The term “early literacy” commonly refers to the language and communication skills our young children gain during the years before kindergarten.

We know now that infants and toddlers who have been liberally exposed to talking, reading, music and a variety of texts enter school with a much higher chance for success.

But remembering to talk continually with our young children may be like learning new exercises to minimize our waistlines. Mothers and fathers may feel much more confident in their skills if they knew a few simple practices they could implement every day.

Luckily, the UNC Child Development Institute has published a list of practices that parents and teachers can use to support children’s language development. Each practice feels natural and logical, and is easy to remember. The list from UNC Child Development Institute includes the following tips:

1. Get chatty:

  1. Have a simple conversation with a toddler, even if the toddler has little to say and the conversation feels one-sided.

2. Be a commenter:

  1. Give constant descriptions of objects, events and activities. For example, “Let’s get ready to go to your brother’s soccer game. We need to hurry if we want to see the children run after the ball!”

3. Mix it up:

  1. Try mixing up your word choice by choosing different verbs or grammatical structures.

4. Label it:

  1. Provide babies and toddlers with names, names and more names! Use words like door, carrot, diaper, car, bubbles, sweater and truck.

5. Tune in:

  1. Engage in the activities or happenings that seem to be interesting to your toddler. When your baby’s interest is captivated by something, talk about it — even if it’s not something that always interests you.

6. Read interactively:

  1. Use books to engage children. Talk about the pictures and tell the story. You might not need to finish the book, but take your time exploring what interests your child.

7. Read it AGAIN:

  1. Read books multiple times — again and again! Babies and toddlers will soon recognize important phrases and sayings like “Goodnight Moon.”

8. Props:

  1. Introduce new objects to your baby, complete with explanations and descriptions. “See this flower? It’s a purple flower that is so pretty.”

9. Make music:

  1. Sing along with the radio or play instruments with your child. You don’t need to have a lot of musical talent to bond with your child and promote learning!

10. Sign it:

  1. When you talk about objects or actions, use gestures to communicate. Waving goodbye, clapping and pointing to things like noses are part of critical language lessons.

Language acquisition, like all aspects of child development, occurs at different rates. Because we know that reading by itself will not build pre-literacy skills, parents have the unique opportunity to model a literate and conversational world for their young children. From the moment they are born, our little ones begin to develop their literacy skills and parents, grandparents and all those who nurture play a critical role in that development.

Guest columnist bio: Kay A. Smith has enjoyed 37 years in education. After retiring from the English department at Utah Valley University, where she was an associate professor, she has devoted her energy to ESL work and literacy initiatives with United Way’s Women United.

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