Parent's Guide to Early Literacy Development

What You Can Do at Home

Family members play a fundamental role in helping their children develop early literacy skills. You are your child's first teacher. Every time you interact with your child, he or she learns about communicating, listening, and working with others. Make the most of everyday moments by talking to your child about what is happening (narrate the experience) and asking open-ended questions.

Families do things together and children learn best by doing things. Show your child that reading is a year-round activity by making reading fun and interesting. Let your child see you read. If your child views reading as a pleasant and relaxed activity, chances are he or she will be eager to read on his or her own.

See our suggestions for what you can do at home with your child:


Infants are learning to use their voice to communicate by crying, cooing, and babbling as well as learning to use nonverbal communication such as facial expressions, gestures, and body language. Infants learn language and communication skills from their environment and the ways people around them communicate.

  • Model language and help your child understand what is happening by talking to her during all caregiving routines, such as diapering.
  • Encourage your child to vocalize by imitating and repeating the sounds he makes.
  • Motivate your child to communicate by making eye contact when talking to her.
  • Help your child learn and respond to his name by using his name often.
  • Help your child learn vocabulary by reading to her often.
  • Sing songs. Music is a fun and interesting way for infants to learn language.


Toddlers are in an exciting stage of language development. They repeat and imitate what others say, understand more when spoken to, and begin to put words together into short phrases. Vocabulary development and comprehension are most important at this stage.

  • Help your child learn language in a meaningful context by talking to her about what she is doing.
  • Acknowledge your child's use of language by repeating the words and phrases he says.
  • Help your child learn how to build on language she knows by expanding her words into phrases and sentences.
  • Help your child learn the names of things by labeling objects in his environment.
  • Help develop your child's vocabulary by reading a wide variety of books together.


Most two-year-olds expand their vocabulary from about 200 to 1000 words during this year of development. They begin to understand words, repeat words, and put words together to form sentences. Literacy and language skills emerge rapidly, so it is important for children this age to be exposed to spoken and written language on a daily basis.

  • Encourage your child to talk and express ideas by engaging him in conversations.
  • Model good communication skills by listening attentively and responding purposefully to your child.
  • Expand your child's vocabulary by demonstrating how to add new words to familiar ones to make phrases and short sentences.
  • Select books that contain movements and sounds your child can imitate or that introduce concepts such as colors, counting, and shapes.
  • Provide a variety of writing tools for your child to use to experiment with writing skills.


A typical three-year-old is able to express herself easily using words. This increase in language and communication skills is also related to cognitive and social skill development because with more vocabulary words, preschoolers can formulate their thoughts before speaking and talk with others more easily. Three-year-olds enjoy learning new words and typically have over 1,200 words in their vocabulary by the end of their third year.

  • Talk together about why people read and what they do as they read so your child understands the purpose of reading.
  • Use speech that is clear and simple for your child to model.
  • Show your child you understand her by repeating and expanding on what she says.
  • Develop sight-word vocabulary by pointing out print in your environment, for example, on book covers, cereal boxes, and advertisements.
  • Sing simple songs and recite nursery rhymes to show rhythm and patterns of speech.
  • Encourage your child to create stories with real or imaginary characters.


Four-year-olds' vocabularies are ever-increasing; children this age are usually able to experiment with language easily, which can add dramatic flair and personality to everyday experiences. New sounds, funny words, and easy conversation make this stage in a child's language and communication development exciting.

  • Invite your child to experiment with language through active play by participating in rhyming activities and dramatizing stories.
  • Encourage your child to create and tell stories to help develop new and interesting vocabulary and expressive skills.
  • Promote your child's enthusiasm for reading by being aware of his attitude toward reading and encouraging him to practice pre-reading skills at his own pace when he is ready.
  • Provide a wide variety of literature for your child; take a trip to your local library and invite her to select some books of interest.
  • Exercise your child's imagination and listening skills by telling him stories without books or pictures.


The language and communication skills of school-age children are continuing to grow rapidly. Younger school-age children can understand and talk in simple, short sentences. Older school-age children can understand and interpret abstract language and write complex sentences. Overall, this age is marked by a tremendous increase in vocabulary.

  • Develop your child's alphabet awareness by inviting her to go on a “Letter Hunt.” Provide her with a newspaper, have her select an alphabet letter, and encourage her to locate that letter where it appears in print.
  • Increase your child's awareness of books and pre-writing skills by creating a blank book for him and encouraging him to draw or write in the book each day.
  • Encourage your child's love of reading by providing her with a variety of appropriate fiction and non-fiction books and magazines of interest.
  • Expose your child to new vocabulary and different styles of writing by reading to your child often.
  • Take exploratory walks or trips together. Talk about what you see. Ask questions. Highlight any new concepts or vocabulary.