In honor of Family Literacy month, the focus of this month’s blog is on how children’s language and literacy skills develop. Language skills begin early in infancy and are constantly being developed throughout childhood. Parents are one of the best resources to help their children build their language and literacy skills.
There are several ways parents can help their infants lay the groundwork for language and literacy. First, parents and caregivers can talk with their infants and ask them questions (even if the only response they receive is “Ah!” or “Ooooh!”). This back and forth helps infants learn about communication patterns. Whether the infant is silent, or practicing making sounds after being spoken to, they are learning about the give and take of conversation. They are seeing that they are being listened to! Also, when parents use words, they are introducing proper vocabulary to their infant. Parents can start reading to their infants at any age – whether it is a children’s book, a newspaper, a magazine, or even a menu in a restaurant. Infants love the sound of their parents voices and start seeing that there is more to a piece of paper or book than just something to rip and tear and put in their mouth (which we know they like to do as well!). Reading together is also a great way to bond!
Toddlers are often verbal and can start to string words together to express what they see or what they want or need. Parents, or other caregivers can act as translators to others. To help toddlers with their language skills, parents can continue to have conversations with their toddlers and give them a chance to respond in their own words. Parents can then repeat what they heard their toddler say. This helps the toddler learn language structure. For example, if a toddler is asked if he/she wants to go to the park and the child responds: “Slide!” the parent can respond with “It sounds like you do want to go to the park. You love the slide at the park!” And of course, parents can continue reading to their child. Toddlers love to be hands-on and can point to pictures they see and help turn the page!
In early childhood, many children are able to string together simple sentences and are becoming even better at communicating effectively. Parents can continue to support language development by holding conversations with their children and asking them to reflect on their experiences and actions. Asking open-ended questions is a great way to encourage children to practice their vocabulary (“What did you eat for snack today?”). To help lay a strong foundation for literacy and reading, parents can talk (or sing!) about the alphabet and start to point out the letters they see throughout the day (“Look at that sign! I see a big S. Can you find the S?”). While reading to their children, parents can ask children to talk about the pictures they see and make predictions together about what might happen next. Parents can also stop and ask questions to see if their children understand what is going on in the story (“What happened that made the wolf so angry?).
At all ages, modeling language and literacy skills by having conversations with children and reading and singing together is a wonderful way to help children practice and develop these skills themselves.
For more resources on Language and Literacy Development check out these resources: