Young children who are read to regularly, who receive sweet birthday cards and other notes in the mail, or who observe their parents receive important written communications easily “get” that print materials deserve attention. They come to understand that print, along with art and other modes of self-expression, provide the potential for reaching out to others, possibly from long distances.
When they realize that they can share their own experiences with others through print, the possibilities for personal literacy kick in. Even very young children will begin to draw pictures and deliver “notes,” offering such gifts to those they love and manifesting the natural beginnings of early literacy.
Experiencing the personal value of reading and writing is a critical first step in becoming fully and gloriously literate. Some kids will share what they think, feel and wonder very early on. Others will require repeated encouragement and demonstrations that caring adults in their lives can easily provide.
Literacy is social, so kids must be invited to participate. “Let’s write a letter to Aunt Suzie! We’ll send this in the mail and she’ll get our surprise message in a couple of days. I plan to tell her (XYZ) and ask her (ABC). What would you like to show her, tell or ask her?”
We all write for or to others we care about and with whom we wish to connect. We must just teach kids to focus on whom they wish to “touch” and to get to know them fully. Who are they? What delights or inspires them? For literacy to grow familiar and especially beloved, having specific audiences is an essential, irreplaceable driver of the eventual love of books and lifelong learning.
Kids also need tools of the trade, like paper, pencils, crayons or markers, and time to use them. Writing well is hard to do, but anyone can learn. It’s a strategic skill that must be practiced to improve.
However, the ultimate resource in learning to write is the wonderful language in engaging, self-selected books, and the caring adults who connect kids with understanding the purposes and artistry of authorship. That means kids need to be nurtured as growing readers, simultaneously developing insights into what and how people everywhere share through print their lives, stories, experiences and souls.
Each child is one in a million, largely unique in their individual ways to mean something to people they love or with whom they wish to engage. If they have been touched by someone else’s writing, it positions them to understand the power and potential to touch others, and artfully connecting in inspiring and fulfilling ways as they grow.