03 February 2010

Every parent needs to know: Language development begins at birth, and early literacy skills help children succeed in school

Zero to Three offers good advice for new parents about how to help develop literacy in young children. Children’s relationships with books, capacity to communicate, and ability to read are directly related to their experiences with language. When parents and caregivers make books available and fun, and when they sit down to read with young children, they are helping prepare those children to succeed in kindergarten and elementary school, building their self esteem, problem-solving abilities, and social skills.

Language acquisition begins at birth. Parents should talk to babies often and with a wide vocabulary. The Urban Child Institute informs parents and caregivers about the importance of responsiveness and language exchanges. Responsive parents try to recognize their babies’ signals, allowing parent and child to communicate through a mixture of words and facial expressions. These exchanges foster brain development and prepare infants to begin sounding out different phonemes.

Positive interactions with books and play help to develop literacy among infants. Allow children to play with books in unconventional ways. Sound books, pop-up pages, and bright colors can capture the attention of infants. Naming objects in pictures aids in language acquisition. Ask children to pick out books with a specific characteristic. Creating a book with pictures of family members is a fun way to learn names and relationship words like uncle, brother, and dog.

Toddlers can improve their motor skills by interacting with “lift the flap” books. Parents and caregivers encourage a familiarity with words by posting them around the house or childcare center. Match objects around you with pictures in books. Read stories about going for a walk or about bedtime as ways to introduce those activities. Letter magnets and crayons help introduce letters, words, and the mechanics of writing. Most importantly, adults should encourage and support early literacy by providing children with ample conversation opportunities.

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