I am not a primary person. Sure, I’ve spent time working alongside kids in first- and second-grade classrooms when I’ve done consulting work, but my comfort zone lies in the upper elementary grades. Despite that, I’ve been volunteering in my daughter’s mixed-age preschool class on most Mondays this school year. I offered to volunteer for two reasons:
- I wanted to learn more about emerging writers.
- I needed to fulfill volunteer hours with her school (and didn’t want to serve as a class parent during the Halloween and Valentine’s Day parties).
My real motivation for restructuring my schedule to provide classroom assistance, as opposed to volunteering in another capacity, was prompted by my desire to better prepare my daughter for Kindergarten. I knew Isabelle would be more apt to accept my assistance if she saw me working with her peers.
I started in September doing journal writing with the kids. By January, I realized they needed oral storytelling practice in order to enhance their ability to draw and tell stories so I modeled this. After reading Engaging Young Writers: Preschool-Grade 1 by Matt Glover, I encouraged all of the children to step out of their journals to create short books filled with their true, one-time stories. Once I noticed Isabelle and her peers extending themselves beyond three pages (i.e., a beginning page, a middle page, and an ending page), I realized it was time to step things up again.
I thought about nonfiction writing, but was unsure what to do first. I consulted Betsy Hubbard and Kathleen Sokolowski, both of whom have years of experience teaching Kindergarten, who gave me some ideas. I also referred back to Glover’s book and considered two other entry points for the young writers in Isabelle’s class. I could capitalize on the children’s experiences and on their interests in topics (2009, 133). However, I had to decide which one to try first. I opted to go with experiences.
I went into Isabelle’s school last week, armed with charts and two self-created books about my own experiences. I planned a minilesson and hoped the kids would be interested in writing something other than stories. [Click here if you’d like to view the minilesson.] However, I didn’t want to assign the kids to write about their experiences. Thankfully, once many of them reached the writing center, I discovered they were willing to write something other than stories!
Kathleen encouraged me to have the kids who were willing to write about their experiences use a sentence stem (of sorts) to help them organize their writing. Having a repeated phrase to start off their writing helped since they have been used to sequencing their writing on each page beginning with a transition word like first, second, next, last.
Day one went better than I expected. I was pleased with how the kids who attempted to write about their experiences, rather than stories, did. Here’s a sampling of what two of them wrote:
As you may have noticed, the kids whose writing I shared are not writing words yet. They’re providing me with the words and I scribe their oral stories onto sticky notes. I don’t write directly on their papers since it is my hope they’ll go back and add the words themselves once they’re ready.
Next Monday (since my schedule precluded me from volunteering this past Monday), I’m planning to use the children’s play for inspiration since I don’t think some of the kids believed they could write a book to teach others about something they know well. Betsy suggested using the children’s play as an inspiration. Therefore, I might encourage the kids to write a step-by-step piece about what they do in a given center (e.g., sensory table, block station, dress-up area). It’s my hope the kids who stuck with stories today may realize they have personal expertise with centers and will be apt to write about those experiences. And if they continue to write stories, then that will be acceptable too.
This year in preschool has been a lot of trial and error since I am far out of my comfort zone. I would welcome the expertise of any early childhood educators who read this post. What would you suggest for the remainder of the school year?
I am a literacy consultant who has spent the past dozen years working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grades K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).