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The Role of Environmental Print in Early Development

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  • 0:04 Environmental Print
  • 0:51 Clues & Context
  • 1:35 Instructional Approaches
  • 2:31 Activities & Tools
  • 3:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

One of the first indicators that young children are responding to print is their ability to read environmental print. This lesson will define the term and explain how to use it to develop early reading skills.

Environmental Print

Christopher's mom, Cindy, came into preschool this morning with exciting news about her three-year-old son. Over the weekend, Christopher read a McDonald's sign. Cindy believes he's ready to begin learning his letters and working on other reading skills. Clearly he's already reading!

Debbie, the preschool teacher, congratulates Christopher and Cindy on reaching this pre-reading milestone, which typically occurs at the age of three. They explain that Christopher is reading environmental print, the functional text a child sees in everyday life like fast food logos, food labels, and street signs. Christopher recognized and named the McDonald's sign, letting his mom know that his brain is able to assign a label to a sign, much like we do with learning letters and their sounds.

Clues & Context

Many early readers begin to recognize symbols in their environment and 'read' them. Cindy believed that Christopher was actually reading the sign. However, in reality, his brain isn't quite ready for reading. Instead, Christopher was responding to the context clues around the sign, like the location of the sign on top of a high pole and the playground he sits in when eating at the restaurant.

This doesn't mean that Christopher's ability to respond to environmental print isn't exciting, important, and useful news. It lets his parents know that he's beginning to associate print with meaning and understand that the signs and words around us are meant to convey a message. How can they help Christopher build on his newfound skill? Let's take a look.

Instructional Approach

The fact that Christopher is making connections between labels and objects isn't a totally new development. In fact, when he started talking at age one, he was already associating his spoken words with an object. For example, this is a ball or that is a bottle. But now Christopher's brain is beginning to associate his understanding of more distinct visual clues with specific labels. For example, this sign means ''McDonald's,'' or that sign means ''stop.''

Parents, teachers, and caregivers can help build and strengthen these skills in several ways. For starters, they can reinforce awareness of environmental print and enhance their child's knowledge by having conversations about print. For instance, Cindy can say to Christopher, 'McDonald's has a yellow sign', or 'That stop starts with the letter S'. This builds upon a child's emerging awareness of a sign and his or her existing knowledge.

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