What Early Literacy Is (And What It’s Not)
Defining Literacy & Its’ Promotion
Defining early literacy begins with defining literacy. In its’ simplest & most traditional form, literacy is the ability to read and write in at least one language, usually one’s native tongue.
Let’s say I was born in an English-speaking household, therefore I gain fluency – the ability to understand & speak – English. When I reach school age, I’m expected to “become literate,” to learn how to read & write English.
Read Literacy Then & Now
As a result of this educational expectation, promoting literacy often equals encouraging the reading of books.
Defining Early Literacy – Pressure or Preparation?
Early literacy then often becomes a pressure to read more books, more often, with increasingly younger audiences. While books are valuable tools & reading is an important skill in many cultures, literacy encompasses more and can (dare I say should) be experienced in freedom.
Each child will speak, read and write at their own unique pace. We can encourage or discourage them in their pursuit, but the goal of early literacy is preparation for future literacy.
Early literacy is not an expectation that children read and write earlier, although this sometimes occurs as a by-product of more seized opportunities. Some prefer to use the term emergent literacy as a way to emphasis that the timeline is not the focus, & while we support the idea, we’ve chosen to use “early” in most places on this site simply because it is more common vernacular.
A Unique Path for Every Child
Just as there are various degrees of oral fluency in language, there are various degrees of literacy. The goal of education is not to produce societal clones, but to guide each child in a developmentally appropriate way so that they become the best version of their unique self.
If literacy is a spectrum than early literacy is merely the beginning or foundation for a unique journey that each will take. Reading books is valuable, but early literacy is also about
- developing language skills &
- learning how to learn
Early literacy is also about coming to appreciate and value books & literacy as tools in a lifelong, developmental process. Skills can be taught; assigning value will be influenced by how instruction is given, as well as children’s natural interests. The goal is to use a child’s strengths & interests to help them become independent learners who will then choose to work on both areas of enjoyment & needed growth areas.
The Challenge & Pursuit of Early Literacy
So how do you promote literacy without putting pressure on you, your child, neighbor or class?
How do you encourage a love of literature without demanding children do more?
Read more about The Challenge of Early Literacy
… you need to have a clear & flexible strategy to pursue early literacy.
Like a homebuyer, a child can work with you to shape their path, but like the builder, you may have perspective they don’t yet have. Both of you are an integral part of the process.
Early literacy strategies are like house plans. They can help you see how to breakdown the details of your goals so you can take actionable, daily steps. They exist to help you. Your perspective (& your child’s perspective) on literacy will affect the strategies you choose and create.
The First Fork In The Early Literacy Road
If you take the traditional view of literacy, early literacy is the ability to have the foundational skills necessary to later be able to read & write. In other words, children who have some degree of fluency in a language & who are ready for opportunities to practice identifying letters, sounds, vocabulary, etc.
If you take the more modern approach, early literacy also includes any learning that lends to future competency in one’s “culture & communicative practices” (in addition to the traditional skills mentioned above).
Read more about The Pursuit of Early Literacy