Encouraging early literacy for little ones

Many parents have high expectations of their children picking up reading and writing skills quickly at school, pre-primary or even kindergarten. This can lead to frustration and disappointment when they discover that being able to recite the alphabet and write their name doesn’t necessarily mean a child has grasped the concepts and skills required to read new text or write legibly. 

 Sometimes the pressure to read well before they are ready can make children feel frustrated and leave them with a sense of failure that can potentially turn them off learning.

IN fact, a lot of different things have to click in order for reading and writing to progress

Before a child learns to read and write they need to develop the building blocks for literacy. Learning to read and write is a process that starts from birth and is continually refined throughout life. But that does not mean we need to formally teach babies and pre-school aged children to read and write.  

 Early literacy (or pre-reading and pre-writing) skills develop through everyday experiences and play during a child’s early years of life – they learn to speak, listen, understand, watch, scribble and draw. Later they discover that spoken words can be written down and they make the connection between letters on the page and spoken sounds. In Western texts, children realise that words go from left to right, and top to bottom of a page, and that books go from front to back.   

 So what do children need to become successful readers and writers? 

  • Oral language ability (speaking and listening skills) – wide vocabulary, comprehension of conversation and stories  
  • Sound awareness (phonological awareness) – being able to identify and manipulate sounds 
  • Letter recognition – being able to recognise letters in their name
  • Understanding basic concepts of reading and writing texts  
  • Experience in environments that encourage literacy – books in the home, drawing attention to print in the everyday world, and use of reading and writing in everyday life 
  • Visual perceptual skills – being able to make sense of and remember what they can see, visually processing colours, shapes and patterns 
  • Fine motor and eye-hand coordination skills 

Children need all of these things and will pick them up at different stages.

 It takes time to build the foundations of these skills and children learn them through lots of play and interaction during their pre-school years. Everyday activities and play offer a multitude of ways to encourage early literacy. It can be as simple as having a conversation, singing a nursery rhyme or action song, playing a rhyming game, sharing a story, writing a shopping list, following written instructions, e.g. recipes, or sending messages. 

 Opportunities for playfully preparing for later reading and writing can be anywhere and anytime.  Playgroup is an ideal environment for fun shared learning experiences. The activities should be enjoyable, playful, fun and encourage children’s active involvement at their level.  

Flash cards and worksheets are not fun! Above all, remember – play is meant to be fun!  

 Just remember – don’t get anxious if your child isn’t interested in certain activities. Lots of activities and ideas are readily adapted to the sand pit, with blocks, a train set and even ride on cars – pretty much whatever your child loves to play with. Just use opportunities as they come along to encourage your child to have a go at something new. And if you attend playgroup, be sure to have a variety of activities and play materials available over the course of the year.  

For more, read our Best Activities to Encourage Oral Language Development.

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I’m really conscious not to do too much too soon with my kids when it comes to formal learning. I’m also not huge on devices but that said, we have found a new app called Narrator AR which its a play based app that helps kids learn to write (with a pen – not on the tablet). It uses augmented reality to launch the written letters off the page as a rocket or unicorn. My twin 3 year olds love it!