Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Letters And Numbers Everywhere

Even before a child has spent a second in our classroom, their parents have heard me at least twice warn them, "We do not push letters or numbers at Woodland Park." In fact, I usually emphatically say that I will not intentionally bring letters or numbers into the classroom unless the children themselves compel me to it.

Of course, my point is that we make no overt efforts to teach them to read, or even identify their letters or numbers for that matter, we'll let their kindergarten teachers deal with that, but it's an impossible promise to keep. For one thing, most of the 2-year-olds come in already knowing that ubiquitous A-B-C song and they obsessively count everything, so there's that.

But making it even more difficult to keep my word is our school's commitment to reusing and recycling. Those darn things all have letters and numbers on them and the kids are forever pointing them out, saying things like, "That's my letter! G!" or "That's the number 2!" Arg! What do I look like, your kindergarten teacher?

If you look carefully, and children do, you'll see letters and numbers everywhere. The kids even ask me sometimes what the words mean as if they're somehow driven to figure out the strange symbolic codes of their fellow human beings.

Naturally, I blame society for its obsession with labeling everything, printing Diet Coke . . . or Miracle-Gro . . . 

. . . or Brown Cow . . . 

. . . or whatever on our upcycled "toys."

Heck, the parents even label their kids with words and numbers.

I suppose I could deal with it if the world would limit itself to these external labels, but really, shouldn't the insides of machines be safe havens? You might have to look closely, but they've managed to sneak a 4-9-5 in there, thinking the kids wouldn't notice. Shame on them!

You would think that gardens, at least, would be a place to escape these words and numbers, but no.

They even sneak words onto the garden spades!

I often come across articles about how to make a preschool classroom into a "literacy rich environment." Where are the articles about how to banish literacy? That's what I'd like to know. Every time I turn around, there they are, letters and numbers and words all chock-a-block with meaning.

And kids interacting with them, fiddling around, unlocking their secret abstract meanings in the course of their play.

I want to do it the pedagogically correct way as a preschool teacher, leaving these things out of the classroom until the kids are developmentally ready for them, but it's too many and too much for me. The minimum they could do is avoid putting letters and numbers on things that children find exciting or interesting.

Believe me, the undersides of these vintage Matchbox cars are riddled with
vital information about their makes and models that kids 
are always trying to decipher -- truly aggravating!

Yeah sure, sometimes we need to use a few letters for things like documenting our classroom rules . . .

. . . or recording thoughts for posterity . . .

And, yes, newspaper with all its thousands of tiny words and numbers really is the best, least expensive paper mache material.

And the burlap from discarded coffee bags is useful in all kinds of contexts.

All of these things, naturally, kind of throw letters and numbers into the faces of the kids, but I'm hoping these types of utilitarian accidents of literacy education are more than compensated for by my rigorous efforts on other fronts, although I despair.

They hide and turn themselves upside down.

They manage to inject themselves onto those fragile brains from every angle and during every moment of the day. Printed, typeset, handwritten, uppercase, lowercase, they're all there all the time.

I do my best to make our school a letter and number-free zone, but I'm just one man.

Why can't they just stay in books where they belong?

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Anonymous said...

I absolutely love it!

Anonymous said...

Yes! Yes!

Robbie said...


Anonymous said...

superbly written!

Francine said...


Tischia Bluske said...

So, true! It made me laugh, but I share the frustration as an early childhood teacher and parent.

janetlansbury said...

Yes! They even find letters in the toilet. Have you noticed? Sheesh, is nothing sacred?

Thanks for this brilliant post, Tom. I feel far less alone in my concern.

bunyip said...

music to my ears...

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