Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Decoding the Literacy Language

Picture a world full of symbols and signs that you do not recognize or understand. (Maybe you have visited a country in which they speak a different language, so this is not difficult to imagine.) For a child who does not know how to read, this is how the world looks. Imagine your frustration if everyone around you seemed to make meaning from their environment based on a sign system you could not interpret. Learning to read
and write is an exciting time in children's lives; they are gaining a path into an adult world. They will use this skill for the rest of their lives, and the way they are introduced to the reading world can have a significant impact on how they view reading for many years to come. Although there are challenges that can accompany learning to read, families and teachers should focus on positives and give children plenty of opportunities to practice pre-reading skills.

The building blocks of words are individual letter sounds - phonemes. A crucial skill for learning to read is phonemic awareness - the understanding of letter sounds and the ability to use them to create or break apart words. (For example, the sounds in the word back are b, a, k.) Studies have found that children who have stronger phonemic awareness tend to have better early reading skills than those who do not understand letter sounds. These children will also be more skilled in spelling based on letter sounds they hear within words.

There are many ways for families and teachers to support children in their journey toward fluent reading and writing. Children often gain phonemic awareness naturally, through hearing songs, rhymes, and word plays. Families and teachers can encourage this by singing, reading poems, saying rhymes or using alliteration in their daily activities.

When children begin to write, it is important to remember that they are making their way through a long process that will last well into elementary school. It takes time to learn to write the "right" way, which we call conventional writing. Allowing children to write independently, spelling words as they choose, gives them the opportunity to explore language and learn through experience. Resist the urge to correct children when they use invented ("made-up") spelling or write letters backwards; this is an important part of the process of learning to write conventionally. Children are making their way into our complicated system of communication. It is important for families to understand that "success" is relative to the environment; "successful writing" at the kindergarten level is very different from what we consider to be successful for ourselves or for older children.

Just remember to continue to support and encourage the children in your life as they begin their lifelong journeys into literacy. Realize as you help them through these potentially challenging beginning stages that you are helping them become successful and confident readers and writers, roles they will fill for the rest of their lives - what an exciting job to have!

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