| Apr 05, 2007

April 2007 - Early Literacy

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Early Literacy - April 2007 Read it again!by Susan Ramsay, Early Literacy Specialist, HFL&A

“Mommy, book!” My daughter, even at the two-word stage of talking, loved “Goodnight Moon” and held it out to me with persuasive fervour. I no longer needed to see the text. The words were burned into my memory.

Still, we opened the book and began to read. “In the great green room there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of the cow jumping over the moon.”

Sarah knew the story well, but asked for it to be read again and again. At the time, I just wanted to please her, and so I read it to her as often as she asked. But studies on how children learn both language and literacy skills point to great reasons for sharing the same books with our children repeatedly.

Studies by Monique Shal, researcher at Carleton University, reveal that children learn the meaning of more new words when the same stories are shared at least three times. But her studies also show that these new words are not incorporated well into children’s spoken vocabulary unless children are given opportunities to talk about the words as the story is being read.


Questions that begin with “wh” (what, where, when, why, who) are powerful prompts to encourage children to talk about what they see in the pictures and the words they hear read. “Where do you think the cow was before he jumped over the moon?” “Who is hiding near the fireplace in the great green room?”

In fact, a study by Shal and Hargrave in 2000 with language-delayed children showed that using a technique called Dialogic Reading (which focuses on repeated readings, encouraging children to imitate and talk about words in the storybooks, and then praising children for their efforts) corresponded to a four month increase in children’s spoken vocabulary in a single month.

A five-year longitudinal study by Shal makes the link between children’s vocabulary and literacy skills. Storybook exposure directly affects both kindergarten vocabulary as well as the frequency with which children read for pleasure in Grade 4. (Shal and LeFevre, 2002) Reading often to preschool children increases the number of words they know right away. By Grade 4 this expanded vocabulary enables children to understand printed words and ideas more readily.

Parents who add letter/sound activities into their shared story times impact children’s ability to decode print. Parents who frequently point to and label alphabet letters in printed text, look for those letters in other places, or play with words by dropping letter sounds, impact their children’s alphabet knowledge, Grade 1 reading ability and Grade 4 reading fluency. (Shal and LeFevre, 2002).

So, perhaps the next time I share “Goodnight Moon” with a child, we will pause to ask why the great green room isn’t purple instead. Or we will drop the /n/ sound and turn the story into “Goodnight Moo”, knowing that as we read and re-read this well-loved story, and as we play with its words, letters and sounds, the world of print is becoming clearer and more fun for us both.

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