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The Importance of
Early Literacy

Early Literacy...

We live in a literate world, in a society that values reading and writing (literacy).

early literacy

Consequently, a great deal of emphasis is placed on becoming competent in these areas.

Children begin to notice and respond to this literate world long before they begin the formal process of learning to read and write.

Their environment contains many examples of writing, from the signs in the supermarket and on the bus ticket and the bedtime story book.

Through their everyday experiences, children become familiar with the product of writing.

When they see someone take a telephone call or write a cheque, they become aware of the process of writing too.

These experiences have an impact; once children realise that writing carries meaning, they have taken their first step towards becoming literate.

Early Literacy: Learning To Read And Write

Learning to read and write is a long and complex process for most children. They will need to learn skills and rules and have plenty of practice to cosolidate them.

If children have already begun to enjoy books, then it is likely that this will spur them on and give them a reason to persevere.

By the age of 5, many children will have a slight vocabulary of a number of words. Most will recognise their own name; many will be able to write it.

Formal instruction in reading and writing will often begin in a pre-school environment alongside other, less formal, experiences and activities that contribute to the development of reading and writing skills.

These include activities that involve any or all of the following...

  • hand-eye co-ordination and fine motor skills - you need to control a pencil to write.
  • visual discrimination - it is important to be able to distinguish one word or letter from another.
  • sequencing - the order of the letters or words affects the meaning.
  • auditory discrimination - hearing the difference between sounds and combinations of sounds helps reading.
  • use of symbols - reading and writing are representational forms in which one thing - a combination of letters - stands for something else.

Also very important at this stage is using reading and writing as a meaningful part of play, for example, 'reading' the menu in the cafe, 'writing' a telephone message in the home corner.

Remember that reading and writing are essential tools for later learning. They are used and practiced in every area of the curriculum.

Early Literacy: Reading

There are basically two approaches used in the teaching of reading...

  • look and say
  • phonics

Look and say involves the recognition of whole words by their shape. Words and often written on flashcards and children will attempt to memorise them, often practising at home.

Children can then read simple stories comprised of words that they have learned. They recognise words from their shapes, from the look of them.

The shortcoming of this approach is that early readers will have no way of recognising words that they have not yet learned.

Phonics breaks down words into sounds and encourages the sounding out of words. Children are encouraged to pick out patterns in the sounds of words, noticing rhymes and rhythms.

The disadvantage with this method is that English is not phonically regular - a letter may make one sound and a completely different sound in another.

It is not very rewarding for the early reader to be limited to phonically regular words that can be sounded out. On the other hand, a knowledge of phonics will give children a good strategy for attempting unfamiliar words.

Early Literacy: Writing

Children begin writing by making marks. To adults this may appear to be meaningless scribble, but to the child it is a telephone message, a letter to Santa, their name etc.

During their early years in school, children need to learn the rules and conventions of writing. It becomes an important tool that they use to communicate with themselves and with the outside world.

The Conventions of Writing

  • Letter formation - Children need to know how to form letters correctly and consistently. This means where you start and where you finish and requires a great deal of practice. Children also learn to recognise the feel of a letter when they write it. Tracing it in the air and in sand helps to reinforce this.
  • Orientation - In English (and many other languages) this means writing and reading from left to right and from top to bottom. Biligual children may have experienced a written language, Urdu or Hebrew for example, that is oriented differently.
  • Spacing - Groups of letters go together to form words and spaces separate these words. Spacing words correctly needs practice.
  • Spelling - Children need to learn that there is a standard way of spelling words. However, excessive concentration on this at the very early stages will limit and inhibit children's writing.
  • Punctuation - This is a skill acquired later, but children notice punctuation early on in their reading and begin to introduce it into their writing. It also includes the appropriate use of upper and lower case letters.

Children's writing is not just about the technical skills listed above, it is about content too. Sometimes children become overwhelmed by these technical skills and this affects the content of their writing.

A child who is limited to the words that they can spell correctly or who is afraid to make a mistake will not become involved in or enjoy writing. It will become a task to be completed because an adult demands it.

A sensitive adult will watch the child's progress and introduce the need for correct spelling at the right stage, ensuring that child retains confidence in their writing abilities.

Early Literacy: How Can You Help?

  • Sit with children and help them form letters. Left-handed children may need extra help.
  • Be a good role model. Let children watch you making notes for your file, filling in a register, so they see that writing is a part of everyday life.
  • When you write for children, make sure that your writing is clear, legible and accurate. If children are going to copy your writing, make sure that it is large enough.
  • Talk to children about their writing, use it in displays. Let them know that you value it.
  • Present children with a variety of writing tasks, not just stories. Get them to make shopping lists, record experiments, write letters and invitations.
  • Show children that writing can be found in many different places. Collect examples - involve children in this - and make a display of comics, cereal boxes, bus tickets, labels, and so on.
  • Help children to present their writing in different ways, such as making books, using a word processor etc.

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