Each autumn, when teachers return to their full-time work lives, they often reflect upon what they miss most about their more leisurely summer schedules. On many lists appear such luxury items as sleeping late, curling up with bestsellers on a lazy afternoon, and having time for a real breakfast while reading the daily newspaper.

Although once the school year gathers speed there are few opportunities for sleeping in, spending lazy afternoons, or eating balanced breakfasts, I'd like to suggest that all teachers carve out time to read the daily newspapers guilt free. Reading the newspaper can enrich your teaching, even if you are working with our very youngest children. You can easily use ordinary events covered in the papers to inspire simple early childhood activities that will help instill a love of literacy.

Here's a great example. After reading an article about the havoc caused by hurricanes, I explained to the children the meaning of such a storm and how forceful water can be. I told them about the practice of giving hurricanes the same names used for people and how they are assigned in alphabetical order. This season, Gustav made the headlines and then came Hanna, Ike, and Josephine. Online, I researched the list of names from seasons past and read those aloud as well. We then spent close to an hour making up our own list of hurricane names, from A to Z. We talked about which letters were hard to use and came up with names of friends and family members that we could use. I also reminded the children about the alphabetically named characters in Joseph Slate's Miss Bindergarten books and in Louise Borden's new picture book, Off to First Grade.  After experimenting with names, one child asked if we could do the same with animals, moving from antelope to bat to camel, etc. That led me to search for my stack of Jerry Pallotta's themed alphabet books, and we marveled at how he came up with alphabetical listings for flowers, boats, bugs, vegetables, and so many more. And all this activity began with a newspaper clipping about hurricanes!

The summer Olympic Games also provided much grist for the preschool literacy and numeracy mill. During dramatic play, the children attempted synchronized swimming and gymnastics with figurines and dolls. They made their own versions of labeled medals adorned with the words "gold," "silver," and "bronze." (For children who had sound/symbol correspondence and the necessary motor control, the words appeared as variations of GLD, SLVR, and BRZ. For others, more simply as G, S, and B. Yet others distinguished the medals by simply choosing the right color crayon.) Of course, we talked about the meaning of coming in first, second, and third. We clipped a photo of Michael Phelps wearing his eight gold medals and then created pretend ones, rearranging them in different piles. "If he got two on Monday, how many did he receive the rest of the week?" The children all stared in awe when I showed them newspaper and magazine photos containing words in Chinese. It was big news that children in far off China learn a different alphabet!

Then, too, the newspapers are filled with stories and photos about the upcoming presidential elections. It's not hard to offer a simplified version of the two teams, the Democrats and the Republicans, and help children to understand that the person who receives the most votes in November gets to run the country and live with his family in the White House. Young children love looking at maps that contain states colored red and blue with a simplified explanation of their meaning. Many young children are familiar with the names of the candidates from family discussions, as well as from reports on television and on the car radio. Just as learning to read the names of classmates is a basic literacy goal in the early grades, young children can also become familiar with the names "Obama" and "McCain." They can search newspaper pages, circling the names with crayons, making them pop with highlighter pens, and/or cutting, pasting, and tallying their finds. In addition, the class can take a walk in the neighborhood, looking for the names on neighborhood posters, car bumper stickers, and in store windows.

I hope that reading the daily newspaper will inspire you to create many important literacy opportunities for the young children in your classroom. Not only will they be increasing their knowledge of how print works, but no doubt the rich content will lead to important classroom conversations, ones that the children will continue at home with their families. They will also appreciate how important reading is in the lives of their teachers. There can be no greater way to demonstrate the importance of becoming literate than to be surrounded by adults who take their own reading opportunities seriously.

 

For many more ways to help young children become literate, read Shelley Harwayne's recent publication, Look Who's Learning to Read: Fifty Fun Ways to Instill a Love of Reading in Young Children (Scholastic, 2008), in which she outlines how she is preparing her five young grandchildren to take to literacy as easily as ducks take to water.