Friday, March 2 marked the 108th birthday of Theodor Geisel, better known to children and adults the world over as Dr. Seuss. With events such as “Read Across America” week, national attention is focused on the criticality of literacy. At Lewis-Clark Early Childhood Program, literacy is a key part of preparing children for academic success — every day.
Recently Dorlan Hergesheimer, executive director at Lewis-Clark Early Childhood Program, visited the agency’s Head Start center at Whitman Elementary in Lewiston. A visitor in the classroom is not out of the ordinary; volunteer support is a central part of the agency’s operations. Taking advantage of teacher Kris Dvorak’s hospitality, this special volunteer used “circle time” to read to the over a dozen children in the center’s afternoon class from Mercer Mayer’s “There’s a Nightmare in My Closet.” The classic tells the story of a young boy with a monster — the “nightmare” — in his closet. At first fearful of the monster, the boy soon befriends the pitiful creature. It’s a story of overcoming fears, being kind to others and sharing. The story and its beautiful illustrations have captivated readers since the book’s publication in 1968.
For preschool-aged children, still developing literacy skills, a reader can help bring a story to life and enhance one’s grasp of alphabetic concepts. Hergesheimer employed a variety of best practices to engage his audience of eager students; interactivity is the key. Questions that invite student interaction spur imagination and plant the seeds of reading comprehension: How would you feel if there was a monster in your closet? Have you ever had a nightmare? Do you know what this word is? What do you think the boy will do next? What would you do if you saw a scary monster in your closet? With those kinds of questions, Hergesheimer invited the children to relate to the material, draw on and build their vocabulary, and analyze the story. Using an expressive voice dramatized the emotions and plot movements of the story, helping it come alive in the minds of his young listeners.
While students are immersed in the world of the story, they are also developing literacy skills. One trick to facilitate reading among children is to move one’s finger under the words as they are read aloud. This invites children to make the connections between the sounds of the words and the letters used to make the words. Some preschool-aged children recognize simple words, such as “cat.” Pausing over those words and inviting students to identify them helps reinforce their acquisition as vocabulary. Pointing from the word to a picture also helps make a connection. A featured book can become the focus of a series of tied-in activities, such as science and art projects.
During their time in Head Start, children build the foundation of literacy. Most children who have been in the program for two years will enter kindergarten knowing at least 75 percent of their letters, writing their own names, recognizing the names of their peers, and being able to put together simple words. Those skills help students succeed at the level of their peers in kindergarten, an advantage that lasts throughout a student’s time in school.
Of course, you don’t have to be the executive director to make a difference in a child’s life at Lewis-Clark Early Childhood Program. Volunteers are always welcome in the classroom or in other roles around the agency. Interested? Contact us today, and get involved (pdf). Become a part of a child’s journey to academic success.