Three-year-old Carlos has just awakened from a nap and is lying on the floor, not fully awake yet. His older sister Rosa has been watching TV and is playing with her blocks and dinosaurs in the living room. Although their home is modest, these children have what they need to promote good language and literacy skills: a simple but appropriate array of toys and books and, most importantly, attentive parents.

In the corner there is a little bookshelf with 20 or so children’s books, including 3 that are due back to the library the next day. (The children go to the library with their mother at least once a month.) There are puzzles, a magnetic board with letters, and, in a canvas bag, some plastic farm animals—treasured for pretend play. Dad is sitting on the sofa, reading the newspaper. In a few hours, the children’s mother will come home from work, and he will leave for his job as a night-shift security guard.

Dad takes the children into the kitchen for some juice and crackers. Although he has several chores to finish, he makes the effort to ask if they want to hear a story.

“Yes!” The children respond in enthusiastic unison.

“Let’s read Tacky the Penguin,” cries Carlos.

“No, I want the caterpillar,” Rosa whines.

Before they can continue arguing, Dad steps in. “Cut it out, you guys. We’ll read them both. We read The Very Hungry Caterpillar last time, right? So this time, let’s start with Tacky.”

The children seem satisfied with this. After their snack, they march into the living room and sit on either side of their father, who begins to read the story of a funny penguin named Tacky. They listen intently, sometimes asking questions about pictures or words that catch their attention. The father is responsive, answering when he can, or simply saying that he doesn’t know.

Having heard songs from birth, young Rosa has come to love the rhythm of language. She is so engrossed that she recites the ends of rhyming lines and claps the beat as her father reads. After they finish Tacky, they turn to The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

“Okay, guys. I’ve got some stuff to do. You can play here or in your room. No fighting, okay?” Dad goes to the kitchen table with a stack of bills and begins to write checks.

Little Carlos is fast on his heels. “I want to do it!” “You want to write?”


Dad gives him a blank piece of paper and a not-too-sharp pencil. “Okay, sit here and write with me.”

Carlos climbs on a chair and begins to make squiggles on the paper.

“Hey, buddy, that’s pretty good,” Dad says encouragingly. “What else can you write?”

Carlos sweeps his finger slowly across his squiggly lines.“Carlos,” he pronounces, slowly and deliberately. He is imitating his older sister, who knows how to write her name.

He writes a little longer, then joins his sister in the living room, who by this time has tired of blocks and dinosaurs and is holding a favorite book. Rosa knows many by heart and recites them, as if she is actually reading. Carlos listens attentively.

Suddenly aware of her audience, Rosa holds the book up, as her prekindergarten teacher does, and “reads” to her younger brother, suddenly switching to a louder recitation voice. After a few minutes, Carlos proclaims,“I want to read!”

“Carlos, you can’t read yet,” replies Rosa, a little impatiently. Suddenly, there is the sound of a key in the latch.

“Mom’s home!” cries Rosa. She drops the book, and both children run to the front door. As Mom arrives, Dad says goodbye and hurriedly leaves for work.

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