Monday, August 24, 2009

Some Literacy Tips, take one

I mentioned in last week’s post that I am a big fan of early literacy. It’s nothing unique. With programs like the Reading and Writing Project by the renowned Lucy Calkins and numerous studies on the benefits of at-home literacy I think you’d be hard-pressed to find an expert who doesn’t think literacy begins early. Even so, I’ve complied some tips for parents of young children to get you started on that journey to the classroom. Before we begin I’d like to make it clear that I am a firm believer in holistic education. What does that mean? I'm about exploration, not forced academia. I didn’t learn to read myself until the third grade. Luckily I attended a Waldorf school where that was perfectly acceptable, the philosophy being that I would come to the page when I was good and ready. For me, it worked, and today writing is not only my career but also one of my deepest passions.

I believe in children coming to the written word on their own terms. What then is early literacy in my book? Early literacy is making the written word as accessible as possible. It is having books on display and constant dialogue. It is talking and sharing and reading. It is making writing a part of every single day.

I have been compiling a list of tips over the past few months and wanted to share a few of my top hitters here with you today. I imagine it’s a topic I will return to time and time again on this blog but for now, here’s our starting place.

Some tips for early, at-home literacy:

1) Make writing as visually apparent as possible. I can’t stress this one enough. The goal is to make books a part of a child’s everyday visual realm so that they become the norm. Stack books on your coffee table, make your bookcase in arm’s reach with the storybooks they love on the bottom shelves. It is important for books to be seen as accessible--- that anyone, anytime, can go and get one to read. Consider books to be the apples of your refrigerator: always available, always healthy, always a yes.

2) Lead by example. If you are on the couch at the end of the day, pick up a novel or flip through a magazine. Share with your child how excited you are to read what you are reading. Offer to read some out loud so they might be a part of the experience.

3) Create writing journals together. Refer to my previous post for some ideas. Let your child see you writing in your writing journal. If something happens at home, like a telephone call from Grandma or a batch of cookies, tell your child that you must stop what you’re doing and go write in your journal. You simply cannot go on unless you write down what just happened. Explain to your child that writing is a way to document special things that happen in your life. Set aside a time for “writing journal sharing” where you and your child can go over what you have written down in your journal.

4) Praise praise praise. No matter what your child puts down in his or her writing journal, it is writing. Children have their own evolution with words that must be respected and encouraged. If you don’t immediately understand what you see in their writing journal, ask them to explain it to you. Chances are they have total ownership of what they put down.

5) Talk. Studies show that the level of verbal communication in a household has a direct impact on a child’s literacy level. The practice of extension in conversation is a great place to start. If your child says, “store,” in reference to a grocery store trip you are about to take, consider answering, “yes, we are going to the store in town. The one with the big, red roof.” Even if your child is not yet able to form sentences hearing you extend what they can verbalize helps them to create memory patterns with words.

6) Make writing a part of your everyday life. Put word magnets on your refrigerator, label things in your kitchen, narrate what you are doing while you make dinner. Writing is dynamic. Show your child that it is an integral part of your existence.

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