Children have a natural affinity for language. They soak up the words, conversations, grammatical structure, spoken rhythms, stories, and poetry all around them.
At the Antioch School this natural affinity is recognized and celebrated. It is a place where children and teachers get enjoyment from language, a place where there is a love of books, of literature, and of words – both written words and spoken words.
Each classroom has its own hands-on and accessible library that includes age-appropriate fiction, nonfiction, and reference books. Fine prose, poetry, drama, fantasy, mythology, and folk tales are shared first as read-aloud books and then later as part of the children's independent reading. Regular time is set aside for books, stories, and singing in each group as part of the everyday routine.
When Nursery children engage in imaginative play, they create the stories they will later dictate to an adult. These stories also lay the foundation for the writing they will create on their own as older children. They share their word play, riddles, funny stories, and jokes. They use language to articulate their plans for themselves and to share their thinking with one another. They identify problems and create solutions with their considered use of words. Some Nursery children begin to show an interest in traffic signs, as well as in their own and their friends' written names – the various words that have meaning in their lives. They want to have signs they can put up to label things and to instruct others: "Don't knock it down, but you can play on this ship."
The children begin to have an interest in making a written record of their words and often ask to dictate their stories and the plays they have created. Many Nursery Schoolers are intrigued by letters and the sounds they make and occasionally want to know how to shape them on paper. They are always supported in this, but it is their lead that is followed absolutely.
The children continue on as Kindergartners, adding layers of understanding, complexity, and mastery in their use of language and their enjoyment of words and literature. Each child experiences the year long Kindergarten celebration of the 26 letters of their alphabet in his or her own way. The shared story lines of their imaginative play often develop and evolve over many weeks and months. They create original plays that are written down, practiced, produced, and performed. They continue to develop their independence as critical thinkers and problem solvers through their constant use of language.
In the Younger Group, each child arrives with his or her own level of readiness for reading and each child needs an individual approach to his or her reading program. The younger ones take part in small group lessons every day that cover sound and letter correspondence, phonics, and other decoding skills. All the children have daily opportunities to practice mechanics and refine their skills in reading and writing. Each of the younger children is paired with an older reading partner who listens and helps as needed. Every day the children have personal reading and writing time. During this time, each child chooses a book to read and selects a topic to write about. The children's writing is given importance by being published (i.e. displayed) for other people to read. The children also create original group plays which are written down and performed throughout the year. Younger Groupers continue to "use their words." They refine their skills as critical thinkers and solve the problems that emerge as they work and play together.
In the Older Group, the children talk, discuss, work, and plan with one another throughout the day. Reading is an integral part of their experience. They write stories, poems, compositions, reports, letters, and journal entries. They spend time examining and practicing the mechanics of writing. Their writing is posted and voluntarily shared and discussed in the group. They e-mail children from other countries, sharing their writing and thinking and expanding their horizons in yet another way.
The children at the Antioch School are astonishingly good writers because there is room and safety to take risks, to be honest, to try new things, and to practice. Older Groupers continue to craft original plays as well as to interpret the works of others on the stage. Each spring they put on a musical, in which the Younger Groupers and Kindergartners are invited to perform. The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland, The Lion King, Oliver, and Beauty and the Beast are some of their recent productions.
At the Antioch School there is an understanding that children who are read to, talked with, and listened to become better readers, writers, listeners, and conversationalists – the use of language is recognized as an art. This attitude creates a respect for words and language that lays a foundation of understanding which permeates every aspect of the teachers' daily life with the children. It is reflected in the words the teachers choose to use with the children, and in the literature, fine prose, and poetry they choose to have in their classrooms. It is reflected in the consciously designed opportunities they create for the children to talk and play and work together throughout the day. It is reflected in the teachersÕ expectations that the children will develop into fine and powerful communicators, readers, writers, and critical thinkers, and that they will experience real joy and feelings of mastery as they grow in their understanding and use of language.