Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Early Language & Literacy Development - Reading & Writing

Let me just start off by saying that though I am not a speech or literacy expert, but I have 13 years’ experience working in early childhood classrooms and have spent the past 2½ years implementing what I had learned with my own daughter. And even though I didn’t get the “Your Baby Can Read” videos and I have yet to teach her the alphabet song, her language and literacy skills have exceeded all my expectations are far beyond those of most of the 2-3 year olds (and even some 4 year olds!) I taught.

Children learn best when things are meaningful. And sure your child can memorize almost anything you repeat day in and day out, but if it’s not meaningful they won’t know how to apply it to different situations. 

Today I’ll touch on two parts of early language and literacy development: reading and writing.  Tomorrow I’ll explore listening and speaking. 

Whether your child is in daycare/preschool or at home, here is a glimpse of the skills teachers are evaluating in 3 year olds.


  1. Does the child show appreciation for books by paying attention to stories read aloud, holding a book right side up and flipping pages one by one front to back, recognizing some books by their covers or acting our familiar stories?
  2. Does the child show interest in letters and words by identifying their names/letters in their name in various places, “reading” familiar words on labels or asking “what does that say?”
  3. Does the child comprehend and respond to stories read aloud? Does he ask relevant questions about the story, label pictures or retell parts of the story using the pictures in the book or with props/felt board cutouts?


  1. Does the child represent ideas and stories through pictures, dictation and play? Does she describe her drawing, “talk” on the phone, ask you to write a note or label a picture, make up a story using props/felt board cutouts or describe what is happening in her pretend play scenario?
  2. Does the child use scribbles and unconventional shapes to write (ex. name, signs, shopping lists, birthday/thank you cards, etc)?

Learning letters should begin first with the most meaningful word of all, your child’s name. Little C has become very familiar with some of the letters in her name and points them out in various places, from books to street signs to license plates. I’ve made felt name tags for her, Mommy, Daddy, Bunia (grandma) and Dido (grandpa) and she can tell you which is which, match the letters, tell you who has the same letters and is beginning to learn the names of some of the letters (although she prefers to call M the zig-zag letter :-) ).

As for writing, I don’t encourage tracing simply because first your child has to learn how to trace the letters, and then how to write without the letters. Also, children sometimes draw over the tracing lines in strange ways instead of writing the letter properly. In these cases, children have to relearn how to make the letters. I recommend teaching your child to write using hand over hand (your hand over their hand writing together) and verbal prompts (for example, for an M say “up-down-up-down”).  Eventually remove your hand and just continue with verbal prompts. Another activity to strengthen fine motor writing skills is to practice drawing simple shapes starting with dots, lines and circles. This teaches a skill your child can transfer to writing letters as all letters are formed from lines, curves and dots! Plus, once your child has perfected those beginning three shapes, he will be able to draw people – and isn’t that an exciting thing?!

I hope I have broadened your knowledge of early language and literacy development; if you have any questions please leave them in the comments section below. I will try and post simple ideas for literacy development soon. In the meantime, here are some simple tips to help strengthen those reading and writing skills. 
  • Read books with your child and oblige them when they want to read it again and again - at least for a handful of times. Their eagerness to read over and over indicates that they're still learning from the book!
  • Let your child read to you. Prompt him to tell you about what he sees in the pictures and what he thinks is happening. As long as what he's saying makes sense given the picture, don't worry if it's not what is actually happening in the story.
  • Point to the words in titles of books, on toys or food boxes - anywhere really! Make a felt or magnetic name tag for your child. Keep in mind, do not write in all capital letters! It will just force your child to have to relearn her name.
  • Involve your child in writing or watching you write - encourage drawing and then label the drawings with your child's name and the name of their picture. Have your child draw on & "sign" birthday or thank you cards. Let your child watch you write a grocery list, and maybe help or write their own!
For more on literacy and language development, see also Listening and Speaking.


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