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This work provides an overview into literacy as a socially situated practice, rather than one that only takes place in school. It begins by explaining what literacy is. It then continues to show how important early childhood literacy is, as it lays a strong foundation to literacy in other stages of life. Following this, important aspects of early childhood literacy are looked into, and a connection made between school-related literacy practices and out-of-school ones. The research methodology used is observation. Kid’s (Mandy, who is turning four) birthday party is the literacy event that is considered for the purpose of this study. This event takes place during the day, and the research team has approval from Mandy’s parents to attend the party. The children invited are about Mandy’s age. Crucial observations on interactions among participants, literacy practices, and language use are made and noted down. Observational data is then examined to result in an in-depth analysis of literacy as a socially situated practice, through which students create and interpret meanings. The results here also show that language shapes understanding across diverse settings for example everyday family practices and institutions. The conclusions drawn from here are in support of the fact that literacy does not only develop in a school set-up, but also in other environments that a child gets exposed.


Traditionally, literacy is the capability to read and write; but there is so much more to it than just that. It is the capacity to read and write, and through this communicate and create the meaning of concepts. It is also a social practice, a platform through which people participate in the meaning-making process of communities. It is a gradual process that states early in life.

Literacy on all stages is enhanced by literacy events and literacy practices. A literacy event is an occurrence where an individual interacts with written text with an inclusion of an oral component. Literacy practices, on the other hand, refer to ways in which people use literacy in their everyday lives, to construct knowledge, values and beliefs within particular contexts.

As a socially-situated practice, literacy affects people’s way of doing things. It influences their values, attitudes, feelings and social relationships it is something that is internal to individuals, but at the same time, a social process that connects people.

Previous studies show that a child’s family and education settings are paramount in ensuring that the child develops the necessary early literacy skills needed to acquire literacy in advanced stages.

This study considers literacy practices that are observed at Mandy’s birthday party and shows examples of out-of-school activities that help build children’s literacy. The following are key episodes (from observations made at Mandy’s birthday party) that will be used for descriptive analysis; reading, baking, singing and a game of shape and color distinctions.

Among the activities that take place at the birthday party, is storytelling through reading, done by an adult. When the reader announces that it is story-telling time, the children can barely hide their excitement. They run to the designated venue for this activity. To capture their attention, the narrator ( a reader in this case) asks, “Who wants to hear the best story of their life?” a question to which the kids respond by the show of hands, and screams of, “me!” He picks a story from a large book in his hands, and starts to read out loud, keeping his voice interesting and in line with the characters in the story. As he reads, he invites the children to participate by joining in a repetitive refrain in the book or imitate a particular character in the story. He also occasionally shows them some pictures in the book. Asking questions on what character in the story they would like to play is also something he does once in a while. Together, they recreate the story, and they build the key events in the story as a pictorial representation, to complement the text reading. Indeed, as the session ends, one of the kids asks the narrator, “is that K for Kelly?” pointing at a large letter ‘K’ on the book’s cover. The reader affirms and asks the children to clap for that child.

The focus on narrative structure gives children a chance to become familiar with the global organization of ideas, to support their understanding and memory of the gist of a text (Kintsch, 1995).

All the engagements above help the children in the meaning-making process. The repetitive refrain enhances memory and gives the kids an idea of how stories are told. Pictures help the children to make connections between words spoken on the respective page and the image itself. Asking questions on what character they would like to play encourages them to connect texts to reality, leading to adequate comprehension and memory. The question asked at the end of the reading session about letter ‘K’ indicates letter sound knowledge and competence with the written language system.

The children take part in baking Mandy’s birthday cake, which is done using a recipe that illustrates text through pictures. For instance, if three eggs are required, a picture of three eggs is shown on the relevant page of the recipe book. Melisa, Mandy’s aunt, guides the children through the process. She initially asks them to identify some of the ingredients in the recipe book and match them with the ones on the kitchen table.

Using picture and print cues children are introduced to print concepts and code breaking strategies as they jointly reconstruct the text (Luke & Free Body, 1997). This whole procedure shows that meaning can be conveyed through print; written words, symbols, signs, and pictures. It also creates a link/connection between written text and an assorted action. This activity is a perfect example of literacy integration; image and text, which blends the cultural and operational dimensions of literacy. This activity helps the children apply learning in a recognizable context and over time, this opportunity will help their literacy become more sophisticated and appropriate.


This game requires the children to identify the different colors of the balloons used for décor in Mandy’s party. In an attempt to do so, a child exclaims, “this green ball is dark like a Christmas tree!” “…and this other balloon is green like an apple,” says another. The kids then engage in matching similar colors, creating color patterns and later creating a sequence of hues from light to dark. They also sort out round, square, flat and rectangular cookies.

This game, simple as it sounds, has very efficient results. It encompasses a range of things; talking, listening, thinking, playing, observing and creating.Distinguishing color and shape are notable attributes of the world around children. It is a way through which children find and categorize what they see and organize the diversity around them. It is also a tool for learning reading and writing since the skills they use to discern similarities and differences between colors and shapes are the same ones they require to recognize disparities between letters and numbers.

The use of descriptive language (the use of sentences like “…dark like a Christmas tree”) and their distinction between different shades of green portrays advanced literacy skills. The concept of tone identification provides the children with a primary process that they use in observing, comparing and discussing all that he/she encounters in reading or writing.

The party climaxes with a music session. The children sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Mandy. The smiles on their faces are reflective of the excitement they are experiencing. Although they mumble most of the words, they make it to the end of the song. The words ‘Happy Birthday’ are apparent throughout the song, due to the many times that they are repeated (repetition aspect of a song). They cheer, clearly proud of themselves. Music is then played, with favorite Children songs making the playlist.

Music and basic dance are a way through which enhances literacy. It helps identify rhyme, rhythm, memory and build creativity. Singing increases mastery of sound, in addition to listening and speaking skills. It also helps children to express themselves; head movements and little attempts at dancing are an indication that they are aware of the played music, and that they are appreciative of it. A distinction between happy moments and sad moments is implied. Indeed, this clearly shows that the children comprehend emotions and that they can relate the culture of smiling to happy moments. Through these interactions, these kids portray an advanced level of literacy.


The link between language and literacy is quite strong. Also, the mastery of the sound system, grammar and an acquisition of vocabulary (of various words) define language. Language skills in children are imperative in their interpersonal and academic success, even in later stages.

Early vocabulary development is an important predictor of success of reading comprehension. Oral language in children provides them with a sense of words, sentences and sound system. Through their speech, they demonstrate their understanding of words and written materials. Exposure to more vocabulary correlates positively to reading achievement, and hence, literacy in children. Language and literacy develop concurrently; what children learn from listening and talking (language) contributes to their ability to read and write.


It is true that children’s (and any other students’) experiences with the world influence their ability to comprehend what they learn in school. From the earliest years, everything that people around a child do to support knowledge and literacy is vital. Reading with their parents at home, for instance, provides exposure to children with books and print, which influences their ability to comprehend written text.

Everyday activities such as going to the local stores, story reading before bed or treats like visits to the zoo provide incredible opportunities for literacy growth. Practice activities on sounds could include; audio identification such as birds chirping, cars honking, running water from a tap and much more. Asking them to try and make these sounds enhances their ability on the distinction, and boosts their literacy.

Singing with children at home can teach children about sound and how it forms language. Teaching songs to children help them acquire listening and speaking skills. Reading with the kids helps them to develop their vocabulary, understand the purpose of print and comprehend what they read. It also creates a positive attitude towards learning, and children are better placed to link stories with real world experiences.

Parents can engage in activities such as; encouraging their kids to write their name on paper, using play dough to make numbers or letters and asking them to draw various shapes. They can even join them in these activities to make more fun. Drawing and writing help children develop the fine motor skills they need for writing with pen and pencils later. Indeed, parents can keep this interesting by including markers and crayons. Besides, this helps them remember letters and shapes. Still, it gives them a chance to be creative in an attempt to combine different colors, draw various shapes and scribble as many letters as they can.

Taking part in child literacy practices not only helps children, but it also helps parents to know if their kids have the age-appropriate learning and thinking skills. A child who is four can understand number and space concepts, take statements and questions at face value, think logically, follow simple commands and grasp concepts of past, present, and future. Having knowledge of what learning and thinking skills a child should have at a particular age can help parents to reinforce these skills by providing sufficient opportunities to practice. Blending these teachable moments into everyday activities is an effective way of ensuring that literacy does not stop at school.

Numerous other examples exist on how society provides an environment for improving literacy among students. Literacy can, therefore, be viewed as a socially situated practice and not a task that only takes place in a school setting.


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