Let’s look at different age groups to see how oral language, reading, and writing all add up to create a literate child:
Oral Language: Have conversations with your baby! After you say something, pause and give your baby time to respond.
Reading: Read to your infant. Even if babies do not sit and listen to a whole book or even appear to be interested, building warm experiences, sharing the joy of reading and being together are important.
Writing: Let your infant see you writing and describe what you are doing. “I have to make a list of all the things we need from the store. I am writing that down. Can you see me making the letters?”
Oral Language: Encourage your child to talk by providing the oral language that he or she lacks. “You are pointing at the truck, Josiah; do you want to play with it? What are you going to do with it?”
Reading: Along with providing opportunities to hear stories, give your toddler books to manipulate. Yes, this means that the pages might get ripped (or eaten). Board books work best. Stock your shelves or baskets with books you can easily replace. Toddlers and two-year-olds are often more interested in the book when you vary your voice, expressions, and the words you say. Read the words in a sing-song voice, varying the tone. Say interesting words and sounds dramatically, with lots of expression. Young children may choose to get up during a story and walk around, or they may remain standing while you read. If this happens, keep reading.
Writing: Cover a table with paper and pull out jumbo pencils, crayons, chalk, safe markers, etc. Talk with your child about his or her “writing.” Model writing by writing your child’s name, spelling out the letters.
Oral Language: Look for opportunities to introduce new and interesting words. Create a Word of the Day calendar to explore vocabulary together. Also, be aware of the language you use. Do you only talk at your child and often ask questions that require one-word answers? Start a question with “Why do you think …” or “How did you …” Look for ways to encourage your child to talk.
Reading: Give your child chances to read his or her favorite stories (or ones they have written). Remember to follow your child’s lead. Is she more interested in looking at the pictures? Does he want to turn the pages or point at the words? Does she want to “read” the story to you?
Writing: Make sure you have paper and writing utensils accessible for your child. Encourage your child to label creations, create shopping lists or make notes about what he or she is observing or wants to tell someone.
Oral Language: Have fun with language. Share tongue twisters, chants, cheers and fun songs. The more fun you make language, the more likely children are to learn from the experiences.
Reading: Provide interesting reasons to read. For example, set up a scavenger hunt where one written clue leads to another. Post a riddle or brainteaser to capture your child’s attention.
Writing: Provide your child with blank books and writing tools. Encourage him to capture his imaginative thoughts on the blank pages.
Build language development in everyday experiences. When you create language-learning opportunities in both oral and written language, you are providing the foundation on which literacy is built. This free gift of language is one that will benefit your child today and into the future.