Because my undergraduate background is in speech/language therapy, I am very aware of just how important targeting early literacy skills are in the development of language and reading staring from a very young age. Early literacy skills are the skills a child must acquire before they are able to start to read. Some of these skills include vocabulary knowledge (knowing the names of things), narrative skills (being able to tell stories), letter knowledge (recognizing letter names), and print awareness (understanding how books and reading works).
I have been extremely impressed with how aware the librarians at the Fayetteville Free Library are with this issue, and all they are providing to foster those skills from a very early age. In order to enforce these literacy skills, Karen Rutkowski has developed the free program, ‘Smart Play,’ for children ages 2-5. Smart Play is a program based on the six Early Literacy Skills from the Every Child Ready to Read @ your library initiative. It is important to note that early literacy is not teaching a child to read, but rather building a reading foundation so that children are ready when they are taught to read. Therefore, during SmartPlay, the children are surrounded by fun activities that promote these necessary skills. For example, the children might work with their parents to solve and read about a puzzle, enhancing letter knowledge, print awareness, and print motivation. Or they might create a puppet show or play at the imagination station, enhancing vocabulary.
As said by Ghoting & Martin-Diaz, “The development of early literacy skills in a child’s life can better prepare that child for success in reading when he or she enters school (2006).” But these skills are not only important for future reading skill development, but also for expressive (what the child is able to speak) and receptive (what the child understands) language development. While doing my speech-therapy internship with a little two-year old boy, we targeted the very same early literacy skills featured in Smart Play in order to give him enough exposure to language so that he would develop the pre-skills necessary before he was ready to speak. Repeated exposure to these skills is so very crucial for a child to begin to understand and utilize words and language.
As a means of reinforcing these skills even further, Early Literacy Kits have been developed which are free to circulate among library users. Each kit contains three books that target one of the six early literacy skills. Each kit also contains a pamphlet providing opportunities to extend the reading experience even further (ie. through tips and crafts). These are extraordinarily valuable tools that I have even been able to incorporate into some of my most successful speech-therapy sessions in the past. This wonderful program emphasizes language/reading development so these children are fully prepared for life-long experiences with the joys of reading!
Ghoting, S N., & Martin-Diaz, P. (2006) Early Literacy Storytimes @ your Library. Chicago: American Library Association.