Published on May 14, 2021

Better Hearing and Speech Month: Helping your child develop language and literacy skills from birth

By: Kaitlynn Wooten, M.S., CCC-SLP

If you are the parent of an infant or toddler, it’s likely you’re thinking more about rolling, crawling, and walking than about learning to read. However, language and literacy skills begin at birth. No, you don’t have to put them in formal classes or activities that push them to read or write. Rather, everyday moments with your child are the best ways you can help them learn about language and set them of for success in the future.

Here are some ideas for ways you can help build language and literacy skills from a young age:

Have conversations with your child. Research has found that the more parents talk with their children, the larger vocabularies those children develop. It may feel silly at first talking to an infant or young toddler but by chatting with them in the car, during bath time, etc. can help them learn to use more advanced sentence structures as they get older.

Notice and build on your child’s interests. You probably already have an idea of what things your toddler finds interesting and exciting. They let you know through their actions, facial expressions, and speech. Help them find the words for the things they find interesting by narrating activities. For example, if your child points at something out the window or gives you a questioning look, you can say “Yes, that’s a squirrel! Look at him run through the grass.”

“Read” the world around you and narrate your day. Point out everything you can like stop signs, birds, trees, etc. As you narrate your day, use different words to describe your activities, actions, and the objects around you.

Don’t make a big deal about speech mistakes. You don’t need to correct your child to help them learn proper pronunciation. If they mispronounce something, simply repeat their statement with the correct word or pronunciation so they can hear how it sounds. Correcting them directly can make them less likely to try saying new words.

Be a translator. You most certainly understand your child better than anyone. If you are around other adults who have trouble understanding your child’s speech, you can translate what they’re saying. Give your child a chance to speak and then explain what they said.

Sing and play music. Music fosters a love of words, sounds, rhythm, and rhyme. Sing and dance together to your favorite songs with different beats, tempos, etc. to help them experiment with their voice.

Tips for Reading to Your Young Child

A love of reading starts early. Start reading to your child young and they will develop a love of reading as they get older. It will take time for them to truly want to sit and listen to a book, so don’t force them into it. Forcing your child to sit down and read can have the opposite effect you are trying to achieve. Instead of fostering a love of reading, forcing them can make them resent it. Here are some tips to help you as you start incorporating story time into your everyday routine.

Find the books they like. Just like you don’t like every book, TV show, or movie that’s out there, your child won’t be interested in every book you pick up. Follow their lead and let them decide which books to read. Unfortunately for you, that may mean reading the same book ever night for weeks on end, however children learn through repetition and hearing the same story over and over can help them better understand the story as well as learn about the sound, meaning, rhythm, and tone of words. Here are some tips for choosing books that will interest a young child:

  • Find books with repeat words and phrases. Children learn new words and pronunciations through repetition. A good example of this is Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle.
  • Choose books with pictures of common objects. You can name the pictures in the book for your child and it helps them relate the book to their everyday life.
  • Look for books with interesting actions or motions. If your child is pretty active, there are books that will engage them with accompanying movements so they can play as you read. A good example would be a storybook version of the Wheels on the Bus.
  • Keep it simple. At this age, simple stories with predictable plots are best.

Connect books you’ve read to their daily life. As you go through your day, if something happens or you see something that was in a book you’ve read recently, point it out to them. For example, if the garbage truck comes, point out the window and remind them how they saw one just like it in the book they read last night.

Ask questions as you read. They may not respond at first but the more you do it, the more they will! Ask them to find things on the page like the dog or the truck. As reading becomes more a part of your routine, ask them if they’d like to read the book and to pick out which one they want to read. Before you know it, they’ll be bringing you their favorite stories and interacting with them as you read!

Let them move. Especially at first, you are not likely to get your toddler to sit on your lap during an entire book. If they get up, keep reading. They may still be listening and in fact, some kids with a strong need to be on the move listen better while in motion. If they seem disinterested, don’t be afraid to stop and come back to the book later.

Let them help read the book. They can help you turn the pages or point to the pictures and have you tell them what it is. As they get used to story time, they may even want to “read” to you. You can hand over the book and follow their lead as they narrate the pictures or even just babble as they turn pages.

Starting your child’s library

Thinking about starting a library of good books for your child can feel overwhelming. Luckily, there is a way for you to get a new, age-appropriate book for your child every month.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is dedicated to inspiring a love of reading by gifting books free of charge to children from birth to age five. You can sign your child up at