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  • Writer's pictureJoshua Barr (M.A. M.Ed)

Let's Talk About Reading! Part 2: What we do early years.

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

In part 1 of ‘Let’s Talk About Reading!’ we discussed what the research says on when formal reading instruction should begin. Although the research shows there are no long-term benefits of starting formal reading instruction in ECE that doesn’t mean we ignore reading or literacy development. There are many things ECE educators do to prepare children for when the time comes for formal reading instruction to begin.

First, let’s ask ourselves why we read and then what is the the purpose of reading?

When we think about we read for two primary reason;

1. to enjoy stories

2. seek out knowledge.

All people, children and adults, love stories and find ways to enjoy them. They do this through a variety of mediums; TV, theatre, audio stories, music, books and simply listening to each other (conversations). Stories play a major part in our lives and so the best place to start with pre-reading instruction is to develop that love of stories using a variety of methods. This means doing more than simply picking up a children’s book and doing 'story time'. Children should listen to stories in a variety of ways. Waldorf schools, for example, are well known for approaching stories in creative ways.

The classroom environment should lend itself to being a place for stories to happen. A good ECE classroom has a block (construction) area, role play area and art area. These are places where children are able to express ideas, reveal their interests and communicate their feelings. This develops vocabulary (language), exposure to sounds, and offers places for children to use their hands and fingers (fine motor skills). When a child builds a tower out of blocks and plays with it, they are creating a story. When a child sits in the art area and draws a picture, they are telling a story. The teacher’s job is to honour and respect these stories, capture them, display them and develop them further. The teacher helps verbalize children’s ideas when they struggle, offers them a new word when they can’t find the word they want and develop language in all areas of the classroom.

These three areas, which we call ‘the three pillars of an ECE classroom’ are highly adaptable and offer a variety of materials not just for story telling but for physical development. Using clay, play dough, wires, paint, string, threads, tools, kitchen appliances (pots, pans, teacups etc.) and many more develop a child’s fine motor skills.

When it comes time for them to start formal writing, they will have already developed strong hand and wrist muscles. Take a look at this picture (from NeuroChild) which shows X-Rays of a 3-year-old, 6-year-old and a 12-year-old hand.

In their hands alone, children go through massive changes in their physical development. Children in ECE shouldn't be spending large amounts of time on tracing worksheets and being made to hold a pencil correctly. Their hands and fingers should be allowed to move in varying and engaging ways with different types of materials. (To learn more about fine motor skills you can go to our article on the subject.)

Many ECE classrooms have reading areas, but books shouldn’t be confined to this one place rather they should be found in all areas of the classroom, showing children books are a resource that teach us about a wide variety of things. When children have the freedom to explore, to play and to investigate they wonder, test theories and generate questions.

The environment is used each day to adapt to children’s interests including different books that offer answers but also stimulate new questions. Books related to construction like bridges, cities and buildings can be placed in the block area etc.

When we keep books in one place it shows children that books and stories are separate to other interests. When we keep books in one place it shows children that books and stories are separate to other interests.

When it comes to the alphabet we aim to start from a place of deep personal meaning. Letters, sounds and words should be introduced and developed in meaningful ways. Singing the letter Aa song, tracing the Aa worksheet and colouring the /a/ /a/ apple is not meaningful for most children. Teachers who do this type of teaching often need continuous repetition over days, weeks and months for it to set in. A more meaningful way would be for each child to learn the letters of their name, and noticing that a friend has the same or different letters. A child’s name is one of the most frequent combination of letters and sounds they hear and forms the first bond between sounds, words and symbols (letters). We don’t or shouldn’t approach it from a place of ‘a letter a week’ that that doesn’t hold any meaning or context for children.

When children come to the world of reading and writing organically, through their own interests, they learn the relationship between symbols (words) and language much faster than when it happens through a prescribed daily and weekly whole group curriculum lesson/activity. Meaningful connections stay with children much longer than frequent repetition.

This article has outlined briefly how Early Childhood Education should approach pre-reading skills. In our next article ‘Let’s Talk About Reading! Part 3: Frequently Asked Questions’ we will answer specific questions we have been asked regarding reading instruction in early childhood education.


By Joshua Barr


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