Most people think that literacy - the ability to read and write - usually develops when children start formally learning the alphabet (the letters that make up the written form of a language), how words are formed, and how they are supposed to be read and spelt. Depending on which country or education system your child is in, such learning could happen from age 5, or age 7 or in some cases, even earlier than 5.
However, did you know that there are “Emergent Literacy Skills” that children already begin to develop as toddlers (age 1-3) and that you as caregivers/parents can help to nurture? Emergent Literacy Skills are early pre-reading and pre-writing abilities that are the building blocks for future formal learning. Children start exhibiting some of these as external behaviours, for example when they begin to handle a book, pointing and naming pictures, as well as listening and responding to stories they hear.
Less visible are the other cognitive abilities that are flourishing in parallel - some of these include language development (the ability to understand, process and respond in a language), growing vocabulary, comprehending stories, as well as drawing meaning from printed text and pictures, recognition of some letters of the alphabet and distinguishing and identifying sounds in words. These building blocks form a solid foundation for your child to have a good start when he/she begins learning the mechanics of reading in kindergarten.
Here are 5 easy ways parents can help to develop these skills:
1. Pick age appropriate books and place them in areas accessible to your little toddler. These books should be colourful, hardy enough to withstand pulls and knocks, and ideally interactive! We found a good list of fun interactive books here. Place them where your roving toddler often passes by (and stops at), and let him/her explore these books themselves if you are busy!
2. Let your child catch you reading a printed publication (not your phone!) often. This can be a book, the newspaper, a magazine, a recipe, a bill or even a receipt! By being a role model for your children, you demonstrate how printed text is essential in daily life and how reading is practical and enjoyable.
3. When you are out and about, point out signs to your child and read them out loud. Spell the letters and explain the meaning of the words. After a while, you will find them recognizing the signs or asking you to read new signs to them!
4. Another fun activity is to play “I spy with my little eye” - in this quick and easy game, describe something that you see and get your child to guess what it is. You can do this at home while waiting for something to cook, or when you’re out in a queue! 5. Finally, the most important thing that a parent can do is to read with their children. Even when your child is still young and may not understand everything in the story, talking about the pictures, pointing at the text and discussing the story with your child will help them gain many of the important skills we outlined above!
We will be sharing more about how parents and caregivers can develop the early reading skills of their toddlers in our upcoming Building Blocks programme, which is back for its second run! This programme, aimed at children aged 1-3, is a free home-based online programme to help your child develop early literacy skills. This programme, aimed at children aged 1-3, is a free home-based online programme to help you develop your child’s early literacy skills. What’s more, each participant will receive a free kit, containing educational toys worth $65! Recruitment opens on 14 September and is limited to 500 families. What are you waiting for? Come join us in developing your toddler’s early literacy skills today!