Broad goals for the language arts curriculum focus on increasing children’s skills in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. It is neither possible nor advisable to totally separate the learning of one skill from the learning of another; however, at times you will focus more on one area of language arts than another. These four broad goals are outlined in the following sections.
Goal 1: Listening
Children will develop the ability to listen in order to make sense of their environment. In order for children to learn, they need to take information in and process it. Listening to and comprehending information is an essential step in acquiring knowledge (Cassell, 2004; Jalongo, 1996). Listening is not a natural, innate ability. Instead, it is learned through the guidance and teaching of parents, teachers, and other people in young children’s environment (Kupetz & Twiest, 2000). Strategies such as a hand signal or environmental cues such as turning the lights off to signal total quiet are helpful in alerting the children that it is time to stop what they are doing and listen.
Teaching children to listen to other children and to adults will increase the opportunities to learn language as well as new ideas. It is also one of the hardest skills to teach young children, who are often very busy initiating activities and expressing themselves and who are not as interested in listening to those around them.
Goal 2: Speaking
In order to learn language, children need opportunities to talk and be heard (Dickinson & Snow, 1987). Effective adult-child dialogue includes an adult who listens as the child speaks, asks questions that encourage the child to say more, and expands and elaborates on what the child has said. Samantha shows her teacher a picture that she drew. Instead of responding with a typical praise of “That’s nice” or “What a good job you did,” Mrs. Bands stops what she is doing, kneels down at eye level with Samantha, and says, “Tell me about this picture that you drew.” Samantha has the opportunity to describe and explain her drawing.
Children need to learn that the manner in which they speak depends on the situation. Informal speech is appropriate with friends and family, but more precise speech is appropriate for school and other places outside the home. When children want to communicate their ideas, they need to speak in ways that others can understand and hear.
Goal 3: Reading
Although formal reading instruction typically begins in first grade, kindergarteners develop many skills that prepare them to learn to read. Children whose daily routines and activities provide them with “reading opportunities” will begin to identify environmental print (West & Egley, 1998). Names on bedroom doors, on cubbies in school, and on backpacks provide multiple and distinct opportunities for children to recognize their names. With repeated exposure to a predictable book, three-, four-, and five-year-olds can “read” stories. Mrs. Bands has read The Three Billy Goats Gruff to her class multiple times over the last three weeks. With their expert knowledge of the book, her class can anticipate when the goats are walking over the bridge and chime in with a chorus of “Trip, Trap, Trip, Trap.”
An environment that is rich in books and print helps children begin to discern the meaning of print (Vacca & Vacca, 2003). What seems like scribbling on a page begins to develop meaning as children begin to understand that print communicates a message (Sulzby, 1992). Children learn to recognize letters and words and eventually become aware of the relationship of sounds to letters and words (Bowman, 2002). Some kindergarteners effortlessly “crack the code” and begin to identify and sound out words with continued exposure to print. For other kindergarteners, reading will take more effort and require more formal instruction in first and second grade.
Goal 4: Writing
Children will learn to write in an increasingly complex and precise manner to communicate their ideas, request things, document their activities, and provide pleasure and amusement. To foster this development, three-, four-, and five-year-olds need experiences that encourage them to make marks on paper and write. Children begin writing by scribbling and drawing pictures. As their knowledge of print increases, letters are formed, and the collection of nonsense letters comes closer to phonetic spellings (Sulzby & Teale, 1985). The first discovery is often their own names, and they become fascinated with the results, as did four-year-old Tommy, who spent an entire afternoon crafting the “T” and “O” in his name when he discovered that “Tommy” was how his name was written.
From these beginnings, children begin to learn the often difficult but exciting task of putting their words and thoughts on paper. They eventually learn that there are different purposes for writing and that the style of writing changes with the purpose.
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