Sometimes we educators get focused on literacy development in young children exclusively in the form of reading, as if print is the only kind of communication between humans. Granted, print is the most venerated form of literacy in our culture. Mastering this literacy skill leads to becoming avid, self-determined, lifelong print readers, writers and learners, and it’s the single-most important goal of formal education. However, the writing and reading forms of literacy is only one of many ways for humans to communicate.
Consider this random subset of other literacies as alternative ways to express feelings, emotions, stories and issues—perhaps more effectively than print.
Now consider every possible pairing and multiple combinations of media. Talk about options!
The point of bringing this entire issue up is that children (and adults) may have undiscovered talents and literacy skills in one or more of these alternate ways of communicating. And we find ourselves in a unique time where we have space in our days to explore new-to-us literacies.
Enter April 2020
Here we are during COVID-19 with kids home all day, every day. While parents can’t be expected to fully replace professional educators, families can guide children to explore and enjoy new means of self-expression.
If you’re an educator who’s providing virtual instruction to your students (and their families), encourage parents to take the lead in experimenting with new ways to communicate. For example, you can suggest that parents provide their children with basic art supplies and then go a step further to capture kids’ imaginations. They can:
- Demonstrate…using the art supplies to create a picture, which, when finished, is presented to the child as a gift. Then have a conversation with the child and talk about the selected subject matter of the picture and how fun it was to create it. When kids observe others taking risks with new media it can be a wonderful learning experience for children AND for the artists.
- Invite…the child to use the art supplies to create something that means something for another family member, and observe her as she proceeds in creating and delivering this new treasure..
- Celebrate & Encourage…the child’s commitment to communicate in a new way and his efforts in creating a message for the selected audience. Focus on the aspect(s) of the artwork that are particularly interesting or even well executed.
- Extend…the opportunity to creatively communicate with others, beyond the immediate family.
This set of simple actions—Demonstrate, Invite, Celebrate & Encourage, Extend—can be applied to all media for sharing ideas, thoughts and feelings.
While this challenging time of pandemic has its restraints, it also provides broad literacy growth opportunities for us all. It’s a great time to encourage self-expression in so many ways.