What is Early Literacy?
In my many years of being an early childhood and adult educator, I have believed that early literacy is a social and cultural process. It does not evolve naturally in isolation and in independence but is shaped by social processes. In preschool, children are helped to make meaning and comprehend their world. Their experiences provide a foundation of language and literacy development that will continue throughout the grades. When planning for early literacy development, oracy is one of the commonly forgotten aspects. Oral language serves as a bridge to fluency in reading and writing, thinking and learning. Oracy and literacy go hand in hand in the communication process with all human beings.
Why is it important?
Since oral language is the foundation of early literacy development, it is the gateway to transit from orality to literacy. In my opinion, reading aloud to children is the key factor to enhance early literacy skills. Not only will it develop children as better readers, but it will also develop them as better thinkers and better human beings.
Besides reading aloud, daily conversation in the classroom with students is the root of early literacy. When we have quality talk, it supports memory and enhances understanding. The kind of talk children engage in supports risk taking, and promotes comprehension, and ultimately strengthens a healthy inclusive learning community.
There are four kinds of talk – narrative talk, talk for explaining and seeking information, oral performances and giving and understanding directions – each kind of talk has a significant role to play in early literacy. Taken together, they support the cognitive, emotional, and creative aspects of a child’s growth.
Common Myths Surrounding Early Literacy Development
Myth 1: Early Literacy = Phonics
One of the most common myths around early literacy is to equate it to the teaching of phonics. Parents often enroll their young children into ‘programmes’ in the hopes of a head start in reading and writing. But trying to teach a child to read conventionally through basal books without first cultivating phonological awareness remains fruitless. Adults often forget that children learn through play, talk and reading aloud.
Myth 2: Drawing is not Writing
Another myth is that drawing is not writing. Children are born with an innate ability to write. They write the moment they can make a mark. The love to make marks on walls, doors, pavements, newspapers with any writing tools. When they make a mark, they are trying to say, “I am a writer”. Many adults tend to ignore children’s desire to express their stories through these marks. We devalue their writing because of our lack of understanding of the writing process. Adults love to be in control all the time. We tend to take the control away from the child which then leads to placing unnecessary roadblocks in their writing journey. It is the adult’s job to harness children’s desire to write.
5 Tips to Promote Early Literacy
Tip 1: Read, Read and Read
Reading aloud involves not just reading and listening, but also looking, thinking and talking as books are being shared with children. Children and teachers make meaning together from reading aloud. Children need rich and varied exposure to books and words and positive experiences with books and reading that set them on a course to become life-long readers.
Tip 2: Time, Choice and Talk
Time is essential for children to pursue their meaning-making process. We need to trust them as readers and writers and celebrate their early literacy journey. Choices to read, write and speak promote student agency. When we are thinking about choice and motivating young readers, it is useful to have a treasure chest of books that they can dig into. Having meaningful conversation (talk) about book choices further enhances their motivation to read and write.
Tip 3: Making Literacy Real
To further enhance early literacy development, we must always make literacy real. We should tap into their existing knowledge and experience so that we can support their learning. One way in which we can make literacy learning real and relevant for individuals is by choosing reading books that are relevant to their interests. This could be by providing access to non-fiction text that reflects aspects of children’s lives.
Tip 4: Oral Storytelling
Narratives are central to early learning and thinking and young children live in a world of stories. Narratives play a significant role in helping children to shape, experience and make meaning and when children engage in storytelling, they develop multiple language and literacy competencies.
Storytelling helps children to gain a sense of sequence of events, a sense of place and time and develops their knowledge of the words that hold all these together. By listening to a wide range of stories, such as fairy tales, folk tales with distinct structures and patterns, children are developing their ability to anticipate and predict.
Tip 5: The Wonders of Picture Books
Picture books can be complex and may present stories, poems and information in a number of ways, all of which can be used to support children in their early literacy development. For early readers, if words and pictures are aligned closely, this can support children with their comprehension as they look for clues in both the words and images. It is our responsibility to ensure that we know every child and his/her reading identity and preferences. In this way, we can utilise the power of picture books in the most effective way.
Top 5 Picks for Early Literacy Promotion