Opening the World of Learning is the title of Pearson Learning's comprehensive preschool program. Pearson has adapted the original program into an abridged program that parents can use at home, called Opening the World of Learning at Home (OWLAH).
In contrast to the comprehensive program, OWLAH is laid out as a 12-week course with the idea that it might be used as a summer program. However, the OWLAH Parent's Guide has so much material you can easily spread the course out for much longer. Once you've become familiar with many of the activities, you might simply add more read-aloud books of your own choosing or from their lists.
Clearly, OWLAH has been adapted from material originally written for a classroom setting. Instructions almost always refer to “children” in the plural rather than a single child. When the lesson has the children working with pizza dough, children play with the dough and form it on a small plastic lid which makes sense in a classroom when you're not going to actually bake the dough. At home, it makes more sense to have one or two children work with you to actually make a real pizza after they've handled the dough. I also noticed one lesson about learning about the care that babies need. If you are fortunate enough to have a baby in your home, you won't need to find information books that show baby care—in fact this lesson probably mimics what you've already been doing in real life. While there is lots of terrific content in OWLAH, some of it could use more adaptation for the home setting.
The complete OWLAH bundle includes the Parent's Guide, 23 children's books (fiction and non-fiction), and an audio CD of Sing-Along Songs and Poems. Note that the Language and Literacy Assessment Book mentioned in the Parent's Guide is not included in the bundle and is not necessary. The bundle looks like an especially good deal since it might be very difficult to find all of the books at the library, and the CD features some songs you are unlikely to find elsewhere. Buying the guide, the bundle of books, and the CD separately from Pearson costs $60 more than the bundle price, and buying the books individually would likely cost even more.
OWLAH introduces basic academic skills as well as personal and social skills. Hands-on activities, real books, songs and rhymes provide a true multi-sensory learning program appropriate for preschoolers. It introduces reading and math concepts, but not at an intensive level. In the weekly activities described below, it teaches recognition of lower and upper case letters. It teaches the names of the letters by using alphabet puzzles, movable letters to create the child's name, and a “letter-matching” poster within the activities. Sounds of many of the letters are introduced within the scripts for the lessons, and it even introduces the concept of blending.
The children's books are incorporated into the lessons in one way or another. Some books blur the lines between fiction and non-fiction. For example, Rabbit and Raindrops is a very simple story of a mother rabbit and her babies. They meet grasshoppers, spiders, and bees, and then they experience rain. They hide out under a hedge to keep dry where they are joined by a butterfly and a hummingbird. The gorgeous illustrations and brief text teach about rabbits and nature in a gentle storybook fashion. Fictional books are tied in with lesson themes. Oonga Boonga is a delightful story about a baby who won't stop crying, and it ties in with the lesson activities about baby care. The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza borrows from the original story of The Little Red Hen, although it changes the moral of the story. The pizza dough activity ties in with that story. The bundle includes a number of books by Ezra Jack Keats as well as the beloved story of Corduroy plus many others.
The program might be appropriate for a three-year-old child or a four-year-old child depending upon what they have learned thus far. Some preschoolers already know the sounds of the letters. If you have a preschooler ready for more intensive reading instruction, you will need another resource for that. However, OWLAH is a gentle, age-appropriate introduction to reading skills just as it is.
Lessons are arranged into three, four-week units. You can easily spread these out for much longer. Each unit begins with an overview, a list of the skills taught and concepts to be learned. There are pictures of the books and CD to be used with that unit, and a list of other theme-related books. At the end of each unit you will find two pages for “Extending the Unit” that provide specific suggestions for creating lessons for optional weeks 5 and 6. Sometimes these optional lessons use books from the list of theme-related books, and choosing other books from that list will help you extend lessons even further.
Each unit concludes with a “Progress Monitoring Record” suitable for one child. If you have more than one preschooler, you might want to make copies to create records for each one.
Each unit is broken down into weeks, and then into daily lessons. Each week begins with about six pages of activities and ideas that might be used on various days of the weeks—often an activity will be used more than once. Some activities described for the first week are referenced in subsequent weeks. These activities run across the curriculum. Some examples: stringing beads, working with puzzles, working with plastic dinosaurs as counters for beginning math concepts, working with play money coins, playing house with appropriate props, sorting buttons, drawing in blank books, playing with sand and water, making pinwheels, making paper collages, and painting with primary colors. The activities take quite a bit of work to prepare. There are lots of resources to gather and prepare. In fact, I think that some parents will be overwhelmed by the number of activities and the work to prepare them. In that case, just select fewer activities. Keep in mind that these were originally created with a preschool classroom in mind, and you might find simple substitutes. For example, you might find that you can involve your child in your own cooking activities in the kitchen rather than recreating a play kitchen. This and other “real life” substitutions can save you time and energy.
Daily lessons list a number of songs, rhymes, poems, and chants, many with finger and body motions. Forty-nine songs and poems such as “If You’re Happy,” “ Mary Had a Little Lamb,” Ten Little Fingers,” and “Three Little Monkeys” are on the CD that comes with the bundle. Some of these will be familiar and some not. The lesson plans tell what motions to use, and how to present each one. You will be using a few of these each day.
There is also a story time each day. Most storybooks are read more than once. Lessons include introduction of vocabulary words drawn from stories and activities along with introductory phonic and literacy skills. Daily lessons might also include a game, a science or math activity, and discussion of social skills.
Along with introductory math and language arts, children learn about such diverse topics as getting along with friends, helping with babies, emotions, supermarkets, grocery shopping, food groups, music making with simple instruments, party invitations, piñatas, thermometers, insulation, evaporation, and animal habitats.
Opening the World of Learning at Home is a parent-intensive program. It requires lots of preparation time as well as presentation time—very similar to a high-quality preschool program in a classroom setting. Nevertheless, parents who have the time and energy should appreciate the comprehensive lessons with detailed instructions, including the integration of some great children's books.