University of Edinburgh

How Families can support early literacy

Presented on 21 February 2004

Deaf childen may face barriers in acquiring literacy but there are many was these can be overcome.

The barriers can include:

  • language delay
  • lack of awareness of how to make links between British Sign Language and English
  • tendency of adults to focus on errors
  • tendency of adults to focus on 'surface features'
  • development of dependency

We can encourage emergent literacy by early exposure to meaningful text.

  • making ongoing links between visual patterns - including print - and meaning
  • using text telephones and mobiles where it becomes obvious that the print has meaning - later using texting
  • using the subtitled option on TV even when the child is very young and clearly not able to make direct links
  • helping the child to become familiar with computers - including emails and the internet - so they see that text has a point
  • using books- including books with sign translations - from a very early age.

It is never too early to give a child a book!

(Videotape of two year-old 'reading' a book)

Note the linguistic context: comfortable, easy communication, wehre the child can initiate as well as respond.

The child is on a sofa; the adult kneeling - faces at the same level - this helps joint attention.

There is lots of direct eye contact.

The adult lets the child take the lead.

The adult sometimes usues touching/tapping to get the child's attention, but not in an intrusive way.

The child has clearly used books before - he is familiar with what you do with books - turns pages, etc.

There is shared discussion about the book.

They play a game -
Where is the horse? Where is the woman?
Notice that sometimes the child leads

The child often gives additional information:
It's snowing and it's cold - all gone!

The adult sometimes tells a chunk of the story.

Adult: There's the woman. she's walking along when she sees the horse. Poor horse. The snow is right up to his neck. the woman says 'I'll help'. She begins to dig him out; the horse waits patiently and then clambers out . . . What's the woman doing there?
Child: She wants to help dig - remember I did the same with Daddy.

The child makes links with his own experience.

The child does linguistic work without being aware of it:

Adult: Is the woman sad?
Child: No she's smiling
Adult: So she's happy? Is the horse happy?
Child: No the horse is sad

The child learns that books have meaning

The child experiences reading as enjoyable - not as a chore