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March 6, 2018

Five Ways to Invest in Children’s Lifelong Literacy

By Tara Payor

Research shows that reading to children is a vital piece of supporting language development. It’s never too early to establish a zest for literary texts, and the process isn’t so complex that parents should feel perplexed.

Related: Reading Across a America: Ways to Celebrate Your Child’s Love of Reading

My dad was a voracious reader—always reading two books. I’m thankful for the habits his penchant for reading nurtured. We don’t read to our children nightly, since sometimes things fall apart, but my husband and I are on the same page about cultivating our kids’ healthy relationships with books.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Christi Edge. Edge, who taught in bay area schools and USF’s COEDU, continues to study aspects of literacy and shares her expertise with the pre-service teachers she teaches.

Read here to learn more about the five ways Dr. Christi Edge believes are important investments in children’s lifelong literacy.

  1. Read aloud. The cadence of language, rich details that create mental images, and the closeness of someone they care about richly contribute to a child’s language development, social and emotional development, ability to visualize, imagine, and interact with what they read. Those who hear language will recognize it later in print and have rich contextual knowledge in which to place vocabulary, ideas, and patterns of thinking and speaking. Read aloud often and at any age. Even if it is the 100th time she asks for the same beloved book, you are richly investing in one of the most fundamental ways readers develop by reading aloud to a child.
  2. Talk with The reality of parenting is that often we talk at our children. We might tell them to sit down, to hurry, to put their shoes on, or what’s for lunch. We might ask them questions—Where are you going, Mister?—to seek information from them. However, talking with children opens up the back-and-forth nature of thinking, forming ideas, and using language in meaningful contexts. Conversation is a powerful conduit for life-long literacy learning. Listening to them and responding through even short conversations helps children to generate identities as able learners who can work through ideas, problems, and every-day situations. Rather than struggle and give up or never start, children who have participated in conversations have rich cognitive, social, and emotional resources that they can use to work through challenges.
  3. Think aloud alongside children. Like engineers who have specialized knowledge, vocabulary, and skills, adults are knowledgeable and skilled in myriad ways that can contribute to children’s learning, thinking, reading, and writing. Make “visible” and audible the thinking you do as you bake a cake together, watch an instant replay on TV, load the dishwasher, choose which park to go to. Opening up your thinking and hearing language in everyday contexts models how to reason and to infer—skills that successful readers learn first from life then through academics.
  4. Seek and seize everyday literacy moments. Reading and writing are not solely “school” activities, but a part of life. Make the grocery list with your child. If they are older, let them write or type the list on your phone, crossing off items as you find them in the store. Play games, sing songs, or arrange refrigerator magnets.
  5. Observe and be curious about the world together. Children learn to “read” and “compose” an understanding of the world around them long before—and after—they can read the written words on a page. Noticing things around you as you go about your day, demonstrating curiosity and a sense of wonder help children to hone in on two important life-long literacy and learning skills: observation and inquiry.


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