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Literacy activities

Building Literacy Every Day

by Ellen Booth Church
"All my life I've looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time." - Ernest Hemingway

Oh, the excitement of understanding words for the first time! Your young child is at this magical stage when the vision, sound, and even the "feel" of words are totally fascinating. In the toddler years, your child is hearing new words every day and is learning how to apply what she is experiencing to understand the meaning of these words. Just by playing with and talking to your toddler, you are building the foundation of literacy skills that will last a lifetime.

In the preschool and kindergarten years, these understandings are expanding into the fun of playing with sounds of rhyme and alliteration. This is when your child delights in the way sounds feel in her mouth and when she experiments with new words Every conflict begins with upset. How we handle the internal upset in ourselves and with our children can be a bridge to responsibility and problem solving -- sometimes over and over again! At this stage your child may also be seeing words for the first time, and is learning how to do what educators call "making meaning" of what she is seeing. This means that she may be using the illustrations on a page, or the image on a sign to interpret what she's seeing. You may notice that she is "reading" the illustrations in the book and making up her own story.

It's important to know that even though your child is not reading word for word what's on the page, she is still building essential reading and literacy skills. Literacy studies have shown that learning to read is not just about recognizing the words, but learning all the skills of interpreting the sights, sounds, and images of language. This means that your child is exploring and experimenting with the world of words and language much like a scientist experiments with elements. And the exciting news is that your child is being a "literacy scientist" every day, throughout the day, with all her interactions, events, materials, and books.

How to Encourage Literacy Skills in Children

Let's look at a few of the ways your child can learn literacy skills in daily activities:

Talk, Talk, Talk! I don't need to remind you to talk to your child. You already do that. But do you play with that talk? Show your child your own interest in words and sounds by being playful with your own language interactions with her. For example, you might periodically choose a word of the day to use and play with. Often an unusual adjective such as "amazing, surprising, astonishing, or extraordinary" can be a good word to choose. This way you can use this word to describe things throughout the day. As in, "I had the most amazing day today!" This focus is a great way to introduce new words into the context of your child's everyday life.

Play word-matching games and don't forget to play with the sounds of rhyming words and alliteration. At this stage your child may just enjoy the sound of rhymes without worrying about using "real words." It is all about the sounds, so don't worry if your child's rhymes don't make any sense!

Fun Language Books and Materials to Explore: Cook Together! You may not have thought of cooking as a literacy activity, but it definitely is! One essential basic literacy skill is sequencing. This is the skill that your child uses to understand the phases of a story from beginning to end. All stories have a sequence, and your child uses this understanding to interpret the chain of events. Interestingly, you and your child use these same sequence skills to follow the steps of a recipe! Some books have excellent picture recipes your child can follow. She can point to the pictures and words on the page as you choose the ingredients and follow the steps together. Try lining up the ingredients on the counter so that your child can match them to the images in the recipe book. Matching is another essential literacy skill. After the food is cooked, invite your child to describe the steps she took to make it. Be prepared for some funny descriptions!

Fun Cooking Books and Materials to Explore: Sing and Sound Together! Singing is a great way for your child to hear and make the sounds of language. Some children find it easier to hear the rhymes and alliteration in a song than in a story or a poem. This is a legitimate reason to break into song whenever you feel like it! Turn your household into an episode of Glee by singing your conversations and directions instead of saying them. The best thing is that your child will often listen to you better when you sing a request than when you say it. And at this age, no matter what your voice sounds like, your child thinks it sounds great! Time to clean up? Make up a song for it! Setting the table? Change the words to "Farmer in the Dell" to "the bowl on the table" and so on. Add instruments and pots and pans. You will be building listening, sequencing, and rhyming and rhythm skills in the process. As you sing familiar songs together, leave out the rhyming word at the end of a phrase for your child to fill in. She will delight in showing you what she knows!

Fun Music Books and Materials to Explore: Read Together Every Day! Of course, the number ONE thing you can do to build your child's literacy skills is read together. But the key word in that sentence is together. You can read to or even at your child, but when you read together you are helping your child begin to see herself as a reader. Ask her to predict what the story will be about by looking at the cover together. Stop at a crucial point in the story and ask your child what she thinks will happen next. Invite her to "read" the page or pages to you. Most of all, tell your child, "you are reading," when she helps you with the book. This will help her begin to see herself as a reader and start her along the joyful path of lifelong reading.  
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Meet Our Expert
Ellen Booth Church
Early Childhood Consultant
Well-known early childhood educator, Ellen Booth Church spent several years as both a pre-k and kindergarten teacher before becoming an early childhood assistant professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz. She is currently an educational consultant, keynote speaker, curriculum/product developer, and writer, dedicated to enriching the lives of young children and their families. In addition, Ellen is a columnist for Scholastic's Parent and Child magazine as well as the author of many books for teachers and parents. In the world of Children's Television, Ellen has consulted for PBS, Nelvana, and Cartoon Network on a wide variety of projects.

You can find out more on Ellen Booth Church's website.
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