Children develop a sense of the world around them early in their life. Beginning as infants, then as toddlers and preschoolers, they react to the sounds, sights, smells and tastes of their environment.
As your child’s early literacy experiences grow and develop, so does their ability to decipher the language and symbols that are heard and seen frequently, making them a meaningful part of your child’s world. A simple and effective form of print – environmental print- can be the start of your child’s early reading journey.
What is Environmental Print?
Environmental print is just that – print that exists in the environment. It is defined as “the print in everyday life” (Reading Rockets, 2010). Environmental print is different than print found in books and magazines and is one of the most visible resources in your child’s world that supports their pre-reading development. Street signs, cereal boxes, granola bar wrappers, words and logos on t-shirts and toys and even your favourite coffee shop or fast food sign are all examples of environmental print.
Why Use Environmental Print?
Children usually read print from their environment before reading print in books. Environmental print demonstrates to children that print is symbolic, functional and meaningful. It helps to build alphabet knowledge as children begin to recognize the letters they see and it helps them begin to understand the concept that certain combinations of graphics and letters have meaning. When a child recognizes the logo and picture of their favourite cereal in the cupboard, they know that it holds something they like to eat. Environmental print also builds confidence and gets your child excited about reading. When children are excited about reading and print holds meaning for them, they learn faster and make stronger connections to the world around them.
How to Use Environmental Print
Exploring environmental print should be natural, not forced. You don’t have to do it all the time. Pick moments when you feel that your child will be focused and eager to learn. Here are some examples of how to engage your child and use environmental print to get them on the road to reading.
• Point out the letters on their favourite cereal box or crackers.
• Place magnetic letters on the fridge. Use more than one set so your child can begin by spelling their name. Once they know letters in their name, then they’ll be eager to point out those letters in other types of environmental print.
• Use the closed captioning setting when they are watching a movie and let them know that the words they see on the screen are the words that the characters are saying.
• While waiting in a drive thru line, point out letters on the menu board or the restaurant sign.
• Grocery shopping can be turned into a scavenger hunt. Look for specific letters while shopping. For example: “Today we are going to look for the letter A. This is what the letter A looks like. How many letter A’s do you think we’ll find?”. Print out the letter on a sticky note or small piece of paper so your child can reference it and find the matching letter while shopping.
• Label some items in your home – door, table, clock, chair – to help your child begin to recognize everyday words.
• Cut out the names of your child’s favourite cereal or cracker boxes to make a matching game (example: Cheerios, Ritz, Goldfish…)
• Grab some scissors, glue, paper and grocery store flyers. Have your child cut out words and pictures to make an environmental print collage.
Print and symbols in the child’s world offer many literacy opportunities. Remember to offer learning opportunities when you feel that your child is ready – they are well rested, excited about playing the activity you have offered and that it is a “hands-on” experience. Also, make sure that the activity is appropriate for their development level. During the preschool years, environmental print can be a bridge between emergent reading and alphabetic decoding.
So take advantage of your child’s natural interest and curiosity in environmental print and use it to promote their early literacy development.