The Importance of Early Literacy Skills

Sam demonstrates developing literacy skills when he reads Goodnight Moon. Before the video begins, I handed him the book purposefully upside down and backwards. He immediately flipped the book over so the front was facing him and “righted” the book so that the title was at the top. When the video begins, he comfortably and capably flips through the pages to find his favorite page. He understands the concept of “page” and uses the vocabulary word accurately. He proceeds to “read” the page he likes. Of course, he is not reading the words, but has committed them to memory, having heard them so many times before, and has solidly connected the visual on the page (which is actually “nothing” on the page!) with the words he has heard. He “believes” he has “read” the page, because it looks and feels like what he has seen other do so many times: turn pages and say the words on the pages. When prompted to look for another page, Sam turns to a page that looks similar to the one about “clocks” in the story (another favorite page of his), but he knows immediately that the visuals on the page do not match the words that has memorized for the page. He accepts that it is the “wrong” page, so I give him the words that are on the page and ask him to fill in the last word. By doing so, he shows me he knows the story well enough to fill in the gap and has the chance to build confidence as a “reader.”

These early literacy skills are crucial for school readiness. Children who do not receive “book time” will struggle when they arrive to school to learn to read. However, in this video, one can see that early literacy skills for a child Sam’s age is not about identifying the letters on the page, sounding out the written words, knowing sight words, or pointing to the title of the book. His early literacy skills are about having a “close” relationship with the book, by memorizing words on a page, knowing what the pictures tell him, knowing which way is up and down in a book, feeling the paper pages and turning them easily, pointing to things he sees on the pages, understanding how characters in a story feel, connecting how characters in a book feel with how he feels, and telling the story back to me.

Early literacy skills at his age are moreso about the relationship he has with others around him than they are about how well can he “read” or what kind of “reader” he is. He enjoys books as he enjoys people. He connects to stories and has favorites, just as he connects to people and has his “favorites.” He shows an interest in reading and seeks out books as a way to learn about the world around him, just as he seeks out people as a source of information and a surefire way to come to understand himself and his world better. He gazes at pictures on the pages of a book as he gazes at his world, constantly looking around to understand how his world works and his position in it. He is well aware that in asking to be read to, that he is connecting with the person who reads to him as much as he is connecting to the book, and that he is connecting to much more than the alphabet letters that come together to form words that he can “read.”

It’s important to keep this in mind as we read to the 0-3 year old crowd. Development in these early years is about forming relationships. It is the relationships to people, stories and their world that will carry them successfully through their school years. In being able to form relationships with the people who care for them from birth to 3, they will go forward to form relationships with peers, teachers and other grown-ups so that they can learn successfully.


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