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Literacy Learning in Early Childhood

Literacy Learning in Early Childhood “I know that Miss B” said one of our students while pointing to a single letter. “It’s my name….”

It’s a sentence I have heard many times over the years as an early childhood and early year’s school teacher here in Australia. One indication that the young child is showing interest in literacy learning. However this is not the beginning because “literacy is the ability to read, view, write, design, speak and listen in a way that allows us to communicate effectively and to make sense of the world.”*

You see as adults we often think of literacy solely as learning the letters of the alphabet, learning their most common sound and then putting these together to make words. Yes, this is one component however prior to this children are learning other vital skills. Similar to most children crawling before they walk, these skills are required before writing. Speech, vocabulary, word use in role play and concepts of print are the necessary skills in the early childhood years prior to and in the first year of formal schooling.

How can parents/carers promote and work on early literacy? By engaging in some of the following with your preschool aged (approx. 4 year old) child.

Speech (by age 4 or 4.5 years of age)

– Can your child pronounce the sounds in words? Do they have trouble saying some letters? (Children acquire the ability to pronounce different sounds at varying ages. For example ‘th’ is usually mastered between the ages of 6-8 and children at this younger age often substitute w for v (e.g. wabbit), b for v and f for s or d. Please see a speech pathologist for age appropriate expectations

– Is your child using sentences or key words only?

– Do you have any concerns for their speech? If so it may be worth seeing a speech pathologist.

– Are they engaging in conversation with yourself or others?

Threading and saying the letter- Great Fine Motor and Speech Activities

Vocabulary (by 4 or 4.5 y.o)

– Use large words with your child or synonyms – don’t shy away from these. E.g. chemist instead of medicine place or larger words such as ‘expectation’, ‘anticipate’, ‘forgiveness’.

– Use these words in the correct context and in sentences

– Introduce children to new concepts/ more abstract ideas and relate these to real life examples in role play. Alternatively you can discuss these together when they are seen in real life examples (kindness, perseverance etc.)

– Ask children open ended questions and questions that get them to think (e.g. why did the rock sink and not the feather?). This is a wonderful opportunity to work on comprehension and to discover their own unique thoughts and beliefs. It also provides some funny answers at times as well.

Creating a play dough drawing using new words relating to the needs of people to survive. Drawing here by a 5 year old child.

Word use in role play (all ages)

– Set up and area in your home for roll play. This often includes an area that looks like a home with the Target/Kmart bought kitchen sets. These are fantastic for young children however as your child moves into Kindergarten and prep at school, varying this up is very helpful. For example, a doctors surgery, vet, hospital, dentist, pet shop, supermarket, lolly shop, space station, mechanic etc. The website: www.sparklebox.com provides a wonderful array of free posters and pictures you can print and add to create different areas.

– Get involved in your child’s play and use large words. Introduce words relating to each area (e.g. astronaut, stethoscope, anaesthetic, hub cap, ratchet gun etc.

– Invite other friend’s children over to join in with your child

– Create the area with your child so they feel some ownership

– Role play with your child what happens when you visit the dentist (also a great way to introduce the dentist before your child’s first visit).

– Create signs with your child (e.g. when creating a doctor’s surgery ask your child to name the place and have them watch you writing the poster and then allow them to draw the picture. This shared experiences gives children an opportunity to see that writing has meaning.

Concepts of print

If there is one thing I advise parents/carers in the early years it’s to read, read, read with your child. You can never read too much. This teaches your child there is value in literacy learning and that it is meaningful. To extend this further you can also introduce and work on these skills. (Approx. age 4-6)

– How to hold a book

– Correct way up of the book

– How to turn the page independently with fingers rather than the whole hand

– Knowing which part of the page we are reading (the words not pictures however pictures help)

– Learning that writing goes from left to right

– The parts of a book (front cover, back cover, spine)

– What is an author/illustrator?

– What do you think the story is about (before the story by looking at the front cover and asking why)

– What happened in the story (working on memory/recall)

Letters of the alphabet (Usually prep and older)

And lastly we come to learning the alphabet. This step I write cautiously and ONLY if your child is showing an interest in letters (sometimes this doesn’t take place until 5-6 years of age). One of the saddest things I have repeatedly seen has been children who were pushed to learn the letters of the alphabet too early; when they were not developmentally ready or had the maturity. This then led to a Storytelling with Felt Boards strong and adverse dislike of school and alphabet learning in the formal education years due to early exposure. Before letter learning please work on the following:

– Fine motor skill practice – children can begin this as early as desired. Fine motor skill practice is essential as it builds muscle, strength and coordination in your child’s hands prior to writing. It is also a wonderful way to observe your child’s choice of dominant/preferred writing hand.

While engaging in fine motor activities gradually use smaller objects as their fingers gains more dexterity. See fine motor activities/finger gym etc. on Pinterest and google. There are thousands of ideas with everyday house hold items.

– Work on upper body gross motor movement- build up the strength of your child’s upper arms. E.g. lifting heavier objects, drawing on vertical surfaces rather than horizontal (remember the paining easels we used in preschool?)- At home you can buy liquid chalk pens and allow your child to draw on a window (these wash off). Alternatively with an old table you don’t mind drawing on- sticky tape some paper underneath the table and allow your child to lie down and draw on it. This greatly works the upper arm strength.

– Engage in alphabet letter learning however ALWAYS IN A FUN PLAY BASED MANNER. Forget the flash cards and writing letters! There will be enough time when your child goes to school. Young children need engaging activities and from experience they are more likely to remember content when engaged and having fun. The more hands on activities the better and while doing this it also increases your child’s ability to focus, concentrate and persevere.

So there you have it. Different components that make up learning in the early years. Above all else laugh and enjoy as your child dives into the world of literacy learning. Written by Miss B June 2018. *From ‘Literacy and Numeracy Factsheet’ by the Department of Education and Training. Working arm strength with shaving cream

Author: Theresa B B

Theresa B B

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