Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Communicating Through Literacy: We Read, We Write, We Talk

By the time your child enters elementary school, she has been exploring language and communicating with the world for five or six years! Your child's education does not start now, at the beginning of school -- it began years ago, at birth. In some ways, your child is an expert communicator: he can tell you what he wants or needs, he can make marks intended to communicate (whether legible or not), and he can read pictures and some words, making sense of context. However, he still has a lot to learn about language.

Now, in elementary school, it is time to become more intentional about responding to and encouraging children's communication; it is an important part of the child's literacy development. We automatically connect speech and text in our everyday lives, but when a child is learning to read and write, it is helpful for parents and teachers to be aware of this process. Noticing and reading text in the environment, as well as having conversation about it helps children recognize that text communicates meaning to us. Also, pointing out words you write and talking about what you mean to say shows children that we communicate through creating our own text as well as speaking.

Through classroom routines, children learn the power of writing and reading: they sign into the classroom by writing their name, they read the daily schedule, they respond to questions, they write their own stories, they watch and listen to others read text, and they read books and pictures on their own. All of this helps children connect reading, writing, and talking, because they are such interrelated concepts. Encouraging children to read and write together also demonstrates these connections.

These connections help children more fully understand language, which boosts their literacy development. So remember to encourage self-expression through reading, writing, and talking, and listen when your child communicates - she is an expert, after all, and she has a lot to share!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Print in Our Environment

Young children begin to notice symbols and print in their environment before they know how to read words, or even how to name letters. They see words, logos, brand names, and street signs every day, and noticing these pieces of "environmental print" is one of the first steps in understanding reading and writing. By associating a meaning with a piece of environmental print, children begin to understand that certain symbols or letters stand for specific objects or places.

What environmental print (logos, brand names, street signs, billboards) does your child recognize, and how can you help him or her continue to develop awareness about what print means?
As always, talking to your child as you move through your environment is a great way to help them start noticing literacy all around them. Ask questions about pictures, words, and signs that you see in your home and out in the world.

Some classroom ideas that families could also try at home include:

~Take a walk with a camera to snap pictures of print children see around the school, home, or outside. - You could use these pictures to create a book or a matching game, or just to facilitate more conversation.

~Show children pictures of environmental print, and ask them to sort them into those with letters and without, those with similar colors, logos for restaurants vs. other places, or see how your child chooses to group them.

~Give your child clean, empty food/beverage cartons, jugs, boxes, and bottles to include in their pretend play. Suggest ways to use these, such as setting up a grocery store or a pantry. Watch to see how your child incorporates these objects into their play.

Creatively using environmental print is a great way to get children interested in the print in their everyday lives. Once again, it is important for families to share background with teachers because it gives teachers a window into each child's home life so that they can create a connected literacy learning experience between home and school. So, tell your child's teacher what environmental print your child recognizes or loves, and ask how this might be incorporated into the classroom!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Building a Comfortable Literacy Community

The beginning of the school year brings so many new faces together in the classroom where children and teachers will spend most of their waking hours. Teachers begin building a community in their classrooms right away, hoping to create a welcoming, successful atmosphere for their students. Families wait to hear about their children’s days at school, hoping that they get along with their teachers and classmates, do well on their work, and have fun. How can the hopes of teachers and families be combined to create one family-like community?

In order for children to be successful in school, it is essential for teachers and families to build a positive, productive relationship. A large part of this relationship should be finding a way to bridge the gap between home and school, creating the “third space.” In her book, Hidden Worlds, Clare Kelly uses the term “third space” to refer to “a meeting place for the worlds of home and school” (pg. 79). When children enter this new world of school, it is comforting to have familiar, home-like aspects throughout their day. Teachers learn about the home lives of their students by talking with families and children, sending home surveys about routines or special family activities, and observing family-child interactions. By learning about their students’ lives outside of school, teachers can make children’s days at school more familiar and comfortable, which will help lead to academic success.

Families are especially encouraged to share details about their child’s literacy experiences outside of school so that the teacher can use methods of literacy learning that fit with what each child is used to. Children learn best through pursuing their own interests, and families are the best source of this information for teachers at the beginning of the school year. Help your child’s teacher facilitate a productive meaningful and enjoyable literacy experience for the class by sharing your family’s literacy practices--what books you love to read, what music and television your child listens to and watches, how your child plays, and if you do arts or crafts at home. Families are a teacher’s most valuable resource for creating a community within their classroom, so share your family’s information to help him or her make your child’s classroom a comfortable, literacy-loving environment.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Literacy is Everywhere!

Literacy development is an incredibly important part of early childhood education, and it begins long before a child enters elementary school. Children learn about literacy from their caretakers and their environments. The article "Remembering Critical Lessons in Early Literacy Research: A Transactional Perspective" (Whitmore, Martens, Goodman, & Owocki) describes literacy as "individual, social...[and] a cultural practice." Each child creates his or her own meanings throughout social interactions, and all of this is is supported by the child's cultural and family background. Children learn about literacy from birth by being read and sung to, looking at pictures, watching others read and write, making their own marks, playing, and so much more. All of these experiences lead to a child's understanding of letters and words, which eventually add up to being an independent reader and writer.

During this exciting time in a child's life, families need to be aware of the role they play in their child's literacy development. Support children by reading to them, asking them to read or retell a story to you, singing with them, and encouraging children to tell, write, and draw their own stories or thoughts. Point out letters and writing in the world around you, such as on street signs, in the grocery store, and on household items, as well as in books. Children are constantly watching their caregivers, so model your own literacy habits; let your child see you reading and writing, and talk about these things with them.

One of the most important things for families to know about literacy is that it is happening now! As stated in "Remembering Critical Literacies," "Children do not wait for formal instruction before they read and write" (
Whitmore, Martens, Goodman, & Owocki, pg. 299). Take advantage of every opportunity to talk about literacy and help your child develop an early love of reading and writing!