To be Literate or Not to be Literate?

May 9, 2013 by

S and S reading 2 2013To be Literate or Not to be Literate?

A Parenting Perspective

By Dr. Sally Goldberg

Do you know anyone who is illiterate, cannot read and write? Probably not. More than likely the people you know grew up in an advantaged environment and had many of the benefits of rich language experiences. There are four aspects of a language-rich environment–reading, writing, understanding, and speaking; and these are introduced best in natural and enjoyable ways. Singing fits right in there too as an enrichment activity. Learning to read and being able to write, however, are tricky and best started as part of an entire “emergent literacy” process that begins in the early years and continues on throughout life.

These four parts  of literacy are related to each other in interesting ways.

* You read what someone has written and write for others to read.
* You understand what someone has spoken and you read what others have written.
* You understand and read (receptive) on a higher level than you can speak or write (expressive).
* Understanding provides a foundation for speaking, and reading provides the background for writing.

NOTE: About 14 percent of Americans are known to be illiterate, and about 32 million people in our country cannot read according to a report from of the U.S. Education Department in 2003 (no newer statistics are available). More recent studies point to the fact that illiteracy is probably up now to about 23 percent.

Emergent Literacy… Right from the Start!

According to research, language development is the key to a child’s academic success. It is high quality and high quantity language experiences during the developmental years from birth through age five that provide children with the foundation they need to achieve in school. While children have an inherent propensity to learn language, they need to learn it from someone and from somewhere, and that means their parents and or caregivers. However, contrary to what you might expect in 2013, having excellent language models for children is not so easy. The most well-meaning and loving parents are often busy at work with little time left over to spend with their own children. Caregivers who are available in a childcare setting often have many children to care for and little time to speak in high quality and high quantity to any one child.

Since child  language development is rapid and continually growing during the early years, having a language activity focus is important. The principle behind this kind of approach is to seek out opportunities for high quality and high quantity language wherever you can. An excellent example is something as simple as setting up a regular time to read to your child. Another possibility is attending story hour with your child at a local library. Best of all, as you know, is having your whole family together at mealtime, the original natural opportunity for family communication. Just spending one-on-one time with your child can do the trick. While all of this may sound easy, it is not and remains one of the true challenges that exists today for America’s huge group of well-meaning and loving parents.

No matter, difficult does not mean impossible. Here are 15 “emergent literacy” tips to help make your job easier.

15 “Emergent Literacy” Tips*

1. Respect and appreciate your child at all times. You show respect by using the word “please,” and you show appreciation by using the words “thank you.” The way to teach your child to say “please” and “thank you” is to say “Please” and “thank you” to your child.

2. As a mother, you are the first to nourish your child’s body. As parents you are the first to nourish your child’s mind.

3. Use the R, S and T of parenting. Read, sing, and talk to your child as much as possible.

4. Emergent literacy is described as the natural, gradual development of a young person  listening, speaking, reading, and writing. These skills emerge as children are exposed to a rich language environment.

5. Growth in literacy varies from child to child. Listening opportunities foster speaking skills, and reading opportunities foster writing skills.

6. Whereas speaking was once considered a spontaneous occurrence, almost magical in quality, it is now considered part of a literary process that starts before birth. It starts as soon as hearing develops, around the fifth or sixth month of fetal development.

7. The language(s) to which babies and young children are exposed will be the language(s) they learn to speak. If one person speaks to your child consistently in a second language, your child can learn that language. If one person speaks both languages, there is more of a chance for the child to get confused.

8. The period from 18 months to four-years-old is a critical time for excellence in language learning. While a language-rich environment (reading, singing, and talking to, your child) is important from birth on, it is absolutely necessary to be in full bloom by 18 months. Never again will your child have the ability to learn language-related activities with such ease.

9. Research shows that children exposed to reading from ages two to four become early readers with ease and never lose their edge. New research suggests that reading is as natural as walking; if we let it emerge, it will.

10. Parents who find themselves busy sharing reading experiences with their children are likely to find themselves the parents of avid readers.

11. Model language for your child in the best way you know how… rich sentences, good
grammar, and with lots of love.

12. During the developmental years from birth to age five is the best time to have another person in your child’s life to talk to your child in another language. Your child can even learn a third language by interacting with a third person who speaks only that language with your child.

13. Learning songs helps promote language. Both language exposure and the beat are foundation experiences for memory development.

14. Enjoy your role as your child’s first and most important teacher. Teach all you can to your child about all aspects of life and then hug, hug, hug as much as you can all the time.

15. Act natural and be yourself. Laugh with, talk with, and sing with your child whenever and however you want.

*    Excerpted from 100 Insights for Raising Successful Children by Sally Goldberg, Ph.D.

Read more from Dr. Sally at Parenting Tips with Dr. Sally

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