Especially as the year goes on and teachers prepare the children for first grade, they'll encourage kids to get as involved as possible in the stories they hear and read. This expands kids' capacity for imagination, of course, but it also supports important reading skills. In teacher talk, the ability to retell a story is a sign of “comprehension,” not just word “decoding,” and really good readers need both skills in order to advance.
This is one reason why lots of kindergarten classrooms include a “dress up” corner. Teachers call that stuff “realia,” and they use it a lot to help students enter the world of books.
Parents, want to help out? Make a “realia box” of your own at home, most of it assembled from odds and ends and toys you already have. Here is a list of “realia” we recommend for a starter box, based on classic kindergarten stories. The rest, of course, is up to you and your child!
What You Need:
- King or Queen crown
- Soft bear or bear puppet
- Little rubber snakes, frogs, and bugs
- Simple puppets or dollhouse-size figures of a man, woman, and child
- Witch or wizard hat
- Plastic dog, donkey, sheep, and horse
- Soft baby chick or duck (these can be interchangeable)
What You Do:
- Start with a box or basket that's attractive and inviting. Fill it yourself, or even better, enlist your child's help and build the collection together.
- Any phonics crafts your child creates at school should also go in the box, along with any special animals or doo-dads that may have come with a story (this writer has seen some awesome “Wild Things” and “Lyle the Crocodiles” over the years, for instance).
- The next time you read together, dive into the box and get ready. Give your kindergartener a prop or two to hold. Then, when you finish the story, use the prop to get your child talking and retelling. What happened? Who did it? How did the story start, develop, and end? At first, don't be surprised if the story goes every which-way from end to start and back. But encourage your child to take it slow and steady, from beginning to middle to end. Keep at it, and rest assured: this is a fast track to raising a child who loves to read.
Julie Williams, M.A. Education, taught middle and high school History and English for seventeen years. Since then, she has volunteered in elementary classrooms while raising her two sons and earning a master's in school administration. She has also been a leader in her local PTA.