Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Enhancing Emergent Literacy Potential for Young Children

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Enhancing Emergent Literacy Potential for Young Children

Article excerpt

Introduction

The years prior to school continue to be acknowledged as significant in a young child's life, particularly in relation to the development of '(1) early literacy, (2) social and emotional development, and (3) brain development' (Dickinson, McCabe & Essex, 2006, p. 11). Valuable learning opportunities are available via families, childcare, preschool and community experiences (DEST, 2005) and yet these are not always used to advantage, particularly for early literacy. A recent analysis into the costs and benefits of high quality early childhood education determined a greater chance for school success was possible where social, pre-literacy and numeracy skills were emphasized--as these enabled a smooth transition from home to school (Lynch, 2004).

Early childhood education is generally considered from the period of birth to age eight and in recent times theoretical perspectives have shifted from a concentration on ages, stages and milestones of development to an ecological perspective where children are considered within their own environment (Fleer, 2006). Cultural practices of communities also are being considered (Rogoff, 2003), and a socio-cultural perspective reflects how 'humans develop through their changing participation in the socio-cultural activities of their communities' (p.11). It has been found that previously held beliefs relating to child development where specific age-related expectations of children were the norm, have now been found wanting. Age-specific expectations cannot be compared across different cultural communities, and 'ages of accomplishments are highly related to opportunities children have to observe and participate in the activities' (Rogoff, p.130).

Despite increased research focusing on the way young children develop early literacy understandings prior to school, (Badian, 1994; Britto, 2001; Dickinson and Tabors, 1991; Hill, Comber, Louden, Rivalland & Reid, 1998; Juel, 1988; Kennedy, Ridgway & Surman, 2006; Meiers and Forster, 1999; Weinberger, 1996), results show that not all children have the opportunity of developing emergent literacy understandings, and inequality of opportunity still exists. These results are reflected in Australia with those from socio-economically disadvantaged and culturally different backgrounds still achieving less well with literacy in the early years of schooling (MCEETYA, 2007). By way of contrast, Hill (2004) described privileged literacy in preschool and demonstrated how some children receive support both from home and in their early childhood settings. Features within the life worlds of these children included 'psychological and emotional support; availability of books at home; high expectations and love of learning; complex patterns of language use and child-centred pedagogy combined with explicit literacy teaching' (p. 169). The question remains of how to provide a level of support and opportunity so that appropriate experiences, resources and interactions become universally available for all young children (Fleer & Raban, 2006).

Longitudinal research studies (Blatchford, Burke, Farquar, Plewis & Tizard, 1987; Crone and Whitehurst, 1999; Oliver, Dale & Plomin, 2005; Purcell-Gates, 1996; Young, 2002 & 2004) reinforce the importance of early language and literacy-related opportunities, as results have shown that young children's literacy understandings in preschool or in the early stages of Year 1 relate strongly to later measures of literacy achievement. Phonological and phonemic awareness, knowledge of letter names and rapid naming all have been shown to play important roles in the development of word recognition (Aarnoutse, van Leeuwe & Verhoeven, 2005).

With such a strong research basis over the last three decades, are early education policies in the western world reflecting the need to provide opportunities in prior-to-school settings to assist young children to develop pre-requisite literacy understandings? …

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