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Raising a Strong Reader: Literacy Starts at Birth

Becoming literate starts long before a child enters formal schooling. Babies are born ready to learn and make sense of the world. Language in all forms (spoken and written) is an important aspect of that world. Being literate is the understanding that those special squiggles we call letters form words that represent ideas that can be read by others. There are many things you can do at home to build a strong foundation for the formal literacy training that will come later.

Speak: The foundation of reading and writing is oral language. Children who enter kindergarten with larger vocabularies do much better in school. Words are one of the most powerful gifts you can give your child. Talk with your child, even in infancy. Talk about what you are doing. Ask your child questions that require more than a one-word answer. Use new and interesting words in conversations with your child (buy a “word a day” calendar for ideas). A love of words turns into a love of reading and writing.

Read: From infancy, read to your child. Many experts say that quality books help children fall in love with the written word. When they enjoy the world of stories, they are more likely to want to read. This motivation will lead them to want to read – and a motivated learner is a strong learner.

Even school-agers enjoy being read to. As children get older, move into the rich world of chapter books and read a little together each evening before bed. As children learn to read, give them opportunities to read to you.

Model: Make sure your child sees you reading and writing. Point out the many ways you use these skills in your everyday life. Talk about books or magazines you enjoy. Share information you learned from reading an article. Read instructions out loud as you cook with recipes. Point out when you write notes or letters. Show how literacy is useful to you in your life.

Teach: As you’re reading, run your finger along the words so your child can see that you are getting the story from the words as opposed to the pictures. When you write a note, talk with your child about how you are forming the letters or using a capital letter to start a new sentence after a period. These little hints help children make sense of literacy concepts.

Use: Find creative ways to incorporate literacy into your daily lives. Write letters to loved ones. Encourage your child to tell stories and write their words as they speak. Make and post reminders to help your child remember how to brush their teeth or get ready to go to school. When children are involved in these tasks, it helps them make the connection between spoken and written language.

Play: Finally, have fun playing with language with your child. Sing fun songs and do fingerplays together (your child’s teacher can share some with you). Play rhyming games and act out nursery rhymes with your child. Making language fun makes your child more likely to be interested in it and to want to learn more.