Why Symbols Support Literacy and the Language of Literacy

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Let’s talk about literacy and reading and reading activities. There’s more to literacy than decoding or learning how to sound out the words. Part of the elements of reading or literacy is about understanding what the story is about, who is in the story, what happens, and in what order. This is all about language. 

Language, whether it’s verbally expressed or it’s expressed in writing, is the tool by which we understand and express. When we’re reading stories to our children, we’ve selected the book — and I love wordless books because they don’t make me use words that are specific to the story; I can make them up myself — but when I tell the story of that book, and I stop on a page and say, “Oh, I love this! Look at where the mouse is and look at what he’s doing!” And we have a conversation about that. 

As a parent, an educator, or an early childhood specialist working with the child, we’re telling stories within stories to make it come alive. And in this way, for our developing symbol speakers, when I speak in symbols, then that helps them to understand the concepts and they have the symbols to be able to use to question those concepts and to express them back to us. While symbols by themselves do not promote literacy, the use of symbols during our reading activities helps to develop the language that goes along with that literacy. So, next time you pick up a book to read it to your child, go ahead and Symbol-It as well. 

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