Respectfully submitted by Colette B. Cross, Head of School, The Westmont Montessori School
We know that the foundation for literacy development begins in infancy. The early years are the launching pad for learning to read and reading to learn. Research tells us that early literacy skills are fundamental to later success in reading in children. When we instinctively speak to our infants, make sounds and communicate with them, we are starting them on the road to literacy. It is important that we continue to engage our toddlers and preschoolers in experiences that promote and foster literary skills such as oral language, content knowledge, and cognitive ability. We do this by providing the skills and tools necessary to help children navigate the road to reading, as well as fostering a desire to read.
Not too long ago, I watched one of our Toddlers sit in the comfortable chair pouring over a book, gently turning each and every page, examining the pictures and, in some cases, verbalizing the story as she saw it. What an amazing feat, a child who already loves books. Just imagine, in a few short years, between the Toddler and Pre-K years, our students are exposed to a world of literacy activities. These foundational tools enable what we call “an explosion into reading” to occur when a child is developmentally ready. Another amazing feat; the child who says, “I can read by myself.” I don’t know about you, but I remember that very moment in my own life; and the magic lives on.
At Westmont, we have a specially designed sequential curriculum to aid and support the development of reading readiness and reading skills. Learning to read is a process that relies on specific elements to bring success. We begin with vocabulary and language enrichment, naming objects using auditory and visual discrimination activities to show children that words have meaning. We then move onto phonemic awareness, teaching children that certain sounds represent certain letters, (this can take a while depending on a child’s development stage), and includes a myriad of lessons. We then introduce our students to phonological awareness teaching them that words are built by combining the sounds. From there children learn that words make up sentences, that words can be divided into syllables, and syllables can be divided into phonemes. The phonetic approach to reading is the most effective way to teach most children how to read, and because the English language is based on sounds it lends itself to the phonetic approach.
Promoting children’s desire to read is as important as helping them develop the necessary skills to learn how to read. Without motivation, support and encouragement, children will read very little and often only read what and when they must. The National Association for the Education of Young Children says that 40% of children read only what they need to read. Between home and school we must foster wonder and delight in books in our children by providing the materials. Children who read will always be able to learn.
Bookstores may be closing down and digital libraries may be in vogue but we must never deny our children the joy of turning the physical page of a book to find out what happens next.
“I cannot live without books” Thomas Jefferson.