Sharing Early Literacy Learning Journeys

The old, brown, metal cupboard lurks at the back of my classroom. It is full – very full! Materials, made and collated over recent years, are stacked inside. The latch is stiff. On the second attempt to open the doors, I lean into the cupboard with my shoulder. The doors burst open. A mini avalanche of books, charts and cards cascades into my hands!

Yesterday focussed on the physical environment of the room – getting the class ‘areas’ organised and placing the furniture. Today is about sorting materials and constructing the calendar wall.

Sorting literacy and numeracy cards and charts

Sorting cards
Literacy and numeracy cards are sorted into broad categories:
* alphabet
* numbers
* days
* months
* colours
* sight words
* sentence starters
* high-interest word/photo cards
* CAFE labels

Literacy and numeracy cards feature big print. This enables children to read the cards from various parts of the room and is especially helpful for children seeking spelling support during writing times. The cards are A4 size, colourful and laminated to last.

Alphabet rhyme cards (Ants on the apple, Violent volcanoes),
colour cards and two sets of number cards

Yesterday, today and tomorrow cards for the calendar wall,
early sight words, sentence starters (I am…, I like…, We went…)
and months cards.

Some of the cards are bundled with elastics and bulldog clips and stored on shelves for easy access. Number cards are taped beneath the calendar wall and colour cards are pegged on the wires near the mat area. Alphabet cards will go up one-at-a-time, according to class interests, children’s names, curriculum and handwriting sequences, etc. over the next few weeks of first term.

Sorting charts
Literacy and numeracy charts are sorted into categories:
* alphabet charts for phonics and handwriting (will go beneath the whiteboard)
* word lists, e.g. people we know, time starters (various walls and wires)
* months of the year (will go beneath calendar wall)
* days of the week (will go beneath calendar wall)
* attendance chart (will go on calendar wall)
* songs, chants, poems (will hang on wires)
* action rhymes, number rhymes and nursery rhymes
* simple starting school rhymes (see picture below)

Literacy and numeracy charts feature big print enabling children to read the charts from the floor and tables in various parts of the room. The charts are A2 or A3 size, colourful and laminated. Four rhyme charts are pegged on a wire so they are easy to read from the mat area.

Rhymes, reading and a ‘rule of thumb’

Children, especially young children, need to move – and they need to move often.  Yet, we frequently ask them to sit for long periods of time for shared reading, shared writing and explicit teaching. Here’s a ‘rule of thumb’ that works for me:

Time a child can sit ‘fairly still’ = child’s age + 3 minutes

Thus, a Prep or Year 1 child may sit ‘fairly still’ for 8 – 10 minutes, but then s/he needs to get up and move – really move; jump, hop, wriggle, stretch!

Rhymes play a fun and purposeful role here as they give opportunities for children to move their bodies to the rhymes and at the same time, hear rollicking, rhythmical language. Reading is also involved; children see, say and hear the words simultaneously as I point to each word with a metre stick.


Rhythmical rhymes:
Jump, Teddy Bear, Tall as a House, Jack be Nimble

Starting the calendar wall¹

Back to work! The calendar wall takes shape from left to right – the same direction we read/write and the order in which we will do the calendar tasks:

* January chart at lower left corner (for children to touch/write on) 
* yesterday, today and tomorrow cards
* days of the week cards
* attendance chart
* 100 board
* 100 grid

The month chart is at the bottom left for L – R reading
and for children to reach and write on.

The January month chart is ruled up and labelled on large ‘poster’ card.

 ‘Yesterday, today and tomorrow’ cards are pinned/stapled to the board.
‘Blu-tac’ is used on the back of the day cards so they can be moved easily.

The attendance chart goes up next to the days of the week.
(Counting, adding and subtracting in a meaningful context).

The 100 number board goes up next.
It’s heavy and needs to be secured with strong hooks and string.
(Counting by ones, tens, fives and twos).

Great! I don’t have to do anything here.
The 100 grid is already painted on the hinged
blackboard in the corner of the calendar area.

Finally, months of the year chart, days of the week chart and number cards are stuck on the bottom half of the calendar wall, with blu-tac (see photo above).

In the first two weeks of school, a large chart of the children’s names and a schedule of days and times of specialists’ classes (music, computers, library and physical education) will be added to the calendar wall.

For the first 4-5 weeks I lead the class through the calendar tasks, then children take turns to complete the tasks as the ‘calendar person’:

* day, date, month, year
* counting children in attendance
* adding boys and girls
* subtracting absent children
* sequencing numbers for the number of days at school
* talking of days and times in sessions with specialist teachers
* recording happenings like a child’s birthday, a class event and a school activity

¹ (Read more about the Calendar Wall in  Teaching Strategies for Literacy in the Early Years  ‘Dates with the Calendar’ Pg. 22).


Quiet reflections

Looking around the room I reflect on what has been accomplished today…

Cards and charts, constructed, collected and collated over the years (some by me, some by my teacher aides) are sorted.

Some cards are displayed. Others, like alphabet cards and sight words, are more relevant and meaningful when the class is involved in placing them on walls and wires over the next few weeks, as we build literacy and numeracy displays together.

Almost completing the calendar wall is a relief – it’s a big job and it has to be ready for the first day with children.

Two more days to complete finishing touches before children arrive. But for now…it’s time to go home!

Coming next: Starting School Series, Part 3: Gathering hands-on materials and books

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