Right from the very beginning

8th March 1996 at 00:00
Towards reading: Literacy development in the pre-school years. By Linda Miller. Open University Press Pounds 12.99.

Many teachers abandoned the term "reading readiness" some years ago. Learning to read, they argued, begins in babyhood; schools then build on children's extensive literacy experience. In Towards Reading, Linda Miller explains how parents and carers, often unknowingly, contribute towards their children's competence in literacy.

First, she identifies the elements acknowledged in the research literature to be predictors of effective reading and writing: concept of print, print awareness and phonological awareness. Then she describes the activities with parents or carers and children which reflect these elements: writing shopping lists, reading books together, talking about printed words in the environment (eg, cereal packets, shop doorways).

Miller stresses that these literacy experiences are an integral part of daily family life and that this is the ideal way in which children should begin to learn to read and write. She lists a number of literacy projects, including her own, to encourage families to include such activities in the lives of their children and extracts general principles for getting a literacy project off the ground. She also considers the needs of children who spend much of their time in nurseries.

Judging the effectiveness of projects and also planning which activities a child most needs require some form of assessment. Miller advocates informed observation in a natural setting as the most effective mode of assessment and includes prompt lists for this purpose. The final chapters provide suggestions for creating a rich environment for promoting literacy in a nursery with suggestions for displaying print, lists of resources and books. She emphasises the need for all those involved with children to understand the way children learn.

The overriding philosophy of this book is that "literacy in the pre-school years must be embedded in contextualised experiences". Many people would echo this for most of the primary school years.

This book is based squarely on a breadth of recent research which underpins the approach to developing literacy which Miller presents. The research is interspersed with case-study material from the author's own work making the contents accessible for parents. I would recommend this book to nursery and primary teachers in initial training and on professional development courses and anyone working with pre-school and infant school children.

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