The other day I was driving with the kids down the main part of town when we soon came to a four way stop. “Look, Mom,” William said to me. “Stop. It’s not our turn.” William was reading the stop sign ahead of us.
Many parents believe that children don’t learn to read until they experience formal lessons; however children are aware of the print around them from a very young age. Some experts say even as young as two years old a child can have a reading vocabulary of a hundred or more words. This is due to children actively observing the world around them and their parents engaging them in conversations about their environment, called environmental print. Reading familiar signs, billboards, product labels, and even logos that occur frequently and naturally in our environment is called reading environmental print and it is one of the earliest stages of emergent literacy.
Often times a child will readily engage in environmental print well before they “read” a book to themselves. Of course, part of reading environmental print is also using the visual context clues associated with the print, just as my son recognizes that the sign McDonalds is associated with french fries, that sign is an icon that holds meaning to him. Environmental print helps children understand how words are organized and used, and it teaches them that words hold meaning. Studies have found that children with more exposure to the print in their environmental come to kindergarten more prepared to formally learn to read.
Environmental print is a great asset for a stay-at-home parent to engage their children in reading at a very early age. Here are a few ways to encourage this emergent reading:
- Point out environmental print and talk to your child about it.
- Save examples of environmental print (example: boxed cereal and cracker logos) and put them in a binder for “reading”
- Encourage your child to help you “read” junk mail or grocery fliers
- Plat latter matching games where your child matched letters of the alphabet with those in familiar environmental print
- Set up a “store” and allow your child to shop for their favorite pantry items
- Use chart or construction paper to make sentences out of environmental print. (Example: I eat ____ for breakfast.)
- Save two copies of each example of environmental print to make into a matching game
- Sort environmental print by type (food, toys, places, etc.)
- Paste environmental print on construction paper and play I Spy
- Read books using environmental print (Signs, by David Bauer is a great book.)
Children thrive by experiencing success. Reading environmental print is one way to help your child experience success in reading before he even decodes his first words. This success will be motivating to both you and your child. Soon you will find that your child will rely less and less on the bright orange packaging of the goldfish crackers and more and more on the letters that make up the words of his favorite snack.
For more reading, check out these articles:
This is also a great Google book: