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Tips for Supporting Literacy at home


There is endless current research out there that supports our involvement as parents in our children’s development. We are, in fact, their first and most influential teachers!

In the area of language development and literacy, there are many simple things we can do to support our children’s growth.

The following tips fall onto a continuum beginning with everyday interactions that require no preparation to more involved and extensive activities requiring substantial time and energy.

Prior to passing along these tips, it would be wise to review the following terms, as we parents will be hearing them in the context of literacy in school, especially in the primary grades. It is liberating and essential to know their meanings!

  • Literacy is the quality or state of being able to read and write.
  • Phonemes are sounds. Graphemes are letters.
  • Phonemic Awareness Skills are the skills needed to recognize that a spoken word consists of a sequence of individual sounds.
  • A digraph is a group of two successive letters whose phonetic value is a single sound. Examples /ea/ in bread or /ng/ in sing.
  • Decoding Skills are the skills necessary to analyze and interpret correctly the spoken or graphic symbols of a familiar language.
  • Invented or Developmental Spelling refers to young children’s attempts to use their best judgments about spelling. There are natural stages to this development. These stages should not be challenged early on, but instead celebrated because they demonstrate a developmental process that culminates in a much greater understanding of English spelling than simple relationships between speech sounds and their graphic representations. The five stages include: Precommunicative stage (uses/writes letters in the alphabet without necessarily knowing their meaning), Semiphonetic stage (beginning to understand letter-sound correspondence, for example writing u for you), Phonetic stage (uses a letter or group of letters to represent every speech sound they hear in a word, kom for come or en for in), Transitional stage (begins to assimilate conventional alternative for representing sounds, egul for eagle or higheked for hiked), and Correct stage (knows and understands the system and rules and can apply and recognize correct and incorrect forms).
Onward to the tips for supporting your young child’s literacy… Everyday Interactions Involving No Preparation:
  • Enjoy reading with your child for at least 10 minutes a day.
  • Model reading in front of your child for fun or to complete a job: Read magazines, newspapers, literature, recipes, manuals…
  • Do the same with writing: lists, letters, cards, work-related writing…
  • Give children writing materials to work with freely. (Create a reading and writing station/area in your home.)
  • Encourage children to “read” independently. (This means looking at pictures in books, telling a story from memory, or pretend-reading on their own.)
  • Discuss things you have read with your child.
  • Go to books to find answers to questions your child has.
  • Discover together!Sing together!Listen to recorded books and music.
  • Turn off the TV, computer, and DVD player.
  • Engage in meaningful and purposeful conversation. This is critical to oral language development and necessary for optimal literacy development. (We sometimes have a tendency to use “baby talk” around young children. Since young children repeat what they hear and see, families should use conventional talk when engaging in conversation with children.)
  • When writing together, begin with what your child is familiar with: his/her name, favorite books, popular children’s songs, etc. You do the writing. Don’t expect them to do it early on.
  • Point out and read lists and environmental print (signs, etc.). This invites awareness of print (writing) in the world around.
  • Rhyme and use alliteration (Alliteration is the repetition of initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words or syllables: the wild winds of winter wander wonderfully.) in a playful way.
Interactive Invitations to Literacy Skills:
  • Point to words or letters in your immediate environment and invite your child to do the same.
  • Talk about words or letters.Encourage your child to tell or re-tell a story.
  • Ask open-ended questions (using complete sentences) that invite more detail.
  • Do everyday writing together: shopping lists, thank you notes, letters, etc.
  • Play rhyming games together: I am thinking of something in the room that rhymes with hat.
  • Play games together involving sorting items: Let’s see how many animals, colors, or vegetables, etc. we can name, write, or draw.Read and reread favorite nursery rhymes and poetry pointing out patterns.Read alphabet books.
  • Relate information in books you are reading together to other events.
  • Review sequences of events: What did we do or what happened first, second, last, etc.Point or “track” under the words as you read aloud to your child.
  • Share memories and stories or make books of events together.
  • Use photos as prompts for writing or sharing events.Listen for and name sounds around the house (doorbell ringing, water running, trash truck coming).
  • Talk about what you hear.Play “Simon Says” games that require your children to listen and follow multi-step directions.
  • Reduce the background noise while you are listening to your child talk and get on his or her eye level.
  • Allow your child plenty of time to talk to you. Ask questions and request more information. Let your child know that her/his ideas and stories are important to you.
  • Listen carefully when your child asks a question. Repeat the question in your answer.
  • Use complete sentences and ask them to do the same. (For example, child says, “Why do we have to go to the gas station?” Parent says, “We have to go to the gas station so that our car does not run out of gas.”)
  • Find as many written words in a book, in the store, on a cereal box, or on street signs that have a certain letter in them. (“Find all the c’s that you can.”)
  • Make up sentences about things you see and clap one time for every word in the sentence.Find words in the environment and clap one time for every syllable in the word. Say compound words (airplane, toothbrush, toothpaste) without one of its parts (airplane without the “air” is “plane”). Say one part of a compound word and ask your child to add another word to it to make a longer word. (If I add “brush” to the word “tooth” – I get “toothbrush.”)
Literacy Activities that require more forethought, time, and preparation:

Have your child illustrate and then narrate a story to you and you write it down. Read it together.
Visit places (library, zoo, airport, museums, new parks, natural places) together and talk about what you are observing.
Reflect (in writing, illustrations, or photos) what you did, saw, and enjoyed about the experience.
Paint, cook, do sports or a physical activity together engaging in conversation all along the way.

Life experiences enhance literacy skills and create a bank of knowledge from which children can draw as they become more adept with their literacy.

Most of all have fun talking, listening, and reading with your child! Kids learn best when it is meaningful to them and they are having fun! It will be fun for you too! Literacy development is magical and memorable and will make all aspects of your child’s adult life easier if it is nurtured.

Beth Kanne-Casselman, MEd, LMFT has a private psychotherapy practice, seeing families with young children, individuals, and couples. She helps parents who have a variety of sleep-stealing concerns related to their children and family life.

March 2, 2015

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