Talk your Way to Early Literacy Skills

Your child’s early literacy journey begins on the day he/she is born and continues through the preschool years, setting the stage for his/her ability to grasp the necessary skills to progress through school and ultimately become a successful adult.


So, what can you do to ensure that your child has a healthy head start?  The answer is plenty!  And it all begins with conversation.  When you converse with your child, language and literacy development occur naturally.   So talk, talk, talk — about anything and everything!


Infants and One-Year Olds


  • Talk with your child during routines, describing what the adult is doing, and responding to your child’s verbal and nonverbal cues.
  • Talk with your child while he/she is playing with toys, interacting with materials, at the playground, at mealtimes, and during book reading.
  • Provide opportunities to share books. Looking at a book provides opportunities to notice and respond to your child’s actions and words, and to have an interactive, conversational experience.
  • Sing songs or do movement activities that involve imitation.
  • Recognize when your child is initiating a conversation, even when it’s not verbal (for example, your child holds up his/her empty cup), and respond in a way that will invite more interaction (“I see your cup, Jack. Do you want milk?”).
  • Pay attention to how much directive language is used (telling your child to do or not do something). Try to keep directive language to a minimum and increase the amount of conversational language.


Two-Year Olds


  • Have conversations throughout the day. Extend and expand on what your child says to encourage more complex speech (Child: “Juice.” Adult: “You have apple juice in your cup.”).
  • Talk while playing alongside your child. Describe your actions and your child’s actions while being mindful of using rich language: full sentences and words that are a step or two beyond a two-year old’s vocabulary.
  • Provide your child with words to use during interactions with other children when they clearly aren’t able to understand one another and frustration is building.
  • Invite your child to comment on the illustrations or text in books. Read familiar books with a predictable text such as Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See, and encourage your child to fill in the blank.
  • Make connections between the story and your child’s own experience (“The girl is playing ball with her friends. What do you like to play with?”).
  • Talk with your child about the sequence of events in the day or as you are doing an activity or routine together. Use time-order words like “first,” “next,” and “last.”
  • Provide opportunities for scribbling and drawing during the day.


Three- and Four-Year Olds


  • Have conversations with your child at play times, meal times, group times, and outside times.
  • Have conversations with your child during book reading. Respond, rephrase, and expand on what your child says (for instance, your child says, “I see the cat.” You respond, “That furry, brown cat is running fast. Why do you think he is running?”).
  • Ask questions during book reading that focus on understanding sequence (“What do you think will happen next?”).
  • Make connections between the story and your child’s own experience (“The boy is playing ball with his friends. What do you like to play with your friends?”).
  • Ask your child to describe things he/she has drawn or built (“You’ve been working on this a long time. Would you tell me about it?”). Ask your child to explain how he/she solved a problem or why he/she thinks something happened, always keeping in mind your child’s developmental level.
  • Intentionally and consistently play games with your child that build letter and letter sound knowledge.
  • Play games that focus on the spoken sounds in language (phonemic awareness activities). These activities include things like alliteration, rhyming, listening for the beginning or ending sounds in words, and blending and taking away sounds in words.
  • Incorporate your child’s written name into activities and routines.
  • Encourage and support all attempts at writing, including when your child begins to write his/her name.
  • Caption your child’s own stories, drawings, or other creative work. Encourage your child to dictate his/her stories to you and then read the stories aloud.
  • Model writing (for example, lists and messages). Talk about what is being written and why.




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