Sports enthusiasts figure out how to enjoy their beloved pastime with pals—beyond being spectators of sporting events. Pickup games of all types are arranged, with excited players arriving early and then playing as long as the sun is up or the gym is open. They get better and better because by playing hard with their friends and family members, they are joyfully getting stronger and stronger—with no regret.
When no game is available they practice extra point shots, punting, playing catch with a parent, sibling or friend. Practice doesn’t make perfect, despite the old adage, but joyful practice does make them slowly get better and stronger.
The same is true for language and literacy. Babies begin to talk following the manner of their families’ conversations. Eventually they do their baby talk whether someone is around or not. The more that parents and siblings interact with them, the better babies’ language becomes. It is fascinating to observe babies’ talk slowly evolve into an ever closer approximation of their families’ mother tongues. As time passes, their language expands to help toddlers connect with those beyond their families and farther out into the larger community.
The art, music and movement of a family or community can be learned as playfully as any sport or hobby. The abstractions of print makes learning and mastery of books and reading a bit less intuitive and more challenging. But even at that, the likelihood of children becoming avid readers and comfortable writers hinges upon practices and broader context of the communities in which they grow up. If they are surrounded by captivating books and by older siblings and parents who are regular correspondents—if they are surrounded by avid readers and prolific writers—then the road to literacy will be a natural extension of the other aspects of culture which they earlier learned virtually effortlessly.
An ideal context is a home and community with ever-present books, magazines and writing utensils. Whether the books are owned, shared or borrowed doesn’t matter. Nor do the paper, pencils and crayons have to be new. What is at issue is the array of all kinds of reading, writing and art materials that are understood by young children to be predictable resources for expanding horizons and self-expression. With appropriate support from family and friends, the basic concepts of reading and writing eventually come into perfect focus. Then, with the help of solid teachers and professional librarians, every child will become independent in communicating fully with their worlds.