Storytime with Jessica – Print Awareness

What is print awareness?

Print awareness is one of the six early literacy skills…and to start with it’s all about how print works (and by extension how books work). In English, text is read left to right. In tategaki, text is written in columns from top to bottom and right to left.

Children need to know this, along with how to hold a book, how to open a book, and where to start. We learn this through experience with books – watching people read, being read to, and ‘play’ reading. The more exposure children have to books the better their print awareness will become. But print isn’t only in books so we need exposure to text in as many different ways as possible – the alphabet on the wall, time taken to look at signs, notes we write, everywhere children see text they are building their understanding of print awareness.

Text tells us so much more that this though and that is what I’m going to talk about in this post. The way text is written tells us so much about meaning. And by following the directions given to us by the text it makes for a more fluent, enjoyable reading experience.

Books, Books, Books, Oh My…

Cover Image for Dinosaurs Don't Have Bedtimes!

Dinosaurs Don’t Have Bedtimes! by Timothy Knapman with illustrats by Nikki Dyson

This book is told in two voices…the mother and the child (Mo). Each character has a different font styles used. It also alters text size and the boldness of the font to convey meaning. There is a third font used for our dinosaur pages and all of the onomatopoeia associated with them – growl, crunch, stomp, etc. The use of different fonts helps children identify the different voices in the book. It’s a very visual distinction that allows them to recognise the difference even when they can’t read the words independently.

The book is also told primarily though speech allowing children to familiarise themselves with the punctuation associated with oral language when written.

And of course, it is a lovely story about bedtimes between parents and children and the love shared in those moments even when they may be frustrating.

Fairy Tale Pets by Tracey Corderoy with illustrations by Jorge Martín

A cute book about a boy and his dog looking after the animals of different fairy tale characters.

Part of our understanding of print is tied to the different ways we can use fonts and text size to impart meaning. In this book we have several different texts used to do a range of things. We have the bolder, larger font used to denote speech. We have all caps in another font to show what is written on a poster created by our main characters, there is writing used to show sounds (onomatopoeia) such as ding dong that is not laid out on the horizontal axis (for example, it might be diagonal or zig zag, or be really big and wavy). Even when it comes to the main text that is used for everything else there are places where size it used to tell the reader to put extra emphasis.

We use this information to tell us how to read the book. If something like

CRASH!

is written in big, bold text as above we should read it with a big, bold voice. This is something we do as adults when reading aloud to children but by the time we are adults we have internalised a lot of this information. For instance, if you are reading with a child and it talks about a characters whispering to another we are more likely to change our voice to reflect that, just like we are more likely to get loud when saying crash. For children, the added cues that print gives us about the way we read each word in a text is one of the first steps to being able to do it without cues as an adult. As children most of our cognitive load is tied to understanding meaning, learning words, deciphering word meaning, and then we can add the other stuff that makes us fluent readers later (our pacing, emphasis, and rhythm). Hearing the way adults use these text cues is very important for ‘later’ – children’s brains are storing it just waiting for more information and children to be ready.

Cover Image for Fairy Tale Pets
Cover Image for You're Safe With Me

You’re Safe With Me by Chitra Soudar & Poonam Mistry

This book is about a group of baby animals scared of a storm but reassured by Mama Elephant that they are safe with her. The illustrations in this book are utterly beautiful. If for nothing else, the book is worth borrowing from the library to look at them.

One of the things we need to learn about print is how it is organised. In English, the standard way of organising text is left to right and top to bottom. Within text, we have to train our eyes to track, going from one word to the next, at the end of a line we need to go back to the start of the next line. This isn’t an easy skill to learn (and is one of the skills that is hampered by excessive screen time as we don’t have to switch focus when watching a screen; everything is happening at one distance from our eyes). The first way we learn to track is by following movement, our eyes following birds outside and the spoon coming towards our face. Then as we get older and our command over the motor-function of our eyes improves, we can track much smaller things and track words on a page. We help our eyes in this endeavour by following the words on the page with our finger when we are very young, or not so young.

But, it is not enough to just know how text should work, we also have to practise following text. Books like this one help us do this by asking us to follow the text in different ways. Text following around the curve of a leaf, text tucked in different places between leaves caught in the wind, text grouped traditionally in the middle of a page, text bouncing around the page like lightning. Each of these instances asks the reader to locate the text (differentiating between text and background/pictures is the first print awareness skill we need to develop) and then follow it. We are given clues to assist us. We are never reading backwards (the word is always going left to right) but if the next word might be to the right because it is caught in a lightning strike it is below the first, then the next is below again. This reinforces the idea of text working top to bottom. Then if the text is moving around the page and curling up and down the text is written one word next to another. This then reinforces the concept of words following along with a gap. Picture books use text is a variety of fun and different ways and through experiencing it and playing with text we are developing our print awareness.

Pig the STAR by Aaron Blabey

For those unfamiliar with Pig…he’s a pug. A rather naughty pug whodisplays all of those characteristics that children, and adults, do  as he learns lessons, manners, and the way to control the little Pig the Pug in all of us. I have reviewed a previous book in this series and I really do love all of these books.

In this book, the print awareness isn’t about the text, or the style…it’s all about the size!

This book is great for showing kids how to use emphasis. When Pig is obviously getting obnoxious – there are capitals…when he’s getting worse the size of the text gets bigger, and bigger. We know when to shout because the words are really big. Again, this is very visual – it’s not a secret, the information isn’t tied to our ability to read it’s accessible to everyone who can judge size.

(Who knew print awareness would also involve mathematics skills like judging size?)

 

Cover Image for Pig the STAR
Cover Image for I Don't Want Curly Hair

I Don’t Want Curly Hair by Laura Ellen Anderson

I’m going to finish off this post with the book that made me start writing this post…and a confession – I really wanted curly hair as a kid (mine was dead straight). This book is all about wanting what we don’t have, learning to love what we do, and realising that others love what we would change.

The text placement, fonts, and sizes in this book ties so completely into the pictures and the story that I remember reading it and thinking this would be a great book to include in a book about how the way text choices impact on our understanding of meaning in picture books. Curls is writting in a curling font. Capitals are used for emphasis. Letters are added to onomatopoeia to help us recognise them as sounds we should be making not words we should be saying. When we come to the girl who has straight hair the font is straighter. It gives us so many opportunities to talk about the print of a book in a delightful and fun away.

Activity

This week we don’t have any one craft…I have a mission, should you choose to accept it.

Fill your house with print.

Do a craft where children create their name with collage materials while you do the same – they will see your name and be learning about the different names we have. Mum is also Susan.

Create craft around the letters of the alphabet.

Get kids to create a picture and then write on it when they tell you is in the picture. They will see the power of what they say and the way we can turn that into print.

Create a hot dog book together.

Search for print awareness on Pinterest and see what looks good.

And…read lots of books, talk about the text when you read them again. I’m a big fan of a first read being just about enjoying the story but if it’s a book you enjoy with subsequent readings you can talk about the pictures, and the text, the meaning, the characters, and so much more.