Did you know that preschoolers whose parents sing to them, tell them stories, and read to them tend to develop larger vocabularies, become better readers and perform better in school? Language research shows that these effects are amplified in a multi-lingual environment!
Literacy is most often defined as the ability to read and write. But before a child can read and write, he has to be able to listen and talk. If we were to build a model to represent literacy, it would be a pyramid with listening at its base, followed by speaking, reading, and writing at the top. Let’s literally take a closer look at this pyramid!
When we listen to children, we show that we’re interested in them and that we value them and what they have to say. Ordinary, everyday moments are full of opportunities to practice listening. We listen when we talk about a story we’re reading together, or about a TV show or movie. We listen and share when we talk about holiday and vacation pictures, recalling and enjoying the events over and over again. Parents and kids listen to each other when planning grocery shopping lists, or talking about what you see on the way to the store or park. We answer children’s questions about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it throughout the day at school and home.
Learning to talk is more than just repeating words. Children have to learn to say things they want to say too! They need the chance to explain their ideas, to tell stories, to tell about what has happened and what is going to happen. They ask questions and we respond and ask them questions too. The art of conversation develops naturally out of these experiences.
Talking helps everyone bring their thinking together and put ideas into words. It helps to share and explore these ideas with others – we find out what people understand and what they don’t understand. We can also try out different ways of saying things. The best thing we can do to help children talk is to listen to them!
All children enjoy stories and want to read them for themselves. At SSH, the Reading Center and Circle Time stories are daily favorites with our students! When adults read to them, children get to hear the “tune” of written language. They learn where stories begin/end, that reading goes from left to right, and how to turn pages. They enjoy the pictures and come to know that the writing tells the story. As a story develops, they can predict how certain characters are likely to behave. When you read to your children at home, whether in English or Spanish, they gain more than exposure to new words and expressions…they experience a special time with you, which you enjoy, too!
Encourage your children to read, no matter their age! Playing at reading is an important step towards learning the language of books and beginning to read. Initially, children “read” by knowing the story by heart. They’ll tell you the story but not necessarily be reading the words. You might not consider it reading, but notice how much they’re learning about the process! They won’t get all the words right; that comes later. Never lose sight of the overall purpose of reading. It’s not just to say words – it’s to enjoy and understand the text being read.
Writing is “talking” that you can see, and children see print all around them. They see adults write with pencils and pens to create shopping lists or sign a birthday card. Those marks on paper mean something! They begin to understand that writing is a form of communication. They come to realize that if they make those marks a certain way, other people know what they mean. That makes them want to write, too. We foster that desire when we provide them with the tools and materials to begin writing, such as our Handwriting Without Tears® materials.
However, writing involves more than just physically putting words on paper. It takes the other skills and weaves them together into a tapestry that is unique to the writer. It communicates our thoughts, ideas, and stories to others. Our writing can influence how others think or act.
Literacy begins from the moment your child first hears your voice and builds throughout childhood and beyond. A strong pyramid of literacy is created as families and schools help little ones develop skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing. So let’s expand the definition of literacy beyond reading and writing to include the ability to comprehend and communicate. This gives a better representation of what literacy actually is. It’s the “matter” in the why literacy matters.