Professional Resource

Bridges to Literacy: Early Routines That Promote Later School Success

Download Files Apr 18, 2002

Will this baby be “ready” for school? Will she “like” school? Will he become a reader? These questions are increasingly asked by parents, child care providers, early educators, and policy makers at every level from the neighborhood parent group to the White House.

Legislatures throughout the nation are creating programs to foster reading, and governors are regularly photographed reading to children in preschools. In 1998, Federal law decreed a standard that children will recognize 10 alphabet letters before exiting the Head Start program at age 5 (Head Start Act). In elementary school, standardized tests evaluate every child’s reading status.

This national momentum suggests that we should examine infant, toddler, preschool, and family routines with an eye to emergent literacy. Changes in the under- standing of literacy development support this exploration. As recently as 25 years ago, people thought reading began in first grade, when children were “ready” for it. Over time, however, that view has shifted. In the 1980s, a few scholars in New Zealand, Canada, and the U.S. began to study the daily activities of families and classrooms to see which practices provide young children with a foundation for later success in reading. They called these beginnings “emergent literacy” (Schickedanz; 1999; Teale & Sulzby, 1986). About 10 years ago we began to see ads for phonics cards for 2-year-olds. In that climate, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the International Reading Association (IRA) issued a joint position statement on developmentally appropriate ways to help young children learn to read and write (NAEYC & IRA, 1998). The statement underscores the many ways that early childhood routines and experiences begin the process of creating readers.

Prompted by the widespread interest in developing initiatives to support reading and school readiness, this article describes foundations of literacy and discusses strategies that early childhood professionals can use to facilitate its development. A number of bridges to literacy can now be built with confidence!

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