Unlocking Language

Unlocking Language

Tracey Marks, Lower School Head

Often, parents express an interest in how literacy develops. They want to know more about how our language programs at Green Acres meet the developmental needs of students. Parents also seek information about how they can best support the literacy learning of their children at home.

Literacy development is an ongoing, continuous, emerging process. The term “emergent literacy” effectively describes how children come to understand and use language. All children bring literacy-related knowledge to school. Children’s educational experiences extend and expand that knowledge base. Of course, it is critical to recognize that each student is an individual, and children learn at their own pace.

Many developmental literacy programs utilize the concept of “successive approximation.” In other words, children repeatedly attempt to approximate the language of competent readers, writers, and spellers. Engaging in literacy-related activities and becoming part of a literate classroom culture lead to the refinement of children’s skills and abilities. It is language use which accelerates language learning. For instance, as children develop and spend time writing, their spelling and grammar move toward the conventional. We use the term “invented spelling” to describe the way that children spell as they use what they know about language to try to spell a word. Their efforts should be celebrated, even if the spelling of these words is not conventional. Oral and written language develop similarly. Just as children make errors as they learn to speak, they do so when learning to read, write, and spell. We can encourage them by modeling what is correct, while accepting and complimenting their efforts. 

Literacy teaching at school should build upon these ideas. At Green Acres, teachers begin with what children do know. They observe the ways in which children already engage in literacy-related activities. For example, they note when a child is able to hold a book, use picture clues, or communicate a message by “writing,” (even if the writing appears to be “scribbling”). In their classrooms, Green Acres’ teachers seek to create print-rich environments which expose children to a wide range of authentic, meaningful literacy-related tasks and materials. Teachers serve as model readers, writers, and spellers who share with children their interests, processes, and strategies.

There is much that parents can do to support children’s literacy development. It is extremely important to have children observe members of their families reading and writing for pleasure. It also is crucial for parents to read aloud to their children, even after they can read independently. Young children often demonstrate an interest in rereading. This is a pleasurable and beneficial experience that should be encouraged. Involving children in functional reading and writing activities, such as making grocery lists or signs and reading the labels on cans or packages, enables them to gain more literacy experiences and improve their abilities. Parents and schools are partners who share the common goal of helping children develop the literacy-related skills that they will need throughout their lives. Our task at Green Acres is to assist children as they experience the exciting adventure of learning to use language.