Talk, Sing, Read, Write and Play: Simple Ways to Help Your Child Develop Early Literacy Skills
Babies are born to learn and they learn A LOT in the first three years of their life. It’s the experiences with a warm and loving caregiver that support a child’s brain development and the more activities a child experiences, the more connections that child’s brain forms.
You can turn everyday interactions with your child into the best opportunities to help them learn. Here are some ways that you can support your child’s early literacy development!
Talk…all the time! Your baby knows your voice and is soothed by it. Talk to them while you’re feeding them, changing them and playing with them. Hold your baby up to the window and talk about what you see outside – be descriptive! Babies begin around six months of age to watch your mouth and imitate the movement of your lips and the sounds they hear as you are talking. As your child grows, introduce new vocabulary and don’t be afraid to use big words! Just provide explanations and give examples that they will understand. Simple back and forth conversations with your child will stimulate the part of the brain that is responsible for language production and processing. So chat away!
Singing provides a child the chance to hear and understand the rhythm of language. Singing nursery rhymes are one of the simplest ways to help children develop language skills. Create a “playlist” of favourite nursery rhymes and simple songs to sing with your child and put it on repeat. Children learn best through repetition and it also helps with pronunciation and hearing the different sounds and syllables in words. Hearing and singing a familiar song can also help comfort a distressed child. Sing in the car, on a walk, while waiting for an appointment and even while grocery shopping. Singing comes naturally to children and don’t worry if you can’t carry a tune – your child won’t and they will LOVE the interaction.
Mem Fox, who is an acclaimed children’s author from Australia as well as a professor specializing in literacy has one of the best quotes about reading: “When I say to a parent, ‘read to a child,’ I don’t want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate.”
The best way to get your child to love books and reading is to show them how much YOU love books and reading. Try to spend a minimum of 30 minutes a day reading to your child. This doesn’t have to be done all at once and can be spread out throughout the day. You also don’t have to read a book cover to cover in one sitting. Only have time for one or two pages? Perfect.
When your child wants you to read the same book over and over and over and over – that’s completely normal too. Hearing the story repeatedly builds comprehension, memory and language skills! Toss a variety of books into baskets and place them around the house in locations where your child can easily reach them to make reading even more spontaneous. You can also create a cozy book nook by placing some blankets, pillows and books in a corner of the living room or their bedroom. You’ll be surprised at how often you’ll find your child there enjoying a favourite book.
Before a child is able to write, they need to develop some pre-writing skills. This can easily be done through activities that support fine motor development in the hands and wrists. Squeezing playdough, lacing beads, picking up objects with tongs, finger painting and of course, using crayons, are all activities to try. Practice opening containers, building with blocks, picking up small objects such as cheerios or raisins and (with supervision!) learning how to use scissors.
Writing begins with scribbling, making marks and drawing. When a child has the ability to hold a crayon or marker with ease, they can move on to forming letters and words. Letters that are straight lines are easier for children to replicate first rather than round letters. Show your child how to print the letters that make up their name first and give them plenty of opportunities to practice them – tracing them in salt, sand or finger paint. Once they’ve perfected the letters in their name, then they will want to learn how to spell Mom or Dad or another family member’s name. Remember, children love to imitate grownups so write in front of them at every opportunity. Write out grocery lists, letters, poems – anything! Then provide your child with crayon and paper so they can “write” their own lists and letters along with you.
Simply put, play is your child’s job. It’s during play when their physical literacy is built, their foundational skills are developed and where brain connections form and strengthen. For babies, play is when they discover their world. Offer them toys that engage them and build on their curiosity. Name the toys that your baby is playing with to help build their vocabulary. For toddlers and preschoolers, offer puppets and encourage them to act out favourite stories or make up their own. This allows children to practice their narrative skills so they begin to understand that a story has a beginning, a middle and an ending.
Remember that you are your child’s first teacher. They are curious and love to do what you are doing. Be a role model and read, write, sing and talk with them. Most importantly, play with them too. Enjoy the journey of raising a reader!