Creating a literacy-rich environment provides children with opportunities to explore and use literacy through their daily routines and play.
The literacy-rich environment is organised so that spaces and the experiences that take place within them promote children’s engagement in literacy experiences. Educators should consider environmental print, furniture placement, and the setting up of literacy-rich socio-dramatic play areas, as well as reading and writing areas.
The benefits of a literacy-rich environment
A literacy-rich environment provides opportunities for engaging in emergent literacy behaviours in a meaningful and authentic way. The set-up of the environment allows educators to facilitate development of key oral language and emergent literacy skills.
As children learn and develop, access to print-rich environments, and contact with adults who model and respond to children’s oral and written messages, continue to strengthen the progression of learning. - VEYLDF (2016)
A literacy-rich environment demonstrates how literacy is useful in everyday life by allowing children to interact with print/texts independently and with educators. This helps to consolidate children’s understanding of the functionality of literacy, and thus how it is useful in everyday life.
Functional and authentic contexts
Functionality and authenticity are important characteristics of a literacy-rich environment.
Educators can create an environment that is both functional and authentic by understanding children’s interests and everyday routines, and embedding the components of a literacy-rich environment within these (VEYLDF Practice Principle: Assessment for Learning and Development).
When planning a literacy-rich environment, educators should consider the following key questions (Fellowes and Oakley, 2014):
- do the materials and tools provided contain print?
- do they provide opportunities to interact with and produce print?
- does the environment facilitate social interactions, as well as emergent writing and reading?
A literacy-rich environment should also take into account the cultural and linguistic diversity in the group (VEYLDF Practice Principle: Equity and Diversity).
This could be supported through:
- texts in different languages
- opportunities for children to speak their home language
- environmental print in a variety of relevant community languages.
The set-up of the environment itself is important however the use of instructional support to develop children’s literacy knowledge is essential (VEYLDF Practice Principle: Integrated Teaching and Learning Approaches). When setting up the environment, some important components to consider include:
- furniture placement and experiences that support small group experiences, allowing children to converse and collaborate
- socio-dramatic play areas where children are encouraged to take on different roles within the experience (See
sociodramatic play - emergent literacy)
- inviting reading areas where children can enjoy books independently or with others, both indoors and outdoors
- the presence of books within other experiences to be used as a reference material
- environmental print that is functional, authentic and informative
- providing opportunities to model book reading to individuals, small groups and large groups
- experiences that support book reading, including seeking information or opportunities to listen to stories and follow along
- experiences that support writing and drawing through dramatic play, science technology, engineering, arts and technology (STEAM) experiences and the provision of interesting materials and implements.
Once a literacy-rich environment has been planned and established, it is essential that educators engage in modelling, scaffolding, and extending of literacy concepts during interactions with children.
This can be achieved by:
- drawing children’s attention to the functionality of print
- e.g. when children are looking for items or putting them away, draw their attention to signs and labels they can use to assist them.
- encouraging children to interact with texts and environmental print
- e.g. supporting them to add to the daily calendar or select a book for the educator to read to the group.
Theory to practice
Environmental print plays a particularly important role in stimulating children’s emergent reading and writing skills (Morrow, 2005). It provides authentic opportunities to develop children’s understanding of symbols and that these symbols contain a message (Neumann, Hood, Ford and Neumann, 2012).
Environmental print can also be used as a tool for educators to scaffold children’s emergent skills by drawing their attention to it in their environment and using it for functional purposes (for example, labels on their bag hook).
A literacy-rich environment provides children with opportunities to use elements of literacy in functional ways. The provision of libraries or reading areas support children to enjoy reading independently, or with others. Neumann and Bredekamp (2000) suggested that a separate reading area can "complement and extend children’s learning from books” (p. 28).
It is also important that these areas are inviting so that children are drawn to the area, this may be achieved through the inclusion of cosy surroundings, regularly adding new books and providing a wide range of choice of literature (Hill, 2009; Neumann and Bredekamp, 2000).
Print knowledge, combined with early writing skills have been shown as predictors of later literacy achievement (Lonigan & Shanahan, 2009). In a review of environmental print literature, Neumann et al (2012) concluded that while it plays an important part in children’s emergent literacy, it is the interactions with others that are essential for literacy to develop.
The use of environmental print to scaffold children’s learning is effective in developing children’s literacy (Neumann et al, 2012).
Gerde, Bingham and Pendergast (2015) showed correlation between the level of print in the classroom and children’s writing ability. In the study involving two to six children from 68 classrooms (265 children in total) the need was highlighted for teachers to not only create a print-rich environment but to ensure that it is functional by encouraging children to use the print as a reference in their play and daily routines.
This was supported by Guo, Justice, Kaderavek and McGinty’s (2012) study of 30 preschool teachers and children, which also highlighted that while a literacy-rich environment has been well established in research literature, they found that it was the dynamic interactions between teachers and children that had the greatest effects on literacy learning (VEYLDF Practice Principle: Respectful Relationships and Responsive Engagement).
Links to VEYLDF
Outcome 5: communication
Children interact verbally and non-verbally with others for a range of purposes:
- engage in enjoyable reciprocal interactions using verbal and non-verbal language
- use language and representations from play, music and art to share and project meaning
- contribute their ideas and experiences in play and small and large group discussion.
Children engage with a range of texts and get meaning from these texts:
- take on roles of literacy and numeracy users in their play.
Children express ideas and make meaning using a range of media:
- use language and engage in symbolic play to imagine and create roles, scripts and ideas
- use the creative arts, such as drawing, painting, sculpture, drama, dance, movement, music and story-telling, to express ideas and make meaning.
Children begin to understand how symbols and patterns work:
- develop an understanding that symbols are a powerful means of communication and that ideas, thoughts and concepts can be represented through them.
Experiences plans and videos
For ages: early communicators (birth - 18 months)
For ages: early language users (12 - 36 months)
For ages: language and emergent literacy learners (30 - 60 months)
Links to learning foci and teaching practices:
Clay, M. (2005). An observation survey of early literacy achievement. New Zealand: Pearson Education.
Fellowes, J. & Oakley, G. (2014). Language, Literacy and Early Childhood Education, Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
Gerde, H.K., Bingham, G.E., & Pendergast, M. (2015). Reliability and validity of the Writing Resources and Interactions in Teaching Environments (WRITE) for preschool classrooms. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 31(2), 34–46. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2014.12.008
Gerde, H. K., Goetsch, M. E., & Bingham, G. E. (2016). Using print in the environment to promote early writing, The Reading Teacher, 70(3), 283-293.
Guo, Y., Justice, L. M., Kaderavek, J. N., & McGinty, A. (2012). The literacy environment of preschool classrooms: Contributions to children’s emergent literacy growth, Journal of Research in Reading, 35(3), 308-327.
Hill, S. (2009). Developing early literacy: Assessment and teaching, Melbourne: Eleanor Curtain Publishing.
Massey, S. L. (2013). From the reading rug to the play centre: Enhancing vocabulary and comprehensive language skills by connecting storybook reading and guided play. Early Childhood Education Journal, 41, 125-131.
Morrow, L.M. (2005). Literacy development in the early years: Helping children read and write (5th ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Neuman, S. B., & Bredekamp, S. (2000). ‘Becoming a reader: A developmentally appropriate approach’ In D. S. Strickland (Ed.) Beginning reading and writing, New York: Columbia University (pp. 22-34).Neumann, M., Hood, M., Ford, R., & Neumann, D. (2012). The Role of Environmental Print in Emergent Literacy, Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 12(3), 231-258.
Victorian State Government Department of Education and Training (2016), Victorian early years learning and development framework (VEYLDF) (pdf - 1.14mb), Retrieved 3 March 2018.
Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (2016) Illustrative Maps from the VEYLDF to the Victorian Curriculum F–10 Retrieved 3 March 2018.