By Amanda Woita
Nebraska News Service
Take me outside when it’s snowing. Help me find words to describe what I’m seeing, feeling and experiencing.
Say the name of an animal and have me make that animal’s noise. The cow says… moo.
When we’re reading, ask me to turn pages and predict what will happen next. It will keep me interested.
These are examples of activities listed in the Nebraska State Department of Education’s new pre-kindergarten education calendar, all written from a child’s point of view. The calendar is designed to help Nebraska parents with young children who are getting ready to start school.
Tricia Parker, the state’s director of language arts education curriculum and instruction team, said the calendar will be available in December at schools, pediatricians’ offices and community organizations throughout Nebraska. A Spanish version also will be available.
Parker said she and her team decided to make the calendar to be easily understandable for parents, day care owners and people who don’t have a background in education.
It is meant as a tool to help parents get their children ready to start school and covers three topics: reading, writing and a combination of speaking and listening.
The focus on language stems from a landmark study in 1995 by two University of Kansas child psychologists who found that kids who grow up in poverty hear 30 million fewer words than their non-poor peers by the time they’re three years old. This word gap means children in poverty start school behind other students.
To help close the gap, the new calendar encourages parents to talk with their children. This involves both the parent and the child in explaining answers to questions and taking the time to notice the environment around them.
“We want them [the parents] to know learning with their children is fun,” Parker said. “School shouldn’t feel like school. It should be fun, exciting and engaging.”
In addition to various activities, the calendar will also provide suggestions for books, museums, websites and educational smartphone and tablet computer applications.
The calendar is being created with help from a federal Striving Readers grant, which supports state literacy efforts.
Emily Nash, education department manager at the Lincoln Children’s Museum, helped create the content for the calendar. Her goal was to take old activities and put a fresh perspective on them.
“You have to balance what you know works with a new presentation to get people interested,” Nash said.
Nash teaches three eight-week classes for parents and their children at the museum to teach parents about childhood development in motor skills, language, social skills and emotions. She said adults need to be aware of that growth and help facilitate it. She compared the situation to a child trying to zip his own coat.
Nash also said playing is a child’s job because that’s how children develop skills and learn how to solve problems, which is knowledge they will need as an adult. Plus, at a young age, children don’t really play with each other. They choose to play with their parents, so Nash encourages parents to play along.
According to Parker, language is the foundation for education. She said students may fail a standardized math test, not because they’re bad at math, but because those tests have a lot of reading.
“Our goal,” Parker said, “is to have kiddos coming into school ready to learn.”