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What Does Literacy Look Like In Early Childhood?
Literacy is something that begins to happen long before a child enters a formal early childhood setting. However, as the academic testing movement reaches further and further down the grades, literacy is often reduced to the components of reading and writing. The concern at this point is often centered on how well children test on these measures.
While there is no denying that supporting reading and writing are the eventual goals of a literacy program, they are not the primary methods of communication that young children use. In the push to teach children reading and writing, we often forget that young children primarily learn through talk and that it is through conversations with children where they will gain the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to become proficient readers and writers.
As Lucy Calkins writes in her book, Raising Lifelong Learners: A Parent’s Guide, “It is through talk that children learn to follow and tell stories, understand logical sequences, recognize causes, anticipate consequences, explore options and consider motives…it is through talk that our children learn that their observations, hunches, and insights are interesting and worth developing.”
It is important to move beyond the “business talk” that parents and educators can easily become trapped in (“Get your shoes on.” “Keep your hands to yourself.” “Time to brush your teeth.”), and focus on extending and encouraging lots of conversations during early childhood. Continue to read books and to guide your child’s uncertain hand as they begin to write their name, but remember that it is the words they hear and the conversations they engage in that help young children begin to sort and understand their world. Early childhood literacy helps children explore and experiment – don’t become bogged down in formal flashcards, and structured reading programs. Talk, play, and listen!
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Krystyann Krywko specializes in education research, and focuses on literacy, and on hearing loss and the impact it has on children and families. She holds an Ed. D in International Education Development from Teachers College, Columbia University, where she was a Spencer Fellow for the 2005 cohort. She has more than 10 years of early childhood teaching experience.