March is Reading Month: Early literacy skill-building begins at birth

Help your child be ready for kindergarten by beginning daily literacy activities in infancy.

Did you know if you start daily reading at birth, and read with your child for 30 minutes a day, they will go to kindergarten with over 900 hours of literacy time? If you reduce that to 30 minutes a week, they lose over 770 hours of this critical “brain food” and go to kindergarten with just 130 hours of literacy time.

Developing early literacy skills makes it easier for children to read. These early skills, such as building vocabulary, rhyming, and book handling skills make it easier for children to learn how to read when they get to kindergarten. However, more than one in three American children are starting kindergarten without the essential skills they need to be ready to learn to read.

Make a commitment to help your child be ready to succeed in school and commit to engaging in 30 minutes of daily literacy skill-building time starting at birth. Here are seven tips from Michigan State University Extension and ideas to support your young child’s literacy development.

1. Promote high-quality language interactions

Think of yourself like a sports commentator. You are providing the play by play for the infant or toddler in your life. Narrate the world around them, their interactions with toys, even diaper changes. Talk about what is going on, what you are doing, what they are seeing, etc. Research shows that when children have higher levels of language stimulation in the first year of life, they have better language skills, including larger vocabularies.

2. Make art a regular part of the day

In infancy and toddlerhood, young children are learning that their movements and motions can make the marks on the paper. Art experiences provide young children with the ability to practice gripping and holding a marker or crayon, learning to be purposeful in making marks on paper and phenomenal sensory feedback (feeling the paint squish between their fingers, smelling the crayons, etc.). Provide children with a wide variety of art experiences including, but not limited to, coloring with markers and crayons on heavy and thin paper, painting, finger painting, molding paint and clay, etc. Consider using non-traditional paints like chocolate pudding or shaving cream for a fun sensory experience.

3. Read, read, read

Build children’s print awareness and book handling skills by reading to them every day and making books available for children to explore. Consider heavy-duty board books that will survive heavy duty toddler usage. MSU Extension offers ideas to expand on your child’s experiences with books in our free, reproducible Family Book Sheets.

4. Nursery rhyme time

Research in early literacy has proven that regular exposure to rhymes help boost children’s abilities to master pre-reading skills such as rhyme prediction and detection. Add rhymes and rhythms to your child’s day. Read nursery rhymes, sing songs with rhyming words, find fun books with rhymes and add chants or rhymes to routine times of your day, such as cleanup time or bath time.

5. Use baby sign language

Did you know that babies who learned to sign first have been found to have significantly higher vocabularies and higher IQ scores? In fact, babies who learn to sign are more likely to be reading on grade level by the end of third grade. Use signs to teach your baby and toddler basic communication words like eat, more, milk, tired, wet, hot, etc. You can tell your baby is starting to be old enough to sign when you see them waving bye-bye or mimicking other gestures to communicate, such as pounding on their high chair tray for more food.

6. Read it again, and again, and again!

While reading books again and again might be frustrating for parents, toddlers love to have their favorite books read aloud multiple times. The act of re-reading a book helps young children build their comprehension skills and their vocabulary. Consider having special books as parts of your routine, such as a bedtime book you read at the same time every night. Ask questions while you read, can they predict what will happen next?

7. Literacy rich environments

Point out to your baby or toddler all the things you read in a day. Read in front of them, emphasize that reading is something you value. Read cereal boxes at breakfast, magazines in the doctor’s waiting room, street signs while you are driving. Make books accessible to your child. Help your child grow up valuing reading as a critical skill and worthy use of their free time.

It is critical to help your child be ready to read when they go to kindergarten. According to 2017 M-STEP data, only 50 percent of Michigan’s children were reading on grade level by the end of third grade. This is a crucial benchmark because in fourth grade, children shift from learning how to read to reading to learn. The Michigan Department of Education is working diligently to improve reading proficiency, beginning with supporting language, literacy and pre-reading skills in early childhood.

Do your part in supporting your child’s early reading skills. Make an effort to keep reading a priority in your home; a family activity that is fun, engaging and something you do together, every day. Helping your child learn to love reading is an amazing gift.

For more information about early childhood literacy development, programs in your area and webinars, visit MSU Extension’s Early Childhood Development.

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