– and then our Reading Club was born.
by Edith Baur
I became attentive to Lara because of her distinctive understanding of language and her strong will. She has a friend Greta of the same age who lived in the same house until recently. In addition, Lara knew five-year-old Ellen, who lives very close to her, even before kindergarten. When she came to kindergarten at the age of 3;8 years, Lara approached all the children openly, asked „What is your name? – What do you do?“ and quickly found contact to other children in the group.
… in short …
For more than one and a half years, the author accompanies the learning process of reading and writing of little Lara and other children and gains important experiences which lead to the foundation of a reading club.
This reading club will become an integral part of kindergarten life for many years for the children, some of whom have a lasting interest in the two important cultural techniques of reading and writing (in some cases well before they enter school).
During the IHVO Certificate Course, I observed Lara for a long time and oriented myself on Joelle Huser’s observation sheet. At the beginning of the targeted observation Lara was 4;3 years old.
I discovered her great interest in letters and numbers when I sat with her at the painting table. She points to a sheet of paper with smilies and explains: „I have 14 grinning men here.“ I’m amazed. „You can count that far?“ Without hesitation she answers: „Yes – and I can count even further“ and counts to 27 – completely correctly. After that she counts to 100…
She gets up, graps a new empty painting sheet and sits down next to me again.
„I’ll show you what else I can do,“ and she draws all the numbers she can write. „You must see what I’m doing“, she pokes her finger at me when I get distracted for a moment. I apologize and explain to her that I had to answer another kid’s question She’s like, „It’s okay, but you have to look now or you’ll miss out.“
While she now writes more numbers and and also her name, she asks me again and again to look „exactly“ (so she says) to her. Thereby she moves closer and closer to me.
After a few minutes she asks me: „What big numbers can you write?“ As an example, I write a 44 and she asks, „What is the name of this number?“ – „It’s a forty-four.“ She shines at me with her eyes wide open and says: „Look, I can write a 1 and a 2. Is that a twelve then?“ I accept most happily. She gets a red pencil and says: „I’m writing down more, a lot more. Then you can see I’ve been diligent.“
„But what other letters should I write?“ she asks me and looks at me. „What other letters can you write?“ – „An S,“ she replies, drawing an N on a new sheet of paper. „Now you’ve drawn an N“ – „Oh, really?!“, she grins at me and asks: „How do you write an S?“ I draw it to her with my finger. „I see,“ she notices and paints an S.
Lara sets high standards for herself. That becomes clear when she sits at the painting table together with Ellen, who is one year older, and then more often notices: „I can’t do that.“ Lara often watches Ellen painting and looks critically at her own painting result. She holds her sheet in both hands and turns it back and forth. She tilts her head from left to right and wrinkles her brow: „I can’t paint a beautiful rabbit like you.“
In the parental conversation with the mother, Lara’s early urge for independence and autonomy becomes clear. At the age of two she said: „Mum, I don’t want a nappy anymore“ and from then on she actually didn’t need one. I experienced another example with her when she came back from the Christmas holidays with a single braid. Before that she had two side braids (she called them „Pippi Longstocking braids“). When I saw her in her new hairstyle, I said it made her look very pretty. She said: „Yes, I only wanted one more.“
Lara shows her good expressiveness in her own use of language and also when she improves other children: „But that means THE dog and not THE dog!“ (in German: DER Hund, nicht DAS Hund).
She demonstrates her leadership skills when she explains a board game to two younger boys and plays it with them. „I’m going to explain how the game works.“ – „No, Yannick, now it’s Silvio’s turn.“ – „You and your male must go that way now.“ The two boys are letting it happen to them. It goes on for about half an hour. Then Lara says to them: „Now we play something else“ and the two of them join in.
Note of the course leader:
This is good; because this way she experiences that her real superiority in this area is acknowledged. She experiences factual authority. A really strong girl.
I don’t learn to read until I go to school
When Lara asks me once if I can read something to her, I have to put her off until later. But she insists and keeps on asking: „I’d like you to read something to me now.“ Once again I explain to her that I do not have time at the moment and she gives in. „Okay, then you’ll just have to change Yannick’s wet pants.“
I make her the suggestion: „I could help you read by yourself. Then you won’t have to wait when I can’t read to you right now.“ She says, „No, I don’t want that.“ – „Why not?“ –
„Because I don’t want to learn this until I’m in school.“
At least she seems to know once again exactly what she wants and what she doesn’t want. Or was learning to read perhaps a little too early for her after all?
A few days later I am taught better. I had not been mistaken and I had not misinterpreted her curiosity about reading and writing letters.
After the gymnastics Lara changes her clothes. She looks at our alphabet poster. There are objects next to the letters, e.g. an apple next to the A. Lara says to me: „Look, there is a B like banana – right?“ and smiles at me. „Yes, that’s right.“ So she goes through the whole alphabet, smiling every time: „… look, a W for wolf – and there a U for umbrella.“
For letters she doesn’t know yet, she asks me. I am amazed and ask her how she learned to recognize some letters. She answers: „Some letters are in my name. And sometimes I ask Mama what they are.“
I take this impulse from Lara and the next day I show her a letter game: „Buchstabenmix“ (Mixed letters) by Haba – a kind of memory. On each card there is for example a capital A with the picture of a car. On the partner card is a small a with the same car picture.
I ask Lara if she would like to play the game with me and two other children, including her idol, the older Ellen. She says yes and we play for almost an hour. Lara insists on playing on and on. When she has turned over a card, she looks at me and asks: „That’s an A, isn’t it?!“ So she always asks for letters she already knows. She remembers the letters that are new to her and then repeats them just like the letters she already knows.
I am supposed to play this game with her almost every day now. Again and again she wishes: „I want to play this with you alone.“ When I asked why the others shouldn’t play, she says, „Then I can’t concentrate as well.“
Note from the course leader:
In many cases, this selective 1-to-1 work is an important phase in the integrative promotion of the gifted child, which may be necessary for the child.
During this time, a reading group for the pupils in the day care center took place. These children had suggested reading to the kindergarten children. I had told the teacher of the group about Lara’s interest in letters.
Without further ado she asks Lara if she would like to join the reading group. Lara goes along immediately.
When I ask her what happens there, she says: „There, one of the children in the after-school care reads a book to the other children. I think that’s great.“ – And I say, „Would you enjoy reading to other children?“ – „Yes, but you have to be able to read to do that?!“ – „Right. But if you want, I could help you learn to read.“ – „Oh, yes!“ she says now enthusiastically. Shortly after that she is already urging when we finally start to learn to read.
During this time Lara paints and writes like this:
Her mother comes to pick her up. Lara welcomes her with the words: „I want to stay here and learn to read with Mrs. Baur! Only when I assure her that we can start the very next morning is she ready to go along. While getting dressed, the mother tells me that Lara is also very interested in letters at home and asks for them when she goes shopping, for example. I encourage her to continue supporting Lara in her interest, especially in such everyday situations.
Writing and reading promotion in the daily routine of the kindergarten
When we sit together at the painting table again, I ask Lara to write down all the letters or words she already knows. „From the letters you have written here we can now form words,“ I say and she: „Oh yes, I’ll think about it. Give me an example.“
I give her a few words, spell them out slowly and clearly. She’s taking notes. For almost every word she paints a picture. She is very concentrated and sends every child away who wants to watch. „Please leave, I need to concentrate.“ When she has filled her sheet, she says to me: „I can now also colour in the O and the triangle in the A.“ – „Yes.“
Note from the course leader:
For Lara it is certainly good to learn to read and to write at the same time and to learn the reading about the writing, because she wants it that way and because of her visibly good fine motor skills she can manage it. But this is by far not true for all children, especially often not for boys.
Lara calls this „playing school“ and insists on sitting alone at the table with me while learning and practicing, „otherwise I cannot concentrate“. She obviously enjoys being alone with me.
When she gets a little brother, I ask her if she would like to make a name chain for his room. She explains: „Yes of course. But then I need one too. Because Oliver still sleeps with our mommy, but then with me. And then everyone who comes to visit will know that I sleep in the room with Oliver.“
I go with her to the painting table and ask her if she knows how to write Oliver. She writes OLIFA. „Super!“ I praise her, „there is Olifa. The name is just spelled a bit differently. Shall I show you how to spell it?“ –
„Sure, I want to learn to write properly!“
I write OLIVER on the paper.
We go to the workroom where Lara can choose different coloured paper – I suggested her to make each letter in a different colour. Then I ask her to consider how big the letters should be. She shows me a distance of about 10 cm with her index fingers. Then she cuts the paper into pieces, about 10 x 5 cm. I ask: „How can you paint on the individual letters so that you can cut them out better?“ – „Well, thicker than that.“ No sooner said than done.
In between she says: „Whew, it’s exhausting. Now I’m taking a break,“ and goes for a drink. In the meantime, Lara’s friend Greta has also sat down at the table and asks me what we are doing. „Would you like to make a name chain, too?“ – „Yes.“
When Lara comes back, she is not at all enthusiastic. I tell her: „Now you know how to make a name chain – you can show her. When you’ve finished yours, of course.“ Lara finds this suggestion good. But „because of the concentration“ Greta should not watch her handicraft work.
So Lara eagerly finishes her chain while Greta watches her from a distance without disturbing her. Lara in turn explains to Greta how she can do something best: „Look Greta, the letters have to be thick, otherwise you can’t cut them out well.“
When Lara is finished, she gets a piece of paper and asks me how to write „Greta“. I pronounce the name slowly and emphasize each letter – Lara takes part in the writing. Greta is very happy to be able to make a name chain with Lara, even if she is not allowed to do much. „No Greta, I’ll cut it out for you.“ When I tell her that she should have Greta cut out too, because it is her chain after all, Lara gives in. „OK, you’re right.“
For the magnetic board in the group we bought magnetic letters. Lara is the first to stand at the board and form words with the letters, including the word ZOO.
How she knows the word, I ask her: „Well, I went to the zoo and mum read the word to me. And then I just remembered it.“
A little later I suggest Lara to play school with a smaller boy at the blackboard. She is thrilled. „Super! Come Yannick, let’s do it!“ Yannick also finds it interesting at the beginning, but after half an hour (at least!) he goes to the construction corner. Lara: „Man, now I don’t have anyone to play school with me anymore.“ At that moment Silvio joins the group. When she asks him to play school with her, he agrees.
One morning Lara comes up to me and says: „I don’t know what I can do.“ – „Do you feel like writing in the sand?“ – „Yes – is that possible?“ – „That works, but the sand must be pretty damp.“ We find a spot in the sand and moisten it with the garden hose. I explain: „So now we smooth the sand here. What do you think we could use for writing?“ – „Well, I’ll just find a stick.“
No sooner said than done – the „sand school“ (Lara’s expression) is complete.
But only Silvio is allowed to play – and only after my suggestion: „Lara, your school is still empty. So it would be nice if Silvio could be your first student! You can ask even more children – then you will have a bigger class.“ – „No, I don’t want that. They won’t write it the way I want them to.“ I ask her to consider: „But that is what a teacher is for, as you can be: To teach her students how to spell it properly.“ But she keeps saying, „No, I want to write on the blackboard by myself.“
Note from the course leader:
Basically, she wants to be the student herself and learn. She probably only wants to be a teacher sometimes.
Lara’s desire to learn to read with me alone shows me how serious she is. She simply needs peace and quiet, which she emphasizes again and again.
This underlines her seriousness and her eagerness to keep at it.
Early interest in numbers
I also encourage her great interest in numbers. The game „Sagaland“ gives her the opportunity to do so. She masters the rules of the game, which is recommended for children from 8 years of age. (Lara is now 4;8.) Among other things, it is important to count and remember dice points and playing fields accurately.
Later – Lara is now 4;10 years old – I show her the Montessori Hundreds Board. I explain to her that she can, among other things, place the number cards up to 100 in the correct order in the designated frame. Since there are only a few children left in the group this afternoon, she can once again enjoy tackling this task with me. „It’s really nice when you do the game with me,“ she says thank you.
By 30 she puts the tablets in the frame completely correctly. Then I should help her: „Look Lara, now the front number does not change yet, but the one behind it. After the zero you just start with the one again – it will then become the 31. After that comes?“ – „The 32“, she answers with a smile and then puts the numbers up to 39. I explain to her that now the front number also changes: „So after the three comes?“
Lara: „The four! And the back number is zero, so 40!“
I will also continue to promote reading and writing. This also works within the group theme „Our body“ – Lara is now almost 5 years old. She can already name almost all parts of her body. I decide to create and label a body collage with her. „Oh yes, then I can write down everything I know, and the others can read it too!“
Lara lies with her back on a large piece of paper and her friend Greta draws her outline with a wax crayon. While Lara then cuts it out, she explains where the „wrist“ is.
We stick the outline on the wall in the group room. „But now I have to write everything down, otherwise you can’t see what it’s called,“ she says to me. But now that the „Lara made of paper“ (that’s what she calls the outline) is already hanging on the wall, she asks: „I can’t write anything on it anymore.“ – „What do you mean: „How could you possibly label your paper Lara?“ – „Well, then I’ll write on a white paper and then I’ll hang it up.“
So Lara then labels all externally recognizable body parts, like „knees“ etc. She says the word she is writing out loud. I am supposed to sit next to her the whole time. If she is not quite sure, she makes sure to write „How do you write shinbone?“ – „Write it down the way you hear it.“ So she writes „Schinbain“ (Schienbein), „Handglenk“ (Handgelenk), „Zene“ (Zähne) and so on. After each word I should go with her to the outline to stick it in the right place.
Greta and Ellen watch curiously Lara’s work and want to help. Lara refuses: „No, I started this, you can watch.“
Since the two of them do not want to write but to paint, I give them two large sheets of paper on which they also draw their silhouettes. Greta wants to paint the skeleton on them, Ellen the blood circulation.
(Within the framework of our group project, we looked at the book „Mein Körper“ (My Body) from the book series „Why, Why, Why“, among others, in which there are such illustrations).
All three children are happy. We hung Greta’s and Ellen’s body pictures on the wall next to Lara’s inscribed outline and the other children marveled at the artwork of the three girls.
Also in the next group project „healthy nutrition“ the promotion of reading and writing is not neglected. At our suggestion, the children bring along advertising leaflets from supermarkets and then cut out food pictures. We discuss which of them are healthy and which are less healthy. Lara reads out labels and sorts the cut-out pictures in a concentrated way according to „healthy“ and „unhealthy“. She has to be slowed down a little bit every now and then so that she doesn’t do everything alone and constantly corrects the younger children. In the end she is allowed to label the two collages she has created with „unhealthy“ and „healthy“. She thinks that’s great.
In between we grind flour with a grain mill and bake a cake. Lara reads the inscriptions on all the bags that we have provided for this purpose. She thinks it’s great when we say: „Please pass us the sugar cube!“ Then she reads through the packets until she finds the sugar and hands it to us.
The history of creation
During the Advent season we read the story of creation from the children’s Bible to the older children. The next day it turns out that the children have kept much of what they have read. I suggest the children to choose a part of the story and then draw it with crayons. Then the children choose a watercolor and paint over their entire picture with a brush. Since they use little paint but a lot of water, their pictures look like watercolours.
I ask them what they would think about writing the appropriate text to the picture and sticking it under the picture. The children are thrilled. „Oh yes!“ Lara calls immediately, Ellen nods and Greta beams at me, too.
Lara: „Shall we just copy this, or do you want to read it to us and then we write?“ I ask: „You mean I should dictate the text to you and then you write it down?“ „Sure,“ Lara says, „that’ll go faster then!“ Ellen says: „Besides, I don’t know where I am.“
The children get white sheets of paper that fit exactly under their pictures and on which I have drawn generous lines to help them orientate how much space is available.
First, Lara wants to be dictated a text. Very slowly she writes word for word on the sheet; after almost every word she looks for confirmation from me: „Am I making this beautiful?“
I affirm and am amazed at how patiently and with dedication she writes the words – by ear, I do not correct her. The letters are sometimes capitalized, sometimes small, sometimes she writes two words together. But you can read everything very well.
Note from the course leader:
And that’s the most important thing. Details come later.
I have simplified and shortened the text, because otherwise it would have become too long for the children. Not that the children (especially Lara) lose concentration. „Phew, it’s exhausting – and my fingers hurt, but it’s fun,“ Lara laughs at me when she finishes her text.
I had given the children a tip beforehand that they should take a break from writing and shake their fingers out in between. They gratefully accept this, but Lara says: „But I don’t want to take a break too long, otherwise my fingers get cold.“
I am astonished about Greta. She writes her text without asking me in between how to write e.g. an F or a Z (letters which are not so familiar to the children). She also draws the letters very precisely, all of them are almost the same size.
Greta is rather reserved in her manner, unlike Lara, who meanwhile clearly demands what she has put into her head.
Leon also wants to join in
In between Leon (a boy from our group, 5;2 years old) comes to our table and watches. He looks at me and says: „But I can already write a little bit, because my sister is already in school.“ – I ask him: „Would you like to write on your own picture?“ „Oh yes“, he replies.
Here I must briefly explain that I told the three girls that they could also write on the other children’s pictures if they wanted to. Lara and Greta affirm that, Ellen says she’s written enough, she doesn’t want to do it anymore.
„Fine“, I say to Leon, „then sit with me.“
As he writes, he lets his tongue circle on his lips, he seems very concentrated and strained.
He asks me how to write one letter or another, but on the whole he hardly needs any help.
When his mother picks him up, he proudly presents his written text and smiles at her. She praises him and tells me that he often comes to her and also wants to write when the older sister is doing schoolwork.
So now I will observe Leon a bit closer, especially his interest in letters and numbers.
Also Lara, Ellen and Greta proudly showed their works to their parents.
Würzburg Language Training Program
In order to take up the great interest of Lara, Ellen and Greta in language even further, I am working with them with the „Würzburg Training Program for the Preparation for the Acquisition of Written Language“. They are happy to participate, but I quickly realize that I have to think up more difficult variants for them.
In the unit „I’m thinking of…“, for example, the sun is to be guessed. I say, „The thing I’m thinking of is bright and warm, the word begins with S.“
That’s too easy. So I make up, „All flowers and trees belong to this thing, it begins with P.“ No sooner said than Lara calls out: „Plants (Pflanzen)! You mean plants!“ I praise her and she says: „Yes, the word was quite difficult, too. Many people say „Flanzen“, then you don’t hear the P.“
I find it interesting for myself that I have to improvise again and again so that the language program remains exciting especially for Lara.
Later we will also use the computer for the Würzburg language program as a supplement, so that the children can start the program themselves and work with it independently.
Remark of the seminar leader:
According to our telephone conversation, I suggest that you continue to work on the reading and writing culture in the kindergarten for your next practical work.
Greta, Lara, Leon and possibly Ellen, as far as she enjoys it, could be considered for such a reading club.
– Tools: Table with upper and lower case letters so that the children are able to read texts to themselves.
– Short, funny or exciting stories with puzzles or quiz questions.
– Discussion rounds about the texts read with clever questions from you.
– Creating a collection of suitable stories, books…
– Maintain and expand written communication (as with the texts for the children’s Bible).
– „Reading children“ could get a mailbox for letters you write to them or they write to each other.
Goal: Make the club a „self-running“ thing that new children will join little by little (with your support).
The reading club is born
I want to further promote the reading and writing culture in our kindergarten. Your proposal seemed almost perfect for the children I had in mind. So I sit down with Lara (now 5;10), Greta (5;10) and Ellen (6;7) and submit my proposal to them to found a reading club.
I present them my idea that they could bring their own books from home and read from them – and that we could also solve riddles together.
Lara: „What is a riddle?“ – Greta: „Well, you can answer questions there.“ They are all three enthusiastic and I ask them to bring their favorite books to the next meeting. Greta writes herself a note: „Then I won’t forget the book.“
They also want to continue doing the Würzburg language program on the computer at the reading club. They also like my suggestion to bring a folder to file worksheets and everything else that might accumulate in it.
„Oh yes“, says Lara, „then it’s almost like at school!“
The first meeting
We’ve chosen Monday as Reading Club Day. Ellen comes directly to me in the morning and smilingly shows me the two first grade books she brought with her (written in capital letters). And she takes a sheet with the complete alphabet out of her bag.
Greta comes towards me with the corners of her mouth pulled down: „My dad pushed so hard this morning that I forgot my books.“
Lara screams from behind:
„Yes, and I’ve forgotten them too!“
So we look at Ellen’s books. She shows them around and the kids decide to do a little detective story with a dog.
On the recommendation of my colleagues I invited two more kids to the reading club: Merle and Marius. Leon also came. He suggests to make a door sign „Reading Club“. While they make the individual letters for it, I quickly think up and draw a riddle and copy it for all six.
Now I ask the children whether they want to read the story together or each of them separately. Lara says „I prefer to read to myself, otherwise I get distracted.“ – „Well“, I mean, „you can make yourselves comfortable here in the reading corner and read in peace.“
Marius says: „I prefer to read the news or my knowledge book.“ I suggest he bring his knowledge book to the next meeting, if he doesn’t like today’s story.
Then Ellen says to Marius: „You don’t know yet if you’ll like the story, just read it!“ He nods affirmatively.
Besides, the children have finished making the door sign and we hang it on the staff room door. I encourage them to take (almost) anytime their folder with the story and the riddles to the „Reading Club Room“ to work on it.
However, I notice that the children do not dare to go into the reading room between our meetings. „It’s a bit scary when we sit there alone,“ says Lara. Only weeks later do they accept the offer.
For Greta it is no challenge…
but for Merle and Marius it’s too difficult.
Greta reads the story alone and solves the riddle without any help.
(What’s the name of that smart dog? – Schnüff.
What is it? – Detective.
What did he discover? – The empty birdcage.
Who was kidnapped? – Welli.
What kind of animal is Welli? – Budgie.
What was he investigating? – The cage.
What did Schnüff see on the kitchen floor? – Traces.
What’s the name of the black cat? – Schnief.)
Marius and Merle cannot keep up with the reading speed of the others. I give them a piece of paper with the alphabet in upper and lower case and suggest – so that it is not too frustrating for them – to write the letters they already know on a piece of paper. „Yes“, says Marius, „then I can choose the words I know from the letters!“ And Merle adds: „Then I’ll paint under the words what I have written!“
That way her own „dictionary“ is created, and more and more words are added over time during the Reading Club meetings.
Greta helps Lara and Ellen to solve the riddle and together they find the solution: Sonnenschein (sunshine).
Note from the course leader:
Attention! There should always be real challenges for Greta as well…
Reading the story and answering the questions takes several meetings – and each time they have bright red heads, when they sit together like that. Once Greta is sick, Lara and Ellen help each other. But Lara does not cope well with Ellen reading out loud. I suggest that they read the text to each other in turn. „Okay“, says Lara, „but everybody is allowed to read the same amount. And that works well then.
New children and club ID cards
After the summer holidays, Leon (see above) decides to „enter“ the club, and a child from a neighbouring kindergarten group joins the club. (It is important to get hints from the colleagues which child is ready to join the club in a meaningful way).
The children design club badges that they always carry with them when they go to the reading club.
Greta starts to go to the club more often with younger children to read to them. Afterwards she always raves about how great and cosy it is. Leon and Lara also notice this and do the same.
I am quite happy with how the reading club is developing. The children are looking forward to Monday and the reading club and so am I. The children who have an ID card are proud to belong to it. That’s good for me to see.
Now, over seven years later, the Reading Club is still in existence and has indeed been active all along.
When I moved to another city, a colleague took over the club. Many children have now already felt comfortable in the reading club and learned a lot.
Date of publication in German: April 2015
Translation from German: Hanna Vock
(Sorry, there is no money for a professional translator. If you discover any gross errors, please let me know. firstname.lastname@example.org)
Copyright © Hanna Vock, see imprint.