It's never too early to think about literacy. Research on infant brain development shows us that a child’s experience in the early years directly impacts later development and learning. With strong literacy skills, children are more likely to go further and succeed in school, find future employment, have a higher income and be healthier and happier throughout life.
Early literacy is everything children know about reading and writing before they can do it themselves. Research supports the importance of developing early literacy skills:
- Children’s academic successes at ages nine and ten can be attributed to the amount of talk they hear from birth through age three.1
- Children whose parents read them five picture books a day enter Kindergarten having heard about 1.4 million more words than children whose parents never read to them.2
- There is an approximately 90% chance that a child will remain a poor reader at the end of Grade 4 if the child is a poor reader at the end of Grade 1.3
- A person who is not at least a modestly skilled reader by the end of Grade 3 is unlikely to graduate from high school.4
- Providing the right ingredients for healthy development from the start produces better outcomes than trying to fix problems later.5
- Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. Baltimore, MD: Paul H Brookes Publishing.
- Logan, J. A. R., Justice, L. M., Yumuş, M., & Chaparro-Moreno, L. J. (2019). When children are not read to at home: The million word gap. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. Retrieved from https://journals.lww.com/jrnldbp/Abstract/publishahead/When_Children_Are_Not_Read_to_at_Home__The_Million.99226.aspx
- Boyer, E. L. (1991). Ready to learn: A mandate for the nation. Princeton, NJ: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
- Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2010). Early warning! Why reading by the end of third grade matters. Retrieved from https://www.aecf.org/resources/early-warning-why-reading-by-the-end-of-third-grade-matters/
- Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2016). From best practices to breakthrough impacts: A science-based approach to building a more promising future for young children and families. Retrieved from https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/from-best-practices-to-breakthrough-impacts/
As your child’s first and best teacher, you can give your child strong language skills by having fun, daily interactions. By investing time with your child with books, cuddles and songs, you can help build their neural pathways and set them up for a lifetime of learning.
Sharing time every day with your child is easy and fun. There are five simple and powerful activities that stimulate brain and cognitive development and help children gain strong early literacy skills: reading, writing, singing, talking and playing together.
Here are a few tips to incorporate these five practices into your everyday life. For parents with babies, click here.
Shared reading is the single most effective way to help children become proficient readers.
- Read daily, at least once a day.
- Read for any duration. Short, positive interactions are more important than long ones.
- Read favourite books over and over again. Repetition deepens understanding.
- Read together and talk about what you read.
Give your children lots of opportunities to talk—it teaches oral language, one of the most critical early literacy skills.
- Speak to your child in your home language. Learning your language will help them build a strong foundation which is needed to learn other languages, including English.
- Speak slowly, vary your pitch and use lots of expression to help your child hear the small sounds that make up words.
- When a child makes a statement, expand on what they say to include new words and concepts. When your child says “There is a dog,” respond with “Yes, that is a dog, that is a big, brown dog."
Play is one of the primary ways children learn how to express themselves and understand the meaning of words.
- Play helps children think symbolically; it helps them understand that written words stand for real objects and experiences.
- Play helps children develop oral language skills and lets them practice putting thoughts into words.
- Play also gives children a chance to act out real-life situations, work through worries and fears and use their imagination to solve problems.
Singing and rhyming increase awareness of the sounds within words, which helps children learn to decode printed language.
- Songs help children develop listening skills and pay attention to the rhythms and rhymes of spoken language.
- Singing slows down language so children can hear different parts of the words and notice how they are alike and different.
- Use songs to capture your child’s attention or calm them down.
- To your child, your voice is beautiful (even if you don't think it is!).
Writing helps children learn that letters and words represent sounds and that print has meaning.
- Talk to your child about what they draw, ask questions and respond to what they say.
- Once your child can grasp a thick crayon or marker, give her unlined paper and plenty of opportunities to draw and write.
- Make shapes and letters with ketchup on a plate, soap on the bathtub wall, sand at the park or water on the sidewalk—playing with shapes helps a child become more motivated to experiment and create their own “words.”