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Adventures in Early Childhood: Tools for supporting literacy development

From Erin Carlson

We have all heard about the importance of reading in the development of children. How serious are we taking it, though? How can we support language and literacy development in this fast-paced digital world we live in? Print is all around us, and we can use various types of print to support literacy development in children.

There are many ways that we as teachers, families and caregivers can support language and literacy development in the young lives we impact. Take dramatic play, for example. If you observe young children during play, you will notice that pretend play comprises a large portion of their play time. Children enjoy using their rapidly developing imaginations during play concepts such as playing house, doctor, store, veterinarian, restaurant, post office, and so on. Any experience or interaction a child has in his or her everyday life potentially plays a role in the learning process of how our big world turns. Children can use dramatic play as an outlet in understanding how things work, and we can support them by giving them the materials and guidance they need.

We, as the adults in their lives, can use many tools to support learning and development during play. Not only can we use open-ended questions to encourage thinking and language, but there are many physical props we can introduce into children’s play scenarios that can aide language and literacy development. Children’s play areas should always contain writing materials for children to explore and use while they play. Paper and crayons can be used to create signs of all kinds. Other printed materials such as mailing supplies, restaurant order slips, take-out menus, maps, catalogs, newspapers, coupon books, cookbooks, or other such materials that could encourage print-supported dramatic play in children, should be available. Introduce new materials often to encourage children to use different kinds of materials during play. Allow children to write and create their own printed props. Even illegible scribbles are a positive part of developing writing skills and literacy. It’s all part of the active learning process!

I increasingly worry about losing our letter-writing abilities. Email and texting have taken over our world of personal communication and this generation of children is growing up oblivious to “old fashioned” letter- writing. Our preschool classes recently wrote letters to children in another class as part of a literacy project. It was fun to share stories with others and it was such a thrill to receive a real letter from someone! Maybe your child can send a letter to a friend or loved one this weekend.

We should read often to our children and let them explore a variety of books. Children who are read to regularly gain an early love and appreciation for books that is likely to stay with them into adolescence and adulthood. Bring your children to the library and allow them to browse the selection of children’s books. Read to your children every day and have conversations with them about the stories you read. We are constant models to our children, so allow your children to see you read as well. If our children see us love and appreciate books, chances are they will, too.

Erin Carlson is a licensed early childhood educator at Silver Creek Early Learning Center, a nature-based preschool program on Hwy. 61 outside of Two Harbors.