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Avery Begins Her Journey

by Maryann Whitfield

A Road on a Child’s Journey to Becoming Literate

Our child’s journey to becoming literate begins with learning to talk.  As parents we play a leading role in their learning.  And, to a great extent we take on this role quite naturally.  Our young child, immersed in a sea of talk, receives demonstrations of the power of language.  We talk to them, sing to them, read to them, and talk to others in their presence.  Our infant’s mind sets to work making sense of the sounds they hear while also figuring out how to replicate those sounds. 

We see signs of their engagement in this world of talk as we notice them observing and listening.  Evidence of what they are learning soon emerges in their earliest utterances.  These little attempts to talk captivate us and spur us on.  But, we don’t start giving a series of lessons.  Rather we talk to them and interact with them in ways that encourage them to make more approximations.  We realize these early versions of words are not permanent.  Our child is learning!  We intuitively know these less-than-perfect utterances will soon turn into recognizable words and sentences. 

In this story about Avery, we catch a delightful glimpse of a child learning to talk.  We can see how her approximation is part of her journey in learning to talk.  

Avery Begins Her Journey

🎶a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p…🎶

While cradling my infant granddaughter in my arms I sang the ABC Song to her as if it were a lullaby.  And then, oh so quickly, she began to grow.  She interacted with the people in her life making the sweetest babbling sounds.  Her attempts at talking told us she wanted to participate in the world of language that surrounded her. 

Because of Avery’s responses to my ABC Song I found myself singing a livelier version of the song.  She sang right along with her own babbling version.  It was quite obvious Avery loved our little sing-along.

With surprising speed, little words began to emerge among the sounds she was attempting.  Dadda and soon Momma were repeated over and over to everyone’s delight.  And more little words were soon added.

On many days Avery sat on my lap while we shared books together.  One of her favorites was a little cardboard book with pictures of animals.  I’d say the animal name.  She’d listen and smile.  On the page with an elephant Avery would pat the picture and an extra big smile would spread across her face.  One day after I said elephant she responded, “l m n o p.”

I was totally surprised and confused.  But then, I began to understand.  This must be her attempt to say the long word elephant.  At the time she was saying words with just one or two syllables.

Elephant had three syllables.  Little Avery was taking a big leap into saying longer words!  Not only that, this was probably her way of using the l m n o p part of the ABC Song she loved.  She had surely been trying to make sense of the song all this time.  In this moment it became clear to me she understood words weren’t just a string of sounds.  Words had meaning.  The l m n o p were her way of saying elephant. 

We loved hearing our little girl say her enthusiastic version of elephant.  But eventually, almost like magic, Avery did begin to say elephant quite clearly along with so many other words.  Words that then became little sentences.  And then longer sentences.  Avery was well on her way to being able to communicate anything she wanted.  A fascinating journey unfolded that led not only to her learning to talk but also learning to read and write.  The journey of becoming literate.

Literacy Library Bulletin Link

Tim O’Keefe – Immersion into Language: Speaking and Writing

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