We know that, fundamentally, the word literacy describes a person’s ability to read and write. We know that, in this context, the word early refers to the education of very young children. But the meaning of the term “early literacy” is more complex than the words themselves might imply.
From birth, the brain is a sponge soaking up all the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and feelings it encounters. Associations are made, connections are formed, and a foundational understanding of the world develops. Understanding the importance of early literacy means taking advantage of this time, this malleability of the brain, to set our little ones up for lifelong success.
It all starts by providing the right environment.
In simple terms, fill your house with books! By reading to your newborn, infant, or toddler, you demonstrate to them that reading is a pleasurable and valuable use of time, and you familiarize them with basic concepts like how sounds make words and that print has meaning. Art supplies have a role in this, too. An act as simple as scribbling on a sheet of paper establishes that crayons can be gripped, pressed down, moved around and that lines of their own will appear.
The goal isn’t to teach reading and writing. It’s to prepare the brain for learning how to learn. It’s to shape an understanding of what the written language is used for and why, and how and when people use it.
The examples are almost endless: “to entertain and inform (picture books, newspaper, TV guide); communicate across time and distance (texts, emails, written notes and letters); to remember and plan (shopping lists, plans, and schedules); to instruct and guide (game directions, how-to manuals, recipes)—and on and on” (Bridges, 14). Many of these are probably taken for granted and don’t come to mind when we think about literacy, but they’re all important aspects of functioning in our society.
Early literacy is something we take pretty seriously here at the library. That’s why we offer story-time programs six days a week, have bins upon bins of baby-friendly board books available, and, of course, put on our yearly 300 Books reading initiative for preschoolers. We know that children who spend their early years interacting with books and listening to stories and rhymes are better equipped for learning, whether in school or at home and for the rest of their lives.
Bridges, Lois. “Make Every Student Count: How Collaboration Among Families, Schools, and Communities Ensures Student Success.” Family and Community Engagement Research Compendium, Scholastic, 2013.