Sitio en español

Archives: Chat

IEL Interactive Chat: Encouraging Literacy Development in Preschoolers About
Jodi Scott, May 2003

Early literacy development begins the moment a child is born and continues throughout the early childhood years and beyond. Early literacy is not only about teaching children to read and write; it is about creating a love for reading and writing within each child. A child's ability to read is an important predictor of a child's success in school and later in life. This Chat addresses the importance of reading aloud to children and strategies that can be used to engage children in reading and writing activities. In the transcript are answers to questions such as, “What role do listening, speaking, and writing play in helping a child learn to read?” “Can you give some examples on how teachers can encourage literacy through other activities such as science, cooking, math, and music?” “How can teachers best accommodate a wide range of abilities in early literacy, with some children in class already reading and others unfamiliar with the letters of the alphabet or books?”


Early literacy development begins the moment a child is born and it continues to grow and build throughout the early childhood years and beyond. Current research now puts a great emphasis on emergent literacy as a precursor to success as a learner later in life. Early literacy is not only about teaching children to read and write. It is about creating a love for reading and writing within each child. A child's ability to read is an immense predictor of a child's success in school and later in life. The chat will address the importance of reading aloud to children and strategies we can use to engage children in reading and writing related activities. We will discuss the before, during and after reading strategies for supporting early literacy, the importance of oral language, the alphabetic principal, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, environmental print and strategies for developing comprehension. We will also discuss the importance of the reading and writing connection. Early Literacy is the development of skills that will aid a child in the journey of learning to read and write with fluency and accuracy. "The ultimate goal of any reading program is to inspire children to use their literacy skills throughout their lives as tools for enjoyment, learning, and communication. In order to attain that goal, children must be interested and engaged in what they are doing and feel a sense of pride in their accomplishments." (CIERA)


Jodi Scott has a masters degree in early childhood education. She has taught and directed a pre-kindergarten program for eight years. She is currently a consultant for the Regional Office of education for seven counties in Illinois. She has a passion for books that spilled over to the children in her classroom and the teachers in her workshops. Jodi has presented and provided workshops all over the state of Illinois, as well as presenting at the 2003 NAEYC conference in New York.

Questions & Answers (Edited Transcript)

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Hello! I am happy to be here and I look forward to your questions about literacy development in preschoolers.

IEL moderator [Email-submitted Question]: What role do listening, speaking, and writing play in helping a child learn to read?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Listening and speaking are like the training wheels on a bike. It is a lot more difficult to gain the confidence of riding without that early support. The more practice we have and the more we have been exposed to speaking and listening the easier it will be for children to break the code when learning to read. Oral language is a huge predictor for how successful children will be in learning to read. The more children are familiar with the reading and writing concept, the better the chance they will have in accessing that prior knowledge and making the connection for reading and writing. Exposure is key for children's success in school.

IEL moderator [Email-submitted Question]: Can you give some examples on how teachers can encourage literacy through other activities such as science, cooking, math, and music?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: In early childhood, literacy is a part of everything you do. It is never a separate "subject area." It is visible in every aspect of your classroom. Reading and writing across the curriculum is very important. Children need to see the use for reading and writing in all curricular areas. There is a lot of children's literature that lends itself to other curricular areas. Using books to create curiosity in science, cooking, math, or music is a great way to begin projects or pique children's interest in different areas.

Offering students opportunities to write in all curricular areas is also important. For example, it is a good practice to include clipboards and pencils in all areas of your classroom, including the blocks area, dramatic play area, and the science area. Another exciting aspect of cross-curricular reading is exposing children to nonfiction texts. Reading nonfiction is so important in developing early literacy. Different forms of texts -- such as recipes, lists, records of a science project in a journal, etc. -- are great precursors to the development of literacy.

IEL moderator [Email-submitted Question]: Are there ways to help children understand the connection between letters and the sounds they make without drilling in phonics?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Yes, there are other ways. Drilling phonics is not an appropriate teaching method for preschool-age children. Teaching children to listen to words that sound the same (rhyme) and start the same are the beginning stages for exposing children to letter-sound matching. Model for children and point out words that begin with the same sound as their names or the names of others. Play rhyming games and sing songs, chants, and finger plays to help encourage children to listen for sounds.

Participant [Nancy]: I've heard of environmental print. Does this just refer to any printed words? How can a parent or teacher use this?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Nancy, environmental print is the words you see around you. Words and symbols that young children recognize -- i.e., McDonald's, Wal-Mart, Coke, etc. -- help to give children confidence when beginning to read. Using print in the environment to encourage literacy development helps make a connection for young children. They are able to recognize familiar signs and symbols and gain confidence in their ability to read. Parents or teachers can point out familiar signs or symbols in their environment to encourage children to recognize the connection to the symbols and reading.

Participant [Cheyenne]: Jodi, how do the Illinois Early Learning Standards support literacy development in the classroom?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Cheyenne, the Illinois Early Learning Standards are a foundation for teachers to build on. They help support our curriculum planning and our guidelines for working with children ages 3-5.

Participant [tx_n8v]: How do you choose books to make sure the children will not be too bored or that are beneath their level?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: tx_n8v, when you know your children, you are able to choose books that pique their interest and keep them involved. If children are not responding to a story you are sharing, do not hesitate to set it down and move on to something different.

Participant [Lizz]: When you have a very articulate class of 4-year-olds, how you do enhance their literacy and still maintain a developmentally appropriate curriculum?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Lizz, developmentally appropriate curriculum is curriculum that meets the needs of your students. Keep 4-year-olds engaged and active, and introduce new concepts as they are ready.

IEL moderator [Email-submitted Question]: How can teachers best accommodate a wide range of abilities in early literacy, with some children in class already reading and others unfamiliar with the letters of the alphabet or books?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Early childhood classrooms lend themselves to a wide variety of learners. Having the classroom environment set up in learning areas that reflect the diverse needs of children is the beginning of meeting the needs of all the children in your classroom. An open time that allows children to interact and learn in the classroom environment, with the teacher having the opportunity to work with children in small groups or one-on-one, allows for children with a wide range of abilities to progress. Reading to all children is an important part of classroom instruction no matter what the ability. Early childhood teachers should limit the amount of time spent on whole-group instruction to meet the needs of all children.

Participant [Mrs.B.]: How do I enhance the literacy of the 3-year-olds in my special ed classroom who are developmentally delayed and working at about a 1-1/2-year-old language level (if they talk at all)?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Mrs. B., read with, listen to, and talk with your special needs child. Use picture books with attractive pictures to pique the child's interest in books.

Participant [Ivy]: Isn't it enough as a parent to simply read to my child -- won't the rest of learning to read happen naturally over time? I worry that we are pushing our children too hard!

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Ivy, while reading with your child is extremely important, the interactions that take place during that time are just as important! Read to, talk to, and listen to your child, and support any early literacy development that you can at home. Remember parents are their child's first teacher!

Participant [tx_n8v]: I do day care in my home and I have a child with autism. How do I keep him interested in stories and activities because he is always on the go mentally and physically?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: tx_n8v, while autism is not an area that I have focus in, when working with children with special needs, begin where they are in their abilities and work one-on-one with literacy materials that are appropriate to their level and pique their interest.

Participant [Mowger]: Integrating music (singing) might be helpful for the children with learning disabilities as referred by Mrs. B and also tx_n8v.

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Mowger, music is a wonderful way to enhance early literacy development in preschool-age children. I wouild encourage any educators working with preschool-age children to incorporate music into their curriculum.

Participant [Lizz]: Do you have any tips on steering parents away from phonics-based programs or flash cards when it is totally inappropriate to use them, i.e., the child has no interest, etc.

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Lizz, I would encourage parents and educators not to force phonics-based (or any programs) on young children. I encourage them to use strategies that engage and excite children. Positive interactions in literacy development are far more effective than forcing children to sit and listen.

Participant [Michelle]: Do you just mean music as in songs we sing and recorded music?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Michelle, any music, rhymes, finger plays, games, made-up songs, and the like all help in developing phonemic awareness and literacy skills.

Participant [Michelle]: I am looking for new ways to promote literacy in my 3- to 5-year-old preschool class. We use charts to write about a subject using different colors for each child's response, read books daily, do writing on art in which they tell us about what it is, have child-made books displayed, and use labels with words for toys.

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Michelle, there are many things you can do in your classroom to promote literacy development: provide books, paper, and writing utensils in all of the centers in your classroom. Encourage children to interact with literacy materials during their free choice time. Also, encourage rhyming and finger plays, and encourage children to develop and dictate their own stories.

Participant [Nancy]: Ms. Scott, one of my children learned to read well on his own before his preschool teacher or his parents realized he could do so. Has anyone studied children who seem to learn to read on their own to see if this could help develop ways to help those who find it difficult?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Nancy, there has been research done that looks at strategies that good readers use to help develop those strategies in struggling readers. I am not familiar with any specific study of early readers.

Participant [tx_n8v]: I am involved in the Beginners Reading Program that Pizza Hut offers, and I have found parents that are willing to help out and some that are not. How do I get parents more involved in their child's reading development so that their children can earn the rewards?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: tx_n8v, I am familiar with classroom teachers who invite "reading buddies" from other classrooms to listen to those children who have parents that are not responsive to such programs. I also would encourage you to continue to try to involve parents in any way you can, and inform them of the importance of reading to, with, and by their children.

Participant [Lizz]: Do you have any SPECIFIC ideas to give to the parents in my class about not using these phonic-type programs? I am running out of suggestions. They really think that this is a good thing.

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Lizz, encourage parents to keep their children actively engaged in their activities. Assure parents that our first goal is getting children to LOVE and ENJOY books and reading.

Participant [Mrs.B.]: Can you point us to a good source for appropriate, interesting, simple multicultural picture books for preschoolers?

IEL moderator [Email-submitted Question]: What role does play have in the development of literacy?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Play is the way children learn to speak, listen, write, imagine, and communicate. Play is to children's growth and development of literacy as sunshine is to growing plants. This is the time that children freely interact with others and are exposed to words, communication, writing, getting along, and interacting with real world situations.

Participant [Nancy]: Do you encourage the use of educational software or videos in developing literacy in preschool? If so, are there specific titles you would recommend?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Nancy, educational software and/or videos can be useful when used sparingly. I have used programs like JumpStart Reading and Living Storybooks when working with preschool-aged children.

Participant [Mowger]: I find that many day care children have a lot of knowledge that is not always apparent to the provider or the parents. Sometimes a child is too shy to participate with a small group of other children. Recently, a 2-year-old sang "A-B-C-D-E-F-G" while she was playing alone in the toyroom.

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Mowger, one important aspect of working with preschool-aged children is being a good observer. We learn a lot from the children we work with (as well as our own children) by simply watching. I encourage you to take time and step back to observe the young children in your care.

IEL moderator [Email-submitted Question]: Should I teach my child to say and recognize the alphabet before she goes to kindergarten?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Alphabet recognition is not required for entering kindergarten; however, I would encourage you to read to your child, offer your child writing utensils, talk with your child, write down stories your child tells, and do anything you can to encourage literacy development. Point out letters in your child's name and letters and print in the environment and enrich your child's curiosity with his/her surroundings. If we can support the curiosity children have and help plant the seed, literacy development and letter recognition will evolve.

Participant [zib]: Putting paper and pencils in various play areas is a good way to encourage literacy.

IEL moderator [Email-submitted Question]: My child is writing some before he can read. Is this unusual?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Your child is taking beginning steps in learning to read. Continue to encourage his writing development.

Participant [Lizz]: How can I continue to pique interest in journaling? Their books were very popular when first introduced in January, but interest has tapered off. I have tried different prompts and writing instruments to no avail. The journals are always available in the writing center.

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Lizz, maybe you could change "the look" of the journal itself or use journals with covers the children can decorate or color. Encourage children to use journals in other areas of the classroom (not just the writing center). They could write about their block structure and make menus in dramatic play or write letters to friends.

Participant [Michelle]: Do you have a list of materials that are essential in a writing center and additional ideas? I have to change things weekly and have run out of ideas here.

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Michelle, writing utensils and paper of any sort (different colors or textures) that attracts young children are the only essential materials needed in your writing area. Watch the children in that area and pay close attention to the materials they choose.

Participant [Ivy2]: I think I read somewhere that conversation with young children -- where parents (or teachers) ask real questions, wait for the answers, and engage the child in real conversation -- is really important in their literacy development. Why is that true?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Ivy2, engaging children in real conversation is not only meaningful to you but also to them. Children want to communicate ideas they are interested in and wonder about. Oral language is a great predictor of early literacy development. Encourage conversation with your children.

Participant [Cheyenne]: Jodi, could you recommend an assessment system to use in my preschool? Also, is there a way I could learn to use a comprehensive assessment system through training or workshop?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Cheyenne, the system that I am most familiar with is Work Sampling Illinois, and training is offered through the Illinois Resource Center. The Work Sampling Illinois is aligned to the Illinois Early Learning Standards for children ages 3-5.

Participant [tx_n8v]: Is it a good idea to put out all of your reading material, or is rotation a better idea?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: tx_n8v, it depends on the classroom of children you are working with. There were years in which I could have a lot of materials accessible to the children in my classroom, and there were years that I had to limit the materials that were available. This was because when I had too much accessible to the children that were less mature, it was overwhelming for them and they stayed away from the literacy area. When I limited those materials, the children were better able to engage and interact with the literacy materials available.

Participant [Ivy2]: Jodi, do you know anything about the "Early Literacy Advisory" assessment tool developed by McREL?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Ivy2, no, I am sorry. I am not familiar with that assessment tool.

IEL moderator [Email-submitted Question]: My child is starting to write stories. Should I worry about spelling?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Do not worry about spelling; allow your child to develop as a story writer. Encourage your child to write and share his or her stories. Children are becoming aware of letters and their sounds and represent that in their writing. Allowing your preschool-age child to grow and develop in his or her writing without stopping to correct spelling will substantiate the development of your child's writing.

IEL moderator [Email-submitted Question]: My child always wants to read the same book over and over. Should I insist we read different ones? Please?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: NO! It is a great beginning of literacy development for children to have that favorite book. Continue to read your child's favorite book and soon your child will be "reading" it to you. Finding a way to work in other books is okay too; however, do not deny the reading of the "favorite book."

IEL moderator [Email-submitted Question]: Does attending preschool make a difference in how early and well children learn to read?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: That depends. A high-quality early childhood program can be an important factor in the development of early literacy. However, preschool is not the only place that can support early literacy in young children. If your child is getting the stimulation and exposure she or he needs at home, that can and will make the difference.

IEL moderator [Email-submitted Question]: If my child does not attend preschool, will he be at a disadvantage for learning to read?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: That depends. A parent's support can and will make as much difference as a preschool. If a parent is at home with a child and supports language and literacy development, the child has a great advantage when entering school, with or without a preschool setting. A high-quality preschool is a great avenue for children in encouraging and supporting success in school. However, if you do not have access to this type of preschool, your child can still be given many opportunities at home.

IEL moderator [Email-submitted Question]: If my child can read before kindergarten, does that mean she will be successful in school?

Guest [Jodi Scott]: While there is nothing that guarantees success in school, a child reading and enjoying it before kindergarten is a good indicator. Continue to encourage reading and writing as your child progresses through the grades. While most preschool-age children are unable to read with fluency and comprehension, it is the support of parents, teachers, and providers that will continue the growth and development of early literacy.

Guest [Jodi Scott]: Thank you for sharing your questions with all of us. Good luck in your endeavors in working with young children.



The opinions, resources, and referrals provided on the IEL Web site are intended for informational purposes only and are not intended to take the place of medical or legal advice, or of other appropriate services. We encourage you to seek direct local assistance from a qualified professional if necessary before taking action.

The content of the IEL Web site does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Illinois Early Learning Project, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or the Illinois State Board of Education; nor does the mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the Illinois Early Learning Project, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or the Illinois State Board of Education.