Now Is the Right Time!
As a parent or someone in a parenting role, you play an essential role in your child’s success. There are intentional ways to grow a healthy parent-child relationship from the start, and supporting your child’s development now in ways that will help them read when they are older is a great way to do it.
Preparing to learn to read begins as early as possible, long before your child can read a word on a page. No matter what age, it is always good to build a habit of reading books together, and there are many other things that you can do to develop early reading skills as well.
Reading skills are grown by talking and singing, playing rhyming games together, and reading to your child often to build their vocabulary and knowledge about the world.
Children are naturally very eager to learn and are interested in letters and sounds. The early years are the right time for developing language skills, playing with sounds, and enjoying books together so children will be ready for reading in the future.
Throughout the early years, your child is turning to you to help them figure out what is important to pay attention to in the world. When you fill your child’s day with talking, singing, rhyming, and reading, they learn that language is important. Your child is interested in your voice, the words you choose, the rhythms of your speech, the songs you sing, and the books you love.
The steps below include specific, practical strategies to help you have fun with your child while growing their language skills and building a relationship that includes reliable and unconditional support and love.
Your one-year-old’s experiences including singing, rhyming, and playing with you are essential to developing a healthy brain, growing curiosity skills, learning about language and emotions, and strengthening their relationship with you. These experiences will also help them learn to read when they are older.
You can begin by exposing your child to songs, sounds, and books they can explore – even if that means drooling or chewing on them in the first years! As time goes on, they will turn to you for new words and stories and will connect language and reading with the joy they feel when they are having fun with you.
Today, in the short term, building a foundation for reading can create
- language skills that help your child communicate about their needs with you,
- fun times with you as you learn new songs and stories together, and
- a love of learning that will encourage your child to explore and be curious.
Tomorrow, in the long term, building a foundation for reading
- prepares your child for success in school;
- provides a firm foundation for exploration, learning, and speaking up;
- helps them identify thoughts and feelings and struggles, which grows self-awareness;
- helps them manage impulses so they can stay focused on the story, which grows self-management;
- helps them become more socially aware as they learn how to take cues from others about how to use language together in games and songs;
- helps them grow responsible decision-making skills as they learn good reading habits and they learn to ask for help when needed; and
- creates shared family stories, games, and memories.
This five-step process helps you and your child develop a foundation that will help them learn to read when they are older. The same process can be used to address other parenting issues as well (learn more about the process).
These steps are done best when you and your child are not tired or in a rush.
Step 1. Get Your Child Thinking by Getting Their Input
One-year-olds may use babbling, single words, and crying to communicate with you. Paying close attention to your child’s facial expressions, movements, and sounds in order to work on understanding what they are trying to communicate.
Your efforts to learn from your child build trust and create empathetic interactions that let them know that you are interested in what they are thinking. This will make a big difference for setting the stage for early reading. Your child will give you lots of cues about what they are ready to learn. Every child is different, and your own child may change from day to day in how willing they are to sing new songs, have conversations, and listen to new stories.
You are getting to know your child’s cues and are learning to anticipate if reading more stories or any other experience is right for today. Is your child feeling particularly tired? Did they just get hurt or are they hungry? Knowing how they are doing and what their facial expressions and body language mean will help you decide if an activity is right for your child, right now.
In paying attention and noting small differences in your child’s verbal and nonverbal expressions, you
- show them that they can trust you to notice how they feel,
- let them know that you will help them to face challenges, and
- deepen your ability to communicate with one another.
- Language development and relationship development set the stage for later reading success. Simple questions and interactions can engage your child. Your child may be responding with a few simple words, and they can respond with their eye contact, their facial expression, and their body movements.
- Make sounds together. For example, practice animal sounds together. “What does a cow say? It says Moooo. Can you say Moooo?” “What does a duck say? It says Quack Quack. Can you say Quack Quack?” You could also practice clapping or stomping your feet together.
If your child seems unengaged when you are singing or reading together, don’t worry. Young children have very short attention spans, and it is ok for them to look away and then re-engage again later.
Step 2. Teach New Skills by Interactive Modeling
One-year-olds are learning how to engage in their world through your loving interactions, which include growing skills that will help them learn how to read when they are older. Skill building takes intentional practice.
Learning about developmental milestones can help you better understand what your one-year-old is experiencing.1
- 12-18-month-olds will respond to their name and may use 5 to 10 words. They are starting to combine words with gestures and starting to follow simple directions and remember recent events and actions. They are also beginning to point to objects of interest.
- 18-24-month-olds can understand 10 times more than they can speak, are starting to respond to questions, can point to familiar objects and people in pictures, and are starting to follow two-step directions. They are also starting to want to try things on their own.
Teaching is different than just telling. Teaching builds basic skills, grows problem-solving abilities, and sets your child up for success. Teaching also involves modeling and practicing the positive behaviors you want to see to promote skill development.
- Read together. Read books together during the day or as part of your bedtime routine. Your child will eventually be able to hold a book, look at the pictures, and will likely put the book in their mouth. They will look at books upside down and back to front. Encourage this exploration.
- Read or chant rhymes or poetry to your child — particularly ones with repetitive words and sounds.
- Check out storytimes or other activities for children at your local library. These activities help children play with words, sounds, and develop a love for books and reading.
- Make your thinking and emotions explicit. Talk about what you notice, how you are feeling, why you are feeling it, and what signs you are giving. “I have so much fun singing songs with you. La La La La La!”
- Talk aloud about the ways in which you respond to your own big feelings. “That song makes me laugh. It is fun to clap our hands to the music!”
- Cultivate a love of playing with language and stories. This might include sharing funny poems and making silly faces every time you make a rhyme. Diaper changing time is a perfect time for silly faces and rhymes.
Don’t expect your child to have a long attention span with any one activity. Follow your child’s lead.
Step 3. Practice to Build the Foundation for Reading
Your daily routines are opportunities for your child to practice new vital skills. With practice, your child will improve over time as you give them the chance with support. Practice grows vital new brain connections that strengthen (and eventually form habits) each time your child works hard toward a goal or demonstrates belief in themself.
Practice also provides important opportunities to grow self-efficacy – a child’s sense that they can do a task successfully. This leads to confidence. It helps them understand that mistakes and failures are part of learning.
To build a foundation for reading, it is important to talk, sing, rhyme, read, and play.
- Keep books within reach so your child can enjoy them when they choose. Books that let children press buttons to make sounds give them a chance to take some control of their own sound making.
- Use books, songs, rhymes, and games at home that give children a chance to hear examples of language and sounds all around them.
- Read together. When you read stories together, reflect on the story, and you’ll take the learning opportunity one step further. “Do you think Little Red Riding Hood was excited to go to Grandma’s House?” Involve your child in selecting the book, holding it, and turning the pages to build ownership and interest in reading.
- Use your child’s dolls or stuffed animals to act out moments of enjoying language and reading. This is a good way to practice what it feels like to be a reader and to build that part of your child’s identity. “Let’s bring teddy over here so he can hear the story too.”
- Provide opportunities for your child to use language and words in a way that is just a bit more challenging than what they have done before. The goal is to come up with experiences that are just beyond that which they are comfortable. If they have already heard you read a favorite book to them many times, ask them to help you make the sounds together. For example, if you are reading a book about cows, ask, “What does a cow say? It says Moooo. Can you say Moooo?”
- Practice making music together. Clapping or stomping your feet together is a fun activity to engage your child.
Step 4. Support Your Child’s Development and Success
At this point, you are developing your child’s language skills by playing with sounds and enjoying books together so they will be ready for reading in the future. You allow your child to practice, so they can learn and grow.
Now, you can offer continued positive support and can generate excitement and positive feelings about language and reading.
- Learn about your child’s development. Each new age presents different challenges. Being informed about your child’s developmental milestones promotes empathy and patience.
- Recognize effort by using “I notice…” statements like: “I noticed you were clapping your hands when the music was playing. Hooray!”
- Build reading and songs into your daily routines and comment on how important those parts of your routines are. “I notice you like bedtime stories. Reading books together feels good to me too.”
Step 5. Recognize and Celebrate
There are so many amazing changes and developments to celebrate with your child. Each little achievement is something worth recognizing and celebrating.
No matter how old your child is, your praise and encouragement are their sweetest reward.
Your recognition can go a long way to promoting positive behaviors and expanding your child’s self-esteem and confidence. Your recognition also promotes safe, secure, and nurturing relationships — a foundation for strong communication and a healthy relationship with you as they grow.
You can recognize and celebrate your child with the following actions.
- Smile at your child.
- Make eye contact.
- Use caring facial expressions.
- Be physically gentle and caring with your child.
- Use words to celebrate and encourage. Recognize and call out when all is going well. When your child is listening and following your instructions, call it out: “You were paying attention so well at storytime today — Love seeing that!”
- Recognize small steps along the way. Don’t wait for the big accomplishments in order to recognize effort. Remember that your recognition can work as a tool to promote more positive behaviors. Find small ways your child is making an effort and let them know you see them. “I see you are making lots of music with your new toy. I love hearing it!”
- Build celebrations into your everyday routines. Promote joy and happiness by laughing, singing, dancing, hugging, and snuggling to appreciate one another.
The early years are filled with amazing changes — and not just for your child. Don’t forget to recognize and celebrate your own development and milestones as a parent.
Engaging in these five steps is an investment that builds your skills as an effective parent to use on many other issues and builds important skills that will last a lifetime for your child. Throughout this tool, there are opportunities for children to become more self-aware, to deepen their social awareness, and to work on their relationship skills.