Early research dating back to the 1930s suggested that there was little use in teaching children how to read until they had already conquered specific readiness skills, such as certain fine motor skills and the ability to tell right from left. Today, researchers know more. They know that growing up to be a reader depends mostly on the child’s knowledge about language and print. A wide range of experiences with printed and spoken language, from infancy through early childhood, strongly influences a child’s future success in reading. What is good for a six-year-old, however, is not necessarily good for a three-year-old. Children need activities they will enjoy and can succeed at, without being pushed uncomfortably beyond their current developmental stage. Even when children cannot yet spell, they learn from trying to write. Even when children cannot yet read, they learn from being read to.

The following pages describe key aspects of language and literacy for children from birth through age four, along with activities that can be woven into daily life. In this section, we address parents, teachers, uncles, aunts, grandparents, babysitters, and day care providers—in short, everyone who is important in the child’s life, everyone who cares, everyone who is willing.

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