Why is Emergent Literacy Important?

As you learned in the previous lesson, emergent literacy skills typically manifest before the start of formal literacy instruction (a.k.a. before a child enters kindergarten). Performance on tasks involving emergent literacy skills has proved to serve as a predictor for later reading ability; deficits or delays in emergent literacy, especially phonological awareness, can contribute to later difficulty with learning to read.

Take a look at these key points from foundational research in emergent literacy:

  • 34% of fourth-graders in the United States cannot read at a basic level (National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP], 2009) 
  • More than one in three children experience difficulties in learning to read (Johnston, McDonnell, & Hawken, 2008)
  • Early reading instruction and preventative action may be more effective than intervention with students exhibiting reading disorders (Juel, 1988)
  • A strong correlation [has been shown to exist] between the skills with which children enter school and later academic success (Whitehurst & Lonigan, 1998)

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Children often learn many of these skills incidentally, or naturally, through interactions with things in their surroundings (i.e., people, objects, television, etc.). Therefore, children’s home and early learning environments play a crucial role in facilitating later literacy achievement.

By frequently embedding indirect and direct instruction in emergent literacy skills into classroom activities and routines, early childhood educators can help build strong foundations for later reading success.

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