Every day when you leave your house, you are surrounded by hundreds of words. As a reader, you don’t make the conscious connection that you are reading. When you see a tree, you think tree. When you see a stop sign though, you know you have to stop but don’t even think about the fact that you read the word “Stop.” A stop sign is a part of the environmental print that we see and read every day and it is often the first print young children are exposed to.
Environmental print is the print that we see as we go through our daily life that has become so ingrained in us that we don’t even notice it anymore nor realize that we are reading. It becomes so familiar to us that we know its meaning without reading the words. It’s the print that appears on street signs, labels, boxes and logos. The print we see on the street, in the store and on the goods that we buy. Sometimes, it is the first print that young children see and for young children learning to read, environmental print can help bridge the connection between letters and first efforts to read and therefore becomes an important influence that shouldn’t be taken for granted but used for its ready access.
In the early 2000’s, studies found that those children who interacted with adults using environmental print were better able to transfer the acquired word and reading skills to conventional reading. Though print is all around, an adult must draw attention to the letters and sounds in order for young children to recognize environmental print as words rather than just pictures. This is not about recognizing logos, nor teaching children to be consumers, but rather it’s about showing children that letters make up words and that words are all around us and are a part of our everyday life giving us information or just making us smile.
So what does this mean for a parent? With summer here and vacations and road trips underway, adults can take advantage of environmental print to help curb that all dreaded summer learning slide or give confidence to children who will begin attending school. Bring awareness to letters and words by pointing them out on cereal or waffle boxes during breakfast. Look throughout your house and point out that words and letters are on video cases, mail, food containers and even on appliances. Point out words that start with the same letter, end with the same letter or words that rhyme. Environmental print helps to show children how important reading is to life in making choices at the grocery store and restaurants, obeying traffic signs and finding your way using street signs. Environmental print can aid the beleaguered parent on a trip by creating a game of finding letters on billboards, license plates or hotel signs. Play a game of "I spy with my little eye..." while in the car pointing out letters, words, colors and shapes you see. This is a very popular game with my three-year-old. While she cannot read just yet, she is able to identify a stop sign and "read" it to me because she knows that it is red and an octagon. Look for new and creative opportunities to make reading a part of your child’s daily life instead of a chore or task they are required to master.
Consider reading some of these fun titles with your child to bring awareness to the print all around them.
Oh, How I Wished I Could Read! by John Gile
Being able to read is a vital life skill, as the protagonist of this story learns when he has a nightmare in which he cannot read! He can't read the sign that says "Wet Paint" on a bench, "No Crossing" at the side of the road, "Wet Cement" at the sidewalk nor "Poison Ivy." Not being able to read these signs leads to some unfortunate happenings and makes the boy all that more grateful to be able to read when he wakes up.
I Read Signs by Tana Hoban
This photographic book contains images of the signs typically seen throughout the city. Take a walk or drive to see how many of the signs from the book you can find around your town.
City Signs by Zoran Milich
Similar to Hoban's I Read Signs, this book is a collection of photographs of words that can be seen in the city, including words seen on vehicles like "taxi" and "ambulance," as well as a variety of street signs.
Signs in Our World by DK Publishing
One more collection of signs that can be seen around town, but with more detail and explanation of what the signs mean.
Collecting Words: Short Visual Stories by Brian Fouhy
Blending photography with storytelling, this book is a collection of short stories told through the different words to be found out and around town. Intended for adults, this title is best shared as a family.
The following activities can help extend the learning and bring even more awareness to the letters and words that surround us every day.
Words are all around us!
Happy reading and exploring!
We are mom Sandra and daughters Amanda and Kate, all with backgrounds in literacy and education, who want to share our philosophy of taking the basics of life; books, simple toys that encourage play, imagination and creativity, and using cooking and baking to teach math and real life skills to raise happy, inquisitive children. Join us in exploring the old and the new and sifting through the myriad of research to consider what is best for our children.