If you’ve been reading Twodaloo for awhile, you know that I promote meaningful, organic literacy experiences for young children. You can read more about meaningful literacy here, and also get some ideas for creating a literacy-rich environment.
My twins (age 3.5) don’t know the alphabet song. They can identify some of the letters in their names and associate sounds with a few of them. They have one alphabet puzzle and some wooden letter magnets that they play with because they’ve recently shown an interest in them. I’m not concerned with their ability to identify letters and sounds at this point- I’m much more concerned with making sure we are integrating literacy into their daily lives so they can see it as a valuable tool for communication as well as a source of knowledge and entertainment. We read all the time. We’ve been using our family chalkboard to record and retell the events of our day since the twins were two. We make lists, follow recipes, read instructions, look at labels, point out print in the environment and talk about what it means…all things that show our children that print is an integral part of life. We want them to know that words have power- especially their words.
Once in awhile I get a nagging question in the back of my mind- am I on the right path? Are my children somehow missing out because I’m not spending lots of time playing letter recognition games with them? Does this emergent literacy stuff really work? No matter what the research says, it’s easy to get a little insecure when you feel like you’re swimming against the stream. And then something happens that blows my mind and completely reaffirms that yes, I am on the right path. This is working for us, and that’s what’s important.
Words Have Power
A few months ago I read a completely brilliant book called It’s OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids by Heather Shumaker. It’s hands-down one of the best, if not THE best, parenting books I’ve ever read. One of the many things I like about the book is that it gives lots of strategies for coaching kids through conflict resolution, which is always a big issue with the twins, and the things I learned will also come in handy in the classroom. One of the central themes of the book is that everyone’s words, even those of the youngest of children, are important and deserve respect. The author suggests that when a child feels particularly strongly about something, helping them write it down in a “letter” to another person can help that child feel reassured that his/her words are being taken seriously. It doesn’t matter if the children in question can read or not- it’s the act of writing the letter, assisted or unassisted, that communicates power.
We tried this shortly after I read the book, and it was immediately helpful. The kids each have a little notebook in their art cart that they can access at any time. Sometimes they dictate their letters to me and I write them down. Other times they “write” the letters themselves. Sometimes they give the letters to someone. Sometimes they just abandon them when they are finished. Right now there’s a letter on the table that says “Dear Sydney, please don’t scream in my face. It hurts my feelings and my ears.” There’s another one that says “Dear Bubba, you can have these blocks when I’m done but I’m not done. I’m building a princess tower.” One of Sydney’s prized possessions is a one-sentence letter from her brother – “Dear Sister, I love you. Love Bubba.” The other night Will asked me to just write letters with him in his bed instead of reading a bedtime story. Then he slept curled up with his fistful of letters. Obviously there is something that really resonates with them in this process.
Although this letter-writing idea was presented as a communication/conflict resolution strategy and not a tool for literacy instruction, it is amazing how interested the twins are in writing since we started this. I wholeheartedly believe that it’s because they see writing as a meaningful tool rather than a mindless exercise. In short, they see that their words have power. And I’ll leave you with one more account of just how amazing this whole emergent literacy thing really is.
The first day we tried letter writing the twins were instantly hooked. We probably wrote 20 letters between the three of us in one afternoon. Shortly thereafter, Will took some paper and markers from the art cart and carried them to their little work table. He sat down to write his own letter. When I looked at his paper, I was absolutely astonished to see this:
This from a child who has had no “formal” literacy instruction. There will be plenty of time for that down the road. For now, playful exposure through meaningful tasks is working pretty well for us. I’m not saying that every child should or will begin writing legibly at age 3, but rather that providing these types of literacy experiences is important for fostering an intrinsic motivation to read, write, and communicate through print. I’m also not saying that children will just learn to read and write through osmosis, but direct instruction does not need to take precedence over organic learning, and certainly should not be pushed on children too early.
What do you think? How do you encourage meaningful literacy with your children or students? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!
More Great Stuff For You
Here are a couple of easy meaningful literacy activities I’ve written about that we use in our home and classroom: