Even though it might feel strange at first to be talking and asking questions of a baby and toddler, oral language is the foundation for literacy development. Children who develop strong oral language skills during the preschool years create an important foundation for later achievement in reading, especially in reading comprehension (Storch and Whitehurst, 2002).
Babies and toddlers listen intently. Their brains are like sponges — ninety percent of brain development happens between zero to five years of age. It’s a remarkable transformation from baby to toddler in language development. First babies babble and by around six months old they master the sounds of their family’s language. Then they use first words and start stringing together several words. When they are between two and four years old, oral language grows dramatically. Older toddlers begin to put together sentences and use standard grammatical features. Of course, different children develop these skills at different rates, but talking and conversation with your baby or toddler creates the impetus for expanded language.
Here are some tips on early literacy and oral language:
1. Read to your child from birth and make reading part of your child’s bedtime routine.
2. Sing or say nursery rhymes, chants and other rhyming poems.
3. Explicitly describe what your child experiences and observes: colors, objects, etc.
4. Take your toddler with you (when possible) as you go about your daily activities and explain what you are doing and seeing: supermarket, other chores, etc.
5. When possible take your baby or toddler to language rich environments: library, zoo, nature walks, children’s museums, etc.
6. Ask your child open ended questions. Even from a young age, pose questions to your child that elicits his/her opinions. Try to draw out more than one word answers.
7. Model different language structures and use more complex sentences.
8. Act out stories and use dramatic play.
9. For three to five year old children, play matching and concentration games to foster memory and vocabulary.
10. Orally tell classic stories such as The Three Little Pigs and have your child participate whenever possible. Your child will also delight and be engaged in made up stories. As your child gets older, they can make up the end to your story.
11. When your child is ready, introduce book handling skills and directionality skills — such as point out the front and back of the book; the words go left to right; letters; etc
Be playful when you engage in literacy activities. Remember to emphasize sharing, mutual discovery and fun. Your enthusiasm will be contagious!
Dorothy Glusker is a Reading Specialist and Private Reading Tutor.