We all know—reading is fundamental.
Literacy is a cornerstone of our modern society. Glance around, and everywhere you look you’ll find something to read. From road signs to texts, directories to labels—written language is all over our daily lives.
When your child begins gaining the foundations of their literacy skills, it can be both an exciting and frustrating time—for both them and you.
Learning to read is a complex process—one that takes time, effort, energy, and the development of several core skills that are the building blocks of a child’s literacy development.
Known collectively as our emergent literacy skills, these key competencies are often overlooked in a child’s development. That's because—
Most parents (understandably) don’t explicitly know what these skills are
Many kids acquire literacy skills without the need for extra support
They’re so simple and common, you’re probably already targeting some of them!
But, for some, the mastery of these skills doesn’t come naturally. These kids need a little extra support to effectively grasp the tools that will help them master reading and writing.
Thankfully, there are many educational professionals who are qualified to target emergent literacy skills with students in need.
And, the more we’ve learned about how these skills develop and inform higher level skills down the road—the better we are at recognizing when a child will benefit from early interventions to target the mastery of these skills.
This article will delve into emergent literacy—giving you a clear awareness of the foundational skills that lead to literacy development.
But, before we dive into learning what these skills are, let’s first explore more about why they’re so critical. Because emergent literacy skills are even more important than you may realize.
Why are emergent literacy skills so important?
Communication is bigger than language. Our ability to communicate effectively is the essence of how we engage with the world around us.
Emergent literacy literacy skills are not only about reading and writing—they’re also closely tied to our verbal and nonverbal communication skills.
Fostering emergent literacy skills also means promoting a child’s rich and varied vocabulary, their self expression skills, and their ability to pick up on and use the many subtleties of spoken and written language—from jokes, to symbolism, sarcasm, to double-meanings.
Just think about how much less rich your life would be without an awareness of these aspects of language? And, how much your participation in social groups would be limited as a result.
But emergent literacy skills are important for even more than this—Because literacy is foundational for ALL learning.
Not only does the acquisition of emergent literacy skills promote overall cognitive development, literacy skills are also crucial to advance in subjects like math and science—because reading is fundamental to learning and understanding all the concepts we tackle in school.
Our ability to read is essential to our ability to learn, and to advance ourselves and our development. Studies have even shown how reading impacts our empathy.
Our ability to write is crucial for our self awareness and expression. It fosters our ability to connect with others and to practice important skills like storytelling, persuasion, rhyme, and vocabulary,
Learning and using these building blocks of printed language fosters our holistic brain development—and lays the foundation for our future learning capabilities.
So, what are the crucial skills that add up to our ability to become literate? Let’s explore the core skills that set the stage for our ability to read and write.
What are emergent literacy skills?
Your child started learning language from their first moments in the world. Pretty cool, right?!
We all begin our lives by communicating without intent. But, it’s through the responses of our loved ones and caregivers that we soon realize communication is a two-way street.
We cry and our parents soothe, feed, and change us. We quickly realize that we can telegraph our thoughts and feelings to those around us—and they will respond.
This knowledge changes everything.
This early realization and shift to intentional communication kicks off our development of spoken language, which will lead to our mastery of written language.
From your first interactions with your child—you’re teaching them essential language and communication skills.
Long before they understand the words you’re saying, they watch your facial expressions, listen to your tone, the rhythm of your speech, its cadence and music. They learn to respond to you—first in coos and goos, and later with real words.
Once they start talking, you’re their go-to source of new words. You help them build their vocabulary—simply by talking and reading to them and labeling items in their environment.
You also provide the foundation for their early literacy skill development. In fact, you’ve probably supported their emergent literacy skill development without even realizing it.
Let’s examine the core emergent literacy skills you’ve helped your child develop. These early skills are also an excellent predictor of a child’s future literacy success. They are—
Let’s take a closer look at each of these competencies, so you can better understand what they are and how they combine to promote literacy development.
Print awareness goes a little deeper than simply noticing print in our environments. It involves our holistic awareness and understanding of both the forms and functions of printed language.
Ok, but what does that mean?
In order to gain the skills necessary for literacy development, children need to first grasp how print shows up and works in our world. And, they need to understand that print has meaning.
This includes knowledge about the conventions of print and how it’s structured, awareness that letters correspond to sounds in our spoken language, and even an understanding of how to properly hold a book and which direction to read.
These basic skills are crucial to the foundation of literacy development. They pave the way for focusing on decoding and mapping the sounds and sound combinations of our spoken language onto its written counterpart.
Creating a print-rich environment for children who are acquiring emergent literacy skills is vital. Children who have myriad opportunities to encounter printed text in their daily lives gain a deeper sense of print awareness.
Items such as books, calendars, labels, signs, posters, logos, newspapers, and even television—all provide children with print awareness opportunities.
Shared storybook reading is also an important aspect of fostering print awareness skills.
Through this activity, adults not only teach children crucial print awareness concepts—they also encourage a child’s love of reading.
When we enjoy something, we’re much more likely to do it. When it comes to reading—the importance of promoting your child’s enjoyment of this activity cannot be understated.
Understanding that letters and letter combinations correspond to sounds in our spoken language is necessary for a child to learn to read and write.
By age five, most children can recall and sing the alphabet song. Formal education in letter-sound correspondence usually begins in kindergarten, where children are explicitly taught first the uppercase letters, followed by their lowercase counterparts.
Letter knowledge involves knowledge of letter names, the ability to recognize letter shapes, the ability to recall the sounds letters make, and the ability to recreate and formulate letters in writing.
Children must learn and memorize the 26 upper and lowercase letters in our written language in order to recognize them in print. This is a critical skill in literacy development.
Alphabet books, alphabet games, letter tracing tasks, and letter writing practice are important activities to engage your child in during this time.
Phonological and phonemic awareness
Two more vital emergent literacy skills are the linked concepts of phonological and phonemic awareness. Before we dive into why these are important, let’s get clear on what they are.
Phonemic awareness is the ability to recognize, name, and manipulate the sounds in spoken language. A phoneme is considered to be the smallest unit of language—it refers to a single sound in isolation. Phonemes combine to form words. Phonemic awareness is a crucial and sophisticated component of phonological awareness.
Phonological awareness is an umbrella term that encompasses skills including: phonemic awareness, syllable awareness, word awareness, and onset-rime awareness.
In a nutshell, phonological awareness is our knowledge that speech can be broken down into smaller units of sound, and our ability to map this understanding onto printed language.
Phonological awareness skills are complex and progressive.
Children begin by recognizing how many words make up a sentence, and progress to higher level skills like being able to separate a word into its individual sound parts, deleting a sound from a word, or substituting one sound in a word for another.
Taken together, these core emergent literacy skills and the progressive competencies that fit under their umbrellas form the foundation of your child’s literacy development.
But what happens if these skills don’t come naturally to your child, and they struggle to master them?
Thankfully, there are many ways to address when a child experiences difficulty with their emergent literacy skills.
What can I do if my child struggles with their literacy skills?
For some children, emergent literacy skills are tricky to master. When this happens, early identification and targeted instruction are important components of ensuring a child can acquire the skills necessary to become a proficient reader, writer, and overall learner.
Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) are highly skilled and qualified to assess and treat difficulties with emergent literacy skills development when they occur.
The Loop has several excellent SLPs who are experienced in targeting emergent literacy with our individualized, targeted treatment plans.
In fact, we were founded and are helmed by an SLP—so we’re passionate as well as knowledgeable about treating these issues when they occur.
We’re skilled at providing thorough evaluations of a student’s emergent literacy strengths and weaknesses. We use this information to build our personalized treatment plans, designed to promote not only a child’s literacy skill development, but also focused on fostering their love of reading and writing.
We believe therapy should be a fun, engaging experience for the students we serve—so our plans are never one-size-fits-all, and always incorporate a child’s unique preferences and interests.
We’ll also work closely with you, to ensure your child has a literacy-rich experience, both in school and at home. Together, we’ll make sure your child gains the skills they need to succeed—both in school and throughout their life.
The Loop is passionate about promoting literacy! But, did you know—we’re also focused on all issues that impact students’ speech and language development. We also offer occupational therapy, and an array of learning support services—including executive function coaching, learning remediation, and educational consultancy and advocacy. We’re here to ensure the Chicago-area students and families we serve have access to the very best in therapy and educational support services. If you’d like to learn more, contact us today!
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