By Caitlin Kennedy
As a certified elementary teacher and literacy specialist, as well as a mom to two little ones, I think about literacy a lot. When I was working as a kindergarten teacher and then a reading teacher, it consumed my life. Now that I am a full time mom it is still just as important to me!
I would argue that reading, writing and speaking are the most important skills that a child can have to build a foundation for anything else in their academic life. There is proof that children who grow up in households that value and promote literacy are stronger readers and writers when they get to school and in the future.
Long before a child enters kindergarten, parents can promote literacy in various ways; and this doesn’t just mean reading books, which is also wonderful!
Here are 5 ways you can promote literacy in your home from birth:
Highlight the value of text and photos
From an early age, show your child the value and importance of all kinds of books. Treat books with care, place them in a special location, and teach your child how to hold a book. Provide your child opportunities to look at all kinds of text, in magazines, letters, on a computer, in owner’s manuals, etc. Show your child the value of photographs and encourage them to tell stories and learn sequencing with you. Literacy begins with speaking, and the more you talk to your child, the better.
Visit your local library
Not only does this promote literacy, but it also provides social interaction as well. As children get older, they enjoy being a part of their community. Attend events at your local library and visit often; look at the books, talk about the organization of the shelves, and let your child pick out a few each week to take home. Let them hand the librarian your card and make them feel important. Books allow you to enter different worlds, and the places books can take children are endless. Let children experience a love of reading for themselves by taking them to the library.
Give your child opportunities to write
In the first few years of life, children are just beginning to master fine motor skills, like holding a pencil or crayon. Give your child opportunities to practice first with spoons or other long utensils, and then give them the freedom to create with pencils, crayons, a paintbrush, or whatever you feel comfortable with! Make this a safe activity that you share together and don’t worry about the mess! Once a child realizes the possibilities that can come from a writing utensil, they will be more excited to write letters etc. when the time comes.
Young children love to tell stories. Literacy includes speaking, so you don’t need a book or script! Allow your child to express themselves through puppet shows, using their imagination to act out stories, and re-telling stories they have been read or have seen on TV. Use a variety of words to widen their vocabulary from a young age and promote more talking. The more confident that a child is, the more likely they are to use their creativity and participate when they get to school in the future.
Read and expose your child to letters.
This goes without saying. Read to your child every day. Don’t make it a chore; you don’t have to keep track of how often you read! If you are out and about, read street signs to them. Sing the alphabet, use letter magnets, and say letter sounds. Encourage your child to make connections to books they read. Re-read a favorite book over and over and take your time while reading to point out pictures and words. Memorization before a child can read is wonderful! My 19-month-old son can read the entire Brown Bear, Brown Bear book because he loves it so much. There are no rules when it comes to reading; just have fun!
Keep in mind the essential components of literacy as well:
- Phonemic Awareness – the knowledge and manipulation of sounds in spoken words.
Phonics – the relationship between written and spoken letters and sounds.
Fluency – the ability to read with accuracy, appropriate rate and expression.
Vocabulary – the knowledge of words and their definitions. Children have expressive and receptive vocabularies. Expressive is the words they can say on their own without just repeating, and receptive is the words that they understand when spoken to.
Comprehension – understanding the meaning of text.
Parents are a child’s first teachers and their first bridge to learning and literacy. Talk to them about how important literacy is, and always make it enjoyable for them. Give them the tools they need and the ability to choose books and activities that interest them. Literacy should be celebrated and shared every day!
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