Briefing paper

Literacy in early childhood

1 Sep 2008

Most children naturally develop verbal language skills by hearing others speak and by observing the communication process. However, the ability to read and write the printed text that represents spoken language – that is, to be literate (American Medical Association [AMA], 1999; Baker, 1999; Rowe & Rowe, 1999) – does not develop as a matter or course. Whether ‘literacy’ extends beyond the common definition of the ability to read and write to encompass all aspects of language in use in a range of social and cultural settings is widely debated. Such debate has resulted in important contributions to the study of literacy (see Barratt-Pugh & Rohl, 2000, 2001; Makin et al, 2006), however, the primary focus of this brief is the development of literacy skills related to reading, and to a lesser extent writing.

Reading and writing are key skills that contribute to children’s success at school and after school. It is increasingly recognised that skills for literacy should be developed from birth, and not from the commencement of formal schooling. This Policy Brief emphasises the need to include an often overlooked and yet critical stage in a child's journey toward literacy: the years prior to school entry (birth to five years of age). This brief also highlights the important role of early childhood professionals, services and communities in supporting families to provide the conditions and experiences necessary for all children to develop a sound literacy foundation prior to school entry. 

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