Stages of Emerging Literacy

Emerging literacy is the sequence of learning that children move through as they progress from non-readers and writers to independent readers and writers. At King’s Gate, reading and writing are accomplished in a logical, sequential process. We help children progress through the stages of emerging literacy, while always keeping in mind that each child develops and learns at a different pace and with a unique learning style. Surrounding children with an environment rich in opportunities to find meaning and to experience literacy will support them as they successfully go through these stages.

Children progress through developmental stages as they learn to read and write. The experimentation and self correction of the process is one of the most crucial skills they will learn in school. Although much of what children write on paper may seem “incorrect” to the adult eye, it is critical that young children go through evolutionary stages of writing. Just as we do not expect a first year medical student to perform brain surgery, so we do not expect a child in the first year of school to produce writing that looks like that of an adult. Young children begin to express interest in reading and writing at an early age, but the actual skills are not refined until well into the primary years. We need to give our children the opportunity, time and encouragement they need to internalize the reading and writing process.

In the pre-emergent literacy time frame, children will increase language skills, build vocabulary through the toddler and preschool years. As children play, they will develop the ability to imagine and pretend, laying the groundwork for the representational thought necessary to use letters to represent words.

In the first stage of writing and literacy, children are developing pre-skills for reading and writing such as learning how to hold a writing instrument appropriately, refining finger muscles for control, figuring out how we hold a book and read (front to back, left to right and top to bottom), increasing vocabulary and recognizing that illustrations help the story. The writing in this stage is known as picture writing (drawing pictures to express thoughts and ideas) and does not contain the actual symbols of letters and numbers. During this initial stage, the King’s Gate classroom will provide multiple models of literacy. The classrooms themselves reflect that print has meaning through labeling of classroom items (environmental print.)

Circle Time will model the value of literacy through shared reading, calendar and daily schedules. Drawing and painting help children discover the relationship between how they move the writing or painting instruments and the marks they create. The use of the Handwriting without Tears® curriculum will begin laying a solid foundation through activities that teach body awareness and other school readiness skills, help facilitate correct tripod pencil grip as well as left to right and top to bottom directionality of print. Classroom center activities, circle time, imaginative play, music and Letterland© support vocabulary and language development.

The second stage of literacy is scribble writing and an increased interest in print and understanding of its importance. During this phase, children realize that words go across the page in lines and that we read left to write. They begin to realize print carries a message just as spoken words. Children do not form letters as adults know them, but their “scribbles” are first attempts at recreating what they see as writing. Children need all our support and enthusiasm as they begin to experiment as writers. Our classrooms support this stage of literacy through providing writing opportunities throughout the classroom.

Activity centers are equipped with books, paper and writing utensils that reflect real-life situations and that encourage communication through reading and writing. The teachers take every opportunity for creative writing and to let children see their own thoughts and words in print. For example: Children will illustrate their thoughts and teachers will put the child’s words in quotes on the child’s work. The Handwriting without Tears® curriculum provides consistent practice with print concepts and print vocabulary (big line, little line, big curve, little curve, etc.) through the introduction of the size, shape and position concepts included in creating letters. The Letterland© curriculum supports this stage through letter introduction and letter formation and creative writing activities.

The third stage of writing is random letters on a page. Children in this stage are working hard to recreate letters and words that they see in their environment. The child realizes that some words are longer than others and that words and pictures work together to create a book. They may recognize that letters and numbers are different things and begin to group them separately. They may begin to group letters at midline. King’s Gate journals, ABC bags, environmental print, shared reading activities and circle time charts are all ways that we support children as they move through the third stage of literacy. The Letterland© curriculum supports this stage through creative writing opportunities, fun letter recognition and alliteration games and songs, the continued introduction of the Letterland© characters and letter/sound connection activities. The Handwriting without Tears® curriculum supports increased understanding of the directionality of written communication, further fine motor development and improved formation and recognition of letters and numbers. This stage is a necessary precursor to the next step in writing: inventive spelling.

 Inventive spelling (using beginning consonants to spell words) is an exciting stage in the writing process. Many skills come together in this phase. Children, for the first time, start writing things an adult can “read.” If a teacher isn’t quite sure what the child has written, rather than saying, “This isn’t right. You should do it this way,” she may say “Please tell me about what you’ve written. I see you’ve worked hard to get it all down!” This provides support throughout the learning process and encourages the child to continue in their efforts without the fear of failure or disapproval. Rather than simply copying something we have written for them, we support children in producing their own work and “telling their own stories.” This is real life reading and writing. The Wright Skills curriculum supports children during this stage through phonics, word study, creative writing and spelling. Letterland© supports this stage through the presentation of the Letterland© character interactions (blending & segmenting), as well as word and sentence building activities. The Handwriting without Tears© curriculum, all of the King’s Gate classroom activities along with the total King’s Gate environment provide continuous opportunities for King’s Gate teachers to model and guide children as they become conventional writers.

Conventional writing is the final stage in the process. Three to five years have passed between when a child first picks up a crayon and when they begin to write conventionally. It doesn’t matter that there will be words misspelled and letters printed backwards along the way. As a student grows and matures, his skills will refine. There is no need to reprimand a child to do things the “right” way the first time. The Wright Skills program supports a child at this stage as it lends itself to many uses (ie. phonics, spelling practice, alliteration, poetry, rhyming, suffixes, prefixes, contractions, creative writing, multiple meaning words, abbreviations, grammar, and much more.) Because literacy is at the core of everything that happens in our classrooms, all content areas include language and literacy based activities. Parental support, the King’s Gate teachers and the total classroom environment provide opportunities, guidance and coaching along the way; but at this stage, children will notice that some things are incorrect and they will want to change them. This self-correction is a sign that things are coming together and this child is well on his way to being a fluid reader and writer!

The stages of literacy are part of a research-proven approach to emerging literacy. As an accredited early childhood school staffed by credentialed early childhood professionals with degrees in education and child development, King’s Gate provides the appropriate support and environment for children as they become fluent literate young people.