notes, scribbled by a toddler, are priceless keepsakes. They can also be hard to read,
thanks to spelling errors and tangled lettering. But all those mistakes forcing you to guess what they've scribbled are actually quite sophisticated markings.
You know, for a toddler.
And they mean a lot more than the words they express. New research from
Washington University in St. Louis suggests that children as young as 3
recognize and follow important rules and patterns that dictate how letters fit
together to make words.
show that children begin to learn about the statistics of written language, for
example about which letters often appear together and which letters appear
together less often, before they learn how letters represent the sounds of a
language,” Rebecca Treiman, a professor of psychological and
brain sciences in Arts & Sciences who co-authored the study, said.
The value of
phonics is undeniable. Understanding how the letters in written words reflect
the sounds used in spoken words is a significant part of learning how to read
and write. However, this awareness doesn't typically show up until the age of 5
or 6—when children begin "sounding out their words" in school.
As they get
older and more comfortable using this sound-based method of learning, their
spelling improves. For example, in the beginning, the word "crumb"
may be spelled "crm" and later changed to "crum." Eventually, they will learn about
the letter 'b' and all of those tricky silent letters buried deep
within the English language. But please ... baby steps.
What we know
about education is that children are listening and doing their best to use
letters to symbolize some of the words. The longer they do it, the better their
But what about younger children who haven't yet mastered the art of phonics? Can they improve
Treiman, it is possible. "Our study
found improvements over this period, with spellings becoming more word-like in
appearance over the preschool years in a group of children who did not yet use
letters to stand for sounds," she said.
The key here is exposure. Read to them, show them the words and
do so often.
To find these results, the researchers analyzed the spellings of 179 children—ages 3 years, 2 months to 5 years, 6
months—all of whom were prephonological spellers (a fancy way of saying they sound it
out). On average, older spellers were rated higher, because their spelling was
more word-like on various measures, including length, use of different letters
within words and combinations of letters.
the word "fepiri" was written by a 5-year-old when asked
to spell “touch.” Sure, it’s not even close, but look at that structure—it's
beautiful. When a 4-year-old was asked to do the same, "fpbczs" was produced.
Which one looks
more like a pronounceable word? Specifically, the 5-year-old's spelling conforms more closely to our understanding of where vowels and consonants appear in words.
spelling makes sense as an attempt to represent sounds, the older child’s
effort shows that he or she knows more about the appearance of English words,”
What does this
mean for parents hoping to raise very literate future learners? The key here is exposure. Read to them, show them the words, and
do so often. The more they see the written word, the stronger their foundation
will be for understanding the complex world of spelling in the future.
And there is probably already an app for that, but it will mean a lot more coming from you (research shows that, too).