Speech-language pathologists are experts in the development of oral language and speech sound production skills. And since these skills are fundamental to literacy skill development, which is crucial for academic success, we also have a large role and responsibility in the identification and treatment of children with delays in early/emergent literacy skills. But what exactly are “emergent literacy skills” or “early literacy skills” and how can you work on them with your child?
Emergent literacy skills include the following:
Phonological awareness or sound awareness (rhyming, clapping out syllables, hearing the individual sounds that make up words, etc.)
Concepts of print (holding a book upright, pointing to words, knowing where the title is, etc.)
Oral narrative skills (story telling)
Vocabulary (comprehension and use)
Decontextualized oral language (language used to reason, imagine, pretend, problem solve, predict or infer information that goes beyond the literal text of the here and now)
How do I know if my child is meeting his/her early literacy milestones? Click here to check out this rough guide from Super Duper: "Literacy Milestones: Should My Child be Reading?"
What can I do to help my child develop strong emergent literacy skills? Here are some of our favourite tips for parents:
Make reading part of your routine- help your child build a positive orientation to books by exposing them to books often at an early age! Make reading fun by being silly, making sounds, acting out parts of the book, etc. If your child does not like to sit still and attend to books, don’t worry. Keep it short and sweet and try again later (maybe when they are feeling calmer, such as before bed or nap time).
Just have fun with it! With young children especially, don’t get so hung up on reading the actual words. Let the child turn the pages, talk about what you see on the pages and what the characters are doing. Describe them too! We often see parents who talk all about the nouns but verbs and adjectives are also important to highlight.
Encourage your child to “read” stories back to you by starting at the beginning and having them flip through the pictures. It’s normal for them to re-read their favourite stories and begin to recite them back to you by memory.
Boost awareness of print concepts by having your child count out the number of words on the page and demonstrate that words are read from left to right. Have them “hunt” for specific letters, match words that are the same (e.g. “This word is and. Do you see that word anywhere else on the page?”), point to the title/author, locate the beginning and end of the book.
Increase sound awareness by clapping out the number of words in a sentence or the syllables in words. Make up rhymes and see if your child can identify and generate rhymes too. Talk about the sounds you hear at the beginning, middle and end of the word (e.g., “hat. Hhhhhhhh. That word starts with the /h/ sound"). Play “word detective” and see if your child can guess the word you are saying if you pronounce it very slowly (e.g., “hhhhh-----aaaaaaaa-------t. What word did I say?”)
Ask questions such as the 5 Ws (who, what, where, when, why) to facilitate reading comprehension. Talk about the characters’ feelings and use decontextualized language to promote critical thinking skills. Ask questions such as, “What do you think will happen next?”, “What do you think might have happened if...”, “What would you do if you were in the story?”, “How do you feel about ……”, “Why is ______ important?”, “What was the problem in the story?”, “How do you think the character will solve it?”, “What do you think he might try next time?”
Promote narrative-skill development by reviewing and talking about the parts of the story: setting (time, place), characters, initiating event/problem, solution, consequences/ending. Act out the stories you read and role-play!
Build vocabulary by talking about new words that are encountered in stories. Give the new words meaning to your child by acting them out (if applicable), drawing them, using them in multiple sentences, and applying them throughout the day.
This summer, try some of the following:
In the pool: Increase letter awareness by having your child jump into the pool in the shape of various letters (Think “YMCA” here)
At the beach: Increase sound awareness by talking about all of the things that start with the “sh” sound (shells, shore, shovel, sharing, shoes, sharks-hopefully not!) or the “b” sound (beach, ball, bathing suit, belly, etc.)
In the car: Sing songs that help develop rhyming skills such as, "Down by the Bay", "You are my sunshine", or "There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly"
At home: Improve story-telling skills by baking or making something and taking pictures of the steps on your phone or ipad along the way. Print out the pictures and have your child re-tell the steps back (“read” the little book) to another adult. (e.g., “Today, Mommy and I made lemonade. First, we cut the lemons, then, we squeezed them into a jug. Next, we added water and sugar and stirred it all up. Mommy tasted it and said it was yucky so we had to add more sugar. But then we did and it was delicious.”) We often think of “story-telling” as re-telling stories in books or generating make-believe stories, but being able to tell personal narratives is an extremely valuable skill!
We hope this gives you an idea of what you can be practicing with your children this summer to strengthen their early literacy skills. As always, if you have any questions/concerns, or suspect that your child may be behind in his/her skill development, please reach out to us. We will be providing free consults at Urban Playland on July 28th from 10-12 so feel free to swing by and say hello or ask questions (click on this link for more details).
Stephanie and Jill
Registered Speech-Language Pathologists
Aurora Speech Clinic