Encouraging early literacy skills and incorporating it into everyday life

Encouraging early literacy skills and incorporating it into everyday life

by Carly Williams
Stripes Japan

From the moment your baby enters the world, they embark on their literacy journey that will eventually lead to reading competency in adulthood. Despite perhaps not learning to actually read words until elementary school, throughout their early years, your child will be building the skills and knowledge blocks that are essential as a foundation for learning to read and reading proficiency. Parents and caregivers can help to develop these skills easily, incorporating them into everyday routines.

Here are some tips for parents of young children:

Chat to your baby: Language is the first step towards acquiring reading skills and building a strong foundation for literacy, so never underestimate the power of talking to your child from the first day they are born. Respond to your baby’s noises, describe your actions as you go about your day, and be sure to ask questions even when a response is unlikely. As your child gets older, respond to their words and use them in longer sentences, and encourage your child to listen to the sounds of the world around them such as cars, birds or the wind.

Draw on singing and rhyming: You may not be able to hold a tune, but your child doesn’t care! Children love singing and gain so much from hearing your attempts, then eventually join in. Not only does it expose them to new vocabulary, but really awakens a love of language because songs tend to be fun and contain rhymes, repetition or nonsense words. Additionally, the words in songs are often more drawn out, or broken into sounds, helping to develop phonological awareness skills useful for reading.

Expose your child to a wide variety of texts: Leave books, newspapers, magazines, cookbooks and mail out in view around your house. Let your child explore them on their own terms and take the time to explain what they are used for. Model writing when possible, allowing your child to help you write a shopping list for example and ensure that he has opportunities himself for mark-making with crayons, pencils and markers.

Read, read and read: Do not hesitate to begin reading simple books to young babies, because the earlier you begin, the more familiar your child will be with books as they develop. Make time to read to your child for at least a few minutes each day, and ensure that they have their own small book collection to freely explore. Don’t worry if your baby prefers to chew their board books; as they get older you can explain the importance of looking after books and teach them how to handle them correctly.

Find the time that works for you: Busy parents often feel that there is just not enough time in the day to find time for reading, but it is possible to carve out a few minutes when the intent is there. Bedtime is a popular choice but why not try a few minutes at bath time, or in the morning right after breakfast? Keep a book handy for the times spent waiting at doctor appointments or in line at the grocery store, as your child may welcome the distraction as much as you will. Alternatively, encourage older siblings to share a story with your young child, as there are benefits for both children whether they can actually read the text or not.

Connect meaning to text: Help your child grasp the concept that those black symbols on the page are where their story comes from: try tracing your finger under the line as you read; or break down small words, pointing to each individual letter before proceeding to put them back together to sound out the word. Explain to your child that other writings around them carry meaning too. Pointing out “STOP” signs while driving, examining food labels together at the grocery store, and helping them order from a menu in a restaurant are all easy ways to build print awareness.

Become members of your local library: Toddlers and young children tend to choose familiar and favorite stories over and over again. Repetition is great for them to build emergent literacy skills, but visiting your library regularly ensures that story time becomes a little less tedious for parents! Libraries have a wide range of different books to check out, as well as audiobooks, DVDs, and other learning resources. The librarians are usually more than happy to help you find appropriate titles, and often there are other free activities held regularly for children such as story time, arts and crafts and themed days.

Keep it fun: The most important aspect of helping your child become literate is to make sure that reading is fun. Babies and toddlers with short attention spans may only be able to listen for one or two pages before moving on to a new activity. This is absolutely fine. Don’t force your child to sit if they don’t want to on the grounds that they will begin to associate reading with negativity. When they are willing to engage, use silly voices and actions, or try singing the story to keep things interesting. Connect with your child sporadically throughout and at the end, asking them questions to ensure they understand the story and make attempts to help them connect the events or characters to their own life. 

As your child’s first educator, your awareness of the importance of developing early literacy skills is the first step in helping them eventually learn to read. Incorporating reading into daily life using these simple steps will be invaluable for building a solid foundation for reading when that time comes.

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