Old MacDonald had a…Monster Truck!

The title of a children’s book I recently discovered brought memories of at least a dozen children I have taught and one I raised, who would have loved to hear it repeatedly! Old MacDonald Had a Truck by Steve Goetz, illustrated by Edna Kaban, is delightful.

Old MacDonald had a…Monster Truck!

Author: Julia Eastes

“There is no magic bullet, but if there was to be a magic bullet, then it is this. Watch children, listen to children, look at children, see what they’re doing, see how they represent ideas, see how they’re engaging, and see what turns them on as literate people and build on the joy and build on their capabilities.”

Dr. Pauline Harris

An image of a young girl riding on a large toy truck

Season Three of the Voices from the Village Episode 4 features an interview with Dr. Pauline Harris, Chair of Early Childhood Research at the University of South Australia’s School of Education. She has collaborated with faculty from the University of Wyoming on projects, including developing an early literacy credential for early childhood educators in our state. In this great episode, Dr. Harris shared relatable examples of the multiple ways children are literate and how we can support them and build on what they already know. As I listened to her observations and reflections in the conversation with Nikki Baldwin; I immediately connected as both an early childhood educator and a mom!

c The animals are still on the farm, but they take a backseat to heavy equipment, a major construction project, and a surprising ending! This action-packed rendition of Old MacDonald’s Farm is fun for children who love big trucks, excavators, and front loaders, maybe more than pigs and cows. I could imagine teachers and families sharing this rollicking version of a beloved classic with young children, especially those who are knowledgeable and interested in heavy equipment and construction projects. As I read the book, I immediately thought of how meaningful and engaging it would be to children whose curiosity and passion are geared toward machinery.

My son was imitating engine sounds before he could talk. By age three, he had corrected me when I didn’t know the proper names for heavy equipment. He loved videos and books depicting construction projects, big trucks, and heavy equipment. He had an incredible vocabulary for all things mechanical and could carry on lengthy conversations sharing his knowledge. He created imaginative scenarios in his play with trucks, equipment, cars, and Legos. I know he would have been captivated by Old MacDonald Had a Truck making connections between his oral literacy and print as we read together.

A photograph of children playing with a toy dump truck.

We often measure readiness for kindergarten literacy using a narrow set of skills. Those skills are essential but considering the other ways children are literate is also critical to learning and building relationships. In the podcast, Dr. Harris tells us, “The best way to ensure success for children’s literacy learning is to build on what they already know, what they are interested in doing. The evidence is clear on that, and my anecdotal experiences as a teacher are so clear that I think many of our experiences would show that to be the case.”

Educators might meet children who know another language, play video games, raise and care for animals, love to write, draw or paint, enjoy cultural activities with family members or engage in community events. My son could build, imagine, construct, and verbally share his ideas. How could a preschool or kindergarten teacher tap into these interests and ways of communicating children bring to school?

What can we do?

· Have Conversations with Children: Encourage oral literacy by carving out time to have conversations with the children at home and in the classroom. Acknowledging children's interests and literacies will allow educators and families to discover ways to increase engagement and joy.

· Have Conversations with Families: Talk to families about interests, culture, and favorite topics. Create a class book.

· Observe: Watch the children's choices when playing and their favorite activities.

· Plan: Instead of recreating your curriculum, provide opportunities for children to engage with their interests through play, art, writing, children’s books on topics of interest, co-created books with their families, and STEM activities. Literacy Standard 1 in the Wyoming Early Learning Standards includes a story from a Wyoming preschool teacher, Lynelle, who provides opportunities for children to write/draw about topics of their choice throughout their day. What a great way to encourage children to share their interests and knowledge.

Learn More: Listen to Season 3, Episodes 4, and, 5 of the Voices from the Village Podcast to learn about early literacies from Dr. Pauline Harris, a literacy expert from the University of South Australia, and Julie Eastes, a literacy expert from Wyoming. (http://mail.wyecplc.org/index.php/voices-village)