3 best approaches for developing communication, language and literacy skills in preschoolers

by Julie.k@turtletot.com.au Fri Feb 12

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Communication, Language and Literacy development

Australia is one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse nations in the world, with over 240 spoken languages!

Researchers maintain that all children are culturally and linguistically different and in order for every child to thrive and succeed, these differences need to be incorporated in supporting children’s ability to learn. Sawe (2019) states that while English is the de facto language, nearly 20% of Australians are considered non-English speakers and many children grow up in a home where at least one of their parents speaks a language other than English.

It is therefore vital to provide all children with opportunities that promote their individuality, support their sense of belonging and encourage them to embrace all languages that their environment provides.  That said, these differences in environments will manifest in how easy or difficult it is to learn and master the english language for our children.

The Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards NSW (BOSTES) further recognises that because no child is the same, a range of strategies to approach and support every child’s communication and literacy development is needed.

The whole-language approach

The whole-language approach to the development of literacy and reading, involve making sense of the functional purposes for reading and writing. As a popular reading philosophy and contemporary approach to language development, the whole-language methodology aims to develop children’s ability to read by recognising words as whole pieces of language (Machado, 2010). This implies that children learn to associate whole words with prior knowledge, for example, relating the word ‘cat’, in its entirety, with the concept of a cat after seeing the written word and image used together.

The whole-language approach as a philosophy suggests that children naturally develop language skills and that their individual interests and experiences will cultivate their reading and writing abilities. Our role as parents and educators, therefore, is to stimulate children’s natural curiosity and provide them with learning experiences that develop and promote different skills. The National Council of Teachers of English maintains that through the whole-language approach, children develop a greater love of books and reading.

Phonological approach

In contrast, the phonological approach to developing children’s reading skills, involves breaking language down into small, simple components. This approach requires children to decode words in order to identify letters with certain sounds, and then piece them back together (Clark, 2020). Moats et al. describe the phonological approach as focusing on the symbol-sound relationships within the alphabet. Machado (2010) identifies these phonetic language sounds as encompassing 44 individual sounds called phonemes, and 26 combination sounds or graphemes. The phonological approach encourages children to read new words by utilising prior knowledge of the sounds letters make, and placing them in a different order to sound out new words. Despite its popularity, however, research from a study conducted in Scotland found that the phonic-based approach resulted in a considerably slower reading pace. Children further demonstrated a lower level of comprehension than those benefiting from a blended approach (Clark, 2020). We have also seen this at Turtletot and work closely with our parents on the use of Phoenics.

The blended approach

Blended learning, according to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (2012) involves a combination of various learning approaches comprising a range of learning experiences and resources. Through this approach, children are able to smoothly transition from a phonics-based approach to a whole-language approach as their reading skills develop. Morrow and Asbury find that both phonetic awareness and the comprehension of language are significant to literacy development. The blended learning approach is underscored by constructivists such as Jean Piaget who maintains that children construct new ideas through a process of accommodation and assimilation, continuously constructing and reconstructing their existing framework of understanding. Researchers believe that learning experiences should not only promote children’s language skills, but foster a lifelong desire for literacy discovery through developmentally and culturally appropriate programs.

At Turtletot we love to see our pre-school children embrace reading within the context of their cultural environments.