Helping young children develop literacy is a key task for parents and early childhood educators alike. We have found that one of the most effective strategies is to surround young children with visualizations of letters and words, both at home and in the classroom.
Magnetic letters, for instance, are a fun diversion for toddlers and preschoolers. If they are just learning to spell their names, they will love to pick out the letters and arrange them on a magnetic surface like a refrigerator or dry-erase board.
This is just one aspect of a print-rich environment that early childhood educators and parents should be encouraging both in a classroom environment and at home. Classrooms are particularly great places to post the letters of the alphabet, both upper- and lowercase, with corresponding pictures. These connections can be reinforced with regular group recitations (“A” is for “Apple,” “B” is for “Banana,” “C” is “Cat,” etc.).
In our exploration of the subject, we have found that children in print-rich classrooms spontaneously use almost twice as much print in their play as those not exposed to a print-rich environment. Environments filled with letters and words are effective in encouraging reading as well as the earliest stages of writing.
Discovering the world of language and the printed word is exciting for young children. To understand words in their environment—and to realize that they can make themselves understood through the written word—is a truly profound development for children in their preschool and early elementary years.
In our book, Flourishing in the First Five Years: Connecting Implications from Mind, Brain, and Education Research to the Development of Young Children, Marcus and I offer several suggestions for creating a print-rich environment:
- Label various items in the room by their name—i.e., table, chair, toy box, and containers holding blocks, crayons, play tools, etc.
- Label children’s cubbies and their desk areas with their names.
- Display wall stories, labeled murals, and word displays.
- Have an in-classroom library space with plenty of books for beginning readers.
- Post daily schedules and classroom activities or write them on dry-erase boards so that children can follow along.
- Use large-format storybooks that are easy for children to follow. Turn the book around so that children can see the pictures that go along with the words.
- Help children learn print conventions by letting them create a “book” with folded paper. Use a handheld hole puncher on the creased area of the paper; then have the children bind their books with ribbon or yarn.