Literacy—from Parent to Child

Parents can influence their children’s literacy by involving them in a wide variety of play and everyday activities that involve language. Talking to toddlers, sharing in making and using grocery lists, singing songs, telling stories—all of this helps children build literacy skills. Another important influence is having a positive attitude about learning. Children whose families communicate that achievement is expected and appreciated tend to do better.

Parents can learn a great deal about their children’s learning. For example, they can be on the lookout for potential difficulties and discuss some of their valuable observations with teachers. Starting at age three or four, parents can observe whether or not children remember nursery rhymes and can play rhyming games. At about age four, parents can notice if children have trouble getting information or directions from conversations or texts that are read aloud to them. Once children are in kindergarten, parents should be attuned to whether they are beginning to name the letters and numbers that they see in different contexts and to write them. Five-year-olds should also be happy and able to play simple alliterative games, enjoying, for example, “I’m thinking of something that starts with the letter ‘b’” as a way to pass the time on longer trips in the car. As a child gets to be five and six, parents can observe whether the child acts as if he or she understands that spoken words can be broken down into smaller parts (for example, noticing “big” in “bigger” and the “egg” in “beg”), and that you can change a small part of a word and it becomes a very different thing (for example, changing initial consonants to make “cat,” “hat,” “sat”). That said, it is critical that parents always be aware of the tremendous variability among normal, smart children, and that it can be difficult to measure progress.

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