In education, when a child begins to connect squiggles on a page with sounds, it is termed print awareness. Print awareness is a very important part of early childhood education, and it usually arises naturally, as the child follows adult models. Both parents and teachers work with children to increase print awareness, laying the groundwork for learning how to read. If a child lacks print awareness by the first grade, he or she may struggle to catch up in school. Print awareness should not be confused with the ability to read; it is the ability to understand what text is.
Most adults read things without really thinking about them. For example, you are reading this article from left to right and top to bottom because you understand that this is how English text is read. You are also able to differentiate advertisements on the page from the article itself, the related links at the bottom, and the navigation at the top. You are able to do this because of your print awareness. You understand that text translates into sounds, you know how text should be read, and you understand context.
Children, on the other hand, do not understand this by default. They have to learn the order in which a book needs to be read, and that different text in different contexts means different things. As children discover the rules which govern the use of text, it is termed print awareness. Parents are encouraged to read to their children and engage them in interactive activities which will stimulate print awareness, while teachers do the same in the classroom.
A big part of print awareness, after learning about the order in which print should be read, is understanding context. An adult knows the difference between a newspaper, a magazine, a fiction book, and a chapbook of poetry. A child, on the other hand, might not. Children are beginning to demonstrate that they have print awareness when they understand, for example, that a book generally must be read in order, while individual articles in a newspaper stand alone.
Parents can help their children to develop print awareness by frequently reading to them, and exposing the children to a wide variety of printed materials. Parents should explain book covers, title pages, and concepts like a table of contents and an index. Parents can also ask children to point out the words on a page, helping children to learn to distinguish between pictures, text, and ornaments. The nature of print is extremely complex, although it seems like second nature to adult readers. Developing print awareness at a young age will make a child a stronger reader, giving him or her a better chance at success.