Developing literacy is a complex, multistep process requiring time, practice, and resources. You might be wondering, “why is literacy important in preschool?”
What is literacy? Literacy is the ability to read and write. As defined by the National Center for Education Statistics, literacy is the “ability to use printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.”
Literacy is important in preschool because the attitude toward reading and writing that children develop during their early years as they interact with language and books is a critical aspect of emerging literacy.
Emerging literacy skills form the foundation for children’s later literacy development. Researchers have found that emerging literacy skills predict children’s future reading and writing skills and proficiency in using language to express thoughts and ideas. While explicit reading and writing instruction typically begins in kindergarten, children’s foundational literacy skills start to develop at birth. An infant’s efforts to grab for a book and bat at its pages to show interest, a toddler’s scribble, or a 4‑year-old’s fascination with story time are all foundational reading and writing milestones.
How do you teach literacy to preschoolers?
A well-equipped literacy learning center is one of the most effective ways to promote and develop children’s emerging literacy skills. An effective literacy learning center is well-stocked with various books and literacy materials that reflect children’s interests, cultural backgrounds, and learning preferences.
It is important to introduce reading and writing together. Young children need emerging reading skills to help them learn about writing, and they need emerging writing skills to learn about reading. A literacy center that connects the two areas of emerging literacy development can effectively support and bolster children’s literacy skills.
Additionally, it is beneficial to include literacy materials and activities in all of your learning centers—the science center, art center, block center, pretend play center, and woodworking center. Strategically placing literacy materials throughout children’s play areas will reinforce the role of literacy in all areas of learning.
Preschool Literacy Activities
Bookmaking is a fun and rewarding activity that encourages children’s creativity and self-expression.
First, staple several pieces of blank paper together or punch holes in blank pages to place in a binder. A binder allows children to add pages later on if they wish. Provide pencils, crayons, and markers in a location that is easily accessible to the children.
Encourage preschoolers to follow their interests when creating their books. Some children will enjoy creating fictional stories. Others may wish to make an ABC book, an autobiographical story, or a how-to guide. If children have difficulty selecting a topic, ask them questions to spark their imagination. You may want to ask child about a story they told you earlier in the day or an activity they engaged in recently.
As the preschoolers work on their books, encourage them to use some of the foundational features of books, including
- page numbers;
- essential plot elements (beginning, middle, end, conflict);
Children can decide whether or not their books will include printed words in addition to their drawings, scribbles, and other marks. Encourage preschoolers to make revisions and continuously think about their stories. Display finished books in the literacy center and invite children to read from their books during story time.
Bookmaking can also be a group project. The group can work together to select a topic and then brainstorm ideas to include in their book. Each child can draw pictures or write a short story or thought related to the topic.
A daily sign-in routine in the literacy center is a simple writing activity that preschoolers will enjoy. For many children, their first name is one of the first words they learn to write, and they often take a particular interest in learning and perfecting this task. Success in writing their name confirms children’s growing competencies in alphabet knowledge and print awareness and lays the groundwork for more complex and structured writing composition.
When the children enter your program each morning, ask them to sign in. They can write their names on a sheet of paper on a clipboard or a whiteboard. Some programs use pages with children’s photos printed in a column and spaces for children’s signatures to the right.
As with other activities, the process is more important for children than the product. Some children will make a mark that may not resemble an actual letter or only write the first letter of their name. “Signatures” may look like scribbles. The goal is to give children an opportunity to experience the purpose of writing, not to perfect their signatures. Avoid any remarks or other reactions that compare children’s “signatures.”
Choosing Books for Children
Stock your literacy center with a collection of high-quality books. To broaden children’s exposure to different genres, include nonfiction and poetry books in addition to fiction. Regularly introduce new books, and rotate books to keep the children’s interest and attention. Provide books that cover the interests, backgrounds, languages, experiences, and other characteristics of the children in your program.
Looking to stock your literacy center with some new books? Check out suggestions from The Smithsonian and The New York Public Library.
Interested in learning more about early literacy? Check out our courses Many Ways to Learn for Toddlers and Preschoolers and Making Learning Fun. Looking for suggestions to improve your literacy center? Check out our course The Early Childhood Environment: Learning Centers.
Looking for more fun activities to try with the children in your care? Check out our blogs Creative Art Activities for Children and Cooking with Children: Overnight Oats.
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