Babies and toddlers are like little sponges, hungrily soaking up everything around them. Curiosity to understand, explore, observe, and taste everything around them is crucial to early brain development. These natural instincts sometimes lead to exciting and embarrassing stories to tell at their high school graduation. These little people are constantly observing, listening, and emulating the world around them, especially their caregivers. You are babies' and toddlers' first (and most important!) teachers!
Many studies and research back up how truly crucial caregivers are to young children's brain-building process. Preschoolers whose caregivers read to them, tell them stories (even the same ones over and over and over again), and sing silly songs with them tend to develop larger vocabularies, become better readers, and perform better in school. As children begin to understand that the print on a page stands for something, they start developing what is known as print awareness––learning how to hold a book, understand story sequencing, and reading from left to right (Shrier, 2013). Repetition and consistency are key to early literacy skills.
Did you know that reading proficiently by the end of the third grade is considered a "make it or break it" benchmark? 83 percent of children who are not reading on grade level by the beginning of fourth grade are at risk of failing to graduate from high school on time. These stats aren't meant to scare you, but to inform you of the importance of early literacy skills. To be sure that your child is reading on grade level, it's crucial to support their emergent literacy development, those critical skills your child needs to develop before learning to read (Shrier, 2013).
These skills begin as young children learn to use non-verbal and verbal communication methods, including speech and sign language, to communicate with those around them. Speaking of sign language, did you know that the Library currently hosts a monthly virtual American Sign Language (ASL) Storytime for preschoolers to learn targeted vocabulary in ASL through stories, songs, and games? You can register online. You can also learn and practice independently with this video.
Children learn new vocabulary in various ways, including reading books, listening, and talking with older siblings and adults in their environment. Even in an environment that may seem mundane, you can still help them learn. For example, when going to a grocery store, talk about what you are getting out loud, naming various food as you put them in your cart, and explaining what you are planning to cook. At the register, talk about paying for and bagging your groceries. It may seem weird or embarrassing to talk out loud to a six-month-old about your grocery haul. Still, it is a simple exercise that strengthens and grows their network of synapses. Embrace the weird! The more vocabulary and language a child is exposed to, the quicker they will learn to read, as they will be more familiar with the words they encounter.
There are many activities you can participate in to support your children's emergent literacy skills, such as talking with them, reading to them, singing, playing games, dramatic play, singing nursery rhymes, listening to music, or taking advantage of one of our Library's story walks at local parks, which combines many of these activities! Each stop on the Story Walk offers a fun reading activity designed to build literacy skills while having fun as a family.
No pressure, right? All joking aside, the Library offers plenty of tools to help you be the best teacher possible for your child. Another one of these tools is our free early literacy challenge, 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten, which launched in early April. This is a self-paced reading challenge to encourage reading as part of your daily routine, setting them up for success. Along with the reading challenge, there will be esteem boosters, prizes, and more. At the end of the reading challenge, your child will get to "adopt" their own farm animal stuffie, complete with adoption papers, care instructions, and a pet carrier. To sign up, register online through the Beanstack website or app or talk to any children’s librarian!
Shrier, Carrie. "ABC'S Of Early Literacy: The Importance Of Developing Early Literacy Skills". MSU Extension, 2013.