Helping Students Find Out How Words Work...
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Laying the Foundations for Literacy

The focus of early childhood education is not to teach children to read and write.  However, much of what happens in quality early childhood education lays the foundation for future literacy success.

Vocabulary knowledge and knowledge of how to use words to describe, explain and understand the world are the foundations upon which literacy skills are built.  Written English is an alphabetic language, based on using alphabet letters to record the sounds that make up words.    An awareness of sounds and sound patterns in words (phonological awareness) is therefore critical to understanding how the alphabetic code works.  Playing with words and sounds  – rhyming, clapping syllables, finding common sounds in words, thinking about word meanings, describing things,  explaining ideas – these are the foundations of literacy, and are part of early childhood education.

Dr Kevin Wheldall of Macquarie University in Sydney has this to say about pre-school literacy instruction:
             The research shows that children commencing school with both phonological awareness and
             well-developed general language skills are far more likely to learn to read easily and quickly.
             …The idea of teaching these skills to pre-school children may sound off-putting to some, but
             there is no reason why these skills may not be taught effectively in an engaging and play-
             based way that is more appropriate for young children, and more comfortable for early
             childhood educators (p.2., LDA Bulletin, Volume 43, No 1, July 2011).

 Alphabet Knowledge

Despite what many might think, alphabet knowledge is not the foundation of literacy.  It is certainly useful and necessary for young children to learn to recognise the images of letters, to know their names and to understand that letters link to sounds in words.   However, it is not useful to teach children that each letter of the alphabet has one sound, since this concept does not work with the alphabetic code of English.  The letter a does not just represent a short /a/ as in apple, as children with names like Amanda, Amy, Austin, Walter and Kate will immediately realise.   The letters of the alphabet are linked to sounds of English, not a sound of English.   In order to understand the complex nature of the alphabetic principle of English, children have to learn that words are made up of sounds and that sounds can be written using letters of the alphabet.  This is quite a different concept from the idea that each letter has a sound.   There are more than 40 sounds that make up English words and only 26 letters of the alphabet, so teaching the one-sound, one-letter concept simply does not work.   

Early Literacy Instruction

Introducing early literacy skills should move from developing vocabulary knowledge, to developing phonological and phonemic awareness skills, to learning the role that letters play in representing sounds in words.   Children can be taught these skills in a developmentally appropriate way before they go to school.   There are a number of Word Detective resources that provide Early Childhood teachers with support to build these pre-literacy skills, to ensure that children are set up for success when they go to school. 

Click the ‘literacy’ button in the menu to view these resources.