I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how children develop literacy skills. As a society, we put so much emphasis on it. And it IS important. I’m a big fan of giving children lots of opportunities to learn about reading and writing through play and meaningful situations, writing lists together (for example, a shopping list), reading a recipe to cook cupcakes, noticing and talking about letters and words in our surroundings (for example, entry and exit signs on doors), and sharing books together. Lots of books. Every day!
What recognizing letters means to kids
Becoming literate goes hand-in-hand with developing a positive self-image and self esteem. There’s such excitement when a child realizes that the beginning letter that’s in his or her name is in other words as well.
Hey! My name starts with an M…and it’s in that word too!
This makes children feel powerful, and they become more and more interested in those mysterious squiggly lines and shapes – those letters that keep popping up everywhere, from road signs to restaurants.
Teach the sounds letters make!
As adults, we can support this blossoming interest in literacy and letters. It really is easy to give kids some basic tools to ‘unlock’ the code of reading and writing. But, often we make it so hard for them. We tell them the names of the letters. Or, we teach them the alphabet song. Yes, it’s a catchy song that we all know, and it’s sort of impressive that they can recite all of those letters. But it doesn’t really give children any information they can use to help them on the road to being literate.
If we want to support literacy development in an authentic way, why not teach children the sounds the letters make? Rather than telling children it’s an ‘a’, we can explain that it makes an ‘ah’ sound. I think that reading and writing is similar to building with Lego.
Once you know how all of the pieces join together, you can build a house, a ship, or just about anything. The same goes for letter sounds. If a child knows the sounds c-a-t, (rather than just the letter names) then they can blend these sounds together and read or write the word themselves.
Play activities for developing literacy skills
I’m certainly not saying sit down with your child and teach them all of the letter sounds, or drill them. But, grab those ‘teachable moments‘ during play time, and when you’re out together during the day, and make the most of them. There are lots of fun play activities that can be used to develop literacy skills. Lavender and glitter sensory salt is a lovely, calming activity where your child can experiment with mark and pattern making.
For a less messy activity, try Lipa Mole, where your child can help the little mole dig tunnels in the shapes of different letters (and you can talk about the sound each one makes). Or, head to the park and play a game of sound jump.
This article was written by Wenone Hope (Blue Mountains, Australia).
Wenone was born and raised in the farming region of Wagga Wagga, Australia. She now finds herself teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) in the Czech Republic. A teacher for 12 years, she has a background in Early Childhood Education and has also done postgraduate studies in Special Education and Early Intervention. Wenone is an Early Childhood Consultant at Lipa Learning, and has also been a Preschool Educational Leader in the Blue Mountains and a Primary School Educational Director in Canberra, Australia. She’s an advocate for inclusive education, where diversity in the classroom (and life!) is celebrated. When she’s not in the classroom, she’s out in nature, playing rollerderby, travelling, or enjoying a good book.