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We are very fortunate to have Darlene Beck Jacobson, freelance writer, educator, Speech Therapist, and Children’s Book Author as a guest blogger. She is sharing with us her strategies to help children develop literacy and language development.

Encouraging Literacy and Language Development in Young Children

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How can parents promote literacy and language development in young children? 

It is currently the trend in education to emphasize drilling sight words and pushing young children to read and write in Kindergarten and even preschool.  While there is inherently nothing wrong with encouraging children to read, many 3-6-year-olds aren’t ready for this.  What they are ready for is age-appropriate experiences that will not only increase language development and vocabulary but will also go a long way toward promoting literacy. Here are a few suggestions for encouraging language development in young children.

Help your child to talk.  

Talk to your child constantly. Tell him the names of things and what they are used for.  Recite nursery rhymes and play rhyming games.  Ask your child questions that require more than a yes or no response. Let them practice asking you questions.  DON”T use baby talk; always speak clearly.

Give Your Child Experiences. 

Take her shopping, let her help do things around the house. Your child will learn a lot from simple chores like sweeping, folding clothes, matching socks, picking up toys, setting the table, washing dishes. Encouraging independence builds self-esteem which in turn makes for an eager learner.

Go somewhere with your child.

Visit zoos, museums, restaurants (where one is required to sit quietly and use utensils to eat). Go to the library, the airport, the park, playground, nature preserve, beach, petting zoo, etc.  The more your child experiences first hand, the richer his vocabulary will be.

Play with your child.

Do craft projects together that include cutting, pasting, drawing, and painting. Competence in fine motor activities is an important skill in learning to write.  The best way to learn how to use scissors, pens, and pencils is through practice.  Using clay and PlayDoh also exercises fine motor muscles. Bake something from scratch. Play simple games like “Go Fish”, “Hide and Seek”, “Scavenger Hunt”.  Teach your child to catch/throw balls of various sizes.  Help her learn to fly a kite, catch a fish, ride a tricycle/bicycle/sled, build a sand castle. Run, hop, skip, and jump together.  It felt good when you were a kid and it still feels good now. Play house and pretend games, let your child be the parent and you be the kid.  Blow bubbles, make silly faces in the mirror, dance, and sing. Setting up an obstacle course is a great way to learn prepositions such as under, through, around, etc.

Help your child notice shapes, sizes, sounds, and colors.

The grocery store is filled with sensory opportunities. Count and sort fruits and vegetables by size and color. Count the windows, doors, cups, plates, hats, or whatever around the house. Gather a pile of objects and sort them into categories. Have a RED DAY (or color of your choice) where everyone wears red, plays with red toys and eats red food.

Buy toys that require thinking and imagination.

Blocks, puzzles, take-apart toys, markers and paper, puppets, are all good choices. Build a tent by throwing a sheet over the kitchen table. Pack a lunch box with “camping food”.  Add some pillows or sleeping bags and pretend to be camping.  Let kids play with boxes…they LOVE them and will amaze you with the ways they use them. Put on a show and sing, dance, do tricks, taking turns being audience/performer. If you play video games, do it together and talk about it afterward.

Encourage curiosity.

Experience nature first hand by taking a walk together.  Look for birds, insects, and other wildlife.  Turn over rocks and fallen logs after a rainstorm and try to identify the bugs clinging to the surface. Feed birds by coating a pinecone with peanut butter and rolling it in birdseed.  Hang them from trees and watch the birds come by.  Borrow binoculars and a Field Guide from the library to identify them. Take things apart to see how they work.  Get dirty!  It’s okay to play in dirt and mud; it will make your child happier to be outside.  Plant something together and watch it grow.

Exploring Nature Encourages Language and Literacy Skills

Make something together.

A macaroni or Cheerios necklace, a clay pot, a paper bag puppet, a paper hat, greeting cards, cookies.  Use fabric glue to cover an empty can with felt and store pencils and other items in it. Every time your child makes something herself, her confidence and abilities grow.  Try using non-traditional materials to form letters such as sandpaper, or Playdoh, Your child can trace the letters with her finger for tactile reinforcement. Use pretzel dough. Shape the dough into letters before you bake it.  For an easy pretzel recipe, visit my recipe page.

Read to your child. 

Take books out of the library and read together. Let your child see you reading as well.  Children learn by example.  Makeup stories of your own and use props to act them out.  A good site for self-publishing stories is www.storybird.com.

You may notice many of the suggestions require very little in terms of money.  ALL require you to spend time in meaningful interaction with your child enjoying everyday things. Being present – in the moment – to engage and talk to your child about the world around her is the best way to promote literacy and language development.  HAVE FUN!

For more ideas and activities please visit my website and blog: www.darlenebeckjacobson.com.

Stop by and read all about Darlene Beck’s debut novel Wheels of Change:

Wheels of Change Book Spotlight


  1. This is a wonderful list of suggestions. Thanks for sharing them!


  2. these are some great tips! My daughter is speech delayed and going places where she can actually use the words she knows is huge for us! Even if it’s driving by a farm so she can see a cow & moo…. It’s amazing how seeing something can help in this kind of situation!


    1. First hand experience beats reading about it any day! How much more meaningful is it to see and hear and touch the cow. That’s something your daughter will remember and build on the next time she sees one. You are doing the right thing for your daughter’s language development, Courtney.


  3. What a small world! I saw your post in my Facebook feed and share it a few days ago, LOL! Glad to be back! Such an important topic! Great job!


    1. That is funny, it is a small world. 🙂 Thanks!


  4. Darlene, These are wonderful ideas. I completely agree that many young children are not developmentally ready to read. I tutor K-2 students, and one thing that I have noticed is that most kids don’t know the phonetic sounds of letters. And if you don’t know the sounds, how are you going to create words. So, I always start with the basics.

    One AWESOME game that I highly recommend is Zingo.


    Great post, Darlene! p.s. I wish there weren’t such a rush to read. Everyone assumes that if a child is not reading by two, the child is destined for failure. Boy, that sure takes away from the fun of exploring books.


    1. I agree Robin. Pre-K should be about the joys of exploration and discovery. Book literacy will come if children are allowed to nurture their curiosity and are encouraged to play. Thanks for stopping by.


  5. Love this post! So much information! What a goldmine! More reasons to get your kids off screens (I’m speaking for myself, of course, LOL)!


  6. These are all wonderful tips! It’s amazing how such simple things like talking, reading, going places, and pointing things out to your child can help develop literacy.


  7. Great article – my daughter has failed Kindergarten ( and was a 23 week preemie ) they are definatley pushing something super early – sight words etc


    1. They really are pushing early literacy. In our area they start too early. These suggestions will help children enjoy reading and that’s the most important part of learning.


    2. Jessica, It’s really a shame how the “powers that be” in education have forgotten that first hand experiences are just as important as reading to developing early literacy. Remember how excited we were as kids to engage in creative play and “let’s pretend?” That’s where problem solving, peer relations and socialization begin. Literacy based programs only emphasize reading and writing. Although both are important, a child needs a foundation of experiences to be literate…much like we adults do. How awkward is it to be in a social situation and not be able to converse because we have no knowledge of a topic or no experience to relate to? Piaget said it best..”PLAY is child’s work”.


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