What is Emergent Literacy?

Emergent literacy is a primary component of early childhood education today, yet many people still do not quite understand what this term means. According to The American Speech, Language and Hearing Association, this is a stage that begins at birth and continues through the early preschool years. During this stage, children learn literacy skills through listening and interacting with the world, and providing kids with intentional learning experiences through these years will help them become better readers. Understanding how children learn literacy skills during these years is critical for their development.

Know the Four Basic Components of Literacy

Although many people think literacy means being able to read, there are actually multiple components that make up this skill. During the emergent literacy stage, children focus on strengthening their listening, oral language, writing and reading abilities. It is important for parents and educators to understand how each of these skills works together. For example, a child who has weak listening skills will be less likely to pick up the vocabulary they need to be effective speakers and writers. For this reason, it is important to identify learning challenges early on in the infant and preschool years so that they can be addressed before they impact a child’s literacy development.

Provide Real Life Opportunities for Learning

Children learn best through realistic experiences that occur naturally in their environment. Educators and families should focus on speaking to children from infancy onward while using language with rich vocabulary. Reading to children is another way to provide them with support during this stage, and tying field trips and classroom activities to the story is a great way to reinforce new literacy concepts. Due to their ability to absorb new information form their environment, exposing children to new educational experiences during these formative years will foster emerging language skills.

Understand How to Support Emerging Skills

As literacy skills emerge, children rely upon feedback from their caregivers to adjust their understanding of how to speak, read and write. Caregivers should strive to scaffold children’s language as they speak by offering new vocabulary words and asking open-ended questions about new topics. It is also important to help strengthen pre-reading skills during this stage such as a child’s understanding of rhyming and alliteration. Reading poems, clapping syllables of new words and singing songs all promote literacy skills that are readily picked up during this stage.

Identify Strategies for Bridging Learning Gaps

It is also important to know that children develop at different rates during this time. For this reason, individualization in the early childhood classroom is essential for ensuring that children are provided with learning opportunities that meet their unique needs. For example, one child may be practicing their listening skills at preschool while another child is working on rhyming. While asynchronous development is normal at this stage, educators should be alert for large gaps that could signify learning challenges such as a child who does not speak in short sentences by the age of three.

Literacy is an important skill that begins to be learned from the moment a child is born and will continue to be used through adulthood. Providing children with the opportunities they need during the emergent literacy phase of their development will ensure they achieve the skills they need for success in every area of their lives.

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