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Our Blog: August 16, 2011

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How to Define — and Support — Literacy

The foundational understanding of literacy is that the words we say can be broken down into sounds, which are represented by letters that we write. When other people read these letters, they come together to form words, which build sentences, which create wonderful worlds of stories and ideas. We consider a person literate when he or she can decode these symbols in a meaningful way.

For young children, adults should focus on two primary literacy goals. The first is to help children fall in love with the amazing world of stories and words. Families do this by reading or telling stories with children. Even 10 minutes a day has a remarkable impact on children’s views of literature.

Parents can also support this goal by sharing words with their children. Vocabulary is a gift that keeps on giving. Studies have shown that children who go into kindergarten with higher vocabulary sets are much more likely to be successful. Use interesting words with your child, buy (or find online) a calendar of the day and incorporate new words into your conversations.

But, what’s most important, talk with your child. Turn off the DVD player in the car, eat dinner around a table and talk about your days, your lives, your memories, and your dreams and aspirations.

The second goal is to help children build that foundational understanding of literacy. For parents of young children, there are six ways to incorporate literacy in real ways into the home.

  • Immersion means that you fill your house with examples of meaningful print.
  • Demonstration means that you model for children how reading and writing work.
  • Engagement means showing children the many ways that literacy can be useful in life.
  • Expectation means helping children see themselves (and behave) as literate human beings.
  • Approximation means creating an environment in which children know it is okay to make mistakes.
  • Response means taking advantage of teachable moments — for example, looking for familiar words and letters as you drive home from school together.

Once children develop the foundational understanding of literacy, the other stuff (identifying letters, matching sounds and letters, putting words together to make words) comes more easily. For young children, we want literacy to be fun and engaging. We want them to aspire to the day when they can read stories on their own or write their own messages to friends.


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