A child’s literacy journey begins at birth. Babies and toddlers see and interact with printed words in their everyday lives – in books, at the grocery store, on street signs and more. They hear sounds they will eventually learn can be used in communicating with others to express thoughts, feelings and ideas.
As they grow, children begin to have fun with sounds and words. They start to recognize letters of the alphabet, become aware of rhyming and scribble with crayons. Little by little, children put together their experiences speaking and listening with what they learn about the printed word as they get ready to learn to read and write.
It’s a time period that’s referred to as emergent literacy – a term used to explain a child’s knowledge of reading and writing skills before they actually learn how to read and write words. It’s based on the belief that, in a literate society such as ours, children as young as one and two years old are in the process of becoming literate.
Adults and caregivers can encourage children on their journey by taking simple steps during daily activities. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association offers the following suggestions:
- Talk to your child and name objects, people, and events in the everyday environment.
- Repeat your child’s strings of sounds (e.g., “dadadada, bababa”) and add to them.
- Talk to your child during daily routine activities such as bath or mealtime and respond to his or her questions.
- Draw your child’s attention to print in everyday settings such as traffic signs, store logos, and food containers.
- Introduce new vocabulary words during holidays and special activities such as outings to the zoo, the park, and so on.
- Engage your child in singing, rhyming games, and nursery rhymes.
- Read picture and story books that focus on sounds, rhymes, and alliteration (words that start with the same sound, as found in Dr. Seuss books).
- Reread your child’s favorite book(s).
- Focus your child’s attention on books by pointing to words and pictures as you read.
- Provide a variety of materials to encourage drawing and scribbling (e.g., crayons, paper, markers, finger paints).
- Encourage your child to describe or tell a story about his/her drawing and write down the words.
Making language fun and incorporating learning into everyday routines helps children experience education as fun, not work.
- Zero to Three offers ideas for Early Literacy.
- PBS.com shares insight on How to Create a Literate Home
- Pinterest features a bundle of ideas for Preschool Literacy Activities
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