Pre-K students make acting debuts

Pre-kindergarten students at Middletown Early Childhood Center got the chance to show off what they've learned to their families on Friday—and reinforce some lessons about literacy at the same time.

Groups of students acted out the book Mrs. Wishy Washy by Joy Cowley. The simple story concerns a lot of very muddy farm animals who take a bath—and then promptly dive back into the mud again.

The performance followed a family lunch, at which teachers provided tips for creating a home environment that encourages children to read.

“We wanted to focus not just on reading, but also on family involvement,” Middletown Principal Carol Shallenberger said of the event.

The project was headed up by Middletown speech therapists Chris Russell and Rachel Eink, and funded with an Early Childhood Reading Grant sponsored by retailer Target. Middletown applied for the grant, which totals $2,000, last year. The grant money paid for a pizza lunch, as well as a copy of the book for each student to take home. Target also provided gift cards that families could win through a drawing.

Russell said that she and other pre-K staff had been discussing ways to merge family involvement and literacy. “We thought, what better way than to act it out?” she said. “Because, as many people know, preschoolers learn by doing.”

Russell said that the repetition in the storyline—the animals roll in the mud, are washed clean, and then roll in the mud again—help make it memorable for students, and reinforces the lessons they're learning about words.

She said that she and the students had discussed what it means to be in a play and what it means to be an audience—lessons that were on display on Friday, as the kids made their acting debuts.

Shallenberger said that Middletown staff were planning to use the grant money to hold two to three more lunchtime literacy events this year. She was surprised by how popular this first event proved; she'd been anticipating 30 to 40 family members in the audience, but as of Thursday, over 120 people had RSVP'd.

Family support is crucial to literacy learning, Shallenberger said. The lunchtime event, she said, helps parents feel welcome in the school, and helps them see the importance of being involved in their children's education.

Russell agreed that a home environment rich in learning opportunities is important in getting a head-start on language learning. “We only have [the students] for a precious two-and-a-half hours of the day,” she said. “The rest of the time they spend at home.”

Middletown pre-K staff hope that their efforts help instill a love of words and storytelling in their young students—forming the basis for future literacy. “Building that language, that vocabulary in young kids is so important,” Shallenberger said.

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