Literacy development is continuous from birth, beginning with a childs earliest experiences with language. Observations of young children show that the development of oral language, reading, and writing are interrelated processes, and that children learn to read and write concurrently. Young children will initiate activities with paper, pencils and crayons, and books and magazines, and will spontaneously assume the roles of writer and reader in their daily play. These observations of young children as they read and write form the foundation of the concept of emergent literacy.
In emergent literacy, children actively engage in acquiring language and in constructing their own understandings of how oral and written language works. They experiment with these understandings, testing them in verbal interaction with their parents and other adults. As parents and other adults demonstrate reading and writing in purposeful, meaningful ways, young children come to expect meaning from print. Studies show that children who are early readers have been read to extensively by their families. By the time they are two or three, many children can read environmental print such as familiar traffic or safety signs and symbols, restaurant names, or words they see in the media.
Early Years teachers recognize that young children bring to school a range of literacy experiences and knowledge that can be built upon in the classroom. Childrens knowledge about print expands quickly as they participate in meaningful and genuine experiences with reading, listening, talking, viewing, representing, and writing in the classroom. Teachers foster early literacy development by reading to children daily, by providing guided reading, writing, and representing activities from the first day of school, and by actively promoting literacy growth at a level appropriate to each childs development.
Daily reading at home is a vital support to childrens literacy growth. Children who are read to at home, and who experience warm interactions around books with a caring parent, grandparent, guardian, or sibling, tend to develop positive attitudes toward reading. Discussion between parent and child about stories and illustrations enhances oral language development, comprehension of text, and a sense of story. The parent is, in this way, providing a scaffold, or support for the childs literacy learning, just as the teacher does in the classroom.
Teachers who show determination in developing and maintaining a home reading program, and who provide regular information to parents about good books, useful strategies, and their childrens progress, are adding to their students literacy growth in immeasurable ways. This home-school partnership that begins in the early years is vital to childrens literacy development throughout the school years.
Students identified as Early Years students range from four to ten years of age. Kindergarten students and most students in Grade 1 are considered emergent literacy learners. Students in Grade 4 (and some in Grade 3) are moving into a transitional stage in which they are beginning to acquire many of the characteristics of the Middle Years learner. In order to meet the developmental needs of all students in Early Years classrooms, it is essential that teachers understand how children at these ages learn. Recently revised guidelines from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (Bredekamp and Copple, 1997) indicate the importance of appropriate support for literacy development in authentic contexts in all early childhood classrooms.
Recognizing the connections among childrens social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development has led educators to the philosophy that children learn best when schools provide a democratic, caring community with high family involvement. Within this kind of community, children feel valued. They receive relevant and meaningful learning experiences. They are offered appropriate choices about their learning. The research and theories of the past decade on childrens development and learning have added to our knowledge of early literacy development and are reflected in this document.
In the Early Years, there is dramatic growth in students listening, speaking, reading, and writing vocabulary. Most students move rapidly along a literacy continuum from pre-conventional (emergent) literacy to independence in reading, writing, viewing, and representing. An increased vocabulary and growing ability to consider other points of view greatly increase students oral and written communications skills. Their speech becomes more fluent, and they are capable of interactive, reciprocal conversations with teachers and peers.
By conversing with students, teachers extend and expand their conversations. Teachers can facilitate discussions among students by encouraging them to express their opinions, ideas, and feelings. These social interactions play an important role in learning. Conversing about their learning strengthens students abilities to express themselves, to construct meaning, to reason, and to solve problems. As they gain a greater control of language, children use it to think and to influence others thinking. Teachers demonstrate respect for students ideas by listening and responding attentively to them. It is important to provide small and large group activities in which students listen actively to peers, ask and respond to questions, in order to extend their developing communication skills and facilitate their cognitive development.