Maureen Ingram has taught in cooperative preschools in the Washington, D.C. suburbs since September 2000, working primarily with three year olds, and mentoring adults – both parents and teachers – in their work with young children. She has a keen interest in open-ended, exploratory learning, conflict resolution and problem-solving with young children, and understanding different learning styles. This past year, Maureen began working with the Center for Inspired Teaching as a mentor and course instructor, and is excited to continue this relationship this fall as Early Childhood Lead and Master Teacher at the new Inspired Teaching School in Washington, D.C. She loves writing, having kept a journal most of her life and, for the past 18 months, Maureen has been blogging about “all things early childhood,” reflecting on her classroom practice, at http://myiearlychildhoodreflections.blogspot.com/.
Pre-writing teaching necessarily involves the mechanics of writing. Preschoolers are developing the hand muscles and coordination for writing tools. (How do you make writing happen when children are still working on getting their wrists ready?) These and other activities are essential for three year olds:
– writing and drawing with their fingers in shaving cream, sand, and other sensory elements;
– working with clay or kneading dough;
– swinging from monkey bars;
– pushing open the heavy classroom door, because you are the door holder today;
– de-stressing with wall pushups;
– exploring pens, pencils, scissors, markers, paintbrushes, toy hammers, and other hand tools;
– using eyedroppers and liquid watercolors on coffee filters;
– using tongs in the sand table, to retrieve small items; and
– lifting and carrying large blocks and other heavy items.
It is important to provide children with plenty of exposure to different kinds of writing. I provide a language-rich environment, with words printed everywhere — labels on bins, signs on doors, plus lists, posters, and displays that we have made together. There is no end to the possibilities for children to see and use different kinds of writing:
– creating stories, songs, and poems together at whole group time, while I record our words on a large flipchart;
– playing in the writing center, with notebooks, loose paper, stencils, pencils, crayons, and markers;
– writing lists about what we know or predict;
– looking at books, maps, game directions, signs, recipes, and maps (and creating our own);
– drawing and writing what we plan to build or what we saw;
– signing in at the start of the day;
– answering a special question of the day at the arrival board;
– creating group cards, letters, and thank you notes to visitors or community folks,
– using the classroom mailbox to write letters to one another,
– and on and on.
Writing is one of my favorite resources when children are upset. For example, “Let’s write a letter to Mom and tell her how sad you are,” or “Let’s make a sign that says you want to use the Legos next.” My journaling has taught me how soothing writing can be, and I would love for my three year olds to feel this magic.
On any given day, you will see a couple of children having fun in the writing center. Some of these children will look at the alphabet chart and try to imitate the letters. These are the “traditional learners,” the linguistically gifted, for whom, I suspect, future schooling will come easiest.
But most of my three year olds are not in the writing center. They are busy having a tea party with their baby dolls, painting at the easel, working with play dough, building in the block corner, or driving cars and trucks. My job is to make writing happen in all these places, in many ways, woven throughout the classroom and the day.
I am influenced by the wonderful work of Vivian Paley, Margie Carter, and Deb Curtis, who have taught me to be present with children, to catch their words and actions, and thus understand children better and improve my teaching practice. Preschoolers see me writing every day. Additionally, they see the purpose and value of writing. I try to share my passion for writing with them, and hopefully encourage their love of writing as well.
I have clipboards throughout my classroom, at the ready, for both children and me to use. I encourage children to write or draw what they see, what they remember, what they imagine or plan to do. Through a variety of learning experiences and art tools, three year olds will make lines, circles, squiggles… when I see these on their clipboards, in their artwork, or at my sign-in, I know I am seeing the beginning of writing. Soon they will be making letters, and writing their names (often backwards at first, and then forward with practice, nudging, and growth). Most threes are writing their name by the end of the school year.
A friend sent me this inspirational thought:
Observe. Believe. Write.
It is as simple as that. Love of writing requires skills that are essentially “mindset.”
Love of writing requires the ability to observe what is happening and make a record of it, to add details and clarification to one’s work. In my opinion, the most important skill we can impart to preschoolers is how to observe. It is the cornerstone of being a writer.
Three year olds can learn the skill of observation even if they are not writing lines and lines of text, even if they are not holding a writing tool. It can be taught in myriad, fun ways that meet the needs of all the intelligences in the room, that respect the unique and individual ways of learning. It is taught by adults being present and playful, listening, asking questions, and slowing down enough to write down children’s words and share them.
In my classroom, we always write a note to parents at the end of the school day, sharing our favorite experiences. It is a special moment when a so-called “frisky” or “spirited” friend calls out – “Ms. Maureen, did you write down that I made a big, huge rocket?” Although he is not holding the pencil, he is thinking like a writer – noticing the details.
I can’t imagine a day without my three year olds writing.