Flewitt, Messer & Kucirkova (2014) discussed in their paper how visual literacy offers innovative opportunities for early literacy learning to nursery children, primary school reception children and special school children.
They found variability but commonality was that visual literacy activities stimulated children’s motivation and concentration. They also offered opportunities for communication, collaborative interaction, and independent learning.
Children learn to recognise and distinguish how sounds are represented alphabetically and discover some letter sounds, symbols, characters, and signs. And children use information in context from pictures and other sources to support in making meaning (Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework, 2016).
Parents and teachers must always be very positive on the issue of promoting language and literacy skills at home or in school. Making meaning is the ultimate to children’s emergent literacy development. Educators and parents can achieve this by scaffolding children’s emergent reading comprehension (making meaning from texts) and emergent written expression (expressing ideas through texts). Some feasible ways are through the use of symbols and labels.
Visual Literacy: Through Symbols and Labels
Children are surrounded by signs or symbols. Learning how to extract meaning is vital particularly on how to read and write.
Llyod & Bishak (1992) defined symbols as a representation of a referent. Some symbols are created to serve communication purposes while others are created to serve literacy purposes and therefore can be used as reading materials. Abbot & Lucey (2002) claimed that in the UK, most special children use symbols to support their literacy.
Some other teachers in the UK believe that signs or symbols are powerful things. Symbols not only facilitate special children but also commonly promotes literacy amongst young children. They can be used to help the children picking up words without having to teach the children the words. You just need to look around the school or the streets.
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Parents and teachers in Malaysia can also do the same thing too. Symbols are all over, the symbols or signs help the children to pick up words. Without having to teach the children the words they know the road signs say ‘STOP’ or ‘NO ENTRY’ and other symbols that say ‘LEGO’, ‘My Little Pony’ and that say ‘M&M’.
To illustrate, when a circle with a red line through it accompanied by the images of a person dropping litter is posted in the hallways, what message is being sent? This symbol is a great way to encourage children to tell them that it is forbidden to throw garbage, we cannot throw garbage or no debris. This symbol also conveys a message to the children that they need to play their part to keep the property clean.
During the pandemic, there is a need to adhere to precautions, for instance, practising social distancing. In order to convey this message, a poster portraying a symbol is pasted almost everywhere. The images of two persons with an arrow in the middle of them communicate a message that there is a need for social distancing to help limit opportunities to come in contact with infected people outside the home.
When young children see these symbols, they will be able to get the messages without having them to be taught the printed words. Symbols can support the development and building of vocabulary. Symbols can also be a transition tool to be used towards printed texts.
Labels are useful in promoting children’s language and literacy skills. Teaching literacy happens in how you set up the room or wall. Create a print-rich environment!
In the school context, labelling is used in many developments of nursery classrooms or perhaps in the lower primary classrooms to support non-readers connect the orthography and the meaning of the printed word by placing a label to the actual object. Labelling the classroom is a wonderful way to bring print awareness into a child’s life.
Labels are presented in a form of a piece of writing which described children’s work on displays in the classroom. When teachers put up displays in the classroom to display children’s work, we always have a piece of writing beside it. Sometimes teachers will write that out when the children are in class. For instance, the teacher may want to ask “what are we going to write beside our picture?” or “what will we write to tell people to come to look at our picture?”
Some teachers put on labels on the sink or hand soap with the children. A child automatically knows how to “read” the word since it is attached to a known object. This process increases a young child’s confidence and makes print come alive in an incredibly authentic way.
Encouragement must be given to the children to write a label for their picture before putting up their picture on the classroom wall. However, handwritten labels are recommended. The children could copy the teacher’s handwriting. While the teacher is writing the label, the children could see the teacher writing it. The teacher and the children could initially decide what to write too. Then, the teacher may continue encouraging the children to copy the label and they put it up together.
In the family context, mums and dads can help your child to choose items in the grocery store by letting your child read the labels on the containers. For examples, “Find full-fat milk” or “Find apple juice”. Labels also contain a list of ingredients. Say something like “This has too much sugar. Let’s find the one with less sugar in it”. Let him/her try it and let them read once you are at the store. You may be surprised.
Other than that, parents can also place a visual daily schedule at your child’s eye level. You child would be able to read, or to play the piano, or to play outdoor by looking at the schedule which activity is coming next.
Also, parents can put on labels in your child’s space like the bedroom or playroom. This is such an authentic way to practice letter sounds and handwriting. Say something like “Oh, Rida. Look at this word. It has a d at the beginning of the word. The d makes the /d/ sound. I wonder which room of the house we’ll put this word in?” Your child may then suggest you put up the word that begins with d at her doll or at the door.
Literacy skills (i.e. reading and writing) can easily be embedded in daily routines as children see labels and symbols around them and practice literacy activities (reading or writing) for a purpose based on parent, teacher and peer models. Promoting the development of emergent language and literacy by implementing purposeful strategies that encourage reading and writing in the classroom and at home can be valuable. Parents who provide young children with a diverse array of early reading and writing experiences lay the foundation for nursery readiness.
This article is written by Dr. Rahimah Saimin
About the Author:
Dr. Rahimah Saimin is a Senior Lecturer at Faculty of Major Language Studies (FPBU), Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM). She completed her PhD in Education from the University of Dundee, Scotland and presented her research and works in SERA (Scottish Educational Research Association) and BERA (British Educational Research Association).
During her stay in Scotland, Dr Rahimah worked closely with nursery and primary school children as a researcher, as a parent, and as a volunteer. She also actively participated in playgroups and bilingual group activities at nursery schools and community centers while she was there. Upon her return to Malaysia, she aims to continue exploring her real passion further.
Dr. Rahimah is also a writer of a local newspaper and an article contributor to national parenting magazines. She’s a mother and has three amazing kids aged 15, 12 and 7 years old.
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