As explained in our previous posts , in this series of our blogs, we will be taking an in depth look into each area of the seven areas of learning and development and talking about and demonstrating how we support the children’s learning and development in each area and the benefits this has. We will look at each area from a home-based childcare perspective, an early years setting as a whole and talk about how these activities or ones similar can be adapted and used at home to develop continuity across the child’s experiences and environments.
This week we will be looking at Literacy; Literacy looks at both reading and writing and can be observed significantly earlier than we may think.
Literacy is not just about a child being able to read and write their name, particularly in Early Years, Literacy is so much more than this and comes in a range of different forms within the EYFS.
In our opinion, it is never too early to introduce books and printed material into your babies lives and allowing them to look at images as well as reading them stories and reciting poems to them. So many people believe there is no benefit to reading to babies from their earliest days, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only does introducing books and stories enable your child to develop an understanding and awareness of books and stories, but also through reading them stories and poems; supports children in developing language too.
If exposed to books and stories frequently, by around 16 months old, most children will have an understanding and awareness of books and stories and may even develop favourite stories and rhymes, not only does this support their literary and language development, but also supports the child in being interested in not only stories and books, but develops an interest in the written word as a whole.
For many, there is a belief that reading and writing is only vital around pre-school age to promote school readiness – this is not the case. Once exposed to varying forms of literacy, children will begin to notice signs in their environment and develop an understanding of not only what these signs mean and that information can be relayed through both imagery and print, but this also begins to introduce letters and sounds.
‘Reading’ within this area of learning and development does not just refer to books and stories, but ‘print’ as a whole; this includes signs, posters, images and how these are interpreted and what these represent for the child. Similarly, ‘reading’ also refers to recognising and identifying letters and words.
Some simple yet effective activities that support children in identifying significant letters and sounds includes:
- A letter/sound of the week – children focus on one letter/sound each week and collect items that begin with this letter/sound and participate in activities on this chosen letter/sound.
- Letter walks – looking for sounds and letters in the environment; this also provides children with an opportunity to identify different texts/signs in the environment too.
- Alphabet digging tray – children explore/dig in a sensory tray (sand, shredded paper, shaving foam etc.) and find letters and are required to identify and phonetically sound out the letter before taking another turn.
- Alphabet lotto – not only promotes letter and sound recognition but also supports turn-taking/social skills.
- A ‘lending library’ for your setting – each child has their own book bag and takes a book home to read with their parent. Fill the book bag with a learning card demonstrating to the parents the different ways in which a book can be ‘read’ and activities to do with it – parent fills out the child’s Reading Log. This not only supports partnership working with parents but also promotes school readiness.
The ‘writing’ aspect of this area of learning and development does not just refer to holding and using a pencil to write letters/names/words. Again, ‘writing’ starts very early on in a child’s life. In the EYFS, ‘writing’ covers a broad range of skills that children begin to develop in order to gain the necessary skills they will need for later letter formation and early writing skills.
As the EYFS states:
“Early mark-making is not the same as writing.It is a sensory and physical experience for babies and toddlers, which they do not yet connect to forming symbols which can communicate meaning.”
“Children’s later writing is based on skills and understandings which they develop as babies and toddlers. Before they
can write, they need to learn to use spoken language to communicate. Later they learn to write down the words they can say.”
As above, early mark making is less about writing and words and more about developing an understanding and awareness of the marks they make using a range of materials. Again, providing children with these opportunities as early as possible is essential in them developing an understanding and awareness of mark making and the process of using their body to make marks. One of our favourite activities to introduce mark-making to our babies is ‘Tummy Time Painting’ – there are both messy and non-messy adaptations to this activity so can be easily replicated at home!
As soon as the baby can confidently hold themselves up/support their head during tummy time, this is a perfect opportunity to introduce this activity, as it not only provides the child with early mark-making opportunities through the means of an exciting and engaging stimulus, but also supports and develops their physical skills too and provides an alternative perspective for tummy time. (For a ‘no-mess’ option – add paint to a piece of paper and then add clingfilm/slide into zip-lock bag – the child is still able to make marks and see the process of mark-making without touching the paint!)
The ‘Writing’ aspect of Literacy refers both to writing letters, in addition to hearing and recognising them too and so as practitioners and parents alike it is important we provide opportunities to do both of these in our day to day routines.
There is some contradiction in regards to writing in terms of ‘School Readiness’ as many primary school teachers tell us as early years providers that we should not insist/encourage that children write their names independently in order to be ‘school ready’ as the Reception curriculum has it’s own method of teaching children to write their names.
Our advice would be, that if a child has demonstrated that they are interested in/capable of copying/writing letters and they wish to write their name then we as professionals and parents should not discourage this, instead provide them with a range of tools and experiences in which to practice their writing skills, rather than sitting them at a table to follow dots in order to write their names. Again, the ‘connect the dots’ method of copying letters has come under criticism in the past few years and research now tells us that this method of introducing the formation of letters actually makes it harder for children to develop the adequate skills in order to form these letters freehand. This is thought to be because the movement of connecting dots to form the shape of the letters staggers the way in which children move/use the pencil instead of promoting and supporting fluidity in the fine motor movements needed to form recognisable letters.
However, we have found a number of engaging and stimulating activities that support in mark-making and early writing and support the fluid movement recommended for confident letter formation:
- Providing each child with their own ‘writing book’ – a book with the child’s photo on that is theirs to mark-make in as they see fit (writing tools should be accessible in each area of the setting at all times.)
- Water painting in the outdoor play area. Not only simple and no mess, but the children love watching the marks they have made evaporate.
- Using paintbrushes to make marks in sand or flour – the child gets to practice their formations but it’s easily removed/re-done so the child doesn’t feel any pressure to ‘get it right’.
- A tray of rice accompanied by an alphabet mat – he child gets to practice their formations but it’s easily shaken/covered to start again, so the child doesn’t feel any pressure to ‘get it right’.
- Using a highlighter pen to write the child’s name for them to go over/copy – using the highlighter pen instead of the ‘connect the dots’ method supports and promotes fluid movements as the child follows the shape of the letter rather than the staggered process of connecting the dots.
- Outdoor and indoor mark-making opportunities using a range of resources; chalking, paintbrushes and water, play dough and pencils.
- Activities using tweezers to pick up and transport objects – the fine motor skills needed to complete these types of activities are conducive with developing the pincer grip and tripod hold necessary for holding and using writing tools effectively.
For more information on how to promote children’s literacy skills, visit these useful links: