“The best way to predict your future is to create it.” -Abraham Lincoln

We all know how important it is for children to be literate. The literacy skills related to reading and writing are essential for future success in school. Of course, every parent worries if her child will learn how to read and write.  That might lead to thinking that these specific, finite skills need to taught and even pushed as early as possible. Interestingly, studies show that young children all develop these skills in their own time. Some children will learn to read early and others will not. Some children love to write and others do not. Studies show that when we push children to read and write too early we turn them off to the very thing we want them to love! We all want children to love to read and write. We want them to see how useful and fun it is to read and write. At the same time, research shows that even if young children learn to read by 3 or 4 years of age that does not predict that they will be ahead of other children later in their school. In fact, by year 3 or 4 these skills even out to the same level…no matter when children started. Plus if we push children to hold a pencil or crayon too early we can cause problems in their motor development. So how do we support our children in becoming literate?

What Makes Someone Literate?

It is helpful to look at the plethora of literacy skills that create a literate person. Ask yourself, Whom do you know that you consider very literate? What makes that person a literate person? Are they just good readers and writers or this there something more to being literate? Literate people often speak well, discuss and share ideas and express feelings and opinions easily. They know how to “play” with words, sounds and ideas. Literate people are thinkers. When you discuss a topic with them they predict, hypothesize, make deductions, and brainstorm. They question things and form their own opinions. Literate people know how to use writing as a major tool of communication and understand the writing is both purposeful and fun. If you look at these skills you see that they go far beyond simply being able to read and write! Our goal is to teach children not to just read and write but to be literate individuals.

Remember, Reading and Writing Are Communication Skills

The road to reading has many paths and destinations but they all lead to great readers and writers. Remember, reading and writing are communication skills. And, what better place to play with communicating in different ways than the Kinderpillar classroom? Here you have the time and place for children to play with the skills of learning how to talk in front of a group, to share an idea or opinion, to make up a silly word or rhyme or to take a risk to sharing their own ideas and even writing.

Let’s Talk

Literacy development studies have emphasized the essential role of “talk” in every day life and the fun of language -its sounds, rhymes, and rhythms as well as its meaning. The first step in Literacy skill development is the ability to talk. Children have to be able to feel comfortable talking before they can read and write. Young children can only make sense of reading in terms of the meaning and language they have already internalized, and this they do mostly by engaging with others. All things we do everyday in the Kinderpillar classroom!

Parents Can Build Literacy Skills At Home

Instead making your child practice reading and writing letters at home, there are many wonderful (and FUN) things you can do together that can build essential literacy skills. These will help your child become a well-rounded learner and thinker.

Parents can:

  • Make reading an integral part of their child’s day.
  • Ask their child to retell a story in his own words.
  • Write down the stories children tell about their drawings.
  • Provide paper and markers for child to draw and “write” her own stories.
  • Recognize that their child’s drawings and scribbles are important steps to writing.
  • Show their child all forms of print by reading signs, letter, menus, magazines and catalogs.
  • Keep file cards and markers available for taking their child’s dictation about everything from drawings to discussions!
  • Show child how to write his name on things but don’t expect it to be perfect. Make it fun, not a task!
  • Create homemade books together. For example: use a digital camera to take photos of a family event to use in a book.
  • Demonstrate and share in all forms of writing such as list making, message taking, and thank you cards.
  • Set up a writing area in the house (with paper, magazines, pens and crayons) where they child can go to draw/write spontaneously.
  • Provide a special place for their child’s own library
  • Introduce a book by discussing the cover illustration, title and author.
  • Invite child to “predict” what story is about based on cover illustration.
  • Ask child about character’s feelings and actions.
  • Invite their child to compare herself with the characters in the book by asking questions such as: “How are you and the character alike? How are you different? How would you have handled the situation in the story?”
    Read books which have an extended story sequence.
  • Invite child to talk about story sequence. What happened first, in the middle… how did it end?
  • Read and reread favorite stories to their child.
  • Celebrate how their child memorizes the story. An essential first step to reading!
  • Choose books with predictable rhyming phrases their child can join in saying.
  • Select wordless books that the child can “read” to his parent.
  • Choose non-fiction books that relate to the child’s world and interests.
  • Encourage child to point to words he recognizes.
  • Take trips to the library with a specific purpose such as looking for books that relate a child’s expressed interest.
  • Make silly mistakes such as holding the book upside down or starting to read from the back of the book.
  • Encourage their child to discuss what she like or didn’t like about a book.
  • Parents can use their fingers to follow the words as they read. This introduces their child to the connection between the spoken and written word and shows the flow of print across the page.
  • Invite child to point out letters he recognizes in the book.
  • Ask open-ended questions such as “What would happen if…”.
  • Parents can remember that ultimately reading is for enjoyment. While it is wonderful to ask questions and expand the story, it is important for book reading to be fun and not always a lesson.
  • Make mistakes by saying the wrong word or pointing to the wrong illustration.

What is Functional Print?

Reading and writing is not just about letter and stories. We are surrounded by letters and words in everything we do. It is important for children to understand that these words and letters are just as important as learning the alphabet. Functional print is any type of print or text that serves a function in everyday life. It is what people read most during a day and is often taken for granted…yet it is a vital means of communication. Children are interested in functional materials and so are motivated to read and write them. Here are some suggestions for highlighting functional print.

  • Post day-to-day business-type messages and notices on the refrigerator at home.
  • Make labels, titles, captions for objects, pictures and displays.
  • Add picture/word instructions for using household materials such as the toothbrush.
  • Ask children to help you create scrapbooks and journals.
  • Design a picture/word calendar for marking time, family birthdays, and special events.
  • Use children’s interest in new words to create picture/word dictionary cards to add to the home writing center.