| May 03, 2007

May 2007 - Early Literacy

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Early Literacy - May 2007 It’s Hard to Sayby Susan Ramsay, Early Literacy Specialist, HFL&A

Janelle smiles holding out the paper for her mother to see. Janelle’s mom smiles back. “Nice printing, Janelle!”

“Read it,” commands Janelle.

A look of confusion passes over her mother’s face. What word could ‘hkn’ possibly mean? Should she guess? Softly, to herself, Janelle’s mother mutters, “It’s hard to say.”

Janelle’s smile fades. “You can’t read it?”

“Oh, Janelle, I seem to be a little mixed up. Help me sound out what you have written.”

She points to the first letter. Janelle says /ch/. To the second letter Janelle says /k/ and to the final letter she says /n/. “Chicken!” Janelle exclaims enthusiastically.

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Janelle’s mom looks hard at the first letter. It doesn’t make a /ch/ sound. Or does it? She says h aloud and suddenly realizes that, when named, this letter does end with a /ch/ sound. Janelle may have spelled chicken in a novel way, but she has cleverly made the connection between sounds and letters. Janelle may not yet know that sometimes two letters are combined to make a single sound. She may not yet realize that there are discrete vowel sounds tucked in between all those consonants, but Janelle is well on her way to learning how to write.

Uncertainty about what children are trying to express, however, begins long before this early stage of writing. As babies and toddlers begin to talk, children’s speech errors can keep us guessing. Some speech sounds such as f, v, sh, ch, j, th, and r, for example, are hard for children under 2 years to pronounce. Children sometimes substitute harder sounds with easier ones. They tell us about pish instead of fish, or say wing instead of ring. While Preschool Speech and Language Services are invaluable in helping young children with speech or language needs, there are some guiding principles adults can use to encourage children’s communication.

Pay attention to what children are trying to convey rather than focusing only on how they say or write it. Children are much more willing to keep trying to express themselves if we first acknowledge that we have understood them and then we model the word or idea correctly.

With a child who is pointing and saying “oos”, for example, we respond with “Juice? You want juice? Here is some juice.” This tells our child that we understand, and provides multiple opportunities for him to clearly hear the word he wants to say.

Janelle’s mother might say, “You wrote chicken! That /ch/ sound can look like this – ch with c and h together like they were stuck with Crazy Glue. I wonder what other words start with ch?”

When our children struggle to be understood and we struggle to understand them, it does help if we: expect our children to make mistakes, knowing that is the way all of us learn; let them know, whenever we can, that we have understood them; show them by our own example the correct way to express their idea, without emphasizing their error; contact Preschool Speech and Language Services when questions or concerns about childhood speech and language arise.

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