Texas Invests in Family Engagement

This fall ReadyRosie is excited to welcome a number of new school districts to the ReadyRosie family and it has been made possible by the House Bill 4 grant. 

The House Bill 4 grant program allows districts to receive funding for qualifying prekindergarten students and funding that is already received for each eligible prekindergarten student. To receive the HB 4 grant funding, a district must meet certain standards in the departments: curriculum, teacher qualifications, academic performance, and family engagement.

We are happy to be the Family Engagement component for the follow districts for the 2016-17 school year:

Alief ISD

Alvarado ISD

Bay City ISD

Birdville ISD

Burleson ISD

Conroe ISD

Deer Park ISD

Driscoll ISD

Elgin ISD

Fort Hancock ISD

Friona ISD

Frisco ISD – Early Childhood School

Galena Park Independent School District

Granbury ISD

HEB ISD

Joaquin ISD

Joshua ISD

Jubilee Academic Charter Schools

Lexington ISD

Manor ISD

Pewitt CISD

Rio Grande City CISD

Rockwall ISD

Seguin ISD: Ball Early Childhood Center

Sherman ISD

Spring Branch ISD

Spring ISD

Victoria ISD

Read more here about how ReadyRosie aligns to the Family Engagement component of the House Bill 4 grant and also aligns to the Texas TEK standards. For more information on the Family Engagement component of House Bill 4 or how it aligns to ReadyRosie, please contact Melissa Nast.

Family Engagement in the Digital Age

One of our favorite Early Childhood thinkers, Chip Donahue (Dean of Distance Learning and Continuing Education and Director of the TEC Center at Erikson Institute), just released his new book. It is a collection of essays from expert “media mentors” and early childhood educators, entitled: Family Engagement in the Digital Age: Early Childhood Educators as Digital Mentors. ReadyRosie is proud to be included as a Spotlight on Engagement Profile (pg. 181). It highlights our work next to the amazing work of some of our partner organizations such as Comienza en Casa of Millbridge, Maine, Raising a Reader, HITN, and others!

 

ReadyRosie is honored to be included in such well thought-out commentary on the big ideas that we think about on a daily basis as we attempt to engage families and educators in the digital age. Ideas such as: How do we ensure that we see family engagement as building capacity in families AND educators? How can technology scale these efforts while enhancing time-tested relational strategies? What are strategies that work for ALL families, ALL languages and ALL cultures? What are strategies that bring the funds of knowledge that all families possess into classroom experiences?

 
This book features other leading experts in the fields of early childhood, family engagement, and digital literacy such as Lisa Guernsey, Karen Nemeth, Michael Levine, Amaya Garcia, Fran Simon, Heather Weiss, and many others! ReadyRosie encourages all our school, library, and community partners to check out this book so as to think deeply about these issues in the new age of technology and heightened awareness of the imperative role of families in closing the opportunity gap.

 

You can purchase your copy here!

 

Thank you, Chip! We appreciate your great contribution!

 

 

Summer Fun and Learning Aren’t Mutually Exclusive: What Parents Can Do to Prevent the Summer Slump

Summer.  What does that word make you think of? Playing outside? Eating ice cream? Taking road trips? Enjoying extra free time with family and friends?

We think of summer and we dream of free time and fun!

However, according to organizations like the National Summer Learning Association and The Campaign for Grade- Level Reading, summertime is too often a season of losing the learning that has been gained during the school year.  As a result, schools, libraries, and other community organizations are attempting to provide summer programs that will help children maintain academic learning while also exposing them to enrichment activities.

Even so, what can a PARENT do to support their child’s continued learning without diminishing the spirit of freedom and fun that we enjoy and expect of the summer?

Here’s some GOOD NEWS!  The creators of ReadyRosie and BringingUp are not only educators, we are also parents (and aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors, etc.) and we have some thoughts on ways to combat summer learning loss without losing the best parts of summer.   

For example…

We believe it is possible to talk math while eating ice cream!

We know that flashcards and worksheets are not required for learning letters.

We agree that parks and playgrounds are the perfect place to expend some energy out of the house and even throw some rocks!

We remember that blowing bubbles is sometimes the perfect way to end a summer evening learning new words with Mom and Dad.

We think a device is not the only way to keep kids engaged and entertained on a road trip!

ReadyRosie and BringingUp families will continue receiving inspiring ideas throughout the summer through regular texts and emails.  We also invite you to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for reminders of specific activities that are perfect for summertime.

Finally, we at ReadyRosie and BringingUp recognize that we aren’t the only ones with ideas.  We would love to hear from you!   Snap a photo or capture a learning moment on video.  Post it to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and tag us @readyrosie with the hashtag #summerlearning.  We can’t wait to see what you make of your summer!

ReadyRosie Invited to White House for Early Ed STEM Symposium

The White House and the US Secretary of Education, John King, are hosting a STEM Starts Early! Symposium on Thursday, April 21 in order to highlight best practices at the intersection of early childhood education and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The event is co-hosted by the U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and InvestInUs.org.

ReadyRosie‘s founder and CEO, Emily Roden, has been invited to participate in the symposium and work with other educational leaders from around the nation to discuss how to best advance STEM learning in early childhood.

During the symposium, the White House will feature a new partnership between ReadyRosie and the Children’s Museum of Houston. The partnership seeks to “Pair Up” in-person STEM experiences for families with video-based mobile technology to enhance and extend authentic STEM early childhood experiences in primarily at-risk communities.

Regardless of income-age-education-background, parents want their children to be successful learners, to reach their potential. Early learning experiences, often inquiry-based, are key to this success. Parents want to help, but don’t know how. Or sometimes they have good ideas, but lack the confidence they are doing the “right” thing. Everyday family interactions at home and beyond can often be modified in small ways for big effect. These everyday STEM learning moments and small projects for families with children birth through elementary school age are what the new ReadyRosie-Children’s Museum of Houston “paired-up for parents” partnership is all about.

ReadyRosie STEM video models have been matched with Children’s Museum of Houston’s STEM project-based learning challenges, advancing family learning experiences to the next level. All pair-ups are based on standards and assessment data focused on furthering learning outcomes, with usage tracking through ReadyRosie facilitating rapid refinements. In May, the Children’s Museum of Houston will co-host a family learning event celebration with 15 of these pair-ups at one elementary school for ~100 families. As soon as this initial pair-up pilot is complete, we’ll expand the model and move on to our next big idea of developing Ready Rosie video models using Children’s Museum of Houston’s STEM exhibits.

ReadyRosie and the Children’s Museum of Houston developed their partnership in large part due to the collaborative work of Houston Early Matters under the leadership of Veronica Chapa.

The White House symposium will be streamed live on White House Live from 9am to 10:15am ET.

MEDIA CONTACTS:
ReadyRosie
Emily Roden, Founder/Owner
eroden@readyrosie.com
940-300-7084

Children’s Museum of Houston
Henry Yau, Director of Public Relations
hyau@cmhouston.org

ReadyRosie and NAEYC Week of the Young Child

ReadyRosie is once again providing a week’s worth of free videos aligned to the daily themes of NAEYC’s Week of the Young Child for the week of April 10-16. Any school, library, nonprofit, or other entity celebrating this week in their community is free to take advantage and make use of these videos designed to give parents and caregivers videos modeling everyday activities they can do with their child. Each day has a video in English and Spanish.

Here’s an example of a video that aligns to Monday’s theme, Music Monday:

We’ve put all the videos together right here in a YouTube playlist so that you can easily share via social media, embed on your website, or use in any other way that is helpful for the parents in your community.

Rolling Out Ready Rosie: An Administrator’s Perspective

“Ready for School! Ready for the World!”

These are the words that first captured my attention about Ready Rosie in my role as an early childhood school administrator exactly one year ago. My early childhood school principal and I first learned about Ready Rosie in February of 2015 when we attended TAASPYC’s annual Symposium (a yearly gathering in Texas of administrators and directors of early childhood schools and programs). In essence, the mission of Ready Rosie is to deepen school and family connections by empowering parents to have increasingly meaningful interactions with their children. The beautiful byproducts of Ready Rosie are strengthened relationships between children and their caregivers, families feel empowered by viewing “everyday interactions in familiar environments with other real parents”, and both the school, family, and children are supported in their school readiness efforts.

How do they do this? Ready Rosie creates these benefits via the power of a simple yet remarkable 2-3 minute daily video. They use 3 D’s to explain exactly How they do it. They Deliver to family subscribers via a daily email or text message. A caregiver views the video Demonstrating a brief interaction and activity between a parent and their child. As a result, families are Developed to “turn everyday situations into learning opportunities” by doing the activity together using the video as a model.  

As school leaders of a large early childhood campus, my principal and I left the 2015 TAASPYC symposium excited about Ready Rosie and the possibility of being able to provide such a powerful resource to our school community! We knew our families, students, and staff would love Ready Rosie! Our first step was to begin seeking the funding necessary to bring Ready Rosie to our school community. We were fortunate to access funding through a supporting department within our school district. Once funding was secured, we were full steam ahead with making roll out plans.

The following is a summary of the steps my school took to go from thinking about Ready Rosie as a great idea to making it a reality for our school community. Our Ready Rosie funding was confirmed some time mid-fall semester. It was then up to us as a campus to decide, do we roll it out immediately or do we look for a strategic time in our calendar to introduce it to our school community? We decided to take advantage of the timing of the approaching new year and a January family engagement night called IMPACT to serve as our big launch event. With our target launch date in mind, we contacted Ready Rosie to sketch out our official roll out. Their support staff was extremely helpful as they walked us through the technical steps they go through to upload our parent contact information and ensure families would be ready to access it on our launch date without any glitches. We simply provided them our database and they uploaded the information into their system. It was that easy!

Our important next steps involved communicating about Ready Rosie with our staff and creating the buy in for it with our teachers. We did this by sharing Ready Rosie first with our Team Leaders during our December Team Leader meeting and later with our entire staff on January 4th as a part of a Waiver Day training. When sharing with our Team Leaders, we unpacked the why for Ready Rosie. We discussed how our families would use it and our Team Leaders shared ideas about they could contribute to building the excitement for Ready Rosie among their teams, students and their families. Following their meeting, Team Leaders started communicating about Ready Rosie with their teams. This gave teachers some familiarity with Ready Rosie and built their excitement to learn more about it from a Ready Rosie representative during the upcoming January 4th Waiver Day training.

On January 4th, Melissa Nast, a consultant with Ready Rosie came to our campus and provided a one hour training to all our teachers. She enthusiastically shared the story of why Emily Roden created Ready Rosie as well as what it is. She walked us through the development behind it and data being currently collected by researchers at Penn State that supports its impact on the “quality and quantity of language” being used between parents and their child. She also demonstrated what it is, how our families would use it, and we learned about how we, as a school, could support the use of it by our school community.

Finally, January 26th, the eve of our launch date arrived! We hosted a big parent engagement night on campus that night and Melissa Nast returned to our school once more to introduce it, this time, to our families during the IMPACT event. She presented about Ready Rosie tour students and their families in our library. We were sure to have a bilingual teacher present to help translate for our Spanish speaking families. We had a great turn out that night. It was a great forum for introducing Ready Rosie to a large number of families!

The next day, Ready Rosie was activated for our school and it started going out to our families via a daily email messages. That first day, every student wore a colorful sticker label home to remind parents to watch the daily Ready Rosie video. Leading up to our launch day, we also advertized about it through our school’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, the school’s weekly family newsletter, Remind text messages, automated call outs, and through individual teacher newsletters. Recently, while doing mid-year home visits with our Head Start families, we were able to personally help individual parents, who were not registered in the initial roll out, sign up to receive the daily Ready Rosie videos.

We are currently monitoring our usage data and, as we look forward into our Spring semester, we are brainstorming ways to increase our usage. Several ideas include holding a friendly viewership competition between our individual classrooms or programs (Pre-K, Head Start, or PPCD), hosting a Ready Rosie booth at our Summer emphasis IMPACT Night (family engagement event) aimed at signing up parents who do not currently receive the videos and demonstrating the activities, or holding a school wide Spring campaign to keep awareness up about Ready Rosie with our families.

Ready Rosie is fast becoming a beloved family engagement and school readiness component for my school. Since our launch, we have received a generous amount of positive feedback from our families about how much they love watching the daily videos and doing the activities with their child. As a school administrator and parent of my own Pre-K age child, I sincerely believe and stand behind their slogan, “Ready for School! Ready for the World!”

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
My name is Heidi Veal. I am a teacher disguised as an administrator, on a mission to make the biggest impact possible as an educational leader by convincing the world that Anything is Possible! I compassionately serve students, staff, and families as an instructional and connected lead-learner.

Education is a calling and I am honored to fulfill my calling to make a difference in the lives of the school community I serve. This is my 15th year in education and during those years I have taught multiple grades at the elementary level, served as a Response to Intervention Specialist, a K-5 Instructional Coach, and currently as an Assistant Principal at Lawson Early Childhood School in McKinney ISD.

As a digital leader, I co-founded and co-moderate #ECEchat (a weekly Twitter chat for early childhood teachers, leaders and experts), am a founding member of the #LeadUpChat Professional Learning Network (PLN), co-host the LeadUpTeach video podcast on Blab, and blog on BAM Radio Network’s blog EdWords, LeadUpNow.com, and with my husband, Jeff on jhveal.com.

I am passionate about Leadership, Instructional Coaching, Curriculum Design, Ed-Tech, Special Education, Innovative Teaching & Learning, Growth Mindset, and all things Early Childhood!

ReadyRosie and Read Aloud Month

What can be accomplished in just 15 minutes? According to ReadAloud.org, 15 minutes a day can change the face of education in our country.  A 10-year national campaign with the mission of communicating the power of reading aloud to parents. ReadAloud.org aims for every child between the ages of 0-8 to experience a daily read aloud by a parent.

While parents are encouraged to read aloud every day of the year, March has been deemed “Read Aloud Month” to rally the nation to renew the commitment to making reading in the home a priority.  According to a ChildTrends report on parent engagement and early literacy,  “two thirds of all children are not reading at grade level by the end of third grade. These struggling readers see reading as a school job, but not an activity in which they would willingly engage outside of school.”  At ReadyRosie and BringingUp, we believe that we must do more than simply TELL parents to change the environment and habits of the home.  We believe change happens when we SHOW families a vision of what this can look like with real families.

Because we are committed to developing lifelong readers by providing opportunities for young students to internalize the behaviors of avid readers, ReadyRosie and BringingUp are excited to join the celebration of Read Aloud Month by sharing free videos to equip and inspire parents to make reading a daily priority and enjoyable experience for everyone in the home.

Like ReadAloud.org, we believe amazing things can be accomplished in just minutes a day.  We invite you to check out our Read Aloud Month playlist on YouTube during the month of March.  We will be adding short videos, in English and Spanish, throughout the month.  Feel free to share these videos with the families that you serve.  Follow us on social media for notifications as new videos are added – ReadyRosie Facebook or Twitter (targeting ages 0-5) or BringingUp Facebook or Twitter (targeting grades K-3rd) for notifications as new videos are added.

Texas House Bill 4 and Family Engagement

Family engagement.  For years, it has been recognized by both researchers and practitioners as having a non-negotiable role in education.  In Texas, it is now more than a suggestion for district prekindergarten programs.  House Bill 4 was authorized by the Texas Legislature in 2015.  According to the TEA, the goal of the new ruling is to “provide districts with an opportunity to expand or enhance high-quality prekindergarten programs for qualifying students”.   The amendments and additions to the Texas Education Code include funding for a high-quality prekindergarten grant program based on districts’ commitments to select and implement curriculum and establish ways to measure the progress of students according to the revised state guidelines.

However, House Bill 4 extends beyond standards, curriculum, and assessment: TEC, §29.168, as added by HB 4, 84th Texas Legislature, 2015, requires a school district or charter school to develop and implement a family engagement plan to assist the district in achieving and maintaining high levels of family involvement and positive family attitudes toward education. The local family engagement plan must be based on the family engagement strategies established by the TEA in collaboration with other state agencies.

In the past five years, ReadyRosie has partnered with school districts across Texas and throughout the US to support educators in implementing family engagement plans such as those now encouraged by the legislature.  As a mobile tool that equips parents and caregivers with tips and ideas to do with their children, ReadyRosie is unique in that all of its tips are modeled on video so families see how to help their children with early literacy and math skills.  Videos are delivered in English and Spanish via text, email, or app so families are gently but consistently reminded of their role as partners in their child’s educational journey.

This document has been provided by TEA to outline five family engagement strategies that must be addressed in district plans.  We are providing a brief explanation below of how ReadyRosie supports each of these strategies.  To see more details of how ReadyRosie specifically aligns to the Components and Strategies of a Family Engagement Plan, please view this document. To see how ReadyRosie aligns with the 2015 Texas Pre-K Guidelines check out this document sorted by each guideline and this document detailing how each video aligns with the standards.

1. Creates a foundation for collaboration of mutual partners.

ReadyRosie enables school districts to partner with community resources like pediatricians, social services, faith-based organizations, and libraries, families of infants and toddlers to register families to begin receiving ReadyRosie communication via text, email or app.

As parents and caregivers are equipped by ReadyRosie to identify and appreciate the developmental growth of their children, they are more likely to be receptive to other available support if needed and to recognize the importance of their role as advocates and champions for education in their community. 

2. Embraces the individuality and uniqueness of families.

ReadyRosie’s daily video-based messages connect families with other real families from a variety of racial, cultural and economic backgrounds. Videos from the library can also be shown on kiosks in school entryways or waiting areas.  They are used during family events and parent conferences as exemplars of real families engaged in learning.  Parents and children are invited to create their own videos as they try out the activities and think of unique ways to implement the concepts being learned. 

Because ReadyRosie believes in the value of parents using their home language to bond with their child and develop his/her understanding of basic concepts, we provide all of our videos and supplemental resources in English and Spanish.  Even for families whose native language is not Spanish, the videos provided by ReadyRosie can help diverse parents learn to be teaching partners. They send powerful visual messages that can inform families regardless of their language.

3. Promotes a culture of learning that is child-centered and family driven.

ReadyRosie was not created for a specific demographic.  It was created for and is being used by ALL types of families, from low education backgrounds to highly educated households.  We recognize that every person brings assets that can positively impact the young children in their family. 

Although the content of most ReadyRosie activities is driven by early cognitive, literacy, and math standards, the contexts for modeling these games and conversations provides families with real-world examples of learning environments that support social-emotional learning. 

With the ubiquity of mobile technology, schools no longer have to wait and hope that parents will come to them for guidance and training.  They are now capable of reaching families where they are and model for them everyday occurrences. As families receive their daily videos, they begin to understand the developmental expectations for children at their child’s age. 

4. Establishes and articulates expectations.

ReadyRosie provides schools with various data points to see how families are receiving and interacting with the resource.  In order to know how the tool is being utilized and where it is making an impact, districts can log in at any time to see data by zip code, campus, or classroom. 

5. Evaluates and improves family engagement efforts.

Whether it is through in-person trainings, online webinars, or on-demand videos and research always available on our Resources page, ReadyRosie is committed to helping all school and community stakeholders understand the WHY behind parent engagement.  We have found that when teachers and fully understand how parent engagement can support their students’ academic success in the classroom, they truly become the crucial gateway to a successful collaboration between the home and school.

ReadyRosie also provides resources to help connect the videos to common early childhood assessments.  As teachers conference with parents on their child’s progress throughout the year, they can refer to ReadyRosie videos that will help a parent better support their child’s growth as well as videos that will allow a child to demonstrate new strengths and advances.

For more information on the Family Engagement component of House Bill 4 or how it aligns to ReadyRosie, please contact Melissa Nast.

Inspiring Lessons Learned from Migrant Families in Maine


When I first heard of ReadyRosie, I was developing and implementing the program Comienza en Casa | It Starts at Home at the non-profit Mano en Mano | Hand in Hand, which ran from 2012-2015. CeC provided parents with information and tools that they could use to help their preschool-aged children develop school readiness skills and contribute to their success in school and in life. The program used a home-based curriculum that combined iPad use with traditional early learning activities and served families eligible for the Maine Migrant Education Program. The rich conversations we had with families during the CeC program showed me that parents and primary caregivers have incredible expertise that is often overlooked and how powerful it can be when educators and parents partner together.

At the beginning of the program, we used tip-sheets and written instructions to guide early learning activities that parents could do at home. We hoped that these packets of information would be enough to reinforce the concepts we had covered in group learning sessions. However families told us they preferred hands on learning to print and in some cases had lower literacy levels so we knew that they would have limited effects. At the end of the fall 2013 season, we decided to try a new strategy: video-modeling. I created a short bilingual model of expressive storybook reading for home use on iPads together with my program co-developer, Early Education Consultant, Bonnie Blagojevic and the local Kindergarten teacher, Suzen Polk-Hoffses. It received very positive feedback, and the message from parents was clear: tip sheets weren’t as effective as video models.

As we prepared the curriculum for the following season my mind was full of ideas about how we could create bilingual video models of the early learning concepts and activities for all of our units. Finding quality resources in Spanish was a challenge in itself, let alone video resources in Spanish. How would we start tackling this project? Would we need to create all of the videos ourselves and find native speakers to volunteer? How would we ever find the time?! Fortunately, an email about ReadyRosie made its way into my inbox– it was just what we needed!

After reading about ReadyRosie, we contacted the company and began plans to roll out a pilot of the program. We wanted to be intentional about how we would use the videos within our existing curriculum. For each unit we identified three or four earning learning concepts, carefully selected apps that aligned with those concepts, and chose corresponding videos from the extensive ReadyRosie library. Most of the families we were working with did not have internet access, and ReadyRosie was very willing to work around the delivery challenges. They let us load the videos on each family’s iPad so they could access them (along with other pre-loaded apps) at home without internet access. While CeC’s download and pre-loading services were unique to its role as a ReadyRosie pilot site, any ReadyRosie user can customize the delivery and order of videos to align with learning goals.

When we shifted from the paper tip sheets to providing ReadyRosie videos we started seeing parents document and share a lot more activities and experiments that they were conducting at home. We expected that videos would be well received, but we didn’t expect that they would start making their own videos. As they generated their own content, they demonstrated their understanding of the concepts highlighted in the unit and RR videos. At first the parents made videos that closely mirrored the ReadyRosie model. However, with time their confidence increased and they created less formal, exploratory videos that showed an even deeper understanding of the early learning concepts. Making these videos marked a shift from parents acting as consumers to creators.

The use of video models instead of print was key to increasing engagement. We wouldn’t have realized how important this was without the strong relationships and ongoing conversations we had with families that helped us to understand how to effectively work together to support their children. This provided new insights and pathways to learning for all. One article we found particularly valuable on this topic was Family Engagement, Diverse Families, and Early Childhood Education Programs: An Integrated Review of the Literature.

When we think about building relationships, here are some tips we keep in mind:

  • Family input should inform project design. Before trying to implement a new program or initiative gather information from families. What are their communication preferences? What challenges might you you face? For example: if parents tell you there is no internet access at home you might consider setting up viewing sessions at the school and/or provide information about local free internet access points.
  • Invite ongoing communication and authentic feedback. Let family members know their opinions are truly valued. Parents might be hesitant to say if something isn’t working, why it’s a challenge, and how it could be improved. Solicit feedback from parents regularly and make it clear that you appreciate whatever comments (even criticism!) they might have–it will help make the program work better for everyone!
  • Support families in engaging their children: Provide encouragement and be clear that every attempt they make to engage their child in learning shows their child that they care about their education. It may take time for parents to see that what they are doing is working. A quick message indicating you’ve seen what they’re doing goes a long way and shows that you’re both working towards the same goal.
  • Teachers have a unique role and opportunity: I repeatedly shared research with parents on a variety of topics. For example, about how speaking with their children in their home language was the best thing they could do to help them prepare for school. However, hearing the same message from the local Kindergarten teacher gave parents confidence that this was the right thing to do and why it was important. As representatives of a school and educational system, teachers have are in a unique position to confirm a parent’s ability to contribute to their children’s education.

Learning what works to strengthen partnerships with families may seem time-consuming, but in the end, can show huge returns, if it results in more effective and coordinated efforts between home and school, and the chance for parents to feel more empowered in their abilities to help their child succeed. These strategies were so useful in our work with CeC and hopefully will inspire conversations to consider what might be useful in your own setting.


GUEST POST BY ANA BLAGOJEVIC
For five years Ana Blagojevic worked as the Western Migrant Education Program Coordinator at Mano en Mano | Hand in Hand, a non-profit organization in Downeast Maine. During that time she co developed and implemented the program Comienza en Casa, It Starts at Home. She recently moved to Tennessee where she continues to work in education with children and families. 

 

Play: The Overlooked Learning Tool

Sit and listen in to conversations at any dance lesson or little league practice and one will hear the frantic voices of parents worried that their child isn’t learning fast enough to either be ready for school or keep up with school.  National and state reports convince us that every minute counts and there is no time to play! Who has time to play? We have scheduled our children every second of every day in hopes that they will be prepared.  Yet, let’s stop and consider, WHAT are we preparing them for?

As an educator for over 30 years, I have seen the pendulum swing from one extreme to the other.  I have seen play incorporated throughout the learning day and I have seen it taken out completely.  It seems no two people can agree at any one time on the importance of play.  We might not be able to control whether or not play is part of the school day but we can most certainly control whether or not it is part of the day we control – our child’s time at home.

A primary reason play is so quickly discarded is that is difficult to realize what a child may learn from it.  Let me provide several examples.

Engaging in Inner and External Dialogue

Psychologist Lev Vygotsky developed a theory of cognitive development in which he believed children used play to understand the world.  When children play and have imaginary friends, they engage in both an inner and external dialogue.  They talk through situations, they problem solve, they role-play.  You have seen this because more than likely your child has mimicked you!  You may have observed your child playing with a doll and saying, “Ohhh, don’t put that in your mouth,” or  “That’s okay. Don’t cry. I will fix it.”

Developing Critical Listening

Critical listening is another thing that is learned through play.  When we tell children to lie down, close their eyes and listen to the sounds around them we are teaching them to listen critically.  True story… as a teacher, I often had my students play a listening game called “Jacob Where Are You”?  It is probably one of the silliest games I taught.  Children lie on their backs with closed eyes while one child “Jacob” goes to any place in the room and makes a sound.   The other children, keeping eyes closed, point to the area from where they heard the sound. One year, a parent asked me where she could buy the game because her son loved playing it!  It seemed like such silly play  but it was so very good for developing critical listening.  Children need highly developed critical listening skills so they will later be able to hear the individual sounds in words which is necessary for spelling.

Growing Fine Motor Skills

Playdough or clay is another important part of play that we need to continue at home.  I am not speaking of  the fancy storebought toys that children squeeze the dough through, but rather the kneading, pounding, twisting, and rolling of  plain playdough.  It is so powerful!  For example, the rolling of ‘snakes’ develops the fine motor muscles in the fingers needed to hold a pencil – needed to write a name or letters and words.

Expanding Vocabulary and the Sense of Story

Imaginary play involving dressing up or playing with puppets allows children to create stories.   The stories children make up begin to develop a beginning, middle and end.  The stories begin to develop a problem and a solution paving the road for literary elements learned in school.  These stories also lay the foundation for writing.  When we can tell stories, we can write stories.

Imaginary play also increases a child’s vocabulary.   My two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter loves the Disney character, Sofia the First.  She carries the stories from the show into her free play and expands them with her imagination, often using new vocabulary she has heard.  For example, she can tell me all about her “amulet” and yes, she knows what one is.

Learning about the Way Words Work

My grown son did well in school.  He could spell and got whatever the highest grade was on each spelling test.  He could not however, spell when he wrote papers!  It wasn’t until he started playing word games at home that he internalized word patterns.  Yes, we are THAT family!  His favorite game to this day is called “The Island of Nod”.  There are certain things that can be on the island and things that can’t.   For example, “There can be green things but not red; streets but not roads, teeth but not mouths.”  Have you figured it out?  The rule/generalization changes once it is guessed.  When it is done orally, kids have to visualize how a word is spelled, think about patterns, similarities etc.  My son’s spelling in his writing improved dramatically because through play, he was analyzing word patterns and internalizing them.

The problem with play in school is that it is hard to assess.  The problem isn’t the play but maybe the test.  How do we test or check to see what a child has learned through play?  We observe, that’s what we do.  We listen and we talk to the child.  Take the dress up or imaginary story.  Can’t we ask, “Who was in your story?  What was the problem? So then how did ____ solve the problem?When we ask a child what they were playing, we are asking them to summarize.   Through the play environment, children are now using language to describe what they are playing: “Well she is a character in my story.  I think the setting for my story will be a castle.”   Children are using the language that we eventually assess them on.   It becomes part of their every day language, not something they learn for a test.

I can listen to a 4 year old playing and determine if they have an advanced vocabulary without having them circle little pictures that represent some words.  When my grandson builds with his building blocks and says, “Look G, this one is taller than that one” or “I am going to make this one longer” I can conclude that he grasps the concept of comparing lengths.  Children are learning what will be tested in authentic natural environments and while having fun!   I trust that we are smarter than the average 4-6 year old and by listening, we can discern what they know.  The key is listening.

So, take a deep breath, hit the pause button and let your child play.  They will be smarter for it.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Do the families of your community understand the value of play?
  2. How can ReadyRosie help you communicate and model often overlooked opportunities for play in families’ busy lives?
  3. How can educators practice better assessment through listening and share that information with parents and caregivers?

Contributed by Teddi Fulenwider, early literacy consultant, creator of ReadwithTedDee app, and grandmother of three littles.  @readwithteddee

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