Reading to young children has long been promoted as a bonding opportunity and the basis for a lifelong love of print and words. The value of sharing books with even the very young, however, is much broader than creating strong reading skills. Jacqueline Kennedy once said, “There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”
Literacy at the Earliest Ages
Pediatrician and author Perri Klass, M.D. said, “… literacy is about so much more than decoding print.” His research has found there is more to bedtime stories than snuggling. In the national Reach Out and Read program, he and other pediatric doctors encourage parents to read with their children. At regular checkups, when they follow up and gather data, they have found several outcomes that benefit early literacy growth:
- Serve and return — Children learn best in a “back and forth” setting. Sharing books in a comfortable setting provides natural, balanced interactions between adults and children (child-adult-child-adult).
- Dialogic reading — In the process, by asking questions of each other and letting the child tell a familiar story or tell the story from pictures, children become involved in the story and text.
- Positive association with books — “Reading with a one-year-old or a two-year-old is less about reciting all the words of a story and more about pointing and naming, question and answer, and of course, about the affection and the sense of security that will leave a child with positive associations with books and reading.”
Early Literacy in Education
In the words of Reading Rockets, the national multimedia project for the promotion of reading, “Language acquisition and literacy experiences begin at birth.” They highlight the importance of words, letters, text, books and developing the love of reading, starting with the very youngest.
Klass continues the conversation: “When we talk about those early literacy skills, from vocabulary to book handling to dialogic reading, we are talking about critical brain development …” In both the school environment and at home, this means a “print-rich environment in which there are appealing books available, suited to the child’s age, and a pattern established early of reading together for pleasure.”
In a primary classroom, a print-rich environment will include many of the following elements to encourage children to read and write about what is important to them:
- Books made by students, either individually or in groups, as well as the mentor book created by the teacher.
- Shared-experience books, describing what the class has done as a group, such as a field trip or things familiar to all students.
- Picture books and children’s magazines.
- Flannel or magnet boards with elements students can use to tell and re-tell stories.
- Familiar read-aloud books that children can “read” from memory.
- Recorded stories with the accompanying hard copy.
- Comfortable places to read.
- Writing centers with writing and drawing supplies.
- Sight-word wall.
- Labels on common classroom items.
Why Is Early Literacy Important for Academic Progress?
According to Reading Rockets, “Once students reach fourth grade, most of the information they need is given to them in textual format where the focus changes from learning to read, to reading to learn.” Therefore, if students do not learn the basics of reading and writing in the Pre-K through third grade years, they have a slimmer chance of learning to read fluently for meaning and pleasure. School will become increasingly harder for students who do not develop strong literacy skills during their early years.
“When kids can’t express themselves they get really frustrated,” said Jenny Radesky, a University of Michigan developmental pediatrician. With the benefit a print-rich environment, where they learn to identify words and their meanings and understand how words and phrases fit together, students perfect the art of self-expression, both orally and in writing. When they can appropriately express themselves, according to Radesky, they are less likely “to act out more or to use their bodies to try to communicate or use attention-seeking behaviors.”
The University of Louisiana Monroe offers a Master of Education, Curriculum and Instruction — Concentration in Reading degree designed to “teach you how to improve your students’ fluency and comprehension and expand their reading abilities.” This degree provides the next level of expertise as you continue to support reading at all grade levels and all reading abilities.
Learn more about the ULM online M.Ed. C&I Reading program.