Early Language and Literacy – Snowmen At Night

“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 

I enjoy snowmen and have always found children across the ages to be excited about them also. When building learning opportunities off areas of interest and excitement it made sense to me to have a unit for snowmen. I have done just that from the beginning of my work with children in my family child care in 1988. The concepts that can be built from snowmen are really only stopped by your imagination. I think it’s a great unit for STEAM. There is also a vast variety of quality books about snowmen covering a mixture of ages, and the list of books is growing.

When I first shared “Snowmen At Night” in my program it was not part of a series. I paired it with other snowmen books. It was not my primary book, but a supportive book. That has not changed over the years, even with the addition of the books in the series. I use the other books under other units/lessons, not focusing on the snowmen characters. 

Books that are part of a series can help you expand the learning further over the year. Familiar and loved characters pull children right into the new 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. 

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 giving of the word’s meaning and usage specific to the story. 

My preview also provides me with an awareness of how the story text is structured. 

The rhyming in the text of “Snowmen At Night” strengthens the phonemic awareness of children. I want to be sure they catch on to the 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 “Snowmen At Night” – (all words are discussed with a focus on the meaning as used in the book)

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. As with “tuckered out” sometimes it’s about a word combination for building understanding.

wintry / moonlit

round / tall / biggest / height

drooped / crooked / fright  / thrill   /   wonder   /  anxious  / tuckered out

aim / underneath / wild

I love finding good predictor books because they are great for meeting so many of the MELDS that have to do with language and literacy development. Predictor books just seem to naturally open up discussions within the groups of children I have worked with. These discussions service mixed ages well. “Snowmen At Night” sets up as a great predictor book right from the opening page of the book – what I think of as the pre-title page in this book. How many children could not answer a question about what this child is doing?

This is very relatable to children of many ages.

The title page which follows shows the usage of the rolled snowballs…… a snowman.. 

Prediction for this book is additionally set up on the 4th page of the book with the question: “What do snowmen do at night?” 

I stop here and ask the children what they think snowmen do at night? I have found the answers are wonderful and varied. Let their answers stand. I do not refer to how appropriate the suggestions are, as that actually can stop the discussion in general and specifically stop children from engagement both now and in the future. All ideas are valid, so that is why I let them stand. I will use individual responses appropriate for the story as I read into the story continuing to build the discussion as we progress through the story. 

I have groups that are very used to this type of discussion about their ideas, but if your group is new to this you might have to draw them out. Having pre read the story you can steer them with some specific questions. I would go silly in my initial questions, such as: 

  • Do snowmen sleep in a bed? 
  • Do snowmen play in the sandbox? 
  • Do snowmen build snow friends? 

Children love silly and when they respond “No!” you can ask something like “Well, what do they do?” There will usually be multiple responses. 

With my mixed ages, I often have a child or two that understand about “melting”, so that will likely be one of the responses. I let it ride just like the others. The concept of  “melting” is one of the big reasons I love snowmen as part of a larger Winter unit. I don’t teach about “melting” during the reading, but will definitely be including science and math activities specific to the concept as part of the planned lessons in my Winter unit. I prefer “Sadie and the Snowman” for my “melting” lesson focus, but almost all snowman stories have something to do with melting.

I have found “Snowmen At Night” to be a nice addition to my “Winter” unit because of the way I can use it to draw out a child’s imagination. The idea of the story is a good starting point, but I’ve found it’s the illustrations that really engage the children. They are more detailed than you may originally realize. I seem to find new things about each page every time I read it. 

Be sure to notice the darkness of the evening pictures and the lightening as dawn approaches. This is not always seen by the children, but is well depicted in these illustrations.

“Snowmen At Night” is a book that I do not usually read straight through. I stop and explore each page grouping with the children. I don’t find the story line to be lost reading this way, unlike with other books. It’s interesting to hear what they see and the discussions that arise from that. Many times they are connecting to personal experiences, such as the idea of drinking hot chocolate. 

It’s a snack idea to consider including in your program following sharing the book. Or maybe you can be flexible when you read the story and can actually do it while having hot chocolate (recipe 1recipe 2recipe 3) together. Maybe you can bake snowball cookies to also share at this time.

Or making angels in the snow. 

You can practice making snow angels inside if you can space the children out. We always seem to do this when the snow outside is newly fallen and soft.

I always check out the last pages of any book as part of my preview. More and more authors are including activity ideas, recipes, etc. here. Caralyn Buehner makes note of some hidden items within the pages. This is something I will go back to on additional readings or as a special challenge for specific children who are at a developmental level to enjoy exploring the book alone and are comfortable with I Spy or Find the Missing activities.

If you look at the preceding photo of snowmen making snow angels you might be able to find the rabbit mentioned above.

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