• IDRA Newsletter • January 2014 •

Since the early 1970s, when IDRA designed one of the nation’s first bilingual curricula for children who are English language learners, we have been dedicated to making sure that every child has the best possible start in school. With Semillitas de Aprendizaje, IDRA has launched a new professional development series for preschool teachers, early childhood centers, families and the field. The materials and training were developed based upon effective research-based principles of early childhood education and in the spirit of valuing each child for the unique gifts he or she possesses.

This We Believe…About Diversity

We believe that diversity of language, race, culture and human expression is both a strength and a gift for all of humanity to cherish. Through the use of the Semillitas de Aprendizaje materials, we encourage teachers and parents to celebrate, honor and encourage respect for the diversity of learners in our classrooms. As we integrate the assets of each individual child into the lessons, we also celebrate the collective success of the group because of the very diversity contained within.

This We Believe…About 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 (Yañez-Pérez, 1996). 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.

This We Believe…About Family Involvement

As teachers and parents use these materials, we believe that strong and lasting alliances must be built between home and school, capitalizing on the collective strengths that parents and teachers – working together – can bring to create a web of support for each child’s educational success throughout the continuum of learning, from early childhood through college success. Semillitas de Aprendizaje recognizes parents as first teachers and valued partners at all levels, beginning in the earliest grades. We encourage the development of a mutual partnership between teachers and families that builds upon existing successes, shares a common vision for each child’s academic achievement, and fosters positive and pro-active relationships to positively influence change through shared decision-making. Increased communication between schools and families can renew family pride and ignite a thirst for learning that will last a lifetime.

This We Believe…About Effective Teaching in Early Childhood Education

We believe effective teaching in early childhood education strives to foster centers of excellence both at home and in school. Semillitas de Aprendizaje reflects a balanced approach to reading that acknowledges oral language proficiency levels in the home language and in English and that combines the language and literature-rich activities associated with meaning, understanding and the love of language with explicit teaching skills as needed to develop fluency associated with proficient readers.

Each lesson introduces fundamental vocabulary building and concept acquisition. By providing a print-rich environment and attractive materials that incorporate exciting sounds, delightful stories and music, the curriculum encourages children to explore and use language in creative ways, reflecting on positive values that reflect appreciation for culture. Therefore, the curriculum teaches skills in using language in various ways, through stories, prose, song and verse that are age appropriate in fostering mastery in all components of early literacy. Semillitas de Aprendizaje is designed to help teachers integrate the materials, methods and literacy activities into classroom practice. In doing so, every aspect of the environment can be enriched through print, language, materials, activities and other support for the development of children’s knowledge.

This We Believe…About Children

Young children begin the process of learning to read from infancy. 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.

We believe that our children are our greatest gift, our future and our legacy. Children are never a problem to be solved, they are the solution – emerging leaders and co-creators of better tomorrow for our nation and our world. A child’s self-esteem is supported through a nurturing environment that presents material in a loving and supportive classroom and a home that fosters inquiry and recognizes each developmental phase as a new opportunity for learning. A basic assumption of Semillitas de Aprendizaje is that of valuing children, a starting point that values children’s families, neighborhoods, ethnicity or race, language, culture and gender. As you walk through these lessons with your children in school, we encourage you to 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.

This We Believe…About Assessment

Semillitas de Aprendizaje contains many ideas for teachers and parents to reinforce learning and check for progress in building the language capacity for each child. The spirit of evaluation for Semillitas de Aprendizaje is to improve learning and measure success. As such, evaluation is a tool to strengthen teaching and learning. Periodic assessment of the group’s progress toward the objectives of each lesson will help the teacher make course adjustments and enrich the environment to promote learning, providing the individual support needed for each child to learn best. To plan for success, teachers are encouraged to identify key concepts to be learned, specific questions to foster inquiry and measure success, ideas for developing benchmarks to check progress, suggestions to develop a variety of means for gathering feedback, and positive methods to share results with children’s families.

IDRA used the Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation (ELLCO) protocol to specifically address the role of environmental factors in early literacy and language development. The children also are assessed using the Get it, Got it, Go!, the Pre-Pals (Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening) and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-III (PPVT-III) as well as the el Examin de Vocabulario en Imágenes Peabody (the TVIP is the Spanish version of the PPVT-III).

This We Believe…About Essential Life Skills

As we prepare our children to navigate and excel in an increasingly complex world, a new set of skills is required. Semillitas de Aprendizaje includes activities that reflect best practices in teaching and learning, among them seven essential life skills from the work of Ellen Galinsky’s Mind in the Making (2010). Each unit in this guide incorporates these life skills to engage children emotionally, intellectually and socially so that they can become pro-active and responsible learners, decision makers, and co-creators of their future. The components of each lesson are laboratories for learning that offer opportunities to synthesize, apply, practice, problem solve and generalize learning as they develop independence and social skills.

This article is excerpted from Semillitas de aprendizaje Teacher Guide (Manual del maestro), Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D., managing editor and lead author. More information about Semillitas de Aprendizaje is available online at http://www.semillitasdeaprendizaje.com.


Galinsky, E. Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs (New York: Harper Collins Books, 2010).

Smith, M.W., & D.K. Dickinson. User’s Guide to the Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation Toolkit (Baltimore, Md.: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., 2002).

Villarreal, A. (Managing Ed., Lead Author). Semillitas de aprendizaje Teacher Guide (Manual del maestro) (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2012).

Yañez-Pérez, A. “Technology Teachers and Early Childhood, ” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, April 1996).

Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via email at feedback@idra.org.

[©2014, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the January 2014 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. 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.]