IALFI is a network of research workers and practitioners, exploring, developing and applying the concept of reading and writing as language acquisition, in everyday interactions with children at home, in day care centres, kindergartens, elementary schools etc. We call our approach "Literacy from Infancy".
In "Literacy from Infancy" children are learning to read and write in natural and playful interactions with reading and writing partners, from the first year of life. They are learning in the same way as they are learning their spoken language.
games with things and words.
From c. 8 months children are able actively and intentionally to share experiences with a partner. Then they start to engage in games like peek-a-boo and pointing and naming. To give an example: the child will never get tired of pulling your nose, ear, hair and having you touch his own nose, ear, hair, saying "nose", "ear", "hair" in a friendly and joking tone of voice. The child will also enjoy having the words written down and shown to him, preferably on cards that he may handle himself, like toys.
whole words. Real life experience. Joyful
This is the starting point: meaningful words written down on cards, where what is said and what is written is tied to an experience and is part of a game. Like in the acquisition of spoken language games and rituals are designed, tied to real life experience, in joyous spontaneous acts of sharing.
Positive emotions. Child initiatives. No teaching. No ready-made material
The child's positive emotions are crucial: reading is done in a spirit of joyful interaction. Thus reading and writing should never be a duty. If the child does not want to join the game or wants to stop it, this should always be respected. Also the child's own initiatives are responded to. No teaching in the conventional meaning is done. No repetitions apart from the child's own joyful repetitions within the frame of the games. No rehearsals or tests are arranged.
No ready-made reading material is provided. Words are written down on cards, to save, or more casually on scraps of paper, later to be thrown away. All writing is done in the presence of the child and in collaboration with the child. The product of this writing is your "learning material", like utterances in your daily talk is the learning material of spoken language.
Soon the child will want to use pencil and paper, or to use the computer. To start with this will just be "scribbling", but little by little configurations of letters like conventional words will appear on the computer, and in the child's hand written "messages" shapes will appear, similar to letters. Here you must be generous with praise and also provide support if the child wants to.
of literacy parallel with development of spoken
Shared reading and writing will advance from separate words to phrases and small sentences as the child's linguistic abilities are developing. In this process environmental print will play an important part. The daily reading aloud of books to the child will also afford rich opportunities to identify words already known in the text and to discover and ask about new ones. Make sure the young reader can see both the text and the pictures!
The child will also want to take part in writing activities: using the computer, signing postcards, writing memo lists etc. (cf. below).
In this way, through discovery, practice and natural learning, together with literate partners in a literate society, the child will be inculturated into the written language. It will be a continuos process over many years, varying from child to child, where some children will be extremely early, while others will take their time before they are full-fledged readers and writers. This variation you always find also in the acquisition of spoken language without making much ado about that. In our literate societies, however, where reading and writing is taught academically in schools, from a certain age, everybody is expected to follow the curriculum, and very little variation is tolerated.
of infant reading
first started at home, with parents, often in middle class families. Later it has spread into day care centres, kindergartens etc. which are not bound by the official school system, where the rules prescribe academic teaching from an age varying in different countries between five and seven years. These day care centres have been in charge of people free from the traditional educational attitude towards children's reading and writing. Day care centres in Sweden have documented their practice since 1988, first with two-six year old children, later also with one-two year olds.
work in literacy from
Research data from children becoming literate in the way described here has revealed how they all by themselves begin to pay attention to the form of words: configurations of letters and separate letters. Simultaneously becoming aware of and paying attention to the sound structure of the corresponding spoken words, they eventually break the alphabetic code, i.e. find out how letters relate to sounds. This enables them to read words they have never seen before and to read texts that are new to them. The first study demonstrating the code breaking process - in a Swedish speaking girl - was published by Ragnhild Söderbergh in 1971: Reading in Early Childhood (Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell), later republished by Georgetown University Press (1977). Similar studies have later been carried through with children with other maternal tongues, such as English, Spanish, Serbo-Croatian, French and Finnish.
conventional understanding of the reading process turned
Thus our experience has turned around the conventional understanding of the reading process: the idea of first acquiring the sound sequences and then attaching them to written form. Instead the child who is confronted with the written language parallel with his acquisition of spoken language will analyse and process both modes simultaneously.
As Literacy from Infancy has been introduced at day care centres additional attention has been paid to the child's own writing in the process of becoming literate. Especially "older" children, from around four years of age, seem to take a great interest in producing text themselves. This has since long been paid attention to research workers within the "emergent literacy" tradition. Put within the context of Literacy from Infancy it may give us a better understanding of the role of writing in regard to reading within the total process of becoming literate. Data so far seem to indicate that children use different strategies here, some preferring to approach written language by means of reading, other by means of writing.
Deafness. Language handicaps.
Studies and practice show that Literacy from Infancy may promote bilingualism. It has also been successful with deaf children and children with developmental dysphasia and children with language handicaps caused by Down 's syndrome. Reading has here had a positive influence also on the children's spoken language development.
traditions of infant reading.
Much of the practice and research work from the 1960:ies and 1970:ies devoted to what we may call infant reading was originally triggered by Glenn Doman's book from 1964 "How to Teach your Baby to Read". But as practice and research advanced the proponents of the emerging Literacy from Infancy went away from the Doman approach, as most in his practice has very little to do with natural inculturation.
In Sweden, however, we have traced the tradition of infants learning to read in a playlike fashion as far back as the end of the 18th century. A clergyman - Israel Gustaf Wänman - in the year 1800 published a booklet intended for parents: "Christmas Gift by Cadmus - or the easiest way by which small children may learn to read". Inspired by the new child centred philosophy of Romanticism he recommended a "game of reading" to be played by parent and child, starting when the child had just begun to speak. In natural interaction with their youngsters parents should be using cards with whole words written on them. These should be words of special interest to the child. The "game of cards" should be done in a spirit of joy and playfulness. No duty or obligation should ever be put on the child. A close reading of Cadmus shows him to be very much in accordance with the literacy from infancy concept. Thus it has become common among teachers in Swedish day care centres to talk about the Literacy from Infancy approach as "The Cadmus Method".
If you want to know more about Literacy from Infancy, the publications below are recommended for your study.
All three contain bibliographies.
- Ragnhild Söderbergh, "Reading and writing as language acquisition from the first year of life".
In: Proceedings from the OBEMLA symposium, Washington DC, March 2000 -
- Rachel Cohen and Ragnhild Söderbergh, "Apprendre à lire avant de savoir parler",
Albin Michel Éducation. Paris, 1999 (In french only).
- Françoise Boulanger, "Le bonheur d'apprendre à lire" - Accompagner son enfant de 2 à 5 ans
Éditions NATHAN, Paris, agust 2002 (In french only)
- André Michaud. "The Neurolinguistic Foundations of Intelligence"
(On the need for early childhood mastery of reading skills) SRP Books (Québec) (2001)
(Paper presented at the XII International Symposium "Revision of Natural Sciences", Moscow, April 2001).
- Jeanine Cougnenc. "Un enseignement/apprentissage moderne de la lecture",
SRP Books (Québec), september 2002 (In french only)
To become a member of IALFI
Researchers and practitioners who work or want to work according to the Literacy from Infancy approach are invited to become members of IALFI. A yearly newsletter is circulated among our members. E-mail will in the future distribute the letter. Members and future members without an E-mail address are recommended to join friends and colleagues who are E-mailers.
WRITE TO the President of IALFI, who works as "the spider in the net".
Ragnhild Söderbergh, Brahegatan 28, SE-114 37 Stockholm,
, 9. 2021