If children enjoy learning to read, their skills develop faster
By Bipasha Minocha, Brand Director of EtonHouse International Education Group
Literacy goals and outcomes for toddlers and pre-schoolers have changed dramatically over the years. There is an expectation today that children should be able to read and write earlier than is developmentally appropriate.
The aim is now to make the literacy outcomes associated with formal schooling occur in the early years. So we have seen the emergence of flash cards for babies, and spelling lists for pre-schoolers, as part of an effort to rush children into becoming “literate”. This is a shame, as there is plenty of evidence to show that if children are pushed into reading, they lose interest, become stressed, and rebel; they are “put off” reading (Curtis & Carter, 2003, p.149, Designs for Living and Learning. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.)
Photo: EtonHouse International Pre-School, Hong Kong
Time and again, we are told to nurture a genuine love for reading in children. We are asked to encourage children to think of books as their friends. But can we expect them to befriend books if their experience of them is forced, or unpleasant? Will they develop a love of books if they are told to copy letters, memorise word lists, and jump from one book to another in reading schemes? Instead, we should create happy and memorable experiences around books, and encourage children to become part of the world of imagination that they reveal to us. That way, we will be laying the foundation for lifelong learning, and conveying a positive attitude towards reading.
In the early years, literacy skills develop from a child’s knowledge and understanding of oral language. Phonological awareness, understanding that sounds that are associated with the letters, the recognition of familiar words, and a knowledge of the alphabetic principle are all involved.
Photo: EtonHouse International School Thomson, Singapore
The development of these skills does not happen in isolation. It is a process that includes experiences which create a positive association with literacy, and a willingness to face the challenges of developing literacy skills. These experiences include watching adult role models read specific types of text for specific ends, like a newspaper to discover news, or recipes to make meals. If children are exposed to print media which serve a purpose, they start to appreciate the relevance of print in their daily lives.
Exposure to labels, road signs, packaging, brand logos, and other forms of text in the surrounding environment, is also useful, as it helps children to understand that the letter shapes they see can translate into something meaningful. Children begin to understand the purpose of reading and writing to communicate with others.
During inquiry projects and play-based provocations, children engage in a range of literacy experiences, such as recording data, writing a shopping list, creating a food menu, interpreting data through symbols and graphs, and writing journals. These experiences strengthen their understanding of the purpose of print, and show them the different forms that print can take. It challenges them to develop their reading and writing skills in a meaningful way that involves their everyday experiences.
Introducing children to experiences like this is a more effective way to encourage the development of literacy skills than making them fill in worksheets and memorise spelling lists. It’s also a lot more fun for the child.