Reading is a complex set of processes through which meaning is derived from written texts. Through the reading process, a set of skills is developed that requires the learner to use both critical and creative thinking processes. Process skills such as encoding and decoding are used to combine related sources of information. A child who has been exposed to an extensive vocabulary learns from various resources and experiences to create meaning from both the spoken and the written word. The child's experience depends on his or her exposure to spoken and written language. The exposure allows the child to create meaning that is directly related to his or her experiences through the reading process.
Two different points of view exist; the perspective that emergent reader instruction begins at age 5 and not before and the more recent research which shows that children as young as 3 are able to comprehend and develop emergent reading skills. The findings by Neuman and Dickinson reflect school officials' and parents' views and represent the necessity of scientifically based instruction.
Marie Clay in 2007 introduced the term emergent literacy to describe the behaviors observed in young children when they use books and writing materials to imitate reading and writing activities, even though the children cannot read and write in the conventional sense. According to various researchers, children's literacy development begins long before children receive formal instruction in elementary school.
Emergent reader programs may involve a structured reading program in which children learn through prescribed lessons. These lessons examine the concept that children may need to begin a formalized reading program beginning at ages 3-5, especially in low-income areas, where exposure to the academic style of English is limited. Limited English exposure limits the grown child as an adult. Leaders may need to be aware of the necessity of the target age group being exposed to phonemic awareness including letters and letter sounds. These children can also be taught to write their names and many letters of the alphabet. At first, they do not understand what they are writing, but eventually are able to distinguish between letters and letter sounds if they are taught in a formal classroom setting.