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Learning Center Experience
What is Early
Many individuals associate the term “early
literacy” with skills developed for reading before a child can actually
read. Literacy, however, is not just about reading but also writing. Those skills
children develop early help them develop the necessary skills to read and
write. Many people do not realize that these skills begin to develop at birth.
Some would argue that a fetus could start to develop these skills before birth.
Regardless of the opinion, early literacy begins in those early experiences a
child has while interacting with his or her environment in specific ways. Without early literacy
skills, young children do not enter school ready to learn.
How to Develop Early
The best way to explain early writing experiences is through
an example from my experience. An occupational therapist visiting my
prekindergarten classroom was trying to help a young man with his writing
skills. His grip was weak and his impressions on his paper were barely
noticeable. I sat down with the adult and child with a container of Play-Doh. The
therapist’s expression was priceless. I explained to her that if the young
man’s muscles were not strong enough for writing that he would not be able to
write. Play-Doh is a fun vehicle through which a child can play while
developing the fine motor skills necessary to hold the pencil with a firm grip
for writing on paper. Therefore, children’s play activities— beginning with
trying to grasp a rattle through learning to scribble on paper—develop the skills
required for writing.
When young children begin to develop their more formal writing
skills they scribble on paper as they mimic the behaviors of the adults or
peers around them. This is considered a prewriting skill and is an important
first step. One way to encourage this is to have different types of writing
materials available in as many physical areas as possible, whether in a
classroom or in your home. Samples of
writing may include: different types of paper, crayons, pencils, markers,
stencils, brushes, finger-paints, shaving cream, watercolors, and paint.
There are many ways to help young children develop the
necessary skills for reading. One is speaking to children using the same words
we use with other adults. Often, adults speak to children with small words,
made up words, or short sentences. This type of “baby talk” does not help young
children build their vocabulary. Children need to hear and practice the words
for the many different objects in their environment. Vocabulary also expands by
reading a variety of books to young children. Take the time to look at the
pictures and point out the information the pictures are portraying.
Another way to develop
early literacy is to have many appropriate books available for young
children to explore on their own. Children should have the opportunity to play with
the books, pretend to read books, and have books available to them in many
different physical areas. Examples of good practices for making books available
to young children include: placing a book about building near a child’s box of
blocks; giving a child a cookbook while the child helps you prepare dinner; and
arranging books about brushing teeth in the bathroom.
More ways to develop early literacy skills as children learn
include motivation for print, awareness of print, developing narrative skills,
furthering knowledge of letters, and phonological awareness. The most important
part of developing
early literacy skills is to model the behaviors you would like to see in
the child. Grab a book, get comfortable on the couch, and read a book to a
Our young children are exposed to many different types of
electronics from an early age. It is questionable whether television,
computers, or other electronic devices promote early literacy skills in
children. While it is hard to deny the benefit to young children of watching
Sesame Street on television, could this be more harmful to the development of early
literacy skills? Children as young as
two years are more proficient at playing games on an iPad than most
adults. Is this something that increases
or decreases a child’s chances to develop early literacy skills? Think about
this: do these electronic devices have a conversation with the child?
Teaching Children to Read
Products that claim to have babies reading before they can
walk are purchased by parents who assume that these products will help their
child perform better than other children in school. Does this type of
programming of word recognition wire a young child’s brain differently than it
should be? Are flash cards and watching DVDs appropriate for children under the
age of two? Is it appropriate for
children under the age of four? These are questions I ask of you. Do you
believe these considerations develop early literacy skills better than a book
or a container of Play-Doh?
I would like to hear your comments.
Dr. Patti Pelletier
Educational Studies Academic Chair, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences
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