In this chapter we describe some of the many literacy accomplishments that all young children, whether considered at risk or not, could be expected to achieve during the critical period of early literacy development. First we present an overview of a continuum of literacy development (adapted from the International Reading Association and National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1998). Then we use the continuum to describe some of the literacy accomplishments (called benchmarks) we would expect young 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds to achieve and that seem to have the most direct relationship to later success in reading and writing. Many of these accomplishments are unconventional; nonetheless, we discuss their value in providing a foundation for children's later conventional reading and writing accomplishments. Children who truly are at risk for reading failure will need access to high-quality preschool and kindergarten literacy programs in order to achieve many of the benchmarks we describe in this chapter.
Literacy development begins early in life, before children enter preschool and certainly before they can conventionally read or write. For example, young preschoolers who pretend to read favorite storybooks or use scribble writing to write a telephone message in their play are engaging in literate activities that are part of a continuum of literacy development. These emergent reading and writing activities are as valid as more conventional reading and writing abilities that also are a part of the literacy continuum.
In order for teachers to know where children fall on such a continuum and to appreciate what children can do on their own and what they can do with the right kinds of adult support, experts have described phases of typical literacy development. One such description is found in a joint position statement of the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Association for the Education of Young