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Curriculum matters & Theories

Literacy Learning and Teaching Essentials to Know

promoting literacy from an early ageBy Dr Sarah Alexander
© ChildForum

From their earliest speech experiences through to contact with written language and technologies, what happens in children's homes and communities shapes their early literacy learning.  How, and whether this early learning is taken up and extended through early childhood educational practices has a considerable impact on the direction of children's literacy pathways (Makin et al, 2007, p 90)


The NZ Education Review Office's 2011 report on literacy in 350 childcare centres, kindergartens and playcentres and 3 home-based networks, does not paint a good picture of literacy teaching and learning in these services overall (see below for an overview of the main shortcomings ERO identified across the different types of services).

The names of individual services surveyed as part of the review are not identified in the ERO report, which may leave families and educators wondering just which early childhood services are not performing well.  One option is to go online to the ERO website and read the latest ERO report for your early childhood service, however the extent that the quality of literacy provision and teaching is commented on in individual reports for early childhood services can vary. 

magnetic alphabet letters In this article we provide a lot of information and guidance on literacy teaching and learning to help early childhood services to confirm if what they are doing is spot on and to know what they could be doing better. You may choose to draw out of this information the specific aspects of literacy teaching and learning that you are most interested in checking for within an early childhood service.

If you don't have time to get into the literacy literature to learn what to look for and what is important, ChildForum has prepared the following short list of 5 indicators of good literacy teaching and learning.  This set of indicators can help you to tell in quite a broad sense an early childhood service that is likely to be doing very well in the literacy area apart from one that is likely to be doing poorly.

In the early childhood education setting do you see:

  1. Picture books and extensions of literature are valued e.g. puppets, learning games based on stories, dramatic play props, recipes?
  2. Educators setting aside time to read each day to, and with, children?
  3. Educators showing pleasure and personal interest in children’s oral language and early writing efforts?
  4. Educators following children’s interests and abilities in providing for literacy learning?
  5. Educators noticing and evaluating how your child is progressing and talking with you about the next steps for supporting literacy development? (Source ChildForum.com, 2011) 

engaging with an interactive story on the computer 'Grandma and Me'pacific language learning


In this article we discuss key areas in which ERO identified services could do better namely:

  • the valuing and promotion of literacy, including not just buying books and resources on an ad-hoc basis (having a literacy policy is an important first step);
  • catering for children with different needs and abilities in literacy;
  • promoting literacy for boys and girls;
  • promoting literacy for children from different ethnic groups; and,
  • going beyond simply providing activities, to also being concerned with literacy outcomes - what children are learning, noticing how children's learning is progressing, reviewing how to better support children, and incorporating children's and parents perspectives.  

And in this article we also provide ideas and guidance for services to have confidence in providing well for literacy learning and achievement for each child.  If you are an educator, head teacher, or someone helping at or working in or running an early childhood service, continue reading below for ideas and further information to assist. 


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