The foundation of reading is set in place long before a child sets foot in preschool, actually going back to communication skills that began at birth. While all children learn and develop at different paces, the communication skills set in place during a child’s early years can help foster or hinder a child’s literacy development.
Babies develop literacy skills? Absolutely! Babies are expert investigators when it comes to communication. Babies make sounds to imitate the tones and rhythms of adult speakers and respond to facial expressions and gestures. That is the very beginning of communication. Moreover, babies engage adults in communication through cooing and babbling, which elicits delighted responses and interaction from the charmed parents and caregivers.
Frequently recited nursery rhymes and games such as “peek-a-boo” and “patty cake” reinforce rhythm and rhyme. As a baby grows older, she begins to associate frequently heard words with the items they represent, even if she is not able to reproduce the exact word herself. Babies, it turns out, are communication experts!
Beginning with older babies and moving throughout toddlerhood to age 3, toddlers continue their previously initiated investigations. When available, toddlers use alphabet blocks and board books as part of their play. Toddlers enjoy sharing books with their favorite adults and will often pretend to read books to themselves.
As toddlers grow older, they will name objects in a book and talk about the characters. They may ask (or demand) that their favorite adult read or even write with them. They become interested in letters, especially the first letter of their name. Their scribbling takes on purpose, as they are trying their best to write something specific. Their letter-like scribbles somewhat resemble writing. By the time a child enters nursery school, the foundation for literacy development is set.
Although just entering formal schooling, preschoolers actually begin with an understanding of literacy thanks to the rich language development that occurred during the baby and toddler years. Children this age continue to enjoy listening to and now begin discussing stories. They have a distinct understanding that print carries meaning. To this end, they attempt to read and write by using the letters and sounds that that they know to create words and messages.
Three- and four-year-olds are excited by environmental print, found on signs and labels, and enthusiastically identify what they know. Rhyming games are fun for toddlers and also help with later literacy development.
Some parents make the mistake of assuming that literacy development does not begin until a child officially enters school. Current research shows us that language and literacy development begin at birth and continue throughout the school years. Reading to young children from birth gives them a solid foundation and a head start to becoming proficient readers and writers for life.