Building the foundation for a young child's literacy is simple, as easy as 1-2-3. Just talk, read, and sing.
You can give your child solid communication skills with these three things. Here are some tips for supporting your little reader and chatterbox as you go about your family’s day.
The first lesson I learned in early literacy training is my favorite. The biggest predictor for a child’s success is the presence of at least one loving, dependable adult in their life. It’s the foundation. Our children’s ability to read, write, speak, and listen starts with love and affection. Give those to kids, and they are more resilient, secure, and likely to take risks. We all know this. When you feel loved and supported, you soar, because you know someone will be there for you when you fall. Love your kids? You’re already supporting their literacy development.
Narrate your day with your child: bathtime, an evening walk, a trip to the grocery store (“Look at that watermelon. It’s so big and green! Can you find the bananas?”) No need for baby talk. Exposure to a wide vocabulary leads to children with a wide vocabulary. It’s OK if they don’t understand. They may even understand more than you think. Either way, you are exposing them to new words and sounds in language.
Have a conversation with your little one. Even if they can't respond in actual words, they hear your voice, the sounds you are making, and how your voice rises and falls. They learn about conversation, body language, and when the babbles and new words come, they can join in the back and forth pattern of conversation. Best of all, they know you’re giving them your full attention, and they love it.
Your toddler may not sit still for a book. I get it--the struggle is real. You can promote reading in other ways. If you like to read, let them see you reading. Mini-me’s imitate. Leave children’s books around the house--their bedroom, the living room, your bedroom, wherever your child hangs out. Having books available for your child to hold and look at builds a reader. Take a trip to the local library or bookstore, and try out a story time or special program. Surround your child with books and let subliminal messaging and independent discovery lend a hand.
If your child will sit to look at a book, you don’t have to read the story. Look at the pictures, and ask your child to find the tree, car, or dog. Have them point to and name what they see. You will be amazed at what they notice. Ask them what’s happening in the picture. If your child makes up a story that doesn’t follow the book, woohoo! Big time cognitive skills and creativity at work in their little brain.
As they can stay with the book longer, read to them and talk about the book sometimes. Tap out the rhythm and syllables of a sing-song, rhyming book. It helps them identify sounds and chunks in words, which is the starting point for learning to read independently.
With all of these, your child is learning what a book is, how to hold it, how to turn pages, and gaining print awareness (recognizing the printed word). They are building a love for reading and fond memories of books, which makes them more likely to read in school. They are also connecting with you.
Singing is fun, and it's gold for building literacy. When you sing to or with your child, they’ll begin to hear the distinct sounds in words, called phonemes. For example, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star " (s-, t-, -ar). Rhyming songs are especially great for phonemic awareness because you can hear the sounds repeating within the words. That’s why nursery rhymes are always found in early childhood settings. Singing has rhythm, which leads to dancing, and who doesn’t love watching their child dance? Moving and shaking is fun, freeing, and so good for kids too.
Give these ideas a try as you go about your day with your kids, but when the sun goes down and your child's asleep (hopefully), remember that loving and being there for them is the best foundation.