Language and literacy matter. Both are critical for future learning and success. As Barack Obama said, “Literacy is the most basic currency of the knowledge economy we’re living in today.”
Through their practices, early childhood educators can significantly impact children’s language and literacy development and support their progress towards the EYLF Learning Outcome, “Children are effective communicators.”
Essential Resources supplies language and literacy resources for early years learning. Get Them Talking, Get Them Learning helps early childhood educators support language development. The early reading resource, Story Play, provides a treasure trove of activities for storytelling in early childhood.
Teacher-child interactions are essential for promoting literacy in early childhood education. Early childhood teachers can foster early literacy development in several ways:
Central to one of our literacy resources for the early years is the importance of fun while learning literacy. “Since play is the natural human learning drive, the more enjoyable an activity is, the more like it is to enhance learning.”
Pointing out sounds, noises and rhyming words helps teach children listening and speech-sound awareness. In turn, they understand the sound system needed for spelling and reading.
For example, encourage children to think about the sounds they hear in words and ask if they can think of alternatives – “What other words start with S? Does anyone else have a name starting with S?”
Engage children with a range of texts – visual, oral and aural. Lift-the-flap books are not only fun but also teach children to make predictions. Before opening the flap, ask children what they think will be behind it. Dr Seuss-style rhyming books are great for teaching children to make connections between the sound of a word and how it is written.
According to the National Early Literacy Panel (2008), the essential early literacy skills are:
Alphabet knowledge and phonological awareness are particularly critical in early childhood because together, they form the basis of the alphabetic principle. The alphabetic principle is understanding the relationship between written letters and spoken sounds.
The Early Literacy Guide illustrates teaching practices to support essential literacy skills.
The simple answer is yes; child-initiated learning supports language development in the early years.
When children are in control of their interactions, they are more engaged and motivated. They can speak about and listen to what interests them. Consequently, children are less likely to switch their attention to something else.
Additionally, as it says in Foundations of Early Literacy, “Talk during child-initiated activities helps children absorb new vocabulary and language structures easily, as there is a direct, concrete link between what they are doing and what they are saying.”
However, there is a caveat.
A study (Weisberg, Zosh, Hirsh-Pasek & Golinkoff, 2013) found that play in which children primarily take the lead and build on their own interests with support from a responsive adult provides a “particularly effective language-learning environment.”
This is reiterated in Foundations of Early Literacy, which says early childhood educators should use opportunities to engage children in talk during child-initiated learning.