How do you give your child the right head start to literacy?
Well meaning parents sometimes try to give their pre-school child a head start in their literacy education with regular home-teachings where their child is required to memorise the letters of the alphabet and lists of words. While it might reassure a parent to see their child remembering lots of letters and words, research has overwhelmingly proven that this type of “Skill and Drill” learning has little impact on whether a child will be a good reader and writer in the future.
A child’s Oral Language skills are the best indicator of how well they will develop literacy skills in the future. Oral Language is the foundation for all literacy. Before your child learns to read and write they must have first developed strong Oral Language skills.
There are two types of Oral Language Skills your pre-school child needs to develop;
1. Receptive Listening – paying attention to, understanding and remembering what others says to them, as well as stories and songs.
2. Expressive Speaking – developing confidence in talking to others, both one-on-one and in a group.
World Leading Literacy Expert Marie Clay (2000) considered that a child’s literacy education began with listening and speaking, then moved on to reading and writing. This means that children develop good reading and writing skills through people talking to them, and having lots of opportunities to talk themselves. In general, talkative children who know lots of words (or have a wide vocabulary) become successful readers and writers.
How do you create opportunities for your child to talk?
Children need opportunities to interact with other children and adults in a wide variety of settings such as home, preschool, gym class, social and family gatherings. They also need opportunities to talk about a wide variety of topics such as themselves, their friends, their families, their pets, their hobbies and their holidays.
Here are 6 more ways to expand your child’s oral language skills;
- Add information and adjectives to your child’s comments, for example “Look at that car”, “Yes, that’s a shiny red car with big tyres”.
- Play word games such as I Spy or make up spontaneous oral stories.
- Play board and computer games involving age appropriate word play.
- Talk about feelings and introduce ‘feeling language’ during conversation and when reading stories to your child, for example “How do you think Little Red Riding Hood felt when she saw the wolf in Grandma’s bed?”
- Model questions that promote thinking, for example “What if Little Red Riding Hood didn’t go to Grandma’s cottage” or “I wonder why…?”
- Give your child time and space with you that has no agenda or ‘learning outcome’, other than to enjoy each other’s company and talk about whatever comes up, such as when you are playing or walking together, watching a movie or reading together.
How do you know if your child’s Oral Language skills are developing at the appropriate rate?
Many parents wonder if their child is developing appropriately when compared to other children. According to research you can be confident that your child is developing their literacy skills at the expected rate if, by the time your child is 5 years of age, they have the following Oral Language skills;
- Can express themselves well with a vocabulary of thousands of words
- Recounts a story accurately with details and in the correct sequence
- Starts to make predictions about what will happen next in a story book or TV program
- Can explain what words mean and what things are used for
- Can answer ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions
- Starts to ask ‘when’ questions
- Can answer hypothetical questions like ‘What would you do if?’ and give a reason for the answer
- Can have a conversation with a variety of people about a range of topics
- Cooperates with peers in activities and play
- Uses imagination and make-believe to act out and role play
- Speech is generally clear
- Continues to speak with a few grammatical errors eg, ‘drinked’.
If your child is demonstrating all the above oral language skills by the time they are 5, you can feel confident that they are developing normally. In addition, if you are having conversations with your child, and reading to them every day you can feel reassured that you are setting the right foundation for your child to develop strong reading and writing skills in the future.
Suggested reading: Is it important to start writing at an early age?