routines, and your learning
environments to make sure that you have time and spaces for
child-initiated play, guided play, and teacher-initiated smalland whole-group experiences.
2. How would you go about assembling a group of language-rich
materials (e.g., posters, tools, games) to enrich a focus or topic
area in which children have shown an interest?
3. How would you respond to Julio?
4. How might you encourage children to use their language in play
to exchange information, to negotiate roles in play, and to convey
politeness toward a play partner?
5. What are you already doing in your classroom to build connections
between reading and language? How can you make this connection
even stronger?
6. How do you know whether you are succeeding in building children’s language? What indicators do you look for?
7. What are you already doing to connect home and school, and can
you think of ways to strengthen this connection?
8. In what ways do you provide opportunities for children to hear and
see a variety of languages and means of expression in the learning
environment and use these in their interactions at preschool?
eading billboards effortlessly on a car ride or making a shopping
list involves literacy skills. Literacy includes both reading and writing. Literacy is also involved when people understand language and
know enough about the world to comprehend the books they read. Children hear many books read aloud before they can read for themselves, and
they can use scribbles to represent the thoughts they compose before they
will use conventional print. Literacy does not develop overnight; it comes
from being talked to and read to and from being encouraged to look at
books, to draw, and to write. Children start on their journey to literacy at
birth through visual and auditory observation of their world and through
interactions with people and materials, in a variety of daily experiences,
both at home and at school.
Reading provides access to meaning represented by print. It requires the
translation of print into speech and the interpretation of meaning. Reading depends heavily on oral vocabulary and grammar and also on specific
literacy knowledge (e.g., names of alphabet letters) and skills (e.g., detecting sounds in spoken words). Preschool children
engage in reading by listening to stories and by
retelling familiar books. They also engage in reading when they interpret environmental print by
using physical clues (e.g., the stop sign is the red
one at the end of their street) or
when they reenact through
play the literacy-related social
behavior of family members
(e.g., making a shopping list or
pretending to read the cooking
directions on a food box).
Concepts About Print
oncepts about print involve the
understanding that print conveys
specific meanings and is used for a variety of purposes. Reading grocery lists,
messages on street signs, menus, and
storybooks are all examples of how people find meaning in the squiggles on a
page. Concepts about print also include
knowledge about different print units and
their names (e.g., letter, word, sentence,
and punctuation marks) and about some
basic print conventions. For example,
in English and in many other languages,
conventions include reading print from
the left to right and from the top to the
bottom of a page, and turning pages of
a book, moving through it from front to
back. In Chinese, calligraphic characters
are arranged in columns read from top
to bottom. In Hebrew, print is arranged
from right to left, not left to right. Related
areas of print awareness, such as learning to recognize and name specific alphabet letters and understanding that letters
represent sounds in spoken words, are
addressed in sections 2.0, “Phonological
Awareness,” and 3.0, “Alphabetics and
Word/Print Recognition” (see pages 133
and 140).
Children with visual impairments can
learn letters of the alphabet and about
print without being able to see typical
print. Access to printed alphabet letters
is possible through the use of large print,
color contrast, lighting, or braille, which
uses a symbol system based on combinations of from one to six raised dots.
Teachers should consult a vision instruction specialist to assist young children
with vision loss in getting access to print
or in learning to read braille symbols.
Preschool foundations for concepts
about print are as follows:
• Book-handling behaviors and knowledge of print conventions
• Understanding that print can be read
and conveys specific meanings
Pairs of children walk hand in hand to return to their classroom
after playing outside. Sasha stops walking, points to a sign posted
in the hallway, and says to Yasmin, her partner, “That sign says
to be quiet because the babies are sleeping.” In a soft voice, the
teacher says, “Yes, we are walking past the babies’ room. We’ve
talked about how they might be sleeping. This sign says, “Remember to Walk.” Do you think we need to make another sign for the
hallway, one to remind us to talk softly?” The children agree that
the second sign is needed, and several offer to help.
The teacher had often pointed out the signs in the hallway
to the children. In previous years, when children with
visual impairments were in the class, the teacher made
sure to point out large print or braille signs. When Sasha
“read” the hallway sign, she knew that print carries
meaning, but she did not understand the specific meaning
of the hallway sign. Using a natural opportunity to read a
posted sign, the teacher demonstrated not only that print
can be read but also that it has specific meaning.
Later, the teacher asked Sasha if she would like to make the new
“talking softly” sign and invited any other children who were
interested to help. The teacher gave each of the three children
who chose this activity a word printed out individually and kept
one herself. The words (e.g., soft, use, voices, please) were those
needed to create the new sign, but the teacher did not specify the
exact wording for the message, knowing that the same basic message could be worded in different ways (e.g., Use Soft Voices,
Please; Please Use Soft Voices). After some back-and-forth discussion, the children decided that the sign should read, Please Use
Soft Voices. The teacher then prompted the children to put the word
cards down on the table and arranged them in the order of the sentence the children had agreed upon. After all the words were on the
table in the right order, the children glued the words onto a piece
of poster board to make the sign and then helped the teacher post
it in the hallway beside the other sign. Once the new sign was up,
the teacher led the children in reading both signs.
Having children discuss the word order drew them into
considering the specific meaning of print and how to
arrange print from left to right. The teacher’s intentional
use of the new sign was part of a plan that positioned
children to read both the new and old signs and to
distinguish between the signs when passing through the
hallway on subsequent days. It also inspired them to
read the new sign to peers. Had the class included a child
with a visual impairment or who was blind, the teacher
would have printed the words in much larger print or
made the words in two forms, one using alphabet letters,
the other using braille. The teacher also planned another
sign-making activity for small groups where all children
participated. These signs were for a grocery store (e.g.,
Dairy Products, Fresh Produce, Canned Goods, Store
Hours, Open, Closed) set up near the dramatic play area.
Children placed their signs in the “store,” where they had
already grouped empty food boxes and cans and some
plastic models of food. The children had observed the same
things in a visit to a neighborhood grocery store prior to
setting up their play store.
The following interactions and strategies support the development of concepts
about print:
for the child. For more information about
strategies to support children who are
English learners, see Chapter 5.
Provide print props to support dramatic play. Stock the play kitchen with a
range of food containers representing
those in children’s homes. Include food
and toiletry coupons, newspaper flyer ads
in multiple languages, simple homemade
cookbooks, and telephone directories.
Emergency telephone numbers (e.g.,
poison control, fire department, doctor’s
office) may be posted on the play refrigerator door. Children also enjoy having
some small cardboard books to read to
their “babies.”
Use literacy terminology to help
children learn it. Use the terms letter
and word naturally as children engage
with print-related materials and in
reading and writing situations (e.g., “Oh,
you’ve put many of the letters back into
the puzzle.” Or, “Everyone can help me
read the words in the title of our book
(points to the words as each is read)
‘Caps . . . for . . . Sale’).” Label specific
punctuation marks when creating these
in a writing context. For example, when
a child’s dictates a story, the child
exclaims, “They are yelling for help!” The
teacher responds, “You are using a very
important vocabulary word—yelling—in
your story. I can see how excited and
worried the people are in your story. I’m
going to use a punctuation mark called an
exclamation point to help your mommy
know when she reads your story that the
people need help right away.”
Provide print props for a variety of
play themes in the dramatic play and
block areas. Replicate the experiences
children have in the world with written
materials by providing props to support
play of other themes, such as the doctor’s
office (e.g., appointment book, eye chart)
or going to a restaurant (e.g., menus,
specials signs, food order pads). Support
and respect children who communicate
in other languages. Use print in other
languages on items such as on menus
and signs. Paper and markers may be
included in the block area for children to
make road signs and billboards. Notepads
and markers for making shopping lists
are in the dramatic play area. Include
other print props and raw materials,
wherever needed, in response to children’s interests.
Use print to designate interest areas.
Children pick up the importance of written language incidentally if the classroom
contains signs designating various areas.
Post signs written in multiple languages
in each classroom area (e.g., Block Area,
Area de Bloques, 名词; Art Area, Area de
Arte, 艺术,美术。). Including a picture or
icon, along with the written word, helps
to scaffold the meaning of the written text
Use print to support classroom
routines. Post limits for children in areas
where needed. For example, faces may
be drawn to designate the limit (and the
number word beneath each face). Near
sinks, hang a labeled poster showing
hand-washing techniques. Other signs
remind everyone of important things to
do (e.g., Please Turn Lights Off over light
switches; Please Use Soft Voices in the
book or library area; Remember to Walk,
in a hallway leading to the kitchen or the
playground). Post a large, printed daily
schedule, with each segment illustrated.
Create copies of the segments of the
posted daily schedule on small cards, and
place them on a tray in a puzzle interest
area. During choice time, children sometimes enjoy putting the cards in the order
of the daily schedule or rearranging the
schedule in a playful way.
Read environmental print. On walks,
read print on road signs, storefronts, and
passing vehicles (e.g., BUS STOP, SCHOOL BUS)
to children. Inside the interest area or
preschool, help children notice environmental print, such as signs for men’s and
women’s restrooms, exits, and the occupants or uses of rooms (e.g., Director, Staff
Room, Caterpillar Classroom), by pointing out and reading the signs. Many such
signs include braille symbols, and children
are often interested in “why those dots are
there” and how Ariel uses her fingers to
figure out what they say.
Use print as a tool to get things done
and to record information. Write steps
on a chart for small-group activities
requiring specific directions (e.g., cooking,
planting seeds). Pictures of the steps will
help connect the print to the directions
for each step. Printed titles of songs and
poems may be filed in a box. Teachers give
children turns to select a poem or song to
add to the selections for circle time. Provide Yes and No checklists for children’s
use in documenting explorations, such as
testing objects with a magnet or testing
materials’ reactions to water.
Use print to support teacher-guided
activities. Illustrated charts of poems
and nursery rhymes for use at circle time
provide meaningful opportunities for using
print. Interesting, key words from familiar
songs and poems (e.g., “moo-moo,” from
“Old MacDonald Had a Farm”; “fiddle-eefee, fiddle-ee-fee” from “Barnyard Song”)
may be printed on paper strips and
mounted on felt pieces for arranging on
a felt board. Children enjoy using these
materials as a choice during childinitiated play and sometimes take their
dolls to the circle time area and pretend
to be the teacher.
Model basic print conventions. When
reading book, poem, and nursery rhyme
titles, underline the words from left to
right. Also underline children’s names
and the names of helper chart jobs, as
these are reviewed each day. Gesture specifically to the print (e.g., point to each
word to track the print from left to right).
Write down interesting words as they
come up and encourage verbal explanations of word meaning. To create interest in discovering and learning vocabulary and to link spoken words to print,
write on a small whiteboard new words
that come up throughout the day. Take
care not to interrupt a child telling about
an event. After the child finishes talking, a teacher might say, “I noticed that
you used the word gigantic to describe
the large crane you saw at the construction site. I am going to write that word
down!” Name each letter as it is written
down, then read the word back to the
child, underlining it from left to right.
Later, in a small- or whole-group setting, read each word listed on the whiteboard and provide context information:
“This word (underlining it) says gigantic.
Nathaniel, will you tell everyone what you
saw that was gigantic and what gigantic
means?” Definitional vocabulary skill
(i.e., being able to explain verbally what
a word means) is more beneficial to reading comprehension than is simpler identification vocabulary.51 Expand a child’s
explanation or prompt the child to do so.
For example, if Nathaniel says, “I saw a
great big crane,” the teacher might say,
“Yes, and when you told me about it, you
said it was a gigantic crane. That was a
wonderful word to use, because gigantic means . . .” (teacher pauses to let
Nathaniel explain).
2.0 Phonological Awareness
honological awareness is the ability
to notice and manipulate the sounds
in spoken language. If children are
invited to play with language and to participate in specific, sound-focused activities, they will first detect and manipulate
larger chunks of spoken language: words
in compound words, syllables in words,
then smaller chunks, such as onset and
rime portions of words (e.g., /b/ in bat
is the onset; /at/ in bat is the rime)
and, eventually individual sounds—
phonemes (e.g., /c/-/a/-/t/)—in spoken
Phonological awareness is not an oral
language skill that focuses on meaning.
It is the ability to detect or manipulate
the sounds in spoken words, without
attending to their meaning. Phonological
awareness can refer to the detection or
manipulation of large and concrete units
of sounds, such as words and syllables,
or to smaller units, such as onsets
(e.g., the /t/ in tail), rimes (e.g., the
/ail/ in tail), and phonemes (e.g., the
/c/ – /a/ – /t/ in cat). Phoneme awareness, one subtype of phonological awareness, is the ability to detect and manipulate the smallest units of sound in
words—phonemes. Phonological awareness is not the teaching or learning of
letter-sound relationships. Phonological
awareness is an important early literacy
skill to develop because it makes possible children’s later understanding that
the sound sequences in spoken words
are related to the letters in written words.
Phonological awareness can be developed in children without any reference
to print, even though its eventual useful-
ness to reading comes from linking individual sounds in spoken words to symbols (i.e., letters) used in written words.
Without an underlying understanding of
sounds in spoken words—without phonological awareness—children will not
understand the phonics lessons (i.e., the
direct teaching of letter-sound relationships) their first-grade teachers provide.
For more information on letter-sound
relationships, see the strategies on page
144. A teacher of the deaf should be consulted for strategies that are appropriate
for children who are deaf or hard of
Phonological awareness does not
develop naturally over time, but as a
consequence of children’s engagement in
specific experiences. Children will need
to reach phoneme-level awareness (e.g.,
understand bat as the series /b/ /a/ /t/)
if they are to understand reading instruction later in school. Most children achieve
the phoneme segmentation level of awareness in kindergarten, although older
preschool children sometimes reach this
level. The majority of phonological awareness strategies discussed in this chapter
are designed for use with four-year-olds
(i.e., children between 48 and 60 months
of age), but not three-year-olds (i.e., children between 36 and 48 months of age).
The preschool foundations in phonological awareness are as follows:
• Blend and delete words and syllables
without picture support.
• Blend onset, rimes, and phonemes and
delete onsets with picture or object
support of pictures or objects.
Ms. Sheck engages children in word play, explaining that she will
say two words and put them together to make another: “If I say
rain first and then say drop right after it, I make the word raindrop. If I say fire and then say the word fly, I make the word firefly. Okay, now you help me: If I say rain first and then say coat
right after it, what word does it make?” A child answers, rainbow.
Another says, raincoat. Ms. Sheck says, “Actually, if I say rain first
and say coat right after it, I make raincoat. “If I say rain first and
then say bow, what word do I make? Children answer, rainbow.
“Yes, rainbow. You are learning how this game works. Let’s make
a few more words. This time we’ll start with sun and say another
word right after it. Okay, here we go: If I say sun and then say
shine right after it, what word do I get?”
Knowing that children need considerable guidance to
learn to blend two words to create new ones, Ms. Sheck
models the blending and then asks children to do it. By
continuing with different pairs of words to blend, using sun
as the first word and another relevant word for the second
word (e.g., sun-shine, sun-set, sun-rise), she provides more
opportunities for children to learn how to blend.
In any planned activity, teachers observe children and use
whatever they observe to adapt to children’s individual
needs. When a child creates a compound word composed of
the teacher’s first key word but not the second, the teacher
again models blending to provide more instruction and
then provides two words for the child to blend. She uses
words the child had offered earlier, as a mistaken guess. In
this first experience for the child, Ms. Sheck knew that a
balance between modeling and giving the child a turn to try
was required. She used children’s responses to judge when
to return to modeling and when to give the children another
opportunity to blend words.
After singing “Down by the Bay” at circle time, Mr. Zhang used an
illustrated book to review the song and engage children in playing
with some sounds in the words: “Here’s the funny bear, combing
his hair. Bear, /b/-/ear/; hair, /h/-/air/. The last parts of those
words [i.e., the rime portion] sound the same, don’t they? They
rhyme.” Several children agreed enthusiastically. “And who’s on
this page?”
“The llama,” shout several children.
“Eating his /p/ . . . (pause)” Mr. Zhang continued.
“Pajamas!” several children called out.
As he turned the page, several children called out, “The fly with a
“Yes, the fl-y wearing a t-ie. Before I turn the next page, I’ll give you
a clue about what you’ll see next: A /wh/-ale . . .”
“A whale!” the children called out.
“With a polka-dot /t/-ail, ”the teacher continued.
“Tail,” several children called out.
Mr. Zhang planned this song because he knows that children love songs and poems full of rhyming words. He also
knows that mere exposure to rhyming words, whether
through songs or poems, does not support phonological
awareness at the levels children need. Reviewing the song
with a book provided an opportunity for Mr. Zhang to say
the words with their onset and rime portions separated, to
stress the common rime portions for each rhyming pair, and
to use the word rhyming to help children understand what
it means (i.e., as a vocabulary teaching opportunity). (See
Appendix B.)
Given the children’s high engagement, Mr. Zhang continued for a
few more minutes to engage the children in playing with segmenting and blending onset and rime units. “I have an idea of another
word that has /air/ as its last part, like b-ear and h-air. I’ll give
you a clue about the word I am thinking of: /k/. . . .” When no one
answered after a brief pause, Mr. Zhang said, C-are.
Several children said, Care!
Mr. Zhang said this was the word he was thinking of and added,
“The last part of care is /air/, just like in b-ear and h-air.”
Before Mr. Zhang could continue with the onset clue for another
example, a child said, “I know one: gare!”
Mr. Zhang said, “Yes, gare, g-are, sounds like b-ear and h-air. Its
last part is /air/.”
Then another child said, “No, it’s not one.”
Mr. Zhang replied, “Are you thinking that gare is a made-up word,
not a real word?”
“Yes,” said the child, “It’s not a right word.”
Mr. Zhang then explained that silly words were okay to use when
we are playing with sounds in words.
When no one guessed the word after Mr. Zhang gave the
onset clue, he provided both the onset and rime units for
the children to blend. Mr. Zhang then isolated the rime
units to make explicit how this word was like bear and
hair. In the explanation, the teacher separated the rime
portion (e.g., /air/) of the nonsense word from its onset,
which helped the children to focus on the relevant unit of
sound in this task and to understand that phonological
awareness tasks focus on sounds in words, not on their
meanings. Mr. Zhang supported children’s confidence by
acknowledging that gare was correct and explaining why it
was appropriate to use a nonsense word in this situation.
A small group of children and Ms. Fontana look at four pictures on
the table. Ms. Fontana explains, “I say a word and ask you to say
it without its first sound to make a new word. The new word is the
name of one of these pictures. This is a picture of a block of ice.
These are some little insects we call ants. What’s this picture?” “An
ear,” the children say. “And this one,” the teacher asks, prompting
the children to identify the egg. “Okay, let’s start. If I say leg and
you say leg without the /l/ sound [i.e., the onset], what word is
it? Leg without /l/?” The children look at the pictures. Suddenly,
one child points to the picture of the egg and says, “That’s it!” The
other children say egg! “Yes, leg without /l/ is /eg/. Okay, here’s
the next word: If I say rice without the /r/ sound [i.e., the onset],
what word is it?” The children scan the pictures and soon say ice.
“You’re getting good at guessing the words,” Ms. Fontana tells the
children. “Let’s do another one!”
Ms. Fontana knows that deleting the onset of a word to
create a new word is new for the children. She provides
pictures as supports, reviews their names before starting
the game, and also repeats the word and the sound to
delete when presenting the first few examples. Because
the game is new, the children are concentrating not only
on understanding their task but also on remembering the
word and the sound in it they are asked to delete from its
beginning. It helps children to hear more than once the
word and the specific sound to delete.
The following interactions and strategies support development of phonological
Play language games that focus on
blending sounds. Select an appropriate level of sound (e.g., larger or smaller
chunks) for a focus. Model blending and
then ask children to do it (e.g., “If I say
bird first and then say seed right after it,
I make the word birdseed.” Or, “If I say
c-ar, I make the word car”). With smaller
chunks, provide information before presenting the individual sounds (e.g., “This
word is the name of a vehicle. We have
these in our block area: c-ar”). Also use
objects (e.g., doll, a dish, and a fork from
the dramatic play area) or pictures with
younger preschool children to provide
support. After providing blending experiences with words and with onsets and
rimes earlier in the year, begin to present
individual phoneme segments (e.g., b-u-s),
making sure to have pictures or objects
available to support children in forming
the words.
Play language games that focus on
segmenting sounds. Hide an object from
the children’s view (e.g., in a shoebox
with a lid). Model the game first:
“Okay, here’s how we play: If I say
b-all, you might guess ball, and you’d
be right (takes a small ball out of the
box to show). What clues did I give?
A few children say b-all. Others say,
ball. “This is a ball, the teacher
continues. The clues I gave were
b-all. Okay, I’m going to give clues for
something else: c-up. Yes, cup (takes
a small cup out of the box). What clues
did I give? Okay, now you get turns
to give the clues.” When each child
comes to sit beside the teacher, the
teacher puts a “secret” object in the
shoebox. After Jamal peeks at the
small car inside the box, his teacher
prompts him to give the clues. Jamal
says, car, then realizes he has said
the whole word, not its parts. Jamal
is given another object and is asked to
whisper the clues to the teacher before
saying them out loud. The teacher
asks other children to do the same for
their turn.
Easier forms of the game use word
(e.g., paint-brush, tooth-brush, blue-berry)
or syllable segments (e.g., ba-na-na, napkin, sau-cer). A more difficult form of the
game uses phoneme segments. Pictures
or small objects can be used in the box.
Play language games that focus on
deletion. After providing children with
experiences in blending and segmenting
each level of sound segmentation—word,
onset and rime, and phoneme—begin to
play sound games that involve deletion of
words and onsets. Model first and then
ask the children to try. Use pictures to
support the children’s thinking.
Sing songs and say poems each day.
All children enjoy the rhyming words and
alliteration (words used in a phrase or
verse that begin with the same sound)
found in many songs and poems. Children also enjoy songs that manipulate
sounds. “Apples and Bananas” and
“Willoughby-Wallaby-Woo” are good
examples. Use the framework provided
by “Willoughby-Wallaby-Woo” as a model
to sing the children’s names in a funny
way. Singing songs and saying poems
help children to notice the sounds in spoken language. Applying the sound play
patterns in songs to other words, such
as children’s names, further heightens
children’s sound sensitivity and is likely
to encourage children to play with the
sounds of language.
Play with sounds by adding new verses
to a familiar song. Make up new verses
for songs, such as “Down by the Bay,”
and ask children to select the ones that
fit the pattern.
part- /unk/ and /ear/ aren’t the
same. Those words don’t fit the pattern we need. Okay, let’s sing the
song and add our new verse this
“What about ‘Did you ever see a cat
swinging a bat?’ Should we use this
verse for our song?” Children think
it is a good verse. “Yes, I think that
verse would work because /c/-/at/
and /b/-/at/ both have /at/ as their
last part.” “What about ‘Did you ever
see a skunk eating a pear?’ Would
that be a good new verse for our
song?” “Some of you are shaking
your head no, and you are right.
/Sk/-/unk/ has /unk/ as its last
part and pear has /ear/ as its last
Use phonological awareness activities
for transitions. Tell children that you
are going to send them to go wash hands
by saying each of their names in parts
(e.g., “Me-lin-da; Cin-dy; Gi-o-van-na”).
Tell children to raise their hand if they
think you have said their name, and say
their name “the right way,” not the funny
way you have said it. Also use other
phonological awareness activities, such
as the onsets and rimes of words for
children to blend (e.g., “Rochelle,
here are sounds for you to put together:
Research Highlight
Researchers working in the area of phonological awareness generally agree that
the process of acquiring the various levels
of phonological awareness is not rigid and
stage-like, but overlapping. This means that
while children are becoming aware of larger
chunks of speech such as words and syllables, they are also slowly becoming aware of
the smaller units that make up words (e.g.,
onset and rime, and phoneme).52
Children are able to indicate their awareness of a linguistic unit (e.g., words, syllables,
onset and rime, or phonemes) in some
phonological awareness tasks before they
can indicate it in others. This is because
different tasks involve different demands.
Detection tasks (e.g., “Do the words boat and
bear begin with the same sound or different sounds?”) are easier than tasks requiring
manipulation (e.g., “Say boat without the
/b/”). Blending (e.g., “What word do you get
when you put /b/ and /at/ together?”)
is easier than segmenting (e.g., “Say the
sound you hear at the beginning of the
word dog).53, 54
Rhyme production is a higher-level instructional task because of all that it requires
of children. First, children must search
their memories to find words that rhyme
with a target, while they hold the target
word in mind. Second, when children’s
expressive vocabularies are fairly small, they
have few relevant words to retrieve for a
rhyme-production task.55 Thus, relying too
heavily on rhyme-production instruction
or embedding too little scaffolding and
explicit instruction in rhyme-detection and
production activities (when they are used)
does not provide the level of support many
children need to help them develop their
onset and rime sensitivity.56, 57 Please refer to
Appendix B for additional information.
/b/-/ig/. Rochelle says, big), or words
from which children can delete the
first sound (e.g., “Rochelle, what’s chin
without the /ch/ sound?”). Ask children
to detect the first sounds in their names:
“If your name begins with /s/, you may
go wash your hands.” If Sarah does not
raise her hand, the teacher can say,
“Sarah, your name begins with /s/: /S/arah. You may go wash your hands.”
Discuss rhyming words and words that
begin with the same sound. Rhyming
words have identical rime units (e.g., c-at,
b-at). Words that begin with the same
single consonant phoneme have identical
onsets (e.g., c-at, b-at). Some traditional
games play with these two units of
sound (e.g., “I’m going to say two words,
and you tell me if their last parts sound
the same.” Or “Can you think of words
that rhyme with . . . ?” If such games,
in addition to activities that involve
blending, segmenting, and deleting
onset–rime units are used, make sure to
provide some examples and also segment
and blend onset–rime units as part of the
game. For example, after a child responds
to tall and ball, you might say, “Yes, t-all
and b-all rhyme. They both have /all/
at the end.” Similarly, rather than say,
“Yes, you are right,” to a few children who
correctly detect that man and boy do not
start with the same sound, say, “Right,
those words do not begin with the same
sound. Man begins with /m/, and boy
begins with /b/.” Accept non-English and
nonsense words that rhyme or begin with
the same sound. A child’s phonological
awareness develops as well when
activities use nonsense words and words
from other languages. See the “Research
Highlight” on page 138 and Appendix B.
3.0 Alphabetics and Word/Print Recognition
lphabetics and word/print recognition involve recognizing and
naming alphabet letters and learning
that letters in printed words stand for
sounds in spoken words or signs in
sign language. When children have
gained this insight about the function
of letters, teachers say that children
understand the alphabetic principle.
Preschool is an exciting time for learning
the names of many alphabet letters and
for beginning to learn that letters “have
sounds” and that these sounds are in
spoken words. In kindergarten, children
will learn more about print and sound
links and will consolidate this learning
in ways necessary for learning to read.
Although few clear differences have been
identified for kindergarten-age children
compared to preschool-age children on
a range of literacy skill interventions,
there is still relatively little research at
the preschool level about the benefit
of linking letters to sounds in spoken
words.58 Preschool teachers must judge
what is appropriate for individual children in their classrooms. Please refer to
Appendix C, “Reflections on Research:
Alphabetics and Word/Print Recognition,”
for additional information.
Preschool children often recognize
words based on clues provided by familiar contexts, such as when they read
“stop” on a stop sign.59 Or, children might
use length clues to guess what some
words say (e.g., Christopher thinks his
name is on the helper chart when it is
Josephine’s—another long name). When
children know the first letter in their
own name but have little understanding that it, as well as every other letter,
appears in a multitude of words, they
might claim any word that starts with
“their letter” as “their name.” For example, Josephine thinks her name is on
the helper chart when the name posted
is Jamal.60, 61 In these instances, children are not yet using the print to actually decode words—to link letters and
assigned sounds. Older preschool children begin to notice words they know in
books and on signs and sometimes play
with reading these by touching the word
as they say it. Older preschool children
might try to read unfamiliar words by
applying letter and sound knowledge—by
trying to decode the words. Typically,
though, preschool children do not succeed in reading unfamiliar words without
adult help. Children’s success in learning
to read later in school depends on them
learning how to decode.
The preschool foundations for later
success in word recognition are as
• Recognize letters in their own names.
• Recognize their own name and a few
common words.
• Name many uppercase and lowercase
• Recognize that letters are assigned
specific sounds.
The caregiver shares an alphabet book with a few children. “This
is the page for the letter B. Here is the big B and here’s the little
b.” She engaged the children to help identify the pictures on the
B page: “Blueberries, broccoli, beets, bananas, beans.” Then she
comments, “B is the first letter in each of these words. This word
(pointing to the first letter in blueberry, printed above a picture of
a box of blueberries) starts with the letter B. It says, Blueberry
(underlines the rest of the word, as she reads it). Blueberry starts
with the /b/ sound. What do you think this word says? (She
points to the word above the picture of some bananas.) One child
says, “banana;” another says, “platano.” The caregiver confirms
that banana can be called by either name, one Spanish and the
other English. “The words in this book are written in English—/b/
is for banana (points to banana). I think we could write some of
these words in Spanish and paste them into the book. We could
write brecol to put here with broccoli.” “When can we do that?” a
child asks. “After rest time today, if you’d like. Miguel and Alexandria will still be sleeping. I can help you and Aaliyah spell Spanish
words that will work in this alphabet book. We can type them on
the computer and then print them out to paste in our book.”
This caregiver brought key features of alphabet books to the
children’s attention (e.g., a letter on each page; pictures of
things whose names begin with that letter). She anticipated
that some children would offer food names in Spanish and
English, because she had helped them learn the names in
both languages during lunch and snack time conversations.
The children also sometimes drew pictures of foods and
asked for help in writing their names in both languages.
Knowing that only some of the foods pictured in the alphabet book had names that begin with the same letter in both
languages, she realized that discussing Spanish words to
add would be useful in helping children understand links
between letters and sounds. (See Appendix C.)
Ms. Cone had used the children’s name tags in transition activities for quite some time, at first pointing out and naming the first
letter in each name as she called children to go wash hands or to
get their jackets before going outside. Somewhat later, she held up
each of the name tags and pointed to the first letter as she asked
the child to name it. Today, she is using the first sounds in names
to send a few children at a time from the circle time area to wash
hands for lunch: “If your name starts with /k/, you may go wash
your hands. Yes, C-onnie and C-arolina, you may go to the sink.
Both of your names start with the /k/ sound.” Cindy sees Connie
and Carolina stand up, and she stands up too. Ms. Cone explains
that Cindy begins with the /s/, not /k/ sound, and that she’ll get
a turn soon. Cindy says, “I’m a C too!” Ms. Cone says, “Oh, you are
right. Your name begins with the letter c like Connie and Carolina,
but it starts with a different sound. We hear /k/ at the beginning
of Connie and Carolina—/k/ Connie, /k/ Carolina. We hear /s/
at the beginning of your name—/s/—Cindy. I’m going to say that
sound next: ‘If your name starts with /s/, you may go wash your
hands.’” Sabrina stood up, joined hands with Connie, and they
walked to the sink together.
Ms. Cone knows that children become increasingly familiar
with their own and other children’s names and with their
first letters and sounds as the year progresses. She also
knows that using names frequently in transition activities
helps children to notice some interesting things about
letter and sound relationships. In English, some letters
can stand for more than one sound (e.g., c is used for both
/s/, as in Cindy, and for /k/, as in Connie and Carolina),
and some sounds are represented by different letters (e.g.,
g or j for /j/, as in Giovanna and Jessica). Ms. Cone’s
acknowledgment of the child’s puzzlement, along with her
concrete examples, helped the children begin to understand
the situation.
The following interactions and strategies support preschool children:
Use children’s printed names as labels
and to support routines. Place name
cards on the tabletop for a mealtime or
snack time to designate children’s seats
or use placemats with children’s names
on them. Post lists of names near a small
group’s meeting place. Label cubbies
and cots with children’s names as well
as helper charts and attendance charts.
For cubbies and cots, pair a picture with
the name to help children “read” it using
something other than print clues. Pairing the printed names with the child’s
picture supports children who are just
beginning to notice printed material. In
other contexts, such as a helper chart,
where children’s names are changed daily
and a teacher scaffolds children’s reading attempts, she may use printed names
only. Using some printed labels in a few
contexts gives children opportunities to
move to higher levels of print skill (i.e.,
use their print and sound knowledge to
try to read words). Otherwise, young children will pay scant attention to print and
will learn little about how it works.62, 63, 64
Use braille or larger print, as appropriate, for the children in the classroom who
may have vision problems.
Use children’s printed names and
letters in transition activities. Show
children’s names, underlining each from
left to right while reading it. After a name
is read, children then move from the cur-
rent area to the next activity (e.g., washing hands for lunch or walking to their
small-group table). After children are
familiar with one another’s names, hand
out name tags, giving each child another
child’s name. Ask two or three children at
a time to read the name tags they hold,
assisting them, as needed, to dismiss
children. Later they use a letter focus in
transitions. For example, dismiss children by holding up and naming letters
that are the first in the children’s names
(e.g., “If your name starts with the letter S,
you may go outside to play”). Later teachers hold up each name, point to its first
letter, and ask the child whose name it is
to call out the letter.
Use children’s names in teacherguided activities. Graphs (e.g., to indicate children’s preferences, the number
of buttons on clothing) and a telephone
directory for dramatic play are ways to
use names in teacher-guided activities.
To familiarize children with the telephone directory concept and to engage
them with the names, ask children to
dictate the letters in their names for you
to type at the computer. After printing
the names, assist children in figuring out
what letter their name starts with and
help them place it where it will go in the
telephone directory (e.g., “Where’s the
letter E on our alphabet poster? Does it
come before the B here in Belinda’s name
or after it?”). Or, children who are especially interested in making the telephone
directory can arrange all of the children’s
names, with a teacher’s help, and then
paste them into the directory.
Provide children’s names as a resource
or reference. Print children’s names and
bundle these into sets of three or four
with a metal ring binder. The sets may
be placed in the writing area for children
to use as a reference, if they wish. The
child’s name is written in the home language on one side of the name tag and
in English on the other, if the alphabet
system is different. Provide the name in
braille for a child with a visual impairment and a “name sign” (in sign language) for a child who is deaf or hard of
Provide access to alphabet letters in
a variety of contexts. Include alphabet
books in the library area. Place alphabet
puzzles, magnetic letters, letter tiles, and
children’s name cards in the manipulatives area. Post English and Spanish
alphabet posters at eye level as well as
posters in other languages represented
by the children in the classroom. Post
alphabet signs that are used by children
who are deaf or hard of hearing. Children
need many opportunities to see alphabet letters in a variety of fonts or styles.
Children “read” environmental print by
using many clues that surround it, with
the consequence that children pay little
attention to print details, such as the
specific letters used in words.65 Providing
alphabet materials increases children’s
opportunities to engage in alphabet
Focus on first letters and sounds in
alphabet books and posters. Experience
with alphabet books has been linked to
children’s knowledge of letter names and
phonological awareness skill.66, 67 Alphabet books provide a context in which
adults reading to children might link
specific letters to specific sounds, helping children get a beginning idea of what
letters “do” in written words—stand for
sounds in spoken words. Read a variety
of alphabet books—those with connected
text (e.g., Dr. Seuss’s ABC, Pignic, The
ABC Bunny) and also those with only a
letter and several pictures on each page
(e.g., Eating the Alphabet and From Acorn
to Zoo). For alphabet books with connected text, stress the first sound in key
words while reading (e.g., “Ben brought
beans from Boston”). When sharing
alphabet books with only pictures and no
text, stress the first sound in the names
of items pictured as you identify them
with the children (e.g., “blueberries, broccoli, beets, bananas, beans”). Comment
that all of these words start with the
letter B and that all also begin with the
/b/ sound. Help children make wall
posters of items beginning with the same
letter and sound. These are similar to the
clusters of pictures on pages of alphabet
books.68, 69
Point to each letter as its name is sung
in a song. Many songs have letters in
the lyrics. One of these is the “Alphabet
Song.” Other favorite songs of preschoolers also include letters (e.g., “Bingo,” the
farmer’s dog’s name, is spelled repeatedly in the song; “Old MacDonald Had a
Farm” has the E-I-E-I-O refrain). Pointing
to letters as their names are sung in a
song helps children learn letter names.
For both “Bingo” and “Old MacDonald
Had a Farm,” make specific letter props
for a flannel board or write the relevant
letters on a whiteboard. For the “Alphabet Song,” a pointer can be used with a
large chart of the alphabet. The alphabet
poster should be at eye level on a chart
stand or a wall as a choice for center
time. Children can sing the “Alphabet
Song” and attempt to point to letters on
the chart as they sing the song.
Use activities and games to interest
children in letter matching and
naming. Make lotto-like cards printed
with letters and matching letter tiles for
each lotto card. Place a somewhat different selection of letters on each card in
the lotto card set to expose children to
the full set of 26 uppercase letters. Join
children, as they play, to provide letter
names (e.g., “Yes, that’s the matching
E”). Otherwise, children will learn only to
match items, not to name them. Play letter bingo in small groups. As children’s
knowledge of letter names increases, give
children turns to hold up letters and call
them out. Coach individual children in
this role, as necessary. The Go Fish game
can also be played using alphabet letters. When the game is played in small
groups, prompt children to ask others for
a letter (e.g., “Do you have an F?”) and to
tell a friend to “go fish,” when no one is
holding a letter a child has requested.
Use everyday opportunities to model
attending to print details in words.
Gesture specifically to the print in book
and poem titles (e.g., point to each word
and to the first letter in each word) to
help children begin to understand how
print relates to speech. If a child confuses his name with another child’s (e.g.,
Joshua begins to sit at the lunch table
where Jonathan’s name card appears),
help the child compare letters in the two
names by sounding them out).
Provide materials with environmental
print in an interest area. Puzzles of
vehicles and other items with names
printed on their pieces (e.g., taxicab,
, Xe ta xi; mail carrier,
, Nguoi dua thu; firefighter,
, Linh chua lua) are
provided in several languages. Point out
the print as children use the materials.
Make small word cards that match some
of the environmental print in picture
books (e.g., Truck, by Donald Crews) or
the interesting words (e.g., crunch and
munch, dart and dip) appearing amid the
illustrations in some books (e.g., In the
Tall, Tall Grass, by Denise Fleming; Dazzling Diggers, by Tony Mitten and Ant
Parker). Word cards may be laminated
and secured in sets with a metal ring
binder. The book and word card sets may
be placed in the library area or an interest area with other literacy materials,
such as alphabet tiles.
Provide predictable textbooks in
library and listening areas. If children
have opportunities to hear predictable
textbooks numerous times, they memorize the texts. As children “read” these
books to themselves, they sometimes
search for certain words they know are
on the pages. Though not yet reading by
decoding, preschool children can recognize words by finding known words in a
familiar book. Use audiotapes or CDs at a
listening area to give children opportunities to listen to predictable textbooks as
often as they would like. Some children
may need additional materials to support their engagement in a listening area
experience. Braille can be added to a copy
of predictable textbooks to enable a blind
child to find known words in the book
while using the listening area. A sign language interpreter’s help may be used to
prepare videos of signed versions of predictable textbooks for a deaf child in the
4.0 Comprehension and Analysis
of Age-Appropriate Text
hen a friend calls and tells a story
about someone, people commonly
use the skills that children will need in
order to understand stories. People want
to know who the story is about (i.e., characters), where it took place (i.e., setting),
what the problem was, and how it was
resolved. Teachers help children comprehend stories by talking with them as
stories are shared and by asking questions and responding to the children’s
comments and questions, such as “Why’d
he do that?” or “Why’s he crying?” At
first, children rely heavily on a storybook’s illustrations and interpret these
from their own experience, sometimes
disregarding or misinterpreting important information in the book.70 Personal
experience and knowledge are required
in comprehending stories, but they must
be integrated with the information in
the book. As teachers help children to
bridge their own world with a new one
presented in a book, children gradually
realize that other people have ways of
feeling and interpreting that differ somewhat from their own, and they begin to
take these different views into account as
they interpret a story. This broadening of
perspective develops over a long period of
time, with only a few important first steps
taken during the preschool years.
Preschool children also learn to comprehend information books—books
that tell about, for example, whales or
vehicles; explain why it thunders during
a storm; or how to make a cake. Some
important printed information is not in
books. Examples include train tickets,
restaurant menus, and even grocery lists.
Those types of printed information fascinate children, because they see people
use them in their daily lives. Teachers
capitalize on this fascination by making
these texts available for children’s use in
The preschool foundations in text comprehension and analysis are as follows:
• Demonstrate knowledge of familiar
story details (e.g., characters, settings,
events, and event sequences).
• Demonstrate and use knowledge
from information texts (e.g., label and
describe an animal, take on the role of
astronaut, explain what a seed needs
to grow).
The teacher starts to read Corduroy for the first time to a small
group of children. She rewords some sentences (e.g., “He waited
a long time with all the other toy animals for someone to buy him
and take him home”) and stops, after reading the second page,
to review the story so far: “Oh, there are a lot of shoppers in this
store—people there buy things“ (points to the people pictured in the
department store). “Here’s a man, right here (points to man). He’s
looking at something (points to a fire truck) that he’s thinking about
buying. It looks like one of the trucks in our block area.”
“Fire truck,” says a child.
“Yes, it does look like the fire truck. It has ladders (points to ladders). Are any shoppers looking at Corduroy, the little bear in green
overalls, over here on the shelf (points to Corduroy)?”
“No,” say several children.
The teacher continues: “Right. No one is looking at Corduroy
(said sadly). No one seems to want to buy him (said sadly). He’s
hoping someone will look at him and buy him. He wants to go
home with someone. Let’s read some more and see what happens
to Corduroy.”
The teacher had planned ways to support the children in
understanding the reading of this story. She kept in mind
the children who were learning English and also the fact
that all preschool children have difficulty understanding
the mental states of story characters. She planned
simplifications of some of the book’s longer sentences and
ways to state information in some places more concretely
than the book stated it. She also planned for stops to review
the story while using the illustrations explicitly to help
children understand the meanings of words and sentences
in the book. After reading the first two pages, the teacher
focused on the story’s setting—the department store with
its many shoppers, what a shopper does, the shoppers’
relationship to the main character, Corduroy (e.g., not
paying attention to him), and on Corduroy’s desires and
feelings (e.g., he wanted someone to buy him and was sad
that no one wanted to). The teacher mostly commented,
rather than ask a lot of questions. The goal in this first
reading was to help children understand and enjoy the
story while the teacher learned to use the illustrations as
The following interactions and strategies support preschool children’s comprehension and analysis of text:
Read stories daily. Children learn to
comprehend and analyze stories as they
listen and think about stories in the company of adults who respond to their comments and questions and who ask questions and share their thinking. If teachers
read stories daily, children have abundant opportunities to hear and talk about
stories. Some children need special support to benefit from story reading. (See
the “Research Highlight” on page 99.) A
teacher can consult with a special education service provider for the deaf and hard
of hearing to learn some signs for the
book. For example, a teacher skilled in
using sign language would provide both
oral language and sign language if a deaf
child is in the classroom or would wear
a microphone to increase the volume of
speech for a child who is hard of hearing.
A second teacher assists in holding the
book for children to see if a teacher must
both speak and sign its reading.
Plan support for story reading. A great
deal happens in a good story—settings
change, characters interact with one
another, and the story problem is
gradually resolved through a series of
related events. Study the storybooks
beforehand, thinking carefully about each
one and identifying parts that might be
more difficult for children to understand.
Plan comments to make, questions to
ask, and ways of using the illustrations
to aid children’s understanding of the
story as you read it for the first time.
Read a story several times over a few
days. Multiple readings help preschool
children understand a story better. During a second reading of a book with a
small group of children, teachers can
prompt children’s thinking and verbal
engagement by asking some questions.
For example, during a second reading of
Corduroy, a teacher might ask on the first
page, “So, where does Corduroy live?” A
child might say “in there” or “at a store.”
The teacher expands the child’s response
(e.g., “Yes, Corduroy lives in the toy
department of a big store”) and follows by
encouraging the child to say, “toy department.” On the page where Corduroy comments about his lost button and his plans
to find it, the teacher might ask, ”What
is Corduroy thinking here? What does he
plan to do?” A child might say, “The button.” The teacher expands what the child
said: “Yes, you are right. Corduroy says,
‘Tonight, I’ll go and see if I can find it.’”
Then, before turning to the next page, the
teacher might ask, “What happens next?”
With this approach, a teacher monitors
a child’s understanding of a story, helps
a child understand more of the story’s
parts, and expands the child’s expressive
language, all of which help a child learn
to retell a story on his or her own.71
Help children understand the words
and sentences in a story. Children’s
comprehension of text depends on their
understanding the words, sentences, and
illustrations in the book. While reading
a book, teachers can explain explicitly
the meanings of some new words, using
friendly explanations. That is, they offer a
definition that uses words a young child
already knows rather than a more formal
definition from a dictionary that is likely
to have words not yet in a preschooler’s
vocabulary.72 An example of a friendly
explanation would be, “Oh, the little bird
was exhausted. That means she was very,
very tired. She worked hard to build her
nest and to pull up juicy worms to eat.
She’s going to rest now, because she’s
very, very tired—completely exhausted.”
Support children in learning new words,
upon encountering them in the story, by
pointing to a relevant part of an illustration on the page. Use your voice to
support the meanings of words when
this strategy makes sense (e.g., “Over it
fell with a crash!”).73 See the “Research
Highlight” on page 99.
Discuss a story after reading it. A short
discussion after the reading of a story
can also increase children’s understanding. Questions that require only recall
of small details (e.g., the teddy bear’s
name, the color of Corduroy’s overalls)
rarely lead to back-and-forth discussions
and do little to help children engage in
the kind of inferential thinking that
stories require (i.e., piecing information
together to determine why a character
did something or what a character will
likely do next). Instead of asking primarily literal questions, use questions that
prompt children to think and to use
their language (e.g., “Why do you think
Corduroy wanted to find his missing button?” “How do you think Corduroy felt
when the night watchman took him back
to the shelf in the toy department?”). Be
prepared to guide and scaffold children’s
language and thinking as they respond in
any language.74
Model deeper levels of reasoning.
Suppose that a child says, “Corduroy
wanted to find his button because that
little girl’s mommy said, ‘No, we can’t
buy him.’” A teacher might say, “Yes, you
are right. The little girl’s mommy said
that” and then go further to link this
event to Corduroy’s wishes and actions.
Thinking out loud shares the reasoning
and indicates how people use information from the story to reason about it
(e.g., “I’m thinking that when Corduroy
heard the little girl’s mommy say this, he
started to worry that no one would ever
want to buy him and take him home . . .
unless he found his button. Remember,
Corduroy really wanted someone to take
him home”). Even though children will
not always grasp the whole line of reasoning, they will realize that thinking is
something people do when reading books.
Starting in the earliest years, teachers
can let children know that active, inferential thinking in the story context matters and can help to prevent later reading-comprehension problems. Teachers
can give children a feel for thinking in
this context by modeling it75, 76, 77 and by
using discussion questions that focus
on big ideas rather than on mostly literal
Read information books. Find books
that support children’s current interests and the development of new ones.
Read them in conjunction with firsthand
experiences (e.g., growing plants, caring
for fish or other animals, playing doctor’s office), in support of interests that
emerge at preschool, or in the context of
children’s families (e.g., finding a worm
outside, seeing new leg braces worn by a
peer, birth of a new baby, a grandmother’s visit, soccer, or some other sport they
Include information books among the
materials utilized for science activities
and other hands-on experiences. When
planting seeds or observing the behavior
of a snail or some fish, use information
books, including the diagrams. Specific
information might be found in many
books without reading the book as a
whole. The table of contents and index
are useful for finding specific information of interest, such as what whales eat
or how water comes out of their spouts.
The other parts may be read later as children’s curiosity expands.
Model authentic uses of book and
nonbook forms of information text.
Just as anyone would do before tackling
a new task, use information texts when
setting up a new aquarium, making
muffins, or drying flowers. To prepare
for a field trip, use information books,
brochures about the destination, and
simple maps of the path children will
travel. Also read to the children any notes
and permission forms that are sent home
to their parents about field trips. Help
children make information books for use
in dramatic play (e.g., cookbooks, telephone directories, photo albums of children engaged in activities), and provide
nonbook information texts (e.g., newspaper food ads, restaurant takeout menus,
children’s magazines, food coupons),
making sure that the variety represents
the range of restaurants and languages
that mirrors those used by children’s
Plan for children to use information
gained from an information book.
When you read an information book to
children to inform them about a process
for an upcoming activity (e.g., planting
seeds in small pots, making hand
shadows on the wall, making paperplate rhythm shakers, cleaning the fish
aquarium), ask the children to describe
the process before starting the activity.
Support children’s recall, as needed, to
help children provide the details of the
steps they will follow in the activity.
Plan the environment to support
independent story retellings. After
children have heard a story read aloud
several times, place copies in the book
area for children to retell, perhaps to an
audience of peers or stuffed animals.
Children also can retell by stories using
flannel pieces or puppets, or they can
dramatize stories by using simple costumes and props. Some retellings take
place during quiet times, such as when
children look at books as they rest. Others can take place as children read to
a baby doll in the dramatic-play area,
if small cardboard versions of familiar
books are placed there. Children also
represent story ideas creatively in the
art area through drawing, painting, or
Place information books in all areas.
Information books are resources that
increase understanding of many things.
Place books about shells near a seashell
collection, books about building houses
in the block area, and cookbooks in the
dramatic play area. Make sure all are
easy to reach. Racks can be provided
to display some open books throughout
the learning environment, both indoors
and outside on the playground. This
approach exposes a part that might
engage children to consult the book
while playing in an interest area. Provide
information books in braille for children
who have a visual impairment and in the
languages represented by the children
in the class. Set out assorted types of
printed information (e.g., newspaper food
ads, takeout menus from restaurants,
children’s magazines, bus and airline
tickets, food coupons) for children’s use
in play. Community newspapers in the
different languages of children in the
class may be used.
5.0 Literacy Interest and Response
iteracy interest and response involves
motivation to engage with books
and other print-related activities. When
children find themselves in a warm and
encouraging classroom that respects
their family and culture and their experiences with books and writing are fascinating and delightful, their interest and
engagement in literacy activities will take
off. Children’s motivation for reading and
other print-related activities is also supported when adults scaffold their learning
in ways that encourage sustained effort
in learning new literacy-related understandings and skills. Adults also support children’s motivation to engage with
books and print when they show interest
and delight in books and use print themselves.
The preschool foundations for literacy
interest and response are as follows:
• Demonstrate enjoyment of literacy
activities (e.g., choose to spend time in
the book or writing areas, or choose a
literacy-related activity with a friend).
• Engage in routines common in literacy
activities (e.g., asking a question about
a picture in an information book, borrow a book from the lending library,
putting a “letter” inside an envelope,
and scribble an address on it before
delivering it to a friend).
Javon usually knew exactly the book he wanted from the classroom lending library. One day, a book he had hoped to take home
had already been checked out. Javon decided to make a list of
books and post it on the wall near the lending library to inform his
friends that they should return a book on the list as soon as possible. (The classroom rule was that children could keep a book for
a week.) Javon got a piece of paper and asked his teacher how
to write, “Books to Check Out.” With help, he wrote the words at
the top of the paper and then drew six or seven lines across it. He
taped the list up on the wall near the lending library shelves, to
“do later.” He turned his attention to searching among the remaining books in the lending library. Before long, he found one he liked.
The empty list stayed on the wall for several weeks. One day,
Javon took it down and gave it to his teacher. “You can have this,”
he told him. “You might need it sometime.”
Javon’s teacher read stories to children daily and often
brought in information books to support children’s
interests. His teacher also frequently suggested to children
that they make signs or lists for use in their play. The
teacher sometimes engaged children in composing notes
to thank classroom guests. His teacher also suggested
to children that they make birthday or get-well cards for
peers. Given the teacher’s use of books and support for
writing, it was not surprising that Javon loved books or
that his first thought of solving his problem was to write a
list of books to post on the wall. Even though Javon never
actually used the form he made, its creation demonstrated
how much he loved books and how his teacher’s strong
support of writing made quite an impression on him.
The following interactions and strategies support preschool children:
Make stories come alive and encourage
the children to do the same. There are
good reasons why seeing a play or a wellcrafted movie is enjoyable. The actors
bring a story to life, which engages the
audience in feeling the story in ways that
sometimes differ from a reading of the
same story from a book. When reading
stories to preschool children, convey the
personalities and emotions of characters
and also reveal (through voice, signs,
facial expressions, and pacing) the tone
or mood of each story event. Read and
think carefully about stories before reading them to the children, asking, “How
does the character feel right here? Disappointed or frustrated? Excited or surprised? How can I capture that with my
voice and pacing?” If adults know the
stories and enjoy the characters and
plots, they are better able to engage and
delight the children when reading to
them. When children act out the stories
that teachers read, they mimic the teacher’s voice, signs, and pacing.
Use voice for expression and with
variation. Reading expressively does not
mean reading at a constantly loud and
high pitch. When a reader’s voice does
not vary, children do not receive the scaffolding they need to understand the feelings of characters or distinguish between
a calm part of a story and one full of suspense. If adults use appropriate variation
in voice and expression when reading to
children, children are likely to understand more of the content and attend for
longer periods of time.
Make story time not too long, not too
short, but just right. Preschool children
tire when they are asked to sit and think
too long. Although stories are generally
interesting to children, a certain book
and the conversation that takes place
around it might not be of keen interest
to every child in the group. Preschoolers
can sustain attention and engagement
for short periods under these circumstances, but not for a long time. Wise
teachers plan the length of story time
and other teacher-led literacy activities
so that children might still want more
rather than when they are worn out.
There is always a later time to read
another story or to do another literacy
activity. Children are more likely to look
forward to doing literacy-related activities
if they know that teachers or caregivers
engage them for a reasonable amount of
time on each and every occasion.
children, ask the guests to bring books
used in their work. In most cases, the
books will not be appropriate for reading
to children. Guests can explain that these
are just manuals, guides, or information
books they use in their work.
Make reading and writing meaningful
and useful. Bring books that support
children’s interests, and model how
to use books to get information. For
classroom topics of investigation, find
related books and let children know that
you are learning new things, too. If the
class gets a new aquarium or a table or
anything else that must be assembled,
show the directions to the children and
let them help, when appropriate. When
classroom guests are invited to share
a hobby or their occupation with the
Seek children’s input. Devise a plan for
children to request stories, songs, and
poems for the teacher to read at circle
time or at times during the day when
children choose their activities. A system
can be as simple as writing “Requests”
at the top of a piece of poster board and
mounting it on a wall. Children can then
dictate requests to teachers to write on
paper that is taped to the poster board.
Or, children can draw a picture to convey
their message, scribble a note, and tell
the teacher what it says.
Bringing It All Together
A family dinner, a tradition at Children’s Corner Preschool, is three
weeks away. Mrs. Nguyen reads a
book that features a diverse group
of children and the food each brings
to a potluck. The characters’ names
and the food each brings start with
the same first sound and letter. After
reading the book, Mrs. Nguyen tells
the children the exciting news. Very
soon, they will have a family dinner
at school.
Mrs. Nguyen also reads aloud a note
to the children: “You are invited to a
special family dinner at Children’s
Corner on Thursday, May 24, at six
o’clock. Please suggest a favorite
food dish of your family—a salad, a
vegetable, a main dish, or a dessert.
Please write down the ingredients
needed for the food dish. Our school
kitchen staff will make some of the
dishes for our special dinner. Family
members will visit our classroom to
bring the ingredients for their favorite
dish and tell about the dish and how
it is made. The kitchen staff will then
prepare the dinner. If a dish can be
made the evening of the dinner, families can bring the ingredients and help
prepare the dish then. I will contact
each family to discuss a food dish
and how it can be prepared at school.
We will have coffee, tea, milk, and
water to drink, and the school will
provide cups and plates and eating
utensils. We hope that you will come!”
Nicolas asks, “We’re doing a potluck?”
Mrs. Nguyen responds that they are
having a big dinner like a potluck and
explains that theirs will not be just for
children, as in the book they read, but
for all of the children and their families. She also explains that the food
dishes will be prepared at school,
not at home. However, the children
and their families will help on the
night of the dinner. Cesar says, “My
note needs Spanish.” Katerina adds,
“Lianna needs Russian.” Mrs. Nguyen
reassures the children that she has
notes in all of the languages needed
by the families. Gabriel asks, “What
we bring?” Mrs. Nguyen explains that
each family will suggest a favorite
dish and that some families will bring
ingredients to school before the night
of the dinner or on that night.
Before Mrs. Nguyen dismisses the
children to interest areas, she shows
some new materials—two sets of
small pictures of foods. Mrs. Nguyen
picks out two—bananas and beets—
and holds up one of them. “I think you
know what kind of fruit this is,” she
says. The children say, “bananas.”
Mrs. Nguyen agrees and then shows
the second picture. “ I think you also
know what kind of vegetable this is.”
One child says, “radish.” Another
says, “beet.” Mrs. Nguyen agrees that
both vegetables have ball-shaped
roots. “I brought some books about
vegetables that we can use to figure
out what some of these pictures are.”
She and the children determine that
the vegetable on the picture card
is a beet. Then Mrs. Nguyen says,
“There’s something the same about
the names, banana and beet. Did you
notice their first sounds? Banana,
beet,” Mrs. Nguyen says again.
Several children say, “They start with
/b/!” Mrs. Nguyen agrees. “Yes, and
that’s why bananas and beets are on
the same page in this alphabet book
(shows the B/b page of Eating the
Alphabet). If you’d like to find other
foods on the picture cards in this book,
you may use these materials today.”
Vladimir asks, “Or look at those others?” “Or, look at the other books, of
In the remaining days before the family dinner, Mrs. Nguyen read several
stories about children helping their
parents prepare foods. She talked
with children about their families’
ideas for the food dish they would
suggest and help to make.
The teacher supported concepts of
print by demonstrating that print can
be read and has specific meaning. The
teacher supported the development of
children’s phonological awareness
and alphabetic and word recognition
skills by reading an alphabet book and
discussing the food that each character
brought (e.g., the character’s name and
food dish for the potluck started with the
same sound and letter). She pointed out
both the character’s printed name and the
printed name of the food. Mrs. Nguyen
also used picture cards of foods to help
children who were ready to focus on first
sounds that are similar in different food
names and to link these first sounds to
the letters used to write the sounds. She
used another alphabet book in which
children could find pictures of the same
foods on the book pages. Reading the
potluck book and the note to the families
and discussing children’s questions about
the preschool dinner helped them learn to
comprehend and analyze age-appropriate
texts: the book and the note. Both
provided meaningful contexts in which to
use information texts as resources. The
children’s literacy interests and responses
were supported when the teacher continued to read more books that related to
the preschool family dinner.
Engaging Families
he following ideas may engage families
in developing children’s interest in
Send books and other readingrelated materials home with
children. Parents often welcome ideas
to support their children’s learning
at home. They also appreciate getting
materials for their use from their
child’s teacher. Occasional meetings
and workshops at school are helpful
for parents, especially when the
teacher demonstrates ways that
parents can use materials with their
children. Arrange for interpreters, if
needed, to be available at meetings.
Support children and families in
sharing books at home. Provide
books in a lending library in the home
languages of the children in the group.
Encourage parents to use the home
language when sharing books with
their children. Translators are needed
to produce text for books not available
in a child’s home language. Glue the
translated text into the book to create
a version that can be read in the home
Share ideas with parents about
questions they might ask about
books, and provide these in the
home language. Provide a list of the
kinds of questions that parents might
ask when sharing books with their
child. In addition to asking children to
a few sheets of paper home with books
that children check out of a lending
library. All families need access to
such materials. The teacher’s action
will support family members in
following up a book’s reading with
an activity that prompts additional
talking and thinking.
Introduce parents to community
identify items in a book’s illustrations,
also suggest higher-level questions,
such as how a character is feeling or
why a character behaved in a certain
way. Those more thoughtful questions
can be discussed only when children
have adequate language, which means
that supporting parents in sharing
books at home is essential for English
learners, especially in the early phases
of learning English. Make sure some
of the stories read at circle time are
available in the lending library. For
more information about strategies
to support children who are English
learners, see Chapter 5.
Suggest ways that parents can send
a response back to the classroom.
The child might draw a picture about a
favorite part of a book that was shared
with a parent or other family member,
or the family member might label the
picture using the home language.
Send simple packets of crayons and
resources to get books for home.
It is important to help families learn
about resources where they can get
access to more books. A preschool
meeting is a good time to introduce
families to a local public library and
invite the librarian to come to meet
families. It is also important for children to have at least a few books that
are their very own. Find resources
(see the “Teacher Resources” section
on page 170) that might make this
possible. Distribute books directly to
parents, at a meeting, or when they
come to preschool to pick up their
children. In this way, the parent can
enjoy giving the book to their child.
Send simple alphabet activities
home. Consider sending home materials that a child and parent can use
to create a name card for the child. A
strip of poster or tagboard long enough
to fit all of the letters of a child’s
name, paper letter “tiles” needed to
write the name, and a small bottle of
glue are all that is needed. Send directions in the family’s home language
about how a family member can help
the child assemble the letters to make
the child’s name and glue the letters
onto the strip of heavy paper to make
a name card. Some crayons may be
included in the materials to encourage
the child to decorate the sign.
Questions for Reflection
1. What opportunities have you used to integrate children’s literacy
learning with other activities throughout the day?
2. How have you used information books in your program?
3. What experiences do children have in the classroom interest areas
in which they use information books as resources and see you
model this use?
4. How does a focus on a picture card set of beginning letters and
sounds support the development of alphabetic skills?
5. What challenges might the children have in using picture cards as
an independent activity? What experiences did the teacher provide
that might decrease those difficulties? How did the information
books provide support?
6. How have you included families in classroom activities and
7. What did the children’s responses to the note to families reveal
about the teacher’s respect for families and the children’s home
8. How did this integrated set of reading-related experiences support
children’s vocabulary and concept development?
9. In what ways might the family dinner experience support
children’s social development?
eveloping as a writer depends on the writer’s understanding of how
a particular written language looks and on the writer’s language
and thinking skills. Conventional writing requires knowledge of
alphabet letters and an understanding that letters stand for sounds in
spoken or signed words. Deciding what to write requires oral or
sign language, knowledge, and thinking. Preschool children
engage in writing when they use scribble marks and
proudly announce their meanings (e.g., “This says
____”). Preschool children frequently use drawing,
rather than writing marks, to represent their
thoughts, and they often combine scribble or
other writing-like marks with their drawings
to communicate. Preschool children are
happy to serve as their own interpreters,
telling people what their early writing
and drawing is meant to say. Teachers
are careful not to criticize children’s
early scribble productions. To find out
what a child’s writing means, teachers
may ask a child: “Tell me about these
wavy lines down here.”
1.0 Writing Strategies
oung preschool children use scribble
to make their first pictures and also
as their first form of writing (Exploring,
DRDP). They arrange their scribble marks
differently in the two contexts, placing
scribble in lines to indicate, “This is writing, not a picture” (Developing, DRDP).
As children see more print and begin
to explore individual alphabet letters
(e.g., puzzles, magnetic letters, alphabet posters, and books), their scribble
marks change to letter-like shapes and
real letters (Building, DRDP). The form
of the letters children write continues to
improve throughout the preschool years
and beyond, as fine-motor skills increase
and children acquire more detailed letter knowledge. By late in the preschool
years, children combine and place lines
to create letters that are legible (Integrat-
ing, DRDP). Children also begin during
the preschool years to use letters to write
their names and other familiar words
(Integrating, DRDP).
When young preschool children realize that drawing and writing are used
intentionally to represent thoughts, they
begin to tell what their marks mean. A
bold patch of bright orange and yellow
represents, “the sun” or “my umbrella.”
A few zigzag lines represent, “my name,”
or mean “I like to go fishing with my
brother” (Developing, DRDP).
Some older preschool children can
write letters and letter patterns that correspond to the sounds that they “hear”
in spoken language. Children have still
more to tell than what their drawings
and invented spellings alone can convey
(e.g., “I got a bike and it’s red. It has more
Sample Developmental Sequence
The Desired Results Developmental
Profile–Preschool© (2010) (Measure 21,
LLD 10 of 10)a provides a basic summary
of writing development over the preschool years. The four levels described in
the developmental profile may be summarized as follows:
times focuses on making marks without any
intention of using these to stand for writing.
Sometimes the marks prompt the child to
think of something from the child’s world
that is familiar, and the child attributes
meaning to scribbles (e.g., “that’s a car” or
“that says ‘I am going to the zoo’”).
Exploring: The child explores with marking tools on a variety of writing surfaces,
creating scribble marks. The child some-
Developing: As the child continues to
explore with mark making, the child
organizes scribble marks into lines when
“writing,” which indicates the child’s observation that marks for writing and marks for
pictures are organized differently. Often,
the child will point to scribble marks that
The Preschool Desired Results Developmental ProfileRevised 2 (DRDP-PS© 2010) is one edition of the DRDP.
In this publication, “DRDP” refers, in general, to all
editions of this assessment instrument. “LLD” stands for
Language and Literacy domain, and “10 of 10” identifies
which measure is referenced.
(continued on next page)
wheels so I don’t fall over. When I am big,
they come off”).
Some children may need assistance
in emergent writing. Assistive technology,
either low tech or high tech, may be as
simple as modifying a writing tool to
make it easier to grasp or as sophisticated as using a computer with adaptations such as covers with individual
finger openings. Another helpful strategy
is for an adult or peer to “write” for the
child, who then approves or disapproves
by indicating yes or no. Preschoolers will
sometimes have much to say and will
appreciate an adult’s offer to take their
dictation—to do the physical writing for
The preschool writing foundations are
as follows:
• Use scribbles, letters and letter-like
shapes to represent ideas or words.
• Write one’s own name.
• Experiment and adjust grasp and body
position for the use of writing and
drawing tools.
Sample Developmental Sequence of Writing (Continued)
are lined up and say, “This says . . .” In other
words, children begin to attribute meaning
to their scribble writing.
Building: Children’s skill in using marks to
create both pictures and writing increases
to the point where others can recognize a
child’s intentions. Although the marks are
still not always well formed, adults have a
good idea what the child intended to portray and the letters a child intended to write.
Children sometimes make up new designs
that look remarkably like actual letters. They
do not yet know that there are just 26!
Integrating: At this phase, children know
most, if not all, of the uppercase alphabet
letters, and they combine these to make
words. Some of the words are ones they
see frequently, such as their names. Most
are quite legible, although not perfectly
formed, of course, and a letter might be
written with its orientation reversed. In addition to their names, children sometimes
write a few simple words, such as love or
yes and no. They also might string letters
together in sets that look like words and
ask adults, “What word is this?” A few older
preschoolers might have figured out that
letters selected to make words relate to the
sounds in the spoken words, and invent
spellings, such as KK for cake or CD for
Ross enjoys the paper letter tiles organized in tackle-box trays in the
writing area. He surveys the letters, picks one, and then dabs his glue
stick on his paper. He arranges four to six letters together, in a line
He asks, “What are these letters?”
The teacher understands that he wants to know what words he has
made and begins to read. They laugh together when a collection of
letters is not a word. When the teacher reads SOSRS (saucers), Ross
laughs at first, but then he says, “Oh, that’s like one in the dramatic
play area.”
“Right. Saucers is a real word,” the teacher confirms. Although only
one of five letter strings is a real word when the teacher reads it, Ross
announces that he is “going to make more words” and turns back to
the tray of letters.
The teacher is wise to read Ross’s “words” rather than ask
him to tell her what they say, because children attribute
meaning on their own to their pretend words if using them
with intention (e.g., “This says, ‘Look out. There’s alligators
all over here’ ”). When they ask what their words say, they
are usually playing with making words. In sounding out the
letters in Ross’s “words,” the teacher demonstrates how the
writing system works. With more experience of this kind,
combined with other experiences that focus on letter names
and sounds in words, Ross will learn that people select letters
to stand for sounds when they are spelling words. For now, the
teacher enjoys watching Ross’s investigations and answers his
Jessalyn is delighted with the birthday card picture from a peer and
wants to write a thank-you note. She draws a picture and then tells
the teacher, “I want real words, too, but I can’t make them.”
“What would you like the words to say?” the teacher asks. Jessalyn
dictates: “I liked the pretty picture of me. It was a pretty birthday
card.” “Do you want me to write that down or help you?”
“I can do letters,” Jessalyn explains, “but I can’t make words. Well,
just love.” The teacher helps Jessalyn spell the word pretty by segmenting some of its sounds and naming the letters needed to write
the sounds. After the teacher names the last letter in pretty, Jessalyn
remarks, “y? Why not e?” The teacher explains that e is used to write
this sound in many words, but, in others, y is used.
Then the teacher asks, “What letter is at the end of your friend Jeremy’s name?”
“Oh, y!” Jessalyn realizes. “Do we have anybody with e?” she asks.
“Not this year. But last year, there was a girl named Kaylee, and she
used e to write the /e/ sound.”
Rather than simply dictate letters or write words for Jessalyn
to copy, her teacher segments some of the sounds in the words
and discusses the letters needed to write them. Jessalyn,
who is almost five, already has the idea that letters stand
for sounds. When she writes, she sometimes uses her letter
name knowledge to match a letter to a sound in a word. She
would have used the letter E to write the last sound in pretty,
if working on her own. When the teacher advises the letter Y,
anticipating that Jessalyn would ask why, she helps Jessalyn
discover some surprises in writing English words. Some
sounds can be written with more than one letter, and some
letters can stand for more than one sound (e.g., The letter C
can stand for /s/ or /k/, as in city and candy; the letter G
can stand for /j/ or /g/, as in giraffe and gate). Jessalyn is
learning a lot about writing when her teacher engages her in
natural situations, such as when helping her write the thankyou note. The teacher adapts her approach to each child’s
interests and current levels of understanding.
The following interactions and strategies support writing and its varied uses:
Set up a well-stocked writing area (See
“Environments and Materials,” page 103.)
Add new materials frequently to the
writing area. New materials can support
units of study (e.g., envelopes, stationery,
card stock cut into postcard sizes, and
stickers for use as stamps when children
are investigating the post office) or spark
children’s interest in writing. Be creative
and provide gel pens or pens with glitter
ink, hole punchers, scissors, little blank
books, colored card stock folded like
greeting cards, printed photographs of
children engaged in classroom activities
for note cards or post cards. Consider
finding ways that children can write with
their fingers in addition to writing with
tools. For example, children can write in
trays of sand.
Provide writing materials in other
interest areas, inside and outside. In
the block area, provide materials for children to make signs and masking tape
for attaching them to buildings. Place
small notepads in the dramatic play area
for children to write messages or grocery lists. Children enjoy opportunities
to write and draw in mud outside and
to mark in damp sand with their fingers
or sticks. They also enjoy creating print
props for their play—tickets for a wheel
toy “toll booth” or a sign for a pretend
lemonade stand or roadside restaurant.
Placing a variety of writing materials on
a rolling cart makes it easy to take those
materials outdoors. Provide access to keyboards and computers (e.g., with adaptations such as covers with individual
finger “openings”), as appropriate, for
children with disabilities. There should be
ample opportunities to use different writing utensils for marking, scribbling, and
drawing. (See Appendix D.)
Embed writing in everyday transitions
and routines. For some transitions, tell
children they may go to the next activity when you write on the whiteboard the
first letter of their name. After a while,
children whose names begin with letters
that start with the same stroke (e.g., T,
F, E, M, N, L, B, D, R and other letters)
might begin to guess their own first letter
after you complete the long vertical line.
Tell children that you are not yet finished
and to keep watching. By attending until
the letter is completely formed, children
learn that some letters are similar to but
also different from other letters. For other
transitions, write each of the children’s
first names, one at a time. This activity is
especially informative if some children’s
names are similar, for example, if there
is a Jamal and a Jamie or an Alessandra
and an Alexis in the class. After some
experience with this transition activity,
children learn to watch closely until two,
three, or even four letters of their name
have been written, because the first two
or three letters in their name are also in
a classmate’s name. Encourage children
to write for a purpose as part of a routine,
for instance, by signing their artwork,
using any level of writing they can, or by
signing their name on a turns list when
an interest area is already filled to capacity and a child must do something else
while waiting for a turn.
Encourage children to write in the art
interest area. Preschool children love
to finger paint on a tabletop. Add a few
drops of water, as needed, to keep the
paint slippery as a child explores. Provide pieces of newsprint to use in making
prints of children’s finger-painted marks.
Children can also write on slabs of clay
using popsicle sticks or wooden tools.
Encourage children to sign their drawings and paintings with whatever marks
they can, helping when they ask. When
drawings and paintings represent stories, inviting a child to “tell me about it”
and then writing down the dictation supports children’s budding narrative skill.
When a child wants to describe a process
(e.g., “I made orange when I mixed yellow
and red together”), taking dictation supports a child in learning how to record
explorations and discoveries. Children
often enjoy the freedom afforded by large
pieces of paper on an easel to paint individual letters or even their whole names,
which they sometimes decorate elaborately.
Respond sensitively to children’s
emergent writing. Focus on the meaning that children are trying to convey
(e.g., “Tell me about this”) rather than
on the form of their writing (e.g., “What’s
that letter?”). In other words, when children first start, let them know that scribbles or letter-like designs are wonderful
attempts and that people know children
love to experiment with lines and designs.
Let them know that you are interested in
knowing the thoughts they might have
tried to capture in their writing. See
“Sample Developmental Sequence of
Writing” on page 159.
Respond to children’s questions and
requests for help. When children ask
questions about how to form a letter,
describe actions while demonstrating
on a separate piece of paper (e.g., “First,
we make a long vertical line, like this;
then we add a short diagonal line from
up here right to the middle of the vertical line . . .”). When children approaching
60 months of age request help in spelling,
make the sounds in the words explicit
and name letters needed to write the
sounds (e.g., “Okay, I hear a /b/ sound
first, in baby. We write that sound with
the letter b. I hear /a/ next, in baby, and
we use the letter a to write /a/. Then, I
hear another /b/--ba-by . . .”). As children
learn more letter names, ask children
what letter they think should be used to
write /b/ or /t/ or other sounds that are
in a letter’s name (e.g., “d” has the /d/
sound in its name; p has the /p/ sound
in its name”).
Model writing. If children see a teacher
write for particular purposes (e.g., a list of
items to bring to preschool for a project,
a note to a child’s parent) and if a teacher
enlists children’s help in deciding what
to write for class letters, notes, or signs,
children will come to understand the
value of being able to express thoughts on
paper. Plan to write frequently in a wholegroup setting for a variety of purposes
(e.g., a thank-you note to a guest, a note
to the custodian about a broken towel
dispenser, a sign for a hallway display of
children’s drawings). Engage children in
helping to compose a message, and write
it on a surface that is large enough for all
of the children to see the writing (e.g., a
whiteboard or a large piece of newsprint
paper mounted on an easel). Read the
entire message when it is finished.
Display children’s writing. A bulletin
board to display children’s writing and
drawing is helpful. Rather than wait for
writing or drawing related to specific
activities, such as a trip to the children’s
museum, display items that children create daily (e.g., tickets for bus play in the
block area, a list for grocery shopping in
the dramatic play area, a colorful painting of letters, a little book or a paper on
which a child has written all of the letters
of the alphabet at the writing area, just
because he wanted to). Post class photos
too, and write down children’s captions
(e.g., “Here’s when my sand mold broke
all up.” “Ricardo and I made this pirate
boat in the block area”), or help children
to write the captions. A display lets children know that their writing efforts are
noticed and valued and can be shared
with others.
Bringing It All Together
Nicolas finishes drawing on one side of
a crease on a piece of card stock and
then adds zigzag scribble marks and
a few rudimentary letters on the other
side of the crease. He explains that the
picture is a bowl of salad with some
carrots and tomatoes, and his writing
says, “This is where salads are.”
Preparations for the family dinner have
been underway for almost three weeks.
Mrs. Nguyen’s preschoolers have written name tags for each member of their
family and have made a variety of Welcome signs for the front door of the preschool and for the hallway leading to
their classroom. Today, after a discussion about the different kinds of food
that families have suggested for the
dinner and will be helping to prepare
at school, Mrs. Nguyen explains how
foods are organized on a buffet table—
all the salads are in one place, all the
main dishes are in another, and so on.
Nicolas and some of his peers chose to
make signs for the tables (e.g., salads,
vegetables, main dishes, breads, desserts). They are using card stock that
Mrs. Nguyen creased in the middle to
make them stand on the table when
On the last day before the big event, at
small-group time, Mrs. Nguyen provides
yeast dough for the children to shape
into rolls. When finished, they carry the
trays of rolls down to the preschool’s
kitchen where staff will bake them. A
day earlier, the children helped Mrs.
Nguyen compose a note to ask kitchen
staff members if they would be willing
to help. They wrote back, saying they
This teacher not only provided an integrated set of reading-related experiences
to provide background knowledge about
the preschool and family dinner event,
but also thought of many meaningful
writing experiences in which to engage
the children. The children used a variety of writing and drawing tools to write
family members’ names and to make
Welcome signs and signs for the food
tables. Some children used scribble and
letter-like designs on the name tags and
signs. Other children, mostly the older
preschoolers, used very well-formed letters to write their own names and the
messages for signs and Welcome banners. The children and their parents and
teacher could not have been prouder of
all their preparations.
Engaging Families
he following strategies can help
families develop children’s interest
in writing:
Send writing materials home with
children. Send home a few pieces of
paper and a few crayons at a time,
rather than larger quantities. In an
accompanying note, in the family’s
home language, indicate that the
materials are for the child to draw
on and then sign his or her name.
Suggest ways that the family member
might help with the name (e.g., say
the letters or characters, show the
child how to write the letters or
characters, write the name for the
child while naming the letters or
Use displays to help family members understand the developmental nature of writing. When family
members come to pick up their child,
children’s artwork and writing should
be displayed in areas they pass by.
A broad range of writing, drawing, or
painting efforts on a board communicates to parents that preschoolers are
still learning how to write, paint, and
Provide ideas about where family
members can find paper on which
their preschooler can write and
draw. In a parent meeting, teachers
can show parents how to cut up
cereal boxes and other light cardboard
food containers, as well as envelopes
from mail they receive. These items
are blank on the inside. Children
also enjoy looking at the flip side
(i.e., the side that originally was the
outside of the panels) and sometimes
are inspired by the writing on it.
Children also like to write and draw
on newspapers, ignoring the print as
they add their own drawing or writing
over it.
Encourage family members to share
writing with their child. Teachers
may send ideas home, in the family’s
home language, for ways that family
members can use the writing they do
at home to help their child learn about
writing. For example, some family
members might make shopping lists
or write letters to relatives. A teacher
may suggest that family members
show these to their preschool child and
explain what they are. If older siblings
in the family do homework, parents
can encourage the older sibling to
show the younger sibling what she
is doing (e.g., “I’m writing a story for
my class” or “I worked some math
Questions for Reflection
1. How did the writing experiences engage children in the family
dinner activities in ways that the reading activities could not?
2. What do you think Mrs. Nguyen did when a child refused to write
the names of family members on name tags, saying, “I can’t write.”
What would you do?
3. How can you help parents understand the early phases of
children’s writing?
4. Would you feel a need to write the correct and recognizable words
(e.g., salads, desserts) on the food table signs that children
prepared? Why or why not?
5. How might these meaningful experiences with writing affect
children’s motivation to write?
6. Do you think that preschool children should have only meaningful
writing experiences, such as the ones they used for the preschool
family dinner event, or should children be asked to practice writing
letters and their names just to practice? Why?
7. If you have ever seen children practice writing on their own—a
teacher had not asked them to—what environmental materials,
structure, or previous experiences might have influenced and
supported their decision to practice some aspect of writing?
ecades of research have shown that playful learning,
intentional teaching, and a rich curriculum help children
learn about the world and master language and literacy.
The principles and strategies provided in this chapter are based
on this research. Teachers must be mindful of what the research
has revealed about how children acquire a vast array of knowledge
and skills. However, teachers must also assume responsibility for
weaving together a program that combines children’s play with their
own specific plans in ways that secure a bright academic future
for each child. By definition, this means that children’s interest in
and motivation to learn are maintained. The satisfaction and joy of
teaching come from knowing that the very best efforts were made and
from seeing the results of such efforts in the children’s faces every
day. The progress documented for each child over the course of a
year also brings joy and satisfaction.
Map of the Foundations
Language and Literacy
Listening and Speaking
58 | Listening and Speaking
Language Use and Conventions
At around 48 months of age
At around 60 months of age
1.4 Use language to construct short
narratives that are real or fictional.*
1.4 Use language to construct extended
narratives that are real or fictional.*
• The child draws attention or points to pictures on
the wall of a special class event: “The mama bird
built a nest in our toy box. The baby birds flew
• The child tells a brief story that unfolds over time:
“I went to the park with my mommy, and we
played in the sandbox. Then we had a picnic. After
that, we went to the store.”
• The child describes an unfolding event at snack
time: “I want to put peanut butter on my bread.
I’m going to put jelly on, too.”
• The child tells about activities of interest to him or
her that day: “First we come to school and sit on
the carpet. Then we have our circle time. And then
we do the centers. And then it’s time for lunch.”
• The child relays events from the day’s morning:
“My daddy’s truck broke down. We walked to
school. It was a long way.”
• The child retells the major events of a favorite
story: “The boy wrote to the zoo, and they kept
sending him animals. But he doesn’t like them.
So, then he gets a puppy, and he keeps it. He was
happy then.”
* Producing narratives may vary at these ages for children who are communicating with sign language or alternative
communication systems. As is true for all children, teachers can support young children’s communication knowledge and
skills by repeating and extending what children communicate in conversations. Teachers can also provide opportunities for
children to repeat or tell stories as a way to encourage them to produce narratives.
Includes notes
for children
with disabilities
Teacher Resources
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Authors sometimes provide book lists and
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Psycholinguistics 13, no. 4 (1992): 485–
55. B. M. Phillips, J. Clancy-Menchetti, and
C. J. Lonigan, “Successful Phonological
Awareness Instruction with Preschool
Children: Lessons From the Classroom,”
Topics in Early Childhood Special Education 28, no. 1 (2008): 3–17.
56. F. P. Roth and others, “Promoting
Awareness of Sounds in Speech: An
Initial Report of an Early Intervention
Program for Children with Speech and
Language Impairments,” Applied Psycholinguistics 23, no. 4 (2002): 535–65.
57. D. R. Reutzel and others, “Reading Environmental Print: What Is the Role of
Concepts About Print in Discriminating
Young Readers’ Responses?” Reading
Psychology 24, no. 2 (2003): 123–62.
58. National Center for Family Literacy,
Developing Early Literacy: Report of the
National Early Literacy Panel (Jessup,
MD: National Institute for Literacy,
59. L. C. Ehri and L. S. Wilce, “Movement
into Reading: Is the First Stage of
Printed Word Learning Visual or Phonetic?” Reading Research Quarterly 20,
no. 2 (1985): 163–79.
60. L. C. Ehri and L. S. Wilce, “Cipher Versus Cue Reading: An Experiment in
Decoding Acquisition,” Journal of Educational Psychology 79, no. 1 (1987):
61. P. E. Masonheimer, P. A. Drum, and
L. C. Ehri, “Does Environmental Print
Identification Lead Children Into Word
Reading?” Journal of Reading Behavior
16, no. 4 (1984): 257–71.
62. L. C. Ehri and T. Roberts, “The Roots of
Learning to Read and Write: Acquisition
of Letters and Phonemic Awareness,”
in vol. 2 of Handbook of Early Literacy
Research, ed. D. K. Dickinson and S.
B. Neuman (New York: Guilford Press,
2006), 113–31.
63. R. Reutzel and others, “Reading Environmental Print: What Is the Role of
Concepts About Print in Discriminating
Young Readers’ Responses?” Reading
Psychology 24, no. 2 (2003): 123–62.
64. L. C. Ehri and T. Roberts, “The Roots of
Learning to Read and Write: Acquisition
of Letters and Phonemic Awareness,”
in vol. 2 of Handbook of Early Literacy
Research, ed. D. K. Dickinson and S.
B. Neuman (New York: Guilford Press,
2006), 113–31.
65. S. R. Burgess, “The Development of
Phonological Sensitivity,” in vol. 2 of
Handbook of Early Literacy Research,
ed. D. K. Dickinson and S. B. Neuman
(New York: Guilford Press, 2006), 90–
66. B. A. Murray, S. A. Stahl, and M. G.
Ivey, “Developing Phoneme Awareness
Through Alphabet Books,” Reading and
Writing 8, no. 4 (1996): 307–22.
67. B. Byrne and R. Fielding-Barnsley,
“Evaluation of a Program to Teach Phoneme Awareness to Young Children:
A 1-Year Follow-Up,” Journal of Educational Psychology 85, no. 1 (1993):
68. B. Byrne and R. Fielding-Barnsley,
“Evaluation of a Program to Teach Phonemic Awareness to Young Children:
A 2- and 3-Year Follow-up and a New
Preschool Trial,” Journal of Educational
Psychology 87, no. 3 (1995): 488–503.
69. L. Bradley and P. Bryant, Rhyme and
Reason in Reading and Spelling. International Academy for Research in
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The Reading Teacher 55, no. 1 (2001):
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Picture-Book Reading,” Developmental
Psychology 24, no. 4 (1988): 552–58.
72. L. Beck, M. G. McKeown, and L. Kucan,
Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction (New York: Guilford
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From Listening to Stories,” Reading
Research Quarterly 24, no. 2 (1989):
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Kucan, Bringing Words to Life: Robust
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Reading Books Together,” in Beginning
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Dickinson and P. O. Tabors (Baltimore,
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76. D. K. Dickinson and M. Smith, “LongTerm Effects of Preschool Teachers’
Book Readings on Low-Income
Children’s Vocabulary and Story
Comprehension,” Reading Research
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Instruction of Reading Comprehension,”
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C. Pontecorvo and others (Mahwah, NJ:
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1996),
hildren who are learning English as a second language form a
substantial and growing segment of the preschool population in
California served by state child development programs. Approximately 42 percent of California kindergarten children were identified as
children who are English learners in the 2006-2007 school year. Recent
reports estimate that about 39 percent of all children ages three to five are
English learners; however, it is difficult to identify accurately the number
or proportion since many English learners do not attend state-supported
preschool programs where those data are collected. In some counties,
the percentage of children who are identified as English learners at
kindergarten entry is more than 50 percent (e.g., Los Angeles County).
The California Preschool Learning
Foundations, Volume 1, defines English
learners as those “children whose first
language is not English and encompasses children learning English for the
first time in the preschool setting as well
as children who have developed various levels of English proficiency. For the
majority of these children, Spanish is the
home language, followed by Vietnamese,
Cantonese, Hmong, Tagalog, Korean, and
other languages.”1
Children who are
English learners bring
a wealth of ability
and knowledge as
well as varied cultural
backgrounds to early
childhood settings;
English learners also
require curricular
adaptations to
make the most
of their abilities
while they
progress toward
full English
proficiency. The
early childhood
practices described in the other domains
will also benefit preschool children who
are English learners, but they may not
be enough. Current knowledge, based on
successful practices and sound research,
strongly suggests that specific teaching
strategies, individualized interaction
approaches, and enhanced environments
are critical to the long-term success of
young children who are not
native speakers of English.
The strategies described
in the social-emotional
development, language and literacy, and
mathematics chapters are applicable
and essential for all preschool children,
including those who are English learners.
However, many young children who are
English learners will need the adaptations
described in this chapter as they are
developing their proficiency with the
English language.
Because first- and second-language
development of children who are English
learners varies, the English-language
development foundations and the language and literacy foundations are each
to be used in tandem with the curriculum framework. It is recommended that,
when planning curriculum for all areas of
learning, teachers begin by reading and
considering the information in the English-language development foundations
and the curriculum framework as they
gauge each child’s current comprehension
and use of English. Teachers then develop
a plan for how to integrate and utilize
suggested activities or strategies to support learning in language and literacy and
the other areas of learning that consider
the variability of children who are English
learners. Intentional teaching requires an
ongoing awareness of the home-language
development of each child (as described in
the English-language development foundations), as well as the English learner’s
ability to use English in activities suggested in this curriculum framework.
Early childhood educators working
with preschool English learners need
to be knowledgeable about the role of
home language in the process of learning
English, the influence of cultural values
and norms, as well as the stages of second-language development for preschool
English learners. Specific curricular and
assessment adaptations are needed to
optimize young children’s development of
a second language.
Research Highlight
The National Literacy Panel on Language
Minority Children and Youth conducted a
meta-analysis of 15 scientific studies that
focused on early literacy instruction for
English learners and concluded “. . . it is
evident that we can enhance the literacy
development of English language learners with better instruction” and
English language learners may learn to
read best if taught both in their native
language and English from early in the
process of formal schooling. Rather than
confusing children, as some have feared,
reading instruction in a familiar language
may serve as a bridge to success in English
because decoding, sound blending, and
generic comprehension strategies clearly
transfer between languages that use phonetic orthographies, such as Spanish, French,
and English.3
Guiding Principles
he following overarching principles
were developed for the preschool curriculum framework to assist practitioners
in their work with children who are English learners. A complementary document
was developed by the California Department of Education entitled Preschool English Learners: Principles and Practices to
Promote Language, Literacy, and Learning
(PEL Resource Guide).2 It discusses core
beliefs and principles that inform teaching approaches and strategies. As should
be expected, there is overlap between
some of the present overarching principles and those outlined in the earlier
document. Where commonalities exist,
they are referenced in this chapter.
Families matter
The education of children who are
English learners is enhanced when
preschool programs and families form
meaningful relationships. It is through
these relationships that teachers will
not only learn about home language
use but the hopes and aspirations that
parents have for their children’s overall development (PEL Resource Guide,
Principle 1).
Recognize existing language and
literacy strengths in the home
Engaging in multiple literacy practices,
such as reading books, singing songs,
and reciting poetry, is part of the daily
life of many families. It is important to
recognize that English learners have a
variety of literacy experiences in their
home language that range from an
emphasis on oral language development to literacy activities involving
print (PEL Resource Guide, Principles
2 and 9).
Respect cultural values and behaviors reflected in the child’s language
and communication
Language and culture are highly integrated, so attention must be paid to
cultural values and behaviors, which
are embedded in both the language
and communication style of the home
language and the new language being
Children benefit when their teachers
understand cultural differences in
language and communication use and
incorporate them into their daily routine. Teachers must be understanding
of how the child’s culture is reflected
in his communication styles (e.g., child
waits for the adult to initiate the conversation, child looks away from adult)
(PEL Resource Guide, Principle 2).
Allow the child use of the home
language to have immediate access
to the entire curriculum, concept
development, and high levels of
Continued use and development of the
child’s home language will benefit the
child as she acquires English. Experimenting with the use, form, and purpose of the first and second languages
leads to growth in acquiring a second
language. For example, when children
are first exposed to The Napping House,
it should be in their home language.
A discussion of the key words and concepts in the home language precedes
exposure to the story in English. In this
way, children have the basis to build
their understanding of the story. The
similarities and differences between
the sounds of the two languages can
also be pointed out during these discussions (PEL Resource Guide, Principle 6).
Support English-language development across all domains
Language is a tool of communication
used in all developmental domains.
Children who are English learners need
to be supported not only in activities
focused on language and literacy, but
across the entire curriculum.
Give preschool English learners time
As preschool children who are English
learners adjust to a preschool classroom, it is important to help them feel
welcome without putting too much
pressure on them to respond to questions or directives in English. In conversations and group activities, teachers should always include preschool
children who are English learners
by smiling at them, mentioning their
names, and making it clear that they
are part of the group. During the early
stages of English-language development, much of the language used by
preschool teachers is probably not
understood by preschool English
learners. Initially, those children need
a safe setting without too many
demands on their emerging Englishlanguage abilities.
Use language as a meaningful tool
to communicate
English learners, like all young children, learn through interactions that
use language as a meaningful way
to communicate. Successful interactions promote extended conversations
that include repeated turn-taking and
shared experiences to communicate
interests, ideas, and emotions (PEL
Resource Guide, Principle 3).
Allow for children’s voluntary
While a child who is learning English is
in the early stages of English-language
development, he or she may not feel
confident enough to respond in this
new language. Each child who is learning English is different, and it is important for teachers to allow the child to
decide when he is ready to “go public”
with the new language.
Make children’s learning interesting
and fun for English learners
Language development and learning
are promoted when preschool teachers and children creatively and interactively use language (PEL Resource
Guide, Principle 4).
Accept code switching as normal
Code switching (i.e., combining English words with home language words)
is a typical part of language development for many bilingual children (PEL
Resource Guide, Principle 7).
Environments and
n the early childhood classroom, the
physical environment for young children who are English learners needs to
be modified to create a learning environment that provides access to the curriculum content through multiple avenues.
The learning environment allows English
learners to feel welcome, safe, and secure
while acquiring a new language and promotes enriched language interactions,
both verbal and nonverbal. Teachers need
to provide a physical environment that
is rich in visual aids such as pictures,
photographs, toys, and picture books
that encourage hands-on learning and
peer interaction. English learners must
initially rely on nonverbal information to
understand communication in another
language. For example, labeling a block
area with drawings or pictures of the various types of blocks will help the English
learner understand that certain types of
blocks are grouped together in a certain
The physical environment of the classroom needs to reflect the child’s home
culture. This can be accomplished by
incorporating cultural artifacts from the
child’s background into the classroom
setting, including educational materials
in the child’s home language, if available
(e.g., books on tape or CD in the listening
area), and serving meals and snacks that
reflect the cultures of the families. Feeling
accepted and valued allows diverse learners to be full participants in the activities
of the classroom.
The following adaptations are suggested
for preschool children who are English
Provide safe havens where the child
does not have to speak to anyone.
It is important to arrange small spaces
with a choice of manipulatives such
as play dough, puzzles, or interlocking blocks. In this way, children can be
physically engaged in an activity that
they intuitively understand and be near
peers who speak English without high
demands for producing a language they
have not yet mastered. It allows for a
“break,” deferring control to the individual child to talk when ready.
Establish consistent classroom
routines and procedures.
Consistent and predictable routines
help foster a sense of safety and security for all children but are especially
important for children who are English
learners. Young children learning English can quickly learn the daily routines (if they are predictable) and will
be able to focus energy on the learning
goals rather than trying to figure out
what they are supposed to do.
Provide space in the classroom
environment for children to interact
in small groups and one-on-one.
Many preschool children who are
English learners are highly motivated
to interact with and form friendships
with other children in the classroom.
In their quest to join social groups and
form friendships, many English learners will spend time in proximity to children who are native speakers of English, watching their actions and closely
listening to their conversations. Small
group and individual interactions with
peers provide preschool English learners with additional time and opportunities to practice their English. “More
experienced peers, those with more
advanced mastery of the language,
can also be effective language models
for children who are newcomers to the
Provide space where teachers and
other adults can interact individually
and in small groups with children
who are learning English.
As preschool children who are English
learners increase their comprehension
of English, they will need many opportunities for small-group, targeted
instruction as well as individualized
responsive language interactions in
both English and their home language.a
For example, when soft seating and
small tables are placed throughout
the classroom, teachers can sit next
to English learners and model English
language dialogue informally. While
the young English learner is stacking
blocks or manipulating puzzle pieces,
teachers can label the objects and
describe the activity without expecting a response in English. In addition,
teachers can organize a small group of
English learners at a small table and
re-read a storybook that was previously
read to the whole group with special
attention to key vocabulary words.
Provide linguistically and culturally
appropriate materials.
All areas of the classroom should reflect
the family culture, customs, and language. Family artifacts and pictures
of special talents (e.g., musical or
artistic) should be displayed prominently throughout the classroom.
Environmental print that reflects the
languages of the children, as well as
English, should also be incorporated
into classroom activities and routines.
High-quality books in both English and
the children’s home languages should
Every effort should be made to recruit speakers
fluent in the child’s home language, such as
volunteers, parents, and community members,
so the child will experience language interactions
in their home language.
be readily available. The materials
should be accessible to all children in
the setting, including those with physical or sensory disabilities.
Make clear signs and explicit picture
cues for interest areas.
As preschool English learners rely
more on nonverbal cues to understand
the classroom routines and expectations, it will be important to have interest areas and materials clearly labeled.
Materials and interest areas labeled
with pictures and words in English and
the home languages represented in the
classroom will promote associations
between words and objects in both languages. The daily schedule should also
be designed to include both words and
pictures at the child’s eye level.
Make use of computers to introduce
and reinforce content of activities.
Teachers can use computers effectively
to individualize instruction and provide
additional practice and targeted exposure to English for children who are
English learners.
Summary of the Strands
he domain of English-language
development encompasses listening,
speaking, reading, and writing.
The Listening strand contains one
substrand with three areas of focus. The
first area of focus is on developing beginning words in English. In this focus area,
the child begins by attending to words in
English to demonstrate an understanding of a larger set of words. In the second
focus area, the child begins to understand
requests and directions that increase in
complexity over time and relies less on
contextual cues to understand words
in English. The third focus area con-
Summary of the Strands
and Substrands
he strands and substrands of the
domain of English-language development are outlined below. The substrands
are numbered.
centrates on understanding basic and
advanced concepts underlying particular
words in English.
The Speaking strand consists of three
substrands with varying focus areas.
The primary focus of these substrands
is in the oral production of language
that employs both the home language
and English. With increasing exposure
to English, the child will produce more
English across all substrands. Social
conventions, or the rules of a particular
language, are also part of the Speaking
The Reading strand consists of six
substrands that emphasize important
expectations related to reading and literacy development. Included in this
strand is appreciation of reading, an
increasing understanding of book reading, an understanding of print conventions and print meaning, letter knowledge and recognition, and phonological
awareness. Throughout the Reading
strand, children who are English learners
rely on their home language as a means
of understanding a second language.
The Writing strand contains one
substrand focused on the use of markings on paper or other mediums as forms
of communication. Children who are
English learners may use their home
language in their understanding of
written language.
1.0 Children Listen with
1.0 Children Use Nonverbal
and Verbal Strategies to
Communicate with Others
2.0 Children Begin to Understand
and Use Social Conventions
in English
3.0 Children Use Language to Create
Oral Narratives About Their
Personal Experiences
1.0 Children Demonstrate Appreciation and Enjoyment of Reading
and Literature
2.0 Children Show an Increasing
Understanding of Book Reading
3.0 Children Demonstrate an Understanding of Print Conventions
4.0 Children Demonstrate Awareness
That Print Carries Meaning
5.0 Children Demonstrate Progress
in Their Knowledge of the
Alphabet in English
6.0 Children Demonstrate
Phonological Awareness
1.0 Children Use Writing to
Communicate Their Ideas
Please refer to the map of the Englishlanguage development foundations on
page 225 for a visual explanation of the
terminology used in the preschool learning foundations.
Cultural Context
of Learning
hildren have diverse learning and
communication styles that are linked
to language background and culture. All
children have cultural identities learned
early in life that influence how they interact with adults, how they approach formal learning tasks, and how they express
their emotions. For example, a child may
demonstrate little or no eye contact while
listening, and others may look away during a language exchange with an adult
as a sign of respect. Some children have
developed preferences for group learning
and are uncomfortable with individual
attention. A related issue is that of physical proximity when speaking. In some
cultures, social interactions are characterized by close physical contact, while
in others it is more acceptable to interact
from a distance. Acceptance of different
communication styles sends the message
that cultural differences are valued.
When the home language and culture
are viewed as assets and resources, it
becomes the foundation for enhanced
learning. Preschool children who are
English learners need targeted classroom
support, intentional focus on vocabulary
development and English language and
literacy development, and close collaboration with families. At the same time,
the home language and culture are to
be respected, honored, and supported.
This chapter provides guidance on how to
design environments, structure activities,
engage in responsive interactions, and
plan for assessment of preschool children
who are learning to communicate in English as a second language in all domains.
Stages of
reschool children who are learning to
communicate in a second language
go through predictable stages of language
development.5 These stages are as follows:
• First stage. The child uses her home
language to try to communicate.
• Second stage. The child figures out that
he is not successful using the home
language with English speakers, so he
passes through a period of observation
and listening.
• Third stage. The child attempts to
use English in a more abbreviated
form through the use of one-word
sentences or phrases. The use of
these one- or two-word sentences or
phrases is sometimes referred to as the
telegraphic or formulaic stage.
• Fourth stage. The young child begins to
use more elaborated phrases and short
sentences to communicate in English.
Learning a Second Language and the California
Preschool Learning System
(Preschool English Learners: Principles and Practices
to Promote Language, Literacy, and Learning, 2009)
(California Preschool Learning Foundations
[in English Language Development], 2008)
1 Use of home language in second language setting
2 Observational and listening period
3 Telegraphic and formulaic communication
4 Fluid/Productive language use
Adapted from the California Preschool Instructional Network, “Foundations in English-Language Development Module“ developed
by WestEd under contract with the California Department of Education, Child Development Division.
In the preschool English-language
development foundations, the first
and second stages of second-language
development mentioned above are
combined to represent the beginning
level. The third stage is represented in
the middle level of the preschool Englishlanguage development foundations, and
the fourth stage is represented by the
later level. It should be noted that young
English learners will be at different
Research Highlight
As children move toward fluid language
use, the types of English that they use
may be characterized as (1) social English
and (2) academic English. Social English
refers to language that is informal and
predominantly oral in nature. Academic
English refers to language that is more
formal, requiring complex sentence structures, a rich vocabulary, and the use of
English across the Listening, Speaking,
Reading, and Writing strands.6
levels of development depending on their
prior experiences with English and skills
with their home language. Also, because
English learners vary in the amount of
time it takes to become fully proficient in
English, many will need additional time
beyond the preschool years to achieve full
English fluency.
Assessment Approaches
for Preschool English
iven the complexity of English
language development, reliable,
comprehensive assessment of preschool
English learners is a critical aspect of
designing effective instruction; it is also
a challenging endeavor for multiple
reasons. The first task is to determine
which children are English learners.
In California, preschool children who
are English learners are those children
whose first language is not English and
includes both those who are learning
English for the first time in the preschool
setting and those with some English
proficiency. Asking the parents or family
members a set of simple questions about
their child’s early language experiences
can help make this determination.
As recommended in the DRDP, each
child’s home language abilities should
be assessed. Ongoing assessment will
include the items in the DRDP addressing
the English-language development (ELD)
of all preschool children who are English
learners. The following strategies are
recommended for reliable assessment
of preschool children who are English
• Accurate assessment of preschool children who are English learners requires
observation over time and in multiple
settings (e.g., during small- and largegroup times, on the playground, and at
the beginning and end of the day).
• Assessment using the DRDP items for
English-language development requires
a team approach, including someone
who is fluent in the child’s home language and knowledgeable about the
home culture. Family members should
be included on the team and consulted
about the child’s language experiences
and usage.
• Focused observations should be guided
by curricular goals and expectations;
for example, preschool children who
are English learners will gradually
begin to understand and follow directions in English as they are consistently provided with appropriate learning opportunities. The child’s initial
responses to simple instructions in
English should be noted and the date
recorded. If the child knows very little
English, it may be necessary to assess
his ability to follow directions in the
home language or to ask the parents
simple questions about the child’s listening skills. If the teacher knows that
a child is able to listen with understanding in her home language, then
it is easier to design instruction that
builds on this skill while promoting
English development.
• Early screening and intervention are
available for children who may have a
hearing loss or a language-processing
problem. It is important to make a distinction between the normal process
of learning to listen and understand
in a new, unfamiliar language and
cognitive, or neurological, problems
that can interfere with listening in any
When a child who is learning English appears to
have difficulty listening, and a hearing impairment
is suspected, procedures described in the Assessing
Children with Disabilities Who Are English Learners:
Guidance for the DRDP Access and the PS DRDP for
Children with IEPs, should be followed (http://www.
ctive listening forms the foundation of a child’s language development in any language. As young children first learn language,
their receptive knowledge of the language exceeds their productive
capabilities. This is also the case for children who are English learners as
they begin learning a second language. They are often able to understand
much more than they can produce. The ability to listen to the features of
a language and process the meaning of the new sounds while applying
relevant knowledge from the first language is a critical skill for preschool
children who are English learners. Through listening, preschool English
learners actively process the features of the English language including
vocabulary, grammar, phonology, and pragmatics. Preschool English
learners become familiar with English by making hypotheses about how
the language works and testing them in conversation with others.
During the early stages of learning a
second language, children who are
English learners will utilize gestures,
behaviors, and nonverbal responses to
demonstrate their listening skills and
indicate understanding of this new
Modeling the English language requires
deliberate and intentional instructional
practices that help the young child to
hear the sounds of the second language,
such as speaking slowly, clearly, and
often. Preschool English learners need
time to adjust, feel safe, and be given
opportunities to engage with others.
When interacting with children who are
English learners, teachers should use
body language, gestures, and spoken
language that is well pronounced and
utilizes clear referents (e.g., concrete
representations and visual aids as
appropriate). It is important to make sure
young children who are English learners
are included in a variety of activities
that promote listening
and comprehension,
because they may be
relatively nonverbal
when entering the
Children Listen with Understanding
istening is an essential aspect of
oral language development, and
understanding what is heard is critical
to the development of reading and
writing skills. The development of good
listening skills should be a goal of all
early childhood programs. Young children
can learn good listening skills in any
language; these skills will facilitate the
ability to attend to and comprehend
spoken English.
Portrait of a Preschool English Learner
Lonia is a three-year-old child from a family who recently
emigrated from the Republic of Sudan. She is quite thin for her
age and appears withdrawn from the other children. Lonia rarely
looks at any of the adults or responds in any way when asked
to participate. Some trauma may have been associated with the
immigration, but the family has not shared any details. Lonia
appears somewhat fearful and mostly watches other children
at first. However, she seems very interested in snack and lunch.
She smiles at the teacher when he asks if she wants crackers
and cheese. She always eagerly eats all types of food. She also
constantly rubs a plastic bracelet that she wears high on her left
arm. The teacher wonders if Lonia knows any English at all or if
she is unusually timid and slow to warm up. Lonia is indirectly
communicating many aspects of her development and learning
needs that teachers will explore in more depth through detailed
observations and careful curriculum planning.
When Lonia first entered Ms. Sarah’s preschool classroom, she
quietly stood next to the door looking uncertain about what to do
after her mother kissed her and waved good-bye. Ms. Sarah knew
that Lonia’s family had just relocated to her community. Ms. Sarah
observed that both Lonia and her mother seemed most comfortable
speaking in a dialect of Arabic. That first day, Ms. Sarah took
Lonia’s hand, bent down, smiled directly at her, and said in a
soothing voice, “Welcome, Lonia. We are very happy to have you in
our classroom. It is circle time now. I will show you where to sit.”
Ms. Sarah then walked Lonia over to the rug and patted a small
area next to the teacher’s reading chair and pantomimed sitting
down while saying “This is your spot. You can sit here during circle
Ms. Sarah was aware of Lonia’s limited ability to comprehend English as well as her apprehension about entering a strange setting in which the language and customs
were unfamiliar. Although Lonia may not have been able to
understand the exact words, she could perceive a friendly
tone and follow the physical cues from Ms. Sarah.
Teachers of young English learners need to be aware of the
stages of second-language development so they can anticipate the kind of individual attention preschool English
learners may need. By paying attention to the behavior of
children who are not fully proficient in English, teachers
can help ease the transition into the new learning environment. In this case, Ms. Sarah was not certain how much
English Lonia understood, so she used many gestures
and nonverbal cues to help Lonia understand what was
The following interactions and strategies support preschool children who are
English learners:
Model good listening skills. All children
know when adults are really listening to
them; to promote good listening skills
among preschool children who are English learners, teachers must first demonstrate good listening skills, especially for
children who may have difficulty expressing themselves. As preschool English
learners acquire the vocabulary to communicate in English, they may be hesitant
to talk at all or they may use elements of
both languages. During those stages, it
is important to listen patiently, make eye
contact, be at the eye level of the child,
and respond positively, both verbally
and nonverbally. If teachers convey the
message that they are too preoccupied
or uninterested in what the child is saying, preschool children who are English
learners may become discouraged in their
attempts to communicate in English.
Use the home language for comprehension. By stating common words
and phrases in English and the home
language (e.g., papel, paper; bola, ball;
adiós, good-bye), teachers can help preschool children who are English learners make the connections between the
language they know and the language
they are learning. When a child who is
learning English is in the early stage of
comprehending spoken English, it may
be necessary for a fluent speaker of the
home language to provide interpretation.
This support will promote acceptance and
valuing of the child’s home language, a
means for the child to participate in the
classroom activities, and opportunities for
other children to learn a few words in a
new language.
Keep messages and directions short
when talking with preschool children
who are English learners. Directions
should be broken down into short,
sequential steps that are supported
by pictures, visual cues, and graphic
prompts whenever possible. By using
simple, grammatically correct directions
and by modeling language, teachers
increase the chances that preschool
English learners will understand what is
being asked of them and will successfully
adjust to the classroom. For example,
the teacher says, “It is time to come
to the rug” and then walks over and
demonstrates where to sit. Gradually
increase the use of complex vocabulary
and grammatical structures as the
children’s comprehension of English
Teach children how to listen, repeat
messages, and ask questions. Establish listening cues (e.g., a signal such
as “freeze” or a timid puppet who needs
a quiet classroom to enter) that communicate to children when they need
to pay attention. It is always a good
idea to check for understanding by having preschool English learners actively
respond to messages (“If you are going
to the block area, put your hands on
your head”) and ask clarification questions. As many researchers have pointed
out, all children need to learn how to
restate, repeat, summarize, and reflect
on classroom activities. Teachers can
help preschool children who are English
learners listen carefully by asking them
to talk about what has just happened and
then listen patiently while accepting their
language usage, which may include code
Have a listening library in the home
language and in English. In addition to
the audiotapes, CDs, and DVDs available
in English, have a parent or other fluent speaker of the child’s home language
record favorite books, stories, songs,
and poems. For instance, when reading
The Very Hungry Caterpillar as part of a
planned book reading, make sure there
is a home-language version of the book
in the listening area along with key vocabulary words in both languages.
Summarize or provide key phrases of a
story in a book, finger play, or song in
the child’s home language before introducing it in English. This step provides
the child with the opportunity to use the
home language as a basis for transferring concepts and understanding from the
home language to English.
Use language and literacy activities
that contain repetitive refrains so that
the English learner can hear the idea
or concept multiple times (e.g., Brown
Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?). By
repeating a phrase and linking it to visual
cues, teachers can promote the understanding of new English vocabulary.
Use running commentary when the
child is engaged in an activity. For
example, if the child is climbing up the
ladder to the slide, the teacher might say,
“You are going up the ladder and then
you will go down the slide,” touching
the object while naming it. Teachers can
also emphasize key words such as up
and down as part of the daily learning
experiences. By talking about what she
is doing while she is doing it (e.g., “I am
putting your picture in your cubby”), the
teacher is connecting the language with
the behavior and providing additional
scaffolds for the child who is learning
Use multiple methods for scaffolding
communication depending on the
stage of English-language development
of the child. Combine words with some
type of gesture, action, or directed gaze
(e.g., picture cues, physical gestures,
facial expressions, and pantomimes,
props, and interpreters, if necessary).
For example, in the book The Three Bears,
it will aid in the child’s comprehension
if the teacher shows pictures from the
book, displays flannel cutouts of the
bears and Goldilocks, and acts out the
expressions. (See PEL Resource Guide,
pages 54–55, for more detail.)
Target both the content and Englishlanguage development in every
activity. Design activities with a dual
purpose: understanding of the concept
and the English label associated with it.
For example, when working with a shape
puzzle, demonstrate how a triangle has
three corners and fits into the puzzle and
that the word triangle is the name of this
particular shape.
Observe preschool English learners
during group time, storybook reading,
and in small groups. Teachers will need
to continually observe preschool children
who are English learners to determine
their progress in English comprehension and adjust expectations accordingly. As teachers engage the children in
the focused listening activities described
above, they observe preschool English
learners’ attention to the language used
(e.g., are they looking at the speaker,
do they respond nonverbally with facial
expressions or gestures to speakers, do
they follow along with other children
when asked, do they respond appropriately to peers and adults when asked to
complete a task?). The answers to these
types of questions help inform teachers
as they plan individualized activities for
Flannel Board Activity: An Example of Building Listening Skills
Read The Very Hungry Caterpillar in the home language and in English during different
times of the day. The teacher can read it in the home language, have it taped in the
child’s home language, or have a parent or family member read it in the home language
prior to reading it in English. Point out key vocabulary words in both the home
language and then in English.
Review the book in English, emphasize key vocabulary words, and pass out flannel
board pieces with images of story narrative. Summarize key events in the story with
visual cues from the book. Then ask children to place pictures on the flannel board
when the story so indicates.
Leave the flannel board for small groups and for free time when children choose their
own activities. Read and retell the story only to Lonia, checking for comprehension.
Ask her to place appropriate pictures of key events on the flannel board.
If Lonia has three plums and looks blank when asked, “Who has the plums?” the teacher could hold
up a plum, look at her, and say, “Do you have this?” If she still does not respond, the teacher might
ask her to show what she has and nonverbally indicate that she should hold it up, “This is a plum”
and then ask her what she calls it. If a fluent speaker of Arabic were available, it would be useful to
have the book read in Arabic and for key vocabulary to be translated into Arabic.
Observation is part of this activity to learn more about Lonia’s developmental level. From this interaction, the teacher begins to gather information about Lonia’s ability to understand some English
vocabulary words, whether she understands simple instructions, and which concepts she understands. The teacher would note her responses on this date and continue to observe her language
and listening skills across other contexts, documenting her progress.
Bringing It All Together
After Lonia had been in the classroom
for several weeks, Ms. Sarah observed
that Lonia was consistently following
the routines of the classroom: moving
to the rug, cleaning up, and sitting
down, when asked. She also sat quietly and attended during circle time.
However, Ms. Sarah was not sure if
Lonia was merely imitating the behaviors of the other children or if she truly
understood the English words. It was
also evident that Lonia was forming
friendships with two other girls, often
playing with Mariela and Sheena in
the dramatic play area. Lonia mostly
interacted with the girls nonverbally;
when she did speak, it was in single
words that were softly spoken and not
clearly understood.
One day Ms. Sarah sat down with
Lonia for an extended conversation.
“Lonia, tell me about what you are
drawing.” Lonia just looked at Ms.
Sarah and kept drawing her picture.
(The picture had human-like figures
that appeared to be in the forest.) “Is
this your family?” asked Ms. Sarah,
Lonia nodded and muttered, “Um
hum.” “Do you have a big family?”
Lonia nodded enthusiastically and
said, “Lots of family.” “Do you have
any brothers and sisters?” asked Ms.
Sarah. Lonia nodded and pointed to
three small figures in the drawing.
“What are their names?” asked Ms.
Sarah. Lonia quickly said their names
adding, “She’s baby,” pointing to the
smallest figure.
Ms. Sarah then asked Lonia if she
would hold the picture up so the other
children could see it, which Lonia did.
Finally, Ms. Sarah asked Lonia if she
wanted to take the picture home, and
Lonia emphatically said, “Yes.” “Be
sure to put the picture in your cubby
so you will remember to take it home
today,” said Ms. Sarah. Lonia suddenly ran over to her cubby and carefully put the picture away.
At this point in Lonia’s development,
Ms. Sarah wanted to probe Lonia’s English comprehension in a more individual
and specific interaction. Ms. Sarah carefully posed questions about Lonia’s picture, starting with simple questions and
ending with a request. Through this interaction, Ms. Sarah was able to determine
more about Lonia’s ability to listen, comprehend, and follow simple directions in
Engaging Families
he following ideas may help families
with children who are Engish learners
to develop listening abilities:
When working with families who have
limited English-language proficiency,
teachers will need to communicate
in the parents’ preferred language.
Employing a bilingual interpreter may
be necessary.
Many of the recommended strategies
in this chapter can be translated into
a child’s home language and provided
as a take-home activity for families.
For example, parents can be asked to
record a native song or story in their
home language and make this available
both at home and in the classroom.
Families with children who are English learners should be encouraged
to continue family traditions (such
as storytelling, family celebrations)
and household routines in their
native language. The ability to hear,
understand, and respond to directions, stories, and complex language
can be developed in any language and
will facilitate the development of those
skills in English.
Questions for Reflection
1. What would you do when the preschool English learner seems
to follow directions in groups, possibly by imitating the behavior
of their peers, but has difficulty with directions given to her
2. How do you know if an English learner comprehends English
and to what degree?
Does the child attend and follow along with a story read
in English or does he tend to look away and appear
Does the child show interest in and attend to books read
in her home language?
Does the child actively engage with peers during dramatic
play and respond to the English language conversations?
Does the child spend more time on the fringes of groups,
watching and listening to others?
3. Does the child comply with the mother’s directions in her home
language when she is dropped off, such as, “Come here and give
me a kiss before I leave”?
4. How are you providing focused listening opportunities in the
child’s home language?
he Speaking strand focuses on children’s use of both nonverbal
and verbal means of communication. Most experts in the field
agree that the development of oral English proficiency for
children who are English learners is an essential first step for later
reading development.8 In early care and education settings, aspects of
a language’s phonology (i.e., the sounds of a language) and syntax (i.e.,
the order in which words occur) are revealed through both formal and
informal listening and speaking activities. In addition, young children
begin to use oral language as a means of gathering more information
about their environments through the use of questions. While young
children who are English learners are hearing the sounds of English,
familiarizing themselves with words in English, and learning how words
go together in phrases and short sentences, they will begin to try out
these new sounds, words,
and phrases. For children
to practice this new
language, they need to be
in a comfortable and
welcoming environment
that allows language
experimentation and
accepts children’s efforts
to communicate. Young
children’s first attempts
to speak may be tentative
and halting.
Children Use Nonverbal and Verbal Strategies
to Communicate with Others
oung English learners rely heavily on
nonverbal cues when trying to understand a second language. Thus, teachers
must be conscious of the importance of
combining the spoken word with nonverbal signs to assist the child. It is also
important for teachers to make an effort
to learn key words and phrases in the
child’s home language as a way to communicate that they are interested in the
child and his background.
It is the first day of preschool for Lai, a young girl who speaks
Vietnamese. She is holding on tightly to the teacher’s hand and is
looking primarily at the floor. Ms. Linda, her teacher, holds Lai’s
hand as she tells all the other children to gather for circle time. As
the children gather on the rug, Ms. Linda gently walks Lai to the
rug and gestures to her to sit next to her. Ms. Linda begins to speak
to the children as a group and introduces Lai by name to the children. Ms. Linda and Lai continue to hold hands. Ms. Linda does
not expect Lai to say anything or to even to make eye contact with
other children. After a few minutes, Lai begins to relax, and she
pulls her hand away from the teacher. Lai continues to maintain
close physical contact with Ms. Linda throughout the day while
Ms. Linda communicates with smiles and gestures.
Ms. Linda understands that Lai feels nervous and possibly
does not understand much of anything that is being said.
Ms. Linda uses this opportunity to communicate to Lai that
she will help her begin to navigate an environment that she
does not understand.
Mr. Ralph gathers all the children around for a read-aloud. The
book he is going to read is A Hat for Minerva. It is about a hen
searching for warm things in the snow. Because Mr. Ralph has
three children in his group whose primary language is Hmong, he
did his research to find out how to pronounce some key words in
the book such as garden hose, pot, hen, and snow. While he is
reading the book to the group, the Hmong children are interested in
looking at the pictures, but when Mr. Ralph gets to the word hen he
says to all, “You know, the way you say hen in Hmong is poj qaib.
When the Hmong children hear this, their eyes widen and they
smile at each other.
Four different languages are spoken in Mr. Ralph’s preschool group. He has made it a point to locate dictionaries
in the children’s home languages to check for pronunciation. Mr. Ralph asks other staff members who speak the
children’s home languages for help with the pronunciation
of words. By working to pronounce key words correctly in
Hmong, Mr. Ralph demonstrates to the children that he
is interested in them by learning some key words in their
home language. In addition, the children have a better
understanding of the word in English since Mr. Ralph used
their home language to make the connection.
All the children are playing outdoors, and the teachers have set
up a board with openings in different shapes (e.g., circle, square,
triangle, rectangle). Jasmine, a child who speaks Farsi, is looking toward the board and appears interested. Mr. Li gestures to
Jasmine to come closer and picks up a beanbag. He models for
Jasmine how to throw the beanbag toward the board at the different openings. While he throws the beanbag with an underhand
motion, he simultaneously says, “Look, Jasmine, I swing my arm
and throw the beanbag.” Mr. Li repeats the physical action several
times while simultaneously describing his actions. He then encourages Jasmine to try it. When Jasmine picks up the beanbag, Mr. Li
smiles and repeats, “Swing your arm and throw. That’s the way
to do it, Jasmine!”
Mr. Li saw that Jasmine was interested in the activity and
used the opportunity to teach her some key vocabulary
words in the activity. He combined both gestures and
narration to get his points across.
The following interactions and strategies support preschool children who are
English learners:
Learn how to pronounce the child’s
name as accurately as possible. Since
a child’s name is so closely linked to a
sense of self, it is important to use the
correct pronunciation. Teachers should
ask for help from a native speaker and
practice saying it aloud so that a native
speaker can help with the pronunciation. Sometimes it may be helpful for the
native speaker to record the child’s name
on audiotape so the teacher can refer to
the recording as a resource.
Learn some key words or phrases in
the child’s home language. Teachers
can ask parents, siblings, other teachers or staff members who speak the
child’s home language to provide a few
key words and phrases for hello, goodbye, thank you, please, and sit down.
When the teacher makes an effort to
learn the child’s language, even a few
words and phrases, it conveys the message that the child’s home language is
important. When reading a story in English, the teacher may translate key words
or phrases into the child’s home language
as a means of validating the importance
of the child’s home language as well as
increasing the child’s interest.
Repeat common phrases slowly and
clearly to the child so he can begin to
make the connection between the phrase
and the action, (e.g., circle time or naptime). Modify the rate of speech and
pronounce each word clearly so that the
child has time to hear good examples of
the words and phrases in English. Combine gestures, pictures, and touching of
Allow the child to start slowly. Children
who are learning English need to have
many opportunities to observe the classroom routine to begin to make sense of
how things are done in the early childhood
setting. The child needs ample time to
watch and become comfortable before utilizing spoken English as a primary means
of communication.
Allow for wait time. It is important to
wait for children who are English learners
to process information in English. Additional wait time benefits children not only
for the development of English comprehension but also for verbalizing a response in
a language that they are learning.
Scaffold communication by combining
English words with some type of body
gesture or visual cue such as pointing to
an object or showing a picture. Make sure
to include body gestures and visual cues
to assist children who are English learners
in understanding the concept of the word
in English. For example, in reciting “Two
Little Black Birds,” use pictures of black
birds or stuffed animals representing
black birds to illustrate the concept. When
reciting the word flying, act out a flapping
motion to demonstrate a bird in flight.
Be thoughtful about helping children
understand what words mean (e.g.,
explaining, defining, showing). Children
who are learning English will need additional assistance in understanding not
only the word or phrase presented in
English, but also the concept to which
it refers. It is important for adults to be
deliberate in their teaching actions by
clarifying, describing, or demonstrating
what is meant.
Plan for vocabulary development. It
is important to identify key vocabulary
words and how those key vocabulary
words will be used in both formal and
informal activities prior to use. Connecting vocabulary words to a visual aid or a
gesture helps to make a clearer association for children who are English learners. The intentional use of key vocabulary
words throughout the day will assist
English learners to make a connection
between the word and its meaning.
Expand and extend the child’s language. Once a child who is learning
English begins to use words or phrases
in English, catch them using English and
extend and expand upon their language.
For example, if the child says “car,” the
teacher could say, “Oh, you want the red
car”; or if the child says “more” at the
snack table, the teacher points to the
milk and asks, “Do you want more milk
or more orange juice?”
Create small groups for book reading.
For children who are learning English, it
is important to provide reading opportunities in small groups. Children who are
learning English can have closer interactions with the material, and the teacher
can slow the pace of reading and use
words or phrases in the home language
to assist with understanding and scaffold
Children Begin to Understand and Use
Social Conventions in English
ocial conventions refer to what
children should know about the use
of English apart from the language itself
in order to use the language in a socially
acceptable manner. Social conventions
are typically considered as the social
rules that govern language use such as
eye contact, degree of proximity to the
speaker, and when and who may initiate
conversation. These social conventions
are often learned through observation
and trial-and-error learning.
Ms. Cathy has always had children call her by her first name. This
year Ms. Cathy has Spanish-speaking children in her group. She
noticed that some Spanish-speaking parents scold their child when he
refers to her by her first name. Ms. Cathy asks her Spanish-speaking
assistant, Ms. Maria, about the interaction. Ms. Maria mentions that
Spanish-speaking parents view teachers as authority figures, requiring respect and deference. Children are accustomed to addressing the
teacher by her last name.
Ms. Cathy learned that culture influences how children
address adults, especially teachers. This moment is an
example of how culture and language intersect in the daily
life of children. Ms. Cathy may want to have a conversation
with Spanish-speaking parents to discuss how children could
address her respectfully in the program. Ms. Cathy needs to
acknowledge parental preferences and work with parents to
arrive at an acceptable approach.
The following interactions and strategies support preschool children who are
English learners:
Ask a family member or knowledgeable
community resource to share appropriate social conventions for the child’s
language and culture. Paraprofessionals
and staff members who speak the child’s
home language can help explain to the
teacher important social rules surrounding language. For example, a teacher
might ask questions: How are children
expected to talk to the teacher? Is it okay
to use the teacher’s first name? In the
home setting, do children initiate conversation with adults? Is there a formal versus an informal form of address in the
home language? When the teacher and
family members have discussions about
specific social conventions, it becomes
part of the ongoing dialogue that builds
a partnership as the teacher and family
work together to support the preschool
English learner.
Observe the child during drop-off
and pick-up for cues about how the
parent or other family members interact
with the child and how the child reacts
and behaves during those interactions.
One way of figuring out social rules used
in the home language is to observe parents and their children during these
interactions. How do parents respond to
the child? What is the physical proximity between the child and the parent?
How animated is the parent when she is
speaking? What is the child’s reaction? Is
the child more spontaneous in her speech
or does she wait for a cue from the parent
that it is time to talk? Although parental
behaviors outside the home setting may
be different from what may occur in the
home, in many cases the behavior may
reflect social conventions in the home
Through observation, teachers can
learn about the ways that children have
experienced communication and language
interactions in their culture. Using that
knowledge, teachers can think about how
their communication and language styles
are consistent with or different from the
During circle time or small-group time,
talk to children about the different
ways they greet adults and other
children in their families. Ask children
how they say hello and good-bye to
adults. The explanation can be roleplayed through the use of finger puppets
or figures of a family. Are there differences in the ways children interact with
adults versus peers?
Children Use Language to Create Oral Narratives
About Their Personal Experiences
his substrand relates to the development of a child’s use of narrative
to describe both personal and fictional
stories. The oral language that children
hear is the basis for the development
of their discourse skills. Focusing on
children and their families. Teachers may
want to modify their communication and
language approaches to include styles
that may be more familiar to children. For
example, if communication usually takes
place across a distance and not in proximity, the teacher may want to use this
style when speaking with the children.
Or if children are expected to speak only
when spoken to, the teacher can make
sure to ask questions of the individual
child and not pose questions to the group,
expecting the individual child to respond.
stories about themselves and their
families is an appropriate first step for
teachers encouraging children’s narrative
development. Talking about one’s own
personal experience is often easier than
talking about imaginary events.
Soon-hui, a child who speaks Korean, is looking at a wordless picture
book in the library area. James, an English-speaking child, is sitting
next to her looking at another picture book. Mr. Luis observes that
Soon-hui begins to say a few words in English while pointing to the
pictures. Mr. Luis approaches and sits down on the floor next to Soonhui and James. Soon-hui looks up and smiles at the teacher. Mr. Luis
says, “Soon-hui, you are using your English words.” Soon-hui smiles
and looks at James.
As Mr. Luis was scanning the room to see how children
were working with various materials, he noticed that Soonhui was using some English vocabulary. Mr. Luis had
observed that Soon-hui understands much of the English
that is spoken to her but does not speak much English.
Mr. Luis remembered reading about the continuum of
development for English learners and decided to make
a note about Soon-hui’s language use to reflect on and
consider later when documenting her progress. When he
heard Soon-hui speaking English, he approached her to
provide some positive reinforcement. Not only did Mr. Luis
provide some encouragement to Soon-hui, but he did it in
the presence of a peer, which provided additional value.
Lorena and Fermin, two children who speak Spanish, are playing
together in the dramatic play area. The children found the doctor’s
kit and appeared to be playing doctor. Fermin lay on the bed saying, “Me sick, me sick.”
Lorena, with a worried look on her face, bent over Fermin and
touched his face, then shook her head, and said, “Muy sick, mucho
sick. Let’s go al hospital,” and “Al hospital.”
The dramatic play area had different types of props for
the children to use. Lorena and Fermin played with them,
incorporating in conversation some of the English words
that they were learning. Providing children who are English
learners with environments in which they can experiment
with language is extremely important.
Ms. Amy approaches Jose and Jaime, two children who speak
Spanish, who are using only the rectangular blocks to build a
tower together. Ms. Amy says to the boys, “That is a great looking tower.” She points to a set of triangle-shaped blocks and says,
“How can you use those blocks in your tower?” Jaime looks at her
and shrugs his shoulders, suggesting that he does not know. Ms.
Amy says, “Why don’t you try it? She hands Jaime a block and
says, “Try it.”
Jaime takes the block and puts it on the top of the tower and says,
“I try it.” Seeing this, Jose grabs one of the triangle blocks and
places it on top of the tower, which begins to lean and falls down
in a crash.
“What happened?” says Ms. Amy.
Jose responds, “It falled.”
“Oh, no,” says Jaime.
Ms. Amy used some open-ended questions to stimulate
conversation using different blocks in the tower construction. Even though Jose and Jaime had limited English for
their response, Ms. Amy continued the conversation and
provided opportunities for Jose and Jaime to talk about
what they were doing.
The following interactions and strategies support preschool children who are
English learners:
Listen appreciatively to children’s
stories. When children begin to provide
narrative in English, they may do so in a
tentative manner and possibly mix English with their home language. When this
occurs, it is important to provide the child
with as much undivided attention as
possible. During these interactions, it is
helpful to provide positive reinforcement
about their attempts to relate a story to
the teacher.
Ask open-ended questions and sustain
the conversation over a number of
turns. Provide opportunities for the child
to practice English. For example, during
circle time, small-group time, or snack
time, ask the child what she did over the
weekend or during the holiday break.
Teachers need to provide time for daily
sharing that moves beyond one-word
Help children understand idioms.
English, like all languages, has specific
idiomatic phrases that need to be pointed
out to all children but particularly to
second-language learners who may never
have heard the idiom before. Phrases
such as “it is raining cats and dogs,” “two
peas in a pod,” or “Mommy is going to be
late because she’s tied up at work” need
to be explained to young children. When
preparing book-reading presentations,
finger plays, or singing songs, make
sure to note where idiomatic expressions
occur and plan to add an explanation.
Provide materials that help stimulate
talking (or oral narratives as used in
the California Preschool Learning
Foundations, page 122). The dramatic
play area or an area where puppets,
dolls, and miniature figures are easily available will encourage children to
express themselves in more spontaneous
ways. In those scenarios, the child pretends to be someone or something else,
and the burden of language performance
is lessened. The use of tape recorders to
hear her own speech, the sight of photographs of herself, and the presence of
other children in the setting may help
elicit oral language development.
Provide wordless picture books. Wordless picture books give the child an
opportunity to make up his own stories.
Children may begin telling a story in their
home language and, as time goes on,
begin incorporating words or phrases in
English. Wordless picture books also per mit parents who do not speak English to
interact with their children in their home
Bringing It All Together
Enrique and Bernardo are cutting pictures out of catalogs and newspaper
circulars. Ms. Jane has asked that
they glue the cutout pictures grouped
by color, that is the reds with the reds,
the yellows with the yellows, and so
forth. Ms. Jane tries to pronounce each
child’s name correctly as she asks,
“Enrique, how many colors do you
have?” Enrique responds by pointing
at the three colors he has been concentrating on: red, blue, and orange,
slowly saying the color names in
Spanish. “That’s right, in Spanish it
is rojo, azul, and naranjo. In English
it is red, blue, and orange,” responds
Ms. Jane. “Which color do you like the
best?” Enrique points to red. Ms. Jane
says, “Why do you like that color?
Enrique says, “I dunno.” “I like.”
Engaging Families
he following ideas may help families
with children who are English
Invite parents and other family members of preschool English learners to
share some of their cultural practices.
Sharing may include a cooking activity
in which a dish characteristic of their
nationality can be made, a music or
dance activity highlighting particular
sounds or movements that are used
in their homelands, or a craft activity characteristic of the culture. Take
photographs of the presentations,
and place them in a photo album.
Later, the teacher can ask the child to
describe or recount the activity to her
or the child’s peers.
Encourage parents and other family
In this vignette, Ms. Jane recognizes
the importance of correctly pronouncing the children’s names as a means of
validating their cultural identity. She also
demonstrates that the colors have different labels in Spanish and in English.
She also tries to move from closed-ended
questions to more open-ended questions
even in the face of no verbal responses.
Ms. Jane understands that it is important to move conversation from one-word
answers to more extended and elaborated
members to continue to use the home
language during family activities while
also encouraging early literacy skill
development in the primary language.
Communicate with parents on an individual basis, during parent meetings,
through bulletin boards, or newsletters in their home language regarding
the importance of speaking to their
children in their home language. Parents may welcome suggestions about
how to engage their young children in
conversation during everyday activities such as walking in the neighborhood or shopping at the supermarket.
Stress the importance of concept
formation (e.g., colors, numbers, and
shapes) in verbal interactions with
their children. After a parent meeting
focused on how to read a book with
a young child, provide the parents
with books written in their home language and suggest that the parent or
a family member read to their child.
If books are not available in the home
language, send wordless picture books
home that can be discussed in the
family’s language.
Questions for Reflection
1. What activities best encourage open-ended conversations with
young children who are learning English?
2. How could Ms. Jane have structured the conversation differently
to elicit more verbal responses from the children?
3. Why did Ms. Jane use both Spanish and English in her
communication with the children?
4. How can teachers help parents encourage oral language
development in their children?
arly literacy in the preschool classroom is based on strong oral
language abilities, knowledge of how print works, phonological
awareness, and a personal desire to become a skilled
reader. The Reading strand comprises six substrands that
have been identified as critical for preschool English learners:
Appreciation and enjoyment of reading and literature
An increasing understanding of book reading
An understanding of print conventions
An awareness that print carries meaning
Progress in knowledge of the English alphabet
Phonological awareness
It is important to remember that
children who are English learners may
have already learned some of these early
literacy skills in their home language.
For example, Lonia, the young girl from
Sudan described in the Listening section (page 189), may have a keen interest
in books that were read to her in Arabic
by her mother and have age-appropriate
phonological awareness in her home language. To fully understand Lonia’s abilities and needs, program staff will need to
determine which language and literacy
skills Lonia has mastered in her home
language by using skilled interpreters
who can interview the family and observe
Lonia across different contexts, as well as
her level of English proficiency.
Phonological awareness, letter knowledge, and discourse skills in the home
language appear to provide the necessary
background for learning these skills in
English. However, the claims for transfer
of skills from the home language to a
second language are primarily based
on research in transfer of Spanish to
English and speakers of other European
languages. There is little current research
on how readily certain literacy skills
in Asian languages are transferred
to English. Nevertheless, each child’s
existing knowledge about language, the
structure of language, vocabulary levels,
and literacy skills should be understood
as important prior knowledge that children who are English learners can build
upon. Once a teacher knows that a child
has already learned age-appropriate skills
in a home language, the teacher can
expect that this English learner will be
able to use these existing skills to develop
proficiency in English.
Attention to the bridging of the home
language and English, strategic use of the
home language, and connecting content
to preschool English learners’ cultural
knowledge will help to foster their motivation to learn the specific literacy skills
addressed in the English-language development foundations.
1.0 Children Demonstrate Appreciation
and Enjoyment of Reading and Literature
o stay motivated to learn the complex skills required of fluent readers,
young children need repeated opportunities to associate reading with pleasure,
positive feelings, and interesting
During a conference with Mrs. Kim, Yeon’s mother, Ms. Maria
described Yeon’s preferred activities in the preschool classroom.
Yeon almost always played in the block area and rarely participated in group literacy activities. He seemed to enjoy pushing
trucks up and down the block roads, but Ms. Maria could not
remember a single time that he picked up a book or joined her
when she read to a small group. Maria asked Mrs. Kim if they read
books together at home. At this point, Mrs. Kim looked uncomfortable and said, “Not much.” She explained that they did not have
any books in Korean, and she could not read English books. Ms.
Maria then suggested that Mrs. Kim borrow a classroom picture
book on transportation and sit with Yeon and make up stories in
Korean about the pictures. Ms. Maria encouraged Mrs. Kim to use
Korean to tell Yeon stories, sing songs with him, look at magazines
together, and point out signs. Mrs. Kim asked, “Won’t this confuse
Yeon?” Maria reassured Mrs. Kim that the important thing was for
her to expose Yeon to lots of experiences with print and books in
a playful and engaging way and that speaking to Yeon in Korean
would not confuse him.
Ms. Maria was uncertain how much exposure to print Yeon
received at home. She was able to encourage Yeon’s mother
to engage in appropriate literacy activities while also
promoting continued use of the home language.
The following interactions and strategies support preschool children who are
English learners:
Expose children enthusiastically to all
types of print (e.g., magazines, billboard
signs, books, posters). When teachers and other adults create a warm and
positive climate for individual and smallgroup book reading and storytelling, chilREADING
learning. Learning to read is promoted
by close and nurturing relationships
with adults who foster interactions with
interesting and engaging print.
dren respond by increased motivation to
learn to read. As adults show enthusiasm
for the content of the story in a nurturing setting, preschool English learners
learn to value these activities and associate the act of reading with positive feelings. This creates an interest in books
and print and the desire to know how the
squiggles on a page are connected to the
words of the story. For preschool English
learners, it is important for them to hear
stories repeatedly in their home language,
which will help them understand the story
narrative once it is read in English. Reading to children in their primary language
also provides opportunities to build background knowledge, promote concept development, and expand vocabulary comprehension in the home language. Skilled storybook reading and storytelling in English
will help build English skills in language
and literacy that are critical to young
English learners’ future school success.
Connect literacy to the home culture
and community. Knowing as much as
possible about the children’s home life,
family activities, personal interests, and
familiar settings will help teachers identify
books, stories, and strategies that naturally build on the children’s background.
By inviting storytellers from the community into the classroom and by reading or
telling stories in the home language, the
program is helping preschool children who
are English learners connect literacy activities to family customs and history.
Story packs with quality books translated
into the child’s home language, CD players, and audio recordings in English and
the home language can be sent home
periodically. This practice promotes family literacy time when parents engage in
reading, storytelling, and sharing a love of
print in their home language.
Build on existing strengths. All children
have areas of development where they
show strength and perhaps an unusual
amount of background knowledge. For
example, a young girl from Korea might
display well-developed physical agility
and interest in the performing arts. For
this child who is learning English, opportunities to “move like the wind,” “run like
a river,” or be “silent as a cat” may help
her learn new English vocabulary while
demonstrating her own unique talents.
Many children of recent immigrant families have been shown to have exceptional
skills in social relations. If a child who
is an English learner shows strengths in
forming peer relationships, teachers can
systematically arrange small groups so
that English learners have opportunities
to both learn English and learn through
their home language with peers.
Use read-alouds. For preschool children
who are English learners, read-alouds,
or book-reading activities, are best conducted in small groups. Choosing books
that are of high interest to preschool
English learners and authentically reflect
their home culture will help engage
their attention. Teachers introduce key
concepts and vocabulary words in the
children’s home language and English
before reading the book. Skillful interactive reading of the text will enhance the
child’s development of new vocabulary.
By pointing out key vocabulary words,
providing expanded definitions with
visual aids, and using the new vocabulary in multiple contexts, teachers will
facilitate understanding of the text and
English-language development. See the
“Research Highlight” on page 186.
Children Show an Increasing Understanding
of Book Reading
s children have many experiences
with print of all types, they gradually come to understand that all books
share common elements. The knowledge that print in books is organized in
specific ways for specific purposes is
During morning circle time, Alonzo was quite excited and wanted
to share an outing he had taken with his family over the weekend.
Alonzo’s home language was Spanish, and he kept repeating certain
phrases in Spanish at such a rapid pace that Ms. Sheila could not
understand him. Ms. Sheila asked her assistant, who was fluent
in Spanish and English, to help interpret. Alonzo then described the
wedding of his Aunt Lucinda. He went into great detail about who
was there, what they had to eat, and the special clothes everyone
had to wear. Ms. Sheila then asked the assistant to help Alonzo
make a book with pictures of the wedding. During small-group time,
she wrote the words in Spanish as Alonzo dictated the events of the
wedding. They made a cover page identifying Alonzo as the author,
made up a title (Aunt Lucinda’s Wedding), then numbered the pages,
and bound them together. The next day Alonzo proudly read the book
to the class, very carefully turning each page after showing everyone
the pictures and narrating the sequence of events.
Ms. Sheila was able to capitalize on Alonzo’s strong feelings
about an important family event and direct them to a rich
book-making activity. All children get excited about sharing
family news and, with some skilled help, can be energized
to create narratives in book format. See the “Research
Highlight” on page 179.
The following interactions and strategies support preschool children who are
English learners:
Connect print material to children’s
interests. All young children have personal interests, cherished family members, and familiar activities. These inter-
important for children’s development of
reading skills. Adults promote this skill
development by pointing out the features
of books, engaging in skillful storybook
reading, and helping children to create
books of their own.
ests can be brought into the classroom to
help connect what the child knows and is
motivated to learn more about to curricular content and skill building. Because
the routines and language of the classroom may be unfamiliar to a child who
is learning English, the teacher needs to
find out the interests of preschool English
learners in the classroom, and use this
information to build a comfortable and
motivating context for learning.
Invite children to discuss and react to
story narratives. After reading a book to
an English learner in the home language,
the teacher can check for comprehension
of meaning by asking the child simple
questions about the story (e.g., Who was
your favorite character? Has anything like
this ever happened to you? What do you
think will happen next? Which pig was the
smartest? Why would you want Goldilocks
to be your friend?). During the beginning
stages of English-language development,
it will be important to read and discuss
the books in the child’s home language.
By using the child’s home language initially, the teacher will be able to assess
Encourage children to dictate, retell,
and create their own books. One of the
best ways to help children comprehend
story structure is to have them tell personally meaningful stories that are written down by adults. Simple story narration and recording, having children retell
stories that have been read to them, or
asking children to write or dictate stories
from their personal lives can accomplish
Children Demonstrate an Understanding
of Print Conventions
uring the preschool years, children
begin to understand that print may
be organized in different ways depending
on the purpose of the writing. They also
learn that English print follows certain
predictable rules (e.g., read from left to
the child’s understanding of story narrative and ability to make personal connections to events in the story. After this
has happened in the home language, the
teacher can then read the same book in
English to a mixed group of children who
are native speakers of English and children who are English learners.
right, starts at the top of the page, book
pages turn from right to left). These
understandings support their ability
to track print and learn the English
Right after sharing and posting the morning message, Ms. Sarah
noticed two young girls, Ping Shu and I-Chun, staring at the daily
schedule and having an animated conversation in Chinese. She
deduced that they were talking about the field trip to the local farmers market planned for later in the day. It also seemed that they
were confused about what they were supposed to be doing before
going on the field trip. Ms. Sarah moved to the girls and pointed to
the morning schedule of times and events, illustrated both in writing
and with pictures. Ms. Sarah bent down, carefully pronounced each
girl’s name, and said, “This message tells us what we will be doing
today. Later we will be going to the farmers market.” She pointed to
the picture of the market. Then she read the message slowly while
pointing to each word, linking it to the picture. By pointing to each
picture and orally linking it to its corresponding word in the order
they were written, left to right, and top to bottom, Ms. Sarah was
helping the girls understand print conventions and the meaning of
the morning message.
Ms. Sarah could see the girls were puzzled over the timing of
the day’s field trip and used this as an opportunity to reinforce the day’s schedule. She carefully used the pictures that
accompanied the print to enhance the girls’ understanding of
the message.
The following interactions and strategies support preschool children who are
English learners:
Point out print features during shared
reading (shared reading can include all
types of print, not just storybooks). While
reading a morning message, big books,
daily schedules, and other shared reading activities, teachers indicate each
word—emphasizing the direction (i.e.,
from left to right), the way print is organized on pages (i.e., from top to bottom),
and how the author is identified.
Point out print features during shared
writing. While recording dictated messages, teachers can say things such as,
“We start at the top of the page when
we write and go across the page, left to
right.” Teachers can also point out the
way a piece of writing begins and ends
(e.g., Once upon a time, The End).
Equip all learning areas with books
and writing materials. When preschool
English learners have the opportunity to
explore the properties of books individually and with small groups, they get to
practice and share their knowledge in
low-demand settings. Books and other
forms of print, along with colored chalk
and other writing tools, can also be
placed in outside areas. Provide adaptations as appropriate, if the child has a
disability. (See Appendix D.)
Help children create their own books.
Have preschool children who are English
learners dictate and illustrate their own
“All About Me and My Family” books.
The children can collaborate with family
members, friends, caregivers, and teachers to create these small books in which
the children themselves are the main
characters. By talking about, writing
about, reading about, and publicly sharing their personal life histories, preschool
English learners will develop pride in
their cultural identity, create a positive
orientation to literacy, and create meaningful and engaging text. Teachers can
then have these “All About Me and My
Family” books printed, laminated, and
shared in the classroom. Children eventually take the books home to share with
their families.
4.0 Children Demonstrate Awareness That Print
Carries Meaning
n important precursor to fluent reading is the understanding that certain
symbols (e.g., signs and print) have deliberate and consistent meanings attached
to them. The knowledge that the letters of
their name always spell their name even
if it is next to a picture of a different child
is developed during the preschool years.
This knowledge is critical to the development of early literacy skills.
Marcela was looking intently at Ting’s family pictures on the bulletin
board. The Chinese characters in the captions seemed to fascinate
Marcela. When Ms. Lucinda came over, Marcela asked her in Spanish, “What are those marks?” Ms. Lucinda replied in Spanish, “These
are the names of Ting’s family written in Chinese. Chinese is the
language Ting’s family speaks at home.” Ms. Lucinda then pointed
to the names written in English and said in English, as she pointed
to each name, “This says, Ning Liu, Ting’s mother, and this one says,
Jun Chan, Ting’s father.” Ms. Lucinda continued, “This writing tells
us the names of the people in the picture. On the first line the names
are written in Chinese characters, and on the second line the names
are written in the English alphabet.”
When young children show an interest in print or another
child’s family or language, this is a good time to point out
that different forms of print can carry the same meaning.
A child’s name can be represented in multiple ways and still
mean the same thing.
The following interactions and strategies support preschool children who are
English learners:
Point out the meaning of print around
the classroom and in the community.
Young children often start the process of
linking printed letters to sounds of words
by learning the printed versions of their
own names. An English learner should
have a personal storage space (e.g.,
cubby) labeled with his name in both
English and his home language if the
alphabet is different. Consistently repeat-
ing the names of words used in labeling
(e.g., art area, block area, and book area)
will also help preschool children who
are English learners associate specific
printed forms with meaningful words. On
neighborhood walks, teachers can point
out signs and repeat their meaning; it is
especially helpful if the teacher can find
signs in multiple languages so the children start to see that different print can
represent the same meaning.
Have lots of clear print in multiple
languages in the environment. The
sight of posters, pictures, and signs with
print will allow preschool children to
begin learning individual letter names
and connecting print with specific meaning. Teachers should ensure that the
environmental print displayed in the
classroom represents both English and
children’s home languages; many have
found it useful to color-code each language so children and teachers have
a way of distinguishing the languages.
Teachers will need to find out about the
writing systems of their preschool English
learners so they can use it in the classroom. Then English learners can understand that print can look and sound a lot
of different ways but carry similar meanings about the world.
Children Demonstrate Progress in Their
Knowledge of the Alphabet in English
nowledge of the English alphabet
is especially important for young
children as they are learning to decode
English print. Much research has found
a strong relationship between children’s
ability to recognize letters of the English
Engage children in purposeful writing.
Young preschool children who are English
learners can write notes and letters to
important people in their lives for authentic purposes (e.g., a thank-you note to
Grandma for a birthday present or a letter to an aunt about a trip to the pumpkin patch). Often they will write letters
and words using both the home language
and English, which is a normal part of
early literacy for preschool English learners. Teachers can point out the sounds
and meanings of each word and watch
for the child’s ability to understand print
in the classroom in both English and the
home language.
alphabet and their later reading success.
This skill is important to the decoding
and recognition of words and seems to be
connected to the ability to remember the
sounds associated with letters.
Yeon Ha rapidly used the alphabet stamp to print letters onto a big
piece of construction paper. She seemed to be printing them at random: S, P, B, D, A. Because Yeon Ha had not been in the classroom
very long, Ms. Laura was not sure how much English she understood. Ms. Laura gently asked Yeon Ha if she was writing her name.
Yeon Ha looked at Ms. Laura but did not respond. Ms. Laura then
picked out a piece of paper and started printing out the letters of her
own name while saying to Yeon Ha, “I am going to make my own
name with these letters.” She stamped an L and said, “My name
starts with the letter L” and made the /l/ sound. Ms. Laura named
each letter of her name and then held up the paper and said to Yeon
Ha, “These are the letters in my name: Laura.”
Yeon Ha smiled broadly at Ms. Laura and said, “My name is Yeon
Ha.” Ms. Laura then repeated the name and helped Yeon Ha identify,
call out, and stamp the letters of her name.
Ms. Laura was able to take Yeon Ha’s interest in letters and
focus it deliberately toward an activity to identify the letters
in her name. Ms. Laura approached the activity indirectly,
engaging Yeon Ha first in the letters of her own name (Laura),
then helping Yeon Ha stamp the letters of her own name.
The following interactions and strategies support preschool children who are
English learners:
Have children identify the letters of
their own names in any language.
During morning circle time, teachers can
hold up name cards for each child and
point out the first letter of each name.
Teachers should also make sure the
name is represented in both English and
the home language when the languages
have different writing systems.
Provide English alphabet letters in
multiple forms (e.g., magnetic letters,
wooden letters, paper tracing letters,
letter stamps, and alphabet charts)
throughout the classroom. While
preschool English learners are playing
with and manipulating alphabet puzzles,
stamps, or magnets, teachers can point
out and reinforce the names of the letters
in an engaging manner.
Read alphabet books in multiple
languages. There are many colorful and
culturally appropriate alphabet books
available in multiple languages that can
be used to emphasize letters in both English and the home language (e.g., Gathering the Sun, by Alma Flor Ada). The nonEnglish version can be read one day, and
the English version can be read another
day. (Additional suggestions are listed in
the PEL Resource Guide, pages 77–79.)
Children Demonstrate Phonological Awareness
hildren’s ability to hear and understand how the specific sounds in
their language are organized is critical to the process of learning to read.
Complex interrelated skills include the
child’s ability to hear and manipulate the
individual sound units in the home language. Although phonological awareness
can and should be taught through ageappropriate activities, preschool children
do not begin to learn some components
of phonological awareness, such as syllable segmentation (e.g., “What word
do you get when you take the tur away
from turkey?”), until late in the preschool
years or in kindergarten. Phonological
awareness can be promoted in preschool
English learners through singing, chanting, sound and word play, and storybook
reading in both their home language and
English. During those activities, teachers should help children who are English
learners attend to, discriminate among,
and identify the sounds of language. The
skills and strategies described in Chapter 4, “Language and Literacy,” are also
important to the literacy development of
preschool English learners. However, the
progress of English phonological aware-
Mr. Aaron had noticed that the children who spoke Spanish were
singing songs and rhymes in Spanish on the playground. Because
he did not know these songs, Mr. Aaron asked Lucinda, who was
fluent in Spanish, to translate them for him. One of the songs, “Arroz
con Leche (Rice Pudding),” was included in the book Pío Peep. Mr.
Aaron ordered a copy of the book, which contains traditional nursery rhymes in Spanish and English, and the CD with accompanying
songs in both languages. He then read one song or rhyme each day
and played the corresponding music, alternating between Spanish
and English.
Many books, tapes, and CDs are available in multiple
languages. Mr. Aaron recognized preschool English learners’
knowledge and interest in rhymes and songs in their home
language and was able to use the children’s language abilities in their home language to build English-language skills.
The following interactions and strategies support preschool children who are
English learners:
Sing silly English songs that can be
phonetically manipulated. Songs such
as “Apples and Bananas” that allow preschool children who are English learners
to hear, repeat, and make up their own
sounds help them to learn and manipulate the sounds of English. Since these
skills transfer across languages, rhyming songs can also be sung in home languages whenever possible.
ness may look different for children who
are English learners because of the following factors: the similarity of their
home language to English, the amount of
exposure they have to English, the extent
of early language and literacy learning in
their home language, and the intensity of
their English preschool experiences.
Sing songs, recite poems, clap
rhythms, and do finger plays that
emphasize rhymes daily. Many preschool songs and poems emphasize the
sounds of language, which is an important aspect of phonological awareness.
By hearing these sounds and participating in the activity, preschool English learners will start to learn the way
sounds go together to make up words in
this new language. Even though the children may not understand the meaning
of the words and may be imitating their
English-speaking peers, those activities
will help preschool English learners to
perceive and eventually produce the
unique sounds of English.
Rhyming does appear to be a skill that
transfers across languages (e.g., Spanish,
French, and other alphabetic languages
as well as Chinese), so these activities can
be conducted in the home language as
well. Some books contain songs, rhymes,
and poems in more than one language
and can be used to strengthen these
skills in both languages. A good example
of such a book in Spanish and English
is Pío Peep! Traditional Spanish Nursery
Research Highlight
“Building on a child’s language abilities
in his or her L1 [home language] will
not only help the child fully master that
language, but provide him or her with
the tools to deconstruct the L2 [English].
Early development of language skills,
such as semantics, syntax, narrative
discourse, and morphology, as well as
phonological awareness, will provide
the child with a ‘meta’ understanding of
language that he or she can apply to language development and literacy skills in
the L2.”9
Note: L1 refers to home language, and L2 refers to
English. “Meta” understanding of language refers
to the ability to think and talk about the features
of language (e.g., when speaking about something
that happened in the past, you must change the
verb, “She is here,” to “She was here”).
Rhymes.10 For preschool English learners,
it is appropriate to expect rhyme detection
and repetition; however, rhyme production is a complex skill that often requires
advanced vocabulary (see pages 133–135
in Chapter 4, “Language and Literacy”).
See the “Research Highlight” on page 138.
Identify and practice English sounds
that do not exist in the home language.
Use common English words with sounds
that are not found in the child’s home
language throughout the day (e.g., emphasize the sh sound in shoes when helping
a child who is Spanish-speaking tie his
shoelaces, or point out the “little ladybug”
in the insect book to children who speak
Use real objects and emphasize
syllables and phonemes. As preschool
English learners learn the English vocabulary words for common objects and
actions, they often find something around
the classroom and ask how to say it (e.g.,
“Teacher, what is this?” while holding up a
plastic bowl. This is an opportunity to say
bowl, emphasizing the /b/ sound).
Play games that emphasize the first
sound of common words (e.g., letter
bingo, body freeze). Teachers play simple
games that ask the child to name words
that begin with the same sound as the
first sound of her name, such as Maria,
mama, meat. “What other words start with
the same sound?” Games help preschool
children who are English learners recognize similar onsets or the first consonant
or consonant cluster in a syllable.
Bringing It All Together
Ms. Lucinda’s preschool class was
studying a unit on families during the
first month of the school year. She had
carefully selected books about different aspects of family life; she had
found bilingual staff and volunteers
who read each story to English learners in their home language, pointing
out the key vocabulary words before
reading the book in English to the
whole class. After reading Abuela in
English during story time, Ms. Lucinda
asked the children about their grandmothers. All of the children were
excited to share something about their
Ms. Lucinda set out paper with writing
and coloring materials on small tables.
The children went to different tables
during the course of the day. She, or
her co-teacher, talked with each child
about their grandmother and with the
help of the teacher, each child made
a book with pictures and print. Ms.
Lucinda then laminated each book
and had the author invite their grandmother to the class and read the story
during circle time. Finally, all the children took their books home to share
with their families.
The topic of families has a high level of
interest for all children and yields many
possibilities for supplementary books,
materials, and activities. Family members may be invited to the classroom to
share details from their lives and honor
the culture and languages of the children. Young children who are English
learners are able to learn critical English
literacy skills while deepening their pride
and knowledge of their own family.
Engaging Families
he following ideas may engage families in helping a child who is an
English learner:
Families that are not literate may
be reluctant to read to their child in
their native language. Parents should
always be encouraged to read storybooks in their home language and, if
they are not able to read their home
language, they can tell stories orally,
“read” wordless picture books, and say
rhymes and sing songs.
Research Highlight
The conclusions from recent studies
suggest that young children may gain
important metalinguistic skills from
learning more than one language,
that they are quite capable of learning
early literacy and language skills in two
languages, and that many early language
and literacy skills learned in the home
language (L1) contributed positively to
the development of English (L2) language
and literacy.11, 12, 13
Note: In this research, metalinguistic skills refer
to the ability to reflect upon and manipulate the
structural features of spoken language such as the
morphology, sentence structure, and pragmatics
of language.
Parents can also be shown how to
make an early literacy activity interactive by having their children make
predictions, add to stories, or make
up their own.
Most communities in California have
a public library that can be a wonder-
ful resource for families of children
who are learning English. Parents can
be helped to locate the public library,
apply for a free library card, and introduced to all the books, materials, and
learning opportunities that are often
available in Spanish and English.
Questions for Reflection
1. How does a child who is an English learner demonstrate early
reading skills (e.g., appreciation of literacy activities, print awareness, phonological awareness) in her home language?
2. What strategies are you using that incorporate the home language
in classroom routines and materials?
3. How are community volunteers who are fluent in the children’s
home languages and who can read to the children who are English
learners encouraged to come to the preschool?
he Writing strand for children who are English
learners is not substantially different
in focus from the language and literacy
Writing strand. The primary distinction between
the two sets of foundations is that the English
learner’s home language may be reflected in the
development of the child’s writing stages.
For children who are native speakers of
English and children who are English
learners, writing is a process of active
discovery about a language’s symbol
system as visually represented.
These foundations emphasize writing
as a means of communication, the
beginning of writing forms, and
writing to represent their names.
Young children are attempting to
gain control over a language’s symbol
system by figuring out what symbols
mean while trying to make marks on
paper that approximate those symbols.14
Environments that encourage writing
should first and foremost view children
as capable of making these connections
regardless of home language.15, 16
According to Sulzby and Teale,17 it is
important for teachers to engage children
as socially competent participants
through adult–child and peer–peer
interaction around books. When this
occurs, opportunities for writing emerge
that may provide children with practice
in writing. To the extent possible, it is
important to provide children with a rich
oral language environment in both their
home language and English, because
emerging writing skills are linked to a
child’s oral language development.
Children Use Writing to Communicate Their Ideas
hrough exposure to writing as a
means of communication, children
begin to learn that writing has many purposes, such as the provision of information, entertainment, and describing and
remembering an event that has already
occurred. When children make the connection between the written symbol and
its meaning, cognitive growth ensues.
“When children write, they have a fixed
representation of oral language. They
can explore it, as it doesn’t vanish like
the spoken word.”18 For children who
are English learners, more instructional
support is needed in other language
areas, such as listening and speaking, to
become successful writers. Children who
are English learners benefit from opportunities to write in their home language.19
Jaime and Sarita are playing in the dramatic play area, which has
been supplied with food props (e.g., plastic fruits and vegetables)
and writing materials. Jaime is carefully looking at the fruits and
vegetables when Sarita says, “Por qué no jugamos restaurante?”
(Why don’t we play restaurant?) as she pulls Jaime’s arm to make
him sit down in the nearby chair. Jaime goes along with the play
and sits down. In the meantime Sarita grabs some paper and markers that are located in the dramatic play area and quickly scribbles
some lines on a piece of paper and hands it to Jaime. Sarita says,
“¿Qué gustarias?” (What would you like?) “Gustarias un banana,
un apple?” Jaime smiles at Sarita and says, “Un apple, por favor.”
A supportive environment for writing includes materials
available for this purpose. Paper and markers in the
dramatic play area enable these English learners to
incorporate writing into their play in a spontaneous way.
The following interactions and strategies support children who are preschool
English learners:
Look for opportunities for adult- and
peer-mediated conversation about
writing by using the child’s home
language to initiate this discussion.
When children are engaged in writing, it
is important for the teacher to ask what
they are writing about. For children who
are English learners, the teacher needs
to know the child’s level of secondlanguage development before structuring
a question (e.g., in the home language or
with key words in the home language).
Ask for clarification or elaboration of
concepts. For example, if the child is
writing about the animals he saw at the
zoo over the weekend, the teacher asks
questions about the outing. This type of
interaction may provide opportunities to
reinforce words and phrases in English
and build vocabulary. The teacher
may also provide opportunities in the
classroom where the children can interact
with others and discuss what they are
writing. In the writing area children
have paper, markers, crayons, and letter
Link writing to listening and speaking
so preschool children who are English
learners can draw from other language
strengths. The classroom environment
should be rich with printed materials,
including books in the child’s home language, and wordless picture books that
children can use as a basis of discussion
in their home language and then move on
to writing activities. For example, teachers may read The Little Red Hen and then
discuss with the children why the other
animals in the story did not want to help
the little red hen. For children learning
English, it is recommended that the story
be read to them in their home language.
See the “Research Highlight” on page 216.
If this is not possible, it is recommended
that program staff or other adults who
speak the child’s home language read the
book in the home language and stress
key concepts. Afterwards, when the book
is read in English, the child who is an
English learner will be better able to
understand the story line and words in
English that may correspond to words in
her home language. In related follow-up
activities, teachers provide finger-puppet
facsimiles of farm animals in the block
area so that English learners have an
opportunity to play with the finger puppets and act out the story in their home
language. Later, the children draw the
red hen or some of the other animals in
the story and dictate a story or passage to
accompany the drawing. Teachers should
allow code switching in children’s dictated
Focus writing activities on literature.
It is helpful to connect writing to stories
that are being used in the classroom and
are available in the book area. This strategy will provide the child with opportunities to revisit the story multiple times to
strengthen their understanding of specific
words and concepts in both their home
language and English.
Supply learning areas with writing
materials (e.g., dramatic play, science,
and cooking). Children will have the tools
to incorporate writing into their dramatic play. They can create such things as
menus, personal letters, grocery lists,
and charts. For children who are learning
English, having access to writing material
in interest areas means there is no pressure for them to perform and provides
them with opportunities to experiment
with their second language both in written
form and orally.
Have children dictate their own short
stories. Dictated stories are a good way to
introduce the child to writing as a means
of description. Teachers may encourage
the child to share her stories and, if the
child uses her home language, adults who
understand and can write the home language write down what the child is saying.
These adults then read the child’s words
back to her. Teachers should allow for
code switching in children’s dictation. If
no adult is available who can understand
and write the child’s home language, a
peer might be engaged to interpret the
description for the teacher and child.
Bringing It All Together
The recent topic of study has been
ocean life, and Mr. Jason has been
reading related stories to the children.
Throughout the month, the storybooks
have been placed in the writing area,
and children have been asked to dictate the story to an adult who then
writes it down. Children can then
draw pictures about their story, and it
is placed on the wall near the writing
Gustavo, a Spanish speaker, is sitting at a table with a large piece of
chart paper with lines for writing text
and space for drawing a picture. Ms.
Adelaida, a bilingual teacher assistant, sits next to him and asks in
English, “What story do you want to
write about?” She sees that Gustavo
looks at her quizzically, and she then
says in Spanish, “¿De cual de los
cuentos quieres escribir?” Gustavo
replies, “Swimmy” and points to the
book on the shelf. Ms. Adelaida picks
up a marker and says to Gustavo in
Spanish, “Okay, ¿Gustavo, qué gustarias decir sobre el cuento?” (Okay,
Gustavo, what would you like to say
about the story?) Gustavo begins by
saying, “Este es un cuento de un fish,
Swimmy. Swimmy swims fast.” As
Gustavo speaks, Ms. Adelaida repeats
exactly what Gustavo says and writes
it down on the paper. Gustavo goes on
to describe the story using a combination of Spanish and English.
Later in the week, Gustavo points to
his story, which is displayed on the
wall, as Ms. Adelaida stands nearby.
Gustavo begins to recount the story
he had previously dictated using both
Spanish and English vocabulary. Ms.
Adelaida smiles and then repeats his
story, pointing to each word as she
speaks. Gustavo asks Ms. Adelaida
how to say the word negro (black) in
English because Swimmy is a little
black fish.
Mr. Jason and Ms. Adelaida know
that children who are beginning to learn
vocabulary in English may mix the two
languages (i.e., code switch), and that
is typical. These teachers know that the
primary goal of the writing activity is the
connection between the written word and
a particular concept or idea. They also
know that children who are English learners will use their home language to transfer concepts or ideas to English, as is the
case when Gustavo asks how to say the
word negro in English. See the “Research
Highlight” on page 216.
Engaging Families
he following ideas may engage families
in helping their child who is an English learner:
Encourage parents to provide opportunities for their children to draw and
scribble “stories” at home. If needed,
send home writing material. Encourage parents to work with their child
to write a story about their family or
a special family celebration that they
attended. These stories can be in either
the home language or English or a
combination of the two.
Encourage parents to draw children’s
attention to print during daily routines.
As parents go about their day, they
can point out the print that is in their
environments to help children make
the connection between the concept
or idea and the written word. Print
may be in their home language or in
Encourage parents to read stories
or poems in their home language to
strengthen the child’s home language.
By hearing stories or poems in their
home language, children may begin to
link print as a representation of either
English or their home language.
Questions for Reflection
Why was it important for the teachers to allow Gustavo to mix
languages (i.e., to code switch)?
What are some other ways to use dictated stories with English
What is the relationship between listening, speaking, and writing
for the English learner?
Diverse voci fanno dolce note; cosi diversi scanni in nostra vita rendon
dolce armonia . . . (Diverse voices make sweet music; as diverse
conditions in our life render sweet harmony.)
—Dante, Paradiso IV:124–126
eing exposed to two or more languages at a young age is a gift.
It is a gift because children who are able to learn through two
or more languages benefit cognitively, socially, and emotionally.
Children who develop bilingual competence show greater cognitive
flexibility as they deal with the meaning and structure of two different
language systems.20 These children also show a greater concentration
of brain growth and development, which appears to confer long-term
cognitive and academic benefits. Learning two languages has definite
social advantages because it allows children to learn about another
culture and way of life, thus expanding their worldview. Speaking two
languages provides an opportunity for multiple interpretations of words
and meanings, thus widening the learner’s universe and often providing a
basis for greater tolerance of different ideas, beliefs, and values. Because
there is a clear relationship between a child’s sense of identity and his
first language,21 valuing the child’s first language and including it as
an important part of instruction will help a child feel a greater sense of
belonging in the educational setting, which, in turn, enhances learning.
Exposure to more than one language should be celebrated as a growth
opportunity that offers many learning and social advantages. Children
who are developing bilingual abilities are developing unique strengths
that will add to the cultural and linguistic resources of California.
Map of the Foundations
English-Language Development
Reading | 127
3.1 Begin to understand
that books are read
in a consistent manner (e.g., in English,
pages are turned
from right to left and
the print is read from
top to bottom, left to
right; this may vary in
other languages).
3.1 Continue to develop
an understanding of
how to read a book,
sometimes applying
knowledge of print
conventions from the
home language.
3.1 Demonstrate an
understanding that
print in English is
organized from left to
right, top to bottom,
and that pages are
turned from right to
left when a book is
• Rotates and flips the book
over until the picture of
George is right side up on
the cover of Jorge el curioso
(Curious George) and begins
to look at the book.
• Turns the pages of a book and
talks about illustrations in either
English or his home language.
• Turns an upside-down book
right side up and says, “Let’s
start here,” when sitting and
“reading” with a peer in a
rocking chair.
Children demonstrate an understanding of print conventions.
Focus: Book handling*
Includes notes
for children
with disabilities
• During circle time, turns the
page of a big book written in
English in the appropriate direction when the teacher indicates
it is time to turn the page.
• Imitates the teacher reading
to children by sitting next to a
peer, holding up a book written
in English that has been read
aloud several times; turns the
pages and points to words,
tracking the print with her finger, moving from left to right
and top to bottom.
• Communicates in Spanish,
“Había una vez” (Once upon a
time) when looking at the first
page of a book, looks through
the book, and communicates,
“The end” when reaching the
last page.
* Some children may need assistance in holding a book or turning the pages, either through assistive technology or through
the help of an adult or peer. For example, a book can be mounted so it will not have to be held, and sturdy tabs can be
placed on the pages so they are easier to turn. Some children may need to have an adult or peer hold the book and turn
the pages.
• A Cantonese-speaking child
picks up a book, and flips the
pages from left to right, looking at the pictures (the appropriate way to read a book in
• Turns the pages of a book,
although not necessarily one at
a time, talking quietly to herself
in Arabic; tracks the print with
her finger, moving from top to
bottom, right to left (the appropriate way to write and read in
Teacher Resources
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for Supporting First and Second Language
Development in Preschool Children of
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American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Learning Two Languages
(available in Spanish and as a brochure)
California Association for Bilingual Education
California Department of Education. Web site
for Teachers of Preschool English Learners
Colorín Colorado: A Bilingual Site for Families
and Educators of English Learners.
Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School
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Child Should Know.
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Espinosa, L. 2008. Challenging Common
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Improving Early Education for Hispanics.
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Children Become Readers (literacy). http://
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Reading Is Fundamental (RIF). 2008. Bilingual Versions of Popular Children’s Books.
Reading Is Fundamental (RIF). 2008. Wordless and Almost Wordless Picture Books.
Reading Is Fundamental (RIF). 2008. 100
of the Decade’s Best Multicultural ReadAlouds, Pre-Kindergarten through Grade
8. Selected and annotated by J. Freeman.
Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers
RealeWriter (free, family-friendly picture
Roberts, T. A. 2009. No Limits to Literacy for
Preschool English Learners. Thousand Oaks,
CA: Corwin Press.
This valuable resource helps teachers understand how English learners ages three
to five acquire the foundations for literacy.
It offers practical, research-based strategies
for teaching language and literacy skills.
Roseberry-McKibbin, C., and A. Brice. 2005.
Acquiring English as a Second Language:
What’s “Normal,” What’s Not. American
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Teachers, Childcare, and Family Providers.
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policies for improving literacy achievement:
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B. Mosenthal, P. D. Pearson, and R. Barr.
Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
August, D., and T. Shanahan. 2006. Developing literacy in second-language learners:
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Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
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language learners in the early years: Getting
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on assessment issues for young English
language learners. Paper prepared for
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Developmental Outcomes and Assessments
for Young Children. Washington, DC,
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instruction: What are ‘best practices’
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young English language learners, ed. E.
Garcia and E. Frede. New York: Teachers
College Press.
Genishi, C., S. E. Stires, and D. Yung-Chan.
2001. Writing in an integrated curriculum:
Prekindergarten English language learners
as symbol makers, The Elementary School
Journal 101: 399–416.
Goldenberg, C. 2008. Teaching English
language learners: What the research
does—and does not—say, American
Educator 32, no. 1 (Summer): 8–23, 42–44.
Hoff, E. 2001. Language development. 2nd ed.
Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Lopez, L. M., and D. B. Greenfield. 2004.
Cross-language transfer of phonological
skills of Hispanic Head Start children,
Bilingual Research Journal 28, no. 1
(Spring): 1–18.
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Education for Hispanics. 2007. Para
nuestros niños: expanding and improving
early education for Hispanics. Tempe, AZ:
Arizona State University.
Preschool English learners: Principles and
practices to promote language, literacy,
and learning. 2009. 2nd ed. Sacramento:
California Department of Education.
Rivera, C., and E. Collum. 2006. State
assessment policy and practice for English
language learners: A national perspective.
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Samway, K. 2006. When English language
learners write. Portsmouth, NH:
Shanahan, T., and I. Beck. 2007. Effective
literacy teaching for English-language
learners. In Developing literacy in secondlanguage learners: Report of the national
literacy panel on language minority children
and youth, ed. D. August and T. Shanahan.
Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Slavin, R. E., and A. Cheung. 2005. A synthesis of research on language of reading
instruction for English language learners,
Review of Education Research 75, no. 2:
Sulzby, E., and W. Teal. 1991. Emergent
literacy. In Vol. 2 of Handbook of Reading
Research, ed. R. Barr and others. New York:
Tabors, P. O. 2008. One child, two languages:
A guide for early childhood educators of
children learning English as a second
language. 2nd ed. Baltimore: Brookes.
Yaden, D. B., and J. M. Tardibuono. 2004.
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1. California Preschool Learning Foundations,
Vol. 1 (Sacramento: California Department
of Education 2008). 103.
2. Preschool English Learners: Principles and
Practices to Promote Language, Literacy, and
Learning, 2nd ed. (Sacramento: California
Department of Education, 2009), 71–88.
3. T. Shanahan and I. Beck, “Effective Literacy
Teaching for English-Language Learners,”
in Developing Literacy in Second-Language
Learners: Report of the National Literacy
Panel on Language Minority Children and
Youth. Edited by D. August and T. Shanahan (Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2007).
4. Preschool English Learners: Principles and
Practices to Promote Language, Literacy, and
Learning, 2nd ed. (Sacramento: California
Department of Education, 2009), 71–88.
5. P. O. Tabors, One Child, Two Languages:
A Guide for Early Childhood Educators of
Children Learning English as a Second Language, 2nd ed. (Baltimore: Brookes, 2008).
6. Preschool English Learners: Principles and
Practices to Promote Language, Literacy, and
Learning, 2nd ed. (Sacramento: California
Department of Education, 2007), 71–88.
7. E. Bialystok, Bilingualism in Development:
Language, Literacy, and Cognition (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press,
8. C. Goldenberg, “Teaching English Language
Learners: What the Research Does—and
Does Not—Say,” American Educator 32,
no. 1 (Summer 2008): 8–23 and 42–44.
9. L. M. Lopez and D. B. Greenfield, “CrossLanguage Transfer of Phonological Skills
of Hispanic Head Start Children,” Bilingual
Research Journal 28, no.1, (Spring 2004):
10. A. Ada, F. I. Campoy, and A. Schertle, Pio
Peep! Traditional Spanish Nursery Rhymes
(New York: HarperCollins, 2003).
11. W. Thomas and V. Collier, A National Study
of School Effectiveness for Language Minority
Students’ Long-Term Academic Achievement
(Santa Cruz, CA: Center for Research on
Education, Diversity and Excellence, 2002).
230 (accessed November 26, 2008).
12. L. Espinosa, “Classroom Teaching and
Instruction: What Are ‘Best Practices’ for
Young English Language Learners?” in
Enhancing the Knowledge Base for Serving
Young English Language Learners, ed. by E.
Garcia and E. Frede (New York: Teachers
College Press, 2009).
13. R. E. Slavin and A. Cheung, “A Synthesis of
Research on Language of Reading Instruction for English Language Learners,” Review
of Education Research 75, no. 2 (2005):
14. D. B. Yaden and J. M. Tardibuono, “The
Emergent Writing Development of Urban
Latino Preschoolers: Developmental Perspectives and Instructional Environments
for Second-Language Learners,” Reading
and Writing Quarterly 20 (2004): 29–61.
15. C. Genishi, S. E. Stires, and D. Yung-Chan,
“Writing in an Integrated Curriculum: Prekindergarten English Language Learners
as Symbol Makers,” The Elementary School
Journal 101 (2001): 399–416.
16. Ibid.
17. E. Sulzby and W. Teale, “The Development
of the Young Child and the Emergence
of Literacy,” in Handbook of Research on
Teaching the English Language Arts. Edited
by J. Flood and others (Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2003), 300–13.
18. D. M. Barone and S. H. Xu, 2008, Literacy
Instruction for English Language Learners:
Pre-K–2 (New York: Guilford, 2008), 110.
19. K. Samway, When English Language Learners Write (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann,
20. E. Bialystok and M. M. Martin, “Attention
and Inhabitation in Bilingual Children: Evidence from the Multidimensional Change
Card Sort Task,” Developmental Science 7
(2004): 325–39.
21. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers, ed. by B. T. Bowman, M. S. Donovan,
and M. S. Burns (Washington, DC: National
Academy Press, 2000).
athematics is a natural part of the preschool environment.
Young children actively construct mathematical knowledge
through everyday interactions with their environment, whether
inside or outside. When building in the block area or sorting blocks by
shape, children explore geometry in the real world. When measuring two
cups of flour and three spoons of sugar in a cooking activity, they learn
principles of measurement. Climbing in and out of cardboard boxes,
crawling through a tunnel, or riding a bike helps children develop a sense
of spatial relationships (e.g., on, under, over). Mathematics learning
grows naturally from children’s curiosity and enthusiasm to learn and
explore their environment. Teachers should encourage children’s natural
enthusiasm and interest in doing mathematics and use it as a vehicle
for supporting the development of children’s mathematical concepts
and skills.
Young children seem to have an innate
sense of informal mathematics. They
develop a substantive body of informal
knowledge of mathematics from infancy
throughout the preschool years. By the
age of three, they have already begun to
acquire knowledge of number.
They have learned to say their
first number words and
count small concrete sets of
objects. They understand
the idea of more and less.
If they are given more
crackers (or more of a
substance such as
play dough), they
they have more than they did before, and
if some were taken away, they now have
less. During the preschool years, children
continue to show a spontaneous interest in mathematics and further develop
their mathematical knowledge and skills
related to number, quantity, size, shape,
and space.
With the growing evidence about
children’s math capacities in the early
years and the significance of early math
experiences, there is a general consensus
“that high-quality, challenging and
accessible mathematics education for three- to six-year-old
children is a vital founda-
tion for future mathematics learning.”1
High-quality mathematics education in
preschool is not about elementary arithmetic being pushed down onto younger
children. It is broader than mere practice
in counting and arithmetic. It is about
children experiencing mathematics as
they explore ideas of more and less,
count objects, make comparisons, create patterns, sort and measure objects,
and explore shapes in space. Mathematics learning happens throughout the
day, and it is integrated with learning
and developing in other developmental
domains such as language and literacy,
social-emotional, science, music, and
different cups with sand and discussing
which cup is the smallest or the largest
or how many cups of sand it would take
to fill up a bucket introduces children to
concepts of comparison and measurement. Preschool teachers nurture children’s natural enthusiasm and interest in
learning mathematics. They help children
build their knowledge and skills of mathematics over time, by providing a mathematically rich environment, by modeling
mathematical thinking and reasoning,
and by introducing children to the language of math.2 Teachers guide, support,
and challenge children in the journey of
exploring and constructing mathematical knowledge. As stated by the National
Council of Teachers of Mathematics
. . . adults can foster children’s mathematical development by providing environments rich in language, where thinking is encouraged, uniqueness is valued,
and exploration is supported. Play is
children’s work. Adults support young
children’s diligence and mathematical
development when they direct attention
to the mathematics children use in their
play, challenge them to solve problems
and encourage their persistence.3
Teachers have a significant role in facilitating children’s construction of mathematical concepts. They may not always
realize the extent to which their current
everyday classroom practices support
children’s mathematical development.
For example, when singing with children
“Five Little Ducks Went Out One Day,”
incorporating finger play with counting,
the teacher develops children’s counting
skills and understanding of number. Discussing with children how many children
came to school today and how many are
missing supports children’s arithmetic
and reasoning with numbers. Playing
with children in the sandbox by filling up
When teachers join children in becoming keen observers of their environment
and in reasoning about numbers, shapes,
and patterns, mathematics is enjoyable
and exciting for all.
Guiding Principles
he following principles will guide
teachers’ classroom practices in
establishing a high-quality, challenging,
and sensitive early mathematics preschool program. These principles are
partially based on the ten recommendations in Early Childhood Mathematics:
Promoting Good Beginnings set forth by
the National Association for the Education of Young Children and NCTM in
Build on preschool children’s natural
interest in mathematics and their
intuitive and informal mathematical
Young children are mathematically
competent, motivated, and naturally
interested in exploring mathematical
ideas and concepts. Teachers should
recognize children’s early mathematical competence and build on children’s
disposition to use mathematics as a
way to make sense of their world.
Encourage inquiry and exploration
to foster problem solving and
mathematical reasoning
Mathematical reasoning and problem
solving are natural to all children as
they explore the world around them.
The most powerful mathematics learning for preschool children often results
from their own explorations. Teachers
should maintain an environment that
nurtures children’s inquiry and exploration of mathematical ideas and that
values problem solving. They should
ask children questions to stimulate
mathematical conversations and
encourage mathematical reasoning
through everyday interactions. Teachers’ meaningful questions can lead to
clarifications, more advanced challenges, and the development of new
Use everyday activities as natural
vehicles for developing preschool
children’s mathematical knowledge
Children can learn mathematical
concepts through play and everyday
activities as they interact with materials and investigate problems. Putting
toys away, playing with blocks, helping
to set the table before snack, or playing with buckets of varying sizes in
the sand are all opportunities for children to learn about key mathematical
concepts such as sorting, geometry,
number, and measurements. Teachers
should build upon the naturally occurring mathematics in children’s daily
activities and capitalize on “teachable
moments” during such activities to
extend children’s mathematical understanding and interest.
Introduce mathematical concepts
through intentionally planned
In addition to the meaningful mathematics that preschool children acquire
spontaneously through play and everyday activities, teachers should provide
carefully planned experiences that
focus children’s attention on particular mathematical concepts, methods,
and the language of math. Mathematical experiences planned in advance
would allow teachers to present concepts in a logical sequence and forge
links between previously encountered
mathematical ideas and new applications. Teachers should build on what
the child already knows and reasonably challenge the child in acquiring
new skills or knowledge. Teachers
can foster children’s understanding
of mathematical concepts over time
through intentional involvement with
mathematical ideas in preschool and
by helping families extend and develop
these ideas.
Provide a mathematically rich
Arranging a high-quality physical environment is important for children’s
mathematical development. It should
offer children opportunities to experiment and learn about key mathematical concepts naturally throughout the
classroom and throughout the day.
Provide an environment rich in
language, and introduce preschool
children to the language of mathematics
Language is a critical element in mathematics. Children should be introduced
to mathematical vocabulary as well
as to natural language in meaningful
contexts. During the preschool years,
children learn mathematical language
such as the number words, the names
for shapes, words to compare quantity (e.g., bigger, smaller), and words to
describe position and direction in space
(e.g., in, on, above). Children often have
an intuitive understanding of mathematical concepts but lack the vocabulary and the conceptual framework of
mathematics. By introducing children
to mathematical vocabulary, teachers
help “mathematize” what children intuitively grasp. Language allows children
to become aware of their mathematical
thinking and to express it in words.
Children with delays in development,
especially in language development,
may need more frequent repetition of
the words combined with a demonstration of the concept.
Support English learners in developing mathematical knowledge as they
concurrently acquire English
Teachers should be aware of the
challenges faced by children who are
English learners and apply specific
instructional strategies to help children
learning English acquire mathematical concepts and skills. To provide
children who are English learners
with comprehensible information, they
should simplify the terms they use,
make extensive use of manipulatives,
illustrate the meaning of words by acting and modeling whenever possible,
and encourage children to use terms
in their home language. Repetition,
paraphrasing, and elaboration by the
teacher also help preschool children
who are English learners understand
the content of the conversation. Teachers are encouraged to use mathematical terms as often as possible and in
as many different settings as possible.
Teachers’ attentive and modified talk
helps young children learning English
to understand mathematical concepts
and to develop the language skills they
need to communicate mathematical
Observe preschool children and
listen to them
Observe children thoughtfully, listen
carefully to their ideas, and talk
with them. Close observation allows
teachers to identify thought-provoking moments through everyday play,
where mathematical concepts can be
clarified, extended, and reinforced,
and children can be prompted to make
new discoveries. Observing and listening to children also allows teachers to learn about children’s interests
and attitudes and to assess children’s
mathematical knowledge and skills.
Take into account that mathematical
knowledge is not always expressed verbally. Children may know a lot about
number, size, or shape without having
the words to describe what they know.
Recognize and support the
Provide an environment in which
all children can learn mathematics,
set appropriately high expectations
for all children, and support individual growth. Children differ in their
strengths, interests, approaches to
learning, knowledge, and skills. They
may also have special learning needs.
Young children, therefore, may construct mathematical understanding in
different ways, at varying rates, and
with different materials. To be effective, teachers should respond to each
child individually. They should find
out what young children already know
and build on the children’s individual
strengths and ways of learning. Teachers should provide children with a variety of materials, teaching strategies,
and methods to meet children’s different learning styles and promote access
to and attainment of mathematical
concepts by all children. The strategies presented in the next sections for
supporting children’s development in
the mathematics domain apply to all
children. Children with disabilities and
other special needs, like all children,
benefit from multiple opportunities
to experience math concepts through
playful activities that build on their
interests. They particularly benefit
from hands-on activities, using a variety of manipulatives, and from teachers’ support and verbal descriptions
of what they are doing. If children are
receiving special education services,
teachers should ask for ideas from the
specialists and families.
Establish a partnership with parents
and other caregivers in supporting
children’s learning of mathematics
Parents and other caregivers should be
partners in the process of supporting
children’s mathematics development.
Parents serve as role models for children. When parents become involved
in their children’s mathematics education, children become more engaged
and excited. Teachers should communicate to parents what preschool
mathematics is about, age-appropriate
expectations for mathematics learning
at the preschool level, and how mathematics learning is supported in the
preschool environment. They should
also convey to parents the importance
of mathematics and what they can do
at home for supporting children’s math
development. By talking with parents, teachers could also learn about
children’s interests, natural knowledge, and home experiences related to
math. They may need to remind parents about the numerous opportunities
to talk with children about number,
shape, size, and quantity during everyday home routines and activities. For
example, while walking to school or
taking the bus, parents can point out
the yield signs, stop signs, and so on
and say the name of each shape (triangle, rectangle, square) and can count
the number of footsteps to the front
door. While cooking, they can count
the number of cups of rice or beans.
Throughout the year, teachers should
also provide parents with information
about the child’s development and
progress in learning math concepts
and skills.
Environments and
oung children actively construct
mathematical knowledge through
everyday interactions with their environment. Setting up a high-quality physical
environment is essential for children’s
mathematical development. The preschool environment sets the stage for
children’s physical and social exploration
and construction of mathematical concepts. It should provide access to objects
and materials that encourage children to
experiment and learn about key mathematical concepts through everyday play.
Enrich the environment with
objects and materials that promote
mathematical growth.
Provide children with access to developmentally appropriate, challenging,
and engaging materials. A high-quality
environment offers children opportunities to count objects; to explore and
compare objects’ size, shape, weight,
and other attributes; to measure; to
sort and classify; and to discover and
create patterns. For example, wooden
blocks, geometric foam blocks, cylinders, cones, and boxes would encourage creativity while stimulating concepts of geometry. Collections of small
items such as rocks, beads, cubes,
buttons, commercial counters, and
other items can be used for counting,
sorting, and categorizing. Containers of
different sizes and measuring cups and
spoons can illustrate the concepts of
volume and capacity. The environment
should also include number-related
books; felt pieces or finger puppets to
go with the books; and counting games
using dice, spinners, and cards. It may
also include computer software and
other technology materials focused on
math. Materials and props will support all children in learning mathematics and are particularly important
in teaching preschool children who
are English learners. The props and
materials give concrete meaning to the
words children hear in the context of
doing mathematics.
Children with physical disabilities may
need assistance in exploring the environment and manipulating objects.
Children with motor impairments may
explore through observation or may
need assistance from an adult or a peer
in manipulating objects to do things
such as count, sort, compare, order,
measure, create patterns, or solve
problems. A child might also use adaptive materials (e.g., large manipulatives
that are easy to grasp). Alternately, a
child might demonstrate knowledge in
these areas without directly manipulating objects. For example, a child might
direct a peer or teacher to place several
objects in order from smallest to largest. Children with visual impairments
might be offered materials for counting, sorting, or problem solving that
are easily distinguishable by touch.
Their engagement is also facilitated by
the use of containers, trays, and so
forth of materials that clearly define
their workspace.
Integrate math-related materials
into all interest areas in the
Math naturally takes place throughout the classroom and throughout the
day. Children explore objects and learn
about shapes and numbers as they
go about their daily routine and play
in different areas in the classroom.
Number symbols, for example, naturally appear throughout the classroom,
from real-life objects such as a tape
measure, a telephone, a calculator or
a scale to puzzles, stickers, books, and
cards with numbers. Some teachers
may choose to have a math table or a
math area in the classroom for mathrelated materials, games, books, and
manipulatives. In addition, the teacher
should integrate math-related materials and props into all activity areas
in the classroom. The dramatic play
area can include a scale, a calculator,
a measuring tape, and other mathrelated tools. The art area can include
shape and number stickers, magazine
cutouts of numbers, and shapes for
collage making. The same tool can be
used in various places throughout the
environment. Measuring cups and
spoons, for example, can be used for
cooking, but also in the science or discovery area, in the dramatic play area,
and for playing with sand and water.
Provide real-life settings in the
preschool environment.
Real-life settings to investigate, such as
a grocery store, a restaurant, a woodshop, or a bakery, help children learn
naturally about everyday mathematics.
They present children with numerous
opportunities for mathematical reasoning and problem solving. Such settings
demonstrate for children mathematical
concepts through props and concrete
objects, familiarize children with numbers in their everyday use (e.g., price
tags, labels, measurements) and with
the function of various tools (e.g., a
scale, a register, a measuring tape). A
real-life setting such as a grocery store
or bakery, for example, can engage
children in sorting and classification
of items, in measurement experiences
(e.g., measuring the weight of produce),
and in solving simple addition and
subtraction problems. Children enjoy
learning mathematics through the
acting out of different roles in real-life
Use materials and objects that are
relevant and meaningful to the
children in your group.
Mathematical concepts and skills such
as counting, sorting, and measuring
can be learned with different materials
and in various contexts. It is valuable
to introduce math in a context that
is familiar and relevant to children’s
life experiences. Use materials, books,
and real-life settings that reflect the
culture, ways of life, and languages of
the children in the group. When mathematical concepts are embedded in a
context that is personally relevant to
individual children, experiences are
more pleasurable and meaningful.
Use children’s books to explore
mathematics with children.
Include books with mathematical
content, and use children’s literature
to develop mathematical concepts.
Children’s books provide interesting
and powerful ways to explore mathematics. Teachers can use books
to introduce and illustrate different
mathematical concepts, to encourage
the use of mathematical language,
and to develop mathematical thinking.
Some books, such as counting books
and shape books, directly illustrate
mathematical concepts. Other books,
such as storybooks, provide context
for mathematical reasoning (e.g., The
Very Hungry Caterpillar or Goldilocks
and the Three Bears). The following sections include suggestions about how
teachers can use literature to present
and discuss different mathematical
concepts, including counting, addition and subtraction, patterns, shapes,
comparison language, and spatial positions. Many stories can be acted out by
including concrete objects and manipulatives. While reading aloud books with
mathematical content, teachers can
pose questions to children, ask them
to predict what comes next based on
an underlying principle or a repeated
pattern in the story, or invite children
to re-create stories in their own way.
See the “Teacher Resources” on page
297 for a list of children’s books with
mathematical content and other related
resources on the use of literacy in
teaching mathematics. For ideas on
adapting books for children with physical disabilities, please refer to the
Literacy section on pages 106 and 107.
Be intentional and mindful in
setting up and using the physical
A math-rich environment is very
important, but it does not guarantee
that children will engage in meaningful mathematical experiences. The
teacher should be intentional when
planning a math-rich environment and
think about how different math-related
objects in the classroom can be utilized
to promote meaningful mathematical
exploration and reasoning. Teachers
should allow children the time to
become involved with the materials,
help children reflect on what they are
doing, and extend their learning and
discoveries through questioning and
mental challenges. The next sections
include more detailed information
about how to set up a rich physical
environment to promote number sense,
classification, measurement, and
geometry concepts for all children.
Summary of the Strands
and Substrands
The California preschool learning foundations in mathematics identify a set of
age-appropriate goals expected for children at around 48 and 60 months of age
in five developmental strands.
• The Number Sense strand refers to
concepts of numbers and their relationships. It includes the development
of counting skills, the understanding
of quantities, recognizing ordering relations (which has more, fewer, or less),
part-whole relationships, and a basic
understanding of “adding to“ and
“taking away” operations.
• The Algebra and Functions
(Classification and Patterning)
strand concerns the development
of algebraic thinking and reasoning.
Included in this strand is the ability to sort, group, and classify objects
by some attribute and to recognize,
extend, and create patterns.
• The Measurement strand involves
comparing, ordering, and measuring
things. Included in this strand is the
child’s ability to compare and order
objects by length, height, weight, or
capacity; to use comparison vocabulary; and to begin to measure.
• The Geometry strand concerns the
study of shapes and spatial relationships. Included in this strand is the
child’s ability to identify, describe and
construct different shapes, and to
identify and label positions in space.
• The Mathematical Reasoning strand
is a process in learning and developing
mathematical knowledge in all areas of
mathematics. Included in this strand is
the child’s ability to reason and apply
mathematical knowledge and skills to
solve problems in the everyday environment.
Please refer to the map of the mathematics foundations on page 296 for a
visual explanation of the terminology
used in the preschool learning foundations.
The following curriculum framework
in mathematics provides teachers with
strategies to promote preschool children’s
reasoning and understanding of key
mathematical concepts in each of the
five strands. The strategies provide
teachers with tools for building children’s
understanding of mathematics over time,
through a mathematically rich environment, through interactions and conversations with children during play and everyday routines, and through intentionally
planned mathematical experiences. Examples of “Mathematical Reasoning in Action”
are interwoven throughout the chapters,
illustrating children’s reasoning about
different mathematical concepts, whether
in natural situations or while engaged in
planned mathematical activities.
Number Sense
umber sense refers to children’s concept of numbers and their
relationships. It starts early on with an infant’s ability to visually
recognize the number of elements in a small set and continues
with children’s verbal counting, as they further develop the sense of
quantity, number relationships (e.g., less than, greater than), and the
fundamental understanding of addition and subtraction. Children enter
preschool with an intuitive understanding of number and operations and
with a natural curiosity and eagerness to learn
about numbers. All children, whatever their socioeconomic or cultural backgrounds, have the
tendency to count and reason about numbers
in everyday life. Children’s intuitive sense of
number does not imply, however, that everything they need to learn about numbers and
operations comes naturally. Teachers have
an extremely important role in supporting
children’s understanding of number and
operations, making them aware of number
concepts and introducing them to the
language of mathematics. All preschool
children benefit from opportunities
throughout the day to count, compare
quantities, and solve problems involving
numbers. The following strategies
provide suggestions as to how teachers
can help children build number sense.
1.0 Understanding Number and Quantity
rom a very young age, children can
determine the quantity of objects in
a small set without counting (subitizing)
and can label “two” or “three” when
looking at small collections of objects.
Repeated counting experiences develop
a child’s counting skills and her understanding of quantity. Children learn
that counting determines the quantity
of objects in a set (e.g., “One, two, three,
four, there are four”) and that different
numbers represent different quantities.
Preschool children also begin to recognize
and name written numerals.
Counting is a fundamental skill in
children’s early understanding of numbers and quantities. It provides the basis
for the development of number and
arithmetic concepts and skills. Early
on, children attempt to count everything
around them, the number of steps on
the way home, the cookies on their plate,
or the number of blocks in a tower they
built. This tendency to count everything
is of considerable importance for the
development of counting, as it provides
the child with practice in learning the
counting procedure.5 At first children
often omit some numbers when saying
the list of number words or skip objects
when counting. With repeated counting
experiences and adult guidance at home
and in preschool, children learn to apply
counting skills precisely and use counting to determine the number of objects in
a set.6
As teachers observe the children
throughout the day, they are likely to
encounter a great deal of spontaneous
counting and reasoning about numbers:
“One, two, three, five, seven, eight,” the
child may recite counting words when
swinging outside. “Teacher, I am three,”
shares a child and counts, “One, two,
three,” showing three fingers. Preschool
children’s spontaneous counting and use
of number words present teachers with
wonderful opportunities to assess what
children know and to facilitate their skills.
Sample Developmental Sequence
Saying number words in sequence. May
omit some numbers when reciting the
number words. For example, the child’s
counting list may consist of the following
number words: “one, two three, seven,
eight, ten.”
Counts a small set of objects (five or six)
but may have trouble keeping one-toone correspondence. The child may
point to more than one object when saying one number word or say a number
word without pointing to an object.
May count correctly a larger set of objects
(about ten), keeping track of counted
and uncounted objects by pointing and
moving objects while counting.
Understands that the number name
of the last object counted (e.g., the
number five when counting five objects)
represents the total number of objects in
the group (i.e., cardinality) and repeats
this number when asked, “How many?”
Knows to say the number words oneto-ten in the correct order, but is still
learning the number sequence between
ten and twenty. May omit some “-teen”
words (e.g., 13, 14, 16, 18).
Creates a set with a certain number of
objects. For example, when asked to give
three beads, the child counts out three
beads from a larger pile of beads.
Knows to say the number words up to
twenty correctly.
Mathematical Reasoning in Action: Counting Ladybugs
Antonio was looking at a counting book, and in Spanish he counted
the number of ladybugs in the picture, “Uno, dos, tres, cuatro.” Mr.
Moises noticed him counting, repeated the Spanish counting words,
and then responded in English, “Yes, four ladybugs: one, two, three,
four.” They moved on to the next page, and the teacher invited Antonio to count the ladybugs with him. The child counted in Spanish and
the teacher then counted with him in English.
Counting books elicit spontaneous counting. Observing the
children in the library area, the teacher is noticing that Antonio is counting in his home language. He encourages him
to continue counting in Spanish and uses this opportunity
to count with him in English. English learners need many
opportunities to count in their home language and in English.
For more information about strategies to support children
who are English learners, see Chapter 5.
Mathematical Reasoning in Action: Who Has More Cars?
Playing with cars on the rug, a child argued, “I have more: one, two,
three, seven, nine, ten.” His friend replied, “No, I have more: one, two,
three, four, five, six, seven.” The teacher intervened and asked, “How
do you think we can find out who has more cars?” “I count,” said one
of the children. The teacher suggested, “Let’s count together,” and
she modeled counting together with the children. She put the cars in
each set, in a row, and lined up the two sets against each other. The
teacher pointed to each car while counting.
Rather than telling children which one of them has more
cars, she asks them for a solution (e.g., “How do you think
we can find out who has more?”) and lets them come up with
a strategy to find out the answer (i.e., counting). She models
for the children the use of counting. She also facilitates
correct counting by putting the cars in each set in a row and
by pointing to each car while counting. These strategies help
children keep track of which cars were already counted and
which cars are yet to be counted.
As illustrated in the above examples,
preschool children’s spontaneous counting and use of number presents learning
opportunities, or “teachable moments.”
The teacher uses these spontaneous
opportunities to facilitate and reinforce
children’s counting and mathematical
reasoning. The teacher encourages individual attempts to count and reason
about numbers and scaffolds as necessary, to introduce or reinforce mathematical concepts. The following strategies
provide suggestions as to how teachers
can develop children’s understanding of
number and quantity.
The following interactions and strategies promote preschool children’s understanding of number and quantity:
Observe and listen to children’s
counts. Observe children’s spontaneous
counting and note their developmental
level. Do the children tend to use a stable
counting list? Can they recite the number words in the correct order? In what
language? Up to what number? Can they
keep track of the counted and uncounted
objects while counting? Do they use
counting as a means to quantify a set of
objects? Are they comparing two quantities? Do they comprehend or use terms
such as more, less, same? Observing
preschool children’s spontaneous counting and reasoning will enable teachers to
assess and plan successfully and meet
the needs of all children, including those
with special needs. See “Sample Developmental Sequence of Counting” on page
Encourage counting during everyday
interactions and routines. Learning the
sequence of number words in English
involves the rote learning of the first
13 number words and later the rules
for producing the subsequent “teens”
number words and the beyond-twenty
number words. This may proceed slowly
and requires a lot of practice because
learning number names in order takes
practice. This does not mean that
teachers should drill children to learn
numbers. The teacher’s modeling and
the child’s tendency to count and selfcorrect will facilitate the learning of the
conventional sequence of number words.
Encourage all children to count together
as opportunities come up throughout the
day. Children hear, say, and experience
counting in the correct order over and
over. Everyday interactions and routines
offer numerous opportunities for counting and reasoning about number: during
clean-up, “Everyone put five pieces away
and then we’ll be done”; in morning circle
time, “How many children are wearing
boots today?”; at snack time, “Please
make sure every table has six apple
slices”; during movement, “Let’s jump
seven times”; and at music time, counting
while clapping with rhythm, “One, two,
three, four, five.”
Include preschool children’s home
language in counting activities,
whenever possible. Use of the home
language will reinforce counting skills
and will show value for the child’s home
language and culture. Children who are
English learners usually know how to
count in their home language before they
demonstrate the ability to count in English. In the beginning, they may not feel
comfortable counting in English. Teachers should encourage them to participate
and to count in their home language.
Preschool English learners may need time
to observe other children count in English before they feel comfortable taking
an active part counting in English. For
more information about strategies to support children who are English learners,
see Chapter 5. For children who communicate in sign language, it is helpful to
learn the number signs.
Ask questions that encourage purposeful counting. Use counting to determine
quantity and answer a child’s question
within context: “I wonder how many
stickers Ana has? One, two, three, four.
She has four.” To compare two quantities,
the teacher might ask, “Which table has
more children? How many more?” To
create a set with a number of objects,
the teacher could suggest, “Derek needs
four sticks.” Or to solve addition and
subtraction problems, ask “How many
blocks do we have altogether? How many
are left?” Combine counting with pointing
or touching objects to reinforce the
Foster one-to-one correspondence
within the context of daily routines.
Preschool children practice one-to-one
correspondence as they gather and
distribute materials, such as placing one
shovel in each bucket, giving one paper
to every child, or as they help to set the
table. Lunch helpers, for example, count
out and distribute dishes, napkins, or
fruit. The following dialogue between
the teacher and the child helping to set
the table before mealtime serves as an
Mathematical Reasoning in Action: More Cups
Mr. Raj asks, “Do we have one cup next to every plate?” Amy
checks and says, “No, this one does not have one, this one does
not have one, and this one and this one. We need more.” Mr. Raj
asks, “How many more do we need?” “Four . . . uh . . . no, maybe
six. Let me count, one, two, three, four, five, six.” Mr. Raj notices that
she counted one of the plates twice and says to Amy, “Let’s count
again, slowly.” He points to the plates that have no cups next to
them and counts them one at a time with Amy, “One, two, three,
four, five.” Amy repeats, “Five.” “Yes, we need five more cups,” Mr.
Raj answered. Mr. Raj helps Amy get five more cups and asks Amy,
“Can you make sure we have one cup next to every plate?”
Helping to set the table provided an opportunity to practice
one-to-one correspondence (e.g., one plate, one cup) and to
use purposeful counting (e.g., to find out how many more
cups are needed). The teacher first let the child figure out
the answer. When the child counted incorrectly, the teacher
invited the child to count again and counted with her while
pointing to each plate to facilitate correct counting.
Support preschool children’s ability to
apply the counting procedure. Counting the number of objects in a set means
the child has to coordinate several distinct skills, reciting the number-word
sequence while simultaneously keeping
one-to-one correspondence between the
objects being counted and the number
words assigned to the objects. Preschool
children may also tag or point to objects
one at a time to keep track of those
objects that have been counted and those
to be counted. See “Sample Developmental Sequence of Counting” on page 242.
Initially, preschool children are not skillful in applying the counting procedure
precisely, but experiences with counting
objects help them develop their counting skills. Those experiences may be
spontaneous and informal and happen
with teachers and with other children.
Teachers can use the following strategies
to gradually build preschool children’s
counting skills.
Provide lots of objects to count.
Provide preschool children with collections of small items to count such as,
unit blocks, seashells, small figures,
kernels of corn, or different sets of
flannel pieces. Start with objects that
are uniform in size, shape, and color
so that children can focus on number without the distraction of other
perceptual attributes. As children get
more practice, they are ready to move
to more abstract counting.
Start with small sets of objects.
Young children are more successful
at counting small sets of objects. Provide children with small sets of objects
(e.g., two or three), and gradually
increase the number of objects that
the children count.
Start with objects arranged linearly.
Young children are more successful
applying one-to-one correspondence
to linear sets of objects. When objects
are arranged in a line, the beginning
and end of the set are clearly marked,
and children have an easier time keeping track of which objects were already
counted and which objects are yet to
be counted.
Model counting. Point to, touch, or
move each object aside as it is counted.
Pointing to or touching each object as
it is counted facilitates the one-to-one
correspondence between the number
words and the tagged objects during
the counting process. Moving each
object aside is also a helpful strategy
for keeping track of which objects were
already counted and which objects are
yet to be counted.
Encourage children to self-correct
their counts. If children count incorrectly (e.g., skip a number or double
count an object), invite them to count
again: “Let’s count again. More slowly,
one . . .” and give them the opportunity
to correct themselves.
Consider adaptations for children with
special needs. Children with special
needs may not move through the stages
of counting as quickly as other children.
Children with certain language impairments or hearing impairments have difficulty learning the sequence of number
words and may show difficulty in developing counting skills.7, 8 They would benefit
from additional opportunities to count
with adults and other children (e.g., with
counting songs, finger plays, and games).
Children with special needs would also
benefit from combining words with actions
to support counting. Marching or clapping
while counting adds a kinesthetic dimension. Teachers could also support children
with special needs by breaking the learning down into smaller steps, giving chil-
dren small, manageable tasks (e.g., begin
with counting a small number of objects
with adults’ help while counting). Children with physical disabilities may need
to demonstrate mathematical knowledge
in various ways. They do not necessarily need to engage in motor behavior and
should be encouraged to use any means
of expression and engagement available.
Children with motor impairments may
need assistance from an adult or peer
to manipulate objects in order to count.
Alternately, a child might demonstrate
knowledge in these areas without directly
manipulating objects. For example, a
child might count verbally while a peer
touches the objects. Children with visual
impairments might be offered materials
for counting that are easily distinguishable by touch. Their engagement is also
facilitated by using containers or trays of
materials that clearly define their workspace. (See Appendix D.)
Make number-related games, books,
and other materials accessible to preschool children. Board games with a
spinner, a die or dice, and other games
such as dominos, number blocks, and
cards and puzzles with numbers provide
an engaging way to promote children’s
understanding of number and quantity.
Children’s books about numbers and
counting can be used to introduce counting and basic addition and subtraction
concepts. The teacher should include
number-related books in the home languages of the children in the classroom.
Books can be presented along with felt
pieces or finger puppets to illustrate math
content with action. Children benefit
when teachers use props and gestures to
act out, model, and demonstrate mathematical concepts.
Plan group activities focused on
counting. Use large- and small-group
activities to help children practice counting and use counting in meaningful contexts. Counting songs, finger plays, and
children’s books with numerical content
provide a playful context for practicing
counting and developing mathematical
concepts. Preschool children enjoy counting as a group, especially when they are
able to predict what number comes next
as they count up or down the number list
(e.g., Ten Little Monkeys, This Old Man,
Five Green and Speckled Frogs, Five Little
Ducks, Un Elefante se Balanceaba, Chocolate, Los Numeros, Sé Contar del Uno al
Mathematical Reasoning in Action: Singing and Counting
There was one little bird in a little tree
He was all alone, and he didn’t want to be
So he flew far away, over the sea
and brought back a friend to live in the tree.
Now there are two little birds, one little tree . . .
(The song repeats as the number of birds increases by one)
A flannel board with felt pieces and small objects were used to
act out the content of the song or story and to help children better understand the mathematical concepts. To illustrate the song
above, the teacher first put one bird on the flannel board and then
added a felt bird to the board each time the song repeated. The
teacher paused and invited children to count. “How many birds do
we have in the tree? Let’s count together.” The teacher also invited
a child to lead the counting.
Rhymes, finger plays, and songs with number-related content are common for practicing counting and introducing
numerical concepts. Some children with special needs find
it especially difficult to memorize the sequence of number
words or understand the meaning of numbers. When number songs are introduced along with sets of items on the
flannel board or magnet board, children have repeating
opportunities to say and memorize the sequence of number
words and to connect number words with quantity. Counting songs highlight the “number-after” relationship for the
number word sequence and illustrate which of two adjacent numbers is a larger quantity (e.g., that four is more
than three). Children enjoy counting together, especially
when they are able to predict what number comes next as
they count up or down the number list.
Beyond Counting:
Recognizing and naming
written numerals
The standard written numerals in
our society are Arabic numerals, 1, 2,
3, and so on. Children see numerals all
around the house, on the phone, the
remote control, the clock, and in number puzzles, games, and counting books.
They typically learn to recognize the symbols 1 through 9 sometime between the
age of two and five with little difficulty.9
The understanding of what numerals
represent develops over time. Ongoing
informal experiences with environmental
print expose children to the link between
number symbols (e.g., 1, 2, 3) and the
different meanings. The numeral 5 next
to five apples, for example, communicates
the quantity of apples (a cardinal meaning). The numeral 5 in number labels on
houses (e.g., the numeral 5 in the house
address 15430), on a bus, and car license
plate has a noncardinal meaning. To
enhance the connection between numerals and the quantity they represent, the
number symbols in the preschool environment should be accompanied by some
representation for quantity whenever
possible (e.g., 5 means that five children
can be sitting around this table). Through
everyday exposure to numbers and the
use of numbers in meaningful situations,
preschool children learn to identify number symbols (numerals) and to recognize
the link between written numerals (1, 2,
3), numeral names (one, two, three) and
numeral meanings.10
Integrate numerals into different areas
of the classroom. Numbers are used
everywhere around us. Teachers can
incorporate numerals throughout the
classroom in a variety of meaningful
contexts: in the dramatic play area, the
art area, the science area, the library
area, and the sand and water area. Many
items can be incorporated into different
areas of the classroom, including items
such as a calendar, a clock, a phone, a
scale, a calculator, date stamps, address
and phone books, rulers, measuring
tapes, labels, and advertisements with
numerals. In addition to exposing children to written numerals, such real-life
items will familiarize children with everyday uses of numbers. Teachers may also
include in the classroom different learning materials with numerals such as a
number line, number blocks, magnetic
numbers, and number stamps and cards.
Consultation with specialists may be
helpful to find materials that can easily
be used by children with physical disabilities or other special needs.
Discuss numerals in print in a
meaningful context. Refer to numerals
in the environment as part of the daily
activities: in books with numbers, the
calendar, on labels or on measuring
cups while cooking, or on the measuring
tape when measuring height. Teachers
can also encourage children to refer to
number symbols in the environment
through a search for numerals in
the class (e.g., I Spy game). Ongoing
experiences with environmental print
will reinforce the link between the
number symbols, their names, and
their meanings.
Expose preschool children to
quantities represented in different
forms. Preschool children gain a better
sense of numbers as they come across
different representations of number in
their environment. For example, “three,”
can be represented with three objects,
three fingers, a pictograph, a number
symbol (3), tally marks ( III ), or a pattern
of dots (OOO). The teacher can expose
children to different representations of
quantity through the use of finger play,
tallying and graphing activities, games
with dice or spinners, number cards, and
Promote use of the subitizing skill
Subitizing is the ability to quickly determine the number of items in a set, or in
a pattern of dots, without counting. When
children are presented with very small
sets, they can tell “how many” without
counting the objects in the set. Teachers
should be aware of children’s capacity to
quantify small sets quickly. When children are asked “how many” with respect
to small sets of objects, they may use
subitizing and call out the answer and
not necessarily count the objects one by
one to find out how many. Teachers can
provide children with opportunities to
apply subitizing in everyday situations by
asking children for the number of objects
in a small set; referring to the number
of objects in small sets (e.g., “There are
three chairs in that corner,” We have two
orange slices in this bowl”); conversing
with children; or when pointing to pictures in children’s books.
2.0 Understanding Number Relationships
and Operations
reschool children develop the conceptual basis for understanding number
relationships and operations. When comparing two small sets, they can recognize
whether the sets are equal or not. They
can also recognize the ordering relation
of two sets that are unequal and identify
which set has more or less. Experiences
with number-change transformations
such as “adding to” and “taking away”
provide the conceptual foundation for
solving simple arithmetic problems.
Young children understand that addition
increases the number of items in a set,
and subtraction decreases the number of
items in a set. They use counting strategies to solve simple addition and subtraction problems.
Young children also develop a basic
understanding of part–whole relationships, as they recognize that parts can be
combined to make a whole, and a whole
quantity can be broken down into two or
more parts. Experiences with part–whole
relationships and the decomposition
of numbers into smaller groups (e.g.,
decomposing “six” into “four” and “two”)
support the understanding of number
relationships and operations and from
the conceptual basis for future understanding and solving of missing-addend
problems (__ + 3 = 5), and multidigit
addition and subtraction problems (e.g.,
11 + 2 = __). Preschool children can be
informally introduced to number relationships and operations through everyday
interactions, language and literacy activities, and games.
Research Highlight
Research indicates that the ability to
reason about numbers starts as early as
infancy.11 Five-month-olds show sensitivity to the effects of addition or subtraction of items on a small collection
of objects. Toddlers viewing three balls
put into a container and then one being
removed know to search for a smaller
number of balls, and many search for
exactly two balls.12
By the time children are in preschool,
prior to having any formal lesson in arithmetic, they use a variety of strategies to
solve simple addition and subtraction
problems.13 They may use manipulatives
or fingers to represent the numbers in the
problem and count out loud to find out
the answer. As they get older, they rely
less and less on finger counting. To solve
an addition problem such as 4 + 2 presented with concrete objects (e.g., color
crayons), the child may count all objects
“one, two, three, four” and then continue
with the second set of objects “five, six”
and find out there are a total of six. At a
later stage, the child may “count on”
from the second set of objects. Knowing
the number of objects in the first set (e.g.,
“four”), the child starts with “four” and
continues to count “five, six” to find out
the total number of objects, rather than
starting to count from “one” with the second set of objects.
Mathematical Reasoning in Action: Playing with Balls
While outdoors, a small group of children were playing with balls,
throwing them into a net basket that was on the ground. Mr. Phan
was standing by, watching the children taking turns throwing
balls into the basket. When all six balls were inside the basket,
he took them out one at a time. “One, two, three, four, five, six,”
he counted while handing the balls back to the children, and they
again threw the balls into the basket. Julia, one of the children in
the group, was standing by the basket watching the balls go in.
When all balls were in the basket, she helped Mr. Phan take out
the balls and hand them back to the children. Julia started to keep
track of the number of balls that went into the basket. “One,” she
shouted after the first ball went in, “two” after the second ball
was in, and so on. When five balls were in the basket, Julia said
to Mr. Phan, “One more, and then we take all the balls out again.”
Mr. Phan asked Julia, “How many balls would we have altogether
after the last ball goes in?” Julia answered, “five, six . . . six balls!”
Outdoor play provides numerous opportunities for counting
and reasoning with numbers. Children often count while
swinging back and forth, while passing a ball from one
child to another, or when climbing up the steps to go on the
slide. Teachers may use these opportunities to count with
children and think about numbers while playing. Children,
particularly English learners, need a variety of meaningful
and exciting counting and arithmetic experiences, in which
they can combine counting with actions and model a
problem with concrete objects. In this example, Mr. Phan
made children aware of the total number of balls they were
shooting to the basket. It created a goal for children: all
six balls in the basket before the children continued to
the next round of throwing. Julia, in particular, enjoyed
watching the balls adding up in the basket. She became
aware of the number of balls already in the basket and
those yet to be thrown by children. Julia and other children
in the group have learned through play about counting,
quantity (the meaning of six), part–whole relationships, and
Mathematical Reasoning in Action: How Many Boys?
How Many Girls?
The teacher comments to Jennifer, “Let’s find out how many children are here today. Jennifer, would you please help me count the
girls?” Counting the girls, Jennifer says, “One, two, three, four, five,
six.” Then she announces six. The teacher responds, “We have six
girls. Now let’s count the boys. Brian, would you please help me
find out how many boys are here today?” Brian counts, “One, two,
three, four, five . . . five,” and holds up five fingers. The teacher
says, “We have six girls and five boys. Do we have more boys
or girls?” Most children call out, “Girls.” One child said, “Boys.”
Another child replies, “No, it’s girls because six is more than five.”
The teacher holds up six fingers and counts, “One, two, three,
four, five, and one more is six. We have five boys and six girls. We
have more girls than boys. Can you help me find out how many
children we have altogether?” The teacher counts together with the
children, pointing to every child while they are counted: “One, two,
three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven. How many?”
The children call out, “Eleven.” The teacher says, “We usually have
twelve children, but today we have only eleven. Can you help me
figure out how many children are not here today?”
A daily routine activity, such as checking attendance
during morning circle time, serves as the context for
introducing and practicing several mathematical concepts
and skills, illustrating part–whole relationships (e.g., six
girls and five boys, eleven altogether), comparing quantities
by counting, doing arithmetic, and practicing counting
skills. The teacher asks children probing questions
and encourages them to find the answers. The teacher
combined the verbal or gestured responses (e.g., five, six,
eleven) with the visual representation (e.g., fingers) to
assist those children who need more than one modality for
The following interactions and strategies promote preschool children’s understanding of number relationships and
table,” “There are fewer crayons in this
box.” Use comparison terms in everyday situations to help children learn the
meaning of such words.
Promote the use of comparison terms
(more, same as, fewer, or less) through
everyday interactions. Everyday situations provide many opportunities to
explore number relationships. Encourage preschool children to use comparison
terms such as more, fewer, or same as,
when comparing numbers in the everyday environment. “We have more boys
than girls,” “Both of you have the same
number of stickers.” “This table has
fewer oranges.” The word fewer is used
to describe a smaller number. The word
less should be used to describe a smaller
amount or degree: “This bottle has less
water,” “There is less play dough on this
Use everyday interactions and routines to illustrate and discuss addition
and subtraction transformations. At a
very young age children understand that
“adding to” results in more, and “taking away” results in less. Building on
children’s natural understanding of these
concepts, teachers can introduce children
to simple addition and subtraction problems through everyday routines. “You
have three cars. Can you give Andrea
one? How many cars do you have now?”
“You have three stickers. If I give you two
more, how many stickers would you have
altogether?” See the “Research Highlight”
on page 251.
Mathematical Reasoning in Action: More Crackers
During snack time, Veronica asked: “Can I have two more crackers?” The teacher replied, “Yes, and I see you already have two
crackers. When I give you two more, how many crackers will you
have altogether?”
In this situation, during snack time the child asks for more
crackers and the teacher recognizes the opportunity to
reinforce the mathematical concept of addition. The teacher
presents the child with an “adding-to” arithmetic problem
(2 + 2 = __) and uses concrete objects (e.g., crackers) to
solve the problem.
Introduce preschool children to the
concepts of addition and subtraction
through literature, songs, and games.
Stories, songs, and games provide a playful way to introduce “adding-to” and
“taking-away” operations, and part–whole
relationships. Experiences with concrete sets of objects, in particular, can
illustrate for children addition and subtraction concepts and enable children
to solve simple addition and subtraction problems by counting objects. For
example, when telling the flannel board
story Rooster’s Off to See the World, the
teacher says, “One rooster met two cats,”
and she places one flannel rooster next
to two cats and asks the children, “How
many animals do we have altogether?”
The story continues, “The rooster and the
cats met three frogs.” The teacher places
three flannel frogs, “One, two, three,” next
to the rooster and cats and asks, “How
many do we have now?” The flannel board
story provides the context for introducing the “adding-to” concept. For ideas on
adapting books for children with physical
disabilities, please refer to the Literacy
section on pages 106 and 107.
Make estimations. Encourage preschool
children to estimate: “How many balls
do you think are in this jar?” “How many
seeds are inside the apple?” “How many
steps are outside the door?” When possible, ask children to count and check their
estimate. Children enjoy this process very
much. Invite children to estimate in a
group setting and record their estimates.
It illustrates to them that different children have different estimates. Making an
estimate and then counting “to find out”
is a powerful and effective way to facilitate children’s understanding of number
and quantity.
Use graphing with children. Encourage
preschool children to collect data, tally
totals, and graph the results. Children
enjoy taking an active part in this
process. Invite children to collect and
record numerical information (e.g.,
the number of children who have pets,
the number of people in each child’s
family). Create a chart or graph, using
real objects, to represent numerical
information collected by children.
Discuss with children the information
presented in the graph. Graphs lead
naturally to making comparisons: “Which
group has more?” Which group has
fewer?” “Can you tell without counting?”
“How many more are in this group?”
Bringing It All Together
Bagel Shop
While singing the “Bagel Shop” song,
children count to solve an arithmetic
problem. One of the children plays the
role of the Baker. The rest of the children take turns buying bagels at the
bagel shop and help the Baker find out,
“How many bagels are left in the bagel
shop?” It begins with the teacher placing bagels on an upright flannel board,
and the children count to determine
how many bagels are on the board.
Next, the class sings the following
number song, and the teacher invites
one of the children to buy bagels.
“Five little bagels in the bagel shop
Sprinkled poppy seeds on the very top
Along came (child’s name) with two
pennies to pay
He bought two bagels and
walked away.”
The child buying bagels gives the
Baker two pennies, and the Baker
takes away two bagels from the
board and gives them to the child. The
remaining bagels are visible, and children are asked to predict how many
bagels are left in the bagel shop. Each
time the song repeats, children first
predict the answer to a problem (e.g.,
five “take away” two), and then check
their prediction by counting. The value
obtained from checking their prediction
then serves as the start for the next
round (e.g., “Three little bagels in the
bagel shop . . .”), and the singing and
selling procedure repeats. At the beginning of the year, the teacher may start
with a small number of bagels (e.g.,
five or six) and subtract only one bagel
at a time. Over time, the teacher may
alter the problems’ difficulty level by
gradually increasing the number of
bagels (e.g., from seven to fifteen) and
varying the number of bagels being
removed (plus or minus one, two, or
For example, the teacher of older
preschoolers placed seven bagels on the
board. The children called out, “I think
there are seven”; “No, eight”; “Seven,
I counted”; “I counted, too; it’s six.”
The teacher invited one of the children
to count the bagels. She arranged the
bagels in a row and pointed to them one
at a time, as the child was counting to
help keep one-to-one correspondence
between the number words and the
bagels being tagged. The child counted,
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,”
and the class agreed that there were
seven bagels. Next the class sang the
song, and one of the children bought
two bagels. The children were asked
“How many bagels are left in the bagel
shop?” Most children said five, but
some said six. The teacher said, “Some
of you think we have six bagels, and
many of you think there are five bagels.
How can we find out?” She invited one
of the children “to count and find out.”
(Based on an example described in a
research journal.14)
During the Bagel Shop activity, children
are counting and doing arithmetic in the
context of a real-life setting. The subtraction problems are presented with concrete
objects (e.g., taking away bagels), and
counting serves a purpose. Children count
to check the prediction and solve an arith-
metic problem. It enhances the meaning of counting and facilitates children’s
problem-solving and arithmetic skills. A
group-learning experience in which children take turns counting and reasoning
is also an opportunity for the teachers
to observe and learn about individual
children’s understanding of number. A
context that represents a real-life setting,
in particular, makes mathematics more
engaging and fun, as children experience different roles in buying and selling
bagels. Think of other real-life settings
you can bring into the classroom or
arrange outside to provide the children
with a meaningful context for counting
and doing arithmetic (e.g., a grocery
store, shoe store, a train with a conductor collecting tickets from passengers).
Engaging Families
he following ideas may help families
to develop their children’s number
Communicate to parents the
broader meaning of number sense.
Teachers may need to explain to parents how they can support children’s
development of number sense. Often
what parents know about mathematics education is based on their own
school experiences and how they were
taught.15 Their view of mathematics at
this age is often restricted to children
being able to count to high numbers
and to recite basic arithmetic facts.
Some may ask for pencil-and-paper
activities with numbers for their children long before children are ready.
Teachers need to communicate to
parents the broader aspects of developing number sense; for example,
using counting in real-life situations,
comparing numbers and discussing
which is more or less, making estimations (e.g., How many grapes are in
this bowl?), and solving simple addition and subtraction problems. The
teacher should explain to parents that
such meaningful experiences lay the
foundation for a basic understanding of mathematical concepts for later
learning of more advanced ones. She
might share with parents how children
are engaged in counting and reasoning with numbers in the preschool
environment. Parents may try to apply
similar ways to engage children with
numbers at home.
Remind parents that daily use
of numbers can become learning
experiences for children. Numbers
are everywhere: in the house, on the
way to school, in the grocery store,
and in sport games and outdoor activities. Parents can point children to
numbers and talk with them about
what numbers are used for as they go
about their everyday experiences. They
can encourage children to count and
to solve problems related to number.
For example, children can count coins
for purchases at the store, count the
number of plates and cups when helping to set the table, count the number
of crackers in the bowl, and divide
them equally to two groups in order
to share with a friend. Parents can
talk with children about mathematical ideas. “You have five pennies, and
we need seven. How many more pennies do we need?” “How do you know
you both have the same number of
crackers?” “How many seeds do you
think are inside this apple? Now I cut
it open. Let’s find out.” Parents should
ask questions of their children rather
than just telling them the answer.
Provide number-related games
and books. The teacher can also
encourage parents to choose books
from the local library that involve
numbers and to play with children
number-related games such as
cards, dominos, puzzles, or board
games. Parents can also use com-
mon games to engage children in
counting, addition, and subtraction.
For example, while playing minibowling at home, children can count
and find out how many pins they
knocked down and how many are still
standing, with each turn.
Questions for Reflection
1. What have you included, or could you include, in your environment to support the development of children’s counting and
understanding of number?
2. Think about your group’s everyday activities and routines.
In what ways can you develop children’s counting skills in the
context of everyday routines?
3. How do you engage children in comparing numbers and use
terms such as more, fewer, or same as?
4. Think about the children in your group. How do you learn about
the counting and reasoning skills of individual children in your
group? How do you support individual children in developing
number sense? How would you modify the Bagel Shop activity
to make it work for children with varying abilities?
5. What real-life settings can you set up in your preschool environment to provide a context for counting and doing arithmetic?
Algebra and Functions
(Classification and Patterning)
ne may wonder how algebra is related to young children, as it may
bring up the thought of traditional high school algebra. Obviously,
preschool is not the time to teach traditional algebra, but this is the
period when foundational algebraic concepts evolve and gradually develop.
Children observe the environment and learn to recognize similarities and
differences. They learn to sort, group, and classify objects. They learn to
recognize ordering relations, such as large to small, and to identify patterns. They develop the ability to make predictions, form generalizations,
and derive rules. Experiences with classification and patterning during the
preschool years allows for the development and practice of algebraic thinking and reasoning—skills essential in learning mathematics and science.
Teachers have a key role in promoting
preschool children’s classification and
patterning skills. They can:
• draw children’s attention to patterns
in the environment;
• set up patterning and classification
• discuss with children their sorts and
patterns; and
• encourage children to come up with
their own patterns or ways of classifying objects.
Teachers’ interactions with children,
as they classify or work with patterns,
not only facilitate the children’s math
skills and introduce them to math vocabulary, but also provide a vehicle for language development. “How are these the
same?” “Here you have all the red triangles and here all the yellow ones.” “Look
at the colors. Can you see a pattern?”
“This is a big pile of round leaves.” “It
seems like you separated the rocks into
two groups.” “How are they different?”
(e.g., smooth and bumpy). Interactions
of this kind provide children with the
descriptive words they need to describe
their ideas and attach meaning to their
actions. The interaction is especially
relevant for children who are English
learners because such interactions allow
them to infer the meaning of words used
by the teacher or peers as they classify
objects or describe a pattern and expand
their vocabulary in English. Children
are introduced to math concepts as well
as to new vocabulary in meaningful and
engaging contexts as they sort, classify,
and make patterns. The next chapter
describes some strategies teachers can
apply to promote the classification and
patterning skills of all children, including
those with disabilities or special needs.
oung children naturally engage in
classification activities as they
separate and group things with similar
attributes (e.g., same color, size, shape)
or belong to the same class or category
(e.g., dogs, chairs, airplanes). The process of forming a class based on similar
attributes starts at infancy, as children
continual form classes based on their
ability to recognize “sameness” of
members in a group. For example, a
child may first refer to any swimming
animal as “fish,” but over time they see
sea animals that are not fish. The notion
of “fish” in the child’s mind is revised,
and new classes such as “whales” and
“dolphins” are created. Classification
involves giving descriptive labels to the
feature(s) used in sorting. It facilitates
the child’s acquisition of concepts
and language and allows children to
explore their environment and organize
information in an efficient way.16
Mathematical Reasoning in Action: Collecting Leaves
on a Nature Walk
As part of a curriculum unit on the seasons, the children went for
a nature walk and collected various types of leaves. During the
walk and later in the classroom, the children explored the leaves
and were encouraged to describe different attributes of the leaves
such as shape (pointy, round, long, needle), size (small, tiny,
wide, big), color (red, green, yellow, orange, brown) and texture
(smooth, soft, hard, wet, dry, rough). Children were then asked by
the teacher to sort the leaves: “Put leaves that belong together in
The teacher asks Enrique, “Why did you put these leaves together
and those leaves together?” Enrique responds, “They are same.”
The teacher asks, “How are these the same?” Enrique points
and says in Spanish, “Café aquí, amarillo aquí, y hojas rojas.”
(“Brown here, yellow, here, and red leaves here.”). The teacher
points to each group of leaves and says in English, “Great! Brown,
yellow, and red leaves. What other ways can we sort the leaves?
How about putting all the big leaves here and all the small ones
there?” The teacher models for the child, sorting leaves by size.
“Where do you think this leaf would go?”
As part of children’s process of exploring different
attributes of the leaves, the teacher invited children to
engage in a sorting activity. Enrique, a child who is
learning English, is encouraged to explain his sorting,
as are other children in the group. The teacher used
this experience to introduce him to new vocabulary in a
context that was meaningful for him and that allowed him
to determine the meaning of the English words. For more
information about strategies to support children who are
English learners, see Chapter 5.
The following interactions and strategies support children’s classification
Organize the classroom into different
categorized storage areas to facilitate
classification. The basic organization
of the preschool environment illustrates
for children how different objects in the
world belong together. Blocks of different sizes and shapes are stacked on the
block shelves, books are organized in the
library area, and dolls of different kinds
are in the dramatic play area. Items of the
same category can be sorted into subcategories. The wood blocks can be arranged
by shape and size. Toys such as cars,
airplanes, and trucks can be stored in
separate boxes. Animal figures (e.g., farm
animals, ocean animals, wild animals) or
art supplies (e.g., crayons, pencils, markers) can be kept in separate containers.
The music instruments can be organized
by instrument families: percussion,
string, and brass instruments. Organizing
and labeling the classroom environment
so that objects and materials that belong
together are stored together facilitates
children’s classification skills through
everyday interactions.
Include materials and objects for sorting in the environment. In addition
to using the natural environment as an
opportunity for many sorting and classifying activities, teachers may want to provide certain materials to sort and classify
or place in a pattern: rocks, shells, seeds,
leaves, buttons, beads, wheels, plastic
counters of different shapes, fruits, and
cubes. Teachers may want to rotate items
related to the current topic of interest
in the classroom. For classification, it is
important to provide items that belong to
the same group yet vary by one or more
identifiable attributes (e.g., color, shape,
size, function, texture, or visual patterns). Tools may be provided to help sort
and classify, such as trays, containers,
egg cartons, or cups.
Identify opportunities for sorting and
classifying in everyday routines. Sorting and classifying is a natural part of
the daily routine in preschool. Clean-up
and other times, such as when recycling
materials, setting the tables for snack or
lunch, and choosing activities to explore,
are natural opportunities for children
to sort and classify. An organized classroom environment turns clean-up time
into a sorting experience. Putting away
the blocks, toys, materials, tools, and
instruments requires children to think
about the attributes of the items or their
function and to store items together that
“belong together” based on different criteria. Pictorial labels enable all children
to sort toys and restore materials to their
proper place. Teachers may give children
support and encouragement and model
for children where things go, “The rectangle blocks all go together on this shelf,”
the teacher gestured toward the shelf
while talking. “All the crayons go together
in one box, and all the pencils in another
box,” the teacher pointed to the box while
talking. “Here is the basket for the farm
animals, and here is the basket for the
wild animals,” says the teacher as he
puts one animal in each basket. Modeling
with action is particularly helpful for children who are English learners or children
with hearing impairments.
An environment that is organized with
areas neatly labeled facilitates sorting
and makes clean-up time a learning
experience. In addition to clean-up time,
everyday routines provide other natural
opportunities to sort and classify. Setting the table for snack and lunch may
present valuable sorting experiences.
As preschool children help set the table,
they may set out only the small bowls,
not the big ones; separate the forks from
the spoons; or sort the snack foods. For
example, the teacher may put slices of
green apples in one bowl and slices of red
apples in another bowl. Recycling is yet
another unique opportunity, as children
sort their trash into labeled bins for plastic, paper, glass, and aluminum cans.
Recognize sorting in play. During
child-initiated play when children choose
their own activities, they may sort and
group objects to help organize their play
activities. They may sort out the triangle
blocks and the long rectangle blocks
when building a castle, sort the red and
yellow beads to create a necklace, sort
the firefighters or other figures in pretend
play, and so on.
Engage preschool children in conversations about their sorting and
classifying. Teachers have a key role
in making the sorting and grouping
experiences meaningful and rich with
language for all children. Interactions
with children will help them express
verbally or by some other way, such as
sign language, their criteria for sorting
and will provide them an opportunity
to explain their reasoning. Observe
children, and note where children are
developmentally and what vocabulary
they are using.
Ask questions. Ask children to
explain and describe their sorting
and classifying. “It seems that you
have two groups of animals. Why did
you put these animals together and
those animals together?” “Tell me how
you sorted these rocks.” “What name
could you give this group?”
Help children label the groups
and verbalize their criteria for
sorting. Use simple sentences or
phrases that provide the children
with the descriptive words they need
to expand their descriptive language:
“You have the whales on this side and
the dolphins on the other side.” “This
is a big pile of triangles.” “Which ones
are the wild animals?” “Here are the
red cars, and there are the cars that
are not red.”
Encourage children to come up with
their own criteria for sorting. As
children engage in sorting and classifying, teachers can encourage them
to come up with their own criteria
for sorting: “Can you sort these into
groups that belong together?” “Can
you sort these another way? How
would you do it?”
Plan opportunities for preschool
children to sort and classify. In addition to spontaneous opportunities to sort
and classify objects in the environment
and during ongoing routines, teachers
may want to plan specific sorting and
classifying activities.
Plan for children at different levels.
Simple, basic sorting activities are
a good start. Choose appealing
objects as well as those that are
easy for young children to grasp and
manipulate. A variety of small objects
are offered on a tray, and children sort
the objects into their corresponding
containers labeled with a picture or
a sample object. Begin with objects
(e.g., blocks or crayons) that vary
by only one attribute (e.g., crayons
differing only in color). They make it
easier to sort and classify. Continue
with objects such as buttons, beads,
or dried beans of various colors,
sizes, and shapes. Providing sorting
activities at different levels allows
teachers to meet the needs of all
children, including children with
disabilities and special needs. Giving
children manageable tasks builds
their confidence and allows them to
experience successes. If the group
includes young children or children
with cognitive delays, think carefully
about the size of the objects as some
children may still be exploring items
by putting them in their mouths.
Integrate sorting into children’s
current topic of interest and study.
Any collection of objects can be sorted
by some criteria. Sorting activities,
therefore, can be an integral part of
children’s exploration and study of
any topic: pumpkins, apples, leaves,
animals, tools, vegetables, and so on.
Use classroom materials and experiences that reflect children’s natural
environment and culture and relate
to children’s interests. As described
on page 260 in “Mathematics Reasoning in Action: Collecting Leaves on
a Nature Walk,” when children sort
objects that they currently study and
explore, sorting becomes more interesting and meaningful.
atterning, like classification, involves
the child’s natural tendency to organize information in the environment. It
requires the child to observe discrete elements, recognize similarities and differences, and make generalizations. From a
young age, children see patterns around
them: on toys, clothing or quilts, and in
nature. Their daily routine creates a pattern, and they listen to songs that follow
patterns (e.g., “The wheels on the bus
go . . . The people on the bus go . . .”).
By preschool age, although children may
recognize patterns in the environment,
they may not always draw them with
symbols or create their own patterns.
For instance, they may clap or jump in
a pattern (e.g., clap-clap-hop-hop), or
use beads to create a red-blue-red-blue
pattern. Young children appreciate the
predictability that comes with patterns.
They enjoy being able to predict what
comes next, and they notice immediately
if someone breaks a pattern (e.g., “But
we always have snack first and then go
Research Highlight
Compared with classification skills, relatively
little is known about the development
of young children’s patterning skills. The
Berkeley Math Readiness Project19 examined
the informal patterning knowledge of
low-income and middle-income children
and the effect of curricular intervention on
their patterning skills. The study revealed
some key findings that can help teachers
in planning ways to effectively support the
patterning skills of all children.
• Identifying the core unit of a pattern is
a challenge for all children. The majority
of prekindergarten children attending
preschool, regardless of socioeconomic
background, experienced difficulty with
identifying the core unit of a pattern at
the beginning of the preschool year.
• Pattern extension is a later development than pattern duplication. Both
middle-income and low-income groups
were significantly better on pattern
duplication (e.g., using blocks to make a
pattern that “looks just like this”) than on
pattern extension (e.g., presented with
two repetitions of the pattern, children
were asked to finish making the pattern).
• Positive effect of curricular activity on
patterning knowledge. Both middleincome and low-income groups exhibited
significant progress in their ability to
duplicate a pattern correctly after participating in a patterning curriculum activity.
Low-income children had more difficulty
duplicating a simple pattern correctly
than did middle-income children.
A pattern is a regularly repeated
arrangement of things such as numbers,
objects, events, or shapes. Young children
may begin with a simple pattern (e.g.,
red-yellow, red-yellow, or circle-circlesquare-square), keeping the number of
elements in the repeating unit constant
(e.g., one red item, one yellow item). More
complex patterns may vary the number of
each element (e.g., red-yellow-yellow, redyellow-yellow; one red element, two yellow
elements) or include more than two items
in the repeating unit (e.g., a pattern with
three elements: red-yellow-blue, redyellow-blue).17 Preschool children readily
identify and duplicate patterns in their
environment, but extending or creating
patterns may require more guidance
from adults.18 The following strategies
provide suggestions as to how teachers
can help children develop their abilities to
identify, describe, replicate, extend, and
create patterns using various modalities
throughout the day.
Mathematical Reasoning in Action: Making Bracelets
A small group of children were making bracelets by stringing different color beads together. The teacher commented, “You can choose
any design you want for your bracelet. Ana created a pattern that
looks like yellow, purple, yellow, purple.” A few minutes later the
teacher pointed to a bracelet that was created earlier but left on
the table and said, “Look at this pattern: green, green, red; green,
green, red. What do you think comes next?” The children became
more engaged with patterns. One of the girls was trying to replicate
her friend’s pattern; others wanted to create their own patterns.
The teacher planned an activity in which she deliberately
introduced the concept of patterns. The small-group setup
allows her to support children individually. She encouraged
children to extend a pattern (e.g., “What comes next?”) and
supported them in the process of replicating and creating
To facilitate patterning skills of all children, including
those with special needs, the teacher might at first limit the
colors available to keep patterns simple and then gradually
increase the range of colors. In this example, the teacher
demonstrated for the children the concept of pattern and
described the pattern created.
Mathematical Reasoning in Action: A Hunt for Patterns
in the Outdoors
During outdoor play, the teacher invited a group of children to join
her in a search for patterns. The teacher approached children with
excitement: “Remember how we looked at a picture of a caterpillar
in the book, and we saw a pattern? black, yellow, white—black,
yellow, white. If we look really carefully around us, we may discover many different patterns. We may find patterns in leaves, in
the trunks of trees, in flowers, even in creatures such as bees or
butterflies. Look at this leaf, for example. What do you see happening over and over?” Maya looked at it closely and said, “It has
the lines, the lines on it again and again.” “These lines are called
veins,” the teacher explained and showed the veins in the leaf to
everyone in the group. The veins create a pattern. Can you find
veins in other leaves around us? Let’s go hunt for more patterns
and see what we find.”
The teacher used the outdoor learning environment to
discover patterns with children. Children learned that
patterns are around them and can be found in the natural
environment. The teacher has mentioned a previous
experience they have had with patterns to grab children’s
attention and remind them what patterns are about.
The following interactions and strategies support the development of patterning skills:
Point out patterns in the environment.
Daily routines bring natural opportunities to discover patterns with children.
Circle time, transition time, mealtime,
and free time all become opportunities to
spontaneously discover and talk about
patterns. Patterns are part of the physical environment: in toys, books, on the
carpet, walls or fences, on clothing and
accessories. “Look at the carpet. Can you
see a pattern?” Children may explore
the bark on a tree, the veins in leaves,
the colors in a rainbow, or the patterns
in bees, zebras, butterflies, caterpillars,
or snakes. Specific items in the classroom environment can present children
with patterns in meaningful contexts. A
calendar, for example, can illustrate for
children the pattern of the days in a week
or months in a year. The class schedule
can illustrate for children how certain
things repeat every week on the same
days (e.g., every Monday Brenda’s grandmother comes to preschool to read books
with the children, and every Wednesday
Ms. Santos comes to play the piano).
Older preschool children enjoy playing a
pattern hunt to see who can identify the
largest number of patterns in the classroom.
Engage preschool children in conversations about patterns. Conversations
with children will help them identify and
analyze the discrete elements in a pattern
and will facilitate their ability to recreate
and extend patterns.
Say the patterns aloud as a group
to build the rhythm of repetition:
“Red, green, yellow, red, green, yellow,
red, green . . .”
Ask questions. Promote children’s
thinking about patterns: “What would
come next?” “What happens over and
over again?” “Do you see a pattern?”
“Is this a pattern? Why?”
Help children describe patterns and
use descriptive words: “First green,
then red and then yellow, again and
again.” “Two squares, one triangle,
two squares, one triangle . . .” “Tell
me about the order of these colors.”
Mathematical Reasoning in Action: Building a Fence with a Pattern
While playing with blocks, Joseph was sorting out the long and
short rectangles: “I am making a fence.”
The teacher noticed and said, “Long rectangle, short rectangle,
long rectangle, short rectangle,” touching the blocks while talking.
“Joseph, look at your fence. You have a pattern. What is happening over and over again?” After Joseph completed the fence, the
teacher suggested, “Do you want me to get you paper and a pencil
so you can draw your pattern to save in the pattern book?”
Observing Joseph playing with blocks, the teacher has
noticed a pattern created by Joseph and brought it to his
attention. The teacher described the pattern aloud, asked a
leading question (e.g., “What is happening over and over?”),
and used the term pattern. The teacher also offered Joseph
the opportunity to draw his pattern. The teacher has
created a “pattern book” with photos and drawn pictures of
found and created patterns. Children look up patterns, find
previous patterns, and compare them to new patterns.
Plan for children at different levels.
Start by having children identify and
duplicate patterns. Extending or creating
patterns may be more difficult for
children. You may choose to begin with
simple patterns. For example, introduce
children to patterns with two elements in
the repeating unit (e.g., red-blue, red-blue
or apple-apple-pear-pear, apple-applepear-pear). Have the same number of
each element in the repeating unit
(e.g., one red item, one blue item or
two apples and two pears). At a more
advanced level, you may introduce
patterns with more than two items in the
repeating unit (e.g., a pattern with three
elements: apple-pear-orange, apple-pearorange), and to patterns with varying
number of each element (e.g., red-blueblue, red-blue-blue; one red followed by
two blues). See the Research Highlight on
page 264.
Play with patterns in various formats.
Patterns can be presented in different
formats: through movement, sound,
language, objects, or pictures. Expressing patterns through different modalities
(kinesthetic, tactile, auditory, and visual)
provides different learning modes and
facilitates preschool children’s understanding of patterns. Variety also helps
ensure that pattern experiences are
accessible to all children, including those
with disabilities or special needs. There
are numerous opportunities for children
to duplicate, extend, and create patterns
through art, music, movement, literacy,
and science.
Patterns with objects and pictorial
designs. One common way to create
patterns is with concrete objects such
as blocks, counters, beads, interlocking cubes, shapes, or other small
objects. Objects that can be identified
by touch provide tactile input for children as they duplicate, extend, and
create patterns. For example, children
can use plastic beads of different colors and shapes to make a bracelet
with repeating patterns, or they use a
variety of toppings to decorate a celery
stick with a pattern. Different artistic
expressions (e.g., sponge painting)
may lend themselves to the expression
of patterns such as when a design is
repeated over and over. Children can
create a desired pattern of flowers
and then plant flowers in the garden
duplicating this pattern. Children can
also duplicate patterns they observe in
the natural environment. For example,
they can observe a caterpillar and
record its pattern of colors.
Patterns through movement.
Children can experience patterns in
a physical way. Teachers may invite
preschool children to create patterns
physically through marching, standing, sitting, jumping, or clapping
(jump-jump-clap-clap, jump-jumpclap-clap or stand-clap-sit, stand-clapsit). Often these are duplicated while
singing a song (e.g., “If You’re Happy
and You Know It, Clap Your Hands,”
or “Hokey Pokey”), or through games.
For example, in playing Simon Says,
children are invited to duplicate and
create different patterns (e.g., Simon
says, clap, clap, stomp”; “Simon says,
clap, clap, touch your knee”).
Patterns with sounds. Preschool
children can create patterns with different sounds by using rhythm instruments such as shakers or sticks. For
example, they can vary the volume of
sound to create a pattern (loud-loudsoft, loud-loud-soft) or create a pattern
with different sounds (bell ring-shakeshake, bell ring-shake-shake).
Patterns through rhymes and
stories. Many nursery rhyme songs
and stories have repetitive structures,
phrases, or rhymes that form patterns
(e.g., “The Wheels on the Bus,” “Old
MacDonald Had a Farm”). Many children’s stories include repeating patterns. Children can easily grasp the
repetitive structure and carry it to the
next verses in the story. They especially have fun predicting what comes
next once the pattern is identified. For
example, the text in the book Brown
Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?,
by B. Martin Jr. and Eric Carle, has a
predictable pattern.
Bringing It All Together
Sorting, Counting, Graphing
and Comparing Apples
During circle time, the teacher shared
with the children different varieties of
apples: Red Delicious, Granny Smith,
Golden Delicious, and Fuji. Children
discussed the features of the varieties
of apples. The teacher asked the children in the classroom to bring their
favorite apple from home for the next
day. All the apples brought from home
were put in a basket, and the children
were given time to play with the apples
in one of the activity areas. The basket
of apples immediately sparked mathematical reasoning and problem solving
by the children. The children sorted the
apples first by color.
The teacher observed the children and
posed questions or made comments
along the way. “So here you put the
green apples and here the red apples,
but what about these apples? Can you
think about another way to sort the
apples?” The children sorted apples
by variety, by color, and even by taste
(sweet versus sour). Children were
curious and enthusiastic. “How many
apples are in the basket? How many
green apples? How many red?” The
teacher asked, “What is the class’s
favorite kind of apple?” How do you
think we could find out?” After the children sorted the apples by variety, the
teacher asked, “Which group has the
most apples?” and the children counted
the apples in each group.
During circle time, the teacher discussed the findings with the children.
Together with the children, the teacher
graphed the data, one column for each
group of apples, using unit blocks.
Then the children were encouraged
to compare the columns and discuss,
“Which is the class’s favorite and least
favorite kind of apple?” “Do more children like red apples or green apples?”
The teacher capitalized on children’s
natural mathematical skills and interest
in the topic. Bringing their favorite apple
from home made children even more
engaged and enthusiastic. The basket of
apples sparked children’s interest, and
the teacher developed it progressively
into a mathematically rich experience.
The teacher gave children time to explore
the apples, commented on children’s
categories, and posed thought-provoking
questions. The experience with apples
illustrates the integration of math,
science, and language learning and how
several mathematical skills and concepts
such as sorting, counting, comparing,
collecting data, and graphing can come
(Note: If the program policy does not
allow bringing food from home, or if some
families are unable to provide an apple
for their child to bring to school, a basket
of apples could be provided by the school
for this activity.)
Engaging Families
he following ideas may help families
to develop children’s classification
Explain to parents about classification and patterning. Teachers
may need to explain to parents what
classification and patterning are about
and how they contribute to children’s
understanding of mathematics.
Parents who are informed of these
developing skills are more likely to
engage children in classification
and patterning experiences in their
everyday routines.
Create classification experiences
outside the preschool environment.
The teacher can give parents some
ideas about classification and patterning activities that children can experience outside the classroom. Just as
the preschool environment illustrates
for children how different objects in
the world belong together, so does the
organization of items at home, at the
grocery store, or other places (e.g.,
vegetables and fruits are sorted and
presented by kind; all cereal boxes are
placed on the same shelf and so forth).
Children learn how different things
belong together by observing their
Children have many opportunities at
home to sort through objects and to
look for similarities and differences
among them. At a very young age,
they may play with sorting toys, for
example, sorting circles, squares and
other shapes and inserting them in
the matching opening, square in the
square opening and so on.
that belong together, or unload groceries and sort into different piles (e.g.,
boxes on the counter and cans on the
Create patterning experiences outside the preschool environment.
Children also enjoy identifying things
that repeat in their environment. Parents may draw children’s attention to
patterns in designs and pictures, in
furniture, wallpapers or rugs in the
house, or in songs and in children’s
books. For example, they may ask
children to find and describe patterns
in their clothing (“My shirt has a pattern. It is yellow, blue, yellow, blue”),
or in picture books or magazines. They
may also sing songs with children
or read books with repeated rhyming phrases, emphasize the repeating
phrase, and let children predict what
comes next (e.g., “One, Two, Buckle
My Shoe,” “Head, shoulders, knees,
and toes”). Such books and songs
reinforce patterns through words,
sound, and movement, and are playful
ways for children to practice language
and mathematics skills.
As they grow older, parents can engage
children in different sorting activities
around the house. Children can sort
clothes by color or type (e.g., colored
shirts together, white socks and towels), sort shoes or socks and find pairs
Questions for Reflection
1. How do you, or could you, organize your classroom environment
to facilitate classification skills?
2. How could you integrate sorting and patterning experiences
into children’s current topic of study?
3. What sorting or patterning activities would you, or do you, offer
children who are just beginning to grasp these concepts?
4. How do you engage children in exploring and describing
5. How do you, or could you, use classification and patterning
experiences to develop children’s language and introduce them
to new vocabulary?
oung children develop an intuitive notion of measurement through
natural everyday experiences. They explore and discover properties
such as length, height, volume, and weight as they look for a
longer block, measure who is taller, pour sand from a small bucket to a
larger one, or try to pick up a heavy box and ask for help. They make
comparisons to see which is longer, taller, heavier, larger,
or smaller. Teachers should build on preschool children’s emerging concepts of measurement and
provide experiences that facilitate the development
and learning of these concepts. This practice
does not suggest teaching young children
how to measure in inches or pounds using
measuring tools. It is about exploring and
describing the height, weight, or size of
objects, comparing and ordering objects
by different attributes, using comparison
vocabulary, and measuring with standard
and nonstandard units. Exploring and
reflecting on comparison and measurement sets preschool children on a path
for developing a formal understanding
of measurement later in school.
Compare, Order, and Measure Objects
he Measurement strand encompasses
three main measurement concepts:
• Comparing: Children develop an
understanding of attributes (weight,
size, volume) by looking, touching, and
directly comparing objects. They can
determine which of two objects is longer by placing two objects side by side,
or which of two objects is heavier by
picking them up. Learning the vocabulary to describe objects (e.g., heavy, big,
short) and to compare them by different attributes (e.g., “This is heavier,”
“Mine is bigger”) is fundamental for
acquiring the concepts of measurement. Older preschool children can
start to compare objects, indirectly,
using a third object (e.g., use a paper
strip to represent the length of one
object and then lay the strip against
the other object).
• Ordering: As children explore and
compare objects, they can also identify
ordering relationships. For example,
they can arrange three or more objects
by size from smallest to largest. This
requires children to observe and distinguish slight variations of the attribute
and order the objects in a progressive
sequence (e.g., small bear, medium
bear, large bear).
• Measuring: Older preschool children
begin measuring the length of objects,
often by using nonstandard units (e.g.,
a block). For example, to measure
length with a nonstandard unit such as
a block, children position many samesize blocks along the object they measure, from end to end, without leaving
a space between the blocks, and count
the number of blocks. They may find
out, for example, that the table is seven
blocks long. Such experiences develop
children’s understanding of the nature
of units.
Research Highlight
A research-based instructional approach
suggests that teachers of young children follow a developmental sequence
in helping children develop concepts
and skills of length measurement.20 First,
informal activities establish the attribute
of length. Children should be given a
variety of experiences directly comparing
the size of objects to determine equality
or inequality of length and develop concepts such as “longer” or “shorter.” Only
then are young children ready to learn to
measure and connect number to length.
Research emphasizes the importance
of solving real measurement problems
in which children explore principles of
measurement such as identifying a unit
for measure and placing that unit end to
end alongside the object without leaving
space between successive units (referred
to as unit iteration).
The traditional approach holds the view
that children measure length with rulers only after a long experience with
nonstandard units and manipulation of
standard units. Recent research suggests
that children as young as six years old
are capable of and benefit from using
rulers.21 Children typically learn to measure with rulers in early primary grades.
However, exposure to ruler and measuring tape is appropriate throughout the
preschool years.
Mathematical Reasoning in Action: Playing at the Water Table
Playing at the water table outdoors, Sara was filling up differentsize containers with water. The teacher, Ms. Frances, noticed that
Sara had filled up a cup with water and poured the water into a bigger container over and over. Ms. Frances commented, “It looks like
you are using the cup to fill up this pitcher with water. How many
more cups do you think it would take to fill it up?” Sara looked at
the pitcher and said, “I don’t know, maybe three, no . . . five.” Ms.
Frances suggested, “Let’s find out together how many cups of water
it will take to fill up this pitcher all the way to the top.” Together they
filled up the cup and poured the water into the pitcher, one cup at a
time, while counting, “One, two, three, and four.” Sara said, pleased
with herself, “It took four more cups. I said five; I was almost right.”
By pouring water or sand from one container into the other,
children learn about the volume or capacity of different
containers. While observing Sara and other children at the
water table, the teacher has recognized the opportunity to
make it a learning experience of estimation and measurement. The teacher illustrated for the child that measurement
involves the total number of the repeated equal-size unit
(e.g., one cup).
Children benefit from repeated
measurement activities and the use of
measurement vocabulary. The following
interactions and strategies provide
suggestions as to how teachers can help
preschool children, including children,
with disabilities or special needs, build
measurement concepts and skills.
Provide opportunities to promote
measurement concepts in the environment. The indoor and outdoor learning
environments have plenty of things that
can be measured. Children even compare
themselves to each other and to other
objects: “This plant is taller than me.”
Objects in different sizes, such as buckets, shovels, balls, blocks, brushes, or
cups, present more tangible opportunities to compare and order objects by size.
Unit blocks, for example, are especially
good for measurement explorations. An
environment rich with measuring opportunities should also include standard
measurement tools in different interest
areas, although measurement using
standard units is not the primary focus in
preschool. By providing an environment
with measuring tools, a teacher encourages children to become familiar with
them and to explore their function. Rulers and tape measures may be part of the
block area, although they can be used for
different purposes throughout the day.
Height charts can be used to measure
and track growth over time. Measuring
cups, spoons, and scoops can be used in
the sandbox and for any cooking activity,
real or pretend. Tools to measure weight,
such as a balance scale, a produce scale,
or a bathroom scale, can be part of the
dramatic play area. A thermometer can
tell children the temperature outside
or inside. Preschool children are not
expected to know how to read and use
these tools, but with teacher guidance
they learn that specialized tools measure different attributes. The teacher can
gradually increase the number of measurement tools in the environment. Not
all tools should be introduced at once,
and children should be given time to
explore tools, learn about their function,
and apply that knowledge in their play. In
addition, materials for measurements in
nonstandard ways may be included, such
as ribbon, yarn, paper clips, same-size
block units, yardsticks, or unit blocks.
See the “Research Highlight” on page 273.
Observe preschool children’s measurement concepts in everyday play and
routines. Children placed two trains next
to each other to see which is longer. The
teacher commented, “How do you know
which train is longer?” Another child
filled up a bucket of sand. The bucket
became too heavy, and the child could
not pick it up. She poured out some of
the sand and tried again. Preschool children learn about measurement concepts
through everyday play. Such interactions
with objects teach children about length,
capacity, weight, and other measurable
attributes. They constantly make comparisons: “My train is longer,” “I have a bigger shoe,” “Let’s see who is taller.” While
observing children at play, teachers can
listen to the words they use in English
and in their home language to describe
and compare objects, learn about their
level of measurement concepts, and find
out more about their interests. This valuable information will help teachers design
learning opportunities that are developmentally appropriate, meaningful, engaging, and accessible to all children in the
Mathematical Reasoning in Action: Which Is Taller?
In the block area, a group of children built a block tower. Cathy says
to the teacher, “Look how big it is. It is reaching me up to here.”
The teacher says, “You built a tall tower. Which do you think is taller,
the table or the tower?”
Cathy replies, “The tower.”
The teacher asks, “Why do you think the tower is taller?”
Cathy responds, “Because look, the table only reaches me up to
here,” pointing to her waist, “and the tower is up to here,” pointing to
her chest.
The teacher is asking questions to direct Cathy’s attention
to the height of the objects. Cathy is interested in finding
out “which is taller” and came up with a way of answering
this question. She is using herself as a reference point to
determine which is taller: the block tower or the table.
Facilitate and reinforce measurement concepts in everyday play and
routines. Everyday interactions provide
teachers with opportunities to help preschool children identify and compare
attributes of length, area, weight, and
Build preschool children’s descriptive and comparison vocabulary.
Describing and comparing attributes
not only attunes children to the idea
of measurement, but it also expands
children’s vocabulary in a natural and
functional way. Point to the objects
as you describe and compare them.
Children who are learning English,
in particular, need to hear measurement-related vocabulary used in
context in order to comprehend the
meaning. Model the use of comparison
vocabulary when talking with children. “This is a very tall tree. Which
tree do you think is taller?” “Your
lunch box is very heavy today. It is
heavier than mine.” “Look at the long
train you built. Let’s see whose train
is longer.” “This is a big box. I think we
a need a bigger box.” For more information about strategies to support
children who are English learners, see
Chapter 5.
Ask questions. Teachers’ questions
direct children’s attention to measurable properties of objects, facilitate the
child’s thinking about measurement
concepts, and model the use of measurement vocabulary. “Which ribbon
is longer?” “Which beanstalk is taller?”
“Which is heavier, the foam block or
the wood block?” “Which container
holds more?” Questions should be
short and simple for children who are
learning English and children who are
just beginning to learn those concepts.
The teacher should ask meaningful
questions that reflect a desire to really
understand the child’s thinking and
not overwhelm him with lots of questions. Use questions sparingly and
purposely and allow children time to
think and respond.
Challenge preschool children to use
measurement to solve problems.
As teachers observe children at play,
teachers pose questions to enrich
children’s experiences. “How far can
you jump?” “How can we find out how
big this rocket ship is?” Children enjoy
exploring and finding the answers to
such questions. Teachers can help
children figure out ways to measure,
using standard or nonstandard units.
For instance, the teacher may suggest
that the children measure the distance
of their jump with same-size blocks or
model for children how to use a tape
measure to measure the length of a
slide or the circumference of a watermelon. See the “Research Highlight”
on page 273.
In addition to preschool children’s
natural measurement experiences
through everyday play, teachers can
provide rich and meaningful measurement experiences in small or large
groups to target different measurement concepts.
Provide opportunities to compare and
order objects. Comparison lays the foundation for understanding measurement.
Offer children opportunities to compare
objects based on size, weight, or capacity.
For example, children can explore a pair
of pumpkins and determine which one
is larger. A balance scale may be used to
compare the weight of different objects.
Talk with children about why the scale
is moving up or down. “Which object is
lighter?” “Which object is heavier?” After
comparing two items, children can compare three or more items and put them in
order. For instance, with three pumpkins
of different sizes, children can place them
in order from largest to smallest and from
smallest to largest. Teachers can engage
children in ordering, using a variety of
objects in the preschool environment,
such as sticks, buckets, balls, nesting
cups, or blocks. Children can arrange
sticks from shortest to longest or the
buckets in the sandbox from “holds the
most” to ”holds the least.”
Use literature to illustrate measurement concepts. Read storybooks such
as Goldilocks and the Three Bears to
children that emphasize measurement
concepts. Teachers can have children
act out the stories and use different size
objects to create the setup (e.g., large,
medium, and small bowls, beds, and
chairs). This allows teachers to illustrate
the concept of size and use comparison
vocabulary in a meaningful context:
“Which bowl is largest?” “Can you put
these three bears in order from smallest
to largest?”
Provide small-group activities using
standard and nonstandard measurement. Plan activities that show the child
the need for measurement and use concrete objects to illustrate the measurement process. Preschool children enjoy
finding answers to measurement questions, especially if the activity expands
what they already know and is related
to what is familiar to them. For some
activities, teachers can illustrate the use
of nonstandard measurements for children such as multiple copies of objects
of the same size (e.g., wood blocks, unit
blocks). For other activities, teachers can
model for children the use of standard
tools in real-life situations. Children who
are English learners may already know
a concept but need the English words
or measurement-related vocabulary to
describe it. Describe in words, using gestures and concrete objects, the measurement question and the process of measuring. For more information about strategies to support children who are English
learners, see Chapter 5.
Some common activities that involve
measurement include planting and
cooking. In planting, for example, children can use same-size sticks to keep
equal distances between plants (e.g.,
“How far apart should the plants be?”).
They can use a three-inch string to find
out if each hole is deep enough and track
and compare the growth of plants over
time. Children may keep a daily log of the
plant’s growth. While cooking, teachers
may invite children to help measure by
using measuring cups and spoons. “Now
we need one cup of flour. Can somebody
help me measure?” “I need half a teaspoon of cinnamon.” The children can
help the teacher identify the appropriate
measuring tool, and the teacher can use
it to demonstrate for the children how to
measure exact amounts.
Children can also use measurement in
exploring the body. For example, the
teacher can create with children a cutout
of their foot. Children estimate the length
of their foot, and then the teacher shows
them how they can measure the exact
length using a measuring tape. Children
may be able to record what they have
measured. The teacher can also invite
children to compare their height by creating a bar graph. He may discuss with
children, “How tall are you?” “Who is
the tallest?” “Who is the shortest?” If the
class includes a child who does not yet
walk, teachers can encourage children
to measure height while the person lies
down. This technique works well for tall
teachers too.
Encourage preschool children to estimate measurements. A measurement
experience could start with estimation
before doing the actual measuring, “How
many scoops of sand do you think we
need to fill this green cup?” “About how
many blocks will cover the distance from
here to the table?” Encourage children
who are English learners to express
themselves in their home language.
Estimation focuses children on the
attribute being measured, helps develop
familiarity with standard units, and motivates children to measure and find out
how close they came to their estimates.
Encourage preschool children to
record and document what they have
measured. Recording their measurements allows children to convey information about the process and the outcome
of their measurement, using drawings,
numbers, and words. Teachers can transcribe for children their observations and
explanations. Children with special needs
and other disabilities may use alternate
methods of communication, if needed.
For example, some children may use sign
language, pictures, or a computer. Keeping records of their measurements allows
children to compare their measurements
to others or to their own measurements
over a period of time (e.g., tracking
Bringing It All Together
Tracking the Growth
of Sunflowers
As part of exploring and learning the
concept of growth, the children have
planted sunflower seeds in the garden. A long stick was attached to
each plant, and the teacher asked
that every week the children mark on
the stick the height of the sunflower.
Tracking the growth of sunflowers has
generated comparison and measurement experiences. For example, one
week the teacher pointed to one of the
sunflowers and explained to the children, “Last week when we measured
this sunflower, it was up to here. It
was seven inches long. This week it
is up to here. How many more inches
do you think it grew in the past week?
What is your estimate?”
Children were encouraged to make
estimates and then were invited to
measure the growth of this sunflower.
“How can we measure how much it
has grown since last time?” Children
had different ideas. Some children
said, “You need a ruler.” Others said,
“With this” and pointed to a measuring tape. Over time, children were
also comparing the sunflowers one to
another. On one occasion, the teacher
helped a small group of children compare the height of two flowers by using
a string to represent the height of
one flower and then laying the string
against the second flower.
Children enjoyed tracking the sunflowers’ growth and finding out, “Which
sunflower is taller?” and “Which is
taller?”—the child or the sunflower.
Tracking the growth of sunflowers
generated opportunities for children to
compare, estimate, and measure length.
Measurement was a natural part of this
experience, and it illustrated for the children its application in everyday life. The
teacher facilitated and reinforced measurement concepts by asking questions,
encouraging children to make estimates,
challenging children to use measurement
to answer questions, and supporting children’s efforts in measurement.
Engaging Families
he following ideas may help families
to develop children’s measurement
Communicate to parents the
importance of talking with children
about measurement. Explain to
parents how early measuring experiences set the foundation for developing a formal understanding of
measurement later in school. Early
measuring experiences with parents or
other family members will expose children to measurement terms and comparison vocabulary in the child’s home
language. Parents can invite children
to compare the length, height, area,
or weight of different objects. For example, they can play with children a
game in which children have to find
objects around home that are “longer
than,” “heavier than,” or “taller than”
a particular object. Teachers can invite parents and other community
members to the classroom to take part
in cooking, gardening, building, or
other activities involving measuring.
Encourage parents to involve
children in everyday measurement
experiences. Measurement is a
practical math skill used in many different aspects of everyday life. Cooking, sewing, gardening, grocery shopping, a visit to the doctor or to the
post office—all involve measurement.
Encourage parents to include children
in everyday measuring experiences
and to talk to them about what they
are measuring. Parents may need to
be reminded of the many opportunities
they have throughout the day to talk
with children about measurement
and to demonstrate for children the
use of different measurement tools;
for example, a scale to measure
weight, a measuring tape or a ruler to
measure length, and a thermometer to
measure temperature. Explain to parents that young children may become
familiar with these tools but are not
expected to know how to read and use
these tools without adults’ guidance.
Also communicate to parents that preschool children can measure length by
using nonstandard units. Some examples of measurement experiences children had in class using nonstandard
units coould be shared so that parents
join children in measuring the length
of different objects at home, using the
child’s own unit of measurement (e.g.,
“The table is six lunch boxes long”).
Questions for Reflection
1. What other preschool experiences can you think of that invite
children to practice measurement naturally?
2. What could be added to the physical environment to promote
children’s learning of measurement concepts and skills?
3. Think about the group’s daily routine. In what situations could
you model the use of comparison vocabulary (e.g., heavier,
smaller, longer, shorter) when talking with children? How would
you support English learners in learning and using comparison
4. How could you integrate measuring experiences into your group’s
current topic of study? What measuring experiences would be
ones that are relevant to the culture, interests, or life experiences
of the children in your group?
5. How could parents be part of measurement activities in your
classroom (e.g., in cooking, building, woodworking, gardening)?
eometry is the study of shapes and spatial relationships. Children
enter preschool with a strong intuitive knowledge about shapes,
spatial location, and transformations. They learn about geometry
as they move in space and interact with objects in their environment. From
infancy they begin to form shape concepts as they explore their environment, observe shapes, and play with different objects. Before they can
name and define shapes, very young children are able to match and classify objects based on shape. During the preschool years, children develop
a growing understanding of shape and spatial relationships. They learn the
names of shapes and start to recognize the attributes of two- and threedimensional shapes. They also develop an understanding of objects in
relation to space, learning to describe an object’s
location (e.g., on top, under), direction (e.g., from,
up, down) and distance (e.g., near, far).22, 23
Teachers have a vital role in expanding children’s thinking about shapes and space. They
should ask questions and provide materials
that encourage children to explore, describe,
and compare shapes and positions in space.
The use of questions and access to materials is particularly helpful for children who
are English learners to gain an understanding of geometry concepts while
developing second-language skills. The
following strategies will guide teachers
in actively supporting preschool children’s development of geometry
concepts and spatial sense.
earning about shapes goes beyond
merely knowing the names of common shapes. It involves the exploration,
investigation, and discussion of shapes
and structures in the classroom.24 Experiences with two- and three- dimensional
shapes allow children to learn to notice
individual attributes and characteristics
of shapes and to identify similarities and
differences among them. Rich experiences
with shape lay the foundation for more
formal geometry in later years. Teachers
should help children develop a deeper
understanding of shapes by encouraging
them to explore shapes and their attributes and providing opportunities for
children to represent, build, perceive,
and compare shapes.25
Mathematical Reasoning in Action: Discovering Shapes with Blocks
Mr. Gerry notices Amelia building wall of blocks and moves closer to
observe. Amelia says to Mr. Gerry, “I need one.”
Mr. Gerry responds, “Do you need another square block?”
Amelia responds, “Yes, but no more.”
Mr. Gerry says, “I have an idea for you. We can use this triangle
block and this triangle block to make a square.” He hands Amelia
two triangle blocks. “Put them facing each other just like this,” he
says, demonstrating for Amelia.
Amelia tries to put together the two triangles to make a square and
says, “I don’t know how.”
Mr. Gerry responds, “Yes, you turn around this triangle and put it
by the other triangle. Now look at these two triangles facing each
other. What does it look like?” “A square!”
Amelia says, surprised and giggling, “I need it here.”
Mr. Gerry says, “Now you finished building the wall.”
282 | SHAPES
Amelia has recently joined this preschool group. She
is learning English. Mr. Gerry noticed that Amelia was
looking for another square block, and the teacher used
the opportunity to interact with the child. The teacher has
introduced Amelia to the names of shapes (e.g., square,
triangle) and has illustrated for her how a geometric shape
can be composed from other shapes.
“Look, you put a small triangle on top
of a small square,” the teacher pointed
to the objects while saying the shape
names. “You built a little house.”
The following interactions and strategies promote understanding of shape
Refer to shapes and encourage the
use of shape names in everyday interactions. Preschool children learn the
correct names of shapes by hearing
others call objects by their geometric
names. Children first identify simple twodimensional shapes such as circle and
square. Over time, they learn to identify
and describe a greater variety of shapes
(triangle, rectangle, hexagon, trapezoid).
Children play with three-dimensional
shapes (e.g., building blocks) and, while
in preschool, they may also begin naming
and describing some three-dimensional
shapes (e.g., sphere, cube).
The teacher should use the correct shape
names during everyday interactions and
routines. Describe what you see and
point to or touch objects when saying
their shape names. Oral descriptions
are particularly important for preschool
children who are English learners. Help
children understand mathematical terms
by using extensive modeling, accompany
words with gestures (e.g., pointing
or tracing shapes in the air), point to
objects, act out terms, and use short,
clear sentences. For more information
about strategies to support children who
are English learners, see Chapter 5.
During play, the teacher observed the
children’s construction with blocks
and commented, “I see you used the
rectangle blocks to make a wall.”
At breakfast, the teacher asked, “What
shape is the pancake?” Later, at snack
time, the teacher announced, “Today,
we are having crackers that are circles
and crackers that are rectangles.”
When reading a storybook, the teacher
commented, “Look at this snowman.
What shapes can you see?”
When playing with blocks, the teacher
asked, “What shape is the block you
have on top of the long rectangle
Engage preschool children in conversations about shapes. Preschool children
recognize geometric shapes by their overall physical appearance, but they do not
yet think about the attributes or properties of shapes. For example, children may
recognize a square because it looks like a
square, but not think of it as a figure that
has four equal sides and four right angles.
Teachers can draw children’s attention
to the attributes of different shapes by
discussing with them the parts and attributes of shapes and by encouraging them
to build and represent shapes in many
different ways.
Encourage preschool children to
observe and compare shapes: “Can
you find another rectangle around the
room?” “How are they similar?” “Here
is a square and here is a triangle. How
are they different?”
Talk about shapes and discuss their
attributes: “Let’s find out how many
straight sides are in a rectangle.” The
teacher counts while pointing to a
rectangle, “One, two, three, four. How
many straight sides do we have in a
triangle? Can you help me find out?”
Oral descriptions are particularly
SHAPES | 283
helpful for children with vision disabilities as well as those with visualspatial challenges.
A child’s world is filled with shapes
in different sizes and positions, but
observing shapes in the environment
is not enough to build a full understanding of shape. Preschool children
need to explore, manipulate and represent two- and three-dimensional
shapes in a variety of ways. Hands-on
experiences offer the best learning
opportunities for all children, including those with special needs. The
following experiences will expose children to the attributes and properties
of different shapes.
Provide materials that encourage preschool children to explore and manipulate shapes in space. It is crucial that
the classroom environment include materials that encourage children to manipulate and represent shapes in a variety of
ways. Children with disabilities and other
special needs, in particular, need lots of
hands-on sensory experiences with threedimensional shapes and real-life objects
in a variety of shapes and textures. The
preschool environment should have a
variety of blocks of different shapes,
284 | SHAPES
colors, sizes, and thickness. In addition
to blocks, shapes may be provided in a
variety of forms in all areas of the classroom: interlocking plastic shapes, shape
containers for sand and water play,
sand molds, shape sponges, cookie cutters, stickers, magnets, shape templates,
geoboards, and beads in different shapes.
Include books, games, and other
learning materials with shape-related
themes in the preschool environment.
Share with preschool children books
about shapes (e.g., The Shape of Things,
The Village of Round and Square Houses).
As teachers read aloud, point to pictures
and discuss with children the names and
attributes of shapes. Books can also show
children objects from different perspectives and give meaning to spatially related
words (e.g., under, in, on). Another playful way to introduce shapes is through
shape-related games such as shape
lotto, shape bingo, and puzzles. Some
preschools may choose to incorporate a
software-based mathematical curriculum.
There is computer software that allows
children to perform action on shapes
such as flipping, sliding, and turning
shapes in different angles. Software of
this kind engages children in a variety
of shape-related activities (e.g., solving a
shape puzzle, creating a composition of
shapes) on the computer.
Provide preschool children with playful
opportunities to explore and represent
shapes in a variety of ways. To develop
their concepts of shape, young children
need to handle, explore, manipulate,
and create shapes in a variety of ways.
Hands-on experiences offer the best
learning opportunities for all children,
including those with special needs. The
following experiences will attune children
to the attributes and properties of different shapes.
Play with blocks. Preschool children
learn about shapes by touching, moving, putting together, and taking apart.
Block play provides endless opportunities to learn about shapes. When
playing with blocks, children perceive
three-dimensional shapes from different angles and discover relationships between shapes. Children can
see how a circle fits between arches,
two right triangles form a rectangle,
and two squares form a rectangle.
Children with motor impairments
may need assistance from an adult or
peer to manipulate objects in order to
explore two- and three- dimensional
shapes. A child might also use adaptive materials (i.e., manipulatives that
are easy to grasp). Children with visual
impairments need materials that are
easily distinguishable by touch. Their
engagement is also facilitated by using
containers or trays of materials that
clearly define their workspace.
son, or a tree. Teachers may offer
children solid cutouts to trace shapes
or encourage them to trace a shape
in the air using their fingers. Tracing helps children to focus on critical
attributes of each shape.
Compose and decompose shapes
from other shapes. Provide children
with different shapes (e.g., squares,
triangles, trapezoids, and rhombus)
and let them use these shapes to form
other shapes. For example, they can
use two same-size right triangles to
form a rectangle or to form another
Match, sort, and classify shapes.
Provide children with a collection of
shapes varying in size and color. Ask
children to put all the same kind of
shapes together. Discuss with children
why a shape belongs to a group.
Present preschool children with many
different examples of a type of shape.
Children have mental images of shapes—
visual prototypes created by the culture—
through books, toys, games, and other
materials. Triangles are usually equilateral (i.e., having all the sides equal) and
isosceles (i.e., having at least two sides
equal) and have horizontal bases. Rectangles are usually horizontal and elongated.
These are prototypical.
Create and represent shapes. Help
preschool children represent shapes
in a variety of ways. For example,
children can create two-dimensional
shapes from small items such as
beads, sticks, or strings or with play
dough, clay, flexible straws, or pipe
cleaners. They can also form shapes
with their bodies. You may invite
children to pair with a friend and use
their legs or fingers to create circles,
triangles, squares, and diamonds.
Children also enjoy drawing, tracing,
and copying shapes. Preschool children draw shapes, especially when
drawing a picture of a house, a per-
Children should be exposed to many different examples of a shape. Examples of
triangles and rectangles should include
a variety of shapes, including long,
thin, and wide, varying in orientation
and size.26 Draw children’s attention to
atypical shapes and encourage them to
describe why some nonstandard examples belong to a category (e.g., “This is
also a triangle, but it is thinner”; “This
is a long rectangle, and this is a short
SHAPES | 285
2.0 Positions in Space
hen young children crawl through a
tunnel, climb up a ladder, go under
a table, move forward in a wheelchair, or
swing up and down, they develop a sense
of spatial relationships. As they move
their bodies in space, they learn position, direction, and distance relationships
between their bodies and other objects
and between different objects in space.
Preschool children need to learn many
words to be able to describe and name
positions and directions in space (e.g., in
and out, top and bottom, over and under,
up and down, forward and backward, and
around and through). Teachers can help
children develop spatial vocabulary, especially children who are English learners,
by using and demonstrating the meaning
of spatial words during daily activities.
Mathematical Reasoning in Action: Moving Through
an Obstacle Course
It was a rainy day, and the children could not go outside. The
teacher had set up an indoor obstacle course for the children. She
demonstrated how to use the course, talking as she moved. “It
starts here. I crawl under this table. Next, I jump over this pillow.
Then I crawl through this tunnel. Next, I hop across the rug, and
finally I walk in between the chairs.”
Children learn spatial orientation through physical
activity. Setting up an obstacle course provided the teacher
with the opportunity to introduce and demonstrate the
meaning of spatial orientation skills and vocabulary. As
children went through the course on their own, the teacher
described their actions, using spatial orientation terms
(e.g., “Stay low as you crawl under the table; remember,
you have to hop across the rug”).
The following interactions and strategies can help children develop skills
related to spatial relationships:
Provide materials and equipment to
promote spatial sense. Young children
develop their spatial sense through movement and interactions with objects in
the environment. Outdoor equipment
designed for large-muscle activity fosters
children’s spatial sense. Climbing up
the monkey bars, going up and down a
slide or on a swing, and driving a bike or
a scooter around the play yard all help
children develop their sense of position,
direction, and distance. Preschool children also explore space by building a
three-dimensional complex construction
or a maze by using large boxes, blocks,
geometric shapes, cardboard, even chairs
and tables. They enjoy getting in, out,
over, or under their construction. In
movement, teachers use hoops, beanbags,
or balls to introduce positions in space in
playful ways (e.g., throw the ball up, jump
in and out of the hoop, or put the beanbag under the arm). Children with motor
disabilities and visual impairments need
supported opportunities to experience
spatial relationships in order to develop
their spatial sense. Specialists working
with individual children have specific
ideas of how to support and promote the
learning of this important concept.
Support preschool children’s spatial
sense in everyday interactions. As children experience concepts such as far, on,
under, and over, they should learn vocabulary words to describe these spatial relationships. English learners may know the
concepts and the corresponding vocabulary in their home language, but they
need scaffolding to learn spatial vocabulary in English. Teachers may want to
use simple concepts and vocabulary first
(e.g., in, on, under, up, down), and then
introduce more complex concepts and
vocabulary (e.g., in front, behind, beside,
between). For more information about
strategies to support children who are
English learners, see Chapter 5. Children
with speech and language disabilities may
need many opportunities to practice this
vocabulary as they join with their peers in
Use spatial words and point out
spatial relationships. Point out
spatial relationships naturally during
play. Teachers may give directions,
ask questions, or simply make comments (e.g., “Can you please put all the
markers in the box?” “I see you put the
beanbag on your head.” “Let’s see who
can jump over the pond”).
Expand preschool children’s words.
Encourage children to use spatial
words. When children try to describe
position, direction, or distance, teachers expand on their ideas and demonstrate for them the use of spatial
words in context. For example, if the
child refers to his construction and
says, “Look, I put the big block here
like this and it doesn’t fall.” You may
demonstrate for him the use of spatial words, “Oh, I see you put the big
rectangle block on top of many small
Provide preschool children with
planned experiences to promote
the understanding of spatial sense.
Plan small- or large-group activities to
enhance children’s understanding of
spatial concepts and introduce spatial
vocabulary words.
Songs and games. Sing songs and
play games that direct children to
move their bodies in space. For
example, “Simon says, put your hands
on top of your knees, jump up and
down, hold the beanbag behind your
back . . .”
Literature. Read aloud stories that
use position words (e.g., above, below,
up, down). Point to pictures and illustrate for children spatial positions with
actions. After the reading of a book,
children can act out the story and use
position words to describe the characters’ actions.
Construction. Provide children with
opportunities to organize materials in
space in three dimensions using construction toys (e.g., interlocking cubes)
or scrap materials. Teachers can also
build with the children an obstacle
course or an outdoor maze. Children
experience themselves in space by
going through, over, around, and in
and out of different things.
Bringing It All Together
Building a Castle
The teacher had noticed that several
children in her group had shown a
strong interest in castles. They built
castles in the block area, in the sandbox, and even looked for castles in
fairy tale books when visiting the
library. The teacher suggested that the
group build a big castle outside. They
started by gathering the materials. The
children brought from home differentsize boxes and figures or characters to
be included in the castle. The teacher
also offered big cylinders, cones, building blocks, construction boards, and
other materials. The children made
different suggestions: “Put all the big
boxes here and the small ones on top of
them.” ”I put it above this for the roof.”
“We can use these for the tower.”
The teacher described their ideas using
names of shape and spatial terms.
“So you want to put the small square
blocks on top of the big rectangle
blocks.” “Are you suggesting using
the cylinders to build the tower?” The
children enjoyed building the structure,
using different shapes and materials,
and were proud of it.
During circle time, the teacher invited
children to describe the castle and how
it was built. “Look at the castle you
built. Can you tell me what it looks
like?” Children were encouraged to use
spatial words and the names of shapes
in their talk. The activity evolved into
a long-term project. The children kept
adding more pieces to the structure and
added different elements to decorate
the castle.
The teacher presented a topic of interest to the children in the group. The
castle project exemplifies how children
can learn about geometry concepts by
physically touching, moving, and putting
together objects of different shapes. In
the process of building the castle, children were encouraged to use the names
of shapes and the words to describe
spatial relationships (e.g., above, below).
The teacher has made it a rich learning
experience by offering children objects in
a variety of shapes, observing children
in their work, describing children’s ideas
in words, asking questions, and inviting children to observe and describe the
castle in their own words. The project not
only facilitated increasing the children’s
knowledge of shape and spatial concepts,
it also promoted collaboration work and
Engaging Families
he following ideas may help families
to develop children’s awareness of
geometric shapes:
Encourage parents to refer to
shapes in the environment when
talking with children. Parents and
other family members can support
children’s development of geometry
concepts through everyday interactions with children. Teachers should
encourage parents to refer to shapes
in the environment when talking with
children, “Look at your pancake. It’s
a circle. We can use this rectangle
pan to bake this cake.” When parents and other family members talk
with children about shapes, they
illustrate the concept of shape and
introduce children to the names of different shapes in their home language.
Parents can also help children learn
names of shapes by playing games.
For example, play I Spy and have children look around the house and identify as many items of a certain shape.
When driving, or on the bus, parents
can use traffic signs as an opportunity
to identify and describe shapes. “Look
at this yellow sign. What shape is it?”
“The stop sign is red. It is the shape
of an octagon. It has eight sides. Let’s
see if you can find another stop sign.”
In addition to identifying and naming
shapes, children should explore and
describe shapes. The teacher should
communicate to parents that children
learn best about geometry concepts
through hands-on experiences. Holding and manipulating objects of different shapes, building with blocks,
drawing and tracing shapes, creating
shapes with play dough, or doing a
puzzle all help children learn about the
characteristics of different shapes.
Encourage parents to use spatial
words in everyday interactions with
children. Parents use spatial words
to describe position and direction in
space in everyday interactions and
play with children (“I am right behind
you,” The book is on the chair,” “Put
the shoes under the bed”). Parents
should be aware of children’s opportunities to experience and describe themselves in space using words such as
above, under, up, down, in and out. By
listening to parents and other family
members using these words, children
will have a better understanding of
spatial concepts and will learn spatial
vocabulary in their home language.
Children will start identifying themselves in space by using spatial words
(“I was hiding under the table,” “I’m
going down the slide,” “I’ll climb up
the stairs”).
Questions for Reflection
1. How would you expand the castle project to include additional
mathematical skills such as comparing, measuring, counting,
and classifying?
2. What materials in your preschool environment engage children
in exploring and manipulating shapes?
3. What songs or games involving movement in space do you sing
and play with children? How could you use these opportunities to
encourage children to use words describing spatial relationships?
4. How could you use hands-on construction activities (such as the
Building a Castle project described above) to compare and discuss the attributes of shapes?
5. In what ways could you support and scaffold English learners’
access to learning English words for shapes and spatial relationships?
Mathematical Reasoning
athematical reasoning is a key process in learning and developing
mathematical knowledge in all areas of mathematics, including
number and operations, classification, patterning, measurement,
and geometry. It involves the ability to think and reason logically, to apply
mathematical knowledge in different problem-solving situations, and to
come up with different solutions. Mathematical reasoning is natural to
most young children as they explore the environment and make sense of
the world around them. As illustrated through different examples in the
previous sections (see examples of “Mathematical Reasoning in Action”),
young children engage in mathematical reasoning and problem solving in
their play and as they go about their
daily activities. “Does every child have
one cup?” “Do we both have the same
number of shells?” “How many
children are here today?” “How
much did the sunflower grow?”
“What blocks can we use instead of
the long rectangle block?” “Do more
children like red apples or green
apples?” Different situations in the
everyday environment call for spontaneous mathematical thinking. Young
children are eager and enthusiastic to search for solutions and apply
different strategies, especially when the context is familiar and meaningful,
the question or problem is understandable and important to them, and
they have some knowledge base related to the problem.27 Effective teachers
build on children’s natural motivation for mathematical reasoning and
problem solving. They promote children’s learning of new and progressively
more advanced mathematical challenges and support the development of
mathematical vocabulary and language.
Promoting Mathematical Reasoning
and Problem Solving
eachers play a key role in identifying
natural situations of mathematical
reasoning throughout the day and
turning them into teachable moments.
Teachers also play a key role in initiating
opportunities for children to reason
mathematically. They can nurture,
facilitate, and encourage preschool
children’s mathematical reasoning.
Mathematical Reasoning in Action: Picking up Shovels
in the Sandbox
The children cleaned up the play yard before going back inside. The
teacher, Ms. Denise, had noticed that not all the shovels were picked
up from the sandbox. Ms. Denise asked for help saying, “We need
all five shovels back in the box so our toys aren’t lost. I see here
only three. We need more shovels in the box. How many more shovels do we need?” The teacher had noticed that Ling Wa, one of the
older preschool children in the group, was counting her fingers, trying to find out how many shovels were missing.
Ling Wa suddenly said, “Ms. Denise, we need two more.”
Ms. Denise went further, asking, “Do you think we need two more
shovels?” How did you figure that out?”
Ling Wa explained, “We have three. Then two more, we will have—
one, two, three, four, five (Ling Wa was counting on her fingers).”
Ms. Denise said, “You are right. We need two more. Can everybody
help us find two more shovels in the sandbox?”
Ms. Denise, the teacher, identified the situation of picking
up the shovels as an opportunity for arithmetic thinking
and reasoning. She described the situation: “We need all five
shovels back . . . I see here only three” and posed a question: “How many more shovels do we need?” She challenged
the children to think and solve an arithmetic problem. Even
when Ling Wa came up with the right answer, Ms. Denise
went further and asked “How did you figure that out?” The
teacher gave Ling Wa an opportunity to explain her reasoning. Ling Wa, like many other children in this group, very
much enjoyed figuring out the answer to a simple addition
and subtraction problem. Recently, she had started using
her fingers in solving such problems. Representing numbers
in the problem with fingers or other objects (e.g., shovels)
makes arithmetic reasoning more concrete and meaningful
for young children.
The following interactions and strategies facilitate preschool children’s mathematical reasoning:
Identify and create opportunities for
mathematical reasoning. Teachers
can provide children with opportunities of mathematical reasoning, whether
through spontaneous questioning and
reasoning with children or through carefully planned experiences. Teachers
may use everyday activities to initiate
moments of mathematical reasoning.
For example, in the “Picking up Shovels”
vignette described above, the teacher
identified a clean-up situation as an
opportunity to engage children in reasoning with numbers. Similarly, in the “More
Cups” example (page 245), the teacher
engaged the child in mathematical reasoning while setting the table for lunch.
Opportunities for mathematical reasoning come up while teachers observe children closely and listen to their ideas and
thoughts. Teachers capitalize on these
moments to facilitate mathematical concepts and encourage children to apply
and explain their reasoning. In “Who Has
More Cars?” (page 243), for example, the
teacher had noticed two children spontaneously counting their cars to show they
have more and turned it into a teachable
moment of mathematical reasoning and
problem solving. Similarly, in the example of “Playing at the Water Table” (page
274), Ms. Frances observed Sara at the
water table filling up a cup with water
and pouring it into a bigger container.
The teacher turned it into a mathematical reasoning experience of estimation
and measurement, asking, “How many
more cups do you think it would take to
fill it up?”
The teacher may also plan in advance
activities or experiences to engage children in mathematical reasoning related
to particular concepts. For example, in
“Tracking the Growth of Sunflowers”
(page 279), the teacher planned an experience to engage children in measuring
and comparing the height of sunflowers
over time. Similarly, in the “Bagel Shop”
activity on page 256, the teacher created
a real-life setting of a bakery to engage
children in counting and arithmetic
Pose meaningful questions and challenge preschool children’s thinking.
One effective way to encourage preschool children to think and reason
mathematically is by asking them
questions that promote investigation
and inquiry and challenge them to think
through a problem and come up with a
solution (e.g., “How do you think we can
find out who has more cars?” “What is
the class’s favorite kind of apple? How
can we find out . . .?” “Which do you
think is taller, the table or the tower?”
“What would happen if . . .?” “What
other way could we sort the leaves?”
“I wonder why . . .?”). By simply asking
questions and listening to answers,
teachers help children learn to reason.
Give children time to answer a question
or to solve a problem. Listen attentively
to their ideas. Children’s answers reveal
what they understand and will inform
teachers about how to best support their
reasoning. Illustrate for children that,
in many cases, there are different ways
to solve a problem and more than one
answer is possible.
Support preschool children in reasoning mathematically. Children may need
a clue, encouragement, or the teacher’s
modeling of a strategy for solving a problem. In the example “Who Has More
Cars?” (page 243), the teacher suggested
to the children, “Let’s count together.” In
“Tracking the Growth of Sunflowers (on
page 279),” the teacher helped children
compare the height of two sunflowers by
using a string. Teachers should think
out loud with children, make comments,
and describe what the child is doing: “So
here you put the green apples and here
the red apples, but what about these
apples?” “Long rectangle, short rectangle,
long rectangle, short rectangle . . . look at
your fence. You have a pattern.” Encourage preschool children to express their
thoughts and explain their reasoning to
the teacher as well as to their peers (e.g.,
“How did you figure it out?” “‘Look at the
castle you built. Can you tell me what it
looks like?”). Listening to and conversing
with children helps them articulate the
meaning of mathematical concepts, introduces them to mathematical language,
and gives value to knowing how to “do
math.” By making mathematical thinking conscious, teachers will do more of it
and will develop a keener awareness of
children’s use of mathematical strategies
and math language.
Bringing It All Together
Engaging Families
he following idea may help families to
develop children’s mathematical
Encourage parents to engage children in mathematical reasoning.
When talking about children’s mathematical development, parents often
think of their children’s ability to
count, name shapes, or say simple
number facts (e.g., two plus two is
four). It is important to communicate
to parents what we mean by mathematical reasoning. It is about children
being able to think mathematically
and explore different ways of solving
problems. To promote children’s mathematical reasoning, parents should
recognize mathematics in daily events
and interactions and turn them into
mathematical learning experiences.
They can ask questions related to everyday situations: How many more
chairs do we need around the table?
How can we divide these carrots equally among the four of you? Can you estimate how many spoonfuls it will take
for you to finish your bowl of cereal?
Parents should encourage children to
think. They may think aloud with children, listen to children’s thoughts and
answers, model solutions, and guide
them through the thinking process.
Questions for Reflection
1. Think about a recent experience in which children in your group
were engaged in mathematical thinking and reasoning.
– What strategies have you used to engage children in
mathematical reasoning?
– What do you think children liked most about this experience?
What did you like most about this experience?
– What you would have added or changed in that experience?
2. Do you have children in your group who, like Ling Wa, enjoy
figuring out the answers to simple addition and subtraction
problems? How did you or would you find out? What would you
do to support children’s growth in mathematics?
3. What experiences related to your group’s current focus or topic of
interest would you offer children to engage them in mathematical
4. How would you challenge different children in your group to
reason mathematically according to their individual developmental
level? How could you make a mathematical reasoning activity
progressively more challenging?
oung children have a natural interest, curiosity, and competence
to explore and construct mathematical concepts. Mathematics
is a way of thinking and organizing the world around us. It is
a natural part of day-to-day activities and events. Mathematics in
preschool is learned through children’s play and exploration as in the
blocks area or the sandbox, through everyday routines such as setting
the table and cleaning up, and through participation in teacher-initiated
activities. Some teacher-initiated activities are designed with a focus
on math, and others may focus on art, movement, literacy, or science
but present opportunities for math learning. When teachers recognize
the potential for exposure to math in different situations, they can turn
everyday occurrences into exciting and effective mathematics-learning
experiences. Children are excited to explore the size or volume of objects,
to discover and create patterns, to manipulate and build with shapes, to
sort and classify objects, and to try to figure out “how many.” Teachers
get to experience with children the day-to-day excitement of learning
and discovering math. This process is joyful for the children and for
the teacher, who guides and challenges them in building mathematical
concepts, skills, and language.
Map of the Foundations
Algebra and Functions
(Classification and Patterning)*
At around 60 months of age
1.0 Children begin to sort
and classify objects in their
everyday environment.
1.0 Children expand their
understanding of sorting
and classifying objects in their
everyday environment.
1.1 Sort and classify objects by one
attribute into two or more groups,
with increasing accuracy.
1.1 Sort and classify objects by one or
more attributes, into two or more
groups, with increasing accuracy
(e.g., may sort first by one attribute
and then by another attribute).†
• Selects some red cars for himself and some
green cars for his friend, leaving the rest of the
cars unsorted.
• Sorts the large blue beads into one container and
the small red beads in another.
• Chooses the blue plates from a variety of plates
to set the table in the kitchen play area.
• Sorts through laundry in the basket and takes
out all the socks.
• Places all the square tiles in one bucket and all
the round tiles in another bucket.
• Attempts to arrange blocks by size and communicates, “I put all the big blocks here and all
the small ones there.”
Includes notes
for children
with disabilities
• Arranges blocks on the shelf according to shape.
• Sorts a variety of animal photographs into two
groups: those that fly and those that swim.
• Sorts buttons first by size and then each subgroup
by color into muffin tin cups.
* Throughout these mathematics foundations many examples describe the child manipulating objects. Children with motor
impairments may need assistance from an adult or peer to manipulate objects in order to do things such as count, sort,
compare, order, measure, create patterns, or solve problems. A child might also use adaptive materials (e.g., large manipulatives that are easy to grasp). Alternately, a child might demonstrate knowledge in these areas without directly manipulating
objects. For example, a child might direct a peer or teacher to place several objects in order from smallest to largest.
Children with visual impairments might be offered materials for counting, sorting, or problem solving that are easily distinguishable by touch. Their engagement is also facilitated by using containers, trays, and so forth that contain their materials
and clearly define their work space.
• Puts black beans, red kidney beans, and pinto
beans into separate bowls during a cooking
Attributes include, but are not limited to, size, shape, or color.
At around 48 months of age
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Clements, J. Samara, and A. M. Dibiase
(Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004).
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), Principles and Standards
for School Mathematics (Reston, VA:
Author, 2000).
D. H. Clements, “Geometric and Spatial
Thinking in Young Children,” in Mathematics in the Early Years. Edited by J. V.
Copley (Reston, VA: National Council of
Teachers of Mathematics, 1999).
D. H. Clements, “Geometric and Spatial
Thinking in Young Children,” in Mathematics in the Early Years. Edited by J. V.
Copley (Reston, VA: National Council of
Teachers of Mathematics, 1999).
P. A. Alexander, C. S. White, and M.
Daugherty, “Analogical Reasoning and
Early Mathematics Learning,” in Mathematical Reasoning: Analogies, Metaphors,
and Images. Edited by L. D. English (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates,
Appendix A
The California Early Learning
and Development System
Appendix B
Reflections on Research: Phonological
he phonological awareness substrand in the language and literacy
domain of the California Preschool
Learning Foundations, Volume I, focuses
on four levels of sound complexity (words,
syllables, onsets and rimes, and phonemes) and three kinds of sound-unit
manipulation (blending, segmenting, and
deleting). Although segmenting is not
named specifically in foundation 2.1
or 2.2, children engage in segmenting
when they take two-syllable words apart
orally or by clapping (2.1) and as a first
step in all onset deletion manipulations
(2.2). Completely absent from the list of
manipulations in the California Preschool
Learning Foundations Volume 1, however,
are (1) detecting and producing words that
begin with the same sound and (2) detecting and producing words that rhyme.
During the preparation of the language
and literacy chapter for the Preschool Curriculum Framework, Volume 1, a question
arose as to whether it was necessary to
restrict the suggested strategies only to
those matching exactly the manipulations
stipulated in the foundations. Eliminating beginning-sound and rhyme detection
and beginning-sound and rhyme production was thought to restrict unnecessarily
the contexts in which teachers could support children in becoming more aware of
onset and rime units of sound. It would
be unwise to suggest the use of detection and production strategies, in addition to the strategies suggested by the
foundations, if doing so were inconsistent
with the research. However, based on a
comprehensive review, the writers of the
language and literacy chapter for the California Preschool Curriculum Framework
judged that the use of sound-detection
and production strategies is consistent
with the research:
1. When the additional strategies are used
as supplements.
2. When the additional strategies are
implemented in ways that provide
explicit information to children about
onset and rime units.
3. When the number of items in detection activities are limited to only two or
three items.
4. When words used in beginning sounddetection activities have a single consonant onset rather than a beginning
sound that is part of a consonant blend
(e.g., back or ball rather than black or
This statement includes a discussion
of the research base that led to limiting
sound-unit manipulations in the California Preschool Learning Foundations,
Volume I, to blending and deleting. An
understanding of this research base helps
to ensure that the supplemental strategies are viewed as such—additions to and
not replacements for the strategies that
relate directly to the California Preschool
Learning Foundations, Volume I. A discussion of the research base also helps to
ensure that teachers’ use of the supplemental detection and production strate-
gies is closer to the approaches suggested
in the Preschool Curriculum Framework,
Volume 1, than to approaches teachers
might have used in the past. Before the
discussion of this research, a brief overview is provided of the sound units and
manipulations that are found in phonological awareness activities.
ing (matching); segmenting and deleting (analyzing); and producing (involves
segmenting, deleting, and substituting).
Blending is easier than segmenting, and
segmenting is easier than deleting. Production is harder than any of these, and
so may be the difficulty level of detection
such as when more than two or three
items are included in a detection activity.
Overview of Sound Units
and Manipulations
hree main levels of sound-unit complexity are commonly recognized: syllables, onsets and rimes, and phonemes.
Words are also sometimes included as
a distinct unit of sound. For example,
some phonological awareness activities at the word level require children to
segment sentences into their individual
words by clapping.1, 2 Other activities
involve the manipulation of words that
make up compound words (e.g., blending sun and shine to make sunshine;
deleting sun from sunshine to leave just
the word shine). The two words in most
compound words typically have just one
syllable. Thus, these word-level activities
involve the manipulation of syllable-size
units of sound. In contrast, other syllable-level phonological activities involve
the manipulation of only parts of words
(e.g., children blend the two syllables, ba
and be, to create the word baby). Wordlevel sound units are the easiest of all
for children to manipulate. Syllables are
easier to manipulate than are onset and
rime units, and onset and rime units are
easier to manipulate than are phonemes.
In addition to levels of sound-unit
complexity, there are commonly recognized levels of sound-unit manipulation—
levels of what children are asked to do
with sound units. These manipulations
include blending (synthesizing); detect-
Problems in Measuring
Onset–Rime Sensitivity
with Rhyme Production
n some research studies, virtually all
three-year-olds performed “at floor”
(i.e., could not do the tasks at all) on
rhyme detection and production, and
many four-year-olds also did relatively
poorly.3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Moreover, in a metaanalysis conducted to determine whether
phonological sensitivity at the onset–
rime and phoneme levels are distinctly
different kinds of phonological sensitivity
or just different ways to probe the same
basic skill in children of different ages,
Anthony and Lonigan encountered
problems when they included data
from rhyme-production tasks in their
The Anthony and Lonigan meta-analysis was based on four studies, each of
which provided data from at least two
measures of both rhyme and phoneme
sensitivity. Anthony and Lonigan discovered that data from rhyme-production
measures produced different results in
the models they tested than did other
measures of rhyme sensitivity. The problem stemmed from “floor effects” on the
rhyme-production measures. In other
words, many children demonstrated little
or no phonological awareness (performed
at floor) on the rhyme-production tasks,
but they performed better on other mea-
sures of onset–rime sensitivity. When
rhyme-production data were excluded
from the analyses, leaving only data from
rhyme-similarity and -oddity tasks (i.e.,
detection tasks), or onset–rime blending,
Anthony and Lonigan found a better fit to
a model that answered their question.
Why are rhyming-word and beginningsound production tasks hard for young
children? First, they require a fairly good
vocabulary. Second, they depend on a
relatively high level of cognitive skill. For
example, rhyme production requires children to search their memories for words
that might rhyme with a target word they
are given. The child must hold the target
word in mind and focus on its rime unit
while retrieving words from memory. To
focus on the rime unit, the child must
segment the target word’s onset from its
rime. The child also must segment each
word retrieved into its onset and rime
parts and then compare the retrieved
word’s rime unit to the target word’s rime
unit. In a rhyme-similarity detection task,
the tester pronounces the target word
and then the tester reads three or four
items, only one of which rhymes with the
target word. In a rhyme-oddity detection
task, the tester pronounces three or four
words and the child must tell which word
does not rhyme with the others. These
detection tasks would be especially challenging for children who have a small
vocabulary because, without familiarity with the words in a task, it is hard
to remember them. If the words are not
remembered, their sound structures cannot be compared.
In summary, if a child does not have
an adequate vocabulary or a sufficient
cognitive skill, the child cannot demonstrate whatever onset–rime sensitivity
he or she might actually have in phonological awareness activities that involve
detection-and-production manipulations.
It is no wonder that three-year-olds cannot perform these mental gymnastics at
all or that many four-year-olds find them
a formidable challenge unless the number
of items in a detection task is reduced to
only two or three from the typical four.10, 11
Implications for Instruction
he challenges inherent in rhyme- and
beginning-sound detection and production tasks have implications not only
for assessment but also for instruction.
Suppose a teacher asks, “Can you think
of words that rhyme with boat?” Suppose
further that one child in the small group
says coat, and the teacher says, “Yes, you
are right: Boat and coat rhyme.” Further
suppose that another child says goat, and
the teacher says: “Yes, goat also rhymes
with boat.” The other four children in
the small group do not seem to know
how to play this game (i.e., they do not
offer ideas). One may (and should) ask
whether there is any instructional benefit to the children who cannot think of
words to rhyme with boat. A similar pattern of response occurs when the teacher
asks children to think of more words that
begin with the same sound as the target
word provided. A few children respond;
the others do not.
What is the likelihood that the nonresponding children understood why
the teacher said that coat and goat were
correct rhyming word matches for the
target word, boat? What is the likelihood
that they will learn how to make correct,
rhyming word matches from listening to
a few other children produce ideas and to
the teacher who says “only these are good
matches”? The likelihood is probably low
if this is the only support they receive in
learning to become aware of onset–rime
sound units. The same would be true of
a beginning-sound production exercise.
Children who are not responding would
probably gain little understanding or skill
by listening to the teacher’s lesson.
To benefit from listening as a rhyme- or
beginning-sound production activity proceeds, a child must be able to segment
the onset and rime units in both the target and the child-produced words, compare the words’ rime or onset portions,
and conclude that they are the same. If
the child cannot yet engage in this kind
of sound analysis, which is probably
a fairly safe assumption when a child
does not participate, unless personality
or other individual characteristics can
clearly account for the child’s behavior,
it is doubtful that listening to what transpires during a rhyme-production activity, conducted in the way just described,
will help the child build sound-analysis
The same process is required for a
child to understand a rhyme-oddity or
-similarity detection task.12 Perhaps, over
time, after having listened to multiple
examples of target words and words
that match with them (i.e., rhyme with
or begin with the same sound), a child
will begin to figure out what is going on.
That is, a child might, through the power
of insight, figure out which parts in the
matching words in each task are the
ones that sound the same. Good instruction, however, should reduce the need
for individual children to depend on their
insight to learn what teachers can teach
them more easily and in a shorter period
of time. Relying on the child’s insight
to produce the learning of interest also
assumes that a child who does not yet
understand will continue to attend closely
to a task for a long period of time (i.e.,
across weeks and even months) even
though the child does not understand
what is going on. This is asking a lot—
perhaps too much—from young children.
Thus, using many strategies that focus
primarily on blending, segmenting, and
deleting manipulations with onset–rime
units rather than using many strategies
that focus primarily on detection and
production makes good sense and is consistent with the research.
A question can be asked, though,
about whether a teacher’s onset–rime
options must be restricted only to strategies that use blending, segmenting, and
deletion. To answer this question, several
other questions must be considered:
1. What might be the likely effect of
children’s experiences in the blending, segmenting, and deletion of onset
and rime units on children’s ability to
engage in detection and production
2. Must levels of task complexity used in
instruction be limited to those typically
used in research studies or for individual child assessments that are used
in program evaluation?
3. Does the possibility for teacher scaffolding in instructional strategies matter in determining whether detection
or production strategies are of benefit
to children’s learning? (Scaffolding
should not be provided in an assessment situation, because the idea is to
find out what the child knows or can
do. Scaffolding may and should be
provided in instruction, because the
idea in that context is to support the
child in figuring out and learning what
to do.)
Children’s Skill in Detection
and Production
trategies that involve preschoolers in
blending, segmenting, and deleting
onset and rime units should help them
acquire some of the very skills that are
needed to understand beginning-sound
and rhyming-word detection and production activities. The load on processing
skills of the kind that were described in
the earlier discussion of sound detection
and production tasks is reduced when
any part of the processing becomes more
automatic. Thus, as children become
more skilled at segmenting onset and
rime units of words, through strategies
that focus directly on teaching children
to notice and manipulate these units,
the processing demands of the detection
and production tasks (in which onset and
rime segmentation is required) should
also become a bit easier.
Preschool programs also provide
strong support to help children develop
vocabulary. In time, perhaps by early
in the spring of the preschool year (for
four-year-olds), increases in children’s
vocabularies should also be at least
approaching the level needed to engage
in rhyming-word and beginning-sound
detection and production. An increase in
vocabulary not only provides more words
in memory from which a child can draw,
but also shifts the child’s focus in the
task. If a child must spend less time on
retrieving words from memory, the child
can spend more time on making the necessary comparisons between the sound
units in the words.
As stated in Chapter 1, a curriculum
framework provides general principles
and strategies for planning and implementing curriculum. The framework
is written to apply to a variety of curricula. In contrast, a specific curriculum
often defines a sequence of strategies for
teachers to follow. To support children’s
developing phonological awareness, it is
useful for teachers to plan a sequence of
instructional activities within their specific curriculum. Although the development of phonological awareness skills
in children occurs in an overlapping
manner rather than in stages (i.e., a
child acquires beginning awareness of
smaller linguistic units before having
mastered awareness and manipulations
of larger linguistic units), the sequencing of instructional tasks still needs to
take into account the level of cognitive
processing (i.e., the kind of manipulation)
required. Segmenting a sound unit from
the beginning of a word (e.g., a word in
a compound word, a syllable in a word,
or a single consonant onset from the
rime of a syllable) is harder than blending two words, two syllables, or onset
and rime units. Deletion is harder than
segmenting, assuming the size of the
sound unit remains constant. Production tasks are typically the most difficult manipulation. For example, one
approach to rhyming-word production
involves the maintenance of the rime
unit while segmenting, deleting, and then
replacing the onset. That is, a child first
creates a word by segmenting and then
deleting the onset in the target word and
then adding a new onset. The child then
compares the word created with items in
the child’s vocabulary to see whether it
is a word. If the child realizes that sound
play games do not require real words,
the child does not search the vocabulary
store to see whether a real word has been
created. Nevertheless, sound segmentation and deletion are required before the
child adds a new onset each time to the
stable rime unit. A child without those
skills is not likely to participate in either
rhyming-word production activities or
beginning-sound production activities.
It is essential for teachers to understand
when to schedule the higher-level activities during the preschool year and how to
scaffold the tasks when first using them.
Detection manipulations (i.e., matching) of rhyming words and beginning
sounds can also be quite difficult for
preschoolers if too many items are used
in activities. For example, it is relatively
easy for children to detect whether the
two words provided in a task rhyme or do
not rhyme or begin with the same sound
or not. On the other hand, if preschoolers
are given a rhyme-detection task with a
target word and three additional words,
only one of which rhymes with the target or begins with the same sound, they
often flounder.13, 14
Instructional Options for
Reducing Task Difficulty
n most research studies of detection
of rhyme or beginning sound, tasks
presented to children have included four
items. For example, in rhyme-similarity
detection tasks, there is a target word
and three words to compare with it, with
only one of these matching. In rhyme
oddity tasks, four items are presented,
with one of the four “the odd one out”
(i.e., not rhyming with the others). These
tasks are much easier when three items
are used instead of four. In fact, in one
study,15 researchers reduced the number
of items from four to three. This change
made the task suitable for the four-yearolds in the study. Five-year-olds in the
study continued to get four items. Interestingly, the average scores of the fouryear olds on this task were a bit higher
than the average scores for the five-yearolds in the study, even on task items that
focused on middle and ending sounds,
not just on beginning sounds. What a
difference a little simplification in a task
makes when it reduces the memory and
processing demands! Of course, teachers can reduce the number of items even
more in an instructional context, such as
by providing judgment tasks that have
only two items (e.g., “Do bat and cat
rhyme?”). In one successful intervention
study with four-year-olds, two-item
judgment tasks were used for rhymedetection tasks.16
Scaffolding in Instruction,
Not in Assessment
t is instructive to return to the classroom example considered earlier in
which the teacher asked, “Can you think
of words that rhyme with boat?” One
child in the small group answered coat,
and the teacher said, “Yes, you are right:
Boat and coat rhyme.” Then, another
child said goat, and the teacher said,
“Yes, goat also rhymes with boat.” The
other four children in the small group did
not offer ideas.
The teacher in the example did not
offer any scaffolding. Scaffolding involves
the performance of some task elements
by the teacher when a child is just beginning to learn how to do something. Over
time, as the child is able to do more parts
of the task independently, the teacher
removes some of the scaffolding, and
then all.
The examples in the detection and production strategies that have been added
to the curriculum framework have the
teacher isolating the beginning sound
(i.e., the onset) or the rime unit that is
shared across words (e.g., when looking
at an alphabet book and identifying the
names of pictures on a page [page 141] or
when talking about some of the words in
a song [pages 134–135], such as “Down
by the Bay”), or the teacher uses a combination of strategies (e.g., the teacher
asks for the children’s judgments about
two spoken words the teacher offers).
For example, the teacher does not say,
“That’s right; care sounds like bear and
hair,” and leave it at that. Instead, the
teacher is very explicit (e.g., “Care. Yes,
the last part of care is /air/, just like
the last parts of b-ear and h-air.” [pages
In some examples, the teacher provides onset and rime segments for the
children to blend that will produce a
rhyming word for a new verse in a song,
and the teacher also segments into onset
and rime units any whole words from a
song that children have recalled (e.g., the
one that rhymes with another word in
the song the teacher has stated). In those
cases, the teacher is embedding blended
and segmented manipulations in a rhyming-word context while not relying on the
children to produce rhyming words by
themselves. In the rare case of a child
producing a rhyming word, the teacher
does not simply accept it but makes
explicit why it “works” by using a demonstration in which the word’s rime unit is
separated from its onset and compared to
other words that have the same rime unit
(page 135).
Rationale for Rhyme- and
Beginning-Sound Production
t is fun and empowering to notice the
rhyming words in a song or a poem,
and it is even more fun to play with
this kind of language and create it. By
using traditional rhyme activities as
opportunities to embed detection and
production opportunities, teachers give
children opportunities to “run with it” by
producing words that rhyme with others or that begin with the same sound.
Admittedly, the ultimate goal of phonological awareness activities is to help
children develop the skills they will need
in learning to read and spell. It seems a
shame, though, not to provide an intermediate-level activity to which children
might apply their budding phonological
skill. The practice of engaging children in
beginning rhyme-word production activities without scaffolding, such as has been
typical in traditional rhyme activities in
preschool classrooms, assumes that the
children already possess basic sound-unit
manipulation skills (i.e., blending, segmenting, and deletion skills described in
language and literacy foundations 2.1 and
2.2). In fact, many four-year-old children
in a typical classroom may be unable to
manipulate sound units within words
independently (without adult assistance)
for much of the preschool year. However,
if traditional rhyme activities are carefully
scaffolded for most of the preschool year
and if those activities supplement a major
focus on the use of other sound-unit
manipulations (i.e., blending, segmenting,
and deleting), such experiences surely
would promote many children’s independent engagement in more traditional
rhyme activities (without scaffolding) later
in the preschool year.
Preschoolers also typically engage in
singing songs and saying poems that
contain rhyming words and words that
begin with the same sound (i.e., songs
and poems with alliteration). Focusing
more intentionally on rhyming words and
words that begin with the same sound
by using words found in a familiar poem
or song is potentially useful in nudging
children toward applying the skills that
they develop from more isolated blending
and segmenting instructional activities to
these other, more naturalistic contexts.
Moreover, children tend to become more
alert to the language used in songs and
poems, if these contexts are used to provide some of the phonological awareness
instruction for the class. Greater alertness to words in the songs that children
sing and to the poems that children say
might, in turn, contribute to the development of children’s sound awareness.
If, on the other hand, teachers do
nothing intentionally to link contexts
that provide explicit instruction in phonological awareness with contexts in
which children hear language with the
relevant sound units actually used, children might gain less from singing songs
and saying poems than they otherwise
could. Although wise teachers do not rely
too much or even primarily on children’s
own insights to produce some kinds of
learning, they also “stack the deck” to
nudge children into thinking about their
experiences, including the language in
the songs they sing or poems they say,
for they know that learning to think is
important and that children need various
kinds of opportunities in which to engage
in thinking.
Using children’s names in a beginning-sound strategy, for example, in
transition activities, might help children
to learn more about their names and to
use their names as a model for learning
more about words in general. Of course,
blending, segmenting, and deletion tasks
can be used with children’s names in
transitions and also in other instructional
contexts. Using beginning-sound detection with children’s names (“If your name
starts with /s/, you may go wash your
hands”) simply adds to the teacher’s repertoire. Saying the children’s names with
another sound substituted for their first
sounds, as might be done after singing
“Willoughby-Wallaby-Woo,” also adds to
the teacher’s repertoire. The more ideas
a teacher has for using children’s names,
the more likely children will learn about
the sounds and letters in their names
and to link the two.
he addition of detection and production strategy contexts to the phonological awareness strategies that align
exactly with the phonological awareness
foundations has been done in ways that
are consistent with the foundations. The
additional strategies are supplemental to
other strategies, and their instructional
design differs from the design of detection
and production activities commonly used
by preschool teachers in the past.
Processes of teacher change must
also be taken into account in curriculum frameworks whereas they need not
be with the learning foundations. The
information in Volume I of both the California Preschool Learning Foundations
and the California Preschool Curriculum
Framework is likely somewhat new to
many preschool teachers. When asked to
change teaching practices, teachers need
to know in what ways, if any, their past
practices relate to newly recommended
practices. By including some strategies
in the chapter that are similar to teachers’ past practices but altering them in
ways that are more aligned with current
research, teachers can better understand
how past and current strategies are similar and also different. In this way, teachers can be helped to adopt new strategies
even while retaining, with adaptations,
some of the strategies they have used in
the past. This makes the change process
more comfortable and thus more likely
to occur, which is not an inconsequential
consideration at a time when so much is
being asked of preschool teachers.
1. I. Lundberg, J. Frost, and O. Peterson,
“Effects of an Extensive Program for
Stimulating Phonological Awareness in
Preschool Children,” Reading Research
Quarterly 23, no. 3 (1988): 263–84.
2. M. J. Adams and others, Phonemic
Awareness in Young Children (Baltimore:
Brookes, 1998).
3. M. MacLean, P. Bryant, and L. Bradley,
“Rhymes, Nursery Rhymes, and Reading in
Early Childhood,” Merrill-Palmer Quarterly
33 (1987): 255–82.
4. C. Chaney, “Language Development,
Metalinguistic Skills, and Print Awareness
in 3-Year-Old Children,” Applied Psycholinguistics 13 (1992): 485–514.
5. V. Muter, C. Hulme, and M. Snowling,
Phonological Abilities Test. London:
Psychological Corporation, 1997.
6. V. Muter and others, “Segmentation, Not
Rhyming, Predicts Early Progress in
Learning to Read,” Experimental Child
Psychology 65 (1997): 370–98.
7. T. A. Roberts, “Effects of Alphabet-Letter
Instruction on Young Children’s Word
Recognition,” Journal of Educational
Psychology, 95, no. 1 (2003): 41–51.
8. J. L. Anthony and C. J. Lonigan, “The
Nature of Phonological Awareness:
Converging Evidence from Four Studies
of Preschool and Early Grade School
Children,” Journal of Educational
Psychology 96 (2004): 43–55.
9. J. L. Anthony and C. J. Lonigan, “The
Nature of Phonological Awareness:
Converging Evidence from Four Studies
of Preschool and Early Grade School
Children,” Journal of Educational
Psychology 96 (2004): 43–55.
L. Bradley and P. Bryant, Rhyme and
Reason in Reading and Spelling (Ann
Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press,
B. M. Phillips, J. Clancy-Menchetti, and
C. J. Lonigan, “Successful Phonological
Awareness Instruction with Preschool
Children,” Topics in Early Childhood
Special Education 28, no. 1 (1985): 3–17.
H. A. Yopp, “The Validity and Reliability
of Phonemic Awareness Tests,” Reading
Research Quarterly 23, no. 2 (1988):
L. Bradley and P. E. Bryant, Rhyme and
Reason in Reading and Spelling (Ann
Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press,
L. M. Justice and others, “Emergent
Literacy Intervention for Vulnerable
Preschoolers: Relative Effects of Two
Approaches,” American Journal of SpeechLanguage Pathology 12 (2003): 320–32.
L. Bradley and P. Bryant, Rhyme and
Reason in Reading and Spelling (Ann
Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press,
L. M. Justice and others, “Emergent
Literacy Intervention for Vulnerable
Preschoolers: Relative Effects of Two
Approaches,” American Journal of SpeechLanguage Pathology 12 (2003): 320–32.
Appendix C
Reflections on Research: Alphabetics
and Word/Print Recognition
he Alphabetics and Word/Print
Recognition substrand specifies
that children at around 60 months
of age are able to recognize their own
name and other common words in print
(3.1), to match more than half of uppercase and lowercase letter names to the
printed forms (3.2), and to begin to recognize that letters have sounds (3.3). Three
examples of child behavior for foundation
3.3 are provided in the California Preschool Learning Foundations:
• The child makes the correct sound for
the first letter in his name.
• The child says the correct letter sound
while pointing to the letter in a book.
• The child indicates the correct picture when presented with four pictures—dog barking, car horn honking,
letter k, and letter n—and when asked,
“Which of these make these sounds:
bow-wow, honk, k (letter sound), n (letter sound)?”
The foundations do not describe what
children are expected to understand
when they “begin to recognize letter
sounds.” That is, they do not distinguish
between children who know some letter-sound associations (i.e., can say the
sounds “that letters have”), but lack any
realization that these sounds are heard
in spoken words, and children who know
some letter-sound associations and also
realize that these sounds are heard in
spoken words. Given the absence of
information, a reader could reasonably
make any number of assumptions.
Assumption 1: Preschoolers are expected
to be able to bring the three areas of
skill together, on their own, to develop
the understanding.
Assumption 2: In the preschool years,
developing phonological awareness,
letter name knowledge, and knowledge
of some specific associations between
letters and isolated sounds (i.e., “The
letter B makes the /b/ sound”), in isolation, is enough.
Assumption 3: Children need to be
helped to understand the relationships between letters in printed words
and sounds in spoken words, knowing that only preliminary levels of this
understanding will be developed in
preschool. Fuller understanding will
come during kindergarten, not during
Children Can Put
the Pieces Together If
They Have a Good Grasp
of the Pieces
ome kindergarten and preschool
children might indeed put these
pieces together by themselves. Other
kindergarten and preschool children,
however, and perhaps most, do not seem
to arrive at this insight by themselves. A
surer approach to supporting children in
understanding the relationship between
letters in printed words and sounds in
spoken words requires the intentional
use of strategies that link letters directly
to their sounds in the context of spoken
Research demonstrating the benefit
of explicitly linking letters to sounds in
words to children’s later reading or spelling of words has been conducted at the
kindergarten level, not the preschool
level.1, 2, 3, 4 It would be safe to assume
that preschoolers have less power of
insight—less ability to put things together
on their own—than kindergarten children
have. It is also probably safe to assume
that kindergarten children typically have
higher levels of skill than preschoolers
in each of the separate knowledge and
skill areas—letter name knowledge, phonological awareness, and letter-sound
associations. In fact, in most but not all
of the relevant intervention studies,5 letters were linked to sounds in words only
after children had been engaged in games
and other exercises through which they
developed phonological awareness, letter
names, and letter-sound associations at
a fairly high level. It is doubtful that children would typically reach similarly high
levels in each of these areas during the
preschool years.
The question, then, is whether preschool teachers should do anything at
all to help children begin to develop the
preliminary understanding that letters in
printed words are related to and represent sounds in spoken words. Or should
teachers leave this learning entirely
for the kindergarten year or to insight,
should a preschool child use it. Another
question is whether all of the individual
knowledge and skill areas—alphabet letter knowledge, phonological awareness,
and some letter-sound associations—
must be at a high level of development
before it is appropriate to provide heavily scaffolded support to preschoolers
in linking letters to sounds in spoken
The preschool curriculum framework
suggests a few strategies, at the preschool level, for linking letters to sounds
in spoken words. The assumption is
that teachers might do this most appropriately and productively in situations
involving individual children who have
a high level of individual literacy skill
development in the three areas described
above. A few other strategies, however,
involve appropriately scaffolded situations that include other children in the
class who may not be at the same high
level of literacy skill development. The
purpose of this discussion is to provide
a rationale for including those strategies
with appropriate support.
Appropriate Expectations
and Strategies for
here are some contexts in a preschool
setting where a teacher can make a
decision about whether to link letters
in printed words to sounds in spoken
words. For example, a child mentions
to the teacher that both his name and
a classmate’s begin with the same letter. The teacher might say, “Yes, you are
right about that,” and stop at that. Or,
the teacher might say: “Yes, your name
and Brian’s both start with the letter B,
because Brian and Brandon both start
with the /b/ sound.” Similarly, when
sharing an alphabet book with children,
a preschool teacher might name only the
alphabet letter that is featured on a page,
identifying and discussing with children
the items pictured on the page (e.g., broccoli, banana, and beet on the B page).
Or, after doing these things, a teacher
might say, “All of these things—broccoli,
banana, beet—begin with the /b/ sound.
When we write the /b/ sound, we use
the letter B. That’s why all of these foods
are on the B page of our book.” A teacher
also has some choices when a child making a birthday card at the writing center
says, “How do you make Mommy? I need
it for my card.” A teacher might answer
simply by dictating the letters needed
or by writing the word for the child to
copy. Or, the teacher might go beyond
simply dictating or writing out the letters to explain why some of the letters
are selected. For example, to start, the
teacher might say, “Mommy starts with
the /m/ sound—Mommy—and we use the
letter M to write that sound.” The teacher
might dictate the rest of the letters without linking any to a sound in the word
Mommy or might dictate all but the final
y, and then link the last sound in the
word to this final letter.
In all of these instances, the teacher
adds the information about the relationship between letters in printed words and
sounds in spoken words as an explanation. The first explanation is about why
different words begin with the same letter (e.g., Brian and Brandon). The second explanation is first about how the
pictured items on a page of an alphabet
book all go together—have the same first
sound—and then why they are grouped
with a specific alphabet letter—it is the
one used to write this sound. The third
instance is about why the teacher is dictating this specific letter and not some
other letter as the first and last letters
needed to write Mommy.
Preschool Teachers Offer
Explanations; Preschoolers
Begin to Understand
n each instance described for linking letters to sounds in words, the
teacher has a general habit of explaining
the world to preschool children. Situations calling out for an explanation arise
frequently in the preschool setting. For
example, a child asks why lids must be
put on the paint cups at the end of each
day. The teacher explains: “We put lids
on our paint cups because the paints
would dry out if we left the cups open.
The water in the paint would evaporate
into the air. Would you like to put a little
paint in a small cup and leave it uncovered overnight to see what happens?”
Or, a child on the playground notices his
shadow and announces it. The teacher
comments and explains: “Yes, I see your
shadow, and I see that the sun is up
above and behind you. I’m going to stand
over here and have you turn around to
face me. Do you see your shadow in front
of you now? Where is it?” “Yes, it’s behind
you now. Your body is blocking the sunlight from reaching the ground, and
that’s what makes a shadow.” Or, a child
playing with a magnet and some paper
clips inside a closed, plastic jar, says,
“Look! Look! It works from out here.” The
teacher comments and explains: “Yes,
I see that your magnet is attracting the
paper clips that you put inside the plastic
bottle even though it’s not touching them.
Magnets have a force that goes through
things. Do you feel the force pulling on
the paper clips?”
Of course, a wise teacher knows that
a preschool child would not understand
fully the explanations provided in a single
instance or even after two or three or
even ten. The wise teacher also knows
that a preschool child would likely not
provide a very good explanation, if any
at all, to someone else, if asked for one.
Even after multiple experiences in the
physical contexts described, all of which
allow the child “to see” what happens,
teachers would not expect a child to have
full understanding. An important question, though, is whether the child might
develop any understanding from such
explanations and whether these preliminary, incomplete, and vague notions
might serve as important first steps in the
long journey toward her full development.
Another question, apart from any particular understanding that a child might
develop from adult explanations, even at
preliminary levels, is whether there might
be a general benefit to children from
adult explanations. For example, might
this kind of adult behavior convey a general idea to the child that things function,
as the child finds them, for a reason?
Might knowing this affect the child’s later
learning of specifics?
Definitive answers to these questions
are not easy to find, although a wide
variety of research suggests that providing explanations to children is beneficial,
assuming of course that they are calibrated to a child’s level of understanding.
For example, in one study 6 of mothers’
language to 20- and 30-month-old children, the researchers suggest that some
of a mother’s comments, for example,
about animals, might serve to guide
children to global understandings, such
as the fact that some things that do not
look very much alike on the surface often
have something in common. In quite a
different study, this time with five-yearolds, researchers found that higher levels
of support (i.e., semantic and physical
explanations) provided by parents for the
rare words they used were associated
with higher levels of vocabulary development.7 Other researchers have found
that parental use of science process talk
(i.e., “discussions of the how’s and whys
of what was happening”), in conjunction with their child’s magnet play, was
more strongly related to kindergarten literacy measures than were other kinds of
parental talk that did not include explanations (i.e., process-level talk).8
Additional examples could be cited,
but these are sufficient to make the
basic point: It appears that explanations provided about a range of things
in the young child’s physical and social
worlds are reasonably beneficial to young
children’s learning, not harmful. It is also
fairly obvious that adults often do not
(and should not) expect immediate and
specific results from these explanations.
Giving explanations is simply a way that
some adults interact with children, a way
that, if responsive to the child’s interests
and level of understanding, appears to be
Rationale for Including
Strategies That Link Printed
Words to Spoken Words
lthough young children may only
partially understand teachers’
explanations, it seemed unwise to avoid
addressing in the California Preschool
Curriculum Framework, Volume 1, how
letters in printed words are related to
sounds in spoken words. Rather, strategies that offer explanations of the links
between printed words and spoken words
were included to show how preschool
teachers can foster a beginning understanding without expecting immediate
and specific results.
The majority of the strategies in the
Alphabetics and Word/Print Recognition
substrand focus on supporting children
in learning to recognize and name alphabet letters and to recognize their names
and other common words. Many different strategies, spanning a wide range
of contexts, are provided for these two
foundations (3.1 and 3.2). In addition to
these strategies, however, relatively few
strategies are provided in the preschool
curriculum framework to support foundation 3.3, in ways that might lead a
child to begin to “recognize that letters
have sounds” and also to develop a preliminary understanding of what we mean
when we say that “letters have sounds.”
The strategies for supporting foundation 3.3 are embedded in broad contexts,
such as in the reading of an alphabet
book (page 141), in helping children transition from one activity to the next (pages
141–142), or in situations in which children are writing (pages 161–162). In
many instances, the description or the
discussion of the strategy makes clear
that the teacher’s decision to explain the
relationship between letters and sounds
in words is prompted by a child’s behavior and, further, that the explanation
itself is adapted to the child’s level of
There is always a risk, of course, that
a teacher might misunderstand the
intent of including these strategies and
assume, incorrectly, that the expectation is for all children to leave preschool
with some understanding of that “letters
have sounds.” The intent, however, was
not to suggest that any understanding is expected to accompany children’s
displays of behavior indicating that they
have “begun to recognize that letters
have sounds.” It seems perfectly reasonable to assume that children will develop
this understanding in kindergarten or
that they should. On the other hand, it
also seems reasonable to assume that
some children between the ages of 48
and 60 months can be supported in gaining some preliminary understanding of
how letters are related to sounds in spoken words. It also seems reasonable to
suggest to teachers, who are inclined to
explain the world to preschool children,
that they can extend this inclination to
the world of print if they use appropriate
strategies. Doing so might be of benefit
to children’s learning, and there is not a
good reason to believe that the strategies
suggested will do any harm.
1. E. W. Ball and B. A. Blachman, “Does
Phoneme Awareness Training in Kindergarten Make a Difference in Early Word
Recognition and Developmental Spelling?”
Reading Research Quarterly 26, no. 1
(1991): 49–66.
2. L. Bradley and P. Bryant, Rhyme and Reason in Reading and Spelling (Ann Arbor,
MI: University of Michigan Press, 1985).
3. L. C. Ehri and L. S. Wilce, “Does Learning
to Spell Help Beginners to Learn Words?”
Reading Research Quarterly 22, no. 1
(1987): 47–65.
4. S. A. Craig, “The Effects of an Adapted
Interactive Writing Intervention on Kindergarten Children’s Phonological Awareness,
Spelling, and Early Reading Development:
A Contextualized Approach to Instruction,” Journal of Educational Psychology
98, no. 4 (2006): 714–31.
5. S. A. Craig, “The Effects of an Adapted
Interactive Writing Intervention on Kindergarten Children’s Phonological Awareness,
Spelling, and Early Reading Development:
A Contextualized Approach to Instruction,” Journal of Educational Psychology
98, no. 4 (2006): 714–31.
6. S. A. Gelman and others, “Beyond Labeling: The Role of Maternal Input in the
Acquisition of Richly Structured Categories,” Monographs of the Society for
Research in Child Development, Serial No.
253, 63, no. 1, 1998.
7. Z. O. Weizman and C. E. Snow, “Lexical
Input as Related to Children’s Vocabulary
Acquisition: Effects of Sophisticated Exposure and Support for Meaning,” Developmental Psychology 37, no. 2 (2001):
8. P. O. Tabors, K. A. Roach, and S. Catherine, “Home Language and Literacy
Environment,” in Building Literacy with
Language. Edited by D. K. Dickinson and
P. O. Tabors, 111–38 (Baltimore: Brookes,
Appendix D
Resources for Teachers of Children
with Disabilities or Other Special Needs
Allen, E. K., and G. E. Cowdery. 2008. The
Exceptional Child, Inclusion in Early Childhood Education (Sixth edition). Florence,
KY: Cengage Learning.
Filled with the history and research regarding the legal aspects, disabilities, and
issues that are relevant to educating children with special needs, this publication
addresses the approach and tools needed
to provide an optimal setting for both the
children and their families. Many checklists
and forms are included for use within the
classroom to aid educators in developing a
developmentally appropriate environment.
This book is useful to educators and parents/caregivers alike.
California Map to Inclusive Child Care
The California Map to Inclusive Child Care
Project Web site, operating under the Center for Child and Family Studies at WestEd
and funded by the California Department
of Education’s Child Development Division with a portion of the federal Child
Care Development Fund Quality Improvement Allocation, includes many resources
and Web links to support children with
special needs. It is a comprehensive Web
site devoted to inclusion and disabilities.
Cook, R. E., M. D. Klein, and A. Tessier. 2007.
Adapting Early Childhood Curricula for Children with Special Needs (Seventh edition).
Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.
The book takes a practical, “activity-based”
approach that is theoretically sound and
current. It also provides ample detail
related to specific intervention strategies
that enhance teachers’ effective use of
embedded learning opportunities within
daily curriculum activities and routines. Its
relatively jargon-free, “readable” approach
is built on evidence-based practices and is
appropriate for a wide range of readers. The
illustrations of techniques and strategies
make it a sustainable resource long after
students leave their formal education. It
has always encouraged a family-centered,
inclusive approach to working with young
children with special needs and their families.
Deiner, P. L. 2010. Inclusive Early Childhood
Education: Development, Resources, and
Practice (Fifth edition). Florence, KY:
Cengage Learning.
This comprehensive special education
resource book is designed to help educators
navigate the early years of teaching. The
text includes a coverage of disabilities
as extensive as many Introduction to
Special Education courses. However, it
is more than a reference book. It also
offers guidelines, vignettes, and hands-on
program planning to prepare educators to
integrate children with learning disabilities
into regular classroom instruction. http://
Early Childhood Inclusion: Focus on Change.
2001. Edited by M. J. Guralnick. Baltimore,
MD: Brookes Publishing Company.
early childhood education. http://www.
From leading experts in the field comes
this important book that comprehensively
evaluates early childhood inclusion over
the past 25 years. Based on their research
and extensive experience, the contributors
examine the benefits and drawbacks of
inclusion, leading influences on inclusion,
and issues that face children in different
environments with different developmental
challenges. This timely information shows
professionals, instructors, and students
in early intervention and early childhood
education where inclusion is today and
what they need to do to move forward. The
final chapter presents a national agenda for
change—a framework of ideas for meeting
challenges and achieving an agreedupon set of principles and practices—in
order to create optimal educational
environments for all children. http://www.
Inclusion Works! Creating Child Care Programs
That Promote Belonging for Children with
Special Needs. 2009. Sacramento: California Department of Education.
Gould, P., and J. Sullivan. 2005. The Inclusive
Early Childhood Classroom: Easy Ways to
Adapt Learning Centers for All. Upper
Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.
This resource manual on how to adapt
regular curriculum activities for children
with special needs offers concrete suggestions that are easy to implement, giving
teachers the tools to turn their classrooms
into effective learning environments for
all students. The goal of the authors is
to help children with special needs gain
the opportunity to learn new skills and
concepts. Teachers, therapists, and parents
learn simple modifications to help children
focus on the activities, materials, and
social interactions of the classroom. The
modifications suggested in this book are
also useful and interesting to children
without special needs. This comprehensive,
practical text is built on solid theory
and evidence-based practices from
both the fields of special education and
The purpose of this publication is to provide guidance on proven strategies that
promote belonging and inclusion for all
children. Building on research and the
experience of years of effective implementation, this handbook contains stories and
examples, as well as background information and resources that support strategies
for successful inclusion. By providing the
benefit of high-quality care and education
to all of California’s children, educators will
contribute to closing the achievement gap
between students with disabilities and students without disabilities.
Klein, D. M., R. E. Cook, and A. M. Richardson-Gibbs. 2001 Strategies for Including
Children with Special Needs in Early Childhood Settings (First edition). Florence, KY:
This practical, hands-on text is required
reading for early childhood professionals
who work with children with special
needs. It includes information on the most
common disabilities, including cerebral
palsy, Down syndrome, autism, visual
impairment, and behavior disorders, as
well as strategies and activities to facilitate
children’s participation in all components
of the daily routine. It also shows how to
adapt common early childhood activities
for children of varying abilities to maximize
their success. It uses clear and simple
language to help early childhood education
professionals successfully teach children
with special needs. http://www.cengage.
Kristal, J. 2005. The Temperament Perspective: Working with Children’s Behavioral
Styles. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes
Publishing Co.
Once the basics of temperament are
understood, that knowledge can be used
to address children’s challenging behavior
and improve classroom interactions. This
book is a practical guide to understanding
children’s individual temperaments. Guidelines on when to seek outside help are
included, as well as age-specific temperament questionnaires and further readings.
Based on the author’s research and clinical work with more than 600 families and
children at Kaiser Permanente’s Temperament Program and her private practice, this
book has the practical guidance needed to
transform knowledge of temperament into
positive interactions and better outcomes.
Mental Health in Early Intervention: Achieving Unity in Principles and Practice. 2006.
Edited by G. M. Foley and J. D. Hochman.
Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing
Too often, infant mental health and early
intervention are dealt with separately
rather than together. Integration of these
two fields is the goal of this comprehensive publication. It fully prepares readers
to integrate two interdependent fields and
improve practices in both. http://www.
Milbourne, S., and P. Campbell. 2007. CARA’s
Kit: Creating Adaptations for Routines and
Activities. Missoula, MT: The Division for
Early Childhood.
This kit provides guidance for how to make
adaptations for daily activities and routines
so that children ages three to six can successfully participate in classroom curriculum. The teacher version contains a booklet
about adaptations and a CD-ROM. http://
O’Brien, M. 1997. Inclusive Child Care for
Infants and Toddlers: Meeting Individual
and Special Needs. Baltimore, MD: Brookes
Publishing Company.
This educational book gives child care
providers helpful advice on handling daily
care tasks, teaching responsively, meeting
individual needs, developing rapport with
parents, understanding toddlers’ behavior,
working with individualized family service
plans, and maintaining high standards of
care. Suggested play activities and intervention approaches help promote healthy
development in all children. Ready-to-use
quality check forms, parent report forms,
and feeding/play schedules target areas in
which infants and toddlers need the most
Sandall, S. R., and others. 2005. DEC Recommended Practices: A Comprehensive Guide
for Practical Application. Missoula, MT: The
Division for Early Childhood.
This guide contains all the helpful information found in the original recommended
practices of the Division for Early Childhood, plus real-life examples and practical
tips for implementation. It includes strategies for program assessment and improvement, useful checklists for parents and
administrators, and an annotated list of
relevant resources. http://www.dec-sped.
Sandall, S. R., and I. S. Schwartz. 2008.
Building Blocks for Teaching Preschoolers
with Special Needs (Second edition). Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing Company.
Updated for today’s educators—especially
those new to inclusion—the second edition of this bestselling guide is the lifeline
preschool teachers need to fully include
in classrooms children with disabilities.
Easy to use with any existing curriculum,
including Creative Curriculum and HighScope, Building Blocks gives educators
practical, research-based inclusion strategies that promote progress in critical areas
such as behavior, emergent literacy, and
peer relationships. New material reflects
the six years of changes in early education
since the first edition. Classroom assessments, planning work sheets, and child
evaluation forms are included on a CDROM. Through vignettes of four young children from diverse backgrounds, teachers
learn examples of successful interventions.
Social and Emotional Health in Early Childhood: Building Bridges Between Services
and Systems. 2007. Edited by D. F. Perry,
R. K. Kaufmann, and J. Knitzer. Baltimore,
MD: Brookes Publishing Company.
Social-emotional health is one of the most
critical factors in a child’s development and
school readiness—a factor that depends
on weaving effective mental health services
into other systems and programs that support young children. Professionals will discover how to improve young children’s outcomes by building sturdy bridges between
mental health and medical, educational,
and social services.
Brief, vivid stories throughout the book
illustrate how mental health services
help children and families at risk. Two
extended real-life case studies give readers
an inside look at effective early childhood
mental health systems, including structure, financing, and outcomes evaluation.
Social Competence of Young Children: Risk,
Disability, and Intervention. 2007. Edited
by W. H. Brown, S. L. Odom, and S. R.
McConnell. Baltimore, MD: Brookes
Publishing Company.
Increasing positive peer interaction can
reduce future social competence problems, but how can children with developmental difficulties cultivate the social
relationships they need? The most current
research-based assessment and intervention strategies are detailed, along with
well-matched and effective peer interaction
interventions—classroom, naturalistic, or
explicit—to suit children’s specific needs.
Widerstrom, A. H. 2004. Achieving Learning
Goals Through Play (Second edition). Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing Company.
Play is more than just fun; it is a powerful teaching tool that helps young children
learn. This guide provides ready-to-use
strategies for weaving individual learning
goals into play throughout the school day.
It was created for use with children ages
two to five who have special needs—but
is equally effective for typically developing
There is information on how play activities
can help children develop cognitive, communication, motor, social, and preliteracy
skills. The appendixes offer guidelines
for developmentally appropriate practice, resources for including children with
disabilities, and reproducible planning
Winter, S. M. 2006. Inclusive Early Childhood
Education: A Collaborative Approach. Upper
Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.
This practical methods text has useful
applications and many teaching strategies
woven throughout. The book provides
current information on theory and practice
for inclusive education in early childhood
settings. Practical information is provided
about how to collaborate and communicate
with families and other professionals. The
interdisciplinary approach emphasizes
inclusive education in early childhood
contexts where cultural and linguistic
diversity of children is rapidly increasing.
Teachers must be culturally competent and
responsive as well as sensitive to children’s
abilities and strengths. http://www.
assessment. The process for obtaining
information about individual children from
natural observations, anecdotal records,
interviews, portfolios, projects, and other
sources, for the purpose of understanding
the child’s development and planning for
curriculum intended to enhance learning
and development.
culturally appropriate. Educational practice
that takes into account the social and
cultural contexts in which children live;
culturally appropriate curriculum is attuned
and responsive to family and community
values, identity, language, and other
culture-related factors.
interest areas. A distinct, well-stocked area
divided from other parts of the classroom
that focuses on a specific aspect of children’s play and inquiry and that invites
children to engage in self-initiated play in
the company of other children.
large groups. A teacher-led gathering of a relatively large number of children, between 15
and 20 (Schickedanz 2008), with the intent
of either engaging the children in discussion
with one child speaking at a time and the
others listening or of engaging the children
in an activity in which every child participates at the same time, such as singing.
scaffolding. A process by which adults or
capable peers provide supportive structures
to help children learn and play. Scaffolding
is helpful when children are faced with a
challenge that they can solve with a simple
hint, question, or prompt.
self-talk. Narrating or describing one’s actions
out loud when teaching or caring for a child
or group of children.
small groups. A teacher-facilitated conversation or activity among a small number of
children, ranging from two to ten (Schickedanz 2008). The purpose is to support
children’s exchange of ideas and thoughts
around a topic or activity of mutual interest.
The small size of the group ensures that
each child’s ideas and feelings are communicated and heard and enables the teacher
to listen for, to observe, and to document
children’s ideas or emerging skills and
teacher. An adult with education and care
responsibilities in an early childhood setting. Teachers include adults who interact
directly with young children in preschool
programs and family child care home settings. In family child care, teachers may be
referred to as caregivers.
temperament. Traits such as activity level,
intensity of emotional responses, sensitivity to stimulation, and dominant mood that
contribute to an individual child’s style of
Social-Emotional Development
aesthetics. The visual impression made by
the colors, textures, furnishings, and other
physical elements of the environment
Language and Literacy
alliteration. A series of words that begin with
the same sound (e.g., soap, sun, soup, and
alphabetic principle. The understanding that
alphabet letters in printed words stand for
sounds in spoken words.
assistive technology. Physical means of
support for language that is provided to
any person with visual, auditory, or motor
auditory. Perceived by hearing.
aural processing skill. The ability to understand and think about auditory input (i.e.,
input perceived by hearing).
blending. The process of putting linguistic
units together to form a word. The sizes
of the units blended vary from words
(e.g., sun–flower = sunflower), to syllables
(e.g., ba–by = baby), to onsets and rimes
(e.g., s-un = sun), to phonemes (e.g., c-a-t =
braille. A system of tactile symbols use to
represent speech.
category. A group of things that have some
underlying features in common (e.g., dogs,
cats, and humans are all mammals because
their babies are born alive, their mothers
produce milk for their young, they have hair
covering their bodies).
category words. Words that are not the
names of individual items but of groups
to which individual items belong (e.g., fruit,
furniture, mammals, deciduous trees,
decoding. The ability to convert written symbols (i.e., alphabet letters) into their spoken
equivalents to produce the words the print
represents. Decoding skill requires letter
name knowledge, phoneme awareness, the
alphabetic principle (i.e., knowing that letters represent sounds in spoken words),
and knowledge of some specific letter-sound
definitional vocabulary skill. The ability to
explain verbally what a word means.
delete. The act of omitting a linguistic unit
of a word (e.g., catnip without /cat/ is nip;
baby without /ba/ is /be/; cat without /k/
is -at).
dictation. Oral or signed presentation of
a message to someone else who writes it
dramatic play area. An interest area that
might be called the housekeeping area,
dress-up area, or kitchen area. Children
engage in pretend play in the dramatic play
area, often assuming roles and creating scenarios that are based on their experiences
at home and in their communities.
emergent literacy. The behaviors used by
young children to engage in reading and
writing before they can read and write conventionally. Examples of emergent literacy
behaviors include scribble writing, turning
book pages pretending to read, creating
pretend words, and inventing spellings, the
pretend reading of directions on a soup container, and the retelling of a familiar story
using the illustrations to describe the story
explicit instruction. Instruction in which
processes are demonstrated and stated. Instruction that does not leave understanding
to the learner’s own reasoning or insight.
friendly explanations of words. Verbal explanations for words that are easy for young
children to grasp because the words are
already in the child’s vocabulary. Friendly
explanations work better than dictionary
definitions because dictionary definitions
often include words that young children do
not know.
grammar. Rules for putting words together to
form sentences.
hard-wired. Brain structure that is inherent
in an organism’s essential makeup.
inferential thinking. Reaching a conclusion
through a process in which information
from a variety of sources is brought together
through reasoning, as when one infers that
it is cold outside because there is snow on
the ground and it is winter.
information books. Nonfiction books.
letter-like designs. Combinations of lines
that result in forms that resembles alphabet letters but are not actual letters of the
modeling. Showing how to do or say something by doing it or saying it. For example,
repeating what a child has said but adding
missing elements models for the child how
the full sentence sounds. Using a cookbook
shows how books offer needed information.
morphology. The elemental units of meaning
(e.g., talking, talked, talks; finger, fingers).
narrative. A story. Narratives have specific
elements (settings, characters, a problem,
a plot) that are combined in characteristic
onset. A linguistic term for the part of a syllable that comes before its vowel. The onset in
the word big is /b/ (b-ig). In the word bring,
the onset is /b//r/ (br-ing).
oral vocabulary. The words a person understands and uses when listening and
overgeneralizations. The extension of morphemes (elemental units of meaning) beyond
the words to which they actually apply (e.g.,
teached, runned; foots; mouses). Children’s
overgeneralizations indicate they are finding
patterns in what they hear.
phonemes. The smallest units of sound in
words (e.g., /k/-/a/-/t/ in cat).
phonemic awareness. The ability to notice
and manipulate the individual sounds
(phonemes) in spoken words,
phonological awareness. A sensitivity to the
sounds in spoken language and skill in
manipulating these sounds. Different levels
of phonological awareness involve different
linguistic units that vary in size (e.g., words,
syllables, onsets and rimes, and phonemes).
Tasks used to develop and assess phonological awareness differ in cognitive demands
(e.g., blending sounds is easier than deleting
pragmatics. How language is used in context
(e.g., the different talking style used with
best friends versus acquaintances).
predictable textbooks. Books with features
that make them easy for children to remember them. Features used to make books predictable include the use of refrains, stable
sentence frames into which a new word can
be inserted, rhyme and alliteration, and a
close match between illustration and words
in a book’s text.
pretend words. Strings of letters that children
put together when they write without any
regard for selecting letters based on their
sound values. Pretend words look like words
but are not real words.
print convention. Customary ways of arranging print on a page (e.g., left to right and
top to bottom; space between words; use of
punctuation marks).
rhyme. Words or syllables that have identical
rime units (e.g., cup and pup; log and fog).
rime. A linguistic term that refers to the portion of a syllable that starts with its vowel.
In the word big, the rime unit is /ig/. In the
word bring, the rime unit is /ing/.
scribble writing. Marks that children intend
to serve as writing that lack features of
alphabet letters.
semantics. The meaning of words and sentences.
sign language. The language of the hands
that some deaf people use. It has all the
properties of other natural languages (including grammar) and allows the expression
of the same range of ideas.
story stem. A phrase that starts a story,
such as “Once upon a time . . .” or that
teachers can ask children to complete by
adding to it.
story retelling. Using one’s own words to
recount a familiar story, as when children
describe what is happening on the pages of
a book they have heard many times.
syllables. The major units that make up
words (e.g., ba-by, ther-mom-e-ter). Syllables
always have a rime unit, sometimes with
just a vowel (e.g., i). They need not have an
onset unit (e.g., it, ice, oc-u-lar).
syntax. Synonym of grammar, how words are
put together to form phrases and sentences.
word play. Taking words out of their ordinary
communicative context and calling attention to them by manipulating their elements
in a lighthearted manner. Making a game of
rhyming words such as hair, bear, and pear
is an example of word play as is playing
with the sounds in children’s names.
English-Language Development
code switching. A normal part of secondlanguage acquisition in which the child
combines English with the home language.
English learners. Children whose first language is not English, including children
learning English for the first time in the
preschool setting as well as children who
have developed various levels of English
home language (L1). The language used
primarily by the child’s family in the home
environment. Some children may have
more than one home language (e.g., when
one parent speaks Chinese and the other
speaks English).
language acquisition. The mostly subconscious process of learning to understand
and use a language, including the basics of
phonology, syntax or grammar, semantics
(meaning), and pragmatics (communication
rules and skills). This process depends on
children experiencing language in their social environment. Language acquisition may
differ for children with certain kinds of disabilities.
read-alouds. An adult’s reading of a book to
a child or group of children. A read-aloud
includes back-and-forth talking about the
story. If a book has a patterned (predictable)
text, children enjoy “reading” along with the
adult after the book has been read a few
algebra. A mathematical system using letters
and other symbols standing for numbers to
express and generalize mathematical ideas.
arithmetic. Computations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, using
positive real numbers.
attribute. A property or characteristic of
an object or a person such as size, color,
weight, or shape.
capacity. The content, volume, or amount
that can be contained or held within threedimensional objects.
cardinality. The concept that the number
name applied to the last object counted represents the total number of objects in the
group (the quantity of objects counted).
class. Things grouped together because of a
certain likeness or common traits.
classifying. The sorting, grouping, or categorizing of objects according to established criteria. Classifying involves giving descriptive
labels to the feature(s) used in sorting.
count on. The strategy of adding two numbers
(e.g., 3 + 2) by starting to count from the
first addend (e.g., “three, four, five”) rather
than counting over from one (e.g., “one, two,
three, four, five”), to find the total sum.
numerals. Symbols to express numbers. The
standard written numerals in American society are Arabic numerals 1, 2, 3, and so on.
one-to-one correspondence. One and only
one number word is used for each object in
the array of objects being counted.
operations. Processes involving a change or
transformation in quantity such as the
operations of addition and subtraction.
part–whole relationships. A whole number
represented by smaller subsets that, when
combined, equal the number (e.g., the
number 5 can be described as 2 + 3; 1 + 4;
2 + 2 +1, and so forth).
pattern. A regularly repeated arrangement of
things such as numbers, objects, events, or
real-life setting. The creation of a set-up
in the preschool environment taken from
everyday, real-life activities that includes
pretend materials and props to facilitate
children acting out different roles (e.g., a
bakery, a bank, a grocery store).
scaffolding. A process by which adults or
capable peers provide supportive structures
to help children learn and play. Scaffolding
is helpful when children are faced with a
challenge that they can solve with a simple
hint, question, or prompt.
sorting. The act of separating things having
common features into sets or groups.
subitizing. The ability to quickly and accurately determine the quantity of objects in
a small group (of up to five objects) without
actually counting the objects.
volume. The amount of space within threedimensional objects.
Schickedanz, J. A. 2008. Increasing the power
of instruction: Integration of language,
literacy, and math across the preschool day.
Washington, DC: National Association for
the Education of Young Children.
09-002 PR090019-0 4-10 50M
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