Children signal a preparedness to learn to read and write by carefully observing what older kids and adults do and then asking questions. They carefully observe mature models of literate behavior who make themselves available during daily reading times and in the sharing of letters and birthday cards.
Writing interest is reflected in children’s curiosity about whatever it is that adults are doing when they are writing themselves a to-do or shopping list or a note to a someone. “What’s that?,” they ask. “Good question!,” responds the author of the list or note. “I’m writing myself a reminder of what to get at the grocery.”
When children want to learn to read or write, they ask questions and seek guidance and approval. “What does this say?” and “How do I write Grammy a letter?” are terrific indications that they are beginning to take ownership of print and its use.
“Can I read next?” This question signals their eagerness to try. Doing reading-like behavior, they turn pages and tell a familiar story or fairy tale, but their spoken words and the book’s text are only loosely connected. They look and sound like they are fluently reading, but are instead retelling a story known to them or creatively making one up.
At this stage, children also display writing-like behavior. Pencil or crayon in hand, nose almost touching a piece of paper that a small hand is holding down, they scribble away. There are some semblances of alphabet letters in their writing, perhaps some numbers, and also a lot of other unrecognizable characters.
Upon completion they may hand it over and ask, “What did I write?” Since it’s mostly unreadable, savvy adults may respond with: “What did you want to say?” “Is this story for me?” or “I’m not used to your writing, can you help me in reading this?”
Those questions initiate excellent early lessons—conversations really—about the relationships between reading and writing and how print allows people to communicate with others who are not present. These are key concepts about writing.
- What did you want to say? Casually asked, this is an initial anchor for literacy, conveying that print is like talking that resides and can be transported on a piece of paper or a screen.
- Is this story for me? This question, focuses on human-to-human transaction, honors their efforts and becomes a clear connection between their storybooks, humans writing, and the role they both play in thoughtful sharing that occurs across time and from a distance.
Questions children ask tell us so much. They can begin conversations that lay the groundwork about how print and books function. When played carefully, the role of a supportive coach creates a constant invitation to ask more and better questions.
Clear and straightforward answers to children’s question can help build a straight path to early literacy. If they ask, Why does that say Kangaroo?
Bingo! Now we’re guiding literacy development!