Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Early Language and Literacy Development - Listening & Speaking

Early literacy is not just reading and writing, a more vital part is listening and speaking. Children are practicing listening and speaking skills from the moment they arrive in the world. It’s somewhere around a year that most children start demonstrating more conventional speech and conversation skills when they say their first word!

Hopefully I’m not the first person to tell you that speaking to and reading to your infant is SUPER important! It’s the best and easiest thing you can do to build your child’s language right from the start. We read simple picture books to Little C all the time when she was an infant, especially during diaper changes; I’d let her hang out and dry and read a book or two. She was very happy and content on the changing table before she learned how to move. Another thing I did was narrate a good portion of my day and make up all sorts of silly songs. I firmly believe that those things helped Little C develop strong language skills quickly!

As your toddler becomes better spoken, it becomes easier to evaluate her listening and speaking development. Here are some things teachers look for when evaluating 3 year-olds.


  1. Does the child gain meaning by listening to stories read aloud? Does he converse and respond appropriately and use words/phrases learned in a story, show, or during a trip? (ex. Using the words zoo, ticket, or sea lion after a trip to the zoo).
  2. Does the child follow 2-step directions? This doesn’t just include following your verbal directions but also matching movements to the directions in a song or following the rules to a game.


  1. Are most listeners able to understand the child when they are interacting and speaking together?
  2. Does the child use vocabulary learned in a book, etc. in a different context or recall details of a recent event? Does the child make up silly words or make up dialogue for a pretend play scenario? Does the child recite short rhymes or songs?

I’ll leave you with some tips on nurturing those budding listening and speaking skills:

  • Read various types of books (fiction, non-fiction, nature, counting…) Find some of our favorite board books here.
  • Give your child the opportunity to follow multi-step directions in day to day things and also by playing games or doing movement songs. (Check out our favorite movement songs!)
  • Model proper speech – resist the urge to baby talk! If your child calls water “wawa,” accept that though it is definitely super cute, you should continue calling it water.
  • Talk with your child about daily events whether it’s a play date, class or trip; ask questions and encourage responses rather than talking at your child.
  • If your child asks you what something is or what you're doing, tell them! It encourages curiosity and learning and will help build vocabulary.
For more information on language and literacy development, see also Reading & Writing.


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