My apologies to those of you who look forward to a little vlogging, but this month’s Q&A comes in written form.  (Suffice it to say, I have kids….and things don’t always go as planned.) 

First up, Jodi:

“What do you do when you have children (in a four year old class) that have given names that are different from what they are called? (i.e. William is always referred to as Willie and Ellasandra is always called Ella.) These “nicknames” are what the parents put on the childrens paperwork as “Name your child goes by.” 
As we know, in a preschool class names are displayed everywhere! The lead teacher in the class and the director have decided that the children’s full names should be written on everything because “when they get to kindergarten they will have to write their full names.”
I am having a problem with this! Willie is seeing “William” all over the room but he is being called Willie. And all of the other children are seeing the same thing.

Am I wrong to think that there is a problem with this?”

I think first we have to recognize the two objectives for using names as a tool in a preschool setting.  One is to attach a written word to something that is very personal and meaningful.  It’s one of the most effective ways to help children understand that words carry meaning and that letters construct words.  Next to is to increase name recognition and writing skills.

You’re concern that children are missing an opportunity to make strong connections between their names and the written words is well-founded in my opinion.  But I can also see why it some may be concerned with children learning their “proper names”.

When there’s a discrepancy between what a child is usually called and the formal name, I usually check with the parents to ask what name they would like their child to be learning to recognize, read, and write.  If it’s different from the name the child identifies with, I would use both names when possible.  Both names would be on the word wall, I would refer to either one of the names when making connections with other words, but I would put the focus of name recognition and writing on their more formal name.

For example, I once taught a delightful girl who had picked up the nickname of Scout.  It was a darling nickname and one she identified with and the other children identified with her, but it was a very informal nickname that she would eventually cast aside.  Her parents didn’t object to the moniker, but did want her to learn to use her given name.  So for Scout, we would use her formal name for Sign-In and next to her picture on the word wall.  But if we were talking about words that shared the S sound, we would definitely mention Scout right along with other S names in the class.

On the other hand, there are some children who have always been called by a name other than their formal name, and that’s the name they respond to and it’s the name their parents intend for them to be called and to use in school.

My husband and I have a habit of giving our boys longer names than what we expect them to use as children.  Coleman is Cole, William is Will.  They know their formal names, but they are rarely used.  Unless our children inform us otherwise, we would expect them to use their abbreviated names in school as well.

As another example, my dad, as well as several of my nephews, go by their middle names rather than their first names.  They don’t respond to those first names and they really only get used on official forms like taxes and paperwork at the doctor’s office.  I don’t think those are tasks we need to be preparing children for in preschool. 

As for preparing them for kindergarten or first grade, I would hope that those teachers would be doing the same thing: asking what name the child is to be called, and using that as the child’s name. 

I guess as a bottom line, I feel like using a name simply because it’s on a form is not a personal and meaningful approach.  Using the name by which the child is called (and which the parents approve) not only makes more literacy connections, but also makes more personal connections between the teacher and the child.

Next, from Sarah:

“I just added a writing center to my preschool classroom.  I’ve already seen wonderful things from this center with the four year olds.  However, I would like some ideas for age appropriate activities for my three year old class.  Are there any resources for writing activities or writing center ideas for this age group?”

Three year olds and four year olds will use a writing center in very different ways.  Where you may see your four year olds experimenting more with actual letters or letter-like forms, many three year olds have not yet reached that point in their writing development.  Because of that, it can be harder to see their successes in a writing center.

I think before we talk activities, we have to talk objectives.  For a three year old, my objectives for a writing center would be that the child would:

*Understand that ideas and words can be put in written form.

*Improve in pencil grasp and dexterity.

*Draw pictures as a way to record words and ideas.

*Experiment with scribbles and lines as they approximate “real” writing.

*Experiment with pre-made letters.

(You could add more to the list!)

Recognize drawing as an early step in writing.  Talk to them about their pictures and take dictations or label items they’ve drawn (always check for their permission first, of course) as a way to connect their representations with written words.

Model writing by doing shared writing experiences, and taking dictations for whole language experiences.  Share the pen now and then to give young children the opportunity to write along with you.

Add pre-formed letters like stickers, foam letters, or an old-school typewriter, to give young children the opportunity to string letters into “words” without being discouraged by the overwhelming task of forming letters.

Add new writing opportunities like bookmaking, letter forms and mailing centers, and cards and envelopes to entice children and give writing a purpose.  You can find fantastic writing activities in Mariah Bruehl’s Playful Learningand in Literacy Beginnings by Fountas and Pinnell.  Both are tremendous resources!

You might also get some ideas from this past First Friday Q&A on handwriting.

I hope that was helpful!  Please comment with your ideas for Jodi and Sarah as well!

And keep sending those questions in to questions {at} notjustcute {dot} com.  I’d love to get back to the vlog with some answers for you in November!

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