Why is early literacy important?
A child who enters kindergarten with a strong vocabulary, a love of books, and a familiarity with playing with words, has a definite advantage. You can help those skills develop.
Experts agree that talking, singing, reading, writing and playing with your young child will prepare them for learning how to read, and will teach them the six skills needed to read.
1. Talk to Your Child
The more you talk and read to your child, the more vocabulary they will learn, which is one of the six skills needed to learn to read.
What can you do?
- Talk, talk, talk with your young child, right from birth.
- Don’t be afraid to use unfamiliar words, but do be willing to explain what they mean.
- Make sure that you encourage your child to talk, and remember to listen.
- When your child makes a mistake (“I goed to the park.”), correct the mistake with the appropriate words, such as, “Yes, you went to the park. And what did you do?”
- Choose books with unusual words because children hear three times more “rare” words in books than they will hear in conversation.
2. Read with Your Child
Research has proven over and over that the single most important activity a parent can do with a child is read aloud.
Snuggling with your child while reading a story helps brain development and bonding, and results in print motivation, the enjoyment of books. Reading aloud also helps your child with print awareness, the early literacy skill that means understanding how a book works, and that print is what we read.
What can you do?
- Read about things that fascinate your child, such as trucks or fairies or worms. This helps them increase their knowledge, as well as teach them that answers can be found in books.
- Attend story time at the library, where you’ll be introduced to the best books.
- Give books as gifts on special days.
- Read aloud for a total of at least 20 minutes every day, right from birth.
- Be sure your child sees you read what you like, too.
- Make sure books are in easy reach for your child.
- Use books to teach the alphabet, which is letter knowledge, another early literacy skill. Choose a letter of the day, such as B, and read about bears and bees. Read about bubbles while your child is in the bath, and a bedtime story at the end of the day.
3. Rhyme and Sing with Your Child
Rhyming helps children learn how to take words apart, and change their beginnings or endings to make new words. That’s part of phonological awareness, another skill needed to learn to read.
What can you do?
- When you’re on a walk, choose a word and think of all the words you can that rhyme with it. They don’t have to make sense!
- Give everyone, including pets, a rhyming name for a day. Daddy Laddy, Bethany Pethany, Spot Dot.
- Learn to sing “The Name Game.”
- Read aloud books that have rhyming stories; just ask library staff for recommendations.
Singing takes apart words into their smaller parts, which also helps children to understand later about the phonics of reading.
What can you do?
- Make up silly songs together.
- Sing while you’re bathing or diapering or feeding your child.
- Encourage sing alongs for the whole family.
- If you’re not comfortable singing, remember that the library has lots of CD’s to check out for free.
4. Play with Your Child
Children need to use their imagination and creativity; that’s an important part of being a child. It helps them to use their vocabulary when they make up games and stories, and it teaches narrative skills, one of the early literacy skills needed to learn to read.
What can you do?
- Make up silly stories! Maybe it’ll be about a zebra with polka dots or a man who walks on his hands.
- Start reading aloud a book, but ask your child to make up the ending.
- At dinner, ask your child to tell everyone what they did that day, helping them to keep the events in order.
- Get down on the floor and pretend to be snakes, or act like monkeys in the backyard.
- Act out a familiar story with stuffed animals or puppets.
- Have a prop box with costumes, puppets, and toys for creative play.
5. Write with Your Child
Reading and writing are both forms of communication. Encouraging your child to write, even if it’s scribbles, helps them learn print awareness, an understanding of the importance of print and an early literacy skill needed to learn to read.
What can you do?
- Make up your own version of a simple story with your child. Have the child draw the pictures and you write the words. Put it together and create a book, written and illustrated by the two of you!
- Ask your child to write out 3 items to get at the grocery store. Scribbles and nonsense letters are fine; just remember what they’re supposed to mean. Help them locate those print words at the store. “Look, there’s the word ‘apples’ just like you wrote on your list.”
- Encourage creative writing, with sidewalk chalk, washable markers, or crayons.
- If a child has a favorite subject, such as horses, help them learn to write words related to it, such as saddle, hoof, or cowgirl.
- Ask your child to print place cards or menus for special dinners.
The following websites will help you learn more about early literacy, as well as find additional activities to do with your child.
Born Learning www.bornlearning.org
On the Ages and Stages page, you can click on the age of your child and it will give you information on topics such as nutrition, sleep, and growth development, as well as how to nurture your child with literacy activities.
CSD's Early Literacy Calendar www.csdola.org/early-literacy.html
Early learing activities for every day of the year.
Get Ready to Read www.getreadytoread.org
The online or print screening tool will reveal your child’s progress toward mastering three core areas of early literacy—print knowledge, emergent writing, and linguistic awareness. There are also animated online games, activity cards, and checklists to create a “literacy friendly home or classroom.”
International Reading Association www.reading.org
The section on Parent Resources provides printable brochures such as Getting Your Child Ready to Read, and Supporting Your Beginning Reader.
National Center for Family Literacy http://www.famlit.org/free-resources/activities/house/
The Early Literacy House is filled with ideas of activities you can do with your child, in every room of your house.
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development www.nichd.nih.gov
Go to the Publications link, and select “literacy” as the keyword. Several publications will appear that are free to order, or download and print. These were done by the National Institute for Literacy and include, “A Child Becomes A Reader,” “Literacy Begins At Home: Teach Them to Read,” “Shining Stars: Toddlers Get Ready to Read,” and “Shining Stars: Preschoolers Get Ready to Read.”
Parents’ Action For Children www.parentsaction.org
Formerly I Am Your Child, this organization was founded by Rob and Michele Reiner in an effort to inform parents about “the critical importance the prenatal period through the first early years plays in a child’s healthy brain development.”
Reach Out and Read www.reachoutandread.org
This website provides information from pediatricians about the importance of reading aloud, and includes excellent charts of Developmental Milestones in several different languages.
Reading Rockets www.readingrockets.org
A free subscription will bring you access to videos and podcasts, booklists, tips on helping struggling readers, free reading guides, and topics from A to Z that offer help.
Reading Is Fundamental www.rif.org
Go to “Literacy Resources” and click on “Activities”, where you’ll find a printable monthly calendar with simple and inexpensive literacy-based activities between caregiver and child for each day. They also offer a multicultural booklist, and articles for parents about reading aloud.
Washington Learning Systems www.walearning.com
Click on “Literacy Resources,” and you’ll find free, reproducible activities for infants and preschoolers, in Spanish and English. Each activity is followed by tips for success and ways to make it more challenging. You’ll also find “on-the-go” activities for parents to do in the car, or on a walk, and those are translated into Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Somali, Russian, and Burmese.
Zero To Three www.zerotothree.org
In the section “Behavior and Development” you will find the “Tips and Tools” about early language and literacy, including the Beginnings of Literacy, Learning to Write and Draw, Tips for Choosing Books, Songs, Rhymes and Fingerplays in Spanish and English, and information about how children learn multiple languages.
Click on the following, and print out these simple flyers and charts that will help you help your child.
- Developmental Milestones of Early Literacy http://www.reachoutandread.org/FileRepository/RORmilestones_English.pdf
- Metas del Desarrollo Temprano de la Lectura y Escritura http://www.reachoutandread.org/FileRepository/RORmilestones_Spanish.pdf
- Reading Tips for Parents http://www.readingrockets.org/article/18935/
- Family Guide (bilingual in English and Spanish) http://www.readingrockets.org/guides/readingrockets