by Becky L. Spivey, M.Ed.
Early literacy is everything children should know about reading
and writing before they can actually read or write. Literacy skills
begin developing in the first 5 years of life with a toddler holding and
chewing on a book, to wanting a favorite book read over and over, to
becoming a preschooler or kindergartner who loves to “read” a story
to you from memory.
According to research performed by the National Reading Panel and other experts, young
children entering school with specific early literacy skills have the greatest opportunity to become
successful readers and writers. Early literacy skills include Vocabulary, Print Motivation, Print
Awareness, Narrative Skills, Letter Knowledge, and Phonological Awareness. These important
foundational skills are the building blocks for learning to read and write. Children having been
exposed to, or having most of these skills, will benefit more from the reading instruction they
receive when entering kindergarten than the child with fewer skills or no exposure at all.
Some parents think their child’s success in reading and writing depends on getting the
“right” first grade teacher, but his/her success really depends on how much he/she learns at
home about reading and writing before entering school. Early experiences with books and
language are most critical for future success in literacy. Parents must be responsible for providing
experiences at home that promote the following skills:
- Print Motivation — is taking an interest in and enjoying books. A child with print
motivation loves being read to, plays with books, and pretends to write. Trips to the
library are fun, motivational, and FREE! Exchange books with other parents with children
of your child’s age. Encourage print motivation in your child by making reading a special
shared time with you. Make books accessible to your child. Let your child see you enjoying
reading. Talk to your child about how we use reading and/or writing almost every minute
of the day.
- Vocabulary — (knowing the names of things) is the most important skill for children
to have when learning to read. By the time your child enters school, he/she should
know between 3,000-5,000 words. Help develop your child’s vocabulary by reading and
rereading a variety of books (fiction and nonfiction) and teaching the names of all the
objects in your child’s world.
- Print Awareness — is a child’s ability to point to the words on the page of a book. It
includes learning that writing (in English) follows rules: print moves top to bottom and
left to right, and that the person reading is someone that knows what all the letters and
words say. Point out and read words to your child everywhere you see them: on signs,
advertisements, labels, stores, candies, products, etc.
- Narrative Skills — help a child understand and tell a story and describe things, like what
happened at a birthday party or about a trip to Grandma’s. Parents can help strengthen
their child’s narrative skills by asking him/her to tell what is happening in a story or book,
instead of always listening to you read. Ask your child to tell you about things he/she has
done or will do that involve a regular sequence of steps: getting
ready for school, what your family did/will do on vacation, how
to play a particular game, etc.
- Letter Knowledge — is the ability to recognize and name
letters (upper and lower case) and produce the sounds they
make. Develop your child’s letter knowledge by using lots of
fun reading and/or writing activities: pointing out and naming
letters in a book, on a sign or on a label; drawing letters in sand or shaving cream;
painting letters on paper with brushes, etc. Talk about letters and how some are similar
in shape (l, H, F, E, and T or W, M, N, V). Teach the child how to write the letters in his/her
name (one letter at a time) when he/she begins using a crayon to draw or “write”. As your
child learns each letter, have him/her practice producing the sound the letter makes.
- Phonological Awareness — is an understanding of hearing and manipulating sounds in
words. Phonological awareness includes the ability to hear and create rhymes (bat, cat,
gnat, hat, mat, and sat), say words with sounds
left out (bat without b is at), and put
two word chunks together to make a word (fl + at = flat). Most often, children having
difficulty with phonological awareness have trouble learning to read. An understanding
of phonological awareness begins with a child’s exposure to and practice with the
previous five steps. Phonological awareness is one of the final steps in preparing children
for actual reading instruction that begins in kindergarten.