Literacy is more than just learning to read and write. For young children, literacy is about developing their vocabulary, understanding that words on a page represent the words you are saying, learning that letters are connected to sound and so much more. You can encourage your child’s literacy development in many ways. Below are a few ideas to get you started.
1. Read everyday.
The number one way to promote literacy at an early age is simply reading to your child every day. Read street signs, the mail or labels at the grocery store. Make a routine of reading, like reading before bedtime. Creating a nightly book reading ritual not only allows your child to wind down from a busy day of play, but also strengthens their bond with you and promotes a positive association with reading.
2. Talk, sing and rhyme.
It may seem silly especially when your child is a baby and can’t talk back, but talking or singing to them as often as possible makes a big impact. Singing is fun for your child, increases their vocabulary and helps them learn about sounds.
- Name and point to body parts while getting your child dressed.
- Describe the smell, texture and taste of the food you’re eating.
- Use words that are new to your child when you talk to them.
- Sing a special song before bedtime.
- Teach them nursery rhymes from your childhood.
- Make up silly songs to sing during your daily routine, like while brushing teeth.
3. Create stories.
Creating stories helps your child learn how stories work. Specifically, your made-up tales help them learn that stories have characters, beginnings, middles and endings.
- Make up silly stories about Bob the brave banana — or any other silly character you make up — as you walk through the grocery store.
- Retell a favorite story while you’re traveling to and from school.
- Act out a story with stuffed animals.
- Older children can join in the fun by making up what comes next.
4. Tell family stories.
Storytelling is an important part of promoting literacy for little learners.
- Tell them a memorable story from your childhood as you’re looking through a photo album.
- Recount the story of when they joined your family, via birth, adoption or fostering — children usually love a story about themselves best of all!
- Invite family members to share stories about their life experiences.
5. Give them opportunities to write.
Encourage your little learner to “write” by providing a variety of writing and drawing supplies.
- Babies can start with spoons, fingers and yogurt on their high chair.
- Older children can use crayons, markers, stamps and paint brushes along with a variety of paper.
- Let your child watch you write notes, cards and grocery lists. Then, encourage them to write their own.
6. Change where you read.
Make reading a fun adventure!
- Take some books outside to read in the shade.
- Pack an exploring or nature book with you on your next family walk.
- Read a monster book under a blanket in the dark with a flashlight.
7. Attend a story time.
Many librarys and books stores host story times. At these family-friendly events, children benefit from hearing another adult read to them. They also learn a lot from watching other children get engaged in a story and from being exposed to a wide variety of authors and writing styles. Check your local library for times or check out some online story time options like the Emmy-nominated Storyline Online.
8. Go beyond the words on the page.
You’ll likely reread your child’s favorite books until you’re blue in the face, but change up how you read it to make it more enjoyable for yourself and more enriching for your child. For example:
- Pause to let them finish the sentence or say the wrong word on purpose and see if they correct you.
- Ask your child questions while reading the story, like who was their favorite character in the story and why?
- You could even skip the story and just explore the pictures and describe what you see.
- As your child reaches preschool age, you can help them understand the link between the words on the page and the words you’re saying by sliding your finger under words as you read them.
9. Try a wordless book.
Wordless books are more powerful than you might think for developing your child’s literacy skills. You can start with simply describing what you see and exploring the photos. Then go beyond the pictures and have your little reader make up the story. Here are some questions you can ask to help get their creativity flowing:
- What is that girl (or animal or silly shape, depending on the book) feeling?
- How do you think that goat (or boy or tree, depending on the book) get out of this situation?
- When is this story happening? How can we tell?
- What just happened? What will happen next?
10. Surround them with books and letters.
- Keep books where your child can reach them — a cozy corner of their bedroom, a low shelf in their play area
and even a few next to their car seat. Ask your older child to read books to you while you drive or fix dinner.
- Add books to their related play areas. For example, add some cookbooks to a play kitchen or construction books next to their toy trucks.
- Expose them to and surround them with all different kinds of books to flip through — picture books, non-fiction, magazines etc.
- Label toy bins with the picture and name of their associated contents.
- Provide them with letter puzzles, magnetic letters or bath tub letters.
- Teach them the letters in their name and have them search for those letters in books.
- Talk about how you use reading in your life. From magazines and books to social media and shopping lists, we all use words daily. Your examples shows them that literacy keeps our lives moving and meaningful.