Tonight we had gymnastics. It takes fifteen minutes to drive each way. So, for thirty minutes my kindergartner practiced her reading skills this evening. Here is a little of the conversation:
"Mom, what does e-f-a-c-c spell?"
"Efacc. But that's not a word you'd find in the dictionary."
"How about this one. s-m-i-l."
"Well, if you add a silent e to the end, it spells smile."
"Hey, I can spell smile!"
"I know what s-a-f-e-w-a-y spells. Safeway! That's our grocery store!"
"How did you know such a big word?"
"I know that it begins with ssssss and all of those other letters with it spell Safeway."
I could keep going with this, but I don't have thirty minutes to recount the entire conversation. The whole time we were in the car, my daughter was reading words, looking for letters, sounding out made-up words, and just having fun with language. I didn't push her into doing this. In fact, I could really have used a little quiet time in the car. But, playing with language and looking for environmental print is a natural thing for kindergartners to do. It's fun for kids and incredibly engaging.
Environmental print is just that, words all around us in our environment. It's everywhere. We find it on labels, signs, restaurants, food containers, logos, and advertisements. Kids this age are naturally drawn to this type of print. At first they just see the symbol. By age 2, both of my kids knew when we had arrived at Target and it wasn't because they were reading the letters and sounding out the word. The big red Target symbol is a dead giveaway. By age 5, they were interested in the word itself. We started talking about the sounds the letters made, or the blends that letters made when they were put together. Eventually they started to read the words.
Next time you're in the car (even if you were really wishing for a little quiet time) try playing around with environmental print and the words and letters you see all around. Your kids will love it, and they'll be learning at the same time.