Language and Literacy in Early Childhood

Did you know children whose parents read to them, tell them stories, sing songs with them and engage in other literacy activities on a regular basis tend to develop larger vocabularies, become better readers and perform better in school? In fact, the link between early literacy and later reading success is so strong, there is a tight correlation between children’s vocabulary at three years old and their reading level in third grade.

The language and literacy area of early childhood includes skills such as experimental writing, oral language, awareness of the conventions of print, letters and letter sounds, vocabulary and comprehension. Parents and caregivers can support children’s skills in this area in many ways.

Access to a wide variety of writing materials and writing instruments, including different weights of papers, markers, crayons and pencils, will encourage children to begin “writing.” These early writing attempts may look like scribbling, but children can and will tell you about what they wrote! When children learn letters, they typically learn the letters in their own name first. It is great for children to practice writing their letters in a wide variety of ways, including writing letters in sand or rice trays and other tactile experiences. While these tips are helpful, the single most important early literacy experience parents can give their children is to take time to read aloud, every day. 

Michigan State University Extension recommends parents and caregivers read to their child for 30 minutes a day. When this daily reading time begins at birth, children can go to Kindergarten with more than 900 hours of reading time under their belts! However, when that is reduced to just 30 minutes a week, children leave for Kindergarten with only 130 hours of reading experience. Keep in mind this time doesn’t have to be consecutive: just a few minutes here and there spent on literacy activities can quickly add up to the recommended 30 minutes. Throughout the day, try things like reading the cereal box at breakfast or signs on the way to school to add to your literacy work.

In addition to these recommendations, MSU Extension offers the following online and face-to-face trainings to support children’s language and literacy development: ABC’s of Early Literacy, Raising Young Readers and Hands on Literacy Activities. Look at the events calendar to find out when these programs are being offered near you or contact an early childhood educator to book a presentation at your library, childcare center, school or other community program.

MSU Extension also offers a variety of downloadable resources for parents and caregivers interested in learning about language and literacy in young children.

In addition, MSU Extension recommends the following resources:

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