During the toddler and preschool years, you are laying the groundwork for your child’s reading and writing success — but don’t let that overwhelm you. There are reams written about early literacy skills and reading development, and we could spend all day discussing research-based ideas, what educators want to see when your child enters school, and things to do to help your child establish early literacy skills.
But, I don’t believe in making your toddler’s or preschooler’s playtime like school. What I do believe in is creating a literacy friendly environment without judgment, so that your child learns to love books, writing, and creating — not a threatening place where reading, telling stories, and scribbling becomes hard work and not much fun.
So instead of providing hard and fast rules, I’ll touch on some ideas that you can do easily to help your child begin to establish early literacy skills.
8 Tips for Encouraging Early Literacy Skills in Your Toddler or Preschooler
- The most important thing you can do is the most obvious – Read!
- Young children need to learn early on that print contains a message, there is a world to discover in a book, and reading is fun. A child is never too young to be read to or to snuggle up with a bedtime story. You can read to your child from the day you bring her home.
- It’s important to expose your little one to a variety of genres, including rhyming books, old-fashioned nursery rhymes, fairy tales, alphabet books, label books and poetry. Cadence of language is important and also helps to engage even the most reluctant and ‘busy’ child.
- Reading doesn’t start and stop with a book. Reading is all around us — on cereal boxes, road signs, in the mail — opportunities to read to your child are everywhere.
- Besides sitting down to read, you can take an ‘interactive approach’ when reading. This means that in addition to reading the text of the story, you can use descriptive phrases to talk about the pictures in the book. I like the approach, but not to the point of losing the thread of a story. If you’re interested in learning more about interactive reading, check out The Incredible Years by Dr. Carolyn Webster-Stratton, who feels it’s important to encourage your child to be an active participant in the reading process.
- Another important area of literacy learning is writing. Writing is the reading process slowed down, and scribbling is the first stage of this important skill.
- Set your toddler or preschooler up with an area for writing and drawing. An easy way to do this is have a box with scrap paper, construction paper, crayons, markers and other writing tools. Encourage your little one to draw a picture about a favorite story. It doesn’t matter if no one really knows what the picture is, he knows and he has had a chance to tell his version.
- Magnetic letters also help build early literacy skills. Besides learning the alphabet through songs, books, and puzzles, the tactile aspect of magnetic letters is important. Kids use all senses to learn.
Remember, there are no hard and fast rules for developing early literacy skills. No two children are alike and children develop at different rates. Think about the time when your child was learning to walk. He crawled, pulled himself up and then took off on his own schedule. That’s how it is with the reading process too — in stages and at a child’s individual pace.
Denise Worthington is Lou’s Mom. She’s a retired reading teacher and children’s book author who spends her time serving on local boards, entertaining at the lake, and running for political office.