Early language and literacy (reading and writing) development begins in the first three years of life and is closely linked to a child's earliest experiences with books and stories. The experiences that young children have with materials such as books, paper and crayons, and with the adults in their lives are the building blocks for language, reading and writing development. This relatively new understanding of early literacy development complements the current research supporting the critical role of early experiences in shaping brain development.
We now know that children gain significant knowledge of language, reading and writing long before they enter school. Early literacy research states that language, reading and writing skills develop at the same time and are intimately linked, that early literacy development is a continuous developmental process that begins in the first years of life and that early literacy skills develop in real life settings through positive interactions with reading and writing materials and with other people.
Books are great first toys for babies. Begin with books that can be propped up for a baby to look at, have pictures in bright contrasting colors and may be made of cloth or cardboard to withstand a little chewing and make page turning easier. Toddlers and pre-schoolers are just able to sit and listen to a story. Try books that have repetitious texts about familiar objects and involve activities like counting, identifying colors, letters and shapes.
Words, sounds, books, songs and nursery rhymes are all building blocks of literacy. Help your child at any age explore language by reading, making up stories and teaching new words. Talk to your child about what you see around you and what you are doing. The more you speak, the more you build your child's vocabulary. Ask questions and watch for their responses. From day one ask your child "where" and "what" whenever you can - at the store, on a walk or by looking at pictures. Use play to introduce language. Give your child books, things to bang and make noise with and other toys. When you play with your child you introduce them to new words, sounds and ideas. Sing songs and rhymes over and over again. Add them into your routines like bath time and bedtime. Have fun and without thinking about it you will be encouraging great early literacy experiences for your child that will have a lasting impact.
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