Understanding young minds

Understanding young minds

Understanding young minds

Sheela’s family had just bought a new TV set. Her two-year-old announced the television’s brand name even as the carton was being lowered. Sheela thought her child was a genius as he was able to read even before being taught the alphabet. It was only a little later that she realised the child was familiar with the brand logo and was “reading” that. Similarly, her son also read the ‘STOP’ sign and the petrol bunk sign and many such frequently seen visual patterns or logos.

Parents often discover such “reading” skills in their children long before the child begins school or is introduced to the alphabet. Children also scribble on paper and when asked what they are doing might reply “home work” in imitation of an older sibling. Such imitative reading and writing activities are crucial for later literacy development and are examples of ‘emergent literacy’.

It is when such emergent literacy activities are encouraged by family and pre-school teachers that actual reading and writing can happen easily at school. These emergent literacy activities are akin to the babbling that babies do before they actually start using words.

Reading requires that sounds/words be mapped to symbols/written letters. This a child can do only after she has some amount of vocabulary and language skills. She should be able to tell that a word is made of sounds (phonological awareness). This skill practised in speaking will later be used for reading. Therefore, children with speech and language disorders often have problems picking up reading/writing skills. 

In the Indian context, many of our languages have a semi syllabic script unlike the phonetic script of English. There is almost a one to one correspondence between the sound and letter-unlike the English script, where letter c can stand for the /ka/ sound or the /s/ sound. Scripts like Kannada are said to be more transparent. However, these scripts are visually much more complex and also contain many more letters compared to the English script. The type of reading difficulties found in these two different types of languages are therefore somewhat different.

Reading mastery takes years to achieve but a good foundation when literacy skills begin to emerge will make the process easier and more enjoyable.

Guide them along

*Draw your child’s attention to symbols/ logos in everyday life. The logo of his favourite TV channel/his favourite biscuit/ the embossed letters on his daddy’s vehicle could all be read to him.

*Read stories to them — babies less than a year old also enjoy being read to. Let children understand that letters in the book and not the pictures represent the words.
nReading stories enhances the child’s linguistic and cognitive skills essential for later literacy.

*Show the child that we read from left to right and from top to bottom by running your finger along the script.

*Encourage slightly older children to play with words. Rhyming activities (cat-bat), alliteration activities(she sells sea shells on the seashore) help children segment words into their separate sounds and eventually map the sounds to letters.

*Gift books to children. Owning a book prods some children into reading.

*For languages like Kannada, get the child to practice the aksharas diligently. The practice of writing/reading/reciting kaagunitha is considered by experts to be the best way for initial Kannada literacy.

*Narrating stories and asking children to say/guess what happens next is a wonderful way of encouraging thinking and language skills. These cognitive/linguistic skills are the basis of further literacy.

(Emergent Literacy is one of the topics that will be discussed at the 42nd National Conference of Indian Speech and Hearing Association to be held between January 22 &24, 2010 at NIMHANS Convention Centre, Bangalore.)

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