Language Development and Literacy

Oral Language Development

Oral language is the basis for literacy, thinking, and socialization in any language. All young children need learning experiences that help them understand, acquire, and build on oral language. The foundations of language development and literacy begin to be established at birth and continue to be built through interaction and communication with adults and other children at home, in child care, in the community, and at school. To foster the language development necessary for literacy, our play school program is rich in language-oriented activities and resources that build on prior knowledge, that are relevant to the lives of young children, and that provide opportunities for thinking, problem solving, and experimenting.

Children come to play school with vastly different experiences and levels of exposure to literacy. All children are able to learn, and can benefit from classroom experiences that emphasize literacy. On the basis of ongoing assessment and observation, teachers will recognize that some children will require additional support in the form of focused literay instruction and experiences to develop literacy. It is important that teachers make adjustments to instructional strategies where necessary, and maintain high expectations for all children.

Development of Reading and Writing

Learning to read and write is essential to enable a child to succeed in school and in later life. Teachers at 360° Kids Play School are familiar with the stages in the process of learning to read and write, and use their knowledge while planning literacy programs and when assessing children’s acquisition of literacy skills. In the earliest stages of literacy development, children mimic the reading process. They begin to understand what reading is and how it works. They learn that what they say can be written down. As children progress, they learn to pay attention to the way print and books work, and they learn that printed letters and words represent the sounds and words of oral language. They become aware that some words rhyme or start or end in the same way, thus developing phonological awareness. They also begin to share their ideas and responses to texts in a variety of ways, learn that writing can communicate a message, and begin to explore different purposes for writing. When they begin to write, they include pictures and symbols, and eventually familiar or high-frequency words. They also often use approximate spelling for words that is based on their ability to hear, identify, and manipulate sounds (phonemic awareness) and on their knowledge of letter-sound correspondence (phonics).

Learning Through Explicit Instruction

In the 360° Kids Play School's classroom, teachers provide clear, direct, purposeful teaching and modelling of specific concepts, skills, and strategies in a variety of settings, including large and small groups and individual activity. In explicit instruction, the teacher explains what a strategy is, why it is used, and when to use it; models how to use it; and guides children as they practise it. For example, in teaching children a beginning reading strategy, such as matching voice to print, the teacher identifies the strategy and models it during modelled reading, providing students with maximum support. Gradually the teacher invites children to apply their new learning during shared reading in large or small groups, and guides children in using voice-to-print matching as they interact with such texts as signs, labels, or independent-reading texts in small groups or independently at learning centres.

Strategies for Developing an Effective Literacy Environment

Children who are given frequent opportunities to listen and respond to stories, poems, songs, and rhymes in the classroom become motivated to learn the functions and features of print. Teachers models beginning reading and writing strategies by “thinking aloud”. With encouragement and intentional instruction, children begin to demonstrate such literacy skills as repeating words, naming characters, and identifying signs, labels, names, letters, and letter sounds. Some children also begin to demonstrate their thinking and understanding on paper. Generic worksheets, however, are used with caution; they are rarely effective because their focus is narrow and they provide only limited assessment information on the child’s level of understanding.

Children are also provided many opportunities to pose and answer questions, participate in discussions, and classify information in order to develop their capacity for metacognition and their ability to use higher-order thinking skills involved in critical thinking.

Children are encouraged to do independent reading and writing. In planning all such activities, teachers use their knowledge and experience of the stages of development in oral language, reading, and writing. They also provide children with appropriate materials when they are to be engaged in free exploration, focused exploration, and guided activities.