Upon entering the preschool classroom of Tomeka Sidberry and Patricia Williams at South Warren Elementary School, the typical sights and sounds of learning and preschoolers at play can be seen and heard. But within that learning and play environment is something unexpected-preschoolers, who are just learning to read, using the newspaper.

Through the Newspaper In Education Literacy Program, students in Sidberry's classroom are exposed to The Warren Record as a source of information and added knowledge.

In various learning centers throughout the classroom, students look at a section of the latest edition of The Warren Record and circle letters, make letter sounds, and sound out words and short sentences.

Children become excited as they find the letter they were assigned and eagerly share their findings with their teachers. Sidberry and Williams, after offering praise for the accomplishment, ask their students to sound out the letter sound and then the word; they also explain how each of those letter sounds makes up words to complete the sentences that work together to tell the story of a news article.

Students are even using local store sales inserts to practice number recognition, counting and addition. In one instance, a child was looking for the number 20; it was not on the sale page, but the advertised sale of 10 items for $10 was, and as instructed by his teacher, he added the 10's to create the number 20.

Sidberry says that the use of The Warren Record in her classroom "makes learning fun for students, they enjoy learning letters, numbers and word sounds."

The newspaper is also proving to be a valuable tool when teaching about community helpers. Students are able to hear about local people that serve the community such as nurses, teachers, doctors, lawyers and emergency personnel including police officers and firefighters through articles and ads.

Students are also able to follow along and learn about the elected officials of Warren County as an election period is about to begin.

During circle time learning, while reading a book about Clifford the Big Red Dog visiting a hospital, the students talk about reading the newspaper at the hospital or using the newspaper to find information about doctors and hospitals. 

Students will be able to use the Readers' Choice section of The Warren Record to point out community helpers and local businesses in the community around them.

Learning via the newspaper does not end when students leave the classroom.

The Warren Record is sent home with students as weekly homework assignments, which are later proudly displayed for the classroom to enjoy. Students are asked to cut out ads or words containing the letter they are learning each week, write the letter at home and return it to school.

One homework assignment was parent-child collaboration as parents were asked to read an article with their child. The child drew a picture about the article and the parent wrote what the child thought and felt about the article they read together.

Parents are strengthening reading skills with their children each week as students bring The Warren Record home. Using the paper outside of the classroom also reinforces the idea that the newspaper is a source for information at anytime, not just in the classroom or while at school.

The newspaper is not only used during center learning time or for homework assignments, but also as an instructional tool.

"Having the newspaper in my classroom adds so much to my instruction," Sidberry said. "I am able to use the newspaper as a developmentally appropriate way for preschoolers to learn."

The students especially enjoyed reading each of the 10 chapters in the story "Howling for Home" told from the viewpoint of a dog learning to adjust to life with his new family. The classroom read the story each week as part of their circle time activities.

Sidberry is using her experience with newspapers in her classroom to teach other educators through teacher workshops she leads. She noted that as teachers have come in to observe her classroom they comment on the newspapers they see posted in learning centers and how they are used in the learning environment. 

As evidenced in this preschool classroom, there is no age limitation on learning though The Warren Record and the NIE program.

The NIE Literacy Program is partly sponsor supported. To learn more about supporting free newspapers for this classroom and other classrooms from pre-kindergarten through adult education in Warren County, call 252-257-1715 or email Janie Miller at wroffice@warrenrecord.com.