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How Do Children Develop as Readers?

Children’s literacy development begins when they first hear sounds. Even inside the womb, growing babies are learning that sounds have meaning. Quickly after birth, children recognize that symbols have meaning as well. Babies as young as 6 months old squeal with delight when they see familiar restaurant and traffic signs outside the car window. Learning to read is a complex combination of environmental, physiological and intellectual processes. Completing a master’s degree in literacy studies offers educators a path for learning techniques to teach children reading.

Learning to Read from Birth to Age 3

To make use of the natural process of literacy development, children from birth to age 3 need to have an adult read to them as much as possible. This reading time creates a cozy, joyful experience and models reading fundamentals such as how to hold a book, read from left to right, make sense of pictures and words, and make connections between stories and real life. As you will learn in master’s degree in literacy studies courses, children at this age benefit from pretending to read books and memorizing rhymes. They also start to notice the first letter of their name. Children from birth to age 3 should be given reading materials in all forms.

Reading Processes that Occur During the Preschool Years

By preschool, children understand that books carry meaning. They recognize book covers and request that well-loved stories be read over and over again. As they take the first steps toward reading, preschool children add to their literacy development by beginning to scribble more and writing strings of letters. Many will master writing their name early on. Children in preschool also learn to match letters to sounds through reciting the alphabet song and reading familiar stories with shorter word combinations. One great technique teachers use involves oversized books placed on easels. The teacher or child points to each word as it is being read. When preschoolers become ready for grade school, they generally understand that stories can be written down and that the same book can be read exactly the same by any reader.

Becoming a Reader in Kindergarten and Beyond

The beginning years of grade school — also called primary school — are the most critical for a child’s literacy. Children begin to read and retell familiar stories. They understand that the pictures in a story help them decode the words. They are learning to look for beginning sounds and rhyming words that have the same ending. Literacy development is rapidly changing during this time in a child’s life as they process and make connections through literacy activities both at school and at home. Teachers who hold a master’s degree in literacy studies will find this stage of learning to read fascinating and somewhat miraculous as children move from needing help to decoding independently.

Learning to read is critical to a child’s success in school. Reading proficiency is one of the best indicators of success later in life. Literacy development is key to ensuring children will be productive citizens in their communities when they become adults. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), society now expects almost everyone to function beyond the minimum standards of literacy. Today the definition of basic proficiency in literacy calls for a fairly high standard of reading comprehension and analysis. It is up to teachers to gain more knowledge of how learning to read works in order to help students become the best they can be.

Learn more about the LSUS M.Ed. Curriculum and Instruction: Reading & Literacy online program.


The New Yorker: How Children Learn to Read

Reading Is Fundamental: Getting Ready to Read

NAEYC: Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children

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