Early literacy tips for parents: 5 Ways to encourage toddlers

What exactly is “Literacy,” anyway? Usually, when we think of literacy, we think about reading, right? There’s actually a lot more to it… But setting your child up for success in their early literacy learning doesn’t have to be tough. So, here are some tips to get you started in the early years!

Reading skills & early literacy skills

Yes, reading is a big part of literacy. But if your child can only read, and does not have a strong foundation in the other language skills, then their understanding will be only surface level. What are these other language skills, you might ask?

Literacy is a combination of Reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

These are essential skills for understanding the world around us and the same ones we use to communicate our thoughts, wishes, and needs. Needless to say, these skills are all pretty important!

Now, educators are well-versed in how to teach literacy to your children once they are in school… But this doesn’t mean you can’t work on these skills at home! So, let’s look at some tips for parents that can help strengthen their child’s literacy at home.

Supporting literacy learning at home

1. Talk like an adult (To your kids)

I get it! Your kids are adorable, and it can be tough not to babble or talk in ‘baby talk,’ especially when they’re very little. But – You are who the children interact most with. This means you need to demonstrate the skills you want them to learn, especially with language.

After all, how will they learn proper speaking skills when they’re not being exposed to them? Talking to your young ones like they are adults will do wonders for their development.

While keeping conversation age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate, you can easily demonstrate the language skills you hope they will learn. Young kids often repeat what they hear others say, anyways – So why not use this to benefit their learning?

*Another note on this Talk as much as you can with them! In their young years, children are at such a wonderful development stage where they explore big ideas and emotions. Talking with them consistently helps teach them how to articulate their thoughts while also practicing their early literacy skills.

Early Literacy Tips For Parents (2)

2. Read, read, read!

If your little one is expressing an interest in books, it’s important to nourish this curiosity. Make reading time a special time – Let them choose their children’s books and make it routine. Encourage them to choose books they can read too (not just listen to you read).

Offering a wide range of texts for your children is critical. Sometimes, they may want to be brave and try reading all on their own – Amazing! Encourage this! Help your child as much as they need as they start reading. Learning to read is tricky stuff, and this is a big milestone.

But, other times, your child may want to be immersed in your words as they listen and imagine the characters, becoming enthralled with the story you’re telling. Also amazing! Listening comprehension is an important skill, too.

Nourish a love of reading

Introducing them to (and inspiring them to have) a love of reading will be excellent for their literacy development as they become excited about books of all kinds and explore their own interests through reading and writing.

Making reading an important part of every day fosters this, too. I love using books as a “wind-down” tool or bringing them on outings. Whenever we go for a picnic, we carry a few books to read too. Or maybe we’re switching activities and need a way to bring the energy down between tasks – Perfect time for reading!

Reading before bed also helps to transition your children to bedtime by redirecting their minds into the story and relaxing them before sleep.

There are more ideas on this post, too: 7 Ways To Help Your Child Love Reading

3. Draw (Or Write) It Out!

I mentioned above that writing is one of the key components of early literacy. But, how do we teach writing in the early years? Through drawing! The National Association for the Education of Young Learning actually has a great infographic on the stages of writing. Take a peek to find out where your child is and what to expect next!

Remember, we’re not looking for perfect letter shapes at this stage. Squiggles, scribbles, and mimicking of letters is great too. Focus more on helping them hold their pencils properly than the actual shapes they’re drawing for now. And when they’re tired – Honor that! Breaks are important, too.

If you have a young one that really wants to write letters, words, and/or sentences, but they don’t want to try it on their own, use a highlighter to write the word for them. Then they can use their pencil to try tracing these letters themselves!

4. Get musical

Have a mini-musician in the house? Maybe this is the way to their literary heart! Learning songs together is an engaging way to practice literacy. Not only are they (maybe) memorizing lyrics, but if you’re doing action-based songs, they are connecting the words they’re saying/hearing to the actions. This deepens their learning and, perhaps most importantly, is fun!

5. Play!

If you’ve read my other articles, you have likely noticed my appreciation for play-based learning. This is because I love that you can teach crucial concepts through engaging and exciting activities. Teaching this way reduces stress and makes things more memorable – Plus, if it’s fun enough, your children may not even realize they’re learning!

Try to find some word games that your children are interested in, or play some old favorites (with twists)! You may want to try this fun take on Red Light, Green Light, for example!

6. Practice phonemic awareness

Phonemes are the smallest parts of our language. Working on this skill helps young readers identify individual word parts. For example, each letter between the / symbol here is a phoneme: “d/o/g”.

A fun way to develop this is by practicing rhyming words. When reading aloud or at story time, you could ask them to touch their nose when they hear a rhyming pair. You could also print materials for rhyme matching games.


Conclusion

There you have it, folks! 5 easy ways to practice literacy at home! Save the full-on lessons for when your child is in school, and guide them through their at-home learning in a fun way. They will be literacy all-stars in no time!

By helping your child learn in a way that is gentle (and led by them), early literacy learning is a super fun skill for both the kiddos and the family members teaching. Kindergarten is the time for more of the heavy learning – With toddlers and preschoolers, learning is a lot more informal.

So, whether you plan to take a trip to the library for some reading material, you practice reading and writing through worksheets or games, or you get imaginative like asking them to help with the grocery list, remember: It’s all learning!

Early childhood education is meant to be fun, and your children learn in many, many different ways.

BTW, we would love to know: What is your favorite way to make teaching literacy a part of your daily routine?

Elke Crosson

Elke Crosson has her BA in International Relations with a minor in Spanish at UBC (Okanagan). She is currently in her second year of the Master of Teaching program at the University of Toronto, with dreams of becoming an elementary-level teacher.

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