Every Early Childhood Program should aim to provide overall, holistic development of children and consider all of the developmental domains while planning learning experiences- the physical and motor development, the cognitive and language development, and social-emotional development. 

The main objective of the Ekya Early Years Program is to promote sustained, healthy development of children in the age range of 2.5- 5.5 years, and to prepare them for later school years with a strong foundation for learning. In order to realize these objectives, our Early Years curriculum is designed around seven domains: Literacy and Language, Numeracy and Mathematics, Quest, The Arts- Visual and Performing Arts, Physical Education, and Social and Emotional approaches to learning. 

Ekya School’s Literacy and Language Curriculum Framework aims to develop receptive and expressive language and awareness of print and vocabulary. The curriculum is designed to ensure that skills of reading and listening (receptive), and speaking and writing (expressive) are well integrated. The Numeracy and Mathematics Curriculum and our Quest program is also designed such that it encourages students to talk about their understanding. 

While designing an Early Years curriculum, certain limitations of virtual learning (learning through laptops, phones) like lack of peer interaction, lack of outdoor activities, increased screen time were well taken into consideration. And, thus during the pandemic and the planning for virtual school, it was important to design programs that encourage students to ‘speak’, ‘talk’, ‘describe’, and ‘share’ their experiences, thoughts, feelings, and opinions. We encourage students to talk to their teachers, and also students to talk to each other. 

To enhance speaking skills, we ensure some practices are in place. Some practices include

Circle time: Focussed circle time is built around the skills of listening, speaking, looking, and thinking. Circle time sessions are designed to stimulate curiosity and creative imagination and to promote self-expression where students are provided opportunities to express their thoughts, feelings, and opinions. For example, asking students to complete the sentence, ‘I am happy when….’ with what is true to their experiences. The use of such speaking stems, and sentence starters also help provide speaking opportunities to students. We consider ‘circle time’ as significant to ‘connect’ with students and to provide a child-friendly space where students feel free to talk, and where they feel that they are being seen, heard, and met, thus fostering a sense of belongingness and connectedness.

In our Early Years classrooms, during this session, the students get opportunities to hone their speaking skills by sharing about their day or the topic of the day. At the end of each month, students even take part in programs like ‘Vocab week’ wherein the teachers present new words related to the topics taught to children to expand their vocabulary and let them build their language skills. 

Phonics program: Learning Phonics includes an understanding of the relationships between the sounds of our language and the patterns of letters used to represent those sounds when reading and writing. Through our phonics program, students acquire skills to identify and relate letters with their sounds in the text, relate letters/words/sentences with pictures, practice writing by drawing starting strokes of each letter, and so on and so forth. We learn phonics in context using meaningful and engaging texts, also ensuring that learning is fun and multi-sensory. The skills are revisited over and over again using diverse texts. This gives students enough exposure to practice sounding out letters and constructing words and sentences, and even stories and rhymes.

Through our language program, students are encouraged to talk about the story they read.

Our Literacy and Language program is such that it provides ample opportunities for students to ‘speak’ and ‘share their thoughts and opinions. For example, students are encouraged to retell the story in their own words, using puppetry and other techniques.

Leveled Reading Program provides students with a variety of reading experiences and inculcates a love for reading. The program helps enrich their vocabulary and enables students to become independent readers. Reading to themselves, or Reading to parents also provides students with reading and speaking opportunities as they read aloud, and talk about the story read. It allows students to practice sounding out letters, blending letters to make words, and construct their own words and sentences, as they go about reading books.

In the classroom, during Reading classes, students read a book sitting on the ‘Author’s chair’ which is designed by the students themselves and their peers listen to the reading.  At the end of the class, other students question the reader about the story itself. Students first start by revising to read sight words and then start framing sentences orally. Picture reading is done at the beginning of the academic year.

Show and Tell: It has been observed that the practice of ‘Show and Tell’ has contributed significantly to language development. Show and Tell require students to show a particular object of significance, or a book, or an experience, and ‘talk’ about it. Being a part of the Show and Tell audience is important too where students listen closely to each other, ask questions, and make comments.

In our classrooms, students bring an object related to a topic like- events, monuments, personal pictures and talk about it. The questioning and discussion technique plays a vital role in listening and speaking skills here. Each child is given an opportunity to speak. The early stages of the show and tell begin with a limited number of sentences and later develop the confidence to speak elaborately. Students are given a time limit of 3 to 5 minutes. The platform gives them the space to speak confidently during various events conducted in the School like speaking in assemblies or presenting their work during a parent event.

Asking open-ended questions, using cues and prompts: During Literacy and Language class, or Numeracy and Mathematics class, or during Quest, asking open-ended questions encourages students to think aloud and hold conversations. Open-ended questions are those questions that have more than one right answer, and those that can be answered in many different ways. Such questions stimulate more language use, encourage creative imagination and thinking, and open up conversations. 

Self-expression and creative expression are also nurtured through ‘writing’ and ‘drawing’. Students are encouraged to draw out their experiences, their opinions on stories read. After writing or drawing, students are further encouraged to show and describe their work. This gives them opportunities to ‘explain’ and ‘describe’ what they have drawn, ‘share’ why they have drawn it, thus ample speaking opportunities.

Students get opportunities to assume different roles like that of community helpers during Role Play during their Quest class. This gives them exposure to be their creative selves, dress themselves according to the character chosen, and actively bringing in their own dialogues!

Using a variety of instructional tools and strategies: We bring in certain tools and strategies across the learning areas, to engage students in learning processes, enhance speaking, and also make learning fun! For example, using graphic organizers like the concept map and KWL charts, using learning tools like  See Think Wonder, Turn, and Talk, all of which provide ample speaking opportunities.

By the end of the year, through our robust program, our students make considerable progress in their language and communication skills.

 

 

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