First Stages

Children start learning language from the day they are born. As they grow and develop, their speech and language skills become increasingly complex. They learn to understand and use language to express their ideas, thoughts, feelings, and to communicate with others. During early speech and language development, children learn skills that are important to the development of literacy (reading and writing). 

This stage, known as emergent literacy, begins at birth and continues through the preschool years. Children see and interact with printed words in everyday situations, well before they start elementary school. Children begin to recognize words that rhyme, they scribble with crayons, point out logos and street signs, and name some letters of the alphabet. Gradually, children combine what they know about speaking and listening with what they know about printed words and become ready to learn to read and write.

Spoken Language And Literacy Are Connected

The experiences with talking and listening gained during the preschool period prepare children to learn to read and write during the early elementary school years. This means that children who enter school with weaker verbal abilities are much more likely to experience difficulties learning literacy skills than those who do not demonstrate a weakness. 

One spoken language skill that is strongly connected to early reading and writing is phonological awareness.  Phonological awareness is the recognition that words are made up of separate speech sounds.  For example, the word cat is composed of three sounds: /c/ /a/ /t/. There are a variety of oral language activities that show children’s natural development of phonological awareness, including rhyming (“cat-hat”) and alliteration (“big bears bounce on beds”), and isolating sounds (“f is the first sound in the word fish”). 

As children playfully engage in sound play, they eventually learn to segment words into their separate sounds, and map sounds onto printed letters, which allows them to begin to learn to read and write. Children who perform well on sound awareness tasks become successful readers and writers, while children who struggle with such tasks often do not.

Who Is At Risk?

There are some early signs that may place a child at risk for the acquisition of literacy skills. Preschool children with speech and language disorders often experience problems learning to read and write when they enter school. Other factors include physical or medical conditions such as: preterm birth requiring placement in a neonatal intensive care unit, chronic ear infections, fetal alcohol syndrome, cerebral palsy, developmental disorders such as intellectual disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorder, poverty, home literacy environment, and family history of language or literacy disabilities. 

Early Warning Signs

  • Persistent baby talk
  • Absence of interest in nursery rhymes or shared book reading
  • Difficulty understanding simple directions 
  • Difficulty learning or remembering names of letters 
  • Failure to recognize or identify letters in the child’s own name.

How Can A Speech Therapist Help?

Speech therapists have a great deal of knowledge regarding language and literacy development, and therefore play a key role in promoting the emergent literacy skills of all children, and especially those with known or suspected literacy-related learning difficulties. A speech therapist can identify children at risk for reading and writing difficulties and then provide intervention to remediate those literacy-related difficulties. 

Remediation and supportive intervention efforts include working in collaboration with families, caregivers, and teachers to ensure that young children have many high quality opportunities to participate in emergent literacy activities both at home, in daycare and preschool environments. 

Speech therapists can also help older children who have missed literacy opportunities for whatever reason. Intervention should begin as soon as a problem is suspected in order to facilitate growth in needed areas and support academic success.

Early Intervention Is Critical

Providing emergent literacy instruction in the preschool period is crucial. Literacy difficulties are persistent and often affect a child’s language and literacy learning throughout their school years.  Promoting literacy development is critical for older children as well, particularly those with speech and/or language impairments. 

What Parents Can Do

Here are some activities for preschool children:

  • Talk to your child and name objects, people, and events in the everyday environment.
  • Repeat your child’s sounds (“mamama” wawawa”) and add to them (“mamama-mommy”, wawawa-water”) to create words, phrases and sentences.
  • Talk to your child during daily routine activities such as bath or mealtime and respond to his or her questions.
  • Draw your child’s attention to print in everyday settings such as signs, logos, and writing on everyday items such as food and toys.
  • Introduce new vocabulary words during holidays, activities and outings.
  • Sing together, play rhyming games, and say nursery rhymes.
  • Read picture and story books that focus on sounds, rhymes, and alliteration (words that start with the same sound), such as in Dr. Seuss books.
  • Reread your child’s favorite books.
  • When reading together, point to words and pictures as you read and ask questions about the story.
  • Provide material for them to draw and scribble.
  • Encourage your child to describe or tell a story about his/her drawing and write down the words.

At Vibe, our speech therapists are trained to work with children of every age, and in every facet of speech and language.  We are experts in our field. The clinical and personal relationship we have with you is at the core of everything we do. From the resources we bring to support growth in communication, to the highly individualized therapy sessions. We offer collaborative partnerships with other providers, family and caregivers and we are committed to exceeding your expectations. We look forward to helping your child bring their best self into the world!

Contact Vibe Speech Therapy to learn more about how we can help you!

Froma P. Roth, PhD, CCC-SLP, Diane R. Paul, PhD, CCC-SLP and Ann-Mari Pierotti, MA, CCC-SLP for their excellent article on Emergent Literacy: Early Reading and Writing Development, from For People With Special Communication Needs in the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) Journal, 2006.