There are a number of things parents and caregivers can do to support the development of their young child’s early literacy skills. Among them are five simple activities. You might guess that one of the activities is reading, but did you know that another is playing? Promoted by the Every Child Ready to Read initiative, I love these practices for two reasons: they’re doable for parents and caregivers and they can be adapted to suit a child’s individual learning needs. And each of them can be done playfully to maximize learning and keep young children engaged. Read on to discover some specific ways to include children of all abilities in these early literacy skill building practices!
Talk: Children need to receive and create language to learn it.
– Talk with your child and around your child. If your child is blind or has low vision, describe the things you see to them. Describe the things in their environment that they can feel, hear, smell and taste.
– Encourage your child to talk. Ask questions. Respond to what your child says. After asking a question, silently count to ten to give them plenty of response time.
– If your child is nonverbal and uses an alternative communication system, such as a picture board or a speech-generating device, you can encourage them to speak by entering into their world with motivating people or objects, labeling feelings as they occur (for instance, if your child is reaching for food, say “You are hungry.”) and modeling your language with your child’s communication system.
Sing: Singing is a great way to learn about language. When we sing, the sounds that make up words become more evident.
– Sing the alphabet and nursery rhymes, listen to recorded music or clap along to a song to demonstrate syllables.
– If your child’s ability to verbalize or hear makes singing difficult, engage them in other rhythm-building activities like hand clapping, marching and body swaying to music.
Read: Share books together!
– Books with tactile features, like Counting by Fleur Star and Fuzzy, Fuzzy, Fuzzy! by Sandra Boynton, are great for children with visual impairments. For the child who can’t see or has limited vision, tactile features are like illustrations.
– Use toys and real objects to illustrate the book. For example, while reading the well-loved folktale, Stone Soup, have real objects from the story ready for your child to explore —a soup pot, a stone, an onion, a carrot, salt and pepper and more! Using real objects to reinforce key ideas while reading benefits all children, particularly children with developmental disabilities.
– Try audio books! If you’re not already signed up to receive free audio books from the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, there are over 500,000 audio book titles you can check out or download from the National Library Service, regional libraries for the blind and Bookshare, an accessible online library for people with print disabilities.
Write: Scribble, draw and make tactile art.
– A child’s scribbles are precursors to adult calligraphy. Practice writing in different ways – with crayons, pencils, markers, finger paints, a brailler or slate and stylus for the child with blindness or low vision, with a computer or an iPad. If it involves mark making of some kind, it’s writing! You could also try making tactile art. For a wealth of tactile art ideas, check out WonderBaby.org’s Tactile Art for Blind Children.
– Some children may have a hard time with writing activities due to physically based disabilities. Consider adaptive tools like pencil grippers and chunky crayons if your child has limited manual dexterity. Give alternative activities that don’t involve physically putting pen to paper a try, like using an iPad with a kid-friendly art app, like Doodle Buddy, for the iPad.
– Talk to them about what they create and write. Encourage them to talk to you about what they create and write.
Play: Children experience the world through play while developing fine and gross motor skills, cognitive concepts, language and social skills.
– Create a safe space for play and encourage your child to explore their environment. Some children may need extra support when engaging in independent exploration.
– If your child is blind or visually impaired, define their space with meaningful objects kept in predictable, accessible and detectable locations.
– Provide toys that engage many senses – rattles, textured balls, vibrating toys and colorful blocks.
– Encourage your child to pretend and create stories!
Ready to talk, sing, read, write and play, but not sure where to start? Visit the Library to check out books, play with developmentally appropriate toys, explore technology, attend a storytime or play program or speak with a Children’s Specialist about early literacy and learning.
Briana is a Children’s Specialist at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (LBPH). She loves exploring the outdoors with her dog, Duke and dancing.