SKILLS: Children use observational skills as they note the abundance of letters and signs in their world, then apply this awareness to block play.
- a set of blocks
- paper, cardboard, and oak tag cut in various shapes and sizes
- pencils, crayons, and markers
IN ADVANCE: Help children become aware of letters, words, and symbols on signs in their environment by playing the "I Spy" game. Gather for group time and introduce the game. You might say, "Let's go on a treasure hunt using just our eyes! I spy with my little eye something with letters on it. Look around and see if you can spy something with words or letters, too." Invite children, one at a time, to point out the word or letters they spied in the classroom.
1 Gather a small group and take an "I Spy Safety Signs" trip around your school or neighborhood. As you walk, look for words and symbols on signs, streets, and buildings that serve to keep people safe. When someone spies a sign, stop and look at it together. Talk about what the word or symbol might mean. Point out that the symbols can help you guess the meaning of the sign. For example, a picture of a fire hydrant can be used by firefighters or people parking on the street to identify where a hydrant is located. Help children see the different ways signs are used, such as helping people find places and warning them about dangers.
2 Back inside, invite children to use blocks to build a few of the places they saw on their walk. As they build, set out various sizes and shapes of paper and cardboard. Add markers or crayons, then encourage children to use these items to make safety signs of their own. Offer suggestions to help children get started, such as building a construction zone and the type of signs associated with it, or making signs to guide traffic or warn about pedestrian crossings. Accept all children's writing attempts equally. Some will probably write a few random letters; some will try to spell words phonetically; and others will make lines or scribbles to represent words.
For younger children: Provide small wooden or plastic safety signs children can use in the block corner as they work on their block constructions. Talk with children about the meaning of these different signs.
For older children: see how many identical letters children can find as they look closely at each of the different safety signs. Can they find letters that are in their own names?
Remember: Keep the search for environmental signs alive every day. Add meaningful signs to your setting and help children notice words around them as they go to new places. With practice, children will develop their abilities to guess word and symbol meanings from their context.
After this activity, try filling a shoe bag or bin with writing implements and different sizes of paper and place it in the block corner. This way, children can reach the materials they need anytime they want to make signs to use in their block play. You might also hang pictures of interesting signs to inspire children.
City Signs by Zoran Milich (photographer)
Mr. Pine's Mixed-up Signs by Leonard Kessler
Signs at School (Signs in My World) by Mary Hill
Signs on the Road (Signs in My World) by Mary Hill