There are many language components required to read fluently and an awareness of print is one. Fluent readers incorporate print conventions into the way they read but we know from the research conducted by people such as Laura Justice, that explicit teaching with regard to print conventions enables children to have better literacy outcomes.
What does an awareness of print involve? In its most basic form it is teaching a child where to start reading a book, that a book has a cover, we turn the pages from front to back, we read from top to bottom and left to right across the pages of the story. You can point this out by scrolling your finger along the words as you read. Print awareness also involves talking about what a letter is, what a word is, and that words make up sentences.
When talking about words, you can encourage your children to put their fingers at the beginning and end of a word e.g. "Oh look, here is the word "school", can you put a fence around the word school?" "That is right, put one finger at the start of the word and another finger at the end, now you have a fence around the word school".
You can point out individual letters in words and show the similarities between words by commenting on whether they might have the same beginning, middle or end. For example "Look there is the word "Saturday" and her is "Sarah". "Sarah and Saturday both begin with a capital "S". "Look at these words: "walking" and "climbing". " These words tell us what the children are doing and they both have the same three letters at the end of the word which says" ing". You can also comment on the length of the words "Oh look this word giraffe has 7 letters, can you find a word that is even longer than 7 letters?" "Look here is one, hippopotamus, let's count the letters - this one has 12 letter so it is much longer."
Letters come in upper case and lower case so you can talk about the upper case letters marking the beginning of the story or someone's name and get your child to find a similar letter in the opposite case e.g. "Oh look here is a D for David, it is a capital or upper case "D", let's see if we can find a lower case "d". Oh look I can see one in "dinosaur".
Print awareness also involves pointing out grammatical markers such as question marks, exclamation marks and full stops. You can point these out to children by saying things like "Zebra asked where his friend monkey was taking him." "Do you think zebra knew where he was going?" [pause for child to respond] "I don't think he knew where he was going do you because he is asking a que..... and this mark at the end of the sentence tells us he is asking a question."
When working on print awareness try to find books that have different sorts of print in them. These could be writing in large bold font, italic writing, speech bubbles, signs, sound effects such as zzzzz for sleeping etc. Books like the Jolly Postman, The Cranky Bear, Strega Nona, What a Catastrophe, Alphabet books and Early Child Dictionaries are excellent for pointing out print. These books have speech bubbles, letters, posters and sound effects which children love. There are many other excellent examples you will be able to find at home or at the library.
Books have an author and an illustrator and pictures and text and the text can tell you something different to the picture in some books. The words can also give you an idea of what might be coming up next in the story. When children start to recognise words you could ask your child to point out particular words in a sentence and run their finger along the words as you read. You can also get them to find words starting with the same sounds and count the number of letters there are in a word or the number of words there are in a sentence.
We also use print to write out lists or label things so you cold encourage your child to label the toy boxes with labels such as cars, animals or even who belongs to the toys. When playing shops, you could label the items for sale in the shop together. You could get them to watch while you write our a shopping list or read a recipe together and ask your child where you are up to and talk about how you need to follow the recipe if dinner is going to taste the same way each time you make your favorite meals.
Pointing our print can be fun for both of you and spending some one on one time with your child is one of the greatest rewards of parenthood.