When the intention is to convey a message, it is early literacy. Early literacy gives children the foundation they need to learn and grow as it is a vital part of a child’s overall development. Having a solid foundation in early literacy skills is critical to children’s future reading and writing performance. Early literacy development begins in the first three years of a child’s life and supports their future language development as it involves the integration of listening, speaking, reading and writing.
In today’s print rich world, children’s foray into literacy starts right from the time they are born. It starts long before the child attends a preschool or a formal school set-up. In India, literacy development is unfortunately dominated by talks centered around children’s ability to recognise the twenty six letters of the English alphabet and their handwriting skills. However, development of literacy skills which were first thought to be a linear process are now viewed to be a complex intertwined process. When children are introduced to different components of language and literacy via self-initiated play,loving interactions, such as sharing books, telling stories, singing songs and talking to them, their primary caregivers – parents, grandparents and teachers – play a key role in laying a strong foundation for their future literacy growth.
Thus, in the Early Years our primary focus is on helping children become confident communicators, readers and writers.
- Listening- We all know that listening enhances children’s ability to communicate, comprehend, develop vocabulary and language skills.
Often thought to be the simplest of the literacy skills, listening involves being able to make meaning of the spoken words, gestures, and expressions and responding to them appropriately. At BD Somani, right from the Early Years our focus is on developing active and responsive listening skills. Our students have numerous opportunities to develop their listening skills throughout the day – from morning meetings to storytime. During morning meetings, students come together as a community and listen patiently to their peers’ experiences, personal anecdotes, and challenges. Gradually, they start developing the skill of being empathetic listeners who listen to their classmates and at times respond with thoughtful feedback and advice. Activities that promote deep listening, such as listening to stories, rhymes, sounds in the environment, following simple to complex instructions, singing songs, block building and playing games, are consistently carried out in all the Early Years classrooms.
- Speaking- Speaking with children is one of the best ways to develop language and early literacy skills. Conversations help a child to express thoughts, learn what words mean, and gain new information about the world. Speaking also gives children a rich foundation of knowledge that they can apply to their independent reading. Speaking happens throughout the day by way of sharing thoughts and personal experiences during class discussions and individual and group interactions with teachers and peers. In the Early Years, listening to stories and singing songs helps children develop their vocabulary while they are encouraged to speak in complete sentences. enjoy communicating during block building and problem-solving. The classroom environment encourages children to talk, and through their conversations during morning meetings, group meetings, and buddy calls, children use rich vocabulary, explain their drawings, and enjoy creating and narrating stories individually and in groups. Students are encouraged to ask questions and be curious. Their ponderings are valued and discussed as they share their ideas and thoughts during the planning process and enjoy communicating when building. They speak clearly and confidently in complete sentences and often use sophisticated vocabulary while enacting different roles during block building as they move up the grades. Speaking skills are further enhanced by engaging students in activities such as reading aloud, sharing research and information during class discussions, debates and block building. They even share their experiences of field trips with other groups during block building.
- Reading- Early literacy does not mean teaching young children how to read. Instead, it means guiding children to develop the skills they will need to become successful readers. Reading helps children build rich language skills and they make connections by observing the pictures, developing vocabulary, expressions, and understanding (comprehension). These skills help children make sense of printed words and pictures when they start reading. Children usually have their first brush with reading when they have someone reading picture books to them. They make personal connections by looking at the illustrations on every page. Gradually as children develop an understanding of the visual representation of shapes of letters, they then enjoy reading their names written on their belongings, on their cubby, on the sign-in chart used for attendance or lists; they then start noticing similar patterns in their friends’ names as well. Looking at the letters in a similar pattern in storybooks encourages them to attempt reading phonetically. Reading the daily agenda, days of the week, months of the year, date and Essential Agreements are some daily reading tasks children engage in all the Early Years classes. Students read a vast variety of both fiction and non-fiction books as well as big and small books. Teachers and other adults in the school community often read books to them in small groups and as a whole class. They are encouraged to follow directionality from left to right and top to bottom. Reading happens in all areas and throughout the day, for example in Math, children read the patterns they have made, during cooking children read the packets in form of pictures, signs on packets (red dot/green dot), and other commonly seen signs in their immediate environment, which are then incorporated in their block structures. Exposure to high quality literature and strong phonological knowledge provides an impetus to children to sound out the beginning, ending, and middle sounds and confidently decode words. They also use a variety of decoding strategies of blending and segmenting words to read and write. Some children, however, are able to read the words as a whole without having to segment them. In a school environment that promotes reading, children graduate from being emergent readers to early readers to proficient readers with a strong affinity for books and a lifelong love for reading.
- Writing- Writing is the expression of ideas, thoughts, feelings through drawings and making marks. Mark making, drawings, pictures that convey meanings all fall in the broad spectrum of early literacy. Writing begins early on with children making marks. Children make marks on paper to express their ideas, thoughts, feelings through drawings. Their marks are intentional. These can be large, circular, vivid shapes, stick figures and resemble drawing. Gradually letters or numbers are seen forming in their drawings. Drawing and writing also help children learn that marks on paper represent spoken language. A variety of materials are made available and are easily accessible to children such as papers, white boards, different writing equipment – crayons, colour pencils, markers and chalks, to captivate their interest and entice them to write. They are provided with several opportunities to develop their writing skills further by engaging in drawing, writing their names and friends’ names, names of the parents, and simple words that they can sound out. They are also encouraged to write reflections of the field trips, holidays, cooking, and recipes. They write stories that are largely pictorial and read their storybooks, identifying letter sounds and high-frequency words. While writing their stories, they think and draw according to their interests. They ask questions and understand the elements of the story such as characters which, further, helps them to add details. Finally, they publish their stories and share these with their peers and at times with the whole class. This helps them develop their confidence and affirms their identity as writers. During Block Building, they take great interest in creating signs and labels for their structures. They add writing to their illustrations and work on their stories over a few days. Children observe how sentences are written in books and apply this understanding to their own stories. Their initiation into the world of writing is smooth and, as they move up the grades, like writers in the real world they revise their piece of writing, incorporating the reader’s feedback.
At B.D. Somani International School, we ensure that students are provided with an effective and a balanced literacy program through shared vision and values, high teacher expectations, and culture of continued professional development. However, it’s a two-way road and needs sustained efforts to ensure that we expose children to a range of reading materials geared at their reading levels through read-alouds, shared reading, and independent reading, while at home. This is a continuous process and children develop these skills at different levels; a few may develop the skills slowly whereas others may develop them quicker. Here are some things we suggest parents do every day to support children in developing these important skills.
- Engage children in daily conversations (talk about your daily routines as you do them, talk to them about their day asking area-specific questions)
- Respond to children’s questions. You could even look up and find answers, together
- Sing songs and recite rhymes as often as you like. Listen to music, and move or clap to the beat
- Give simple 2 to 3 step instructions to your child
- Read stories and talk about illustrations and make sounds of animal characters you see in books
- Make shopping lists with your children
- Read billboards and signs
- Put your children’s names on their belongings. Make the child’s environment as print-friendly as possible.
- Discuss text together to help them make connections
- Use games to help develop literacy
- Make use of the school library and borrow different kinds of storybooks
- When travelling, have discussions about the things they observe around them, ask them open-ended questions and encourage their questions.
- Appreciate their drawings, respect them.
While we all agree that literacy development is an integral part of a child’s overall development, it is critical to remember that the process begins well before a child enters school. Beginning in infancy, positive experiences help students develop sound foundational literacy which, in turn, sets them up for success in school and life.