Early Childhood Literacy Development and Getting Ready to Read.


Developing Literacy SkillsWhen should I begin preparing my child to learn to read?

Early childhood literacy development occurs from the time a child is born until they are four or five years old. During this period of emergent literacy, children become aware of the world of print and sound. You are probably already teaching your child basic reading skills, even if you are unaware.The importance of written language is demonstrated through naturally occurring experiences in the home and preschool or daycare environments, such as watching mom make a grocery list, and learning to recognize the letters and colors of a stop sign (Roth, Worthington, 2005).

What are some signs that my child is developing emergent literacy skills?

Activities such as pretending to read and write from books show that children understand messages that are conveyed through print. After listening to stories from their parents and teachers, they may begin to produce their own narratives and act them out. Some children may point out familiar logos and words in their surrounding environment.

Parents should continue to read aloud to their children and encourage symbol and color recognition during daily activities. Our next post will discuss risk factors that can lead to impaired reading skills including language impairments.

Additional reading: Are Spoken Language and Literacy Connected?

Language Development

Language Development
Hearing your child speak their first word is exciting. Each parent anticipates their child calling their name first and then using new and different words; however, as a child builds his/her vocabulary and begins to put words together to produce phrases and sentences, what comes next? How does a parent know what typical language development looks like until we begin to compare to children? What child is the best “typical” language model? Let’s review narrative development to understand the stages of language development
According to Hedberg & Westby (1993), there are several types of narratives.

• Scripts: This form of narrative is used to express knowledge of a familiar, recurring event. It is usually told using the second person pronoun you and the
present tense.
• Recounts: This involves telling about a personal experience when prompted most often using the past tense.
• Accounts: We explain a personal experience without a prompt. The experience is usually not shared by the listener.
• Event Casts: Explaining an ongoing activity, reporting on a factual scene, or telling about a future plan.
• Fictional Stories: Relating past, present, or future events that are not real. The events being described focus on someone or something attempting to carry
out a goal.

According to Hedburg & Stoel-Gammon (1986), the stages of narrative development are broken into three different stages; however, stage III has a few sub-stages. Review the following stages:

Stage I: 2 years old Heaps

After a child builds his/her vocabulary using a variety of words, including nouns, action words (i.e. verbs), location words (i.e. prepositions), descriptive words (i.e. adjectives, adverbs), early pronouns, and social function words, a child will begin to form phrases and eventually sentences. These “stories” consist primarily of labels and descriptions of events and/or actions. There is no central theme or organization among the propositions. Sentences are usually simple declaratives. This stage consists of a collection of unrelated ideas. The topic of discussion frequently changes and the cohesive devices are not utilized to connect the story. Simple present progressive tense is used. This is considered a heap story.
Example: “A girl is eating cookies. The man is going to the car. The baby is sleeping.”

Stage II: 2-3 years old Sequences

As language continues to develop, a child will enter into the stage of sequenced stories. Sequenced stories consist of labeling events around a central theme, character, or setting. There is a description of what a character has done, but there is nothing in the story that is considered a plot and the events do not typically follow temporally or casually from one another. A child may begin to link story elements together.
Example: “She lives with her dad. She lives with her mother. Grandma and Grandpa live together. And these three children live with their grandma. And these two animals live with them.”

Stage III: 3-4 years old Primitive Narratives

After a child has developed his/her sequenced stories, a child begins to develop primitive narratives. These stories have a core/central person, object, and/or event. They contain 3 of the story grammar elements: an initiating event, an attempt or action, and some consequence around the central theme. These stories do not have a solid resolution or ending and contain little to no evidence of the characters’ motivation. These narratives build on the sequenced stories. It contains a central character, topic, or setting; however, the child begins to discuss the character’s facial expressions or body postures.
Example: “My dad, he went up to go to work. My mom stayed and sleep in. My two brothers, they went to go play with the toys. My dog, she went outside. My kitty cat came up and he tickled me and came up and started to meow. And then I started to cry because he bit me. And my brothers came runnin’ in and Mike said, “What happened?” They said, “What happened?” “My kitty cat just bit me.” So mom comes runnin’ in and she said, “What happened? Oh the kitty cat bit you. O.K.”

Unfocused Chains: 4-4 ½ years old

A chain narrative is a story that shows some evidence of cause/effect and temporal relationships; however, the plot is not strong and does not build on the attributes or motivations of characters. Although, there may be some notion of plan or character motivation present. The ending does not necessarily follow logically from the events. The story may be very abrupt. These stories contain 4 story grammar elements, which include those found in the primitive narrative level: initiating the event, attempt or action, and some consequence around the central theme. An unfocused chain does not utilize a central character. It is a sequence of events linked together logically or with a cause-effect relationship. Conjuctions, such as “and”, “but”, and “because” may be used when telling an unfocused chain story.
Example: “This man is walking. He saw a dog and a cat and he saw a girl too, with the cat and the dog. He said, “Hello.” He walked back and he said, “Brother, come here.” So her grandmother walked up to her and said, “You wanna go dancing?” They went dancing. And so it was a slow dance. And then they went back. And then these two children came. And then first he said, “I’m not.” And then he said, “What?” “I want to go out to eat.” So they went out to eat.”

Focused Chains: 5 years old

A focused chain contains a central character and a logical sequence of events; however, the listener must interpret the ending to this story. The sequences described during these accounts take the form of “adventures”.
Example: “Once upon a time there was a mother named Christie. And she had a husband named Tom. And they had some children named Heather and Christie. And they had a boy named Ronnie. And the mother told the boy to go outside to play. And then the boy came in and said, “Mother, mother, our dog’s outside and he’s barking.” “I will go see.’ “What are you barking at?” “I don’t know what he was barking at, Tommy, Ronnie, Ronnie. I don’t know what he was barking at. You go out there and see.” “He wants in.” “I’ll go let him in.” “There, I let him in.”

True Narratives: 5 + years old

By the age of 5, a child may be emergent in the true narrative story telling. These stories have a central theme, character, and plot. It includes the motivations behind the character’s actions, as well as logical and temporally ordered sequences of events. The ending of the story indicates a resolution to the problem. These stories include at least 5 story grammar elements, including an initiating event, an attempt or action, and a consequence.
Example: “One day there was a boy named Bobby and a girl named Sharon. They found a cat in their front yard and they brought it into the house. They fed the cat and they gave it some milk. They played and played with it and then a little while after a lady called and asked if anybody had seen her cat. And then they said that they had it at their house. And they brought it to the lady’s house. And she gave them each five dollars for finding the cat and having them feed it and give it milk.”

Story Grammars
Story Setting + Episode structure
Episode Initiating event+ internal response + plan + attempt +consequence + reaction
Setting Introduces the main characters, the protagonist, and the context of time and place
Initiating event The occurrence that influences the main character to action. It may be a natural event, an action, or an internal event such as a thought, perception, or wish
Internal response Indicates the thoughts and feelings of the main character in response to the initiating event. It may include an interpretation of the event, formulation of a goal or some other response.
Plan Indicates the intended action of the main character
Attempt Indicates the actions of the main character in pursuit of the goal
Consequence Indicates the achievement or non-achievement of the main character’s goal, as well as any other events or states that might result from the attempt
Reaction Includes any emotional or evaluative responses of the main character to the preceding chain of events

As a parent you may be thinking, “Wow, this is awesome, but how do I apply this knowledge to my child in our daily life!?!” Below is a chart that a parent and/or caregiver can do to further develop these skills in the home environment:
Activity What I can do to help:

Read a book:
• When reading a book, discuss the details on a specific page (e.g. what happened, who was involved, and where it happened)
• After the story, discuss these questions again and review the events in the book when reviewing the pictures- Do NOT expect your child to have the entire story memorized

Review a photo album:
• Review family members or past events telling the story of day your family spent camping or touring Disneyland, etc.
• This is helpful when relatives will be visiting from another city/state as their visits may be more infrequent

Retell events to the child’s day:
• Review the main points: Use words like “First, Next, Last” and remember to keep it simple. Children do not need an elaborate explanation. They need the facts.
• Work on sequencing getting dressed, or morning routines
• Daily routines are always exciting to practice sequencing

Retell events during a specific activity:
• If you are working on a craft, review how you created the craft (e.g. First, we cut the shapes out, then we glued the shapes together, and last, we cleaned our mess).
• Bake cookies and discuss the steps to make the cookies (Please, don’t go into the details of the ingredients—this will also help build a child’s vocabulary to discuss the meaning of new words (e.g. ingredients, recipe, etc.).
Story telling
• Before bed, make it a routine to tell stories using the theme, the characters, and the plot (e.g. teaching through a model).
If a child seems to have difficulty with developmentally appropriate tasks, caregivers may want to contact the primary educators and/or a speech-language pathologist for additional tips and help.

Remember, these ideas may work on building a child’s vocabulary, answering simple questions (e.g. yes/no, what, who, where), and sequencing events in the story through story telling/retell. Here are a few specific examples that may be helpful depending on the age of your child:

• Sequence the steps to the following activities
o Bake your favorite cookies
o Make rice krispie treats
o Make some homemade play doh:

o Create a trail mix to sequence steps: As there are many allergies out there, it may be best to create your own that is appropriate for your child and his/her needs
o If you plan on going on a trip, sequence the steps to packing your suitcase
o Play a game and sequence the steps for setting up, playing, and cleaning up (simplify when needed)
o Laura Numeroff books: If you Give your Mouse a Cookie; If you Give a Mouse a Muffin, If you Give a Pig a Pancake; If you Give a Dog a Doughnut; etc.
 Sequence the parts of the story using a few visuals:
o Pintrest would be another great craft idea option
• Thanksgiving Crafts
o Discuss Pilgrims:
o Gather Fall Leaves and a pinecone; Discuss the Fall season and the leaves falling/changing colors (Even if this does not typically happen in California, it is fun to discuss and may lead to researching the Fall Foliage around the country):
o Turkey Crafts:

• Holiday crafts

• DLTK is a helpful site and a great start to finding crafts, but the internet has endless ideas and it is always helpful to explore the internet and expand your own resources.

Information and specific examples gathered from:
Hutson-Nechkash, Peg (2001). Narrative Toolbox: Bleprints for Storbuilding. Eau Claire, WI: Thinking Publications.

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