How to Build Literacy in Children and Adults

We all start somewhere on our road to literacy.

In all likelihood, you first began building literacy skills in early-childhood. Either at home, at a childcare facility, or both. At some point you were probably exposed to rudimentary reading.  

But what happens if a child misses out on these early exercises? Can literacy skills be gained after the early years of learning come to an end? Does teaching an adult to read differ greatly from teaching children? 

At Our Future Reads, we work to promote literacy for everyone. Whether they are toddlers or well into their twilight years, we want to help all people gain access to the magic of reading.

How Do Children Learn to Read?

Learning to read actually starts with learning to speak. Infants must first learn the basic building blocks of language. It primes the brain for later, when it will connect letters and words on a page.

Reading to children in an interactive way creates the necessary connections for independent reading later on. You can do this by showing them letters or sounding out words as they are pointed out. Like most skills in life, literacy is built with help from others. In toddler-hood and early childhood, that help most frequently comes from caring adults.

By making books and other reading materials a comfort early on, adults familiarize children with books. This comfort then leads to confidence in their abilities. They continue to learn as the skills become more complex and more challenging to acquire.

And, while some of us may take the ability to read as a given, many people are faced with a variety of challenges. These challenges make the journey to literacy an uphill battle. Some common road-blocks for people learning to read are lack of access to early reading materials due to circumstances, or being born with processing issues such as dyslexia. 

No matter where the problem lies, there are many people who struggle with illiteracy well into late childhood or adulthood. When that happens, these individuals feel lost, frustrated, or even hopeless when faced with the day-to-day demands of literacy.

However, even though the road to acquiring literacy skills changes a bit, the ability to read is not lost. Growing these skills in adulthood is somewhat different, and a bit more challenging, but far from impossible.

How Do Adults Learn to Read?

When adults begin building their literacy skills, it’s not completely different from those who learn in childhood. It all starts with association. Phonics is the first skill that adult-learners will master before they can learn to read. 

Just like a child learns to associate noises as language, phonics teaches a student how to associate letters as building blocks of larger words. Of course, teachers do not teach these skills in the same way as they would a child— but the basic process of visual association with auditory language is at play.

Adults are encouraged to set their own pace, and teachers focus on areas that need improvement. Sometimes a processing disorder is identified, and skills are built to accommodate for the disorder. Other times, a student will have a level of comfort with certain parts of written speech, and not others. Teachers focus on these struggles and create learning plans to build off of existing knowledge.

This is different from child-learners, who generally have no previous knowledge or skill-base to go off of. 

Of course, some adult-learners will also be starting from a clean slate of knowledge, and in that case, teachers will create their lessons accordingly. 

No matter what level of literacy a student is at, the most important thing for educators is to treat adult-learners with the respect due to a fellow adult. Not everyone has the same advantages of birth, biology or circumstance as everyone else. It is of paramount importance that we all keep that in mind when it comes to discussions about illiteracy.

How Can Our Future Reads Help?

We all read at different paces, different levels, and with different minds. Some of us enjoy reading graphic novels and comics. Others gain joy from reading Plato. Certain people journal to release pent up emotions. Others shudder at the thought of writing an email.

No matter what level or frequency you read at, we believe that every person should have access to reading materials.

When you donate to Our Future Reads, you are helping us on our mission to build personal libraries in Chicago, IL, and all surrounding areas. Donate books or monetary funds today to help us continue our mission to promote literacy for people of all ages.

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