Words Are Everywhere! 4 Reasons the Best Classrooms for Kids are “Print-Rich”

creative arts area

By Cheryl Flanders

Maybe you’ve walked into your child’s classroom and noticed that a lot of items—the sinks, the book shelf, the tub full of musical instruments—are labeled, with pictures and words. For adults, this may look a little, well, strange. After all, you can see with your own eyes where the blocks are, and you know a clock when you see one. So what’s with the labeling? Is there a reason that two-year-olds (who most certainly cannot yet read) need a sign that says “blocks” to be attached to a bin of blocks?

There is in fact a very good reason: Research shows that a print-rich classroom not only supports development of literacy skills, it also inspires a lifelong love of reading (even if kids aren’t reading yet). Here’s how labeling works to support reading in children’s still-developing brains:

At first, your child will learn to “read” the pictures and suss out what they mean (“This bin has a picture of a truck on it, so the toy trucks must go here.”) Gradually she’ll understand there’s a connection between the pictures and the written words. The next step? She’ll become aware that those letters under the picture represent both the object and the sounds we use to name the object—and so begins her journey down the road to literacy.  

Here’s what you might see labeled in your child’s classroom:

dramatic play area

1. Learning Areas. Most early childhood classrooms have spaces designated for certain activities and so there are usually labels at each one to help kids know where to go. You may see signs or picture labels on the blocks corner, the creative arts or dramatic play center, the science area, the library, or the math and manipulatives center. Checking out the signs also helps adults assess what an early learning center teaches and what it values educationally.

2. Classroom Objects. Everyday items—like doors, windows, clocks, or sinks—may all have neatly printed labels next to them, in English as well as another language spoken by a child in the class.

3. Cubbies. Your child’s personal space will have his name printed on it. This label is about more than just identification—it helps him learn to recognize his name in printed form (a pre-reading skill). Plus, he gets a great self-confidence boost seeing his name and knowing he has a place all to himself in the classroom!

kids' cubbies with their names

4. Storage Bins. Labeling storage containers empowers kids to make independent learning choices and also makes it easier for them to find and put away items themselves: Here’s the truck bin! Here’s the bin for puzzles! When kids can do things for themselves, they feel more in control of their environment, which encourages them to continue exploring the world around them.

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