Print exposure – the act of making written words visible to young children – is a key component in developing children’s reading skills, and a new study confirms that it is an integral part of developing pre-reader's sense of how meaning is attached to words.
In a study conducted at Washington University in St. Louis, researchers found that children who are not yet able to read can already recognize that printed words have specific meanings attached to them. Even without explicitly being taught, young children grasp early on that printed words have unique meanings, demonstrating a “surprisingly advanced knowledge about the fundamental properties of writing.” In this experiment, when non-reading children were shown printed words (say, “tree” or “puppy”), they were less willing to accept synonyms or incorrect substitutions for those words than when shown a picture representing that word, indicating that they recognize there is a specific and unique meaning linked to the printed word itself. Researchers also found that “preschoolers who are regularly read to have an advantage in learning that written words have specific meanings.”
So what does this mean for you and your emerging reader? The more they are exposed to written words – through being read to, having written words pointed out to them, and having a print-rich environment around them – the stronger their reading skills! Seeing written words is the first step to recognizing the meaning behind them, and then stringing those words into sentences. So when you point out written words during a visit the grocery store, share a book before bedtime, or check out books and attend storytimes at the library with your pre-reader, you’re helping build literacy skills that will last a lifetime!