Bear Series: Early Language and Literacy

I’ve always found the curiosity of children to naturally lead into learning the foundational concepts of math and getting excited about the natural world and science. Add in the Creative Arts and how can you not find a way to engage children. I also like using all kinds of technology tools available as part of the learning occurring within my program. Technology for me doesn’t just mean computers or tablets. We do use both here, but we also use tools like a camera, a laminator, magnifying glasses, and thermometers. So, I generally look at developing my units thinking about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math). I do not build the majority of my units focusing on language and literacy. For me language and literacy skill development is a natural byproduct of one’s intentional work with books as part of the lesson/unit study. 

Early Language and Literacy

“Children acquire language and literacy skills through meaningful interactions with people in their lives. Early childhood is the most critical time for language and literacy development, and the foundations built by students during this time are essential to children’s later learning. Some language and literacy learning is incidental and arises naturally during play and everyday experiences. Other learning depends on explicit instruction that occurs through formal teaching. Young learners can actively construct their own language and literacy knowledge, but they also need intentional interactions with adults to further their development, provide motivation and strengthen essential skills.

Speaking and Listening ~

Comprehension & Collaboration

  • Begins to engage in collaborative conversations about preschool topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups:
    • Begins to follow agreed upon rules for discussions (e.g., listening to others and taking turn speaking about the topics and texts under discussion)
    • Begins to engage in conversations with multiple exchanges
  • Begins to confirm understanding of a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media by asking & answering questions
  • Begins to ask questions in order to seek help, get information, or clarify something that is not understood

Presentation of Knowledge & Ideas:

  • Begins to describe familiar people, places, things, and events
  • Begins to speak audibly and, with prompting and support, express thoughts, feelings, and idea 

Conventions of Standard English:

  • Begins to demonstrate understanding of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking:
  • Prints some letter and/or letter-like symbols
  • Uses frequently occurring nouns and verbs 
  • Begins to form some regular plural nouns orally by adding /s/ or /es? (e.g. dog, dogs; wish, wishes)
  • Begins to understand question words (e.g. who, what, where, when, why, how)
  • Begins to understand the most frequently occurring prepositions (e.g. to, from, in, out, on, off, for, of, by, with)
  • Begins to speak in complete sentence

Vocabulary Acquisition & Use:

  • Begins to ask and answer questions about the meanings of new words and phrases introduced through books, activities and play:
    •  Begins to generate words that are similar in meaning (e.g. happy/glad, angry/mad) 
  • Begins to explore word relationships and meanings
    •  Begins to sort common objects into categories (e.g. big/small, living/nonliving) 
    •  Begins to apply words learned in classroom activities to real-life examples (e.g., names places in school that are fun, quiet, or noisy)
  • Begins to use words and phrases acquired through conversations, listening to books read aloud, activities, and play 

There is a vast variety of quality books covering a mixture of ages and topics with bears as the focus/primary character. Bears seem to be very comfortable story characters for children, so there are many bear focused resources available for teachers to access. How you use bears in lessons is really only stopped by your imagination. 

Having children here for many years and representing major units annually means I like to have a variety of books to share. While it’s good for children to be exposed to the same book repeatedly, I also know new books allow for learning in different ways. I maintain many book lists to make it easier to get books out from the interlibrary loan program in Maine. If you have not used the interlibrary loan program, I encourage you to touch base with your local librarian to learn about how you can. I do it all online. Here’s an example of how I structure my book lists: Bear hibernation books for use with my Hibernation/Migration/Adaption (H/M/A) lessons.

I’ve found that books that are part of a series can help you expand the learning further over the year. Familiar and loved characters from a favorite story pulls the children right into the newly shared book. The language patterns are similar and reinforce developing literacy. Being familiar with an illustration style can allow children to look deeper into the images. While I use “Bear Snores On” annual in my Hibernation lessons, other Karma Wilson bear series books are more randomly used to support more general concept areas like color and counting with “Bear Counts” and “Bear Sees Colors”. Or experiences that young children are familiar with from their own lives like “Bear’s New Friend”, “Bear’s Loose Tooth”, “Bear Feels Scared” or “Bear Feels Sick”.

With any book I share I like to see beforehand what vocabulary I need to be aware of. I look for words that might be new for the children knowing that having an understanding of them strengthens their understanding of the story and supports how they can engage in discussions. I can preview the words and meanings before reading the story, or as I read explanations are given of the word’s meaning and usage specific to the story. 

I find Karma Wilson’s bear books to be rhythmic and with a light humor that both engages the children and makes for enjoyable reading for the adult sharing the book.  For me “rhythmic” is different from “rhyming”. The rhythmic pattern in poetry is the repetition of a pattern of sounds. Rhythm is created by the alternation of long and short sounds and stressed and unstressed syllables. Karma Wilson’s bear books also provide rhyming in the text. 

When I have rhyming words I want to be sure the children are catching on to that rhyming. I can do this through how I read the story with voice emphasis on the rhyming words and/or physically pointing out the rhyming words or asking a child to point out the rhyming words. I usually combine both my voice and physically pointing out. I like to have children take turns pointing out the rhyming words as I think it draws a different concentration on the part of the children; supports children that are aware of what rhyming means; reinforces phonemic awareness; and allows me to encourage different children to step forward to participate.

Vocabulary for “Bear Snores On” – (all words are discussed with a focus on the meaning as used in the book)

Here’s our “B” is for Bear page from the ABC book I make with preschoolers. (As I do not build this book in normal ABC order we can construct our page to work with unit themes.)

This vocabulary list was driven by a primary focus on a preschool age group. I often group words together for building connections vs where they occur in the story. Sometimes it’s about a word combination for building understanding.

  • Lair / Damp / Dank
  • Cuddled / Heap / Slumbering
  • Howl / Snores / Slurps
  • Fluff-cold / Blustery / Crisp (day)
  • Wee / Whimpers / Fret
  • Coals / Scuttles / Divvy
  • Cozy down / Dig in / Tunnel up
  • Mutters / Twitters / Clutters
  • Stokes / Seasons (stew) / Fleck
  • (crowd) freezes

Check out this post by The Picture Book Teacher on her approach for “Bear Feels Sick”, for another example of how books from the Bear series can be approached to develop reading skills and strategies.

Paths to Literacy, which approaches lessons for students who are visually impaired, has a post on how they would develop learning for “Bear Feels Sick”. The ideas shared are very appropriate for all young learners.

I do not use any of the Karma Wilson books to focus on ABC activities, but I’ve got a good selection of ABC games with a variety of characters so I can easily pull a game out to support a child while using this book. These Teddy Bear ABC Match and Trace Cards are easy to access without having to sign into a site.


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