Pregnant mother sits and reads a book with her toddler son

5 Tips to Strengthen Early Literacy Skills

As a mother of three girls, it has been interesting to watch each of my daughters develop into a reader and writer at her own pace. I remember my oldest daughter resisting my attempts to teach her how to read before she was in Kindergarten and then soaring with reading once she entered her first classroom. I can recall my middle daughter writing her name in sidewalk chalk at age 3 without any instruction and wondering how in the world she knew how to do that. Most recently, I observed my youngest daughter moving all the way through Kindergarten wishing she could read like other children her age, only to take off with the skill mid-year in first grade.

All three of my children were exposed to high-quality preschool environments, nightly read-alouds, and a home environment filled with rich language experiences and print materials. Despite sharing these same environmental influences, their journeys to becoming readers and writers were quite different.

In today’s competitive society, it is easy to think that earlier is always better when it comes to learning, but brain research shows that’s actually not the case. Children’s brains develop at varying rates, just as they grow taller and develop socially at different times. Because maturation of the brain influences learning readiness, normal development for learning to read and write can range from 4-9 years of age. However, children benefit from being read to years before they can read or write on their own.

Toddler is writing

In order for a child to learn how to read and write, their auditory system and motor skills must also be well-developed. Remember that brain development can be enhanced by the environment, but it cannot be rushed. Children often learn things at different paces, and that’s perfectly normal! The following early literacy tips will help little ones build a strong foundation in reading, writing and other communications skills:

  • Talk to children often.  More than 60 percent of parents believe that talking to children starts to benefit their language skills at 3 months or older, when in fact it begins at birth. Start talking to your children at a young age, and as they get older, engage them in conversations about their day, ask them questions, tell jokes and make up stories together – all of these efforts will help them develop important language skills and help with early literacy.
  • Make reading together a daily routine. This is one of the most important early literacy tips. Ask children questions about the book as you read, point out familiar letters that match their names and fill your home library with a variety of fiction and nonfiction books. The benefit of reading with your child begins before your child can verbalize words or phrases, so start early to help benefit your child’s long-term language development. Check out this blog post for answers to some common reading and literacy questions.
  • Play rhyming games with children. Car rides are a great time for teaching phonics and helping children develop their auditory systems. Take turns saying a word like “cat” and having your children answer with a rhyming word like “bat.” Then, see how many nonsense words you and your children can come up with that rhyme with the same word (e.g., yat, zat, dat). These types of word games for kids and similar educational games help make learning fun!
  • Set up an art/writing table in your main living area. Include a variety of open-ended materials like blank paper, markers, crayons, glue sticks, scissors, envelopes, stamps, paint and play dough. Encourage children to use their emergent writing skills (drawing, scribbling, invented spelling) to create letters, lists and stories. Coloring is also a great way to bond with your child! 
  • Provide kid’s activities at home that support motor development. Both gross and fine motor development aid children in becoming effective writers. Encourage children to be active outdoors by climbing, running and skipping to build gross-motor strength and provide lacing, stacking and dressing activities when indoors to build fine-motor skills that will later help with writing. You can find additional activity ideas on our Pinterest.

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