This lesson will focus on how you can help parents and families learn about early literacy and language development and support their children in these areas. Trainings should provide parents and families with an overview of language and pre-literacy development, specific strategies that can be used at home, and resources that can be used to support language and pre-literacy development at home.
An overview of language and pre-literacy development
Learning the basics of language and pre-literacy development can be helpful for parents and families. This information not only helps parents understand their child’s development, but it also promotes the use of strategies you suggest by showing how the strategies support children’s development and school readiness.
Common expressive (speaking) and receptive (listening) language milestones are described in Lesson SBI 3—Receptive language skills and Lesson SBI 4—Expressive language skills, as well as in this handout. You can use these milestones to develop a general description of language development that will be helpful for parents and families. For example, you might say something like this: “Children use crying and other sounds to communicate their needs from the time they are born. Next they form real words and later put them together to form short phrases and then longer sentences.”
Avoid focusing too much on specific milestones and the age ranges at which children might hit them. Instead, explain that children learn and develop at their own pace and that it is normal for children to acquire skills at different rates.
Other information about language and pre-literacy development may also be helpful to parents and families, including the following:
- Pre-literacy skills are behaviors that apply to reading and writing. While prekindergarten children are not expected to read and write, there are many foundational skills they can acquire that will support their literacy development.
- Parents can support their children in developing both language and pre-literacy skills by having many books available and by reading to their children as often as possible.
- Because children develop listening and understanding skills before they can produce oral language, it is important to talk to infants and ask them questions even if they are not yet able to respond.
- All of children’s early language development supports them in being ready to learn reading and writing when they enter school. Success in school begins with rich exposure to language.
- Interactions with adults, including storytelling, sharing stories, and having conversations throughout the day, all help children develop language and pre-literacy skills.
- Parents and families whose home language is not English are encouraged to use their native language to support their children’s language and pre-literacy development. Research shows that when parents read and talk to children in their native language, the children do better when later learning a second language (Colorín Colorado, n.d.). Language and pre-literacy skills are transferable, meaning that if children develop them in their native language, they will be able to later use them in English as well.
Consider giving parents and families this information during trainings, in individual meetings, or in handouts.
Specific strategies that can be used at home
After providing an overview of information about language and pre-literacy development, trainings should focus on providing parents with specific, relevant, and supportive interactions and activities they can do at home. It can be helpful to teach strategies that have been successful in the classroom because children will already be familiar with them and you can personally attest to their benefits.
In addition, Lesson SBI 3—Receptive language skills and Lesson SBI 4—Expressive language skills have lists of strategies that support language and pre-literacy development; these lists are also incorporated into this handout along with the common milestones. Use these lists to select strategies you think would be helpful for parents, or create a shorter handout with some of the strategies, which you can describe in more detail to parents.
Point out that many strategies can be incorporated into everyday family activities. For example, adults can narrate and ask questions about their actions to support expressive language development in young children and infants. Parents and caregivers in the home might also give directions to support receptive language development in older children. This means that activities like dinner preparation are great opportunities to support language development in children of all ages. Parents might talk to younger children about what they are doing as they prepare supper. They can support older children in learning to follow directions by asking them to help set the table or perform other developmentally appropriate tasks.
Here are some additional examples of strategies you might teach, many of which can also be incorporated into everyday family activities:
Strategies that support language and pre-literacy development
- Cuddle and read: Hold and cuddle infants while reading to them, naming pictures in storybooks.
- Sing together: Teach children simple songs and rhymes and sing them together.
- Point and name: While reading to children, point to words and pictures in books. Ask older children to point to pictures and words in books as you name them.
- Ask questions: Ask older children questions about a story you’re reading.
- Pretend reading: Encourage toddlers to “pretend” read familiar books to you, flipping through the pages and talking about what they see and remember of the story.
- Writing: Encourage children to play with age-appropriate writing instruments like crayons and pens.
- Talk about writing: Talk to children about writing. For example, tell an older toddler, “I’m going to write a note to Daddy. I’ll tell him we have gone to the park. He will read it when he gets home. He might come and meet us there!”
- Name and describe: Name and describe people or objects that older infants look at. For example, “Look at the birds in the tree. What a loud noise they’re making!”
- Give simple directions: Give toddlers simple directions to follow such as “Please hang up your coat and put your boots in the cupboard.”
You can find many more strategies to share with parents in the state guidelines:
- The Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines present language and pre-literacy behaviors, along with strategies caregivers can use to support these behaviors. They can be found in the Language and Communication Development domain.
- Language and pre-literacy skills are also covered in two domains of the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines (Updated 2015): Language and Communication, and Emergent Literacy. The domains include behaviors you might see in four-year-olds, as well as strategies for supporting these behaviors for both native English language speakers and English learners (ELs).
Resources for parents and families
It is helpful to provide parents and families with resources they can use to support their children’s language and pre-literacy development. Here are some examples:
- Local libraries: Libraries generally have a wide range of children’s books available, and librarians can make suggestions for age-appropriate books. Many libraries also have free storytelling events so children can visit the library and listen to books read aloud. Learn about and promote these programs at your center. Consider giving parents and families information about how they can obtain a library card for their children.
- Lending library: Have a lending library at your early childhood site so parents and families can check out books. Some public libraries may be willing to contribute books that can be checked out. One benefit to offering public library books is that you can rotate books so that there are always new choices available. However, you should keep in mind that your site would ultimately be responsible if library books were lost, so you should create your own lending system to keep track of them.
- Bulletin boards at your center: Encourage parents and families to frequently visit your site’s bulletin boards. Teachers can post information about their lessons for the week, as well as vocabulary words that will be taught. Parents and families can read over the board and discuss the lessons with their children at home.
- Vocabulary cards: Teachers could distribute small cards with words and definitions of vocabulary being taught that week. Parents and families could use these at home to reinforce vocabulary words.
- Organizations that support literacy: There are local and national organizations that provide books and other literacy support to young children and families. For example, BookSpring is such an organization in the Austin area. Libraries and schools are good places to start to ask about local literacy organizations. You might look through this list of national organizations for additional resources as well.
- Objects or events in the home: Daily household activities offer parents and families many opportunities to support their children’s language and pre-literacy development. For example, parents might use dinner preparation to talk to children about different foods. As children are picking up their toys, parents could work with them on counting and numbers and following directions. For example, they might ask children to pick up two red blocks and put them in the box (and then three stuffed animals, etc.).