TALKING for Early Literacy!

Early literacy is what children know about reading and writing before they actually learn to read and write. Literacy is like growing, it happens slowly over time.

TALKING with your child is one of the five early literacy practices that help him or her get ready to read. It’s natural to talk to your child throughout the day. So here are a few tips to encourage conversation with your little one.

If English is your second language, speak in the language most fluent for you. You can always repeat words again in English. Your ease of expression in your home language will encourage better literacy in any language!

Narrate your day. Name objects, places and people. Describe what you and your child are doing or seeing. It’s important, after you’ve made a comment, to wait for your child to respond. Allow some time for her to think and put thoughts into words. Use complete sentences when responding to her comments. Repeat key words for emphasis and clarity. Did you know a child needs to hear a word 9-14 times before she really knows it?

Ask open ended questions —who, what, where, why, when or how. Then respond by adding a little more information. For example, your child sees something of interest, say a large stuffed gorilla at the library (we happen to have one here at the San Clemente Branch). You say, "What's that?" He points and says, “Gorilla!” You say, “Yes, big gorilla.” Elaborating on what your child says is the way he learns new vocabulary. It also expands his general knowledge.

According to the National Academy of Education, "The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success is reading aloud to children." Sharing a book together encourages conversation, and picture books are perfect for this. As you read stop and prompt your child to talk by asking a question, “Who’s driving the bus in the picture?” or “What kind of animal is that?” Expand on what’s going on in the book. “Yes, remember when we saw the zebra at the zoo?”

Wordless picture books allow the child to become the storyteller. Visual cues provided by the illustrations allow her to interpret what is happening. She can make up her own story about the characters, settings, and actions in the illustrations. With your help your child can make sense of the sequence of pictures. Wordless picture books work well for 'reading' together with children of different ages. Each one interprets the pictures in their own way, and the younger child learns from the older.

Remember, you are your child’s first teacher, and he or she loves learning from you! Here are a few recommendations for books that encourage talking. Ask at your local library for more recommendations, or find additional titles under Booklists here on OC Public Libraries Book Talk Blog.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? By Bill Martin
Young readers learn about colors and animals in this fun book illustrated by Eric Carle. The repetitive text invites response from the reader.

Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas
Humorous dust bunny characters love to rhyme. As the plot develops, they find that the right word, even if it doesn't rhyme, can keep them all out of danger from the vacuum cleaner!

Goodnight, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann
When a zookeeper’s keys are stolen by a gorilla who unlocks all the animal cages, the zookeeper has a surprise sleepover! This book is a wonderful vocabulary builder with a repetitive theme that encourages participation.

A Ball for Daisy by Christopher Raschka (wordless)
How much fun can a dog have with a ball?  Let your child tell you as you ‘read’ this Caldecott Medal award winning book.

Wave by Suzy Lee (wordless)
A little girl’s first time at the beach encourages children to talk about their own experiences with new places.

Where’s Walrus by Stephen Savage (wordless)
Children will love to find Walrus on each page as he hides and
changes hats to avoid being caught by the zookeeper.

For more books that encourage  talking and participation click here.

This is the first in a series of Book Talk articles about books that help parents get their children ready to read by engaging in interactive everyday activities. These recommendations are based on “Every Child Ready to Read®@Your Library®,”which is a program of the Association for Library Service to Children and the Public Library Association, divisions of the American Library Association. For more information about early literacy, go to

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