Building the Foundation for Reading

Your Child's First Teacher

As a parent or primary caregiver, you have within your reach THE KEY to helping your child be smarter, happier, and have a bright future. That key is language.

Talking, reading, and singing with your child from the very start helps the brain develop. Even before your child can talk, they are learning from you continuously - and all your words now will help them become a capable reader later on. 

The key is to start at birth. Immersing a child in abundant, rich language can be a stronger predictor of literacy and academic achievement than family income or a parent's level of education.

You can start with:

Talking - as you go about your everyday activities talk to your child. Tell them what you’re doing, comment on what you’re seeing as you drive the car, or shop for groceries. Ask questions as you go along and if your child is too young to respond, you can answer for them.

Reading - there’s nothing more comforting than cuddling together with a book. You can do so much more than simply read the words. Talk about the pictures while pointing to them, use funny voices for the different characters, and ask questions about the story. Most importantly, get into the habit of reading together every day.

Singing/Rhyming - affects the brain in a way that helps prepare it for language. Songs and rhymes develop listening and thinking skills and provide a great foundation for literacy development.

The more words a child hears, the larger the child’s vocabulary, and the larger the child’s vocabulary, the more likely the child will be a proficient reader.


Tips for promoting language development by age

Birth to One Year 

Start reading/singing to your baby from birth. By reading or singing quietly, your baby will get pleasure and comfort from the rhythm of your voice. Make reading a special time for you both.

Read to your baby every day.  A good time to read is before or after bath time. Hold your baby in your lap and find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. And you don’t have to read every word in the book. You can talk about the pictures or parts of the story.

Let your baby “read” with you. Let your child turn the pages, chew on a corner of the book, and point to the pictures. If he makes sounds while you’re reading, be sure to respond as if you’re having a real conversation.


One to Three Years

Read your child’s favorite books over and over again. This will help your child understand the words and sounds of the book.  Read it differently each time, and use different voices and facial expressions. Talk about how the characters feel or what is going on in the story.

Help your child learn more words.  Talk with your child! Right now, their world is full of things they don't have words for. Play naming games to build vocabulary. Ask questions like, “Where is your nose?”  “What is the color red?” Talk about what is going on, “We’re changing your diaper” or  “Look, the doggie is eating his food.”

Play with sounds and use different voices when reading or talking.  Your child loves it when you read in an exciting or lively way. Using different voices for each character in the book will keep them interested in the story. Add sounds when you read or talk - “Crunch, crunch, crunch” for leaves, or “Swoooooshhhhhh!” for the wind. Even making animal noises like, “Moo, Arf, Meow” helps your child learn new sounds.


Four to Five Years

Let your child pick the books she wants to read. Your child loves to hear their favorite books read over and over. Let them fill in the words they know as you read along. Stop and talk about what is happening in the story. Ask open-ended questions like “why” and “how” to get your child thinking more about the story.

Do more with words. Show your child that there is so much more to read than just books - cereal boxes, road signs, food labels. Let your child see you write the names of their favorite foods on a grocery list and then pick out those food items together at the store. And point out letters of the alphabet.

Let your child pretend to write. Writing is an important part of the reading process. Drawing pictures and scribbling are the first steps in learning to write. Let your child “write” a story to go with one of her drawings and then have her read it to you. Let them see their name and let them try to write it. Don’t worry if it's just scribbles. Writing will come later.


Always let reading time be funNever take away reading time as punishment. You don’t want your child to feel threatened by reading. Not only should reading time be fun, but it should also be a time when your child feels safe, secure, and loved.

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Ensuring that children develop early literacy skills is one of the most important things we can do - as parents, as teachers - and as a society.

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