Teaching children the skills of literacy from birth important for their future
By Michelle Hall
All parents know the importance of sitting down with their child to read a book or two -- or three -- just before bedtime. But not everyone knows that many other daily activities and interactions can be turned into beneficial learning experiences to promote literacy development for children.
Linda Crowe, an assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders at Kansas State University, says the definition of literacy in society has changed over the years. Children must get as many literacy experiences as possible from birth on, she says.
"It's not just basic reading skills anymore," Crowe says. "But proficient reading skills." Studies show that children who receive few literacy experiences early on start school behind their peers. Many federal grants now focus on catching these children up with their the others. So it's important, Crowe says, to find opportunities to promote literacy frequently for children.
Her recommendations, outlined in her book "The Source for Early Literacy Development," focus on natural interactions and activities to promote reading and writing from birth to age 8.
Crowe recommends, for example, providing children with ample supplies for writing experiences.
"Children's first writing experiences are drawing," Crowe says. Children can create recipes or shopping lists with pictures of the foods, for example.
For children who are older and learning to write, creating a list of their favorite songs, writing cards to friends and family and making up schedules are great opportunities for them to use their skills.
"Get children understanding that print is a means to communicate," Crowe advocates. Even playing board games, where children must read the instructions, playing cards or the board itself, is a great way to encourage literacy, she adds.
In addition, Crowe recommends talking to children from the time they are born. Parents can tell infants about what they're doing right now, while toddlers can be told about their environment.
"The sooner kids get experience, the quicker they can advance their skills," Crowe says. Additional suggestions from Crowe for interacting with children to enhance literacy can be found in the Early Head Start Language Intervention Tool Kit she helped create. This resource, for which Crowe was the project manager, is available at http://makeashorterlink.com/?Y23E528C4
And when parents do sit down with their child and a book, Crowe emphasizes reading with the child, rather than to the child. Choosing books to best help a child get the most out of them varies by age.
"For infants and toddlers, choose books with very simple pictures," Crowe recommends. "Anything they can touch and feel is great. And the books must be sturdy." She suggests keeping the pictures and the stories simple for children up until school age. The stories should relate to their everyday lives, such as eating or getting dressed.
"When children get closer to school age, you can focus on more sequential stories," she says.
One type of book Crowe feels is important for development has not been as popular lately: nursery rhymes.
"These stories are important for learning about word and sound play," she says. "Word awareness correlates strongly to academic success." For the same reasons rhyming stories are beneficial to children, music is also important.
"Sing to your children," Crowe advocates. "This helps with rhyming and learning about syllables. It's a great literacy enhancer."
Crowe says emphasizing literacy is important in all that parents do with their children, but knowing if a child is on track in literacy development is another issue. She recommends comparing children to others of the same age, and asking the experts, such as teachers or speech pathologists.
Photos: (Top right) Jeannie facilitates the ability of Justin, 3, and Hunter, 3, to recognize numbers and letters at Stone House Child Care Center at K-State.
(Bottom left) Megan listens as Taylor, 2 1/2, tells her a story.
Photos by Dan Donnert, KSU Photographic Services.