As teachers or parents of preschoolers there are so many things we can do to encourage literacy acquisition for our children; Unfortunately, sometimes it is easy to stand in their way and not even know it. In this entry I would like to address two common practices in preschool classrooms and why they should be modified. (Yes, I am aware that this will not be an exceedingly popular post and that upon reading the first three sentences many people will navigate away from this page; I implore you to stick with me, and perhaps even leave some feedback- whether agreeable or disagreeable). Often in preschool classrooms there is a tendency to read a book once or maybe twice- usually that book coincides with whatever unit they are teaching. The other tendency is to keep the "beat up" or "cheap" books in the children's book area and not in the the library area.
According to the book Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children by Susan B. Neuman in collaboration with Carol Copple and Sue Bredekamp, "the single most important activity [in building the skills essential to literacy] appears to be reading to children." While few would dispute this fact the authors also assert the opinion that "multiple re-readings" in addition to pointing out features of print encourage children to "practice what they've learned about print on their peers and on their own," by "reading," which is really "retelling." Neuman says this on the topic:
"...Children will often pretend to read, using visual cues to remember the words of their favorite stories. Although studies have shown that these pretend readings are just that, such visual readings... demonstrate substantial knowledge about the global features of reading and its purposes."As many educators of young children know these same visual "clues" are used for children to aid themselves in reading later on in first, second, and even third grade- something known as "context clues."
These things aside, reading to children the same stories over and over again increases their love for reading or at the very least for literature. Looking back on ones own childhood anyone who still loves reading (and perhaps people who do not) can remember a few stories that they loved to be read over and over and over again. My own memories are of Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Are You My Mother?, and Where the Wild Things Are. According to Lisa Murphy in Play: the Foundation of the House of Higher Learning and too many literacy experts to name, including the authors of Learning to Read and Write, reading stories over and over again helps them to both understand the features of stories as well as print it self. They begin to understand the literary elements of stories like how stories begin and end, and central conflict and resolutions (although of course they do not label them as such), and they begin to understand front to back (beginning to end), top to bottom, left to right, when they are read to.
"Hearing a story read again and again, children are better able to put together the relation of the characters and the sequence of key events, which they often do not on a first reading." (Neuman)
"When adults read to children regularly, children's familiarity with stories ... begins to evolve well before they are able to read or write. From such experience children learn to distinguish the language used in books from conversational language and to anticipate certain elements in a story. Later, these expectations assist children in comprehending what they read and in creating their own compositions." (Neuman)Hopefully, what all of this shows is that offering multiple readings of the same book is incredibly important to the acquisition of the written language for children. I would also add to this that the quality of the book is also incredibly important. Children do not want to hear stories that are not truly engaging more than once if at all. According to Mem Fox a book that does not connect with the children is "a waste of our time, our money and our precious trees."
It is for this reason that it is also important for children to have the "good books" available for them to use and not just kept safely away from them. I have, in the past, been as guilty as any of keeping certain beloved favorites out of the reach of little hands- fearing the damage, however, I have recently seen first hand the fruits of quelling my hesitancy to allow them these books and just put them out in the classroom library. They read the stories they love to themselves, to their friends, to teachers, and to dolls. The tenants of these stories make their ways into their own stories and playtime as well. They examine the words on the page and examine the pictures, trying to better retell it, and decode the patterns of words and letters before them.
From putting out these books I have also seen a new reverence for books- they are more careful with them and often treat them as prized possessions. From this we have created a "book hospital" (or "hops-pital" as many of them say), where they demand even the tiniest fray or rip be repaired. From the words of Lisa Murphy "no one learns how to use books the 'right way' if the 'good books' are kept in the cupboard."