1. PRE-PRIMARY EDUCATION
The main objective of pre-primary education is to present an environment to children to develop a healthy mind through constructive activities and informal learning experiences. This environment also prepares children for a later day primary education by enabling them to adjust to the surroundings outside their home. Pre-primary education helps develop the physical and mental development of the children, promote their emotional and educational development, and smoothen their socialization (social development) process.
Actually, in pre-primary education importance is not to be given to any kind of formal teaching or learning, and attention is to be given to the psychological development of the children. The activities of pre-school are to be designed as per the interest and the need of the children. So, it is ideal not to have a permanent syllabus for the pre-school programme. Generally, the main activities of pre-schools are free-play, organized play, story sessions, music and dance, acting, drawing and painting, creative work, nature study, language development, and inculcating a sense of counting, measurements, and weight.
2. A PROJECT TO PREPARE PRE-PRIMARY LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT MATERIALS
Based on the above mentioned activities, I undertook a project to prepare Pre-Primary Language Development Materials in some selected Indian languages. I visualized that these materials will be useful to pre-school teachers, parents or other caregivers of pre-school children in their effort to develop language abilities in children. The ultimate goal is to link these materials to the inevitable socialization processes that children have to undergo in Indian communities.
3. SOCIALIZATION PROCESSES, PRE-PRIMARY EDUCATION,
LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT MATERIALS
A child who is already a member of a family learns to become a member of a society through the process of socialization in which language plays a very important role. Though it is often quoted that, as far as pre-school is concerned, "love is the language and play is the method," love should also be expressed in a human language, in addition to other parental or caregivers' loving behavior, including nonverbal behavior. The shelter of parental love takes a backseat in the pre-school environment, and is, kind of, substituted by an institutional arrangement of a learning environment in which teacher and other children come to play a part. From a family situation, a child thus begins to get exposed to the rain and shine of the community that surrounds it.
This process of socialization becomes very natural if it is done in the mother tongue of the child. Since language itself is a system of symbols, when the initial socialization is done in a non-mother tongue of the child, language symbolism gets more complicated and the child begins to feel uneasy. This happens more so, especially when the language used in the pre-school has no opportunities of reinforcement outside its school environment. First generation learners and children from the families which have very little exposure or competence in English face this barrier. And there are millions of children in this category in India. Even though many parents are aware that socialization is best done through mother tongue medium, they send their to English medium nursery schools, because in their view early exposure to English will give them an edge in this competitive world. It is a general belief that mother tongue shapes the socialization process and sharpens children's ability to grasp ideas and internalize them.
4. MATERIALS FOR INDIAN LANGUAGES
Language Development Materials for pre-primary children are designed for children speaking a regional Indian language in India. These materials focus on the development of listening and speaking skills. However, these also contain exercises, which familiarize children with pre-reading and pre-writing activities.
As a prelude to developing children's listening and speaking skills, I decided that these materials should be so designed as to help increase their vocabulary stock, help them to correct their babytalk pronunciation, and add to their stock of concepts and experiences. All these have to be done using the concepts already known to them, and presenting the new in the old context, and that too through appropriate activities in the pre-school.
5. DESIGN OF THE MATERIALS
So the design of the book consisted of the following eight sections.
1. Pictorial Pages
Pictorial pages focused on the parts of the body, kinship terms, house and household articles, animals, plants etc. These are chosen because the objects are already in the children's environment. Below the picture in each page, words that would be introduced by eliciting, repetition, and recall are given. When there are dialect variations for a certain word they may also be given within brackets. It is not necessary that all the words should be taught within a particular time limit of a week or month, etc. By the time the children come out of the pre-school they should have been introduced to those words.
2. Pictorial Pages and Vocabulary Recognition and Development
It is possible that the list of words given under a picture is not exhaustive and that more words belonging to the semantic group can be used. In that case the teacher/parent/caregiver is at liberty to add to the list. Any time one can come back to any page and make the children practice these vocabulary. This practice should not be done in a mechanical way by asking the children to repeat the words. It should be done through conversational patterns and elicitation method. These pictorial pages also contain exercises to make the children identify concepts such as small, big, tall, short, wide-narrow, sharp-blunt, first-last, in-between, on-in, more-less, etc. The teachers/caregivers may use these pictorial pages every now and then so that the concepts are clear to the children and the vocabulary representing those concepts are internalized in a ready to recall fashion. It may appear that some vocabulary items given as pictures are not universally found in all the regions where a chosen language is spoken but certainly they can be explained using the actual contexts in which they are used.
3. Conversational Contexts
Different topics on semantically classified themes may be chosen such as animals, plants. Each topic will contain many questions that can be used to elicit information. These questions elicit answers from the children, usually with some help from the teacher or caregiver. Children are engaged in conversations, thereby giving enough opportunities for the development of listening and speaking skills. In this process, concept formation and vocabulary development take place automatically.
Caregivers make the presentation of the pictorial pages as well as the conversations as simple as possible, in short sentences with a lot of repletion, and encouragement through prodding. No military-like discipline need to be pursued to ensure any selection or gradation. After observing and understanding the interests of the children, any topic could be chosen and the conversation conducted. Whenever such socialization steps are undertaken, teachers may bear in mind that she/he should not imitate the mispronunciation of a particular word by the child. Instead, the teacher may use the word with correct pronunciation and the child gets opportunities to listen to the correct version.
4. Nursery Rhymes
Nursery school teachers know that all the songs are to be practiced as action songs so that the children can sustain their interest. After a number of choral repetitions, the teacher may tell the smaller groups or individual children to recite on their own. An attempt has to be made to present the rhymes in known vocabulary of the young group, or new words are put in the midst of known words so that the context explains the meaning. It is also advisable to ask the children now and then simple comprehension questions on the rhymes presented.
While many children are familiar with some stories from classics, panchatantra and grannys' collective storehouse of stories, here in this book an effort is made to tell new stories in which known characters like animals, birds, children are all there. No explicit attempt is to be made to center a story on something specifically moral. But some value education is being carried out in all stories in a way that children begin to see some pattern and simple truth. In addition to comprehension questions the teacher can also practice group narration and individual narration helping them to dramatize while narrating. No story is supposed to be read out. They have to be acted out by the teacher/narrator. Only then a fruitful imitation can be adopted by the children and the events of the story get imprinted in their minds. This will prompt the children to narrate the stories on their own.
As has been already mentioned in the initial part of this article, there is enough scope in the pre-school program for free plays and organized games. Both of these help the children in their physical development, development of comradeship, timely responses to situations, etc. But the games prepared in this section are those in which comprehension of a language part is included. Listening comprehension and response in role-play along with oral expressions, etc. are the features of these games.
7. Pictorial Stories
These may contain any number of stories. But I decided that it would be better to restrict the umber of picture to just four. These four pictures would function as guided oral composition pieces. Only those stories that are widely known and easy to be depicted in a small number of picture frames were included. These pictures actually help children develop oral narration practice helping them to recognize, remember and reproduce some relevant details through narration. Oral compositions help children in linking events in a chronological order, making logical conversations, using appropriate vocabulary, and using intonational adjustments, all the while keeping up the excitement of each event in the story.
8. Pre-reading exercises
These contain pictorial representations of different shapes, which help the children to practice pattern perception and visual discrimination, and cultivate the habit of finding out similarities and differences among different shapes. The shapes chosen range from the general to those resembling some of the letter shapes from the language.
9. Pre-Writing exercises
These help the children with preliminary steps to acquire the skills for writing. Different types of strokes in different directions, letters of the alphabet, etc., are used for this purpose. Visuals using the letters of the alphabet are also included.