From birth to the age of three, children are learning and developing important skills and thought processes that they will use throughout their entire lives. Making sure that these foundational years are full of the right kind of experiences and human influences is a key factor in their success. Children may not learn to read a book on their own until first or second grade, but those successes are built through the development of language and literacy skills during the infant and toddler years.
Literacy Development in Early Childhood
Communication is the underlying factor that most influences both reading and writing skills, as both of these are means to communicate. Of course, reading books to toddlers and infants is an important part of beginning the development of literacy skills, however, communication (both verbal and nonverbal) is the true starting point.
Each part of the communication process builds upon the previously developed parts, until young children are able to communicate with others effectively. Infants and toddlers learn to listen and understand language before they are able to express themselves. From there, they learn to use the sounds they hear and associate them with meaning, which evolves into talking.
Young minds must decode the message being spoken by another and in turn encode their own message as a response. All the while, beginner communicators are learning to use nonverbal/environment cues while formulating their message or response. Ex: A toddler hears his mother say “would you like your juice?” and must decode her message and simultaneously read her nonverbal cues in order to understand that he must answer “yes” and respond by taking the juice from her hand.
From this point, young minds begin to connect images and objects with words. Ex: They might see a stop sign and understand what it means, yet are not able to read the word written on it. As the mind develops and understanding of the patterns and representations of letters, reading words becomes possible and forms the pathway to writing.
How to Encourage Literacy Skills in Toddlers and Infants
There are several activities that many young children engage in that you can encourage as these are building blocks to the development of reading and writing skills later in life.
Reading: It’s never too early to start reading books with an infant or toddler. Try to ensure that the child can see both your face and the book while it is being read. This helps with the development of understanding tone and nonverbal expressions.
Mark Making: The development of fine motor skills through scribbling and mark making will make writing with pens and pencils more natural later in childhood.
Conversation: Play simple word games with early childhood learners starting with repeating key words or highlighting words that start with the same letter or sound similar.
If you are interested in learning more about the development of literacy in early childhood, visit our blog or check out the wide range of tools and activities available for young learners online.