Five Ways to Make Literacy Learning Meaningful

I was just re-reading this old article  from a 2005 issue NAEYC’s Young Child magazine, written by Susan Neuman and Kathleen Roskos, leading researchers in the field of early literacy.  The emphasis of the article was on the importance of creating meaningful experiences through which children can truly engage in the process of acquiring early literacy skills.  In reference to the 1998 joint position statement created by NAEYC and the International Reading Association outlining developmentally appropriate practice in literacy instruction, the authors write: 

“The research-based statement stresses that for children to become skilled readers, they need to develop a rich language and conceptual knowledge base, a broad and deep vocabulary, and verbal reasoning abilities to understand messages conveyed through print.  At the same time, it recognizes that children also must develop code-related skills” (phonological awareness, the alphabetic principle, etc.).  “But to attain a high level of skill, young children need many opportunities to develop these strands interactively, not in isolation.  Meaning, not sounds or letters, drives children’s earliest experiences with print. Therefore, the position statement points out that although specific skills like alphabet knowledge are important to literacy development, children must acquire these skills in coordination and interaction with meaningful experiences (Neuman, Bredekamp, & Copple 2000).”

How do you promote a culture of literacy, ensuring that children are learning elements of literacy within the context of meaningful experiences?  Here are some ideas I had.  I’d like to hear about yours in the comments as well.

  • Read, read, read.  Read books together, taking time to talk about what the words mean, how the characters feel, and what might happen next.  Point out words or letters that are particularly meaningful.  (“Can you find a ‘W’ like the one at the beginning of your name?”  “It says ‘stop’ four times on this page!  Here’s one.  Can you find another?”)
  • Play with words.  Incorporate words — spoken and written — into play.  Have print-rich props (menus, phone books, signs) and encourage writing with paper, pencils, typewriters, chalk boards, and clipboards.  In addition to incorporating literacy into your dramatic play, try playing games with the sounds in the words you use as well.  For example, stretch out the sounds in words (phonemes) and see if your children can put the words back together to discover the mystery word.  (“Put your hand on your h-ea-d.”)
  • Find it all around.  Find letters on your cereal boxes, words on signs, and rhymes that fall into place in a a book or in your regular conversations.  Involve children in the many ways we interact with words each day.  Cut words or letters from packaging and create a word wall or letter file.
  • Write it down.  Let children see you writing words.  Dictate their stories, label your room, send them notes, create lists, write out recipes, and post the words to songs.  Even if you think your children don’t read, they are building connections between what they see, hear, and experience.
  • Talk, talk, talk.  A child’s vocabulary is the key to finding meaning in their experiences with words.  Invite genuine conversations with your children.  Use new words and talk about their meanings or illustrate their meanings within your conversation by using synonyms.  Talk with children instead of at them.  Develop ideas and explore new possibilities.  Quality conversations mean you speak up instead of talking down to kids.

How do you create meaningful experiences while building literacy in the children you love and teach?

You may also enjoy reading the series: Why Don’t You Teach Reading: A Look at Emergent Literacy

Top photo by Aline Dassel.



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