At What Level Should A 4 Year Old Be Reading Using Puzzles in Early Childhood to Develop Prereading Skills

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Using Puzzles in Early Childhood to Develop Prereading Skills

I am an inner-city classroom teacher in a new, open space school, part of a 4th grade team with 4 teachers and 100 students. Sixteen of our students cannot read even in the 1st grade. They are boys, and of course, these students are ‘behavior problems’. In the first two weeks of school, many of them spent more time in the office for good behavior than in their classrooms. The instruction did not differentiate by reading level, so these students learned very little in the materials prepared for the 4th grade reading level.

My background is in Alternative Education, and my passion is working with students who have ‘missed through the cracks’. I told three teachers in the group, if they are willing to increase their class, I will take 16 illiterates. Another teacher jumped at the chance, and the principal agreed. By the third week of school, I was moved to a small, private room with 16 illiterates.

I have used some techniques that have proven successful in the past. This involves going ‘back to basics’… finding out what each child knows, and what is different about each student. All the boys know the letters of the alphabet and have some initial knowledge of consonant sounds. Everyone can read only a few words.

We started there, at their teaching level, with games and activities that I created when I tried to teach words with CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) short sound patterns. I was surprised how difficult it was for these 10 and 11 year old boys to write letters and sounds together in this simple CVC model.

Now, coincidentally, at this same time, I am pregnant with my first child. Like many first-time moms-to-be, I bought a lot of things in anticipation of the arrival of my first child.

One night, I bought some simple inset puzzles…the ones without interlocking pieces. There is a race with cars, each cut to fit in its cutout, each with a little red ball for little ones to control. Another puzzle has animals, while a third has people.

I know that when I arrived at the office tomorrow, I forgot to take the bag with the assembly out of my car. Because my school is in a part of the city where car break-ins are happening, the principal told the staff not to leave anything of value in our cars during the day. I took the envelope into the classroom and put it on the floor of my desk.

Normal business day. It was a rainy day, with indoor recess, and a teacher came to my room to monitor the class during my 15 minute break.

When I came back during my break, the teacher was nowhere to be found. The boys were all near my table, sitting on the floor, busy with something. I quickly realized that they had grabbed the bag from the toy store, opened all the matches, and had things scattered all over the floor.

I am angry… at the assistant who is supposed to take care of my class, and at the students, for entering into my personal things and opening the challenges that are intended for my child that not yet born. I asked the boys to put the puzzles back together!

And then I looked in amazement, as I realized that not one of these 4th graders could put the simple puzzle back in place!

This is one of the Ah-ha! the time of my life. If these kids can’t separate and put things together as simple inset puzzles, how in the world can they separate and put things together, like paper and voice

Our class changed. I keep the puzzles open in the classroom, and I buy more simple puzzles for my students, as well as simple puzzles with a few pieces. Students gain the experience of taking these puzzles apart, then putting them together again to create a coherent whole.

I bought the blocks for the class, which they put together, then take apart, then put together again in different ways, create many things, like we do with the letters when the sounds leave a message.

I have created opportunities every day for the boys to explore and work with these exercises, helping them learn to do with these materials, which reading requires them to do with writing and voice

Some of the boys had years of growth in reading that year. However, I probably learned the most, because I realized the importance of exposing children to the right information.

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