The Three Little Pigs

Happy toddler girl smiling while lying down in a big pile of leaves

I started my career in high school as an English teacher (so many moons ago)—not much child development in the training curriculum for that. So, when my daughter, Robyn, at two and a half discovered the Little Golden Book version of The Three Little Pigs, I was clueless about the long and winding road we were about to embark upon. She latched onto that book like we might devour the latest John Grisham thriller! You know the story—you’ve lived it—those big blue eyes looking up at you and that tiny voice saying, “Read it again, Mommy!” And later, “But you skipped a page…you didn’t read every word.”

So often, as we’re planning for our program’s activities, we select books to meet a theme or address the interests and needs of the children. We read it once or twice and set it aside or loan it out to families.

Well, we can use children’s interest in hearing the same story again and again to create opportunities for children to learn the skills they need to succeed as readers:

  • oral language (vocabulary development, expressive language, and listening comprehension)
  • phonological awareness (rhyming, blending, and segmenting)
  • print awareness
  • alphabet knowledge (letter recognition).

Books are also an opportunity to help children learn about:

  • recalling information
  • predicting
  • sequencing
  • cause and effect
  • comprehension and meaning-making

Here are some ideas for repeating books to impact early literacy skills:

  • Use the same book multiple times. When we read the same material again and again, we can take advantage of these opportunities to emphasize different information or skills. Think about building your themes around books—look at what the interests of the children are and use those interests to select the books you read in class or take into homes.
  • First time is for fun! Your first reading through should be for the enjoyment of the story and its relationship to other activities you’ve planned or to children’s interests at the time. Do take time to point out the name of the book, it’s author and illustrator, and have the children do some predicting about the story. (Hmm. I wonder what this story might be about?) Use the title and picture cues to help them make predictions.
  • Next time read for sequence and recall! “Who remembers what happened when the little girl first saw Corduroy?” “Then what happened?” Make copies of the pictures on the relevant pages and display them in a sequence of the events in the story as children talk about them. Talk about “Did Corduroy go upstairs first, or did he get in the bed first?”
  • Next time read for oral language development and comprehension/meaning making! What are some new words or new concepts in the story? In Corduroy we are introduced to the nouns, escalators, accident, palaces, night watchmen, apartment, and the verbs climbed, searched, wandered, admiring, toppled, and dashing. What is an escalator? Who has ridden on one? Where? What did it feel like? Where did it take you? Acting out the verbs in the story will get the children kinesthetically involved and they will see the movements that might go along with the verbs in the story—acting out the story also will help them with sequencing.
  • Next time read for phonological awareness and alphabet knowledge! What are some of the speech sounds we hear in Corduroy? When the bear pulls the button off the mattress we hear “POP!” and then “bang” when he topples to the floor. Then we hear a crash. Explore those sounds a bit and then look at the sounds of the words. Corduroy is a “bear who’s lost his button in a big store.” What else starts with the /b/ sound? “Corduroy climbed carefully.” I wonder what letters make that sound? It’s the same sound that Cory, Candy, and Kenny’s names start with! Which one do we see in the story? Make up rhymes and chants using words in the book—“Corduroy, Corduroy lived in a store/Corduroy, Corduroy wanted more. Corduroy, Corduroy found a friend/Corduroy, Corduroy—that’s the end.” Might sound hokey to us but kids will love it! Help children segment the sounds of a word by clapping words: “Cor-du-roy. What other words in the story have three sounds that go together? An-i-mals. Care-ful-ly. Eve-ry-where. Sud-den-ly. Let’s look for those words that take three claps while we read the story.”
  • Next time read for print awareness and cause and effect! Run your finger under the words as you read them. Highlight words that relate to the pictures (“This word says ‘animals’ and there are animals in the picture. There’s a giraffe, a rabbit…”). When children have questions, comments, or answers to questions write them down—preferably on chart paper where the children can see them on their screens. Read them back (“Keshia’s question says…”). Help them see cause and effect with questions…“What happened when Corduroy pulled on the button?”

When children enjoy a book, like my daughter’s attachment to The Three Little Pigs, we can use that book again and again to teach many different things. With very young children we can use story time to build relationships and attachment as well as provide an opportunity for a child to hear the rhythms and patterns of the language. By the way, my Pigs fan turns fifty next Saturday and has a pair of second-graders who are stuck on Junie B. Jones.

In choosing books for your program remember that, although stories are fun, in school much of the information that children need to learn is contained in non-fiction books. Include informational text in your reading—there is much available for young children that is non-fiction and of interest to preschool and early primary children. Books like Richard Scarry’s series about Cars, Trucks, etc. are non-fiction informational books that are designed for preschool children. Many text companies have informational book series that are short enough and well-illustrated to hold a young child’s attention. Matched with what children are interested in at the time, you’ll find children just as fascinated by non-fiction as by the fiction that captivates them.

We’re expecting more and more of our children as they enter school—and so many have not had the early experiences that will help them acquire the understanding of how spoken and written language work. Including books in our curriculum and using the same book again and again—for learning and for enjoyment—can help you to prepare children to be successful learners. Happy reading!

Scary Times

Aside from being Halloween month, children have been coping with the realities of COVID-19…mask-wearing, shutdowns, not being able to attend school as they normally would, family worries about lost jobs, housing, food insecurity. It’s taken it’s toll in stress and mental health, and behavior. While it’s normal for young children to have fears—of the dark, of being lost or separated from a parent, of animals or insects, the last many months have taken their toll. What might be our role?

  • Trusting that an adult (like a teacher or caregiver) can help is important. Learning and practicing some coping skills—what do you do if you see a dog? What if you get lost in the store? can also help.
  • Spending some time talking about scary things can help them to talk about their fears and concerns. Stories about things that children fear are a good way to open the door to talking about fears. Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are; Mercer Mayer’s There’s a Monster in My Closet; Elizabeth Crary’s I’m Scared; or Ed Emberley’s Go Away Big Green Monster and Glad Monster, Sad Monster.
  • Children who feel that they have some control over things also will tend to cope with their fears better. Plan activities in which children gain a sense of accomplishment—learning something new like buttoning their own coat or putting on their own shoes; mastering a motor skill; learning to make the first letter of their name are a few things that can contribute to a child’s feeling strong and in control. These are things even the most ‘nervous about being a teacher’ can do with their child.
  • Make a scared book. Have the children draw/paint or cut out pictures of things they’re afraid of. Take their pictures with their illustrations and have them make their most frightened face. Have them write or scribe a description of what they are afraid of and, if appropriate, what they do when they are scared. Laminate the pictures and words and bind them into a book to read to the children and put in your library.
  • The Federal Office of Child Care has collected a variety of resources on children and family mental health during this pandemic time.

Seasonal Songs

I like songs and finger plays that can be changed, adapted, and added to. Often, familiar songs that follow a pattern can serve this purpose. Here’s one with a familiar tune (When the Saints Come Marching In) adapted for fall:

Oh, When the Leaves
Oh, when the leaves fall off the trees
Oh, when the leaves fall off the trees
We will know that it must be autumn
When the leaves fall off the trees.

What other signs of autumn are there that you could add to the song. Have the children talk about the changes they’ve observed in the weather, in vegetation, in activities and add them to the song. Here are some examples of beginning lines using the same familiar song pattern:

Oh, when the squirrels are gathering nuts…
Oh, when we carve the pumpkin orange…
Oh, when the rain begins to fall…

Using pattern songs and making up verses based on what we see helps children with their observation skills, with vocabulary, and, hmmm, math (remember, patterns are part of mathematical learning.) Some other pattern songs you can adapt (and some suggestions of first lines):

  • London Bridge (Autumn leaves are falling down…)
  • Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (Rain is falling all around…)
  • Hot Cross Buns (Yellow leaves, yellow leaves…)
  • The Farmer in the Dell (The squirrel finds a nut…)

And so many more—just crank up your memory cells for those old tunes you sang when you were young.

And here are a couple more actiony verses to try out:

Little leaves fall gently down,
Red and yellow, orange and brown.
Whirling, whirling round and round,
Quietly without a sound.

This is a good action verse for helping children settle into an activity like story time.

Animals prepare for winter, too. On the west side of the mountains we are lucky enough to have squirrels in abundance. Children are likely to be familiar with squirrels and you may even see them on your walk-abouts. Children enjoy acting out these two verses about fall and squirrels:

Gray squirrel, gray squirrel,
Swish your bushy tail.
Gray squirrel, gray squirrel,
Swish your bushy tail.
Wrinkle up your little nose.
Hold a nut between your toes.
Gray squirrel, gray squirrel,
Swish your bushy tail.