Posts Tagged ‘Early Childhood’

Intentional Teaching in Pre-K

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

AUTHOR: Erika Pozo, Early Childhood Education Specialist

Research on best teaching practices is very clear and consistent. Teachers who are thoughtful about what they teach and how they teach it are better able to help children acquire skills needed to succeed in school and in life. Intentional teaching requires teachers to be purposeful and effective in their instructional strategies at all times. This means that teachers take an active role in the learning process and facilitate children’s learning based on skill development, individual needs, and goals of students in the class. Intentional teachers recognize and respond to every opportunity to engage in, and extend, children’s learning, whether that learning is child-initiated, teacher-initiated, routine, planned, or unexpected (Epstein, 2007).

A key element of intentional teaching is listening; listening to what children say to the teacher, to their peers, and in their self-talk. Equally important is the response (or lack of response) teachers give to children when they do talk. Children identify a teacher as a good listener when the teacher:

∙ makes eye contact appropriately;

∙ is patient and does not interrupt;

∙ asks questions in a nonthreatening tone;

∙ is responsive both verbally and nonverbally; and,

∙ prepares for listening by removing other distractions (Jalongo, 2008).

Intentional teaching requires teachers to understand the needs of each child as an individual, unique learner. Likewise, teachers must have a strong sense of how and when to support child-guided learning experiences verses teacher-guided (or directed) learning experiences. To teach with intention, teachers must:

∙ Create a learning environment rich in materials, experiences, and interactions;

∙ Encourage children to explore materials, experiences, relationships, and ideas;

∙ Speak respectfully, reciprocally, and frequently with children;

∙ Consciously promote all areas of learning and development;

∙ Match content with children’s developmental levels and emerging abilities; and,

∙ Carefully observe children to determine their interests and level of understanding.

Intentional teaching does not happen by chance; it is planful, thoughtful, and purposeful.

To learn more about intentional teaching in the early childhood classroom, check out Ann S. Epstein’s book titled The Intentional Teacher: Choosing the Best Strategies for Young Children’s Learning. An excerpt from the book is available here.


Epstein, A. S. (2007). The intentional teacher: Choosing the best strategies for young children’s learning. Washington, DC: NAYEC

Jalongo, M. (2008). Learning to listen, listening to learn: Building essential skills in young children. Washington. DC: NAEYC

Teaching Science in the Early Childhood Classroom

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

AUTHOR: Aliza Rivera, Early Childhood Specialist

I can remember when the idea of teaching science to a room full of 4 year-olds terrified me. My fear often led to science activities that were either “safe,” not messy, or often underdeveloped. Students tended to overlook my science center and it was not utilized enough by my young students. I can even recall a memory where I encouraged my students to look, but not touch. Sound familiar? You are not the only one.

Leo F. Buscaglia states, “It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.” For the longest time I was in denial of the idea that young children already come to school with an innate sense of natural curiosity about the world and how it works. I had to work on my ability to understand the different ways that young children play. I often had to stop what I was doing, listen to what my students were saying and reflect on their subsequent actions through the different play opportunities planned throughout the day. By doing this, I came to understand and conquer my fear of teaching science. I found that my fear was based on a personal struggle of not understanding how play activities connected with content knowledge and how they could come to support young children’s learning of science naturally through play.

Realizing that science is everywhere and that it can be integrated into the curriculum in a variety of ways, I began to develop a deeper understanding of essential scientific ideas rather than a superficial acquaintance of isolated facts. I embraced the opportunity in allowing my young students with sufficient time to develop a deeper understanding for the world around them.  When I began to allow more time for my students to explore, it provided me with the opportunity to observe the capacity to which the play became more complex.  When I engaged in play with my students, I began to understand the opportunities in which to question the understanding of my student’s thinking patterns and to acknowledge the different content areas they were experiencing.  When my students demonstrated to me a variety of skills that could be seen universally across content areas, then I introduced additional materials that supported my student’s’ natural sense of inquiry.

These observable skills included:

  • exploring objects, materials, and events
  • asking questions
  • making observations
  • engaging in simple investigations
  • describing (including shape, size, number), comparing, sorting, classifying and ordering
  • recording observations by using words, pictures, charts and graphs
  • working collaboratively with others
  • sharing and discussing ideas
  • listening to new perspectives (Hamlin & Wisneski, 2012)

Teachers, just like myself, who utilized inquiry and science in the early childhood classroom came to the realization that it built a natural pathway that allowed them to understand and value the thinking processes of the young learner. In doing so, they used their students’ thinking processes as learning experiences in helping guide their students to uncover explanations that were closer to a scientific idea than simply learning through isolated facts (Hamlin & Wisneski, 2012)  Developing inquiry in an early childhood classroom can transform a class from a collection of individuals into a community of learners that openly share their interpretations of the natural world around them (Worth & Grollman, 2003). Research has shown that such learning experiences can help children reform and refine their theories and explanations—to learn how to think through their ideas, to take risks and ask additional questions, and to reconsider their ideas on the basis of others’ views (Vygotsky, 1962).

Science is part of our everyday lives. How can teachers use play as opportunities to engage young learners in scientific inquiry? The key is in the types of experiences teachers create for young learners and how well they support children during play. Fostering a young child’s natural sense of inquiry is essentially building a strong foundation for the ongoing development of many cognitive skills across content areas (Worth & Grollman, 2003).


Hamlin, M., & Wisneski, D. B. (2012, May). Supporting the Scientific Thinking and Inquiry of Toddlers and Preschoolers through Play. Young Children, 67(3), 82-88.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1986). Thought and Language. Cambridge, M.A.: The MIT Press.

Worth, Karen & Grollman, Sharon. (2003). Worms, shadows, and whirlpools: Science in the early childhood classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Social Emotional Skills, Something to Think About

Monday, December 7th, 2015

AUTHOR: Erika Pozo Fiorilo, Early Childhood Specialist

What is the difference between Time-Out and a Safe Place?  Time-Out in its everyday meaning is an act of discipline to help change behavior; however, incorporating a Safe Place into the classroom environment is a way of teaching that empowers children to make decisions that are ethical, intelligent, and socially responsive. (Gartell, 2011)

Our Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines are written to help us to intentionally plan and create a classroom environment for our students to experience positive guidance in the PK classroom.  In the PK classroom, “guidance” specifically means:

  • teaching children to learn from their mistakes
  • teaching children to solve problems
  • empowering children to be capable learners and understand they are an important part of the classroom community
  • planning intentionally for interactive learning environments where children construct meaning for their actions and choices
  • celebrating differences and establishing pride in their personal and cultural identities
  • creating a healthy balance of both academic learning alongside that of social emotional development
  • upholding classroom rules consistently throughout the school year

Time-Out vs. Safe Place

Instead of Time-Out, you might consider the use of a Safe Place in your classroom.  Dr. Becky Bailey proposed the idea of a Safe Place, outlined in her book Conscious Discipline.  The Safe Place offers a positive alternative form of classroom guidance as opposed to the traditional act of Time-Out.  While Time-Out may be effective with some students, this form of classroom management doesn’t really teach the student to prevent the behavior from recurring again.  It just teaches the child that if the behavior occurs again they will be missing out on valuable instructional time or play.  A Time-Out doesn’t offer students the opportunity to learn independent social skills, while a Safe Place gives students coping strategies they can use to refer back to when a similar incident occurs again.

Below are ideas for a Safe Place you can design for your students

  • Soft stuffed animals for hugging
  • Books that highlight feelings and emotions
  • Teacher-created sentence stems
  • Items to manipulate, such as sensory bottles, to help children calm down and relieve their own emotions
  • Stress balls
  • Puzzle of feelings
  • Pictures modeling appropriate behaviors in social situations
  • Posters with visual cues to guide children through the calming process

The overall goal for creating a Safe Place is for children to independently learn how to control their own emotions and to give them the strategies they need to use when they find that they are angry, sad, nervous, disappointed, etc. Teaching children how to keep themselves in control in different social settings will help them enormously throughout their schooling and personal lives. Using a variety of strategies and tools will help students to learn about self-care, self-control, and self-discipline. The Safe Place can be the foundation for students to learn these necessary tools of self-regulation for a lifetime.


Gartell, D. 2011. Children who have serious Conflicts, Part 2: Instrumental Aggression. Young Children, 58-60.

Bailey, B. A. 2000.  Conscious Discipline: 7 Basic Skills for Brain Smart Classroom Management. Oviedo, Florida: Loving Guidance

Supporting the Young English Language Learner

Friday, September 25th, 2015

AUTHOR: Aliza Rivera, Education Specialist – School Ready

As a former pre-K teacher I often struggled with meeting the needs of my English Language Learners (ELLs), mainly because I didn’t completely understand the resources provided to me. Over time, I came to the realization that while the curriculum and lesson planning that were provided offered guidance on what to teach and when to teach it, they very rarely offered practical methods for how to teach it, which is exactly what the job of curriculum/ lesson mapping and planning is supposed to do. More specifically, I wanted to teach in a way that allowed me to maximize instructional time to meet the needs of my students’ oral language development in their native language as well as provide relevant and purposeful learning opportunities that supported and fostered my students’ English language development. I decided that I would go back to basics and build upon the relationships already being successfully formed in our classroom community.  

As I reflected, I began to understand that planning the act of having conversations with students was going to be the successful foundation that both the student and I would need to establish risk taking behaviors.  By being very deliberate in my planning I could create a love of learning that would be experienced all year long in both their native language as well as their new language of English as well.

So with the end of school year goals in mind, I began to intentionally plan backward to find ways that would support my students’ oral language development and allow for students to express and communicate their own personal experiences in multiple of ways that included listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  Research has shown that students who are supported in both their native home languages (L1) and English (L2) have demonstrated increased cognitive, linguistic, and social emotional advantages (Bialystock 2008; Kuhl 2009)

Planning support for the young ELL should include:

  • Variety – I learned that students were more interested in learning a new language when the conversations occurred in different parts of the classroom, not always limiting those dialogues to one area of the classroom. By utilizing a variety of literature in different parts of the classroom like songs, chants and rhymes, students enthusiastically learn and remember new vocabulary words, classroom expectations and concepts.
  • Visual reinforcements – By adding additional environmental supports like photos and rubrics, students receive a message of which behaviors, appropriate conversations and interactions were expected of them.
  • Let them know why – When I planned for engaging in intentional and purposeful play with my students during center time, students were more likely to use new vocabulary words, phrases and sentence stems because they understood the purposes of instructional materials placed in centers.
  • Peer-to-peer learning – Actively encouraging cooperative play and planning instructional work for students to complete in pairs or triads makes students feel more comfortable with taking risks and practicing their listening and speaking skills with one another. They also learn that their classmates are another resource in helping them to learn material being taught as well as a source of problem solving support.
  • Integrate the home culture – By adding labeling and environmental print to the classroom environment, I was able to communicate to parents and students that I was honoring not only their home language but the idea that one day they were going to be bicultural, bilingual and most importantly bi-literate—able to successfully read, speak and write in both languages.


Bialystok, E. (2008). Cognitive Effects of Bilingualism Across the Lifespan. In H. Chan, H. Jacob, & E. Kapia (Eds.), BUCLD 32: Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development. Boston, MA: Cascadilla Press.

Magruder, E., Hayslip, W., Espinosa, L., & Matera, C. (2013, March 1). Many Languages, One Teacher: Supporting Language and Literacy Development for Dual Language Learners. Young Children, 8-12.

Kuhl, P. (2009). Early Language Acquisition: Neural Substrates and Theoretical Models. In The Cognitive Neurosciences (4th ed., pp. 837-854). Cambridge, MA: M.S. Gazzaniga.


Early Childhood Math

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Authors:  Region 13 School Ready Team

What does quality math instruction look like in a Pre-K classroom?

Is doing math during “calendar time” enough to teach all the Pre-K Guidelines?

What type of math lessons should principals expect to see in Pre-K lesson plans?

Though most educators agree that literacy should receive prime focus in Pre-K, not all agree on the importance of also focusing heavily on math.  Yet, research shows that a child’s math skills can predict her reading success.* One study found that math skills in kindergarten were the primary predictor of later academic success (Duncan, Greg. “Achievement, Attention, and Behavior Across Middle Childhood.” School of Education – University of California, Irvine).

So, what does quality math instruction for 3-5 year olds look like? After a rigorous review of the research (What Works Clearinghouse and the Department of Education, November 2013), the Institute for Education Sciences found that when the following items were thoroughly in place, children’s math skills improved:

Math should be taught following a developmental progression.
While this may seem obvious, many teachers are not aware of the sequence of math learning and/or do not follow it. For example, some Pre-K teachers introduce operations—which is not a Pre-K Guideline—before teaching children how to compare quantities.

Regular progress monitoring should provide checks for understanding as well as information the teacher can use to differentiate instruction.

Children should be taught to use language and recordings to articulate their mathematical understanding.

Math should be taught throughout the day and across the curriculum.
Math instruction can be integrated into read alouds, centers, transitions, and daily routines.

 The information above makes it clear that teaching math primarily through “calendar time” is insufficient. Teachers need to offer explicit math instruction at least 3-5 times weekly (3 times for half day Pre-K, 5 times for full day Pre-K) followed by opportunities for children to apply their new math knowledge. This may take the form of a whole group math lesson followed by math stations. In math stations, children work in 4-6 groups on teacher-assigned math games and activities.



For more math station examples, see our Pinterest board.

Most importantly, children must be given structured, hands-on opportunities to practice new concepts. A teacher’s lesson plan should indicate plans for both explicit instruction AND opportunities for independent practice through math stations, small groups, and/or other meaningful formats.

The School Ready website provides a helpful Pre-K math lesson observation form aligned to the PDAS domains.


Questions to Consider:

Meaningful, Challenging Writing Opportunities for Young Children

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Author:  School Ready Team

Writing in many early childhood classrooms is limited to:

  • Copying words
  • Name writing
  • Helping the teacher compose a Morning Message
  • Practicing correct letter formation
  • Whole group journal writing on assigned topics


While these practices are part of Pre-K writing instruction, much is missing! Opportunities to learn Pre-K Guideline IV.B.1 (Child independently uses letters or symbols to make words or parts of words-phonetic spelling) are often particularly lacking.


Example of phonetic spelling:



A high quality Pre-K program offers a balance of meaningful teacher-led and student-led writing opportunities that include all of these 5 components.



Throughout the week in a high quality Pre-K program, the teacher and students compose lists, letters and other forms of writing through shared or interactive writing.

During Center time, students are invited to write in various centers (e.g., food orders in a Dramatic Play restaurant and observational drawings in Science Center).


Children make books regularly or engage in Writing Workshop, composing their own texts.   Name writing occurs naturally throughout the day as students sign a wait list for a popular center, answer a survey or record their names on art work.

Rather than copying their names or isolated letters over and over again, young children need meaningful reasons to write. In Real Life Reasons to Write, Louis Mark Romei offers a short list of ten compelling ways to prompt young writers:

Questions to Consider:

  • How can you challenge and support Pre-K teachers to gradually begin offering comprehensive writing instruction that includes all 5 components?
  • How can you ensure rigorous, meaningful writing instruction including opportunities to develop phonetic spelling?