Encouraging literacy development
Literacy development is a vital part of your child’s overall development. It’s the foundation for doing well at school, socialising with others, problem-solving, making decisions, developing independence, managing money and working.
But before children can learn to read and write, they need to develop the building blocks for literacy – the ability to speak, listen, understand, watch and draw.
And as children get older, they also need to learn about the connection between letters on a page and spoken sounds. For this to happen, your child needs plenty of experience with:
- pictures and objects – how you can use words to talk about them
- letters and words – how they look and sound, and what they’re called
- sounds – how words can rhyme, begin and end with the same letters, be broken up into parts like syllables, be formed by blending different sounds and so on.
You can help with all these areas of your child’s early literacy development by:
- communicating with your child
- reading together
- playing with rhyme and other sounds with your child.
And the great news is that you can do this in ways that are fun for both of you.
The language experiences that children have before they start school form powerful brain connections. These connections are used for language, thinking and understanding. Without activities like talking, singing and reading, the brain doesn’t develop these important connections.
Communicating: its importance in literacy development
Communicating with your baby helps to develop your child’s ability to speak, listen and understand as they get older.
For example, you might notice your baby responds to your smiles and your words. Your baby might try to imitate your sounds and facial expressions. When you respond, it encourages two-way conversation and helps your baby learn words and build language skills.
Another example is singing with your child, which teaches them about the rise and fall of sounds. It’s also a good way to introduce your child to the music and stories of your family’s culture.
What you can do
- Copy the sounds your baby makes. It’s OK to use baby talk, which is when you speak more slowly, let your voice rise and fall, and repeat and emphasise words. This helps babies understand how language is put together.
- Sing with your child. You can visit our Baby Karaoke page for ideas on what to sing.
- Talk with your child about the everyday things you’re doing and seeing together. For example, ‘Let’s get the washing now’, ‘Look at the red bird’ or ‘Yum, what a nice lunch we’re having’.
- Talk about feelings and chat about whether your child is happy or sad. Use words to describe your child’s emotions. This can help your child understand how others feel too.
- Share stories with your child. You could share funny or interesting stories from your childhood or tell your child about your family’s past. You could take turns creating a story together.
- Emphasise the different parts of words or different letters to help your child understand that words can be broken down into segments. For example, you could say ‘ball’ and emphasise the ‘b’ sound or ‘ba-na-na’ and emphasise each syllable.
- Listen to your child. Follow your child’s lead and talk about things they want to talk about. If your child asks a question, give them the chance to come up with answers before you step in. For example, if your child says, ‘What’s that box there?’, you could say, ‘What do you think it is?’
- Repeat mispronounced words with the correct pronunciation. For example, if your child says ‘pasghetti’, you can say, ‘Yes, we’re having spaghetti for dinner’.
Speaking more than one language has many benefits for children. Read our article on raising bilingual children for information and tips on supporting your bilingual child’s literacy development.
Reading: its importance in literacy development
It’s good to read with your child often. It’s best to start reading from birth, but it’s never too late to begin. Reading with children from an early age helps them develop a solid foundation for literacy. It also promotes bonding and is good for your relationship with your child.
- shows them that books can give both pleasure and information
- helps them learn the sounds of letters in spoken language
- helps them understand that stories aren’t coming from you, but from the words on the page – this teaches them about how the printed word works
- helps them develop a larger vocabulary – books might use new or unfamiliar words
- improves their thinking and problem-solving skills
- can get children thinking and talking about a new concept, an event or something that interests them
- helps them learn about the wider community, society and the world.
What you can do
- Choose lift-the flap books, touch-and-feel books or books with rhyming or repeating words for younger children.
- Encourage your child to hold the book and turn the pages. This helps your child start to understand that the book should be a certain way up, and that pages are always turned in the same direction.
- Slide your finger underneath the words as you read them, pointing out each word. This teaches your child about print and shows your child that we always start on the left and move to the right when reading English. You could ask, ‘Where should I start reading on this page?’ or ‘Do you know this letter?’
- Point out pictures and talk about the pictures your child points to.
- Make the sounds of animals or other objects in the book – have fun!
- Ask your child open-ended questions about the story, like ‘What do you think is going to happen next?’ or ‘What would you do if this was you?’
- Visit your local library – it’s free to join and borrow. Libraries have many different types of books.
Let’s Read is an Australian program that promotes reading with babies and children aged 0-5 years. Let’s Read resources include reading tipsheets and book suggestion lists.
Rhyme: its importance in literacy development
Rhyming is a great way to help babies hear and identify different sounds in words. And when children start learning to read, rhyming helps them learn the connection between the sound of a word and how it’s written.
What you can do
- Play games that involve rhyming. Rhyming games help children appreciate beginning, middle and ending sounds – for example, ‘cat, pat and mat’. You can play them at any time – in the car, while shopping or at the dinner table.
- Play games that involve the sound and rhythm of words. You could try tongue twisters like ‘She sells seashells by the seashore’.
- Read rhyming books like Ten little fingers and ten little toes by Mem Fox or the Pig the pug series by Aaron Blabey.
You might like to read about more activities to promote literacy. And if you’re worried that your child might be having early literacy difficulties, it’s a good idea to talk with a professional, like your child and family health nurse, your child’s early childhood teacher, or your GP.