September 18, 2010

Teaching reading and in way over my head….

I started volunteering recently at a preschool near Polytechnic. The kids in the school are all 2-6 years old and are divided up into: 2-3 year olds, 3-4 year olds, and 5-6 year olds. The 5 and 6 year olds will be leaving in December to begin first grade in January. In the meantime, their teacher wants them to have additional practice with English. That’s where I come in – helping to polish their English.

English is the official language of Namibia and my understanding is that public school classes are taught in English. I think most pre-school kids hear Afrikaans and/or their indigenous languages in their homes and arrive in first grade without a kindergarten experience and no real exposure to English. That must be why the schools put off reading instruction until 2nd grade.

This particular preschool feels so strongly about giving their students a decided advantage, it teaches solely in English. The kids are hearing English from age 2, and are expected to speak to each other and their teachers only in English. The two dedicated teachers who founded this preschool feel strongly that the kids who pass through their program should be ready to read when they leave the preschool. As it turns out, in the kindergarten class I have, most all know how to print their names and indeed, many can also write their classmates’ names or spell them out loud. They are almost ready to read.

I thought I would be merely helping for my two days a week, but the kindergarten teacher turned over the entire hour and a half instruction section to me for each of my two days a week! This leaves me hustling to try to turn myself into an effective ESL kindergarten teacher. I did some beginning research and found some articles that convincingly advocate mastering specific sight words in kindergarten. By having those sight words memorized, a student should be off to a strong start in first grade and beginning reading. I decided to try the kindergarten Dolch sight word list to see if these kiddos might benefit from this approach to pre-reading.

We worked on ‘and’ last Wednesday. After noting that ‘and’ occurred in the Frog and Toad title I read to them on Wednesday, I wrote out a list of some of their names with ‘and’ between each pair
of names – i.e.:

Frog and Toad
Tom and John
Betty and Joy
Jacob and Michael

Each time we wrote a new pair, we read the entire list aloud from the beginning. After about 6 pairs of names -- each pair joined with an ‘and’-- I asked each of them to choose a book from the shelf and find ‘and’ somewhere in the text. They all found it and were totally thrilled to show me where it was in their book but even more thrilled to hear me tell them they were reading!

Despite my early success,

             I am in way over my head here.

             Any help you might want to offer is most welcome!

Here’s what makes this all worthwhile. The kindergarten teacher told me a story about one of her students who accompanied her parents to the bank to conduct some personal banking business. The parents spoke only Portuguese and no one at the bank spoke Portuguese. So, this little pre-school student successfully translated English into Portuguese and helped her parents conduct their business at the bank.


To make up for the fact that there are no photos to illustrate this post, here’s a peek at the Lemon Meringue the Professor and I shared today over wonderful Mocha Java coffee at Mugg and Bean’s second story patio. It was a great day.


  1. Did you go to Mugg and Beans because there was an and in the name? I predict you will fall in love with eah and every one of those kids- and they may be reading War AND Peace before you're through!

  2. You may have a new vocation. Generally kids at that age are so eager to learn and please; generally, no matter what method you use most of the kids will learn if you give them help.

    Pie looks absolutely delicious - love lemon!