Preparation for learning to read begins early in children’s lives, even earlier than some might think. In fact, some would say that emergent reading skills begin at birth when children are first exposed to speech. Emergent reading skills continue to develop through the preschool years as children acquire language and are exposed to printed materials in meaningful ways.
A well-rounded early education in literacy includes all four components of preschool literacy, also known as “the big four”, and they make up the foundation for future literacy development.
Preschool Literacy Components
The “Big Four” of Preschool Literacy Instruction
These four components to a complete literacy curriculum in preschool are print awareness, oral language development, the alphabetic principle. and phonological awareness. Each component is important to preschool literacy, which is why teachers and parents need a vast resource of teaching strategies in their teaching arsenal.
Oral Language Development
Very simply defined, oral language is the acquisition of vocabulary that aids in meaningful speech and conversation. However, oral language development consists of much more than simply vocabulary. It also includes:
- phonology – the organization of sounds within an alphabetic language
- grammar or syntax – the rules that govern the structure of speech and writing
- morphology – a subset of semantics which considers the smallest units of meaning within a word, as well as how the word is formed
- pragmatics – the understanding of how language is used in social situations
- discourse – the act of communicating, in oral or written form
Print awareness refers to a child’s understanding that written language had a direct relationship with oral language. Sometimes called “concepts of print,” it also includes skills such as:
- book awareness – knowing how to properly handle a book, including how to turn pages
- reading pictures – developing storytelling skills by using picture to “read” a book, rather than relying on the words to be read aloud
- picture and word differentiation –that they are two separate things
- line sweeping – the act of “sweeping” reading from the end of one line to the beginning of the next
- punctuation – developing awareness that symbols in writing tell readers what to do
- purposeful print – that print has a purpose to communicate and give information to the reader
Phonological awareness refers to the ability to recognize the variety of sound units that make up words. It encompasses a wide variety of sound-related skills that are necessary for reading. Skills include:
- one-to-one correspondence in reading – that each written word corresponds with a spoken word
- syllable awareness – counting syllables, as well as blending and segmenting syllables
- onset and rime manipulation – if the /k/ sound in cat is replaced by the /p/ sound, what new word is created?
- phoneme awareness – that words are made up of small and individual sounds
Most simply put, refers to phonics instruction, which means that sounds in words are represented by symbols (letters). It is understanding that the speech sounds of language have systematic and predictable relationships with letters of the alphabet and letter combinations, thus forming words. Skills include:
- letter-sound associations – that every sound has a matching symbol or set of symbols
- sound blending – for example, what word is mooooooooooommmmmm?
- segmenting – isolating individual sounds in a word
- reading pseudowords – applying sound/spelling patterns to unfamiliar words
- word identification – identifying single words