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Grow & Thrive - Literacy for life

  • Volume 3, No 2 - Literacy for life. June 2014

    Literacy is an essential skill for life. With good literacy skills, children can go on to have educational and vocational success in later life – early literacy skills predict later literacy and academic achievement.

    Literacy for life

    Literacy is an essential skill for life. With good literacy skills, children can go on to have educational and vocational success in later life – early literacy skills predict later literacy and academic achievement. With solid early literacy skills, children will develop into adults who can read the labels on their medicine, read street signs, and fill out forms – all things that those without good literacy skills can struggle to do.

    Literacy starts early

    The building blocks for literacy development start very early. While no one is expecting an infant to be able to read a book, reading, singing and storytelling with babies and children help them to develop the foundations for independent reading later in life. What’s more, the bonding opportunities provided by the time that adults spend sharing literacy opportunities with young children help children to develop social and emotional skills. Building a stronger future Unfortunately, around half of Australians aged 15 to 74 do not have the literacy skills they need to meet the demands of everyday life and work. As an early childhood educator or early primary teacher, you can help the next generation to avoid this fate. Literacy development thrives in the context of nurturing relationships. We know that literacy is already a struggle for many Australian children by the time they reach school. Nearly one in every four Australian children arrives at school with some form of developmental vulnerability. A five year old who is already struggling with one or more aspects of their development is likely to drop further and further behind as the other kids in their class are better able to take advantage of all the opportunities that the school years bring.

    A supportive learning environment

    To give all children the best opportunity to develop well in the years before school and continue to develop and learn when they do reach school, an inspiring and supportive early learning environment is essential. This is especially important for those children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Think about events beyond children’s book week that can be used to make books and reading fun and exciting for children and families. Seek out literacy opportunities every day. Engage children with the words all around you – t-shirts and hats, street signs and billboards – and use them as chances for reading. Encourage children to tell stories and to take favourite books home.

    Families, educators & teachers together

    There is a lot that you can do to work with families to extend the literacy-rich environment of your centre or classroom into children’s homes. Many families are not aware of the importance of early literacy or how to foster its development. Draw on your relationships with the families of the children in your care and in your classroom to encourage families to share the joy of literacy with their child and develop and strengthen the relationships that support learning in the early years. 

    Author: Eliza Metcalfe, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.

    Early childhood educators

    In the years before they reach school, children and babies do a lot of language learning. They will develop spoken language, become familiar with books and the conventions of reading (start at the front, finish at the back; which way up to hold the book; and more); understand that print has meaning; develop the fine motor skills to hold and use a pencil, a paintbrush and a crayon; and some will even develop some writing and reading skills too. Singing together, reading as a group, and creating, telling and listening to stories are all among the building blocks that children will expand on in order to develop formal literacy later in life. Without these building blocks, also known as emergent literacy skills, children can struggle to develop literacy.

    Developing emergent literacy

    Children do their best learning when they are in an environment that feels safe and supportive. Developing a safe, supportive, literacy-rich environment at your early childhood service is one of the best ways to help children with their emergent literacy skills. Another very important way to support the development of these skills is to work with families so that they create a supportive, literacy-rich environment in the home.

    • Make books, reading, singing and story telling every day activities.
    • Make books and reading fun and enjoyable. 
    • Hold a festival of books. Children will love dressing up as their favourite character
    • Take advantage of literacy opportunities in your environment. Words are everywhere, on our clothes, in our ads, on signs in the street. Ensure that words are everywhere at your service. Label everyday things to help children to learn what new words look like
    • Share books with families. If a child at your service loves a particular book, encourage them to take it home to share it with their family.

    Taking literacy home

    About half of Australian families, surveyed in 2013, didn’t realise that reading with their child every day from birth gives them the best start in life. And only about half of families read to their children from birth. Using your relationship with families to extend the literacy-rich environment of your service into the home is one of the greatest things that you can do to help children to have the best start in life.

    Information for families

    Share our information for families with families at your early childhood service—these are packed with information and tips about reading with children.  

    Additional resources

    The Let’s Read program supports literacy development for children from birth. Access their resources for professionals to learn more. You could also complete the Let’s Read eLearning Course or choose an eLearning package for all your staff. Let’s Read eLearning was a 2013 eLearning Excellence Awards finalist and is suitable for use of Long Day Care Professional Development Programme funds.  

    Author: Eliza Metcalfe, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. 

    Early primary teachers

    Each year, children arrive in your classroom at different stages on the journey to developing literacy. Some will be raring to go, in love with books and stories, maybe even reading a little themselves. Other children may have barely encountered books and stories, or just never developed an interest. Your work with these children and their families can help to set them on a path to being fully literate children and adults.

    Children who develop good literacy skills have the best chance to go on to have success in the rest of their education and in their adult lives.

    Attitudes to reading

    The Let’s Read program works to promote reading with children from birth. They conducted market research in 2012 that explored families’ attitudes to sharing books with their children. The research showed that families fell into four categories:

    • ‘motivated and confident’ – already read with their young children, but needed rewards and reminders to encourage them to continue reading with their children
    • ‘cynics’ – could read with their children if they wanted to, but felt that reading was not a priority for them. These families needed to be persuaded of the developmental benefits to young children of reading with them.
    • ‘disengaged’ – lacked awareness of the benefits and felt that reading with their children was irrelevant to their circumstances. These families needed education, role models and then help with strategies to make it easier for them to read with their young children
    • ‘battlers’ – wanted to read more with their children, but faced barriers that made reading together difficult, such as lack of time or low literacy. These families needed simple, achievable and practical strategies to make it easier for them to read with their young children.

    Encouraging families to read with their child

    Based on this research, Let’s Read developed a series of key messages to tap into the different motivation areas of families across all of these categories. These key messages aim to encourage all families to share rhymes, songs, books and stories with their child every day from birth:

    • Share, rhymes, songs and stories every day 
    • Words are everywhere 
    • Read, play and learn with books 
    • Story time is a special time 
    • Bond with books 
    • Build a love of books 

    By developing a literacy-rich environment in your classroom and encouraging families to extend that literacy-rich environment into the home you can help every child to burst out of the blocks towards a literate future.

    Information for families

    Share our information for families with families at your school—these are packed with information and tips about reading with children.

    Additional resources

    The US based Reading Rockets has great resources for teachers to support children in developing emergent literacy.

    Author: Eliza Metcalfe, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.


    You can help your child to set up building blocks for literacy by making your home one where stories, songs and words are part of every day life. Follow the links below for Grow & Thrive information on children's literacy.


Murdoch Childrens Research Institute

The Centre for Community Child Health is a department of The Royal Children’s Hospital and a research group of Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.