Literacy Development – Part Two

The Principle: A child’s brain sets markers for literacy during his first year of life through the influence of emotional relationships. Subsequent connections add to this pre-reading foundation until the child begins to make the transition from oral to written language.

According to The National Association for the Education of Young Children,
“New insights into brain development affirm what many parents and caregivers have known for years … warm and loving attachments between young children and adults, and positive stimulation from the time of birth, really do make a difference in children’s development for a lifetime.

The Snuggle Factor: Current brain research confirms that learning is strongly influenced by emotion. In fact, some researchers believe that literacy is directly influenced by emotional capacity and/or the strong relationships the child establishes in the first year of life. Therefore, when a young child experiences comfort, safety, and peace while being read to, chemicals in the brain lay the groundwork for literacy by sending the message that this is a pleasurable experience.

The Fear Factor: The opposite is also true. Just as a pleasurable experience enhances attention, learning, meaning, and memory, a negative event also causes connections to be made. When a stressful experience releases chemicals in the brain, sending the message that this, too, must be remembered, the pathway to fear is widened. Therefore, when reading to groups of children, patience is more than a virtue. It is a vital tool through which pleasurable connections can be made.

A Pattern of Awareness: Reading with your child can also bring him to a place of awareness called “reading readiness.” As we discussed in the article How Young Children Learn, oral language is the foundation upon which reading skills are based. When your child begins to make the transition from oral to written language, you may want to encourage the process by helping him develop the following patterns of awareness:

Practical Pre-Reading Skills:

  • print awareness (combinations of letters in specific order)
  • spatial awareness (words are separated by space, paragraph placement …)
  • left-to-right / top-to-bottom progression (flow of text)
  • auditory discrimination (hearing letter sounds)
  • visual discrimination (differing shapes of letters or graphemes)
  • book covers (front and back), name of author and illustrator
  • interpreting picture clues or cues (anticipating story line through pictures)
  • following the development of a story (sequence of events)
  • prediction (what will happen next)

Here’s a guarantee: When reading with your child, if you like the book, so will your child. So, be sure to choose books that YOU enjoy!

  • Emotions drive our attention, learning, meaning, and memory.
  • Productive emotions are enhanced during times of celebration, storytelling, curiosity, mystery, big projects, drama, physical activity, music, art …
  • Playing and listening to music strengthens the synapses between nerve cells.
  • The brain changes physiologically as a result of experience. The environment in which a brain operates determines to a large degree the functioning ability of that brain.
  • “New brain research shows not only that music is fun, but also that it improves our brain development and even enhances skills in other subjects such as reading and math.”

– Norman Weinberger, Educational Leadership, November 1998

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