I called and/or visited nearly two dozen preschools before finding the one that was right for my son. Yes, I am that crazy. As an early childhood educator, I witnessed firsthand the relationship between high-quality early child experiences and later school success. Although I was aware that much of Buddy’s academic achievement could be predicted by how I interacted with him before he was two, that didn’t mean I didn’t want the best for him for his preschool experiences.
I was surprised by some of the preschools’ philosophies. When I called one preschool with glowing parent reviews, I asked, “How do you adjust activities to meet the needs of individual children?” The director responded, “Well, if the curriculum for the week is colors and a learning center in the classroom has students naming colors, we have them continue to practice this skill, since we don’t want them to cover content that might be addressed in a class for older children.” I politely told them that I appreciated their time and this was not a good fit for our family. Another school had cleaning supplies stored with children’s toys. We walked out early from that tour.
The last school we visited was lovely, child-centered, and incorporated many of the play-based learning activities known to support children’s development of literacy skills. But upon choosing this school, I knew I was lucky to have the resources, time, and knowledge of quality early literacy experiences to choose a school that was right for my child. Unfortunately, not all children in our area have access to quality early childhood educational experiences.
A group of reading minors at West Chester University decided they could change that.
They founded a program entitled E.L.I.A.N. which stands for Early Literacy Is a Necessity. Through this program, teacher candidates volunteer four days a week at a preschool in the West Chester borough. One of the program’s main goals has been to expose children to more read aloud experiences. Research shows that 15 minutes a day of read alouds can result in children being exposed to a million words a year – a million words a year! These teacher candidates are reading to children almost an hour a day – imagine how the children’s vocabularies are growing! Another goal of the program has been to increase the number of books available in the homes of students coming from dual language and/or low-income homes. Through E.L.I.A.N., teacher candidates have donated several hundred books to students at the preschool and provided information sessions for parents (in Spanish) to share with them the benefits of reading in their first language at home.
Did you know that when parents read to their children in their native language, they are building vocabulary that can then be transfered to help them understand and read books in English?
In addition to reading with children four days a week at the preschool and purchasing/donating books for children at the school to bring home to keep, E.L.I.A.N. has organized (and supplemented) the school library and volunteered at various community events. These teachers are committed to ensuring that every child, regardless of their background, is given access to high-quality educational experiences.
If you would like to donate age-appropriate books or want more information about the program, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heather is a college literacy professor who blogs about parenting, crafting, and education over at Diapered Daze and Knights.