Children’s literacy skills begin developing long before they begin school. Some might argue that they begin in the womb, where we now know the foetus begins learning the difference between language patterns such as sounds, syllables and vowel lengths. Partanen E, Kujala T, Huotilainen M, et al. Learning-induced neural plasticity of speech processing before birth. PNAS. 2013.
Along with parents and other carers, early childhood educators play an important role in a child’s continuing literacy development. The Early Years Learning Framework (EYL) highlights the importance of developing early literacy skills using play and ‘a range of modes of communication including storytelling, dance, visual arts, drama as well as talking, reading, and writing.' ‘Belonging, being and becoming: The early years learning framework for Australia.’ Commonwealth of Australia 2009 … Continue reading
Catering for all children’s literacy learning
When planning literacy activities early childhood educators may need to consider how to best cater for the children in their class with potential learning disabilities such as dyslexia. Most will not yet have been diagnosed or even identified.
Children with dyslexia, and other learning disorders, will have difficulty learning literacy fundamentals unless they are given explicit, systematic instruction about letters, their common associated sounds, and phonological awareness. This means they need to be explicitly taught each letter – its associated sounds, shape and name. This explicit teaching can be incorporated into activities involving rhyme, rhythm and play. For example, have children think about, draw or play a game about words they know that are made up of other words. Such as ‘tooth’ +’brush’ = toothbrush. These type of activities will benefit all children in the class, not just those with learning disabilities.
You can promote language and literacy in early childhood settings through to the early years of primary school and beyond. Early years strategies might include:
- When reading books aloud make specific references to the print. Doing so in preschool can boost reading, spelling and comprehension skills in primary school. Piasta SB1, Justice LM, McGinty AS, Kaderavek JN (2012). Increasing young children’s contact with print during shared reading: longitudinal … Continue reading For example:
- Point to each word as you read, demonstrating that each printed word relates to the word you read aloud.
- Show how you read from left to right and top to bottom.
- Point out capital letters.
- Find fun ways to teach about each letter – it’s name, common sounds and shape.
- Sing the alphabet song, supported with a visual poster of the alphabet pointing to each letter, both upper and lowercase, as it is sung.
- Go on a word hunt. Talk with the class about a letter. Show them what it looks like, brainstorm words starting with that letter, and use these words to explore its common sounds. Then ask the class to look around their learning space or outside while playing, to notice other objects or people whose names begin with that letter and report back to the teacher to compile a list.
- Have fun with rhymes. About 80% of all English words are phonologically regular. Recalling and reciting rhymes and noticing repetitive spelling patterns can assist a child to correctly spell phonically regular words.
- Teach nursery rhymes and encourage children to act out a nursery rhyme, or draw their favourite scene.
- Read rhyming books to your class, then support children to make up their own rhymes.
- Sing rhyming songs such as ‘Down by the bay’ by Raffi. Have children make up their own final line to the song. ‘Did you ever see a …’
- Play simple word games that show how words can be segmented, blended and manipulated. Children with dyslexia have trouble with rhyming patterns (eg. bat, sat, mat, fat), because they find it difficult to isolate and break words up into their component sounds. Demonstrate that words can be broken into parts and/or blended/put together to make another word. Such as:
- Clap syllables. Introduce children to the concept of syllables by having them hold their hand under their chin while speaking. Have children clap their names and other common words using syllables.
- Blending and segmenting games. ‘I’m thinking of a word. It’s something we spread on toast. Butt- … get them to say ‘er’. This shows children words can be broken up into parts.
Dyslexia is a specific learning disability
This learning disability affects up to 5% of children, who will have difficulties with:
- Phonological processing. Problems associated with connecting written letters to their corresponding sounds (phonemes), reflected in an inability to rapidly name letters and their common associated sounds. Hence, children struggle to decode letters and words when reading, and to encode letters and words for spelling and writing.
- Working memory. Insufficient short-term ‘mental workspace’ can make the linguistic storage and processing needed for reading, writing and spelling difficult.
As a result, children with dyslexia struggle with core literacy skills such as accurate and fluent word recognition. They experience difficulties despite, typically having average or above intelligence, adequate vision and hearing, and age-appropriate education. These difficulties with basic literacy skills can flow on to impede their acquisition of more complex vocabulary and general knowledge, and problems in reading comprehension.
For more information about this learning disability see the Psych4Schools blog, Helping students with dyslexia. The Psych4Schools ebooklet, Working with children with dyslexia is also available on the website.
Zoe Ganim and Murray Evely
 Partanen E, Kujala T, Huotilainen M, et al. Learning-induced neural plasticity of speech processing before birth. PNAS. 2013.
 ‘Belonging, being and becoming: The early years learning framework for Australia.’ Commonwealth of Australia 2009 https://docs.education.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/belonging_being_and_becoming_the_early_years_learning_framework_for_australia.pdf
 Piasta SB1, Justice LM, McGinty AS, Kaderavek JN (2012). Increasing young children’s contact with print during shared reading: longitudinal effects on literacy achievement. Child Development . 83(3):810-20. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01754.x. Epub 2012 Apr 17.
|↩1||Partanen E, Kujala T, Huotilainen M, et al. Learning-induced neural plasticity of speech processing before birth. PNAS. 2013.|
|↩2||‘Belonging, being and becoming: The early years learning framework for Australia.’ Commonwealth of Australia 2009 https://docs.education.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/belonging_being_and_becoming_the_early_years_learning_framework_for_australia.pdf|
|↩3||Piasta SB1, Justice LM, McGinty AS, Kaderavek JN (2012). Increasing young children’s contact with print during shared reading: longitudinal effects on literacy achievement. Child Development . 83(3):810-20. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01754.x. Epub 2012 Apr 17.|