How do literacy skills develop?
Literacy skills refer to a person’s reading, writing and spelling abilities. Before a child begins to read and write, they must develop the ability to speak, listen, understand, watch and draw. Exposure to books, songs, play and a language rich environment during early development will support a child’s ability to learn how to read, write and spell.
In younger children, language is an important building block for literacy development. In the school aged child, literacy becomes an important foundation for continued language development. As a child develops more fluent and independent reading skills, their exposure to text, language and information about the world is magnified. Language and literacy together form the foundation of academic success. Difficulties in these areas should be identified and addressed as early as possible in order to promote a child’s ability to experience success and confidence throughout their schooling years.
What are letter-sound correspondences?
Letter-sound correspondences involve the knowledge that letters are used to represent speech sounds. A child must know letter-sound correspondences in order to decode and spell new words that they encounter. Learning sounds that correspond with combinations of letters such as digraphs (e.g. ‘sh’, ‘th’) and word suffixes (-ing) supports the development of fluent oral reading and spelling skills. Phonological awareness skills (described below) are also important for allowing a child to accurately hear and detect the sounds that make up words. Phonological awareness and letter-sound correspondences form the basic building blocks of literacy.
What are phonological awareness skills?
Phonological awareness skills describe a person’s ability to hear, identify and manipulate sounds and words. Phonological awareness skills form the basis of reading and spelling. A child must learn that text is made up of words, and words are made up of sounds. Engaging in word play exercises a child’s ability to detect and spell all of the sounds in a word, to sound out or decode written words and to begin to recognise patterns among words. Development of phonological awareness is a strong focus of the prep curriculum and can significantly impact a child’s ability to develop reading and spelling skills.
Phonological awareness involves a variety of sound play tasks, which are ordered below from earlier developing to later developing skills:
- Recognising words that rhyme, and making up words that rhyme
- Segmenting words in sentences (e.g. clap for every word you hear in this sentence…)
- Blending syllables (e.g. I am going to say parts of a word, tell me what the word is…’car-toon’)
- Segmenting words into syllables (e.g. ‘cat-er-pill-ar’)
- Identifying first, last or middle sounds (e.g. what is the first sound in the word ‘cat’?)
- Blending sounds (e.g. put these sounds together to make a word… ‘p-o-t’)
- Segmenting words into sounds (e.g. ‘c-a-t-er-p-i-ll-ar’)
- Deleting sounds (e.g. say ‘spy’ without the ‘p’)
- Adding sounds (e.g. say ‘go’ with a ‘t’ at the end)
- Manipulating sounds (e.g. change the ‘s’ sound to a ‘f’ sound in ‘sly’)
What are the ages and stages of literacy development?
Children develop literacy skills at different rates. Some children who develop at a slower rate early on, may naturally catch-up with their peers. However, other children who struggle early on may continue to experience difficulties throughout childhood and into adolescence. Early intervention for children who have delayed language and literacy development is therefore recommended. Some milestones for literacy development are listed below, and may be used as a guide to determine whether or not your child’s literacy skills are developing appropriately for their age:
By 2 years of age:
- Shows interest in books and stories
- Holds book and turns pages
- Learns that words and print has meaning
- Points to and names pictures
- Recites familiar pages
- Attention span may fluctuate
- Begins to scribble
- Enjoys nursery rhymes and songs
By 3 years of age:
- Interest and understanding of ‘plot’
- Attention improves
- Links pictures with text and notices when adult reads words wrong
- May recite phrases from the text
- Starts “reading” to self (without reading actual text)
- Scribbling may begin to resemble letters or print
- Enjoys and recites nursery rhymes and songs
By 4 years of age:
- Plot becomes more important
- Listens to longer books
- Learns letter recognition
- Retells familiar stories
- Spontaneously produces rhyme
- Attempts to write name
By 5 years of age:
- Recognises and observes words and print (e.g. commenting on words on TV)
- Attempts to read some words and recognises familiar words (e.g. cat)
- Knows that each letter in the alphabet has a name and sound and can name at least 8 letters (e.g. T says ‘t’)
- Attempts to write their name, words or messages (may not always be able to decipher what they have written)
- Can write and spell their name and some familiar words
- Identifies rhyme (e.g. cat and bat – do they rhyme?)
- Segments words into syllables (e.g. cat-er-pill-ar)
By 7 years of age:
- Spells words phonetically using letter-sound correspondes and phonological awareness skills
- Learning conventional spelling rules
- Increasing development of sight words
- Writes own ideas and uses various modes (e.g. letters, poems, stories)
- Begins reading independently for longer periods of time
- Shows appropriate comprehension of text and answers questions
- Blends sounds
- Segments words into sounds
- Identifies the 1st, last and middle sounds in words
How are literacy difficulties treated?
Assessment of a child’s literacy skills is an important first step in developing individualised, targeted programs. Assessment may involve a range of tasks including phonological awareness tasks, letter-sound correspondences, reading fluency, comprehension, spelling and reading of non-words and memory assessments. If difficulties with areas such as fine motor and visual processing skills are identified, referral to an Occupational Therapist may be recommended.
Once the underlying strengths and difficulties have been identified, the Learn & Grow Speech Pathologist will work with your family and your child’s school to implement a targeted literacy program. Home practice programs are included in Learn & Grow therapy fees and will be reviewed and updated each session. Close collaboration with school teachers and learning support staff is highly valued and recommended.
The Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing Program for Reading, Spelling and Speech (LiPS program) is an evidence based program that is used by Learn & Grow Speech Pathologists to treat a range of literacy difficulties. The LiPS Program uses oral motor, visual and auditory feedback to enable all students to detect the identity, number and order of sounds in syllables and words. It provides a more extensive, multisensory learning experience that is highy effective children who have had limited learning success from traditional phonics program approaches.