Tag Archives: language development

What do Letters Mean to Infants and Toddlers?

adult-and-toddler-with-bookWhat do letters mean to infants and toddlers? When is an appropriate time to begin learning what letters are and how to write them? Are there things that children need to understand and know first? Language and literacy are important for school readiness and success. It is equally important to approach language and literacy holistically. It is not enough to teach children their ABCs and how to write them. Here are a few developmentally appropriate ways to support language and literacy learning with infants and toddlers.

Read books and sing songs throughout the day.
Set up a library and baskets of books throughout the classroom for spontaneity. Children like to read the same books over and over. They like to carry them around and enjoy the opportunity to sit in an adult’s lap to read. Hearing and listening to stories helps children to label pictures, answer questions such as, “What’s that?” and can help children learn about feelings and emotions. Choosing books carefully and with individual children in mind can help children make connections to things that they have experienced and relate to in real life.

Invest time in learning new fingerplays and songs. Be silly and have fun making up your own songs. Singing to children to help them through transitions can be more successful than trying to get children to stand in a line and “catch a bubble.” Reading and singing with children sets the stage for helping them learn that language and the written word has a function. This can also be done through environmental print.

Talk with children!
It is important that teachers do more than talk at children and give them directions on what to do or where to go. Speak to children like you would to your peers. There is no need to ”oversimplify your language or use baby talk.” (Greenman, Stonehouse & Schweikert, Primtimes) Commentate what you see children doing such as, “You rolled the red car across the floor.” Explain to children what you are doing. “I am going to pick you up and put you on the changing table.” Be sure to use descriptive words.Have a conversation! Cooing babies, babbling toddlers and curious preschoolers all have something to say and enjoy the back and forth interaction that conversations provide. Playing games like peek-a-boo with young children is a great way to begin practicing conversations.

Create a print rich environment.
Children are concrete thinkers and often need pictures to go with labels to support the idea that letters create words and words stand for people, places and/or things. Using pictures is a great place to start. For any age group, providing pictures of children’s families and adding print to the pictures by making posters or books is a great way for children to see their name and those they care about in print. Adding a picture with a label of the child’s name to their cubby is a great way to help children begin to recognize their name. Shelves can be labeled with words and pictures as well. Other types of environmental print can include using documentation panels that use pictures of children at work and adding short descriptions to the panel to use as conversation starters or by adding grocery ads to a grocery store themed dramatic play area.

Have opportunities to write available.
Once a child has the ability to hold a writing utensil (and it doesn’t have to be using a pincer grip) they should be given the opportunity to scribble. Again there are many ways to offer children this other than just crayons and paper. One example can be magnetic writing boards or dry erase boards and markers. Offering play dough to squeeze can help children build their fine motor skills for future writing. By the time children are in preschool, a writing center can be available for children to utilize along with putting pencils and paper in various areas of the room to make things such as make road signs in the block area or record findings children make while out on the playground.

These are just several ways that language and literacy can be supported from the beginning of a child’s time in an early care and education program.

“Tune In” to Language Development

When I’m observing teachers in the classroom, sometimes I want to remind them to bathe children in language, not drown them! Children learn so many things from a simple conversation: basic concepts like taking turns, listening when someone else is speaking (and expecting to be listened to when it’s their turn), when it’s appropriate to shout or whisper. We don’t have to over think it, but there are some important things to keep in mind.

Photo courtesy of Victoria Harjadi.

Photo courtesy of Victoria Harjadi.

Building a child’s vocabulary doesn’t happen when you’re quizzing them (with the best of intentions, of course) about items, shapes or colors. Incorporating these concepts into natural conversations is best practice. For example, when talking with children about a block structure, words like structure, taller, architecture and height may be introduced. There are opportunities all throughout your day for conversations like this one. “You made a circle with your paint!” “You threw the yellow ball into the basket.” It’s important to extend children’s language without being overwhelming

It’s also okay to not talk at times. Adults participate in communication all the time without vocalizing. Eye contact, body language and body placement are all forms of communication. The child who gazes at you from across the room may not need to be spoken to, but may want you to sit close to him or just make eye contact.

We need to value the child’s communication while they’re developing language skills. Some words may be hard to understand but we still need to value the attempt the child is making to communicate. Repeating what the child said can assist in clarification if needed. Repeating can also show the child you value what she said and that you are trying to understand.

Remember that children may be communicated with differently at home. When we not only have a relationship with the children in our care but with the families we serve, too, we can learn how families communicate and their expectations for their children.

I’m sure every adult has had the experience of talking to a child who appears to be ignoring you. Before getting upset, we have to look at the environment and think about the child.  Is the child actively engaged in an activity and may not have heard you? Is the music too loud?  Is the television on? What’s the volume like of the other children?  How many children are in the room?  Is the space too small for the amount of children?  Are there a lot of materials that make noise? With so much stimulation, children often can’t figure out what’s important for them to listen to. Adults can “tune out” when we want to, but children are still developing that skill. We need to consider the whole environment before jumping to conclusions.

– Christine

Bathed in Books

Recently I visited my sister and three-year-old nephew. When I visit he is always ready to play; he loves to play with his cars and to play “indoor hockey.” At one point during my visit he brought an armful of books over to me and said, “Becky, will you read to me?” Of course I read the many books he brought! He sat and listened attentively, and even “read” along with some of the stories. This is a regular occurrence during my visits as well, and his bookshelf is always full of new books because his family makes a trip to the local library every Saturday.

There are a few things that are important to remember when it comes to children and reading, and for the parent or caregiver who wants to encourage early language and literacy skills, bear these things in mind!

  1. Children develop at their pace – Each child is at their own developmental stage of reading, writing, talking and listening. We must be aware of the variances of the children we work with and provide opportunities for each child appropriate to their level of learning.
  2. Interest is key – Children explore when they have the interest. Would your child rather build with blocks than listen to a story? How about a story about building or construction? Authors of children’s books have the challenge of creating books that include interesting content and eye-catching pictures. A book must catch a child’s interest in order for them to want to listen or read.
  3. Reading to children – It is important to examine your reading style. How you read to children can affect their interest in books and reading. Do show excitement? Do you read using varying voices?
  4. Books, books everywhere – Children should be “bathed” in books and language. As adults, we must make books available and accessible to young children at all times. Take a look around your environment; are there books in every learning center? Can the children handle them regularly? Be brave, offer books of poetry, building and construction, appropriate magazines, cook books, etc. Children should be exposed to varying cultures, as well.

It is important to remember that reading is an essential skill for everyday living. It is our task, as parents and early childhood providers, to expose young children to all kinds of books, and to include them in our children’s lives everyday. For more information and book ideas visit Scholastic’s Web site for children’s book lists, read-aloud hints, and learning tips. Happy reading!