This is what student-led curriculum looks like. While our focus is on social and emotional development during early childhood, educators should be responding to the needs of the children. We don’t decide that it is time to begin teaching letters, the children do.
When we observe the lunch table discussions center around the first letters of their names or the children show pride in spelling their names or we observe other indications through their play that they are ready, we look for a fun game to incorporate into the circle.
This is a simple, fun game to play for letter recognition in early childhood. This homemade box is our ABC Alligator, and we sing a little song:
“Alligator, Alligator, down by the lake,
Let ________ reach in and see letter what you ate!”
Each child gets a turn to reach in and pull out a letter. They either identify it, or ask for help from the group. We then come up with words that begin with that sound. Assessment occurs informally through observation, and there is no pass/fail. We want it to be fun, and there are no wrong answers. This is a low-risk, play-based, student-led game that the kids have a blast playing. It may be the beginning of letter recognition, phonics, and spelling for some, while reinforcing those skills already present in others. The mixed age group pairs well with the scaffolding of the developing reading skills, too. Children who have an answer learn impulse control while their friend figures out if they know the letter or if they want to ask for that help. We all have fun singing the song and coming up with words that begin with the letter.
One final note about academics in early childhood: We believe the focus in early childhood should be social and emotional health, developmentally appropriate circles and a focus on the natural environment. Having said that, we embrace an interdisciplinary approach that uses whichever pedagogy is most effective. This occurs through mindful observations of the children during free play and throughout the rhythms and routines of the day. Our curriculum focus is on meeting both the individual’s and the group’s needs in developmentally appropriate ways.