By Peg Glisson
While there are no official Common Core State Standards for preschool education, there are implications. Given the more stringent expectations for youngsters in the early elementary grades, do preschools and library programs for young children need to change and become more academic?
In 2007, the journal Early Childhood Research & Practice reported “Early learning standards – documents that outline what children should know and be able to do before kindergarten entry – are increasingly common in the United States. Data from a national survey are presented to illustrate trends in how states have developed and implemented early learning standards within the past four years. Results indicate that almost all states have developed early learning standards for prekindergarten-age children, and the number of states that have developed infant-toddler early learning standards has increased markedly.” (http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v9n1/little.html) By 2011-12, fourteen states were using the kindergarten Common Core standards; more have followed this academic year. Head Start “recently aligned its Child Development and Early Learning Framework with the common core” and some states, including Massachusetts, California, and New Jersey, have or are creating standards or guidelines for preschool, aligning them to state and common core content standards.
Expanding standards downward can be trickly. Robert C. Pianta, the dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, stated in a December 2011 article in Education Week “We have to be careful that those standards, particularly as they extend downward, appropriately recognize these important social, communication, and self-regulation skills that are really as critical for kids’ learning in those early and later years as whether they know the alphabet.” (http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/12/07/13prek_ep.h31.html?tkn=NTZF9IJMJyTVsaOh6UXnfxdcIwaEdZc7hUH3&cmp=clp-edweek)
Most who work with young children understand they need art, physical movement, play, music, and hands-on activities. Fostering emotional and social development is every bit as important as their acquiring skills in literacy, mathematics, science, and social studies. Certainly children’s librarians have known that for years, and have built their lapsit and storytime programs with that in mind. Greeting youngsters (and their parent/caregiver) by name is not just good manners on the librarian’s part, it is modeling appropriate social behavior for the little ones. Looking directly at a child as he speaks is another such model. Librarians have consciously varied types of literature, pace, movement, music, and activities to engage the child, making storytime not just fun but also learning opportunities. Do they need to change it up because of Common Core?
Only in small but significant ways and probably more for preschool storytimes than lapsit programs. As an informal part of the education system, children’s librarians should be knowledgeable about their particular state’s approach to aligning preschool standards to Common Core. They should also understand the CCSS for Kindergarten through Grade 2, to better prepare preschoolers for their entrance into formal school. What are these youngsters expected to know and be able to do? Librarians should be conscious of why their programs include certain elements and should express that to parents. Setting goals in terms of social and emotional learning, as well as considering what does a particular book do to expand a child’s literacy, or math or science awareness wouldn’t hurt. I’m not suggesting turning storytime into class time; I’m saying recognize what children’s librarians have done for years, almost without thinking, and build on it!
How? In simple ways, like consciously adding a nonfiction selection frequently to your readalouds. Use books that show characters exhibiting confidence, problem solving, acceptance of differences, cooperation, and self-regulation. Increase chants, songs, or rhymes that include letters or numbers; these also help promote cultural and even economic diversity.
We all know finding those perfect books is crucial. I am a firm believer in thinking outside the box when considering how to use a book. Look for some not so obvious tie-ins, which would facilitate conversations with your young patrons. Consider your search terms as you look for books to include in a particular storytime; for example, don’t just enter self-regulation, try searching on anger, emotions, behavior, apologizing, etc. CLCD can greatly help in your finding the right books. Use its qualifiers to their full advantage, including lexile ranges to help you find pre-readers and poetry, especially in math and science areas. Story programs often include themes around weather and seasons; build on that, including nonfiction books and some hands-on activities. Save possibilities in CLCD’s new reading list function.. Many of the professional journals are now including articles on CCSS and children’s literature; clip and file pages or bookmark online.
Research and educators in the field warn of the dangers of asking children to perform academically before they are socially, emotionally, developmentally ready. Doing so would squelch their innate curiosity and openness and make learning a chore. I am reminded of a quote by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw that was posted for years on my refrigerator: Man does not cease to play because he grows old; man grows old because he ceases to play. The same could be said for learning. For preschoolers, it’s essential they see learning as play!
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