Be it dinos, dump trucks or fairies, when your preschooler is really interested in something, they often want total 24/7 immersion. And that’s a good thing. By seizing that enthusiasm and engaging your child with books, pictures, magazines, even comics, you are encouraging early literacy, a skill that is critically important to your child’s future academic success.
“When you can get your child visually interested, they will begin to talk about that favorite thing and build vocabulary. And, they’ll want to come back to that book to read it again and again,” says Fonda Thompson, Educational Support Specialist with The Gardner School, an academically focused early childhood education center with 11 locations in downtown and suburban Chicago.
Because reading and literacy are so very important to developing minds, The Gardner School embraces a literacy-rich environment for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and — in the suburban locations where private kindergarten is among The Gardner School’s offerings — kindergartners.
But how early is early?
“Early means infants,” says Thompson. “Our infant classrooms include language and reading time and teachers use voices and pictures to make it engaging for even the youngest children. We know literacy is the foundation of language and these skills work hand-in-hand. The earlier you can introduce literacy, the more you will be able to carry through and enhance learning and development as children grow older.”
Each child learns differently, but one consistent presence at The Gardner School is the strong focus on early literacy. Thompson shares some of the ways teachers at The Gardner School encourage early literacy and how you can create a literacy-rich environment for your own child.
Developing language skills
Even before they are able to form their own words, children at The Gardner School are communicating with teachers and even with peers through sign language. As an addition to the research-based, developmentally appropriate curriculum for infants, toddlers and preschoolers, children learn basic communication skills to indicate yes, no, eat and more.
“Some parents are really excited that we encourage this and share that their children use sign language at home. It’s exciting that the children carry this skill home so their parents can learn from them,” Thompson says. “It’s also very helpful for English language learners.”
Throughout the day, children engage with literacy and language activities in their classroom curriculum. “The Creative Curriculum for infants and toddlers to 2 years old includes story time, exploration and purposeful play, guided by highly skilled teachers,” Thompson says, adding that preschoolers and pre-kindergartners, engaged in the World of Wonders Curriculum, are supported through early reading activities, along with social-emotional learning, cross-curricular engagement and classroom routines.
“When children reach the World of Wonders Curriculum, they are really ready to get their educational roller skates on, so we focus on social-emotional learning, alphabet time, social studies, science, art and mathematics plus our handwriting curriculum,” Thompson explains. “We have STEAM activities for 2 year olds all the way up to kindergarten level. But what’s really important is that in all of these subjects, literacy plays a huge role.”
At every stage, students are also exposed to stimulating environments with labeled areas, colored manipulatives and other literacy-reinforcing classroom elements.
At The Gardner School, children flourish because they have the freedom to explore and learn in an environment that is appropriate for specific ages and developmental levels.
“Learning is part of every child’s daily routine, and it’s also part of the fun,” says Joy Haynes, Marketing Manager at The Gardner School. “Children can go from the science center to the blocks center or over to the home living center for pretend play and the curriculum is threaded through all of those fun activities.”
How to support early literacy at home
As you are looking to encourage literacy at home, consider what your child is most interested in, Thompson suggests. “Encourage them to tell you how their day was. If they spent time reading a favorite book, try reading it at home, too. Repetition is key for young children,” she says. “Ask questions and share your child’s interests.”
Communication is so important in the early years, Thompson says, so be sure to encourage plenty of talk. “Allow them to say what is on their mind,” she says. “You will be surprised at the topics they are interested in. Encourage them to talk about their favorite game or cartoon because that communication enhances their language and literacy skills.”
If your child doesn’t naturally gravitate toward books, talk with them to find out what they are really interested in and then find relevant pictures, flashcards or posters. “They will begin to talk about this interest and then you can introduce books on that subject, whether it’s superheroes or princesses.”
Head to the library and find some books and ask questions as you read and look at pictures. “Eventually they will ask if you can do that again and if you can read that book again,” Thompson says. You’ll enjoy watching your little one reach for a book again and again because they recognize how enriching reading with a parent can be.
“Early literacy is priority one because everything starts with language and language involves all of the domains of learning, from cognitive to social-emotional to physical development,” she adds. “Literacy is the foundation of all of this in order to develop and grow and enhance their educational experiences.”
Learn more about the importance of early literacy and the developmentally appropriate, curriculum-based environment at The Gardner School at thegardnerschool.com.