School success builds on foundation of early literacy skills

March 27, 2014 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary

“Dis is cumbersome,” our son said to no one in particular as he sauntered through the living room carrying a toy.

My husband stopped in his tracks, surprised by what had come from the boy’s mouth. It was a fairly sophisticated word for a – barely – 3-year-old.

“It’s cumbersome? What does cumbersome mean?” my husband asked.

“Bulky, heavy, hard to handle,” was the reply (though it sounded more like “bowky, heavy, hawd to handew”). He had learned the word and definition while watching the PBS show “Word Girl.”

The story, which still makes us chuckle six years later, illustrates an important point: Young children are sponges, able to absorb reams of information. By presenting language in an engaging manner, we can help our children develop literacy skills that serve them long after “Word Girl” has disappeared from their list of must-see TV.

Research shows that children who build foundational skills in language and literacy – alphabet knowledge, awareness of phonics, print knowledge and vocabulary – in the preschool years enter kindergarten ready to read and write.

Educators agree that reading and writing on a regular basis can lead to school success for every age child and in every content area. While preschoolers might be too young to write for themselves, you can still share the connection between words and ideas to promote literacy by writing for them.

And, by introducing children to different kinds of text through reading, parents can help them increase vocabulary development and become familiar with different styles of writing.

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

Have your child draw a picture then tell you a story about it. You can write down the story as your child tells it to you then read it back to her. This helps children make a connection between spoken and written words.

Encourage your child to “write” his own story – even if it is invented spelling or scribbles on paper. Have him “read” it back to you, and share it with other family members.

Play rhyming games. Rhyming games help children learn to play with words and language. Rhyme everything, no matter how silly: bright light, orange porange, round hound.

Build coordination and small muscles used for writing by letting your child cut, paste, draw, paint, thread beads on a string, roll play-dough, use a computer keyboard, play a drum or spread cream cheese on a cracker. Strengthening these muscles makes it easier for a child to hold a pencil.

Build conversation skills. A child’s language skills are directly related to the amount of conversation he/she is involved in. Talk with your child. Ask what she thinks about everything, from the taste of breakfast cereal in the morning to the softness of her blue blanket at night.

Look through a book or magazine for words that begin with the first letter of your child’s name. Just getting starting on the alphabet? Use a “see, hear, say” approach: Point to a letter, say it out loud, and have your child repeat it to reinforce learning.

Read different types of texts: Mother Goose rhymes, story books about real people, picture books with fun stories, fantasy stories, or a book about dinosaurs. Sharing different types of literature exposes children to new ideas and a wider range of vocabulary.

Finally, make it fun! Forcing your child to read or write the alphabet is not going to help him or her fall in love with learning. According to Preschool Learning Foundations, a 2008 publication by the California Education Department, “An assumption underlying the language and literacy foundations is that children should experience the kinds of interactions, relationships, activities, and play that research has shown to support successful learning and development.”

Engaging in fun learning activities can help your child develop habits to bolster future learning. Putting pressure on a child – “You need to know this! Common Core is coming! Standardized state tests are five years away!” – may tamp down their inquisitive nature. And learning should never be cumbersome.


Karen Nerney has been a communications specialist with the Capital Region BOCES Communications Service since 2011. She is mom to two daughters, ages 18 and 16, and a 9-year-old son, who all indulge her fondness for word games.

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