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Professional Development: Readiness for Reading and Writing - What Does It Mean?

Focus on early experiences that help children build literacy skills

  • Grades: Early Childhood, Infant, PreK–K
Leadership: A Special Section for Administrators

There's been an explosion of knowledge over the last few years about how children's earliest experiences set the stage for success in learning to read and write. In fact, most experts agree that children who reach kindergarten with certain characteristics - an interest in books, a fondness for conversation, a curiosity about the world - are more likely to thrive in school and have productive and happy lives.

Today, we use the term "school readiness" to refer to the bundle of knowledge, skills, and motivational behaviors that we associate with children's successful entry into school. These skills include oral language and vocabulary development, phonological and phonemic development, knowledge of the alphabet, and an understanding that print goes from left to right and from up to down on a page.

Read to Them!

Language and vocabulary development forms the foundation for reading and writing. Children's vocabulary is growing rapidly during these early years. Possibly the most important contributor to children's vocabulary is being read to. A considerable body of research confirms the link between being read to and learning to read and write successfully.

Play Rhyming and Word Games

Children begin to learn about the sounds of language as they enjoy nursery rhymes and word games. Studies have shown, for example, that knowledge of nursery rhymes helps build phonological awareness later on - the ability to hear similarities and differences in words. Phonemic awareness refers to a child's understanding that speech is composed of identifiable units, including spoken words, syllables, and sounds.

Support Invented Spelling

Children develop a great deal of knowledge of the alphabet through their early writing attempts. One study found that even without formal spelling instruction, preschoolers use their intuitive knowledge of sounds and letters to spell words. Some people use the term invented spelling or phonic spelling to refer to this process. For example, a child may initially write b or bk for the word book, to be followed by a more conventional form later on. As children engage in writing, they are learning to break down the words they wish to spell into their corresponding sounds.

Offer Writing Opportunities

Writing and reading are closely related. Writing helps children understand that there is a systematic relationship between letters and sounds. They learn that the alphabet includes a limited set of letters, and that these letters stand for the sounds that make up spoken words.

For many children, the beginnings of these skills appear in activities such as pretend play, drawing, and conversations about stories and favorite characters. These playful activities make it clear that children are actively trying to use, and to make sense of, reading and writing long before they can actually read and write.

Identify Expectations

What are appropriate expectations for school readiness? In general, children should: be able to carry on a brief conversation; be able to attend and react to stories; know the letters of the alphabet, as well as the sounds that those letters make; and know some basic print concepts, such as that print has meaning and that it begins at a specific place on each page. Given what we've learned from research, we know that literacy for life is nurtured in the earliest years.

  • Subjects:
    Literacy, Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Child Development and Behavior, Early Reading, Early Writing, Environmental Print, Leadership, School Administration and Management
  • Skills:
    Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Print Awareness, Writing
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