Leveraging the Environment to Ignite Children’s Literacy Learning

  • February 29, 2024

a teacher reading to children

Four-year-old Camila opens a class recipe book in the home environment center that includes photos and recipes from children’s families. She turns to her family’s recipe for corn tortillas. Pointing to the text, she says, “First, I have to put in la masa.” She dips a measuring cup into a canister with a picture and the words corn flour and masa on the outside, then dumps two imaginary scoops into a bowl. She returns to the book and says, “Then I have to put in the water.” Camila reaches for an empty pitcher and pretends to pour in water. She puts scraps of paper on a plate to represent a pile of tortillas then calls, “Tortillas for sale! Come have a hot, fresh tortilla!”

Tariq sits down. “I want a tortilla,” he says.

Teacher Olivia, who is documenting Camila’s play, joins the scene and prompts, “Oh, I think your customer might need a menu to help him decide what else he wants with his tortilla.” Camila picks up a clipboard and marker and begins to write strings of letter-like symbols. When she’s done, she hands the clipboard to Tariq and says, “We have cheese and chicken. What would you like?”

Opportunities to promote young children’s language and literacy development abound in early learning settings. Early childhood educators can facilitate these experiences by offering materials, routines, and interactions that set the stage for rich language and literacy activities and exchanges, as Olivia did in the vignette above. Among other literacy skills, the class recipe book allowed Camila to demonstrate her understanding of print concepts (such as holding the text correctly, flipping the pages, pointing to the words), to strengthen her oral language by integrating both of her languages, and to use her emerging writing skills through the use of strategically placed materials.

As teacher educators, we (the authors) work in racially, economically, and geographically diverse higher education contexts. Situated across two- and four-year institutions, we work with early childhood educators to develop their learning environments for children and families in rural and urban communities. Focusing on the ecology of the classroom allows educators to intentionally create opportunities throughout the learning day to foster children’s early literacy and language skills. In this article, we share ways to shape the classroom environment to immerse young learners in authentic literacy explorations.

Using Materials to Enrich Early Literacy Environments



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