5 Ways to Create a Literacy-Rich Environment for Infants and Toddlers

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Infants and toddlers have several years to develop literacy skills that will make them successful in school. Take advantage of this time.

Rachel Porter, director of Educational and Career Initiatives for the Triangle Literacy Council, suggests children develop literacy skills early on.

“That very early time of infancy and toddler age is when a lot of those brain connections are being made and where language awareness is being developed,” she says.

Here are five practical tips for creating a literacy-rich environment for your infant or toddler:

1. Include books in the environment. Julie Justice, an assistant professor of education at Elon University and mom to a 5-year-old son, made a practice of leaving board books in her son’s bed so there was always something for him to read when he woke up.

“There were days when he could sit and read alone for 45 minutes when he woke up from a nap just because there was a book sitting there waiting for him,” she says.

2. Read books aloud. “Even very little babies with very short attention spans can be read to,” Porter says. Reading aloud to infants, if only for a few minutes, will help develop their print and language awareness.

“From about 6 months to 2½, we did three books a night,” Justice says. “I was very careful and thoughtful about those three books. And the three books were in this order: a new book, the book from last week and the book from the week before. And we would read the same three books every night for a week and then the oldest book would rotate off and then the new book would come in.”

In addition to developing vocabulary, this activity helps kids learn about text permanence and develop content knowledge.

“I wanted him to develop expertise with particular books so that he knew them well,” Justice says. She also suggests that when kids start selecting books for reading time, it’s important to validate their choices.

3. Make different text types visible. Justice helped her son learn his ABCs by singing the alphabet song and walking around his room, pointing to the 26, 11-inch-tall vinyl letters on his wall. Decorations that were specifically for babies, including books and photos in plastic frames, were placed no more than 2 feet above the floor.

4. Encourage writing. “We’ve always had a writing area,” Justice says. Magna Doodles, whiteboards, chalkboards, window markers for mirrors or stickers can go in these writing areas.

5. “Play books.” Teacher-inspired centers are also really easy to set up, Justice says. She took a book her son liked and then set it up along with several toys and stuffed animals that related to the book.

“We have always played books,” Justice says. “I would always set it up as sort of a provocation to where there’s a book, but there’s also all the little toys that can go with it.”

She and her son would play with the props as they read the book. She recommends having costumes available and making sure “playing the books” becomes a regular activity.

As you set up a literacy-rich environment for your child, remember to spend some time reading yourself, too. Children need to think of reading as a fun, enjoyable experience, and parents have the opportunity to serve as early models of reading for their children.

“Another thing parents can do is let their child see them enjoying reading and see them reading on a daily basis,” Porter says.

Literacy Resources for Infants and Toddlers

Please visit the following resources and/or your local library for more information about supporting your child’s literacy development:

“More Than Baby Talk: 10 Ways to Promote the Language and Communication Skills of Infants and Toddlers” by Nicole Gardner-Neblett, Ph.D., and Kathleen Cranley Gallagher, Ph.D.

Triangle Literacy Council: triangleliteracy.org

Milestones of Early Literacy Development at the Reach Out & Read website: reachoutandread.org/resource-center/literacy-materials/literacy-milestones

Kathryn Caprino is a professor and freelance writer who lives in Gainesville, Florida.

Categories: Early Education, Health and Development, New Parent, Parenting, Solutions