When I taught kindergarten, we started each morning with an activity I soon learned was the most valuable time of the day! The children sat at tables supplied with paper and lots of drawing materials such as colorful markers and crayons. Their task was to draw anything they wanted, and then tell the group about what they drew.
Why it was important
The reason I started doing this every morning was to give the children a chance to wake up, settle in, and be ready to learn. What I didn't realize was that this very simple exercise was critically important in readying the brain to learn. The images the children created originated in the right hemisphere of their brains, and they when they put words (and later labels) to what they had drawn, they were accessing their left-brain - and the whole activity served to strengthen the links between the two. Amazing!
From oral to written descriptions
We started doing this activity before many of the kindergartners knew how to write anything. It was not long, however, before they could use the sounds they were learning to write one- or two-word descriptions under their drawings. Then, as we began to acquire sight words, those one- or two-word labels turned into phrases…and then in time into simple sentences.
From labels to learning about word structure (phonics anyone?)
By mid-year, those simple sentences formed the basis for learning about words and how to write and spell them correctly. Rather than using a formal phonics program with the children, I noted the spelling errors each child made as he/she shared their writing with the group, and we used those words as our lesson for the day. I kept track of the spelling patterns learned so as to be sure all were eventually taught.
For instance, one child wrote the sentence, “I have an awesome robot!” As you might imagine, his spelling of “awesome” was not correct, so we learned that the initial sound of that word is spelled like this: AW. Then we practiced writing words that had that same spelling in them such as “law," "saw," "caw,” etc. We even made a column of those AW words on a strip of paper to hang on the wall for reference.
By spring, in spite of what seemed to be a haphazard approach to learning the structure of words, the children were reading fluently and were able to correctly write what they wanted. I think the reason we were so successful is that we were focusing on the words they wanted to know how to write rather than following a dry, boring phonics program!
For more on teaching phonics, reading, and spelling in creative ways, check out the Illustrated Book of Sounds and Their Spelling Patterns that teaches all the different ways to spell each sound through patterns and cartoons.