Learning to read and write is basically a shared problem-solving activity. Children’s WHY questions derived from listening to readers and observing writers can set them up for learning the HOW of reading and writing. A question like “Why does it say that?” can lead to the hows that children will eventually need to master to become literate. Each WHY question they ask illuminates children’s interest in, and a willingness to work on, learning HOW to read and to write.
Children are curious and demand reasons for things. Why questions yield answers that focus kids on the reasons for something. Consider the following exchanges:
Child: “Why does that page say that? How do you know what it says?”
Adult: “Well, let me show you so you can learn to read for yourself when I’m not here.”
Child: “Why are there marks on that paper?”
Adult: “That says your name, Sofia. Watch me and I’ll show you how to write your name with letters. S..O..F..I..A!”
Running your finger under the name and saying it slowly adds the connection for her between individual letters and the sounds they make for readers.
Child: “Can we get some cookies at the store?”
Adult: “Ooo, great idea! Let’s write that on our shopping list so we won’t forget. See the word ‘COOKIE’ that I just wrote here?”
Such demonstrations invite children to understand what reading and writing can mean for them. Our explanations of WHY and showing HOW can introduce reading and writing, and eventually uncover for children an early literacy playground. They motivate children to try it themselves, and discover that books and pencils and paper can become some of their most delightful playthings.
Some children may resist the notion that playing with books and pencils and paper is fun. No worries. Invitations to read and write may not be readily accepted for some time, but patiently keep extending them. Every WHY of reading and writing sets them up for the HOW, planting early seeds that can grow into independent communication and lifelong learning.
When we show kids the WHY of reading and writing, they’ll explore and discover their way to HOW to read and write.