Resources to support your child’s early literacy success

Published on Wednesday, 17 February 2021
Last updated on Tuesday, 16 February 2021

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Literacy is the ability to read and write, and this skill development is a magical and monumental part of childhood.

The simple act of recognising a sight word or scrawling one’s name leads to big and beautiful things in a youngster’s life, and to support children’s early reading, writing and oral language success, a team of University of Canterbury researchers has developed the Better Start Literacy Approach.

This programme of evidence-based literacy instruction aims to foster literacy success for all young learners, with a focus on phonological awareness (understanding the sound structure of the spoken word) and early vocabulary.

School teachers can use the Better Start Literacy Approach for ages five and six, and at home, a collection of free resources is available for families with children aged three to six. So, let’s see how you can give your young reader a great start.

What literacy resources are available for families?

The Better Start Literacy Approach website gives parents and whānau access to a range of early readers and teacher’s notes that can be used to extend the reading experience with your child.

If your little one is aged three or four, there’s a wide range of early childhood books to choose from, based on animals and people. You can either print off each PDF as an A5 booklet or play a narrated or non-narrated version of the story on your computer or mobile device.

Each book has reading notes at the back to help your preschooler build their oral language skills within the ‘Words Can POP’ framework. This framework provides ways to:

  • Teach your child WORDS, e.g. by highlighting target words, like ‘sap’ and ‘striped’
  • See if you can keep the conversation going, e.g. by asking “What is Mot doing?” or “How did Pop and Pam feel when the wind went away?”
  • Raise Phonological awareness, e.g. by talking about rhyming words and sounding out the same end of two words, like ‘C-AT’ and ‘F-AT’
  • Engage in an Oral narrative, e.g. by encouraging your child to relate an aspect of the story to their life, and
  • Raise Print awareness, e.g. by showing your child the letter ‘C’ that makes a ‘C’ sound, then finding other words in print that start with the letter ‘C’.

The University of Canterbury researchers are currently working on a project with KidsFirst Kindergartens, and at the bottom of the early readers page, there are videos that explain the project, talk about the ‘Words Can POP’ framework and provide more activities to support your child’s early language and literacy development.

If your child is a little older, the primary school readers are a good step up. They’re written for five- and six-year-olds who are learning to read, write and talk about the stories they’re digesting.

These books are part of the Better Start Literacy Approach classroom programme, so they’re split into different weeks and focus sounds (e.g. the Week 1 texts focus on ‘m, d’ and the Week 7 texts focus on ‘w, ch’).

Instead of following the ‘Words Can POP’ framework, the teaching notes at the back of the school readers cover:

  • Reading practice
  • Phonological awareness
  • Spelling
  • Vocabulary
  • Story discussion
  • Story re-tell, and
  • Print concepts.

In addition to the printable/listenable books, the Better Start Literacy Approach site also provides links to Māori language resources, Pasifika dual language books, pronunciation guides, literacy activities and further books to share with your child. You can see what’s on offer here.

You may also be interested in enrolling in a free online course that will teach you how to give your child a great start to reading. This six-week course teaches parents, whānau and educators how to:

  • Prevent reading problems in children, and
  • Use shared book reading in the most effective way to support children’s early reading development.

You’ll learn how to use books to foster phonological awareness and vocabulary knowledge, and if you have a child with a familial risk of dyslexia or speech/language difficulties, this course may help you, help them.

What kind of support can families give children as they develop literacy skills?

Professor Gail Gillon is Director of the University of Canterbury Child Well-being Research Institute and she is one of the brains behind the Better Start Literacy Approach.

When it comes to supporting your child’s literacy, Professor Gillon encourages you to give your little learner plenty of praise and encouragement – whether they’re listening with you to the stories or reading the books themselves.

She says, ‘It’s important [that] children experience success and enjoyment when engaged in language activities’ and, ‘Your positive encouragement will motivate [them] to keep listening [to] and reading stories, which in turn, will help build important foundational learning skills for educational success.’

This kind of attentive, interactive storytime is beneficial for your child now and going forward, and there’s so much pleasure to be had seeing your little one develop literacy skills.

We encourage you to check out the resources outlined above, and this article contains some expert recommendations for children’s books.

Save the date!

On a related note, International Mother Language Day is happening on 21 February, and this annual event aims to promote linguistic and cultural diversity, and multilingualism.

The UN reports that at least 43 per cent of the estimated 6,000 languages spoken in the world are endangered, so this Day is an important reminder to practise the languages you and your child know (including te reo Māori), and educate yourself about the synergy between mother tongue languages and early learning.

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