November 19, 2019
By Anne Gabbert, Early Childhood Project Manager at United Way of Central Indiana
More than twenty-five years of experience working in the field of early childhood education did not adequately prepare me for stepping back into a classroom full time — a classroom that was on the edge of the jungle (think scorpions and tarantulas, as I found several of each), up a rickety set of stairs, and filled with beautiful brown-skinned children who did not understand English. We made it work, those children and me. How? Words. Words on paper, words in books, words on the wall in English, Spanish, and even Mayan, words in songs we sang all day long: WORDS.
Children’s thoughts and words are meaningful. Their initial attempts at communicating, whether a gurgle, a coo, a laugh, or the first “Mama” or “Dada”, are all opportunities for language development. These are signs of early literacy that can be fostered and nurtured into a true love of learning, reading, and curiosity about the world that will last a lifetime.
Providing a language and print-rich environment is the greatest way to embed early literacy for young children and foster the skills needed for reading. Opportunities to use language, to interact, to share a focus, to talk, and to take turns are all fantastic ways to inspire. As it turns out, these are vital life skills as well. Reading to children at least once a day, labeling items, showing children words and letters, and encouraging them to experiment with “writing” all allow for discovering connections between the printed words and the function they serve.
In my little classroom up the stairs we read, we sang, we talked, and we learned together. I am hopeful that the children can remember at least a little English they learned, but more hopeful that they learned to be lifelong learners and lovers of words, reading, books, and the magic they hold.
Oh, the places they’ll go!
Anne Gabbert is an early childhood project manager with United Way of Central Indiana. She has spent the last five years at United Way and dedicated her life prior to joining the network to early childhood education. Anne graduated from Butler University with a degree in early childhood education and continues to generate educational impact with United Way through various community-based organizations, including Christamore House, Flanner House, and more than 50 Registered Ministry child care programs in UWCI’s six-county service area. Anne is a bilingual speaker, avid reader, and enjoys traveling — especially back to her second home in Akumal, Mexico.