Words are all around us—on signs, storefronts, business vehicles, television sets, computer screens, calendars, product packaging, magazine covers, and book jackets. What learning opportunities for emerging young readers! However, it takes parents, caregivers and early childhood educators to point out letters and words in the child’s surroundings. Promoting print-rich environments in the home and in the classroom will enhance the ability to do that.
Fortunately, there are a lot of creative ways to get children to take notice of the alphabet and begin to understand how it is the basis for forming words. 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.
In our exploration of the subject, Marcus and I have found that children in print-rich environments 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, we offer several suggestions for creating a print-rich environment:
- Label various items by their name—i.e., table, chair, toy box, and containers holding blocks, crayons, play tools, etc.
- Label children’s personal areas with their names.
- Display wall stories, labeled murals, and word displays.
- At school, have an in-classroom library space with plenty of books for beginning readers.
- 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.
- At school, post daily schedules and classroom activities or write them on dry-erase boards so that children can follow along.