Literacy derives itself from oral skills as much as from reading and writing. The ability to communicate using language and articulate one’s thoughts and feelings lays the foundation for oral language skills. Through a variety of interactions like small and large group discussions, peer-to-peer conversations, retelling and recounting events in sequence, using different tenses, listening and responding, children can strengthen their communication skills. Adults can also offer significant support in this development.
Extending children’s vocabulary by intentionally repeating their thoughts using new and more descriptive words is a way to enrich children’s vocabulary. For example, in response to the sentence “I had fun”, an attentive adult can say “I can see that you had a wonderful time with your friends today. You look very happy. What was your favourite part today?” The adult here acknowledges the child’s feelings, introduces new vocabulary and at the same time encourages the child to elaborate his or her thoughts.
The key, however, is to follow your child’s lead and engage meaningfully in a conversation with him or her. These conversations help lay the foundation for rich vocabulary as well as a strong bond between you and your child.
With strong vocabulary comes the desire to decode print. As adults, we forget the significance of this milestone where ‘shapes’ and ‘symbols’ start making sense and actually convey meaning. The journey in making the connection between written and oral language is gradual and it signifies a very important milestone in developing a child's literacy skills. Picture books are therefore a great start towards making that connection.
Another key developmental milestone is an understanding of the conventions of print, reading from left to right, holding a book the right way, understanding the terms ‘author’ and ‘illustrator’ that define a book, as well as the ‘shapes’ that signify letters that combine to form words and words put together to create a sentence. Shared reading with adults is a wonderful way in which adults model reading habits for children. It also helps develop awareness of the conventions of print as well as intonation, vocabulary and the pattern of the language. Books with rhymes and alliterations are helpful in the development of a listening vocabulary which further strengthens children’s language development.
Creating a print-rich environment is another way to help children make the connection between oral and written text. It also adds value and significance to written text. Labeling different areas at home and in your child’s room, providing different writing implements like markers, white boards, journals; familiarizing them with magazines, newspapers, information booklets, catalogues, invitation cards etc., offering stamps, envelopes, ink pads for your child to experiment with writing and mark-making are suggested ways to enrich the literacy experiences in your child’s life. Scribbling is an important developmental milestone in your child’s writing journey and should be encouraged instead of disregarded.
Ask your child about his or her ‘work’, which could be a few lines on a piece of the paper, and encourage your child to interpret the drawing. Decode your child’s thoughts and write it down next to the drawing. The process of doing so will reinforce the connection between thinking, articulating and writing.
Phonemic awareness or an understanding of letter sounds and blends is a more advanced developmental milestone and develops with repeated exposure to a range of experiences in vocabulary and writing in older children. A result of this development is ‘invented spellings’ where strawberry can be written as ‘strauberi’. Letter-sound correspondence is a significant achievement in young children and should be celebrated. Often, adults tend to correct the child’s spelling. Doing so diminishes the significance of the child’s efforts and may even make him or her reluctant to write in the future.
English is a tricky language and children will eventually learn to pick up correct spelling patterns as they get older. Let them celebrate this wonderful form of communication called ‘writing’ - isn’t that what childhood is all about? It is a time to live in the moment and cherish every milestone and every journey as a child and equally so as a parent.