“The knowledge that forms the foundation for reading and writing is built throughout early childhood through play, language, and literary experiences.” -Fountas and Pinnell in their book Literacy Beginnings
As I give tours to prospective parents here at Aldersgate, I’m often questioned about how we teach reading and writing. It’s an important question and one that should always be addressed. But, it’s also difficult to answer well in a short conversation. Quite often when I talk about our curriculum objectives, I hear parents concerned because their child already knows their ABC’s, “Shouldn’t she be learning to read and write next?” It’s another good, valid question. But, it’s also so important to note that there is so much more that goes into literacy than just identifying letters: we first need to build that foundation.
While doing worksheets, flashcards, and workbooks would possibly sound good to some, it is far from appropriate or effective in teaching early childhood. Our emergent and early literacy teaching strategies are the most effective but not always as visible to those who are not trained in education.
Research has shown that the most important factor in predicting reading success is phonemic awareness. It’s a good skill to be able to identify the letter “B” but it’s an even better skill to know that “b-b-bone” begins with the letter “B.” For circle time, sometimes children will find an object sitting on their spot. They take turns deciding what beginning sound their object makes, and adding it to the bucket.
Print concept is another important part of early literacy. Some of your child’s first words may have been “McDonalds” or “Target.” They begin to see that letters combine to make up words and that words can be combined to create sentences and stories. We also read to them books that are rich in good vocabulary. We ask questions, “can you sound out this word?” They sometimes read with us when we are reading books with predictable text and rhyming.
Some of the preschoolers’ first words that they read and recognize are names. We use name cards when we assign jobs and when we divide into small groups. We rhyme with names, count letters, sound them out, compare them, and so much more! “This person’s name rhymes with stair.” or “This person’s name has 4 letters. The first letter is an F.”
Oral language skills are also very important in literacy. When children are sharing their thoughts aloud, they are using vocabulary, practicing their dialogue, learning to be expressive, and so much more. We do this all the time at preschool. When we have the Mystery Bag, we have to come up with 3 clues that describe our mystery item. Our parents dictate our words down and our teachers help us read them. We share with the class and all of this is great practice for our emerging reading and writing skills.
When we write, we are practicing early literacy. Even if your toddler is drawing lines, he/she is beginning to practice writing. The basis of forming letters is lines, diagonals, and circles. Whether you’re using crayons, sidewalk chalk, or even your fingers in shaving cream, you are practicing early literacy.
So, while those flashcards, workbooks, and “teach your child to read” television programs seem great, they are not effective. Children learn best through hands-on activities, through music, through play. Some children do learn to read words through worksheets or TV but studies show that they miss that strong foundation. Studies have shown that children who attended preschools where curriculums were focused on worksheets may begin kindergarten as readers and writers but years down the road, when assessed in 4th grade, they were either equal to their peers academically or actually even behind. When a child’s educational foundation is rich in developmentally appropriate curriculum, when they learn through play, when their environments are rich in literature and inspire learning, they have a far better chance of being successful readers and writers.
For ideas of things that you can do at home, check out this post here.