Updated: Dec 13, 2019
“Early experiences with literacy are part of the relationships, activities, and settings of young
children’s everyday lives. It is people who make writing and reading interesting and meaningful to young children.” (McLane & McNamee, 1991)
When we talk about literacy, many may think that it only means reading and writing and that a child will learn how to read and write when they enter school. However, literacy is more than just knowing how to read and write, it also encompasses speech and communication and this learning journey starts the moment the child is born. From learning to differentiate his mother’s and father’s voices from others to forming his first words and understanding what they mean, a child learns how his world and environment function from his parents and those around him.
As a parent, you are the first teacher your child comes into contact with, they model their behaviour and actions after you and they learn how to speak from you. Their literacy abilities can be developed and nurtured at home with family before they enter school and can continue on well into their school years.
Creating a literacy-friendly home environment is not difficult and does not have to be expensive. Here are some tips:
1. Singing Nursery Rhymes and Reading
It can be as simple as singing nursery rhymes on the bus or in the car, sharing or reading stories over meal times or before bed time.
2. Pre-writing and Drawing
You could have a stash of reusable paper and a box of crayons to allow your child to scribble or draw anything at any time. Talk to your child about what he has drawn.
3. Provide opportunities to build vocabulary
Set up a corner of old toys and clothes and accessories for your child to engage in role play or pretend play. Label key items in the home or belongings of your child so that they can recognise and associate the words to the items.
4. Playtalk during children’s playtime. As Bardige defines - “(Play talk) is responsive to the child – and elicits the child’s responses. It builds and sustains relationships. It builds language because it expands on what a child already knows or is beginning to understand and offers something more.” (Bardige, 2016)
Here are 2 examples of how Playtalk can be carried out:
While waiting for the car to arrive, Ivan ran towards the grass patch and began exploring. He tugged on the dandelion and blew it. “What are you doing, Ivan ?” asks his mother. “I blow the candle! Lao shi (teacher) tell me can blow”, Ivan explained. His mother replies, “Yes, you are blowing it like how you blow the candle! But this is not a candle. It’s a dandelion!” Ivan exclaimed while pointing out, “Blow the dandelion! Blow there!”.
At 2 years of age, Ivan is able to express himself in spoken language and make connections to his prior experience in school. Ivan associated the blowing action to blowing out candles on birthdays. His mother’s back and forth “Play talk” with him, further boosts his confidence and offered new vocabulary.
After dinner, Allie (4 year old) took out the doctor’s play set and convinced Ivan (2 year old) to play doctor with her.
Allie : “I’m the doctor and you are the patient ok?”
Ivan : “Okay!”
Allie : “What happened to you today? Where painful? Let me take your temperature.”
Ivan looks at Allie for a clue.
Allie : Oh! You have tummy ache? Don’t worry! You will feel better after taking the medicine.
Ivan curled up in a ball, pretending to have a tummy ache and took the medication as directed by Allie. Both Allie and Ivan re-enacted a scene at the doctor’s office, representing her prior experience at a doctor’s visit in their own way. Allie as the older peer guided Ivan through the role play, while Ivan follows her lead. Allie portrayed her knowledge of what to expect during a doctor’s visit and Ivan in turn learned how to engage with a partner in pretend play. As the play progresses, it could be made more complex and sophisticated with the introduction of an adult, to offer a different perspective and new vocabulary.
The first steps to creating a literacy rich environment at home is through the child’s everyday lives. Engaging with your child in these literacy activities at home can help encourage his interest in speaking, reading, and writing thus, developing his literacy abilities. So drop that phone in your hand and start to listen to your child’s responses and create meaningful conversations with him!
*Note: This article uses he as a generic term. The child can be a boy or a girl.
Bardige, B. S. (2016). Talk to Me, Baby! Baltimore, Maryland: Paul H. Brookes Pub. Co.
McLane, J. B., McNamee, G. D. (1991). Beginnings of Literacy. Retrieved from