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The Exceptional Child Inclusion in Early Childhood Education, Sixth Edition, Thomson-Delmar Learning Chapter 17: Facilitating Pre-academic & Cognitive Learning

OBJECTIVES After discussion of this section, you should be able to: Explain why prescribed paper-and-pencil tasks & worksheets are developmentally inappropriate in preschool programs. Describe the learning activities that should be emphasized in early childhood education. Suggest five or more ways that teachers can help young children with developmental problems learn to focus their attention on academically related activities. Discuss readiness in terms of maturation & learning theories & explain the implications of both for children with developmental problems. Describe seven basic pre-academic skills needed by children with & without developmental problems. KEY TERMS Assistive technology functionally illiterate pre-academic sensory integration embedded learning holding activities readiness to learn emerging literacy perceptual-motor skills rote memorization

COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT & EMERGING LITERACY Defining Pre-academics: Many see this as more descriptive of the many types of learning experiences that characterize a well-rounded preschool program that is relevant to a young child's ongoing learning experiences. Pre-academic curriculum includes components that reinforce the concept of the whole child & contribute to the child's cognitive development: physical activities social interactions creative & affective development WHAT BRAIN RESEARCH TELLS US The brain is one-quarter of its potential at the time of birth. The brain is particularly sponge-like in the first few years of life. Brain forms "network & neural pathways" Major developmental task is to form & reinforce these links (called synapses) so they become a permanent part of the brain's "wiring". If these connections are not used, the brain begins the process of discarding excess synapses after the first decade of life. Children's brains need to be stimulated for the network of connections to grow & be protected from the process of elimination. WHAT BEST SUPPORTS EARLY BRAIN DEVELOPMENT? FIVE MAJOR POINTS TO CONSIDER (Shore, 1997) 1. There is a complex interplay between nature (genes) & nurture (environment) in the development of the brain. *IMPLICATION: What children experience in the first few years may matter as much as their genetic make-up. 2. Early care (both positive & negative) has a "decisive & long-lasting impact" on a child's ability to learn. *IMPLICATION: A daily helping of warm & responsive care by parents & caregivers helps a child's emotional development & self control. 3. The brain has a great capacity to change, but there are some critical time periods (such as when developing vision, language, & emotional controls) that are more crucial than others.

* IMPLICATION: Teachers & parents can learn to take advantage of the appropriate time period for learning certain intellectual tasks. 4. Negative experience or lack of stimulation are likely to have serious & sustained effects; the parts of the brain associated with emotion (affect) seem to show the most effect. Stress impacts the brain's function in memory & critical thinking. * IMPLICATION: Parents, teachers & caregivers should nurture young children to lessen the effects of poverty & neglect on their lives. 5. The value of timely, well-designed & intensive intervention is of utmost importance in brain development. * IMPLICATION: Research provides proof that early intervention reproduces developmental delays & the number of students requiring special education. BANNING ACADEMICS: ILL-ADVISED? The integration of child-initiated play with teacher-structured activities is important for all children and especially so for children from low-income or academically disadvantaged families. Children from Low-income & Academically Disadvantage Families: If academics are banned in preschool, it further delays those children who need it the most. These children are denied opportunities to get the same kind of academic foundation that the majority of children get as part of everyday family life. Preschool for these children is an opportunity equalizer. Preschool Programs: Preschoolers are ready for academic content. Academic learning can be embedded in the experiences that are appropriate for young children. Never should learning experiences be presented in the form of workbooks, prescribed paper-and-pencil tasks, & rote memorization. DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE PRE-ACADEMIC EXPERIENCES Emerging literacy & early concept development can be observed in most infants. Children with disabilities function all along the developmental continuum in cognitive skills. Many children with developmental disabilities never realize their cognitive potential; others excel beyond their typically developing peers. The emphasis is starting where the child is & working from there, step-by-step. The teacher's role in facilitating cognitive development is to set the scene & then follow the children's lead. DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPREATE PRACTICES: Teachers respond to children's interest, questions, & readiness for further information, then guide & prompt children to use skills & information they already have. Direct Teaching: Teachers may suggest to children what to do & say, but mostly they blend direct teaching with an indirect & facilitative approach. Embedded Learning: Opportunities for learning throughout the day. Defined as a procedure in which children are given additional opportunities to practice & learn individualized goals (IEP) within the context of a regular classroom activity. Activities expanded or modified so that the learning opportunity is meaningful & interesting to the children. Planning Steps for Embedded Learning Opportunities Clarify the learning or IEP goals & benchmarks. Make the goal/benchmark appropriate to the classroom or playground context. Consult & collaborate with special education professionals if & when needed. Determine the child's present levels of performance related to the goal/benchmark. Do this by observing & recording. Determine the times & places during the classroom day when embedded learning opportunities will be scheduled/inserted. Transitions from one activity to another can be used. Design the instructional interaction. Decide & think about what you will say & do. Implement the instruction during the planned times & places. Keep in mind the child needs extra practice.

Establish an easy to use data collection method to monitor the child's performance. Computers & Assistive Technology: Many young children have had computer experiences before they enter an early childhood program. For children with significant disabilities, computers & other types of assisted technology can foster independence by providing help with mobility & communication. Types of Assistive Technology: Stroller Computerized Braille system Adaptive swing Rolling cart for standing mobility Eye gaze board Multiple types of positioning chairs Voice synthesizers Adapted surfaces/tray/slant boards Wheel chair Picture communication symbols Gait trainer Variety of seating/positioning devices Head mouse Laptop & communication software Voice output switches (i.e. Big Mack, Cheap Talk) Switch activated toys (i.e. bubble blower, spinner) Adapted hand tools (i.e. pencils, paintbrush holder) Adaptive eating utensils (i.e. spoon, fork, plate, cup) Guidelines for Selecting Assistive Technology: Did you start with low tech first? Is it both age-appropriate & developmental appropriate? Can the child be in control of the program? Are the directions clear? Does the program allow for trial-and-error learning? Does it have expanding options that keep the child engaged? Does if facilitate the child's independence? Fostering Eagerness to Learn: Preserving & promoting eagerness is a goal of early education. The role of the teacher is to help children observe, ask & find out about things that interest them/ Children of all developmental levels need activities that support awareness, curiosity, & the urge to question. Activities that involve sensory experiences are essential; touching, seeing, hearing tasting & smelling. Engaging Children's Minds: "Children's minds should be engaged in ways that deepen their understanding of their own experiences" (Katz & Chard, 1989) Valuing Today's Learning: Recognizing that today's living & learning, as well as enjoyable & challenging experiences contribute to children's everyday sense of well-being & long term development. Good nutrition, quality child care, & medical attention have the same dual purpose; fostering everyday wellbeing & long-term development. Readiness Skills: Intellectual & emerging literacy skills are a mix of social, cognitive, language & motor skills as well as accumulated experiences & acquired knowledge. Traditional sense - readiness consists of built in patterns of change. This theoretical position led to "readiness-as-maturation" or "ages & stages", approach to development: each child unfolds (matures) automatically, at his or her own pace, very nearly independent of experience. The readiness-as-learning theory attributes changes in children's skills to experience & the step-by-step learning of developmental tasks. From the unfolding (maturation) point of view, it is assumed children will learn what they need to learn simply by growing up in a safe, nurturing environment. The learning theory approach emphasizes experience: children have opportunities to learn. Developmental tasks & all readiness skills can be taught through sequencing or task-analysis approach. adequate attention span ability to imitate perceptual motor efficiency ability to follow instructions

fine motor controls (eye-hand-wrist-coordination) short-term & long-term memory ability to formulate concepts The length of time an individual is able to concentrate on an activity is critical to all learning. The ability to "tune in" on certain aspects of the environment & shut out others. Children's ability to focus their attention depends largely on classroom arrangements. Imitation & Modeling: The process of observing & modeling is repeated until the learner is satisfied with his or her performance or decides to abandon the effort. Most infants & young children imitate spontaneously. Children who do not imitate spontaneously must be taught. Teaching Imitation Skills: Imitate the child. Provide models appropriate for the child's level of development. Provide whatever assistance is needed to help the child learn to imitate. If necessary, be directive in teaching the child to imitate. Physically put the child through an imitative response. Make imitating a rewarding & playful experience. Learning to imitate should be fun. Provide positive feedback & encouragement for approximations to an imitative response. Perceptual-motor Skills Are made up of two closely related processes. One - understanding sensory messages: what is seen, heard, touched, tasted, or smelled. Two - the translation of the messages into appropriate actions. Generally, more than one sense is involved in a response; this is referred to as sensory integration. Every preschool involves various forms of perceptual-motor activity. Children with delayed perceptual-motor skills often receive incomplete or distorted sensory messages. Fine-motor Skills Include eye-hand coordination & efficient use of fingers, hands, & wrists. Related to perceptual-motor skills. Essential in learning self-care skills & using all kinds of tools. Manipulative materials, sometimes referred to as table toys, are especially good for promoting perceptualmotor skills. Appropriately matched to children's skill levels, manipulative materials ensure practice sessions that are informal & fun. Concept Formation: Defined as internal images or ideas (mental activities) that organize thinking. Concepts enable us to make sense of our world. Discrimination: The ability to perceive like-nesses & differences among related objects & events. The ability to "tell things apart"; or to match objects, sounds & ideas in terms of one or more attributes (characteristics). Task can be adapted to fit any developmental level. Classification: The process of imposing order on objects & events is another characteristic of concept formation. The ability to classify; that is, to form categories. Seriation: The process of arranging objects & events orderly & related dimensions. Spatial & Temporal Relationships: Learning how objects & events are related to space, to time, & to the child is another aspect of concept formation. Spatial & temporal concepts include: on, in, under in front of, behind, next to between, in the middle, second from the end yesterday, today, tomorrow soon, after a while, later, not yet

Memory: The ability to remember is necessary to all new learning. Two kinds of memory are required: long-term & short-term. Tasks requiring rote memorization are seldom appropriate for children. For children with cognitive, neurological, or related problems, the teacher often begins memory training by telling the child what comes next. Activities for Children to Practice Remembering: 1. Conversational questions of interest to the child. What did you... Where does your... 2. Remembering each other's names & teacher's names. 3. Remembering where materials are stored so as to get them out & put them away. 4. Telling what objects have been removed in games such as cover the tray. 5. Story & picture-reading activities. 6. Leaving the bathroom in prescribed order for the next child who will be using it. Following Directions: All children need to learn to follow directions & carry out requests. Three or four-step directions, spoken in rapid sequence, are more that most young children can manage. The younger, or less capable a child, the simpler the directions should be. It is important that teachers take nothing for granted about what a children understand. Most children can learn to follow directions if they are allowed to begin with one-step directions. When Children Have Difficulty Following Directions: Does the child hear well enough to know what is expected? Does the child have the necessary vocabulary to understand the request? Does the child understand the concepts? Is the child able to imitate the behaviors expected, as when the teacher demonstrates? Are the instructions too complicated? PLANNING & PRESENTING PRE-ACADEMICS Pre-reading, Pre-writing, & Pre-math Skills: Developmentally appropriate ways of promoting early reading, writing, & math skills. "Reading" a series of pictures on a page from left to right & top to bottom. Scribbling large, swirling circles upon circles. Freestyle cutting with scissors. Counting a row of objects from left to right by touching each in turn, one-to-one correspondence. Identifying groups of objects as the same, more, or less. Recognizing that different but similar sounds are not the same. Grouping Children: The number of teachers, classroom aides, & volunteers available usually determines the number of groups. Group size can increase as children become more skilled & more experienced. The closer children get to their kindergarten year, the more they need opportunities to work in large groups. When entering a program, children are grouped by age & experience at the time of entry. After skills assessment, children can be re-grouped by abilities, interests, special talents or special needs. Social development may also be a factor in groups. Arranging Pre-academic Group Activities: Advance preparation; before children arrive, all materials should be assembled & placed near where the group will meet. Familiar & preferred materials & activities; begin with materials that children enjoy & are familiar with playing. Note the materials & preferences of individual children. Individual work space with name cards; clearly identify each child's work space at the table or on the floor. This promotes independent work habits & respect for personal space of others.

Individual setups; manipulatives & matching tasks are best presented in individual set-up. Short periods; start with short periods of time at the beginning, & gradually lengthen the time. Moving about; young children can sit still & be quiet for only brief periods of time. To expect otherwise can lead to behavioral problems. Pre-academic activities need to include tasks where moving about is integrated. Changing tasks; if a child is inattentive or frustrated, the teacher should first exam the immediate learning situation. Most always, the problem lies not in the child, but in the learning environment. Transition activities; from the start, children should be introduced to the idea of self-directed transition activities or holding activities. These are activities that children can work on independently while waiting for group activities to begin. The teacher should announce to children that the activity is moving into a transition, & what comes next. This will facilitate children to have a smooth transition as well as learn about school routines. Children with developmental problems or special needs may need a completely different approach and routine for transitions. Enjoying Teacher-directed Activities: Remember this, when teacher-directed activities are fun, children will be eager to participate. Eagerness promotes successful learning. Children's successful learning is enjoyable for teachers. Children's success represents a teacher's success as a teacher.