Early literacy tip: Reading and writing

If you're snowed in, it may feel like there aren't enough things you can do with your preschooler or pre-preschooler to keep them entertained. Luckily, scribbling and drawing, which are fun and creative, also happen to build writing skills!

Writing and reading are bound together very closely - the skills support each other. When a child learns to write, they are learning about the shapes of letters and how they fit together, as well as developing skills in problem solving, creative thinking, and expressing their opinions and thoughts - and then translating that into symbols!  You can't expect your preschooler or toddler to be writing yet, but you can support them by developing pre-writing skills through drawing, scribbling, and more. (You can read some very thick academic research on it here)

Here are some tips and ideas:

  • Storytelling - have your child tell you a story while you dictate it and write it down. That shows that their words have corresponding symbols on a page that make sentences.
  • Play post office! Set up letter writing materials, glue, and some fun found materials for stamps.  Have them write a letter to you (even if it's just scribbles) and write a letter to them.  Put it in an envelope, glue the "stamp" on, and exchange letters, asking them what their letter said and reading your letter to them.
  • Try just setting out some art supplies and paper and see where it goes.  Spread out big sheets of paper for "giant drawing" on the floor.  Have fun!
  • Write your grocery list together! Write them simultaneously, letting your child copy your movements.  Talk about what you want to cook and eat, using rich vocabulary.
  • Be encouraging of all efforts. Treat their writing and drawing seriously!  Have them sign their artwork to practice writing their name.
  • Water painting - holding a brush or a pen is great hand-eye coordination practice.  Give your child a paintbrush and a bucket of water and let them "paint" the bathtub, the porch, etc.


Encouraging preschoolers’ early writing efforts: https://www.childcareexchange.com/library/5019684.pdf

Art of Writing: http://www.earlyliteracylearning.org/cellpract_parent/toddler/collections/CELL_Todd_Scrib_Draw.pdf

Making Reading and Writing Meaningful: http://projectenlightenment.wcpss.net/parent_resources/Make_Read_Write_Meaningful.pdf


Early literacy tip: The 3 Cs of Evaluating Early Literacy Apps!

This week's early literacy tip is all about evaluating children's apps. You may have heard the wide variety of recommendations about apps and small children, but it seems that the consensus is that apps and tablets can be used to help develop early literacy skills when used right, and when the right app is selected.  There is still no definitive research about the effect of "screen time" on young children's development, but there are some great guidelines out there.

One of them is the "3 Cs of Evaluating Early Literacy Apps", outlined in this Slate article by Lisa Guernsey (author of Screen TimeHow Electronic Media-from Baby Videos To Educational Software-affects Your Young Child).  If you want to use a tablet with your little one and are curious about what apps might be educational (because, according to a report by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, 72 percent of iTunes’ “education” apps are designed for preschoolers and elementary school children), a great guide is thinking about:

Content: "Be picky about the content of what children see on-screen, and when choosing interactive titles, seek out those that put children in control without so many dead-ends and distractions. (Common Sense Media, a nonprofit children’s advocacy organization, is making this a little easier with its just-released website that rates apps for their learning potential.)"

Context: "Focus on context by being aware of what is happening before, during, and after children play their games or watch their shows, taking time to talk about what they’ve seen, and play some games together."

Child: "...tune in to which games and shows really interest your kids, what piques their curiosity and helps them relate to people and things around them."

The best way to use apps is to use them together, and choose apps that make you and your child active, rather than passive consumers.  Make it a shared experience, play and explore, and you will be setting you child up for early literacy success.



Here are some other helpful resources:

Darien Library's current list of selected apps

Darien Library's post on What Makes a Great App

National Association for the Education of Young Children: Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8

American Association of Pediatrics: Media Use by Children Under 2 years of Age

Zero the Three: Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight

Early literacy tip: How to read to little wiggly ones!

On the chalkboard in the Toddler Room!
On the chalkboard in the Toddler Room!

Do you have a wiggler?  Maybe it's hard to get good reading time in because your little one can't keep still.  Don't worry about it! There are some great ways to make it easier for everyone, and still get your reading quotient met (and quality time!).

From Reading Rockets: "How to Read with a Squiggly Baby (or Toddler!)"

Read before bed, but don’t wait too long!

Really tired little ones have a harder time focusing their attention. It may help to pull out your books before the bath, or right after dinnertime. If your child is too tired to read, don’t force it. Keep book times happy times.

Choose fun, brightly colored books

The most engaging books for little ones have lots of bright, big pictures. Board books, the ones with stiff cardboard pages, are great for little hands to hold.

Sing along, or have some rhyme time

Books meant to be sung, or books written in rhyme, mean that you and your child get to clap along, sing along, and bounce up and down to the rhythm of the language. The fun physical involvement will keep your child interested in reading.

Be expressive!

Don’t worry, no one is listening! As you read the book, change your voice for each character. Say loud words LOUDLY and soft words softly. Add hand gestures and foot stomping to go along with the story.

Keep your favorites by your side

Your child will begin to develop favorite storytime books. Plan to read those books until the pages fall out! The repeated, enjoyable experience of reading favorite books goes a long way toward developing good reading habits. 

Help your child develop a reading habit

It’s important to recognize that reading with a really young child looks and sounds different than reading with an older child. It’s louder, with more action and movement. That’s okay! The simple interaction with you, your child, and a book sends a powerful message about reading.

Early literacy tip: Everybody read now!

Much like dancing, reading is best done in excess.  The simplest early literacy tip there is, reading often is one of those things that is good for you and yours and has the benefit of being fun - sort of like how Minecraft can be used educationally or chocolate and wine are good for your heart.  Reading is important for succeeding in school and in life, and for building curiousity and a love of learning.

Reading together with your child is of course vitally important.  Benefits include bonding with you, building prereading skills, speech skills, and more.  Reading together is wonderful and should continue even after your child learns to read.  Plus, aren't picture books incredible?!

Just making sure you're reading in front of your child too - whether it's the paper or a novel (it really doesn't matter!) demonstrates to your child that you care about books and reading and inspires them to learn!  


More information:





Early literacy tip: New year's literacy resolutions!

This week's chalkboard
This week's chalkboard

New Year's resolutions are a time-honored tradition of making promises (and sometimes they get a little broken - why do sweets taste so good, anyway?). You can make resolutions with your child (check out this article from PBS Parents about how to do it well) and as a family, but what do early literacy resolutions look like?

The first step is learning about Every Child Ready to Read's (an initiative from the Public Library Association and Association for Library Service to Children) five important building blocks in early literacy: READ, WRITE, TALK, SING, and PLAY! Luckily, Miss Krishna has already made us a video to teach us the concepts.

Darien Library Rhymes from Darien Library on Vimeo.

Some examples of early literacy New Year's resolutions include:

  • Read to my child five times a week.
  • Sing a song to my child when we are in the car.
  • Set up a drawing area in my child's room so they can develop pre-writing skills.
  • Talk to my child everyday using rich language to build their vocabulary.
  • Encourage a sense of play by playing along with my child's pretend games at least once a week.
  • And of course - one that ties many together - screen time.  Read on for more information in this update on the American Association of Pediatrics!

Early literacy tip: Holiday songs!

We too are tired of having Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer stuck in our heads.  But don't stop singing with your child!  Singing is a great early literacy tool that develops many prereading skills.

According to research, "The size of a child’s vocabulary and his or her ability to discriminate sounds are strong predictors of how easily a child will learn to read when exposed to formal instruction" (FMI Adams, M., Foorman, B., Lundberg, I., and Beeler, T. (2002) Phonemic Awareness in Young Children. Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. Baltimore, MD.).   And songs are chockful of what early childhood educators call "rich words" - another way of saying great vocabulary words.  Examples of rich words in holiday songs:

- dashing

- bobtail

- corncob pipe

- jolly

- foggy

- glee

Other research shows that "Singing is a fun way for students to learn that letter sounds can be manipulated and recombined to create many spoken words" - which helps them understand how to break words down into smaller pieces when learning to read. When you sing, you break words into syllables and sing them on different notes - "Dash-ing through the snow, on a one horse o-pen sleigh..."

If you're tired of doing all the singing, bring them to one of our drop-in storytimes!


Diaglogic Reading: A Magic Trick

Photo courtesy of Sarah Houghton
Photo courtesy of Sarah Houghton

Diaglogic reading is a fantastic way to jump-start your child's education. It helps small children think critically about plot and character motivation, and it will be innumerably helpful when they get to school to already have these building blocks in place. So what is diaologic reading, and how can you do it at home?

"When most adults share a book with a preschooler, they read and the child listens. In dialogic reading, the adult helps the child become the teller of the story. The adult becomes the listener, the questioner, the audience for the child. No one can learn to play the piano just by listening to someone else play. Likewise, no one can learn to read just by listening to someone else read. Children learn most from books when they are actively involved.

The fundamental reading technique in dialogic reading is the PEER sequence. This is a short interaction between a child and the adult. The adult:

    Prompts the child to say something about the book,
    Evaluates the child's response,
    Expands the child's response by rephrasing and adding information to it, and
    Repeats the prompt to make sure the child has learned from the expansion
." Reading Rockets

The Reading Rockets website also contains helpful hints about what types of question to ask your child, and the best ways to work dialogic reading into your child's life.

So pick a book you love and start dialogic reading it today!


Early literacy tip: Caregivers are a child's first and best teacher!

Read! Write! Talk! Sing! Play!
Read! Write! Talk! Sing! Play!

Did you know that as a caregiver (parent, legal guardian, nanny, etc!) you are a child's first and best teacher?

Research shows that a child's early years are vital for developing literacy skills including written and verbal communication and reading abilities, and that these skills are early predictors for academic success (not to mention a life full of happy reading and learning!). When caregivers help children develop these skills before they're old enough for school, children will be set up for learning to read.  This may sound like a daunting task, but don't worry! You're probably already doing it.  

A great guide for what to do to build early literacy skills come from the American Library Association's Every Child Ready to Read initiative.  

Read - read together, read often, and read actively!

Write - did you know scribbling is an early form of writing? Let your child scrawl.

Talk - talk and describe what you see - in your first language!  Respond to cooing and invite conversation.

Sing - singing helps break down words into smaller pieces, which is an early reading skill!

Play - play pretend, play games, play play play!

 And you can do all of these things at the library!  

Early literacy tip: Read, and repeat!

Currently in the Toddler Room!
Currently in the Toddler Room!

Have you ever wondered why your child wants to hear The Duckling Gets a Cookie?! over and over again?  Are you worried that you are brainwashing your child with the same 32-page picture book when you read it for the 32nd time?

Have no fear.  Research shows that "Repeated reading helps children become familiar with the vocabulary, repeated themes, and the language in the story. You can use repeated story readings to help preschool children understand, talk about, and be part of the story" (CELL Practices, 2010) Here are some tips to make it work for you:

  • Point out words and phrases with your finger as you read so children can associate the sounds they know are coming with the letter shapes - a skill that's called phonological awareness.  

  • Practice dialogic reading, where you engage your child in the book and ask questions about what they think about certain parts of the story.  We wrote an extensive post on it, so check it out to learn more!

  • Let your child "read" the story to you while looking at the pictures to build up vocabulary.

Early literacy tip: use movement!

Did you know that movement can be a great early literacy tool? Use dancing, walking, jumping, arm waving, wheelchair rolling, toe pointing, etc to teach concepts to your kids - they'll learn quickly and remember for longer!

According to Rae Pica, movement's incorporation into learning waxes and wanes in popularity; however, "[Children] still need to physically experience concepts to fully understand them, and that includes concepts falling under the heading of literacy and the language arts."  Pica, in a 2012 article "Linking Literacy and Movement" in Early Childhood News discusses research that demonstrates how children learn through creating meaning, and that meaning can be especially created through movement. For instance, demonstrating words like over, under, around, up, and down by moving throughout the room (or dancing!) is much more effective than teaching a group of children sitting down.

Here are some more fun tips from her article:

"Beginning in infancy, when we label a baby’s actions (“You’re making your arms go up and down!”) we are making vital connections.  Also, consider the simple act of children forming letters of the alphabet with their bodies or body parts – individually or with a partner.  Such an activity leads to greater awareness of the straight and curving lines that comprise each letter and the difference between upper- and lowercase letters."

"When children clap the rhythm of words or rhymes, or move to the rhythm of a poem, they are increasing their knowledge of both rhythm and language.  Clapping, stamping, or stepping to the rhythms of words can also familiarize them with syllables."

You may have noticed that we do a lot of these things in our storytimes, but you can import the ideas to your home as well!


Note: Do you think you can find this chalkboard in our library?  This drawing is currently up!

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