Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler’s first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.
But new research from Washington University in St. Louis suggests that children as young as 3 already are beginning to recognize and follow important rules and patterns governing how letters in the English language fit together to make words.
The study, published this month in the journal Child Development, provides new evidence that children start to learn about some aspects of reading and writing at a very early age.
“Our results show that children begin to learn about the statistics of written language, for example about which letters often appear together and which letters appear together less often, before they learn how letters represent the sounds of a language,” said study co-author Rebecca Treiman, the Burke & Elizabeth High Baker Professor in Child Developmental Psychology in Arts & Sciences.
An important part of learning to read and spell is learning about how the letters in written words reflect the sounds in spoken words. Children often begin to show this knowledge around 5 or 6 years of age when they produce spellings such as BO or BLO for “blow.”
We tend to think that learning to spell doesn’t really begin until children start inventing spellings that reflect the sounds in spoken words — spellings like C or KI for “climb”. These early invented spellings may not represent all of the sounds in a word, but children are clearly listening to the word and trying to use letters to symbolize some of the words within it, Treiman said.