Babies begin to acquire information about literacy from the moment they are born. They continue to build on their knowledge of oral language, reading, and writing as they go through early childhood and beyond. A great deal of attention is now being focused on literacy development in early childhood, an area somewhat neglected in the past. Teachers, parents, and administrators did not perceive preschoolers as readers or writers. Their emphasis was on oral language development and preparation for reading. Because of increased research, thinking about early literacy has changed: Very young children are now viewed as individuals with literacy skills. Although the literacy skills of preschoolers and kindergarteners are not conventional like adults’, they must be acknowledged because they have implications for instructional practice.

Like a child’s first words and first steps, learning to read and write should be an exciting, fulfilling, and rewarding experience. This book draws on research and blends it with theory, policy, and practice that have proved successful in developing literacy. It presents a program for developing literacy in children from birth to 8 years. It takes into account the joint position statement of the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children entitled Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children (1998) and the position statement of IRA Literacy Development in the Preschool Years (2005). It also takes into account the National Reading Panel Report (2000) and Put Reading First (2001), published by the U.S. Department of Education, as well as other work that will be documented throughout. The book is based on the following rationale:

  1. Literacy learning begins in infancy.
  2. Families need to provide a literacy-rich environment and literacy experiences at home to help children acquire skills. Families need to be actively involved in their children’s literacy learning when they enter school.
  3. Teachers must be aware that children come to school with varying types of prior knowledge about reading and writing that differ from one child to the next.
  4. Children need to continue to develop reading and writing skills through experiences at school that build on their existing knowledge.
  5. Literacy learning requires a supportive environment that builds positive feelings about self and literacy activities.
  6. Literacy learning requires an environment rich with accessible materials and varied experiences.
  7. Adults must serve as models for literacy behavior by scaffolding and demonstrating strategies to be learned.
  8. During their literacy experiences, children should interact within a social context to share information. Such interactions help motivate them to learn from one another.
  9. Early reading and writing experiences should be meaningful and concrete and should actively engage children.
  10. Early reading and writing experiences need to provide systematic and explicit instruction on skills.
  11. A literacy development program should focus on experiences that integrate reading, writing, listening, speaking, and viewing and content areas such as music, art, social studies, science, and play.
  12. Diversity in cultural and language backgrounds must be acknowledged and addressed in early literacy development.
  13. Differences in literacy development will vary and must be addressed with small-group and one-to-one differentiated instruction. Struggling readers, for example, must be provided for in early intervention programs or inclusion-based classroom programs.
  14. Assessment of achievement should be frequent, match instructional strategies, and use multiple formats for evaluating student behavior.
  15. Standards for early literacy grade-level benchmarks should be tied to instruction and assessment and used as a means for reaching goals for all children to read fluently by third grade.
  16. Programs should be designed that are appropriate for the development of children being taught, with high, yet achievable, expectations.
  17. Programs should be research based. For example, from the results of the National Reading Panel Report (2000) we know some of the needed components in reading instruction to ensure student success. These include phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, comprehension, and fluency. We also have preschool literacy variables determined by the National Early Literacy Panel to predict later achievement in decoding and reading comprehension (National Center for Family Literacy, 2004).