The English language is a complicated skill that must be learnt, can be difficult to master and generally takes years to perfect. Rhymes, songs and stories aren’t just a bit of fun, they help young children develop essential pre-literacy skills, so all the ducks are in a row when learning to read.
The development of literacy begins at birth when the sounds of a language are first experienced. Books are shared with children from a young age, because along with the soothing recognition of a family member’s voice, books also provide a crucial linguistic base for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers.
When a young child initially sees the alphabet it looks like nothing more than scribbles on a page. They must learn to decipher this strange code of symbols, until it eventually becomes recognisable. Early exposure to picture books helps children eventually understand and break this code.
By approximately 4-5years of age, a child’s brain eventually begins connecting sounds and symbols together. Breaking the sounds into bite-sized chunks makes the task easier, which is why we often encourage children learning to read to “sound it out”, they then join the sounds until they represent a word… for example, the “i” sound and the “n” sound make the word in when combined.
Science tells us that brain development in early childhood is driven by a number of factors, such as genes, a child’s environment, and their experiences. It also tells us that a whopping 90 per cent of brain development has occurred by the ripe age of four – which is why language classes for children actually make a lot of sense! Mandarin lessons anyone? Early connections train the brain by laying solid foundations for future learning. Therefore the important role played by a child’s family, carers and early childhood educators is absolutely vital during this stage.
Literacy skills in the early years is linked to academic success later in life, so while reading and writing are not generally taught until a child starts school, those initial years of life are critical – introducing a natural love of learning, reading and academic prowess.
The pre-literacy skills a child ideally should possess by the time they enter the schooling system include –
The words children understand or use while speaking and listening. Books with pictures offering lots of nouns can help, as can chatting about what you can see while you’re taking a walk or driving to the shops. Praising a child when they use words – especially a new word.
Understanding the idea of a story. Discussing what you’ve just read to your child is a great way to introduce this. Ask basic questions about the characters and plot and encourage their answers.
Recognising that words are made up of sounds, or a combination of sounds. Sound words out to your child as you’re reading to them or reciting a rhyme.
Beginning to recognise letters and starting to name them. Sing the alphabet song, or pop up a colourful alphabet chart in your child’s room to get started.
Some suggestions to kickstart your child’s early literacy journey without much fuss…
Offer an inspiring, creative environment at home that makes learning fun. It should be packed full of books, posters, pencils and paper, crayons and pastels, colourful images and music. Include a welcoming reading corner with comfortable, inviting cushions, and a varied selection of books to peruse. Encourage children to choose a story to enjoy.
Visit the local library – many offer story, song and craft time. Gift a child their own library bag and encourage the borrowing of books.
Link a story to an experience. This will extend storytime and make it memorable. An example might be a story about frogs, followed by singing “Der glump” or “Five little speckled frogs”. Then set-up a sensory experience with a frog habitat and colourful frogs to explore. Incredibly fun and your child will be imprinting the experience in their mind, connecting it with enjoyment.
As with basically all skills and development, every child develops at their own pace. If there are obvious signs of delay – such as problems with speaking and listening, recognising letters, consider professional advice. Start by chatting with your child’s educator or GP.
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