How would you describe TOAD School's approach to early literacy?
We describe our preschool as minimally academic, so our teacher-directed literacy activities are short and efficient. We then use organic opportunities throughout class to build vocabulary, sing folk songs, and reference our phonemic games.
What challenges/opportunities for early literacy instruction has TOAD School experienced in its outdoor learning environment in particular?
We started as a mobile school and were able to demonstrate the use of written language to communicate as we read posted signs and maps. Now that we've added a farm class, we have our own space to build and develop designs, which include letters and numbers made from hay, mud, rocks, sticks, and charcoal.
We found storytime with books to be a challenge in rainy weather, but that board books hold up fairly well in light moisture, and now that our kindergarten class uses Rite in the Rain journals to record their observations, we are planning to write some of our own books to build a small log library.
Phonemic awareness games can be challenging outdoors because it becomes necessary to pronounce a vowel sound after the consonant (juh, for instance) in order to carry the sound across the open air. We have accepted this for now, and try to do a whisper around the circle game where we instruct the adults to be particularly mindful of pronouncing only the consonant.
Our hiking school has ample opportunities to write with sticks in the dirt and develop the fine motor skills necessary for proper pencil holding.
Most importantly, I value the climbing opportunities that are available in an outdoor setting. After teaching music for twenty years, I observed that only a few children out of the hundred or so that I have worked with have the ability to open their thumb fully, due to the constrained environments we place our children in from (before) birth. Grasping branches of a variety of sizes and textures, and relying on that grasp to support your body weight, for significant periods of time in a day, as well as freedom of movement for the majority of the day seem to be consistent factors in the students who have both the large and fine motor skills to play an instrument, and sustain the attention necessary to become proficient and literate in music. It is my belief that these skills will translate to English literacy as well.
Are there any particular activities/projects (particularly extended projects) that have been especially successful at TOAD School?
Our program is music-based, and so our phonemic awareness games are rhythmic repetitions around the circle. We combine them with casual finger spelling from ASL, and have had great success with even our 1- and 2-year old students recognizing and communicating sounds they hear.
Here are some examples of games we do to the beat of:
I am most excited about the possibilities of our beatboxing curriculum, which is still being developed after two years of use. At its most basic, we are trying to help the students maintain a pattern, at a predictable pace, with the same sounds we used in our other phonemic games. I expect the ability to maintain a pattern on a beat to be a more significant skill than reinforcing the letter sound, but we do both to make our curriculum more efficient.
Here are some examples: