Photo provided by Bies
“A bandaid feel me better.” We relish the quirky sayings our children devise as they wade through the task of decoding the furtive rules we use as we communicate. Our children’s faulty contrivances are not only endearing, but give us some insight into their progress as they decipher our mysterious code.
The development of language and literacy skills are key to success not only academically, but in life. Brilliance of thought or tenderness of feelings can easily go unnoticed without the ability to properly and effectively communicate. In the words of psychologist Lev Vygotsky, “A word devoid of thought is a dead thing, and a thought unembodied in words remains a shadow.” Moreover, language serves as the channel for most learning, as it involves the ability to receive information whether it be instructional, social, or otherwise.
Language and literacy span a HUGE list of skills and categories, and represent a rapidly advancing aspect of a child’s development. Children are almost constantly surrounded by language whether in print, in song, in conversation (with adults or other child-decipherers), or even within their own minds. It is critical to their development as well as their daily life.
Language includes receptive language (listening and understanding), and expressive language (effectively communicating ideas). Both spheres require the continued mastery of vocabulary, something we continue to hone throughout adulthood (though, unfortunately, at a much more sluggish pace than our younger selves), as well as grammar and semantics. Language development also includes the advancement of oral and aural skills, often a matter of muscle and air control, discernment of sounds, or learned active listening skills, which frequently come with experience combined with physical growth and development.
Literacy development incorporates a sizable list of activities and skills comprised in the early childhood experience. In simple terms it is reading and writing, but these skills are end goals, not the jumping off point. At the preschool level, children must build the foundations necessary to later become independent readers and writers. They must be able to discern sounds before they can manipulate them, manipulate them before they can anticipate them, and anticipate them before they can read them. Then, to varying degrees appropriate to their own developmental levels, they become readers and writers themselves.
While many programs check the box next to Literacy by handing out alphabet coloring sheets, letter recognition is but one part of early literacy development. Along with letter recognition, one of the strongest predictors at the preschool level of literacy success in later years is phonological awareness (the ability to hear and manipulate sounds in words-think Dr. Seuss). This involves the ability to hear and create things like rhymes and alliterations – key components in fingerplays, nursery rhymes, and songs. These types of activities may be seen as cute, or “soft”, but they are essential to developing successful readers! Literacy is also encouraged as children and adults read and write books together, explore environmental print (simply print in the child’s environment: cereal boxes, restaurant signs, labels, DVD boxes, etc.), and engage in conversation.
Surrounding children in a print-rich, language-rich environment and expressing to them our passion for language and literacy in word and in deed goes a long way to building successful, life-long learners.
You may also be interested in the article, A Culture of Literacy: Teaching Preschoolers the ABC’s and More.