Literacy is most commonly understood as reading and writing. But before children can read and write, they need to learn about sounds, words, language, books and stories. You have a vital role to play in helping your child with early literacy development.
WORDS HARTINI ABDUL RAHMAN-LAI
Oftentimes, when we hear the words ‘early literacy’, we think of reading or phonics. Many parents may even feel inadequate in imparting reading skills to their children due to their lack of knowledge in phonics. However, language and literacy development is facilitated by the children’s experiences at home, in school and in the community. How then can parents help their children to develop their early literacy skills?
Speaking to Your Child
Language is acquired before your child starts to learn to speak. Start talking to your baby from Day 1 even though it may feel like you are talking to yourself. Banish the baby talk and explain to your precious how the world works. Point out the things that you are talking about, describe them and provide as many details as you can. Use your five senses to include information like colour, texture, sound, taste and smell. This will sharpen his observational skills as he looks out for the details that you have shared. You may feel silly talking to yourself at first but you will get used to it and your baby will love listening to your voice. You can also attempt a conversation by listening to his babbles, pretending to understand him and replying to him.
As your little one grows and picks up basic vocabulary, keep
talking to him and have him repeat some words. Encourage him to look at your lips and tongue to show him how your mouth looks like when
you are verbalising a word. In time, he will be able to mirror your
actions and enunciate as clearly as you are.
As your child becomes more verbal, your conversations with him will take on a more complex nature as he responds to you with his thoughts and opinions. It will no longer be a monologue but an almost proper chat between two people. Make eye contact with him and be interested in what he has to say, no matter how long it takes for him to work out his thoughts before replying. This way, you are demonstrating to him how to practise turn-taking in conversations.
It is also important to exercise wait-time (at least 5 seconds of silence before further prompts) while posing questions to your child and encourage think-time at pertinent points during an activity. This will allow your child to formulate his thoughts and give his brain time to process the inputs that were given to him.
Reading to Your Child
Similar to speaking, you can start reading to your baby as early as possible. In the initial stage, it is mainly about familiarising your baby with the intonation of the English language (or mother tongue) so, you can read just about anything to your baby. But as your baby’s vision improves, you may want to move on to books that are more colourful to keep him interested. If your baby’s attention is short, you may choose to skip the words and simply talk about the pictures instead. You can also make up your own stories.
As your child gets older and his attention span becomes longer, upgrade to more complex stories. Introduce different genres (fiction, non-fiction, picture books, magazines etc) to your child and don’t limit his choice by only picking board books. If he tears a page, look at him in the eye and tell him firmly that books are for reading and not for tearing. Take your time with each book and don’t be in a rush to complete it. As you read, introduce print awareness to your child by pointing to the words, encourage your child to repeat some of the words, relate the picture to the story and get your child involved by having him flip the pages.
Indulge in post-reading activities by focusing on main vocabulary words by using a word frame or copy the words onto a piece of paper or whiteboard, and then putting up the words on the wall at his eye level. Role play his favourite scene from the story and change the ending. Do a search on the Internet to look for art and craft activities related to the story. The possibilities are endless.
Creating a Positive Literacy Environment
A good way to encourage early literacy is to set up a positive literacy environment in the house. Have reading materials in different parts of the house and in places that are accessible to your baby to encourage him to pick out the books and look at them at his own time. Create a writing corner with different types of writing materials, scrap papers, old magazines etc to allow him to explore mark-making, drawing and eventually writing. Label common items such as a table, chair, fan, cupboard, clock and wall and put them up. Once your child is beginning to read, he will try to read every print that he sees. Recognise his efforts and praise him so that he will be further encouraged to read other environmental print like signboards, labels, cereal boxes, advertisements and headlines.
Singing to your Child
Songs, especially action songs, are a great way to interest your child as children are naturally creative, musical and artistic. The music alone teaches us pattern, pulse, rhyme and structure without the complication of language. Combining language and music in the form of nursery rhymes is even more powerful as children are able to make better connections between sounds and words as well as engage in word play through making up silly lyrics.
One way is to use songs and actions to teach letter sounds (such as Phonics Zoo and Jolly Phonics). Another way is to use familiar tunes (such as the tune to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star) but tweaking the lyrics to make up your very own song. If you don’t think you are musically inclined, stick to the good old nursery rhymes or your favourite pop songs, and point out words that begin and end with the same sounds. You can also introduce different genres of music such as raps, that has many rhyming words, or folk songs, that usually contain repetitive lyrics.
The beauty of early literacy is that there is no straight route to encourage literacy development in young children. The best way is to expose your child to a myriad of activities, structured and free play so that he can find joy in learning wherever he is.