Environmental Influences on Developing Print Awareness

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

Very young children begin to develop literacy skills by discovering the connection between what is written and what is spoken language. In this lesson, we will learn more about environmental factors affecting print awareness in early childhood.

Building Literacy Skills

What is the first step to building literacy skills in young children? Before learning to read, children spend the first few years of their lives developing print awareness. Print awareness is understanding that there is a relationship between what is written and what is spoken. The development of print awareness is directly correlated with success in reading. Literacy skill development is a combination of genetics and environmental factors, which refer to the setting in which the child is educated and raised. Let's examine some environmental factors that affect the development of print awareness.

What Do Children Gain from Print Awareness?

Beyond simply understanding that written words have meaning, as children develop print awareness, they discover that writing is used for a variety of purposes. For example, stop signs, exit signs, and shop signs each have different meanings. Similarly, shopping lists and menus are different from storybooks and e-mail. Simple exposure to written language in a variety of forms helps children identify writing in various contexts.

Children also begin to understand how print is organized. For example, children discover that there are spaces between words; words are written and read from left to right and from top to bottom; and words are formed from letters.

Eventually, children will be able to connect more advanced principles of letter naming and matching letters to phonemes by connecting the 's' on the stop sign to the 's' naming the sandwich shop. Letter naming leads to the ability to put letters together to form words.

Environmental Factors that Affect Print Awareness

Why are some children more proficient at developing print awareness than others? As with other aspects of literacy and language development, the amount of time that primary caregivers spend talking and reading to toddlers makes a big difference. There is a high correlation between socioeconomic status and the amount of language that is used in the home, making preschool programs particularly necessary for low-income families. Additionally, children who are read to and whose parents model a love of reading are more likely to obtain literacy skills and to enjoy reading than those who have not had literacy skills modeled.

Children learn print awareness from reading familiar signs.
stop sign

Further, a child's background experiences make a big difference in print awareness. For example, if a child lives in a rural area without fast food restaurants, they will be less likely to recognize those signs.

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