Letters, letters everywhere. One of the best ways to encourage the emerging literacy of young pre-readers is to surround them with the letters of the alphabet. At home, put magnetic letters on the refrigerator. Buy puzzles and toys with letter-based themes. Have plenty of storybooks in the home that encourage recitation and recognition of letters and words.
As we explain in our book, Flourishing in the First Five Years: Connecting Implications from Mind, Brain, and Education Research to the Development of Young Children, classrooms are particularly great places to post the letters of the alphabet, both upper- and lowercase, with corresponding pictures. Teachers can reinforce these connections with regular group recitations (“A” is for “Apple,” “B” is for “Banana,” “C” is “Cat,” etc.). There are opportunities all around the room to place different forms of print—labeling various items by their name—i.e., table, chair, toy box—and labeling children’s cubbies with their names.
Teachers also can display wall stories, labeled murals, and word displays. Children in classrooms such as these spontaneously use almost twice as much print in their play as those not exposed to a print-rich environment. Print environments are effective in encouraging reading as well as the earliest stages of writing.
All of these methods are consistent with what Cambourne calls the immersion theory of learning, which provides multiple opportunities for students to experience visual saturation of print and text and oral saturation of the sounds of written language. Cambourne recommends several immersion strategies, including making functional use of wall print through what he called “print walks” and also supporting a variety of reading experiences, such as the teacher reading aloud, sustained silent reading, shared reading, taped books, and choral reading of such text as poems, rhymes, and songs from wall print.
Research shows that print-rich environments in child-care centers make an important contribution to a child’s interest in learning to read. In the book, we cite educators who advocate the use of literacy-related play areas. For instance, if the room features a play kitchen or restaurant, props such as memo pads, recipes, and cookbooks can help children incorporate print into their everyday playtime interactions (Strickland, et al).
Fortunately, it’s easy to help children take heed of print whenever you go out and about. When you go to the mall or shopping plaza with your young children and grandchildren, point out the letters on the shop signs and advertising placards. And encourage them to point out letters and words as well. Soon, recognizing words and letters will become as second nature to them as walking and talking.
Cambourne, B. (2001). Conditions for literacy learning: Turning learning theory into classroom instruction. A minicase study. The Reading Teacher, 54(4), 414–429.
Strickland, D. S., Morrow, M., Neuman, S. C., Roskos, K., Schickedanz, J. A., & Vukelich, C. (2004). The role of literacy in early childhood. The Reading Teacher, 58(1), 86–100.