Category Archives: Literacy

Rewards, Punishments and Learning

The teacher was standing at the blackboard surveying the group of children in the class.  She had just demonstrated how to print the lower case letter ‘f’ within the three horizontal lines that were neatly drawn on the board.  Now she was looking for a child to come to the board and prove that she had been successful in ‘teaching’ the proper placement of the letter.

I sunk lower in my seat, trying not to make eye contact.  The words ‘Please, not me’ looped silently in my head.  I knew how to print the letter ‘f’.  I knew how to print all the letters in the alphabet but I didn’t want to go to the board and show her or anyone else.

The teacher called my name.

I stood up and walked slowly to the front of the class.  I looked at the ground in front of me – trying not to notice everyone staring at me.  I wanted to scream and run out of the room but that would have drawn even more attention to me.

I took the piece of chalk that the teacher offered me.  I could feel the other children watching me as I tentatively placed the tip of the chalk against the board and drew a straight line down.  I knew I had already failed to follow the instructions and I contemplated how to correct it.  I quickly placed the chalk back at the top of the vertical line and added the curve and then finished the ‘f’ with the line across.

The teacher’s reaction was swift.  “Wrong” she said sternly as she took the chalk from me and proceeded to demonstrate the ‘correct’ method.  She then instructed me to go to the other end of the blackboard and fill two full lines with properly formed f’s.

I scuttled to the end of the board and began the task.  The class continued to ‘learn’ other letters and then they went out for recess. With the now empty classroom my printing improved.  The teacher came to inspect my progress.  Satisfied, she released me from the task and I went out to play.

More than forty years has passed and I still pause and shudder each and every time I print an ‘incorrect’ letter f.  Yet, how I print the letters is irrelevant to others as long as they are readable.  So, was the teacher’s lesson successful?

I’d like to believe that we don’t teach like that anymore.

Printing is a tool of communication – one of many.  Using tools takes practice.  Not right or wrong, reward or punishment.  Learning requires trial and error; freedom to explore and experiment without fear of being wrong.  Punishments and rewards only teach compliance – nothing more.

Favorite Fingerplay

We have circle time every morning.  In other posts like Telling Stories and Show & Tell I’ve covered some additional aspects of our circle time but we regularly do a calendar activity followed by poems.  I designed a calendar template that can be modified for each month allowing to opportunity to include all our special events.

Every month I print six copies of the calendar and place them in sheet protectors.  At circle time each child is given a copy of the calendar so they can follow along and they are encouraged to add personal information to the conversations.

Alphabet tapes have been placed along the bottom of the sheet protectors – A to M on the calendar side and N to Z on the poem side.  As we recite the alphabet together we include a word beginning with each letter and the names of anyone in the house as well – A for apple, B for Ball, C for car and Cheryl and Curtis, D for duck and Dylan and so on.

The current poems are placed on the reverse side of the calendar.  I choose the poems based on the season or other interests of the children. Sometimes the children learn them quickly and then get bored.  Occasionally they don’t connect with the poem and loose interest in participating in circle time.  I usually change the poems several times each month so this doesn’t happen.  I also like to include pictures alongside the poems and at least one of the selected poems will have actions.

It was about seven or eight years ago that I first used the Tommy Thumb poem for circle time.  It was one of the favourite finger plays for that group of children and they continued to recite it throughout the days long after new poems were introduced.

 Tommy Thumb

Tommy Thumbs up (Point thumbs up)

Tommy Thumbs down (Point thumbs down)

Tommy Thumbs dancing (Bounce them to the left)

All around the town (Bounce them to the right)

Dance them on your shoulders (Bounce on your shoulders)

Dance them on your head (Bounce on your head)

Dance them on your knees (Bounce on your knees)

Tuck them into bed. (Fold arms hiding hands)

Peter Pointer… Baby Finger…

Finger Family…

This finger play has continued to be a favourite with subsequent groups of children.  I brought it back for circle time at the beginning of this month and the children are still excited about it so we have had the same poems for almost four weeks now.

I tried to take some pictures of them but their enthusiasm made this quite difficult.  This is the best I was able to do;

Ok, so I was holding the camera with only one hand — I had to do the actions too!


Given the influx of tech gadgets books remain an integral part of child development. When I first opened my child care home we had about 200 books.  They were kept on shelves in the main play area where they were available for the children to read throughout the day.

Over the years our collection has grown and so has its need for space.  Considering how limited our space is finding an adequate location for the books has been a challenge.  Eventually I decided it was necessary to store the majority of the books and have just a small selection of books available at one time.

The predominant issue that this scenario posed was the time it took for me to choose which books to display.  Sometimes I would pick out all the books with a common theme like ‘dinosaurs’. We had a lot of dinosaur books and if I had them out then there wasn’t room for any other books so if you didn’t like dinosaurs there were no books for you to read.

Selecting books based on a theme was also a problem for emergent curriculum program since I sorted through and chose the books when the children were not here. Then when they arrived I’d discover that they had a totally different ‘theme’ in mind.

So a couple years ago I spent a weekend sorting and organizing all the books into twelve groups – one for each month. Holiday and seasonal themed books were grouped in their appropriate month.  The remaining books were distributed evenly among the months.  Each month contains a variety of books – fiction and resource, toddler to school-age, small and large, paperback and hardcover – something for everyone.

When not in use they are stored like this;

Looking up the stairs to the library loft you see a few of the books available;

Up in the loft there is space to relax alone or share a story with a few friends;

There are books outside of the loft too because we know that books are used often during dramatic play and other activities too. There is always a lot of excitement when the new books come out.  They bring back memories and ignite new interests.

It always makes me smile when the children hold their books like this;

Ensuring that everyone can see the pictures as you read the story to them and making story time a wonderful socially interactive experience.

A Child’s Story

It has only been two weeks since our storytelling venture began and I think we are off to a great start.  We don’t have a specific order for who tells the story each day because I understand that sometimes you just don’t have any idea for a story and as with any activity here, participation is optional as long as you respect the others that do want to. I find it interesting that the older preschoolers are the ones that most often opt out of a turn at storytelling.

The children get really excited as storytelling time gets near.  They whisper amongst themselves about whose turn it is going to be – who has a story idea – so as we sit down for circle they already know who wants to tell the story.  They have already decided that on school inservice days the school age children – who are not usually here for circle time – will be the story teller.

Another aspect that I find fascinating is the way the children incorporate portions of previous stories into the one that they are telling.  Sometimes it is the name of the character – ‘toothpaste’ has been popular — or the problems they encountered, the storyteller often use parts of other stories to create their own story.  I don’t see this as ‘stealing’ or copying the ideas of others but rather ‘proof’ that they were truly listening to and comprehending the stories told by their friends.  This is an amazing accomplishment especially when you consider that we are not using any graphics or props for these stories.

So, as promised, here is one of my favourite stories so far – as told by a three year old;

“My friend Nutty is a squirrel.  He saw his friend Catty the caterpillar.  Nutty dressed up like a zombie for Halloween.  His friend dressed up as a helicopter – a very colourful helicopter – like a rainbow.  They went out to get candy at people’s houses.  After Halloween Nutty went back to being a squirrel.  Catty couldn’t be a caterpillar anymore because he was a butterfly.”

Telling Stories

We have a daily circle time in our regular schedule.  During circle time we have a calendar activity and discuss upcoming special events.  There is also time for the children to share any information about their own adventures with their family and friends beyond our little group.  Today, we are starting something new – creative story telling.

I’ve been impressed by the storylines in their dramatic play activities and toyed with a variety of ways to document this creativity.  I first introduced the idea of ‘story telling’ to the children last week.  We discussed some ‘rules’ – although I suppose they are really just guidelines;

  • There will be only one Story Teller each day — everyone will get a turn just not all on the same day.
  • Use your imaginations – we want to hear creative stories.  I will write the stories down as the children tell them.
  • I don’t want to hear ‘recaps’ of TV shows or movies that they’ve watched.  Here I’m counting on the children to ‘tattle’ on their friends since I don’t know much about some of the shows they watch but I know they often correct each other when they re-enact these stories during dramatic play.
  • Stories can be based on actual experiences but I’m hoping they embellish them and add ‘what if’ or ‘I wish’ components.
  • The stories cannot upset or offend any of the listeners – such as using one of the others in the group as the ‘bad guy’ in the story.

To give them an example I told the first story yesterday – a variation of a camping trip experience that I had with my family when I was a child.  Today, one of the children will be the story teller.  I expect the stories will be fairly simple at first but as the children gain experience as story tellers they will become more confident and their story telling abilities will grow.

In the future, to expand this activity further I’m planning to have them create illustrations and make actual books of their stories.  Maybe I’ll even highlight some of them here…



The ability to understand written and spoken language is essential in today’s society.

In the playroom of my childcare home I allow the children of all ages to choose and handle books independently throughout the day.  I include a variety of books from small board books to heavy catalogues with glossy pages.  Books are used as part of play and social activities.

I do not schedule a specific time of the day for me to read stories aloud to the children – reading and listening can be done anytime throughout the day regardless of age or ability.

Children are not required to sit and listen to me read a story.   I encourage them to interact with each other and the objects in the room as I read.  Being able to connect the story to personal experience is an important part of understanding the language.  Even those children who are playing elsewhere in the room may be listening and visualizing or acting out parts of the story. I believe that children’s literacy skills can be enhanced by allowing them to move around and engage in other activities as I read.  An active young child who is required to sit and ‘pay attention’ may be learning that books and reading are boring and actually tune out the words even though they appear to be listening.

I have attached labels to various objects throughout the room and in the housekeeping area I include empty containers from familiar objects in place of toy replicas.  In this way, young children can learn to associate the text with the real objects instead of only seeing it on the pages of books.  The printed labels and words on the items the children play with allow the children to combine the text, the spoken words and the visible object as they manipulate these items.

Literacy is more than being able to read and write words — understanding the meaning of words is equally important.  Young children need to be able to physically explore in order to fully comprehend written and spoken language.