Supporting literacy development in young children supporting literacy development in young children

Supporting Literacy Development in Young Children

One afternoon I was in the toddler room as a relief educator covering lunch breaks. One of the children was not sleeping; instead he came to me and said, “I do not want to sleep.”  I replied, “That’s OK. How about you read a book?”, and the child agreed. As other children in the room were asleep, I found a place to sit with the child and read to him while ensuring other children were in my sight.  I asked the child to pick a book of his choice from the book basket. I was quite surprised when the child sat down with the book and started reading by himself. The child was around 2 years 8 months old. I thought the child could read because he must have read the book many times and has memorised it. I gave the child another book, this time a book of my choice. The child could read that book just as well, except for a few words. I was very impressed and investigated in to it. I discovered that the child’s parents love reading and that they began reading to the child from when the child was three months old. I believed that the parents played a very important role in supporting the child’s language and literacy development. Thus, let us dig more in to how language and literacy are linked and how they are different.

What is language?

Language is the social tool that allows human beings to interact with each other. Without language, it would be almost impossible to convey our feelings and emotions. When we talk about a particular language, we are mostly concerned about the spoken part of the language. If you say you know English, the general assumption is that you are able to speak and understand the language well.

Language is the gift of social interaction, and a child learns to speak words in a language only because he hears them from his parents and others around them. By the time a child is old enough to go to a school, he is able to speak properly in his/her mother tongue. Language teaches how to talk and communicate orally with others.

Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.❞-Oliver Wendell Holmes

What is literacy?

A language is not limited to being spoken, but it is extremely important to be able to read, write and comprehend the information in that language. Literacy is a complex process that starts at birth, and includes a child’s learning in four basic areas: language, listening, writing, and reading—all at the same time! Thus, a person who is able to talk in a language but cannot read the alphabet and also cannot write in that language is called illiterate in that language. It is only after becoming literate that a child can hope to learn other subjects such as science and math. So literacy is very important for later success in the school.

Literacy is not something we simply teach, and it’s not something a child starts to learn when he or she enters school. It’s a complex process that starts at birth. So the role of adults around a child is crucial to language and literacy development of a child.

“Literacy is…..the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realise his or her full potential”- Kofi Annan 

What Parents Can Do to Encourage Literacy Development

  • Read to your child every day.
  • Have books, magazines, newspapers, manuals, maps, recipe books, atlases, children’s books, etc., in prominent places in the home so children can access them anytime they wish to read.
  • Take your child to the library or create a library at home.
  • Read books, magazines, newspapers, directions on how to use things, yellow pages, cook- books, messages from school, etc., in the presence of your child. Make the sounds of animals or other objects in the book – have fun!
  • Model writing by creating shopping lists, directions, lists of chores around the home, telephone numbers to remember, letters to relatives, and reminders to other members in the house.
  • Verbally explore ideas and possibilities. Some examples include: “Have you ever thought…?” “What do you think would happen if..?” “Can you figure out why..?” “Let’s look at possible solutions.”
  • Use photography. Children learn very easily through pictures. Capitalize on this by taking pictures of trips in the neighbourhood, family outings, and ceremonies. After the pictures are developed, help your child create a book of them, and then help describe the pictures or write captions at the bottom of what they represent.
  • Encourage children to create art projects by using a variety of materials—pens, crayons, chalk, paint, large pieces of paper, cookie cutters, stencils, printing pads and stamps etc.
  • Repeat mispronounced words with the correct pronunciation. For example, if your child says ‘pasghetti’, you can say, ‘Yes, we’re having spaghetti for dinner’.
  • Talk with your child about the everyday things you’re doing and seeing together. For example, ‘Let’s get the washing now’, ‘Look at the red bird’ or ‘Yum, what a nice lunch we’re having’.

Ideas to Use in the Early Childhood Program

  • Create a writing centre. In it include different kinds and colours of paper, different sizes of envelopes, pens, pencils, letter stencils, circle stencils and blank greeting cards. Attach to the walls examples of different print fonts (maybe from a print shop), large calendars, and a bunch of environmental prints (traffic signs, posters, book covers, etc.).
  • Create a nurturing, relaxed place for reading. Provide a variety of books for children to explore.
  • Print children’s name and have them available for children so they can learn to recognise their name and use as a guide to practice writing their name by looking at the sample.
  • Label the play areas such as which resources go where and what each area is called.
  • Develop a listening centre. Provide an area where children can listen to audio story books.
  • Provide all sorts of props for dramatic play. Extend literacy activities by placing menus and order forms in the restaurant, phone books, message pads, and clipboards in the office, and shopping lists in the housekeeping area.
  • Make picture books of events at the service and let children describe the events.
  • Display alphabets in the literacy / writing area.
  • Take time to teach children sounds of alphabets.
  • Everyday spend some time, especially with 4-5 year olds, and teach them to write the letters of the alphabet and numbers. Based on children’s abilities, teach them to make words by connecting alphabets.
  • Take time to teach children sounds of alphabets.
  • Provide different sensory materials such as sand trays, playdough to practice writing, making letters, names words, etc.
  • Model appropriate language.
  • Try to understand children’s clues and verbalise the clues.
  • Encourage second language learning. Especially at the preschool level, second language acquisition is not only easiest at this age, but some research suggests that a second language enhances the development of a child’s first language.

“You are never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child”- Dr. Seuss

– Sonia Arora
Training Consultant for Early Childhood Education and Care