What is Emergent Literacy?

Emergent literacy is a term first used by Marie Clay to describe how young children interact with books and when reading and writing, even though they could not read or write in the conventional sense. A vast amount of research has since been done within the fields of psychology, child development, education, linguistics, and sociology. Emergent literacy is a gradual process that takes place over time from birth - until a child can read and write in what we consider to be a conventional sense. A key to the term literacy is the interrelatedness of all parts of language: speaking, listening, reading, writing, and viewing. It is never too early to begin reading to a child.

Elements of Emergent Literacy
The process of learning to read and write begins very early in a child's life. Children have contact with many forms of communication right from the start. Most children can identify common signs and logos by the age of 2-3. They will begin to experiment with written forms of communicating by scribbling long before they can read.
Reading and writing develop at the same time in young children and are interrelated. Children do not learn how to read first and then learn how to write. Writing is often easier for some children to begin with than reading.
The functions of reading often promote the learning of reading. Literacy often develops from the need in real life situations to get something done or to read so that they can learn. Literacy is not a set of isolated skills, but rather a set of processes that children see as a means to achieve goals.
Children learn literacy through active engagement with books and writing opportunities. Children reconstruct their knowledge by rereading favorite books and by using invented spelling.
Listening to books plays a very important role in the literacy development of children. Reading to children each day is one of the most beneficial ways in which a parent can promote literacy. Children develop a feel for the nature of written language at a very early age by listening to books read aloud. They begin to understand the function of reading and develop a positive attitude towards it.
Children pass through the stages of emergent literacy in different ways and at different ages. These developmental stages lead to the skills needed for both reading and writing acquisition.
Parents can promote early literacy development for infants by:

* introducing cloth or cardboard books with brightly colored pictures
* reading books that have rhyme, rhythm and repetition like nursery rhymes
* pointing out words in the environment (such as on signs, etc) and explaining the meaning of the words
Parents can promote early literacy development for toddlers and preschoolers by:

* surrounding children with a literature rich environment filled with books, magazines, games, etc.
* reading simple stories with one central character and a basic plot
* responding to questions your child might have about print in your house or elsewhere in the environment
* supporting early writing by making sure that paper, crayons, pencils and markers are available

Your comments and questions regarding this Web page are welcome. Please e-mail to:

Janann Dostal -- jdostal@dubuque.k12.ia.us
Sandy Hanley -- shanley@dubuque.k12.ia.us

Last update: October 20, 2014

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