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American Annals of the Deaf

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Literacy and Your Deaf Child: What Every Parent Should Know

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Even toddlers who can barely hold a crayon thoroughly enjoy “writing” all over a sheet of paper, or, if paper is not provided, all across a newly painted wall. Parents should encourage this love of drawing and prevent artistic efforts from appearing on unwanted areas by providing the child with a box of writing materials, including large crayons or washable markers and large sheets of paper. Children will begin to write first by scribbling and then proceed to drawing increasingly accurate representations of letters and words.

A bulletin board, the refrigerator door, or some other prominent location can be used to show the results of his efforts. Displaying his work and talking about it with the child gives him the best reward of all—your interest, encouragement, and enthusiasm. See box titled “In and Out of the Garbage Pail,” for a story of a young child who used his imagination to create his own link to writing.

In and Out of the Garbage Pail

Michael hadn’t yet turned two years old when he discovered the greatest treasure in his early childhood—the burnable garbage pail. He lived in the country, and his parents had two garbage pails in the kitchen. One was for garbage, as we normally know it to be in most households. The second was an open pail into which paper products were tossed to be burned in an incinerator outside of the house. The pail was positioned in the busiest path in the house; you had to pass it to get to the kitchen, dining room, hallway, family room, den, mudroom, and bathroom. Michael discovered at a very early age that the things that were tossed into the pail were of different shapes, sizes, colors, and textures from what was thrown into the other garbage pail. And with a pair of scissors, crayons, and glue stick, they could be shaped into many more shapes and sizes. When he was a preschooler going to school for just a half-day, he would literally spend hours making things from what he had found in the burnable garbage pail. In time, he began to write on the things he made, and this was his first experience with writing. At first, the writing was gibberish, but it eventually progressed from misspelled, but understandable, words to real words (“I love mom. XX00XX Michael”). Michael gave his paper crafts to his parents and siblings as presents or feel-good messages. Even when he was in the first grade, he would come home from school and go directly to the pail to see if there was anything from which something interesting could be made. With his imagination, there always was. His parents encouraged his writing activity by always showing how much they enjoyed watching him make things from the garbage pail and reading with relish everything that he wrote. Michael is now ten years old, and from time to time, he keeps a daily journal.

At kindergarten age, your child might draw a picture and “write” a string of five or so squiggles under it with perhaps a letter or a number thrown in, but he will know exactly what his writing says and with very little prompting will “read” it back. He has yet to learn how to hold a pencil, the correct posture for writing, and the direction that writing must take, which in English is from left to right and top to bottom. But nothing seems to contain his desire to draw and copy letters and then words.

Some children at age four or five may lack the fine motor skills required to form anything but scribbles and drawings. This is why encouragement by parents will go a long way to helping him through this stage of development. These days, the computer keyboard and some excellent software can provide youngsters with an enjoyable way to begin learning the mechanics of writing and to pick up other motor skills as well. We do want to emphasize, however, that parents do not need to be overtly concerned about the mechanics of writing. Schools, after all, tend to devote a considerable amount of the curriculum to writing activities.


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