Exploring ways to share reading and writing with tamariki, and discovering patterns, signs and symbols in the wider world.

Foundations first

In previous articles, and in the Group Programme(external link), we emphasise the value of reading with children. We talk about laying important foundations for attitudes to reading, emphasise the joy of being read to, and the enjoyment of looking at books especially with another person.

All of the information in Book sharing with toddlers is still relevant at age 3. The emphasis is still on the enjoyment of the book sharing with tamariki, rather than teaching them to read. However, it is true that regularly sharing books with tamariki models foundation reading skills for them with every story.

Up close and connected

Most tamariki still enjoy the special time together with the adult who is reading with them. Reading one book, or more, may be part of an important bedtime routine. Reading a book is a tried and tested way to help calm both adult and tamaiti in stressful times. It can offer comfort or distraction when needed.

‘Energizer’ kids

Although most tamariki at this stage are happy to sit and share a book, some struggle to keep still or attentive during story time.

Books may not fully engage some energetic 3- and 4-year-olds. They may be more interested in exploring the world, participating in play and looking at nature than sitting with a book. The challenge for whānau is providing a balance for them — enough time outdoors exploring nature, and time exploring print resources, too.

When sharing books with these tamariki, adults might need to use more strategies to help them to remain focused. Firstly, the books need to be appropriate, with enough appealing illustrations. Trying to read the story word-for-word might not work for them either, and they may need more time looking at and talking about the pictures and the story instead. Adults might need to use a lot more exaggeration in their voices to keep the child’s interest going.

The worry is that adults might think that these tamariki don’t enjoy story time, and give up reading with them. If this happens, these little bundles of energy will definitely miss out in the long run. If they are attending early childhood education, it’s worth talking with their about what they’ve noticed during story time and if they have any other strategies that whānau might try.

Using reading and writing every day

Reading can expose tamariki to more complex language not always used in day-to-day conversations. Through regular book sharing, tamariki also learn that reading is useful because it helps us find information – like checking timetables in order to catch the right bus or train. Reading helps us to find out what’s on TV or at the movies, or to know what the specials are at the supermarket this week.

By being able to write, we can show others something about ourselves – for a start, what our name is and where we live. Writing enables us to fill in forms or applications, and it can help us remember what we need from the supermarket.

The tools might be changing

The reading and writing tools may be changing with new technology, but children still need to learn the ‘system’ for using the language of their whānau and community. Whether we are writing using a pencil or keyboard, or reading a newspaper or a computer screen, we still need to know that what is being written or read makes sense.

When a 4-year-old asks to look at a particular game or activity online, there’s an opportunity for adults to talk about literacy:

‘You want to play the Spiderman game on my phone, do you? Okay, let me think … what does Spiderman start with? We’ll have to look for an “S” for “Spiderman” – Hey, “Spiderman” starts with the same letter as your name! Look: “S” for “Sam”, and “S” for “Spiderman”!’

Signs and symbols mean things

A 4-year-old may be interested in the marks on the page and may recognise repetitive symbols. They may also be interested to replicate those symbols and become aware of the letters that make up their name or their age number.

Seeing signs and symbols isn’t limited to letters and numbers in books, as a walk in nature will clearly show. The outdoors is full of naturally occurring shapes and patterns – just look at some driftwood, leaves or shells.

Through playing in nature, tamariki can increase knowledge and skills that help their growing ability to read and write, often in unexpected ways. Becoming aware of some of nature’s symbols and signs can be a forerunner for helping them to recognise letters and numbers later on.

No pressure

The most important thing for children in their journey towards reading and writing at this age is that they enjoy their developing literacy through listening to stories and understanding that print says something.

There is no doubt that some children are capable of coming to grips with reading much earlier than their peers. Some eager parents may try to encourage their young tamaiti to read and write at an early age, and can feel immense pride when their child achieves these milestones early.

But early reading doesn’t necessarily mean that tamariki will continue to advance as fast as they get older. This poses a risk, too, that the eager parents may feel their child’s progress has stopped and think they need to push them along more. These additional expectations on their tamaiti can prove stressful for the child if they feel they’re not achieving as their parents would like them to.

Learning about the world

Some literacy experts say the real value of reading to children is helping to develop their background knowledge in all kinds of topics. Becoming ‘literate’ doesn’t just mean reading and writing but also building knowledge and understanding. This might be about a particular topic — for example, computer literacy or financial literacy.

Reading and writing is just a part of the bigger literacy picture, but an important part. Remember that storytelling, number games and digital activities are also important for children’s literacy learning and development. According to the Nature Explore website(external link), learning experienced in the outdoors can be just as valuable as it is inside a library! In regard to preschool children, they write:

‘As children grow, their explorations become more sophisticated. For example, pre-schoolers may be inspired to look very closely at beautiful shapes and textures found in leaves and flowers, in order to identify similarities and differences and distinguish patterns. Teachers who support this type of exploration realise children are practicing important skills, which are foundational for later development of reading and writing abilities. At this age, interesting real-life experiences in nature continue to inspire rich vocabulary development.’

Helping language and literacy flourish in outdoor classrooms | Nature Explore(external link)