by Lucy Rüttgers
I discovered an increased interest in letters in several of the children in my group when I specifically observed them. Conversations with the children conveyed to me their desire: to learn to read and write.
Edith (name changed) (5;0), whom I had specifically observed in my first practical task (in the IHVO Certificate Course), was one of them.
This was – when she was 4;7 years old – her spontaneous answer in the Questionnaire on Child´s Interests to the question: „What have you ever done that you are really proud of?“:
Starting the project
For the start of the project my colleague and I used our „morning circle“. The aim was to address all interested children in the kindergarten group, regardless of their age. The result was (from our two groups) 19 interested children who wanted to participate in the letter project. We formed four small groups. Two small groups were accompanied by my colleague, two were supervised by me. We organized it in such a way that every second day every child was playing / learning in his or her small group.
… In short…
The author does not only take up the interest of many children in letters on the side, but also carries out a series of activities in a small group with six children. Especially one girl (5;0) shows a great eagerness to learn. In the course of time it becomes apparent that this child almost always wants to continue learning when the others are already satiated and can no longer concentrate.
The girl Edith becomes more confident and enjoys the cognitive support.
In the following I will concentrate the report on the group Edith was in. The group initially consisted of five children: three high-performing children (in my estimation), combined with two somewhat weaker ones. Edith was the youngest in this group at just five years old.
The preparations for the project, the red thread, were made by my colleague and me together. The concrete course of the project then depended on the respective children, their knowledge, skills, interests, wishes and ideas.
Edith, who just turned five years old at the beginning of the project, is a quiet, inconspicuous, shy, cautious girl. Although her self-confidence has visibly grown through our intensive contact and my great attention in the last three months (during my first practical assignment), she still needs a lot of emotional support.
According to her previous knowledge and her knowledge of letters, Edith had to join a group with older children to find equal interest partners. The combination with three other girls would have been good, which was not possible for organisational reasons. Thus, to provide emotional support for Edith, her play partner Nele joined the group. Nele is two months older than Edith, and I couldn’t really assess her knowledge of letters.
Furthermore, Lotte (5;10) was part of the group. For the parents the question of early school enrolment arose at times, but they decided against it. Then there were Ole (6;11) and his friend Max, who was only 5;6. With him I also suspected a special talent and was very curious about his level of knowledge. For him the presence of his friend Ole was very important.
In the beginning there was a conversation about the wishes and expectations of the children. It turned out that with the exception of Nele (5;2), who wanted to play with letters and learn their names, all others had as their goal learning to read and write.
Afterwards, we talked about the difference between the names and sounds of the letters on the basis of letters about 20 cm in size (cut out by children in free play) and tried it out with examples.
I realised that children are more familiar with naming letters than with the sound. They already know the alphabet mostly by heart – speaking or singing – so we practiced speaking the sound of the letters. We practised listening and speaking carefully, for example with words where the letter is at the beginning of the word.
To keep it clear, we initially used only eight letters, including the first letters of the children’s names.
Finally, each child chose its first name from the letters.
Duration: about 35 minutes.
How did Edith behave?
Edith seemed to me quiet and reserved, insecure towards the group. She was safe in her knowledge. She knew almost all the letters with names and sounds. She took the offer seriously and concentrated and had no understanding for silliness.
Each child receives a booklet and can walk through the entire kindergarten to collect and copy letters, words and sentences. All children appear highly motivated. Afterwards we looked at the yield together.
The children should show their results to the others and, who can and wants to, read out the collected letters
The children should show their results to the others and, if they can and want to, read out the letters they have collected. Nele, Max and Ole wrote little and unclearly. They do not dare to read out because they do not know many letters yet.
Edith and Lotte have written a lot, Lotte a little more, but Edith much more precisely and exactly.
Both read out their letters exactly (sometimes the letter name, sometimes the letter sound). Lotte reads faster, Edith reads more carefully. Edith does not know a letter, I give her the hint: the third of the alphabet, she counts it by the alphabet and names it.
Joint final consideration: What happens the next day?
I Offer: If you want to continue, you can stay – no one else wants to.
As jointly decided the day before: Cut out letters from advertising magazines and stick them on – single letters, names, words or sentences, just as you like.
I think that this way weaker children are not overstrained and more powerful ones have the possibility to power according to their needs.
Edith works slowly but very precisely and puts her name together twice. Then comes a game that the children have asked for: From ten letters (20 cm high, cut out of cardboard) the children try to feel a certain letter with blindfolded eyes. This is no problem for the children, but it is fun for them.
For the next project meeting, I announce that they will get to know a reading table as an aid to learning to read independently.
Edith will say: „I want to learn to read.“
All the children will then be allowed to go to the beloved gymnasium. Only Edith wants to continue with me alone, she prefers learning with me alone to the gym!
We discuss the reading table for the next time. She names the terms and the sounds of the letters. She needs help with some unclear pictures. Then I write down the following words for her and she reads!
Bild (picture), Tag (day), Tanne (fir tree), Wolke (cloud), Tafel (blackboard). The last three were a little bit more difficult for her to read, because of the two-syllables.
Then she wanted to stop and go to the gym with the others!
On this day I offered Linus (six years old) to join this group of letters as a guest. According to my latest observations (he can already partially read) Linus fits better to this advanced group.
At the beginning of the offer I gave each child a reading table, which contained only capital letters. All children followed my explanations with interest and were highly motivated to name the letters using the pictures.
Although Edith was already familiar with this table, her concentration and motivation were not negatively influenced by it.
Up to now the children were mainly familiar with the capital letters. But now that a game was due in which lower case letters were also used, I first added the reading table for the children. So they could now read the corresponding lower case letters independently in addition to the upper case letters they already knew.
Then we played an educational reading game with animals. The game material included small cards with a picture; one card, for example, showed a zebra. The same motif existed again on each of the large cards, with the corresponding word written below the picture, for example „zebra“. This large card was cut into strips, in such a way that on each strip a letter of the word and a part of the picture could be seen.
The children drew a card and then puzzled together the corresponding picture. Now they could try to read the resulting word, i.e. the animal name.
Letters that they could not recognize (especially the lower case letters) should be looked for on the reading table.
This was no problem for Edith! She had now gained self-confidence within the group. She had recently dared to read aloud, and she announced her wishes.
Each child placed three animals.
After the offer was completed, Edith and Linus decided that they wanted to continue. When I asked Linus if he would like to continue working with this group, he spontaneously said, „In all of them!“
Edith and Linus got on extremely well with each other during the rest of the offer, although they otherwise have no contact in the kindergarten’s daily routine. (Edith plays with the girls and Linus with the wild boys.)
The task now was to write any words independently with the Nikitin LOGO letter cubes. Edith writes <Roller> (scooter) and <Edith>. When reading aloud, she reads every single letter and strings them together to form a word – with clear, distinct pronunciation and high concentration.
Linus finds this boring and wants to write highly motivated <Fettsack> (fatman). He then writes with some support: <FÄTSAK> and <PO>.
Linus now always participates in this group, so there are now six children. Also this time the offer consists of a letter game.
A letter card is placed in the middle, on it is a large printed letter, and on the corners of the card is the corresponding lower case letter. To the right and left of the card a picture is to be placed, whose name begins with this letter.
Everyone played for about half an hour.
Edith wants to continue afterwards. Ole keeps her company for a short time, but when it becomes clear what we want to do next, he quickly says goodbye: Heinevetter’s reading trainer.
I give Edith a reading card. She reads and then looks for the corresponding picture. Terms are: flower, banana, tomato, key, doll, doll’s pram. She does not yet know some lower case letters. I’ll help her to name them, or we can look in the reading table.
The combination „Sch“ is also not familiar to her, but then it is no problem for her to use it correctly. Edith enjoys the time alone with me and tells me a lot on the side – from past and future. On this day, her concentration lasts for about an hour.
The introduction to the offer should be the common laying out of the large cardboard letters in alphabetical order. Then I wanted to create a letter game with the children.
However, the children had already completed a morning circle with musical instruments lasting about 35 minutes. It was also very hot that day.
The children developed something else from my planned start: They made letter chains, letter-hanging earrings and letter puzzles from the existing large cardboard letters.
But then suddenly Edith, Lotte, Linus and Nele started to design the new game as I had suggested it to them.
It went like this:
Cut out a board and many small tiles from special corrugated cardboard, then write letters on them using the alphabet. Because the grooves of the special corrugated board fit into each other, you can now put letters, words or sentences together on the grooved board (similar to a magnetic board).
While the four children work on it, Max and Ole romp around in the seat cushions for a while and then feel like making an animal alphabet puzzle together. The others continue to fight with the cardboard strips.
Edith works slowly but carefully. She always pays attention to accuracy. Besides, she usually works carefully so as not to do anything wrong. That’s also the case this time.
The children write the letters of their names on the tiles, one letter per tile. There is one more difficulty: They have to pay attention to the direction of the grooves, otherwise the letters will be upside down when they are fixed on the board. Edith has done this several times despite several detailed explanations. Until now she had not been able to cope with such situations without tears, especially when others noticed her difficulties.
That is why I was now amazed at how calm she remained and how well she could admit her little mistakes without being completely frustrated.
Max and Ole joined in at the end, and so each child was able to write its name on the alphabet board.
The offer lasted about an hour after all, and then Edith didn’t feel like doing anything more.
It was planned to extend the letter game of the previous day; however, this was apparently not very attractive for the children at the moment. So we agreed on any two words they should write, except their own names. Edith did it well, the other children needed more or less help.
Edith was the only one who hadn’t got enough input. She wants to continue with Heinevetter’s reading trainer. She knows almost all the letters, but still needs help with some lower case letters, for example she confuses d and b. We also have to look up the combinations like ei, eu and au in the reading table.
Her reading method, which she has invented for herself, goes like this:
First, she spoke the first letter of the word,
2. then the second letter individually,
3. then she lined up the second letter with the first and spoke them both together,
4. then she turned to the third letter, read it one by one,
5. then she lined him up with the first two and said them together,
6. then she did the same to the end of the word.
Then she did not know immediately which word she had just read, the meaning of the word only became clear to her when she pronounced it a second time.
Edith read and assigned the following words to the pictures:
Puppe (doll), Tomate (tomato), Banane (banana), Vogel (bird), Ofen (oven), Igel (hedgehog), Leiter (ladder), Maus (mouse), Eule (owl), Eimer (bucket), Auto (car), Sofa (sofa), Uhr (clock), Wagen (carriage), Rose (rose), Esel (donkey), Dose (tin), Hose (trousers) and Ameise (ant).
She could have gone on with me forever. But all alone, without me, she didn’t want to anymore. So she preferred to go and play with the others.
Today I suggest to the children to paint the alphabet with watercolours on paper and then stick the letters on our stairs between the ground floor and the first floor.
First, they will paint the letters of the entire alphabet in print capital letters.
Edith works again slowly and very neatly and accurately. For Linus, it is not going fast enough.
Then everyone can paint and write what and as much as they want. Linus writes FÄTSAK and SAU again and is very proud. Lotte just writes letters, Ole and Max did nothing more and Nele and Edith still write their names.
Then Edith wants to finish playing Heinevetter’s reading trainer. This time new letter combinations are added: Sp, St, ch, ü, ö, ä. Lotte joined in, and the two of them took turns reading aloud.
Lotte reads the beginning and tries to guess the rest of the word.
Reading lesson with Edith alone, with the „First Brockhaus“.
At first she reads a few words, but then the pictures in the book give her new narrative ideas again and again.
For example, she enumerates many objects that are missing in a picture of a house where you can look into the interior. We spend about an hour like this, then she doesn’t feel like doing anything else, not even another action.
I ask Edith this morning if she would like to do the letter offer again today with the other children of the group or with me alone. Without thinking twice, she answers, „Alone with you.“
Then I ask, „Would you rather read or write?“ She decided to read. We read a short text from a reading primer:
Lilo malt (paints) Mama (mom),
Lilo paints mum with (picture of a hat),
Tilo paints Mama with (picture of another hat),
Tim paints (picture symbol),
Tom paints (picture symbol),
Mama paints (picture symbol),
Grandma paints (picture symbol).
I find it striking that Edith read every word as if she saw it for the first time and read it for the first time.
In the end, „malt“ (paints) was then read faster and more fluently, but not as naturally as I had expected. I had thought that she would recognize it and then insert it quickly by heart.
Then she read another text:
„Dinos sind im (Bildsymbol Ei)“ (Dinos are in (picture symbol egg)).
In Ninos (picture symbol bed) are dinos.
There are dinos as (pictogram shoe).
There are cups with dinos.“
Now about 25 minutes had passed, and I noticed that Edith became more distracted. So I asked her if we should stop, she agreed. I explained to her again that she should always let me know when she no longer felt like going on.
The question whether we should stop completely for today or whether she still wants to write something with the LOGO-stones, she answered very clearly: „Continue.“
And I thought she was exhausted!
So we turned to the Nikitin LOGO Cubes.
We took the exercise booklet as a help. The words were written one below the other. The first letter was shown as a letter, the other letters were replaced by symbols, for example sun for S or roller for R.
The first six words consisted of four letters, the following six of five to six letters.
Together we looked for the corresponding symbols on the dice. Edith placed them on the corresponding fields. Then she gradually named the first letters of the symbols, turned the dice to match and read the word at the end.
After 35 minutes, I noticed some careless mistakes and she wanted to stop.
She knew all the letters except Sch, Sp, Pf, Qu, Ä, Eu, Ei. With these she needed my help. Sometimes I noticed that she read the word correctly and well articulated, but did not understand the meaning at first, so she did not recognize the word as a whole.
About the project as a whole:
The project was received with enthusiasm by all participating children. The children’s level of knowledge increased, which was also visible to the children themselves.
The children, who were rated as „letter-performing“, confirmed this expectation.
Together with all the project children, we have now put together new groups for everyone. In this way, the children who can already read will be able to continue working at a pace suitable for them, and the other children will be able to build on their knowledge.
Due to the group changes, only a few children experienced a short sadness; because all of them still have friends in their group after the changes. Everyone wants to continue with the project.
First of all it is noticeable how close our relationship has become. This can be seen, for example, in the daily heartfelt greetings and goodbyes, or in the fact that she asks every day whether she can sit next to me during the morning circle and lunch. But she can also get along quite well without me, she doesn’t „cling“ to me.
Edith’s friends both will enrol school now, only Charlotte is still with her, who will also turn 5 soon. My goal is to bring Lotte and Edith closer together. They are very different children and so they don’t really have a connection. But I can imagine that they complement each other well in some areas. Furthermore, I believe that both Lotte and Edith lack adequate play partners when the others will be at school. By continuing the letter project I also hope to improve the connection between the two.
During our joint activities as a couple Edith received a lot of attention, which I think she needs. I was calm, patient and everything should be done without any pressure to perform. I made my suggestions and asked my questions carefully. Nevertheless Edith often seemed to be under some kind of pressure to perform. She never sat relaxed and calm, but fidgeted back and forth and had to constantly change her sitting position.
Is this a negative sign or a sign of positive excitement?
Her great intrinsic motivation could not be overlooked. When all the children were already at the end of their strength and concentration, Edith started with me alone. She otherwise participated in the activities without attracting attention, but had the courage and self-confidence to express wishes or read words aloud in front of the group. Sometimes it seemed to me as if she waited patiently for time until she could really work on her interests with me.
For Linus, on the other hand, I would always have had to have extra difficult tasks ready, but this was not easy, because I could not assess his knowledge and wishes so well. Otherwise he got his attention in the negative way, just did nonsense and called everything „Pepp“ (much too easy), but then he often couldn’t do it yet.
It has become obvious to me that Edith needs additional cognitive stimulation and that it does her good. When the letter project will be finished, I would like to try to meet her further cognitive needs. She has already expressed,
It has become obvious to me that Edith needs additional cognitive support and that this is good for her. When the letter project is completed, I will try to meet her further cognitive needs. She has already expressed that she also wants to learn to calculate.
At the same time I also try to learn about her other areas of interest. Thus, in addition to mathematics, there are also experiments and scientific questions.
Let’s see what possibilities the kindergarten routine leaves me with.
Edith was later tested as highly gifted.
Read more about Edith:
Date of publication in German: July 2012
Copyright © Lucy Rüttgers, see imprint.