Stepping Stones Together
One of the most exciting elements of pre-schooling Matthew from home is being able to tailor lessons to his specific interests. It’s what the whole premise of Project: Backyard Preschool is about: Recognizing learning opportunities when they present themselves, then custom building a lesson plan of sorts geared toward what you already know your child is naturally drawn to.
The Stepping Stones Together early literacy program was built with that same basic idea in mind. That’s the first component of the program that really drew me in to tying this particular product into our Project. The specially designed reading material included centers around a group of themes children have a pretty universal magnetism to. (Transportation, dinosaurs, fairies, etc.) It’s pretty common knowledge that Matthew can fight us on almost anything -- but we’ve never had to bribe him to eat his broccoli. Why? Because those aren’t broccoli florets on his Elmo plate; they’re trees, and he’s a giant leaf-eating dinosaur! In fact, it isn’t uncommon for me to call out to everyone at dinnertime that the chicken and “tree” casserole is ready. So when we dove into the first story of the program, and Matthew was introduced to Dexter the Dinosaur… Well, we had an instant hit on our hands.
(Cute note: Since Matthew’s older sister was already seven when he was born, he’d never seen a fairy before. I was surprised when he thought a magic chick with wings was like, the coolest thing he’d ever seen! Ha!
The program was really a home run from the first day. I didn’t have to encourage Matthew to make predictions about the story. He was excited to do that on his own. I read the first nine page story to him (which took less than a minute and a half for us to make our way through), and by the second go round, Matthew put his hand up to my lips and said, “No, Mommy. It’s my turn!” Because the sentences are constructed in a short, repetitive rhythm, accompanying very obvious illustrations, he was able to “read” the first story with almost complete accuracy. When children start showing an interest in learning to read themselves, that’s one of the first signs most parents notice: they pick up books on their own, and pretend to read by tying together the illustrations with what they remember from the last time the story was read to them aloud. With the program, Matthew was able to take a habit he was already beginning to form, and make it work. Really work! You should have seen the gaping smile on the kid’s face when I pointed out to him excitedly that he DID IT. He really, actually READ the story himself!
After such a motivating kick-off, I wasn’t surprised when Matthew blew through the first couple of stories so enthusiastically. I also wasn’t surprised when he stopped me every page or two to point out his own connections. (Ex: “Hey! That’s just like WE go to the library, Mommy!!) That’s something I’ve always encouraged him to do throughout a story (much to the chagrin of the librarians at Story Hour who can’t get through two pages without being breathlessly interrupted). What did surprise me though, was on the third day, when we finished a certain book in which a shark character identifies the amount of features it has on it‘s body. Matthew sputtered unsuccessfully through each page of his turn. Much as he tried, he just couldn’t get the hang of identifying the right numbers at a single glance. But what surprised me though, was that instead of discouraging him, it became one of his favorites! I’m not sure if it was inspired by a sense of determination, or if he just liked that character more than the others, but over the course of the following few days, that particular book was revisited over and over again at his own request.
We are working on having him point to each word individually when it’s his turn to “read.” Matthew is in the youngest part of the age bracket for a program like this, so I try to keep that in mind, but he is continually surprising me with his growing capabilities! When I ask him to try pointing to the individual words as he “reads” them, he just runs his finger in a continual, indiscriminate line from the leftmost word to the right. When I try to coach him through it, he likes to tell me, “No, I already did that, Mommy! It’s time for the next page.” But when I point to each individual word for him, he reads the right word, each time, never moving onto the next one until my finger points it out. Every so often I’ll see if he’s ready to point them out himself, and he’s getting closer. I’m sure we’ll get there very shortly.
My favorite part of the program is (kind of surprisingly) the comprehension questions at the end of every book. Only being barely three, Matthew’s too young to participate in the writing prompts, so instead, we just discuss them. In the beginning of the week, Matthew wasn’t interested in answering questions at the end. He was either too excited for us to get back to the beginning to read it again or to get started on the next new story. It wasn’t a travesty because he’d been making predictions and connections as the story was being read. Still, it helped for me to read the comprehension and application questions to myself before beginning the story -- then later on in the day, say, “Hey, do you remember our _____ story? It was pretty neat, huh? What did you think about ______?” He’d get so excited about remembering back to the story, that his answers were always much more thoughtful. I always look forward to hearing what kind of kooky ideas and explanations he’ll come up with next! Sometimes we’ll talk about a single story all through lunch.
You just can’t beat that kind of bonding time.
The last very exciting impact I’ve noticed this program making already is that he’s applying habits we’ve formed from the program to time spent reading away from it as well. The last box of Cheerios we bought came with a free paperback copy of The Purple Kangaroo, so naturally, Matthew tore into it and sat on the kitchen floor to begin “reading.” I wouldn’t have even taken notice if I hadn’t overheard him from another room, repeating that same repetitive, stop-and-go rhythm from our Stepping Stones Together stories. He looked at the illustration (of a monkey with speech bubbles coming out every which way), buried his face into the pages, and running his tubby little finger along each word, ‘read’: I-am-a-monkey. I-can-talk. I-like-to- t-t-t-t- TALK!
At story time, when I read The Purple Kangaroo to him aloud, he literally tried repeating each entire page as I finished it. Unfortunately, this particular book had a LOT of words in purposeful run-on sentence formation toward the end … He plowed through the best he could, getting awfully tongue-tied and confused…. Until eventually, he had to stop me and say, “Mommy, this one is actually kind of tricky with all the words. How ‘bout you read it to me by yourself, actually? And I’ll read to you next time.” He got a big hug out of that one.
I can’t wait to see where this week takes us…
More importantly, neither can Matthew!