Janelle Curry, Director and Certified Practising Speech Pathologist at MPSP and was our first e-news contributor, with her tips for developing literacy skills first published in our May 2016 e-news.
Children begin learning literacy skills long before they learn to read and write through enjoyable social interaction with adults.
What early literacy skills should children have before they start school?
- Conversation – children’s ability to speak and understand speech is directly related to their literacy development.
- Vocabulary – the more words children know the easier it is to learn new words and gain meaning from stories read.
- Story comprehension – when children are read to regularly they learn about the structure of stories as well as learn new language.
- Print knowledge – that letters of alphabet make up words, print is read from top to bottom of page and from left to right etc. That letters are how we write speech sounds down.
- Phonological (sound) awareness – children need to be able to hear and understand that sentences break down into words, words break down into syllables and syllables break down into individual speech sounds (phonemes) Research has shown that children with strong phonological awareness skills are better readers.
- Children may not know all of the letters and corresponding sounds when they enter Prep — this is fine!! They will start to learn that there are actually 44 sounds and only 26 letters in the alphabet, so we sometimes have to put 2, 3 or 4 together to spell a sound.
Some examples are:
“ou” in “out”
“igh” in “night”
“dge” in “fridge”
“eigh” in “eight”
“augh” in “caught”
English is a combination of many languages- so most sounds are spelt in more than one way (e.g. the vowel sound in “hear”, “beer”, “here” and “pier”) and many spellings represent more than one sound (e.g. the “ear” in “hear”, “learn”, “bear” and “heart”).
Some children can already read before they start school. By the end of Prep most children have learnt and understood the basics, however 1 in 5 still struggle and need help.
How can I help my child?
- Increase their language skills by having lots of conversations.
- Read books everyday! Sounds simple, but try to have daily ‘story time’. This builds their listening and speaking skills and vocabulary.
- Point to the words on the book as you read them.
- STRESS new words and explain what they mean. Put them into another sentence to demonstrate meaning. This builds vocabulary.
- Question time! Whilst reading the book, ask your child questions about the story. Use questions like “What do you think will happen next?”, “Why do you think that character did that?”
- When reading, talk about the book as well as the story. Point to the words. Talk about words, letters and sounds. Talk about rhyming words and clap out syllables in long words. Talk about ‘beginning sounds’ in words (e.g. “Mat, the word mat starts with an ‘m’ sound”).
- Talk to your child about daily experiences to develop their vocabulary. Ask them questions and answer theirs.
- Play with the alphabet and talk about it together. Look at alphabet books and puzzles, and play with magnetic letters on the fridge.
- When your child is ready to start reading on their own, start with simple decodable books that have a few sounds and spellings. Some great resources are Little Learners Love Literacy, Spelfabet, Fitzroy Readers and Speld SA has free downloadable phonics books.
Final tips: encourage children to sound out the word from the start of the word all the way to the end, not just the first letter then look at the picture and guess. Always talk about the sound a letter makes as opposed to its name, for example, “d” – “This is called a dee, its sound is d”. (don’t add a little vowel at the end, the sound is ‘d’ not ‘duh’, ‘s’ not ‘suh’ etc).
Please see the Hanen website for information on how to read with your preschooler and develop language skills.
Janelle Curry – Speech Pathologist
Melbourne and Peninsula Speech Pathology