There is strong emphasis in today’s early childhood world for teachers to be aware of making their classrooms “print friendly.” This used to mean tacking up colorful alphabet cards as decorations in the classroom and moving on to other activities. The only time the alphabet cards were mentioned to students was when the teacher introduced a new letter to the class. That has changed. Print friendly means much more today.
When a teacher is practicing “print friendly” there is evidence everywhere in the classroom. That awareness, literacy awareness, takes the form of age appropriate media being available for all its students. In an infant room “print friendly” means having large colorful pictures around the room, placed at the infant’s eye level. The goal is to help young children focus their attention on printed matter. For infants this may mean placing pictures lower on the walls at their eye level. It is a recognition by the teacher that all the wonderful printed items available will do no good if the child can not see them.
America, long considered the melting pot of the world, often serves families whose primary language is not English. This means children often enter the classroom with no or limited English. These children will be learning a minimum of two languages at the same time, one at home and one at school. In these cases, a teacher’s print friendly environment may include labeling items in English and simultaneously labeling them in the secondary language such as Spanish or Chinese.
Here are a few ways to easily and quickly begin to make a classroom print friendly.
1. Establish an attendance wall chart large enough so that all children are listed and all children can easily record their presence with an check mark. Each child can learn to check in daily. At first the child will learn to find their picture and then mark his attendance. After a while the teacher can replace the picture with a card that now has a smaller picture with the child’s name printed next to it. Soon that card is replaced with a new card and this one will bear only the child’s printed name. By now the child has learned his own name and can check in easily. He’s probably also learned to recognize all of his classmates’ names as well. The important message here is that children learn to go to printed material to retrieve information. He’s beginning to use a new tool.
2. Each learning center within the classroom offers different possibilities for labeling. The Domestic Center may have pictures of common fruits and vegetables along side their printed names. There may be posted recipes that have drawings to explain the measurements. The Block Corner may show diagrams on how to construct a building. These diagrams may or may not used printed words. Again, they lead the child to printed material to retrieve information. Print friendly doesn’t always have to use words.
3. The Library Center can be rich with a variety of books. From board books to pictionaries, from short picture books to chapter books, from recreational books to reference books, there are opportunities for children to learn to use the printed word. Even though a classroom may have children who all speak the same language a print friendly room will include books from different languages. For example, adding Spanish books, Russian books or Chinese books helps children understand that there are many different languages in our world and they all communicate through the printed word.
The classroom teacher sets the print friendly goals in her classroom through labeling, material selection, and curriculum development. The teacher that values language and desires to create readers will find many ways to use words and symbols throughout the room. When children pick up on this enthusiasm they will begin to add to the classroom collection of print friendly materials by contributing newspapers and magazines from home and making their own books. One of the child’s greatest achievements in early childhood education is understanding how to use language and print friendly gives them a strong start.
Elaine S. Rexdale earned a BA in Elementary Education from Augustana College in Rock Island, IL and an MA in Early Childhood Education from Teachers College at Columbia University in NY. She has been an early childhood educator and administrator for the past 30 years and has served in public and private schools in IL, LA, and NY. Her website is http://www.ElaineRexdale.com