How to Promote Literacy and Language in Young Children

(photo via playful librarian)

Literacy...It's such a stiff "educational" word. However, when it comes to young children, literacy and it's partner, language, are important to a child's success later in life. I'm not a huge fan of Wikipedia...I find a majority of the information found there (mostly pop-culture related) to be completely subjective. However, I do find the article I found there on literacy to be very well written and informative on the teaching of literacy. Check it out, if you have a moment.

I'll be the first one to raise my hand and say "Yes, I want my children to read and write and communicate well." Don't we all want that as parents? And, depending on how my children progress in this area naturally, I want to do everything within my power as a parent to encourage (not pressure) them as they learn these key skills. I am not looking to necessarily teach them how to read and write. It is just kind of evolving into that. My daughter already shows signs of readiness when it comes to reading and I want to meet her where she's at in the best possible way I can.

So, the questions I keep (almost every day) asking myself are "What can I do? How can I encourage her and promote not only literacy and language, but a love of learning as well?"

Here's what I have come up with. Don't feel pressured to do any of this. It's just some tips and ideas I want to share.
10 Ways to Promote Literacy and Language:

1. Exposure. If the number one rule in real estate is location, then the number one rule in promoting literacy and language is exposure. Expose your child to the printed and written word often and in great quantity. Talk to them often. Start as early as you can. Read to them every day. Have books around. Take them to the library. Talk to them, even when they are babies. When I was pregnant with my first child, I remember hearing my good friend talk to her newborn about what he was going to wear, when it was time to take a bath. Now, did the baby understand what she was saying? No. She was establishing good habits and modeling language and exposing him to words and speech at a very early age. And if you already do all that, then great! But, if you are like me, then there's always room for improvement.

2. Surround them with a "print rich" environment. This goes hand in hand with exposure, but is a little more specific in it's intent. Find ways to bring words into everyday life. Make it fun! Try and have a good amount of books in the house and read them. And if you can't afford many books, your local library is an excellent resource-use it! Some public libraries offer toddler story times for ages as young as one year and many libraries have toy/play areas to create an enticing environment for young children. Talk about the words you see out and about at the drive-thru, at the gas station, at the grocery store. Don't leave out words on things just because you think they can't read them. How will they know what words are (and their meaning) unless you teach them?

3. Write With Your Child. Model how to write correctly. Write notes to your child and read them together. Make up stories together where they dictate and you write it down. Have them draw a picture to go along with each story. Even if they just scribble nonsense on a piece of paper, you are still exposing them to the concept which encourages readiness to write.

4. Talk. Talk. Talk. Talk to them as often as you can about a variety of subjects. Use descriptive words. (For instance, it's not just a truck, but a sanitation truck). Talk to them about the things you do at home, school, and familiar places. Talk out idioms or familiar sayings with them. Talk to them over dinner. The family dinner is the best place for talking in my opinion. They are relaxed and in a familiar and comfortable environment and ready to share about their world!

5. Listen to Your Child. Listening is as important as speaking when it comes to literacy and language. Teaching our children to listen by modeling it through example helps them later on. Through listening they will learn patience and be ready for phonics and comprehension.

6. Teach Your Child How to Handle Books. Show your child that books are special. When reading, explain that we read left to right and top to bottom. Show him the spine of the book and describe it's function (It holds up the pages and tells us the title and author). If he understand how books work ( that they are for reading, not for throwing or ripping), he is more likely to be engaged when you are reading to him. If you introduce this early, say when they are infants and toddlers, be sure to revisit this later on when their comprehension level is higher.:)

7. Have Writing Materials Available and Accessible. Having writing materials "at the ready" encourages children to reach for them every day. A simple way to have materials always available is to create a "writing center" or "writing box". Fill it with pens, pencils, crayons, paper, envelopes, and even stamps with words on them! If you are worried about the possibility of little hands creating masterpieces on your walls, use Color Wonder markers and art supplies.

8. Sing To/With Your Child. Songs help children in a myriad of ways. Not the least of which, at an early age, is the introduction of language in a fun and entertaining way. And believe me, your children don't care if you are off tune, they just love that you sing to them! And if you don't want to sing to them, buy music with words and play it for them often. And when singing to your wee one, do it in a variety of places like the park, the bath, when playing or on a walk, etc. Singing is also a great way to help pass the time in line at the grocery store or at an amusement park.
9. Be Yourself. Do what works for you. Teaching literacy and language to children doesn't have to resemble school. It can be done virtually anywhere and at anytime (except when they're sleeping of course). If you love to cook with your kids, bring out the recipe card, read it and show your child how a recipe card works, explaining measurements, etc. If your child is in to art, incorporate the written word and the letters of the alphabet into some of your projects. If they like to play with cars and trucks, create road and traffic signs to go along with their beloved vehicles.

10. Play Games and Do Activities. I will be sharing with you some literacy and language activities in upcoming posts, but wanted to suggest a few things to get you started. For instance, read poems, mother goose stories, rhymes, and finger plays. Rhyming plays with words and phonetic sounds and encourages kids to listen to sounds and introduces them to the idea that sounds put together in a particular way make words. Science experiments are a great way to incorporate literacy and language into an activity. I use the three D's. Describe, Discuss, Document. Ask them to describe what they think will happen, and what is happening. Discuss the end result and document the finding in a journal or observation report.

...Coming up soon, Alphabet Match Up Game!


  1. Thanks for such a well written, helpful, and inspiring post!

  2. What a fabulous post! Thanks!

    I was just chatting with my friend Sonya from Simply Charlotte Mason along these lines. She was explaining to me that children are adding words to their "mental storehouse" all the time and as more time goes by the more words are stored into their mental storehouse which in turn better prepares them for future subjects such a spelling.

    Also along the lines of exposure, I'd liked to share a quote by Charlotte Mason. It seems fitting.
    "We owe it to every child to put him in communication with great minds that he may get at great thoughts; … and the only vital method of education appears to be that children should read worthy books, many worthy books."

    Games on the road are indeed alot of fun. One game we have played and loved for a couple of years is a themed alphabet/spelling game. Say we're in the donut shop, for example. I ask the children, "Which comes first...donut or coffee?" So, they have to alphabtize the two words in their heads to come up with the correct answer. As they've matured, we've tweaked the game to be more challenging. It's so much fun.

    I also wanted to share about mini tape recorders. My children love to tell a story into a little hand held recorder and come play it back for anyone who wasnt in the room while taping. We listen to Jim Weiss' story telling CD's so I think this has been a big factor in the children's story telling abilities. They've had that modeled for them in a variety of ways.

    Sally Clarkson author of "Educating a Wholehearted Child" shared an idea in this book that I was just reading this morning. I'd like to do it soon. She suggests setting a theme for dinner (every now and then) and one idea (of 3) that she shares is to have a "When I Grow Up I'm Going to Be a..." You put a variety of do-dads on the table to represent different professions. Brainstorm occupational names for the meal ("Fireman's Feast" or "Police Plate", etc.). Each child shares their thoughts of what they might want to be (or not be!) and the parents tell how they picture their child. I just thought this was an extraordinary way to stimulate some interesting "Table Talk" at dinner time.

    I am glad you mentioned teaching children how to handle and take care of books. I think this is really important and liek you said, they can start learning this at the earliest of ages. A funny story (but not so funny!) ~We have a relative that visits us every so often and inevitably every visit atleast once he will use one of our books as a coaster for his coffee cup! I just about come unglued! Ahhh! Books are NOT coasters! Doesnt he know how PRECIOUS books are!?! ;-)

    I'd also like to reiterate what you've shared about music, singing and rhyming. It's stimulates their little minds in amazing ways. Some children pick up on rhyming sooner than others, but if there's a child that just doesnt "get" rhyming words, dont sweat it. Just keep at it. It will come in time. Just as you so beautifully worded it, you are meeting your daughter where she is. We need to remember that children are unique individuals and we cannot compare them to other children.

    This is such a "meaty" post and I am so thrilled to read it. It's not very often I leave a comment, but I had to jump in here as books, reading to & with children are a passion of mine and your post was very informative and enjoyable.

    THANK YOU for such an excellent read!

  3. I love this! It's a big passion of mine. Thanks for making this a priority and sharing such great information.

  4. Thank you for this wonderful post. We love reading with to our kids, and I enjoyed the other suggestions to support our children, especially the reminder to talk and listen.

  5. Love this!!! I was ALWAYS a fan of books when I was little & now, I am always happy to hold a book in my hands - just something about them...

    I was so happy to see my nieces have a love for books too... no better thing for a child!

  6. Yes, Yes, Yes!

    I have a little girl with a speech disorder...it's so hard to see her struggle. With this specific disorder, it may impact her math and reading skills later, too...

    As a former elementary teacher, I knwo it's heartwrenching to see a child struggle...and it will be far worse IF it's my child I'm watching. Thankfully Meghan already has a love of books. :)

  7. You know, reading through your post, I was thinking to myself, "Well, this is what I do naturally". But not every mother does this naturally. For instance, while my own mother is an avid reader and I had that as an example, I don't have any memories of her reading aloud to me or even sitting down and playing games with me. She often says that she is so impressed with Samuel's vocabulary, but I believe it is a direct correlation to the frequency and types of books I read to him.

    Good job with a good summary of this topic.

  8. Anonymous2:45 PM

    I love your blog! I think you might be interested in what I do, too! Our newest project is on The Very Hungry Caterpillar...you can check it out at thehybridkid.com

    Can't wait to read more!

  9. Found your blog through No Time for Flash Cards...this post is fabulous! I am a former elementary school teacher and current school librarian and your tips are great! We give workshops for parents on early literacy and promote many of these tips. Libraries have so many resources for parents...we even have a baby storytime starting at birth. Keep up this great work! Looking forward to reading mor!