Children become literate as they learn to read and write as a means to make, interpret and communicate meaning. In order to do this, they have to:
- learn the technical skills associated with reading and writing, which involve learning the alphabet, learning to form and spell words, and learning to decode meaning from printed and computer-rendered text, and
- master a more complex set of understandings, attitudes, behaviors and expectations associated with how people structure and derive meaning from written language.
Before children attempt to achieve either of these goals, it can be very helpful for them to engage in a variety of activities that prepare them for this. What some literacy researchers refer to as “pathways into literacy” can begin in a wide variety of ways. These can be playful or more regulated, and they can occur in the home, at a daycare facility, in a church, synagogue or mosque, or in preschool or in a neighborhood or community setting. They can be initiated by the child, or by a parent or another adult caregiver.
These activities involve experiences such as the child pretending to read aloud and pretending to write, or telling stories, or dictating a letter or an e-mail or a text message to a friend or family member. They also include parents and other adult caregivers reading aloud to their children, or drawing with them, or engaging in pretend play with them. Talking, playing, drawing, singing and storytelling can all form pathways to literacy for children, especially when their parents and other adult caregivers participate in these activities with them.