Preschoolers to Presidents

CKLA Builds Knowledge Step by Step

As described in the main article here, CKLA Preschool is carefully designed to build knowledge and vocabulary. Across the year, children participate in interactive read-alouds and enjoy activities grouped in five core domains: "All About Me," "Families and Communities," "Animals," "Plants," and "Habitats." The school year intentionally starts with the child, so that everyone has equal learning opportunities (regardless of how much academic preparation they have had at home), and then the domains are sequenced such that each builds on what has been learned. This approach not only facilitates comprehension, it also provides ample occasions for review. In addition, two more domains are interspersed throughout the school year. One is "Classic Tales," which contains a dozen cherished stories, and the other is "Important People in American History." Here we take a closer look at "All About Me," and show how its content is expanded upon in the "Animals" and "Important People in American History" domains.

Body parts are an essential component of the knowledge and vocabulary students acquire during the "All About Me" domain. They acquire this knowledge in class, as teachers show images during an active read-aloud in which students point to and move their body parts as they listen to a rhyme. As shown in the CKLA images below, the program also offers materials for a related activity students can enjoy at home with their families, reinforcing what they have learned in school.

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In the "Animals" domain (see the images below), children draw on what they have learned about their bodies to think about how they are similar to and different from animals. These images are shown as teachers read aloud text that combines content knowledge and rhyme:

You are an animal. This bird is too.
Yes, you are an animal—
But you don't have a pointy beak like some animals do.

You are an animal. This dog is too.
Yes, you are an animal—
But you don't have a furry body like some animals do.

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The "Important People in American History" domain is taught in association with national holidays (i.e., Thanksgiving, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents' Day, and Women's History Month). The first topic, taught just before Thanksgiving, is Native Americans (a few of the images are shown below). To provide context, the first read-aloud begins with basic information, much of which is familiar to preschoolers: "We live in a country called the United States of America. In the United States today, people like to talk on the phone, shop in the grocery store, play on computers, and watch television."

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After adding more familiar context, the text transitions to starting to teach about history: "Long, long ago, long before your mother and father were born, and even long before your grandparents were born, the United States looked very different. There were no phones or computers, there were no tall buildings. There were no cars or tractors, and there were no grocery stores. Not as many people lived here." As teachers read, they show children what much of the land looked like.

Only after providing this context does the read-aloud go on to describe Native Americans past and present.

Once they have heard read-alouds about Native Americans and the Pilgrims, students are asked to narrate and retell the stories themselves.

In March, for Women's History Month, the "Important People" domain wraps up with read-alouds and activities on Sonia Sotomayor (shown below). Children may not be ready to understand the Supreme Court, but they can build on what they do know—rules—to start developing an understanding of laws and judges: "Sonia Sotomayor is an important woman in the United States. She knows all about the laws, or rules, that people in the United States have to follow. Her job is to think about what the laws mean and the best way to help people obey those laws."

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Note that this read-aloud also reinforces content from previous domains. It starts with a reminder that we live in the United States. Later, when children learn that Sotomayor "was so good at her job as a judge that President Obama asked her to become a justice on the Supreme Court," they are also recalling that the president of the United States is currently Barack Obama.

Carolyn Gosse is the Core Knowledge Foundation's lead developer of CKLA Preschool. She received her PhD in Language and Literacy Development and Disorders from the University of Virginia, where she worked on a research project evaluating the effectiveness of a preschool curriculum designed to enhance young children's language and literacy skills. Lisa Hansel is the communications director for the Core Knowledge Foundation. Previously, she was the editor of American Educator. Portions of this article are adapted with permission from "What Really Matters Most?" by Lisa Hansel, which was published on the CUNY Institute for Education Policy blog, IdeaLab.


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American Educator, Summer 2014