Evaluating Early Learning/Literacy Resources

There are so many resources out there in relation to literacy and children. It can be overwhelming as a parent trying to figure out what kinds of learning experiences to provide for your kids at home. So, how do you determine what is ‘good’?? Here are a few tips when evaluating information or resources you find…
First, think about what is age appropriate. Who is the ‘audience’? What age range is suggested? Learning happens best when it is done in a natural way, not a forced environment. Should babies be memorizing flash cards and watching ‘educational’ movies every day? Probably not. Little kids shouldn’t be asked to sit for too long, be quiet for too long, or focus for too long. When we ask or expect them to do something that isn’t appropriate for their age they typically respond by acting out (and let’s be honest, frustrating us!) If what you’re asking them to do isn’t working, it’s more than likely not age appropriate. Try something else, try it in a different way!

Second, do they get a chance to play? Kids love to play, and play comes naturally to them. Play-based activities are more appropriate for little ones because that is how they explore their world. (There are quite a few blogs written about play-based learning, including one of my favorites, Play at home mom). Play-based learning is open-ended and allows choices for children as they are exploring, and is usually led by children’s own interests and wonderings.  An example of play would be setting playdoh out to explore how to make different shapes, letters, or create animals. The language that can come out of this type of play is very rich and full. The child is able to take the lead and make learning their own by exploring and creating. Kids will have plenty of time to do worksheets and activities that aren’t open-ended later in life (think about most of our daily tasks as adults…usually with an end in mind, aren’t they??). Let’s let children have the freedom to make age-appropriate choices and have ownership over their play and learning-while they can!

Third, Ask yourself- What is the goal or purpose of this (resource)? Is this goal really something that is necessary? Is it learning for ‘learning sake’, or is the learning involved something that can be built-upon and extended?  Both kinds of learning are valid, but how should your child spend his/her time? Think about the type of learning that is promoted through the resource.Time should be spent on learning that is real and connects to their lives, questions, and interests. Usually this is found in experiences that are not done on paper. You can also take a resource that isn’t as ‘rich’ and make it better! If your child loves frogs, provide coloring sheets for them, but also take them to the zoo or on a nature walk to see actual frogs! It’s all about balance in learning. Think about the purpose of the resource (and add to it if necessary!)

And lastly, who is providing the resource? Most people writing a blog will include their educational background. I’m not saying that people who owe high amounts of money to educational institutions through the form of student loans are the only people who know anything about education, but if you aren’t sure- go with resources created by people who have experience and training in the field. These are the people who have been ‘in the trenches’, used the ideas, and have been able to evaluate it’s validity based on research and their own foundations of knowledge. I am biased (I have my Master’s Degree and love, love, love higher ed and will probably be going to school all my life), but being able to study and learn about the craft of teaching, along with actually teaching in your own context, certainly makes you a better teacher-and one that others can really learn from! There are also many organizations which are focused around early literacy (for example- Reading Rockets!) These foundations have to provide documentation and evidence of research-based programs in order to receive funding. While you still need to evaluate the information they share, if there is no statistical or research-based data offered up to provide validity to their procedures, that should make you wonder. So, think about the source and creator of the materials. Like anything, don’t trust everything out there just because it is pretty and cute, also consider the source. (And there’s a lot of ‘cute’ stuff out there, believe me!)

I hope this helps you as you sift through the large quantities of early learning and early literacy resources out there! I know it can be overwhelming, but when choosing learning experiences follow your child’s lead. It’s amazing what kids can do, say, learn, experiment with, and solve when we let them!

Angela (a readingteachermom)

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