The basic understanding of literacy is the ability to read and write. Early literacy differs from literacy in that it is a process through which children are prepared for literacy. Neuman & Dickinson (2011) define early literacy as what children recognize about reading and writing before they can learn to read and write in reality. It is about laying a foundation to ensure children have the skills necessary when they are developmentally prepared to read and write.
While literacy pays much attention to reading and writing, developments in early education provide a wider learning range by including talking about books, book sharing, early mark making and environmental awareness in addition to reading and writing (Foundation Years, 2009). Early literacy as we know it today has a rich history, entrenched in the need to improve how children learn and the inclusion of play pedagogy in enhancing literacy.
Albright, Delecki & Hinkle (2009) retrace early evolution of literacy to the 1940s and 1950s when the development of storytelling techniques including rhyme and repetition started gaining importance. Story hours were first offered by librarians in the 1940s as a response to the ‘reading readiness’ theory aimed at ensuring that children were mentally equipped to read. Story hours would involve dramatization, clapping, repetition, songs and rhymes and were seen as an avenue for children to interact with peers and gain interest for reading.
Over the decades, new concepts such as dialogic reading to promote more enjoyable reading, entertainment and education have been developed through research and development. Historically, the government in England made little intervention towards preschool provision and curriculum (Kwon, 2002). However in 1996, the Desirable Outcomes for Children’s Learning on Entering Compulsory Education framework was introduced to guide early years curriculum. This was later revised as Early Learning Goals in 2000 and was aimed at providing learning goals for children (Kwon, 2002).
Early literacy strategies
Early literacy strategies have evolved significantly over the years and the emphasis on play and innovative learning methods in England is apparent. The House of Commons Education Select Committee in December 2000 issued a report indicating that creative play should be the main form of learning for children under five (Clouder, 2017). In England, the development of rules and policies guiding early childhood education aims at improving early literacy by providing guidance to teachers and caregivers (Department of Education, 2017). As a result, England’s statutory frameworks are keen on the fundamental role played by literacy.
The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) statutory framework, first introduced in 2008 and revised in 2012, 2014 and 2017 is a law provides rules and regulations to guide early literacy and its statutory framework as provided in Learning and Development Requirements is that ‘All the areas must be delivered through planned, purposeful play, with a balance of adult-led and child-initiated activities’ (Foundation Years, 2009, p.10).
Early literacy and play pedagogy are mutual, based on the role of play pedagogy in promoting literacy. Contemporary research labels play as the most effective approach in setting the foundation for literacy in early years.
Albright, M, Delecki, K, & Hinkle, S 2009, ‘The Evolution of Early Literacy: A History of Best Practices in Storytimes’, Children & Libraries: The Journal Of The Association For Library Service To Children, 7, 1, pp. 13-18
Buddeberg, K., et al (2016). Literacy in England: Country Report. Children, Adolescents and Adults. Retrieved from www.eli-net.eu/fileadmin/ELINET/Redaktion/user_upload/England_Long_Report.pdf
Clouder, C., (2017). The Push for Early Childhood Literacy: A View from Europe. Retrieved from waldorfresearchinstitute.org/pdf/BALiteracyClouder.pdf
Department of Education. (2017). Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/596629/EYFS_STATUTORY_FRAMEWORK_2017.pdf
Foundation Years (2009) Learning, Playing and Interacting Good practice in the Early Years Foundation Stage. Retrieved from https://www.foundationyears.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Learning_Playing_Interacting.pdf
Kwon, I., (2001) Changing Curriculum for Early Childhood Education in England, 4:2, Retrieved from ecrp.uiuc.edu/v4n2/kwon.html
Neuman, S. B., & Dickinson, D. K., (2011) Handbook of Early Literacy Research. New York: Guilford Press
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