Why learning to read starts long before primary school
6 June, 2017
We are often asked by parents and caregivers of primary school-going children, “How can I help my child learn to read?”. But learning to read really starts years before a child enters primary school. In fact, one of the best things a parent can do for their child is to read to them from birth. The earlier, the better.
Why is exposure to language and literacy from a young age so important? We turned to Shelley O’Carroll, director of early language and literacy development organisation, Wordworks, to explain more.
Early literacy and language are interlinked, and the evidence shows that children who have more developed language and literacy abilities when they start school generally go on to become better readers and writers. Let’s look at just a few of the many benefits of exposing a child to rich language and early literacy concepts before they start school.
Six benefits of exposure to literacy concepts prior to school
1. Talking lays the foundation for comprehension
Talking to children, giving explanations and asking and answering questions builds an important understanding of word meanings, concepts and general knowledge. These are essential foundations for comprehension. We can begin talking to children long before they can talk themselves.
2. Writing & drawing increases language awareness
If children are given opportunities to draw and experiment with writing prior to school and to observe adults around them writing, they learn that writing has a purpose and that the letters on a page represent words that are spoken. They learn to express their ideas and thoughts through drawing and emergent writing, and this forms the basis of written expression.
3. Reading for pleasure fosters a love of reading
Reading to children helps to inspire enjoyment of books and stories, and fosters a love of reading and a culture of reading for pleasure. Where books are not available, talking and telling stories helps to bridge the gap between everyday language and the more complex and formal language of books and school environments.
4. Early letter & sound awareness helps children cope with school curriculum
Pointing out print in the environment around you helps children to realise that print carries meaning and motivates them to notice and make sense of the print around them. Helping children notice letters and learn their sounds means that they begin school familiar with some letter-sound relationships. The CAPS Curriculum in Grade One moves very quickly through teaching letter-sounds to building words and sentences, and if children are familiar with most letters and the sounds they make when they start school, they will be in a much better position to keep up with the demands of the curriculum.
5. Songs & rhymes develop listening skills
Listening to songs, hearing rhymes and playing games with the sounds in words helps children to develop listening skills that are vital for learning to read and spell words.
6. Pretend play builds language
Pretend play helps children build language, ideas and the ability to take on roles and act out stories. These are important foundations for literacy.
It’s easy to see why early exposure to rich language and literacy environments is hugely beneficial, but what can you do to help build a foundation of literacy before your child starts school? I’ve highlighted a few of the best activities that you can do from the comfort of your home.
Seven activities to build early literacy
1. Talk and listen: Through babbling, talking, listening and being listened to, children learn words and how to communicate. Follow what interests a baby or child and respond using comments, questions and careful listening. Think out loud and talk about what you are doing.
2. Help children play: Play is fun and the most natural way of learning for children. Pretend play is a particularly good way for children to develop their language and skills. Encourage children to play and let them take the lead in their games. Give children simple equipment, like a hat or a box, to encourage pretend play. As you play alongside children, introduce new language and ideas.
3. Share stories and books: Telling and reading stories creates lots of opportunities to learn, as children hear new words, find out about their world and talk about what is going on. Actively involve children in storytelling by making it a time full of conversation. Welcome children’s comments and ask questions that help them to relate the book to their own lives on what is going on.
4. Enjoy songs and rhymes: Children love movement and music. Songs and action rhymes are fun ways for children to express themselves and to hear and use new language. Sing songs and do action rhymes often – even very young children will start to join in by doing the actions for a favourite song.
5. Point out print: When children notice the print around them they start to understand that it is speech written down. Children are keen to have a go at writing when they see what it is for. Point out the print on labels and signs and in storybooks. Help children to start noticing letters, particularly the first letter of their name. If children try to ‘read’ books or signs around them, encourage them, even if they are not actually reading correctly.
6. Support drawing and mark-making: Children love to draw and paint. Drawing is a way of representing what we see around us or what is in our head. This is similar to how writing works. Help children to notice how things look and encourage them to draw what they see. Let them look in a mirror to see themselves before trying to draw their body and face. Ask children to tell you what they have drawn and give encouragement.
7. Encourage early writing: Children’s early attempts at writing may look like scribbles or marks. It is important for adults to encourage, and not correct, these early writing efforts. Let children see you writing and write down children’s words for them. Give children materials to enable them to include pretend writing in their play. Help children to write their name.
For resources, including recommendations for books and activities, that you can do with your child, visit the Wordworks website, http://www.wordworks.org.za
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