Thursday, March 8, 2012

The importance of 'pre-'

Kindy and preschool are all about 'pre' stuff: pre-reading, pre-number, pre-writing. In fact, pre-paration. Getting a child ready for learning, involves them learning HOW to learn. It is a cliche nowadays, to say that learning is not about the absorption of facts, but learning how to find facts, learning what facts are important, and learning where to find them. To me, though, that doesn't cut the mustard. Learning has always been about technique, and attitude, and howto. Rarely has it been about the accumulation of facts. That is an autistic response. I'll jump into the deep end: a law degree teaches one how to think critically and laterally; working in a law firm will help one to seek out facts.

In reading, the 'pre' stuff is getting toddlers to appreciate that the marks on a page are what an adult is saying, that we are 'reading' those marks close to the picture. That these marks always 'read' the same. That we are not quixotic. We don't make things up each time. That the marks go from left to right. Sure, we can describe the picture, chat about it, but that will vary each and every time. And although that has its attractions, humans crave certainty. They crave the familiar. Tthe marks tell more about the pictures in a consistent, replicable way. This can be broadened into the environment. There are marks everywhere that can be read. Like on the side of a bus, or the side of a truck, on the roof of a taxi. Or a sign on the road that says STOP, at which few cars actually stop.

Something similar goes with writing. There is a link between writing and reading. As well as reading the marks. We can write marks, and then read them and they are consistently the same. Toddlers enjoy realising the link between speaking, reading, and writing. They adore language and the control that so obviously comes from a proficiency in it.

Up here where I am keying this, Alannah sits where I am now, and I stand beside her. She can have as many pieces of paper as she wants - each piece is a quarter of A4 - and she does ask for more when she has finished.

Up until today, I have offered her a black texta, and four coloured textas. Today she would only use black, possibly because I only write with black. I make marks with the coloured textas but do not (and cannot) read those coloured marks to her. She is a most observant child - she does a heap of silent, wide-eyed watching.

Usually, I ask if she would like me to write her name. That is how it starts. But today, she said she was writing Alannah. So underneath, after she had finished, I wrote Alannah. Then she said 'Jane' just like that, and wrote it. I had not heard her say Jane before. I wrote Jane on the bottom of the sheet after Alannah. Then I asked her if she wanted me to write 'Lynn', and she gave a shy grin, and nodded. I wrote Lynn, then she wrote Lynn. Pretty much over the top of Alannah. Then, I pointed to both our writings, and said that we had written her name. And I poked her in the chest, repeating her name. All this writing can be seen in the first image.

The others followed suit, in order, Mummy, Daddy, Grandad, Ma. She knows that Ma is very short. And I think the 'stabs' (or dots) are her way of writing something short. She was very noisy when writing Ma. Nearly shouting. Yet Mummy, Daddy, and Grandad all look different from either Alannah or Ma. They are all long, with lots of ups and downs. She has seen these words lots of times. But never before have I seen her consciously set out to write them.

Today, Alannah's writing came before mine. she was writing, whereas prior to today she had been colouring in my writing. Today she was communicating, whereas prior to today she had still been listening to something. Today, she was joining in a conversation.

I *think* this understanding of writing could be going hand in hand with my asking if she would like me to read the 'words' in the book 'Rudie Nudie' which are words that appear to float across the top of the page. I read them slowly, and with great theatricality. Alannah will then use her finger to float across where the words are, and will sing-song read. I also read the pictures to her. I don't make up the story in my own words, but I point to a smile on the face of a character that might indicate happiness and pleasure. Stuff like that.

I was telling this to Alannah's Mummy that evening. And it transpires that on Tuesday, when they had been at Camp Cove, before the rain began, another push-forward had manifested itself. To quote Kirsten:
Yesterday at the beach I asked her what she wanted me to write and she said Alannah. I wrote Alannah. What next? Mummy. I wrote Mummy. Ma. I wrote Ma. What about Grandad? Nod. Daddy. Etc. I wrote them lots of times because the waves kept washing the words away.
'Rudie Nudie', written and illustrated by Emma Quay, ABC Books, 2011


Joan Elizabeth said...

I find all this effort at pre stuff quite amusing. How on earth did we get on at school without all this formalised pre-stuff?

I say play, play, play.

Julie said...

Yes, it is interesting, isn't it. I could, of course, have written this story from a 'play' perspective. Because it appears to be, and feels like, play. However, I chose to look at where each component part slotted in from an educational point of view. That is just my style, I suppose.

There is another thing that she and I do, which is ride our walking sticks around to the tune of 'Ride a Cock Horse'. Sometimes I lead and sometimes she leads. However, I know that I am teaching her to use her imagination. I know that I am teaching her to be as outrageous and loud as she wants to be. Not to be embarrassed and shy. Not that I think either of those are necessarily in her make up.

The activities I slot in all have a purpose, but above all, they are full of playful fun.

I am not sure how us older folk got on without all the organised stuff. I guess maybe it had to do with larger families, and parents who were more not as stressed earning a living.

Can you remember the sort of play things that you had available to you, say up to the end of Infants School (aged 8)?

diane b said...

You two are doing well at playing pre school.

Joan Elizabeth said...

Let me think, the only formal thing pre-school was kindergarten of the air - dancing to the music being an elephant or whatever. Mum was there encouraging us all the way to participate and admire our efforts. And of course when we were older the argonauts club on the radio in the evening.

I think we learnt a lot by watching and helping do adult things like cooking, washing (a big chore in those days of coppers and mangles and we had our own little clothes line to hang the hankies and tea towels), helping sprinkle the starched clothes for ironing, fetching wood, scrubbing and polishing floors. But it was all in the sense of fun.

We played at being the grocers boy taking the grocery order, and being Mrs Higgs making a visit for afternoon tea. Mrs Higgs was always going shopping and always dressed up in dress ups.

Mothers and Fathers was a favourite. My brother always chose to be a PMG technician and crawled all around the verandah stringing wires. And I loved my dolls.

We had some wonderful hand-me-down metal pedal toys and a circuit along the verandah and through the house on Mum's polished floor.

We ran about a lot, always playing competitive games and taking on state champion roles. Nobody wanted to be NSW. We hated NSW. Hopscotch, skipping, playing ball on the wall.

There was almost always an imaginative element to our play. We were never ashamed of talking to ourselves and other imaginary people. Pre-lego building blocks made the fences and walls.

I don't remember much drawing in paper (we weren't wasteful of such things in those days) but we had a chalk board that got a good work out and a glass slate.

There was a sandpit, chooks, cats and the garden. People always going too an fro from Dad's business where we learnt to hammer and bang at things.

A story read at night and a few well loved books.

And lots of squabbling with brothers and sisters. I guess having a tribe of kids let us learn the socialisation stuff at home. We didn't play with other kids, just at Sunday School and at school when we were old enough to go there.

Julie said...

I will come back to your wonderful comment later this evening, Joan.

Diane, what about you? Can you remember how and what and with whomn you played before you were, say, 8? I guess you were still in England at that stage.

Kay L. Davies said...

We always had lots of paper, some of it strange sizes, because Dad always worked in the printing business. I know he taught me to read and write before I started school, but I don't remember the process.
Although Dad was the instigator, I know Mom participated, and took over the "teaching" when Dad was at work.
I got the intensive at-home pre-school because I was the eldest. I guess I was a novelty, and I absorbed things quickly, the way Alannah does. I remember my grandfather showing me how to make snow angels the winter I was two, when my brother was an infant. I remember sharing a room with my brother when he was in a toddler-sized crib. I had graduated to a "big girl's bed" and I remember I talked to him a lot, when we were supposed to be sleeping.
Interesting questions, Julie.

Julie said...

Joan: That is such a wonderful comment, which brought back memories by the bucket load. It is interesting that so many people listened to The Argonauts. I am older than you, and have no memory of it at all. On the radio I remember Jack Davey, Pick-a-Box, Police Files, and the Sunday night Top Ten.

We had three books at home that I remember: The PanAm book of the cities they flew to, one per page. Large, glossy and white. The Webster's International Dictionary of 1901 with finger ledges etched in goldleaf and with etched drawing probably 2 or 3 to a page, and a book of Harvester farm equipment. Once a month, on a Monday, Dad would bring home a copy of the most recent 'Australasian Post'. I don't remember being read to. I did not join the library until I was in 5th Class.

We played wild-west cowboys with cutout panels from the back of Cornflakes packs and the plastic models from inside the pack. We played cars down in the creek bank, probably causing a decent amount of erosion.

And we did chores. They weren't fun. They were our responsibility. Feed the chooks, and collect the eggs. Milk the cows. Get the calves in each evening so the udder was full come morning. Chop the kindling. Water Mum's veggies. Help Dad around the farm with jobs that were way too hard for us.

We also had to catch rabbits to supplement our food, and spray prickly pear otherwise we would be fined. This was from 8 to 14 though, so older than I suggested. Pre the farm was less arduous, but I do not remember much parental input.

Joan Elizabeth said...

I was thinking about the chores. We had a way of turning them into fun. When we had to rake up the grass after dad had mowed we pretended to be farmers bailing hay. When we had to carry big arm loads of wood to fill the woodbox we called ourselves Speedy Service Men and tried to do it quicker and quicker. Feeding the chooks was fun, they used to run the fence at the scape of the spoon on the porridge pot. Though I must admit we always tried to dodge doing the dishes and Mum and Dad did by far the lions share of the work.

When we asked Dad why he left the farm he said "you would not want to be up early every morning to milk cows before going to school. " I get the message, on the farm kids are unpaid workers.