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Kids grasp words as symbols before learning to read

Many preschoolers accept synonyms for pictures but not for written labels, study finds

9:00am, January 6, 2016
child reading

WRITE STUFF  Between ages 3 and 5, kids who cannot yet read nonetheless start to recognize that printed words have specific meanings, a new study finds.

Preschoolers read a lot into writing before they know how to read.

Youngsters befuddled by printed squiggles on the pages of a storybook nonetheless understand that a written word, unlike a drawing, stands for a specific spoken word, say psychologist Rebecca Treiman of Washington University in St. Louis and her colleagues. Children as young as 3 can be tested for a budding understanding of writing’s symbolic meaning, the researchers conclude January 6 in Child Development.

“Our results show that young children have surprisingly advanced knowledge about the fundamental properties of writing,” Treiman says. “This knowledge isn’t explicitly taught to children but probably gained through early exposure to print from sources such as books and computers.”

Researchers and theorists have previously proposed that children who cannot yet read don’t

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