What is Early Literacy?
Believe it or not, at three years of age, it can be determined if a child is going to have difficulty reading when they reach primary school. This is because spoken language is the solid foundation on which literacy is built.
This is why, as Speech Pathologists, we encourage parents to talk to their children. Even at toddler age, talking to your child helps them develop early literacy skills. To understand why we must look how the brain works ...
Early Literacy in the brain
For children, there is a “window of opportunity” for language development, roughly from ages 0-6 years. This is because in the first few years of life our brains are extremely busy. Babies are born with neurons and spend the following years forming connections between them, especially in the language-specific areas of the brain. The connections made are triggered by their experiences. In extreme cases where children have been neglected, and have had not been exposed to language, they were unable to develop the ability to speak. This time limit highlights the need for early intervention from Speech Pathologists and other health professionals.
What are the norms for literacy development?
Children can typically read around 5-7 years of age. The development of reading skills looks something like this:
1. Shows reading behaviours such as holding a book and turning the pages. The child may draw conclusions about what the pictures mean in the book
2. Recognises their own name in text
3. Understands the sounds that some letters make
4. Names the letters of the alphabet
5. Can point to a written word after hearing it
6. Can read different fonts
7. Uses letter-sound knowledge to read new words
8. Recognises “sight words”: when you see a word and have memorised it visually. For example, the word the is a common sight word. We do not have to sound out “th” and “e” to read the word
How to provide a supportive environment for literacy
• Be talkative:
children of talkative mothers have been shown to develop significantly larger vocabularies. Think about when you are trying to learn a new word, and how hearing it multiple times can help.
• Regular reading time:
not only does this increase a child’s vocabulary, it also teaches them to tune into the patterns of language. For example, a toddler named Katie was having difficulty naming colours.Often Katie would confuse green and orange and was becoming frustrated when she was not given the green toy she requested. Katie’s mother started reading her My Many Coloured Days by Dr. Suess, every night before bed. Soon Katie would turn the pages and knew what was coming up in the story. After days of repetition, Katie was able to point to the correct colours. After a few more days, Katie was able to say the right colours to be given the toy she wanted.
• Nursery rhymes:
This helps your child tune into the sounds in words.
• Drawing and colouring:
These activities, such as finger painting and using playdoh, help children learn skills they will use when they learn to write.
Where can I get more information?
For strategies on how to help your child please see our blog
• For more on the stages of literacy development see First Years
• For more on how to help your child develop reading skills see Early Math Matters: A Guide to Parents
• Reading Rockets: Tips for Parents