When children come to preschool, they bring with them their own experiences of using language at home and with their family and community. These skills should be valued and should be used as the starting point for further development of language skills. The diversity of children’s families, and their linguistic backgrounds should also be respected and kept in mind while designing activities for children. Children are encouraged to be proficient in their home language or mother tongue first and then school language (regional language/English) is introduced informally by exposing children to some commonly used words. Sometimes more than one language is spoken in a family (as mother tongue and local dialect) so multiple languages are permissible in the classroom for expression by children. Early literacy skills include sharing ideas, looking at books, identifying letters and sounds, looking at and recognising print, learning new vocabulary, and enjoying early attempts at writing. Your role to encourage the early attempts of listening, speaking, reading, and writing, allowing your children to experience the different functions and use of literacy activities.
Through exposure to oral language, the children develop listening skills, new words, and other language skills and print awareness is the predecessor to phonemic awareness, letter-sound connection, reading of words, and writing. Let’s know about these early literacy skills in detail that are crucial for success in primary school for which children need to be provided plenty of experiences in a joyful manner and in a literacy-rich environment:-
a. Development of oral language
Provide opportunities for oral expression such as circle time to share feelings, ideas, ask and answer questions, take part in conversation, sing rhymes/songs, listen to music, stories, explain and make predictions, recall a sequence of instructions or events in a story, create a story, play memory games, etc. Phonological awareness: Phonological awareness is the recognition that language is made up of words, syllables, rhymes, and sounds (phonemes). Phonemic awareness refers to a child’s ability to manipulate, classify and listen to each speech sound or phoneme. This knowledge occurs initially in oral language; children need not know how to name letters or their corresponding sounds in order to demonstrate phonological awareness. For phonemic awareness children need to develop:
- Awareness of Word — Understanding the concept of words.
- Children can tell which word is longer-Elephant or cat?
- Rhyming — Being able to rhyme one syllable words. For example, cat- bat-rat; makdi-kakdi-lakdi (listening to words that rhyme same and create new words)
- Blending — The child can put together the beginning and end sounds. For example, /bl/ and /ack/ is black.
- Segmenting — The child can break up sentences into words and also identify sounds in a word. For example, what are the words in the sentence “I love my school”?
- Identifying beginning sounds—Identifying words that begin with the same sound.
- Which of the following begins like Balloon? — Rain, Sun, Bat, /Paani, Batakh, Jahaz
- Deleting sound—Child can say a word after deleting the given sound. For example, how do you say bat without /b/? Makaan without /ma/ becomes kaan.
- Substituting and manipulating sounds — Children can replace speech sounds with others. Can you change your name by changing the first sound with /p/, Eg Sita–Pita, Kumar-Pumar, etc.
b. Print awareness for early literacy and writing
Early literacy skills get strengthened when adults ensure plenty of print in their children’s field of vision. Functions of letters, words, pictures and printed text and how these relate to oral language; usaing signs/labels are essential ingredients for print awareness. Preschool classrooms should have plenty of age appropriate story books. There should be labeling on various objects in the room such as “door”, “window”, and “almirah”. You may keep letter magnets, foam letters, letter blocks, books, posters,signs,picture dictionaries,name cards etc. in the language and literacy area.
c. Exposure to a variety of age-appropriate books .:
Bonding with books helps children develop their pre-reading skills and they need to be provided with a variety of books for book handling, turning pages, looking at picture/ print, and understanding of what a book is and how it is to be used or read. Bonding with books helps children understand that print carries meaning, reading of print goes from left to right, top to bottom. A book has a front and back cover, a title page, and an author, a story has a beginning, middle and end and a text can be factual.
d. Development of writing
Early writing: Writing in front of children allows them to see how oral language is translated into written language and this brings desire and motivation among children towards early attempts of writing. Children reflect their developing phonemic awareness and letter sound knowledge in their first attempts in writing by making marks or scribbles on the page which progress to random letter or number like forms. The teacher needs to help children in developing writing skills by:
Shared Writing: Teacher and children compose a story or a message together. The teacher models by writing on the board. She may say “I know how to write ‘mat’ but how to write ‘pat’? Children give their answers. Teacher then rubs ‘m’ and writes ‘p’. She then sounds out /p/a/t.
Independent Writing: Daily writing experiences help children explore words and sounds. Initially children may be at different stages of writing- some may be drawing instead of writing or copying print from the classroom, other may begin writing random letters or letter sound associations to reflect their thoughts. A writing area duly labelled, having a running black board in the classroom helps children fulfil their desire and early attempts of writing such as scribbling, drawing, making strokes. You may also use age appropriate technology such as e-stories/digital games to enhance early literacy.
Pedagogical Processes For Promoting Early Literacy
- Messages on bulletin boards, labelling on open shelves/ toy boxes, children’s personal folders, photographs of children reading and writing, name cards, scribble messages, familiar food packets displayed etc.
- Read aloud, graded stories and rhymes; picture reading; discriminating shapes and symbols through worksheets like what is different?
- Reading at a pace and keeping the finger beneath the print so that the children understand that writing has meaning
- Shared storybook reading and looking at books; storytelling, story-making
- Awareness of sounds segments (sounds, syllables, rhyming words) e.g. phonic games with beginning and ending sounds such as what initial sound, you hear in your name? (For example, Babita— initial sound ‘buh’/b)
- Keeping variety of papers and writing tools such as thick crayons, thick pencils, thick markers in each activity area.
- Props such as puppets, toys to supplement the pictures in the story books. Make the material inclusive and accessible to ALL the children by including texture, and tactile clues.
Assessing Children’s Progress The teachers need to look for the following suggestive indicators of early literacy development in children
- use language to express their ideas.
- describe the size, shape, colour and position.
- control their eye-hand coordination as they stack/build blocks.
- combine letters to make words.
- provide new words to poems/ songs
- follow the print from left to right.
- follow directions during class activities.
- listen to the story and talk about the story.
- notice the letters, words in story books, magazines, food wrappers etc.