Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Concepts of Print with Jayden

By Donna Klockars
“Grandma, it’s not a J.  It doesn’t have a hat.”

Dear Reader, I am obsessed with the question: How do kids learn that squiggly lines can be like talking?

It seems to me that the research folks don’t have all the answers on this question.  So I like to imagine that if I watch kids enough, all will be revealed and I will know how to help all my short friends figure out this puzzle.

So ,let me tell you how Jayden, four and one half years old, got me thinking about the really big ticket items that go behind, through and around the acquisition of Concepts of Print.

One morning when Jayden and I were mucking out the horse stalls in the Big Barn I asked him what he wanted to be when he gets big.  He told me that he wants to be Jayden when he gets big.   I rephrase the question. He pauses and ponders, then announces, “Oh, well Grandma, when I get big I want to be a barner, just like you.” He followed this up with, “Look Grandma.  Look how army I am. I can lift the wheelbarrow.”

I mention this to you, Dear Reader, because I can’t help think that Jayden has made some remarkable conclusions about how language works. It also made me wonder if Jayden’s acumen for generating rules is driving his schema around how print works.

Later in the morning we decide we will have some peaches and Cheerios. We are looking at the Jumbo size Cheerios box and I point to the word JUMBO that is placed vertically vs. horizontally. 

“Jayden, I bet you can read this word on the box.  Look, Jumbo has your letter J.”

“Grandma, I can’t read and that is NOT a J.  It doesn’t have a hat and it is too fat.

I tell him that sometimes J doesn’t have a hat and sometimes it is skinny.

 “No, Grandma, he has to have a hat and that J is too fat and it’s yellow and it is too big.  It is not J.  Teacher Gail knows. She is the teacher. You just have to practice more and you will know J.”

Later that morning, we make cookies together. We are getting ready to break the eggs. (Arguably the second best part about making cookies together.)  I point to the egg carton.

“Oh look Jayden, There’s the word egg!  Remember the ODD EGG story? (Emily Gravett) That was the first word you ever read.”

“Grandma,that is NOT the egg word. That egg word is too little. It’s easy when you know it. Do you want me to go and get the ODD EGG book?”

Hmm… could it be important to understand that our shorter friends pay attention to the shape, size, colour, and font of each letter they encounter?”

If this is the case, my early educator friends might want to give the ankle biters heaps of play based experiences interacting with letters. 

Here are just a few of the things I have been trying with Jayden. Lesson intention:  J sometimes chooses to forget his hat, but he still is J.

Since it is summer and since I am a grandma and can get away with a lot of questionable nutrition breaks, we end up at the Dairy Queen.   We both agree a dip cone would be tasty. I casually point to the DQ sign. We get up close and personal to the DQ sign and try and guess how big it is. (185 feet according to Jayden) We have a nice conversation about the colour and shape of said sign.  Then we will go inside and guess how big the DQ letters on the menu board are. (185 feet according to Jayden)  We order two medium cones to go. I stuff a wad of DQ napkins into my purse so we can cut up the

DQ letters when we get home. (And because it is stinking hot and the ice cream is dripping all over the truck.) 

Ditto experience for an all too frequent visit (according to Mom not grandma) to Timmy’s.  We cut up the “Tin Bits” carton as soon as we get home. (Double Chocolate and Cherry are our favorites) Despite lots of sugar highs, he still isn’t all that convinced.

Attributes like, colour size and font continue to get in the letter recognition mind set for Jayden.  I just keep on trying and hey, it is a small price to pay for literacy research.

 A few days later, we spend some time making a “Name Bubble” for the wolf stuffy Teacher Gail lets him bring to school one day a week. You guessed it-his name is Wolfy.

“We make it big, we make it small, but Wolfy is always Wolfy even if he is tall.”
Since everything is a story in Jayden’s life, we are making up crazy Alphabet stories for each letter. The more drama the better! I will blog you our collection when we get them all made up.  But here is one of our first.

S says “I like to stay close to these rocks when it is sunny. It helps me feel ssssso warm and cozy “SSSSSo make me curve around these rocks.  Did you know I am a good hissssser, Watch, this is how I say hello: SSSS SSSSSSo how are you today? Did you notice my baby looks just like me but she is smaller?”

I have a bunch of rocks and we make the snake stuffy curl around them forming the S letter. Then I draw several rocks and we draw our snake.  We make him big, we make him small.  We make him black, we make him tall.

We are always on the hunt for letters. Brenda Boreham’s  "Shapes" book from the Strong Readers set got us started on trying to find shapes that are hiding outside and in the house. “The Alphabet City” book by Stephen T. Johnson, bumped things up.  Daily “Search for Letters” has us connecting real items with their hidden shapes or letters. (Try it–it’s fun!)

The egg is an egg-sideways or upside down. But try turning a W upside down and it results in just plain chaos and heartache. This is the general gist of my lesson intention but damn that kid is stubborn.  He just keeps telling me to talk to teacher Gail…”she knows everything about letters-and J can’t forget his hat!

Now back to my conclusion that I have a lot of evidence Jayden is a real hot shot at generating rules that dictate how words work.  I think this strength of his could be at the bottom of his J is a J only if he has his hat.  Figuring out how letters work requires the same dedication to noticing a trend and generating rules.  Don’t you think it is amazing that so much brain power goes into even the simplest Concept of Print? I think it is just a remarkable achievement!

I am all for “Alphabet Stations”.  Play based station activities that are heaps of fun, will go a long way in providing hands on activities our kids need if they are to really understand the big ticket items that are the foundation for understanding how squiggly black lines work.

I will gather Alphabet Play Stations ideas and pull my favourite books that prove helpful for you if you are interested.  Jayden and I are on a wonderful journey of discovery. 

I hope these ideas will be useful.  I will let you know if Jayden modifies his rule that J is not a J if he forgets his hat.  We are off to Dairy Queen for a dip cone.

In friendship,

P.S.  Dear Reader, don’t forget to let me know your thoughts about kids and concepts of print.  Will you be my learning partner for my inquiry about concepts of print?  Jayden and I are learning partners, but he doesn’t like to talk about phonemes and morphological markers like you and I do?

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