Kindergarten – perhaps the most lyrically named stage of education – is usually defined as the first year of primary school. In the US, for example, it begins around the age of 5 or 6. In this article, we will look at publishing aimed at very young learners more generally, including materials for pre-primary/pre-school children. At this stage children are typically introduced to a school-type environment, providing a bridge between home and school while emphasizing play, imagination and the development of social skills.
This aspect of childhood development was the subject of a recent exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London, entitled ‘Play Well’. The exhibition included educational tools devised by Friedrich Fröbel, who founded the Kindergarten movement in 1839. These curious objects, which he called the Gifts, were used to help children to express their creativity and explore the world around them. The movement he started would go on to have a lasting impact on education in the 20th Century.
So how does language learning content at kindergarten differ from publishing aimed at older students?
One major difference is in the range of supplementary materials that are typically produced to support coursebooks. As well as teacher’s books and activity books, flash cards and posters are often bundled with courses. Course characters are brought to life in the form of soft puppets that can be used in classroom role-play activities. Sticker pages and cut outs at the back of the book allow children to interact with the learning materials in a physical way.
The differences also extend to the types of activities that can be found in coursebooks. There is often a strong emphasis on colouring and tracing new words, particularly in activity books. Songs and chants are commonly used to teach new vocabulary and language. As well as play and creativity, learning routines are very important at this stage of development. Singing and chanting on a regular basis provides structure and helps very young learners to build confidence and internalise new language. Writing songs and chants that are memorable and fun for young participants is a key skill for authors of material for very young learners. Songs and chants also require recording studios and voice actors with an understanding of this age group.
There is often a strong emphasis on colouring and tracing new words, particularly in activity books. Songs and chants are commonly used to teach new vocabulary and language. As well as play and creativity, learning routines are very important at this stage of development
Coursebooks for kindergarten usually have a much greater focus on artwork than books for older students. As mentioned above, course characters play an important role. They are generally introduced at the start of the course and continue to appear in later units. The repeated appearance of particular characters can have implications for audio recordings, where specific voices may be needed at multiple recordings. Also, a single illustrator will often be used throughout the course for consistency. If this is not possible, copy artists may be needed so there is no noticeable change in artwork style.
Rubrics will usually be very simple, with minimal text appearing on the page – often just the target language and a few simple instruction words. In manuscripts, artwork briefs are much more numerous than for teenage and adult courses. As there are fewer instructions on the page for students to follow, teacher’s books will usually provide detailed procedural notes to help teachers to structure their lessons. Often, teacher’s books contain reduced facsimiles of the student’s book pages so teachers don’t have to struggle with two books in the classroom.
There are many other features that are characteristic of materials for very young learners, including the use of phonics to lay the foundations of literacy, picture stories that provide context for the presentation of new language, and animated videos. Kindergarten has come a long way since Fröbel first used the term in the 19th Century.
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