Children engaged in language and literacy activities, observed at home and in preschools, appear mostly playful and exploratory, although in fact they are hard at work as scholars of language and literacy.
A particular set of accomplishments that the successful learner is likely to exhibit during the preschool years is shown in the table on page 59. Because of their importance, we present them in full, as published in Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children (National Academy Press, 1998). This list is neither exhaustive nor incontestable, but it does capture many highlights in the course of literacy acquisition that have been revealed through several decades of research. Of course, the timing of these accomplishments will to some extent depend on maturational and experiential differences among children.
Preschool teachers represent an important—and largely underutilized—resource in promoting literacy through promoting the acquisition of rich language and beginning literacy concepts and skills. Early childhood educators should not try to replicate the formal reading instruction provided in schools; instead, their job is to help children develop the basic knowledge, interest, and understandings that will allow them to flourish once it is time for such instruction. Central to achieving the goal of primary prevention of reading difficulties is the preschool teacher ’s knowledge base and experience, as well as the support provided to the teacher; each of these may vary according to where the teacher is in his or her professional development.
A critical component in the preparation of teachers before they begin their careers is supervised, relevant, experience in preschools in which they receive ongoing guidance and feedback. A principal goal of this experience is to achieve the ability to integrate and apply the knowledge learned in practice.