Using Semillitas de aprendizaje™ in the Early Childhood Classroom
Juanita C. García, Ph.D., and Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D.
Teachers and parents have a unique opportunity to share in preparing young children in early literacy and language development. Effective preschool programs designed by IDRA as Centers of Excellence reinforce the need for mutual goal setting, language- and vocabulary-rich environments, and delightful stories that captivate a child’s imagination and foster creative thinking.
IDRA’s newest resource for teachers and parents, Semillitas de aprendizaje, stems from research conducted in our Reading Early for Academic Development (READ) project, funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The series offers a unique bilingual set of early childhood materials based on the art of storytelling. Each cuento of the theme-based curriculum encourages the richness of language and print. It is designed to help early childhood teachers and parents encourage communication and language exploration through literature discussions in both Spanish and English.
Young children begin the process of learning to read at birth. Experiences such as being read to and playing with words and letters help children develop the vocabulary and knowledge base they need to be readers and writers. Semillitas de aprendizaje encourages early literacy experiences by basing each classroom lesson unit on a book and its message, using music and songs to promote awareness of sounds and structure of language, and including activities that encourage conversations and descriptions of their learning.
The curriculum reflects elements of Ellen Galinsky’s (2010) seven essential life skills every child needs to thrive as life-long learners and to take on life’s challenges: focus and self-control, perspective taking, communicating, making connections, critical thinking, taking on challenges, and self-directed engaged learning. These skills give children the ability to focus on goals, expand their intellectual capacity, cultivate strong, positive self-esteem and stimulate intellectual curiosity. Using culturally appropriate and robust language encourages children to learn easily and communicate what they have learned.
The Literacy Connection
Semillitas de aprendizaje focuses on the important connection between language and literacy by providing meaningful language and literacy experiences for children during every part of the daily classroom experience. Given that listening, speaking, reading and writing develop together, lesson activities promote early high levels of academic language. Early literacy is a vital academic skill in school readiness, and school learning is contingent upon literacy development. Learning to read is highly dependent on children’s language skills and vocabulary development (Green, 2004). Understanding and using oral language (listening and speaking) is the first step in mastering printed language (reading and writing).
Research shows how language and literacy develop in young children, underscoring the connection between spoken and written language, with literacy emerging gradually in the early years. Reading and writing begin with learning language and looking at books in infancy and continuing through preschool years.
Semillitas de aprendizaje incorporates the Head Start Early Childhood competency indicators through literacy center activities that focus on listening and understanding, speaking and communicating, phonological awareness, comprehension, book knowledge and use, and print knowledge and emergent writing. Through storytelling, song and poetry reading with a spirit of valuing diversity, the curriculum encourages the use of rich language and print.
The framework used to create the lesson units for each story incorporates: speaking and communicating, listening, reading, writing, English transition, literacy connections and key vocabulary.
The first element of Semillitas de aprendizaje that IDRA has released is a set of Big Books that were recently featured in New Mexico’s Dual Language Conference, La Cosecha, were celebrated at the San Antonio school district’s Parent Institute at Education Service Center Region 20, and were presented at Harris County Department of Education Early Childhood Winter Conference in Houston.
Examples from Practice
Imagine a classroom where an ostrich, La Chamaca Machaca, prances about to the rhythm of the cha-cha-cha, and students join her in discovery of how to overcome loneliness, become more independent, and foster a positive self-concept by admiring and enjoying themselves in independent play. Chamaca reflects on her current state of affairs and soon creates her own song and dance to celebrate herself. In the process, she learns an important lesson about how to gain confidence, search for her own joy, and feel better about herself.
Introducing children playfully to concepts and words, such as loneliness, or la soledad, triggers an engaging pre-reading anticipation of how these relate to the story and artwork, depicting a beautiful, self-absorbed ostrich with flowing eyelashes, a huge red bow and a flurry of colorful feathers. These concepts serve as clues to help children predict the story outcome and relate it to their own lives. Music and dance help foster gross motor skills, coordination and motion. The story reinforces curiosity and initiative, engagement and persistence and reasoning and problem solving, all important elements of early learning. Phonetic awareness also is introduced through play with vowel and consonant sounds, rhyme and rhythm.
The spirit of evaluation for the curriculum is to improve learning and measure success. Periodic assessment of progress toward the objectives of each lesson helps the teacher make course adjustments and enrich the environment to promote learning, providing the individual support needed for each child to learn best. Teachers are encouraged to identify key concepts to be learned, specific questions to foster inquiry and measure success, and positive methods to share results with the home.
IDRA believes that children are our greatest gift, our future and our legacy. A child’s self-esteem is built through a nurturing environment that presents material in a loving and supportive classroom and home that fosters inquiry and recognizes each developmental phase as a new opportunity for learning. A basic assumption of the curriculum is that of valuing children, an assumption that values their families, their neighborhoods, their ethnicity or race, language, culture and gender.
As we walk through these lessons with our children in school and at home, let us do so through their fresh eyes, enthusiastically looking for the new, in joyful appreciation for what is, excited about the possibilities of what can be, and eager for more. The delightful series will be accompanied by a set of home activity cards and preschool math and self concept books, soon to be released.
Galinsky, E. Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs (New York: Harper Collins Books, 2010).
Green, L.C. “Bilingual Word Power – Research-Based Vocabulary Strategies for English Language Learners,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, April 2004).
Rodríguez, R.G., & A. Villarreal, B. Scott, J. Rodríguez. Creating Centers of Learning at Home and at School (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2004).
Villarreal, A., & R. Rodriguez, B. Scott. “Responding to the Need for Bilingual Early Childhood Education Literacy Development – Semillitas de Aprendizaje New Curriculum in Development,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, March 2008).
Juanita C. García, Ph.D., is an education associate in IDRA Field Services. Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D., is director of IDRA development. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at
[©2011, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the April 2011 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]