As we wrote this book, we were keenly aware of the unprecedented attention that is now being paid to the importance of early literacy instruction in preschool and kindergarten. Historically, beginning reading instruction, not early literacy instruction, was the major focus of concern. That is, the instruction provided to most 6- and 7-year-olds during first grade in the United States was considered to be the most critical period of literacy development. However, recent legislation (the Early Reading First section of the [No Child Left Behind Act] of 2002) has acknowledged that literacy experiences in the preschool and kindergarten years provide a foundation for later successful beginning reading and writing. This legislation draws heavily on the research reviewed and policies recommended by the National Research Council, published in Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). Two conclusions are made clear in this report: Literacy development before and during kindergarten does matter, and some children are behind in literacy development even before they enter kindergarten.
Rather than being a frill, certain literacy knowledge acquired prior to the initiation of beginning reading instruction is necessary for early reading success. Unfortunately, children who are from low-income families and who are likely to attend schools with low reading performance are less likely to have acquired such knowledge. According to Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children,[reducing the number of children who enter school with inadequate literacy-related knowledge and skill is an important primary step toward preventing reading difficulties] (Snow et al., 1998, p. 5). The purpose of this book is to help educators and caregivers in kindergarten, preschools, nursery schools, and child-care centers reach the goal of providing every young child with the language and literacy foundation they need to become successful readers and writers.
We believe that the good news about the current attention to early literacy instruction is that more children—especially those children who most need early literacy experiences—may have access to high-quality early literacy programs. But we have grave concerns about the nature of literacy experiences and activities that will be the outcome of such unprecedented attention to literacy instruction in preschools and kindergarten. Like many others, we have long advocated for early literacy programs and instruction that balance child-initiated experiences with teacher-planned activities and instruction.