Environmental print is a great starting point for teaching children to read. Environmental print refers to the print we see in our everyday life. We’re surrounded by words and phrases on street signs, food packaging, billboards, candy wrappers etc. For many emergent readers, these words and phrases become their first attempts to “read” something. As adults we don’t consider this to be “real reading.” However, environmental print is the first print most children can recognize. Store and restaurant signs, cereal boxes and the label on your jar of peanut butter all provide opportunities for emerging readers to interact with print and the written word in their own environment.
Parents can use environmental print to help their children make the connection between letters and reading. Children are naturally very observant. By the parents talking to their children about the different signs they see, the children are learning. For example, my two year old, Tyler, already knows that the big yellow “M” stands for McDonald’s. (I swear, we really don’t go there THAT often!) Whenever he sees the sign or logo though, he immediately starts pleading to go. He will also point to it and say “That says McDonald’s!” Tyler’s pleased with himself and we’re excited too because we know that what he’s learning is more than poor eating habits.
At this point, Tyler can also recognize a stop sign, the Price Chopper logo, Dunkin Donuts and Target. Eventually, he will learn that the letters he sees make the sounds in the words we hear when we “read” the signs.
Here are some ideas you can use at home to encourage your emergent reader:
- Label toy bins or baskets. You can also place labels on other items around the house that are of interest to your child. When children are very young, it can be helpful to put a picture near the word as well to help provide a context clue.
- Make a collage with your child of different words or logos cut from a newspaper or magazine.
- As you drive, point out the different signs you see and ask your child if they know what it says. Or pick one particular sign (i.e.: a stop sign) and have your child count how many they can find in your travels.
- Have your child look for different letters on a cereal box and when they find them talk about what sounds the letter makes.
- Make an environmental print book for your child to “read” by themselves. Choose words or phrases that are familiar to or relevant to your child. You can cut these out from product packaging, magazines, find them on the internet or take your own photos.
- You can make simple puzzles from cereal boxes or other product packaging.
- Cut out or print several pictures of environmental print. Have your child sort the different pictures by category (i.e. candy, toys, stores, food)
Your child can have lots of fun learning to read, even when books are not available to them. As parents, we can take advantage of our children’s natural interest to learn more about letters, sounds and words by using the print they see all around them.