Tag Archives: early literacy

What do Letters Mean to Infants and Toddlers?

adult-and-toddler-with-bookWhat do letters mean to infants and toddlers? When is an appropriate time to begin learning what letters are and how to write them? Are there things that children need to understand and know first? Language and literacy are important for school readiness and success. It is equally important to approach language and literacy holistically. It is not enough to teach children their ABCs and how to write them. Here are a few developmentally appropriate ways to support language and literacy learning with infants and toddlers.

Read books and sing songs throughout the day.
Set up a library and baskets of books throughout the classroom for spontaneity. Children like to read the same books over and over. They like to carry them around and enjoy the opportunity to sit in an adult’s lap to read. Hearing and listening to stories helps children to label pictures, answer questions such as, “What’s that?” and can help children learn about feelings and emotions. Choosing books carefully and with individual children in mind can help children make connections to things that they have experienced and relate to in real life.

Invest time in learning new fingerplays and songs. Be silly and have fun making up your own songs. Singing to children to help them through transitions can be more successful than trying to get children to stand in a line and “catch a bubble.” Reading and singing with children sets the stage for helping them learn that language and the written word has a function. This can also be done through environmental print.

Talk with children!
It is important that teachers do more than talk at children and give them directions on what to do or where to go. Speak to children like you would to your peers. There is no need to ”oversimplify your language or use baby talk.” (Greenman, Stonehouse & Schweikert, Primtimes) Commentate what you see children doing such as, “You rolled the red car across the floor.” Explain to children what you are doing. “I am going to pick you up and put you on the changing table.” Be sure to use descriptive words.Have a conversation! Cooing babies, babbling toddlers and curious preschoolers all have something to say and enjoy the back and forth interaction that conversations provide. Playing games like peek-a-boo with young children is a great way to begin practicing conversations.

Create a print rich environment.
Children are concrete thinkers and often need pictures to go with labels to support the idea that letters create words and words stand for people, places and/or things. Using pictures is a great place to start. For any age group, providing pictures of children’s families and adding print to the pictures by making posters or books is a great way for children to see their name and those they care about in print. Adding a picture with a label of the child’s name to their cubby is a great way to help children begin to recognize their name. Shelves can be labeled with words and pictures as well. Other types of environmental print can include using documentation panels that use pictures of children at work and adding short descriptions to the panel to use as conversation starters or by adding grocery ads to a grocery store themed dramatic play area.

Have opportunities to write available.
Once a child has the ability to hold a writing utensil (and it doesn’t have to be using a pincer grip) they should be given the opportunity to scribble. Again there are many ways to offer children this other than just crayons and paper. One example can be magnetic writing boards or dry erase boards and markers. Offering play dough to squeeze can help children build their fine motor skills for future writing. By the time children are in preschool, a writing center can be available for children to utilize along with putting pencils and paper in various areas of the room to make things such as make road signs in the block area or record findings children make while out on the playground.

These are just several ways that language and literacy can be supported from the beginning of a child’s time in an early care and education program.

“I don’t care about the letter __. My name starts with T!”

Letter recognition is one of the many priorities we face in the early childhood classroom. As educators we want our children to be prepared when it’s time for them to say goodbye to their preschool years. Often I find teachers incorporate letter recognition by utilizing the “Letter of the Week” strategy. However, best practice in early childhood education informs us that we should plan based on the individual child and their interests. My question to educators: is there a more natural and meaningful way to introduce children to the letters of the alphabet?

If you observe closely you will find that incorporating the letter of the week strategy is not of interest to many children. From my experience, I often observe most children wriggling around, talking to friends, playing with “closed” materials, and generally disengaged as the letter of the week is introduced. Why are so many of these children disengaged? Could it be that they don’t care about this letter because it’s not meaningful to them? The letters that children are most focused on in this stage of development are the letters in their own name. The letters in their name and the letters in the names of their peers are very important to young children!

In this classroom, the teacher created a fun activity for children to match the blocks to the letters of their name and their peers names

In this classroom, the teacher created a fun activity for children to match wooden alphabet blocks to the letters on their name card and on the name cards of their peers

So how can we utilize this interest and expand it to meeting the goals of letter recognition? Is there a way to incorporate letter activities as children play? Below are some of the ways you could incorporate the use of children’s name cards for various purposes in the classroom. Children could:

  • Find and use their name card to save their work
  • Copy the letters from the name cards to create a waiting list or write a letter home
  • Hang their name up on an attendance or interactive chart
  • Hang the names of their peers up on an interactive chart
  • Find their names at the lunch table
  • Fill out a “lunch request” form asking to sit next to a peer at lunch time

As children utilize their name and the names of their peers, they are recognizing many letters of the alphabet in a natural, meaningful and fun way. Then as children are developmentally ready and interested to gain more letter experiences outside their own name and the names of their peers, conversations and activities about other letters will become more natural and meaningful.

If we force children to focus on something they are not interested in, it becomes work or a chore to them. It feels like a test and drill situation. As educators we understand that children learn best through hands on activities and through play. According to best practice we should be focusing on what the child is interested in and plan from there, even when it comes to letter recognition.

For more great ways to enhance children’s literacy development please look into the training: “Moving Beyond Letter of the Week.” This training and many others can be located on 4C for Children’s online professional development opportunities catalog: http://www.4cforchildren.org/pdo

Shouldn’t every month be National Reading Month?

There is so much energy and time invested in promoting reading as the single most important activity one can do (and it is!), and yet so little time is actually spent reading! Many states and organizations promote a single month or day for reading, but these months and days are random and do not correlate to anything specific.

Reading shouldn’t happen in planned out Hallmark-holiday style. Reading is something that happens all day every day. Reading month, like many other randomized celebrations (Black History Month, Valentine’s day, Father’s Day or Movember, for example) is not something that you should be made aware of for just one day or one month. Reading, like heritage and disease, is something that should be done, discussed and acted upon every day of every month!

Shouldn't every month be National Reading Month?

There is a ton of research into how and why. Not only is reading good fun, the language and literacy skills needed to do it well are important skills to acquire for future success in school and life. Reading also helps soothe the mind, takes you to faraway places or back in time to witness great moments, and ordinary ones, too.

I wonder why we think that giving reading such short thrift will provide us with the results we desire. If we want to see a higher percentage of early language comprehension and a higher percentage of reading at level in third grade, we should read every day (these and more outcomes are in the Strive Report Card). Reading also contributes to higher scores on the SAT, ACT and the NAEP, and with children in the United States trailing our global neighbors, it’s never been more important.

With the onslaught of technology and how rapidly our youth have taken to it we might be at a crossroads. But somewhere between winning texting awards and writing fluent essays we must hold on to what we know leads one to a life of success. So read to your children and provide them opportunities to talk about their world.

– Josh

Story time? Start talking!

Ever think to yourself, “There has to be a way of reading with kids that’s more fun and engaging,” or “This book would be great, except it has too many words”?

Well, think to yourself no longer, and start talking! Dialogic reading is a great way to engage with children, and it’s all about creating a conversation using the book at hand. You don’t have to read the words, and in fact I recommend you NOT read the book word for word but rather LOOK at the pictures and TALK about what you see. Children learn more from an open-ended and interactive activity where they have control over input and direction. This could not be truer than in the emergent reader!

Since this method relies on the conversation, it switches the traditional roles we play when we think of reading with children. Typically we think of reading where the adult reads the words while the child listens; in effect the child becomes a passive listener. In dialogic reading, the adult prompts the child into conversation and, depending on the child’s response, expands on what they said. With dialogic reading, the child becomes an active participant.

Photo courtesy of Harris County Public Library.

Photo courtesy of Harris County Public Library.

Great prompting questions when you’re reading might be: “What do you see?” “What do you think is happening?” “What do you think might happen next?” Remember, there are no right or wrong answers here. You are simply talking about what the child sees and they can have pretty extravagant imaginations! You have the opportunity to build children’s vocabularies by providing them with new words, and can also expand their knowledge by offering new contexts and asking them to reflect on their own experiences.

I find this method also works very well when introducing a book for the first time. As you “walk” through the book and talk about the pictures children gain a sense of what is happening and begin to make predictions for what comes next, an important cognitive skill to develop.

When we allow a child to express themselves, whether right or wrong, accurate or incorrect, we allow them to think creatively about what they see and think about the world around them. The details and getting the answer right are not important at this time (they’ll get that later). Dialogic reading creates the freedom for a story typically presented in a formal book format to take on a new life. It allows for natural discovery and for new interpretations of what is seen.

Some great books to consider for Dialogic Reading are:

  • Wonder Bear by Tao Nyeu
  • Any of the many excellent books from Books by Tara
  • And then it’s Spring by Julie Fogliano
  • The Bear and Friends series by Karma Wilson
  • Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems
  • Mouse Mess by Linnea Riley
  • Not A Box by Antoinnette Portis
  • Rosies Walk by Pat Hutchins
  • The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
  • Where’s Walrus? by Stephen Savage

But you can use any book, anywhere!

– Josh

Bathed in Books

Recently I visited my sister and three-year-old nephew. When I visit he is always ready to play; he loves to play with his cars and to play “indoor hockey.” At one point during my visit he brought an armful of books over to me and said, “Becky, will you read to me?” Of course I read the many books he brought! He sat and listened attentively, and even “read” along with some of the stories. This is a regular occurrence during my visits as well, and his bookshelf is always full of new books because his family makes a trip to the local library every Saturday.

There are a few things that are important to remember when it comes to children and reading, and for the parent or caregiver who wants to encourage early language and literacy skills, bear these things in mind!

  1. Children develop at their pace – Each child is at their own developmental stage of reading, writing, talking and listening. We must be aware of the variances of the children we work with and provide opportunities for each child appropriate to their level of learning.
  2. Interest is key – Children explore when they have the interest. Would your child rather build with blocks than listen to a story? How about a story about building or construction? Authors of children’s books have the challenge of creating books that include interesting content and eye-catching pictures. A book must catch a child’s interest in order for them to want to listen or read.
  3. Reading to children – It is important to examine your reading style. How you read to children can affect their interest in books and reading. Do show excitement? Do you read using varying voices?
  4. Books, books everywhere – Children should be “bathed” in books and language. As adults, we must make books available and accessible to young children at all times. Take a look around your environment; are there books in every learning center? Can the children handle them regularly? Be brave, offer books of poetry, building and construction, appropriate magazines, cook books, etc. Children should be exposed to varying cultures, as well.

It is important to remember that reading is an essential skill for everyday living. It is our task, as parents and early childhood providers, to expose young children to all kinds of books, and to include them in our children’s lives everyday. For more information and book ideas visit Scholastic’s Web site for children’s book lists, read-aloud hints, and learning tips. Happy reading!