This is the first article in a five-part interview series in which we’ll hear from staff and teachers at MUSE School about a variety of educational topics, and learn from them about the unique approaches MUSE takes to addressing important classroom issues. This week we are taking a look at how MUSE teaches literacy skills in its Early Childhood Education (ECE; kids 2-5) program.
“Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic.” — J. K. Rowling.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.” — Dr. Seuss
Empowering children with strong literacy skills and a command of language is a fundamental goal of the ECE program at MUSE. But beyond that, MUSE wants children to enjoy and seek out opportunities to engage with language — for them to become confident readers and writers. The joy one can experience from developing a lifelong love for reading and writing is undeniable. For many of us books are the first “passport” we’ll ever own — lush Secret Gardens, the icy landscapes of Narnia, the Quidditch fields of Hogwarts are just a few of the destinations accessible to any lover of literature.
MUSE ECE has developed a system for teaching literacy to ECE students that is both effective and engaging. To learn more about MUSE ECE’s approach to teaching literacy skills we spoke with MUSE teacher and manager of ECE, Randi Kearney.
MUSE Global: How does MUSE’s literacy program in the Early Childhood Department differ from other schools’?
Randi: While the public education system continues to create more academically rigorous and developmentally inappropriate kindergarten environments, preschools have felt the need to prepare students for kindergarten classrooms in which a child is expected to be able to write, read, and engage in 1st grade level math skills upon entering kindergarten.
MUSE understands that brain science and developmentally appropriate practices are not to be ignored. We believe the purpose of early childhood is to allow children a space in which they can learn through play, develop a love for learning and a feeling that school is a safe, supportive space. MUSE ECE teachers provide opportunities for academic learning throughout the day, every day. However, this learning is never forced upon a child. It is available for them when they are ready to explore.
MG: What is done differently to help each student with their literacy needs?
Randi: We understand that children will arrive ready to read and write when their brains are ready to read and write. We differentiate activities according to a student’s level. When we have students reflect with art on their journal pages, some children in the Early Kinder classroom may not want to participate — that’s OK. Some may throw a small scribble on the page and move on to play. Others will create representational drawings and have a teacher write their words down. Others are ready to trace their own words, and some can even write some words on their own. Through every project and activity, teachers are meeting children where they are at and providing opportunities for students to engage in a way that feels meaningful and fun for them.
MG: What activities in the classroom help students with their literacy needs?
Randi: First and foremost, teachers reading out loud to children several times during the day is key to supporting the foundational skills necessary for students to be successful in reading and writing. Through read-alouds children develop a love of literacy, critical thinking skills, and an understanding of character and narration, and their brains develop as they begin to see words on a page and attach illustrations to meaning.
Our classroom environments are rich with print — nearly every area, toy and art piece is clearly labeled. Students engage with letters and letter sounds through games, songs, and tactile experiences. Students may form letters out of clay, or draw them in sand before ever putting pencil to paper. Free art areas shelves are present in every classroom — these are areas where children have unrestricted access to paper, markers, crayons, paints, glue, and any other art supply you could ever imagine. The learning is organic and happens in a way that is student-led.
MG: Knowing that children develop at different rates, what literacy related tasks do you help students accomplish as they develop?
Randi: Truly, it is our goal that students leave the MUSE Early childhood program with a love of literacy. Another way that MUSE is unique is in our commitment to Passion Based Learning. By teaching literacy through a child’s passion, the level of engagement and the enthusiasm for learning foundational literacy skills multiplies at a rapid rate. When a student who is obsessed with building is provided with books about construction sites and is encouraged to form letters out of hammers and nails, they are so much more likely to participate.
Attaching literacy skills to subjects that are meaningful to our youngest students is key to ensuring our students view reading and writing through a perspective of joy.
MG: How do you think MUSE’s curriculum helps students in the Early Childhood department transition to higher grades?
Randi: MUSE students are able to transition into an elementary program that supports individualized development and learning. This helps in taking the intense amount of pressure children in other preschools are faced with to master literacy skills before their brains are fully developed enough to comprehend the milestones they are being presented with. MUSE early childhood students transition into our elementary program (or any elementary program) feeling confident about their abilities, having an intense of love of learning and feeling like school is a place that supports them.
We thank Randi for taking the time to speak with us about the important role that MUSE ECE plays in the development of literacy skills in children. These skills will persist throughout children’s lives and empower them to thrive both in academic settings, and in their everyday lives.
Our five-part interview series continues next week when we talk with 7th grade Master Teacher Tressa Wyner about MUSE Global’s philosophy and approach to teaching Middle School.