Learning is fun!
Weekly, one can find recently resettled refugee preschoolers from around the world and their parents in apartment clubhouses throughout Fort Worth, Texas, singing, dancing, reading and learning.
“Put your finger in the air, in the air. Put your finger in the air, …” is just one of the many songs that refugee preschoolers in the “Ready for School” program love to sing.
Using music and silly motions, the children learn English vocabulary as well as practice gross and fine motor skills.
“Ready for School” is a literary-based preschool curriculum that I developed in partnership with Literacy Connexus to help prepare non-English and limited English speaking 3- and 4-year-old preschoolers and their parents as they enter school in the U.S.
The idea for this curriculum grew out of the recognition of the growing number of refugee children who were entering pre-kindergarten or kindergarten without the necessary skills to succeed.
The preschoolers were literally years behind their American peers.
Families in the program come from Burma, Nepal, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Congo.
Many of their parents’ home countries do not have children’s literature in their first language. Culturally, there is no history of parents reading to their children.
Some of the refugee parents have limited English language skills, and very few homes have children’s books.
Recognizing the importance of reading, the question was raised, “How can we use children’s literature to help bridge the ever growing educational gap?”
The “Ready for School” curriculum was developed using familiar children’s literature, such as “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?,” “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “The Very Hungry Rabbit.”
Books with simple vocabulary, beautiful illustrations and predictable texts were chosen.
Using literature, the children are taught colors, numbers and shapes as well as basic language, math, motor and social skills.
The book of the week is read to the children, and they are introduced to learning activities associated with it.
At the end of the class, each family receives a book to take home along with appropriate learning materials.
As the board books are handed out, the children are taught to ask with “Please” and then respond with “Thank you.”
Most children hug the books to their chests with huge smiles on their faces.
Volunteer teachers from area churches, many who are retired educators, are the backbone of the program as they help the preschoolers and parents learn to count, color, sort, cut and create.
They become friends and language partners but most important they build relationships and become community.
The program would not be possible without such faithful and dedicated volunteers.
In the program, parents learn English along with the children. They often use their phones to video the story or songs in order to practice at home.
Bafrau, an Iraqi mother, said, “My son, Besha, loves to come to class. When we first started, he didn’t speak and was very shy. But after two years in the program, he sings the songs at home, can count, knows his colors and will be ready for school.”
As transportation is often an issue for refugees, the “Ready for School” classes meet in four of the apartment complexes where refugees live. The families can simply walk to class.
Each year, we end the 20-week program with a family reading fair. The families receive a small bookcase, which the preschoolers personalize with foam stickers. The families then are invited to select donated books to add to their home library.
The “Ready for School” curriculum is free and downloadable here.
It can be adapted to use in various settings, and the lessons can be used independently as needed.
I would love to discuss with you how the “Ready for School” program might work in your area. For further information, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series of articles this week for International Literacy Day (Sept. 8). Previous articles in the series are:
Literacy: Powerful Weapon Against Inequality if We Use It | Hannah Watson
Helping Students Discover the Worlds Awaiting Them in Books | Trevor Barton
US Faith Communities Played Big Role in Public Education | Charles F. Johnson
Karen Morrow is a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel ministering among internationals and refugees who have been forced to flee their home countries due to violence and persecution and are being resettled in Texas.