The Building Blocks of Reading-How Parents Can Help Build Literacy Skills

written by Laurie Lafortune


Studies have shown that children who are behind in reading in school by Grade 3 continue to fall behind and are four times less likely to graduate high school than other children.  The first three grades of school are very important in learning to read, but the foundation for reading is laid at home, long before formal schooling begins.  Successful parents play a key role in helping their children be successful in school before school begins, not by teaching them to read, but by supporting the development of literacy. Parents should start as early and as frequently as possible with simple communication activities.

First of all, as with every action your child observes, set a good example; show your child that reading and writing are fun and important to you and other adults. Have books and magazines around the house, accessible to children. Let your child see you doing literacy activities. Such things as making a grocery list, sending emails or texts,  writing notes or cards, reading books or tablets -all these activities send a message of the importance of reading and writing.


Literacy Activities with Babies

Read and tell stories to your baby from birth (or sooner!) Your baby will listen to your voice and will hear words, rhythm, and expression and will make the connection between words and meaning. When your baby coos and babbles, he or she is trying to talk to you. Encourage and respond to these sounds.

Talk throughout the day, telling your baby what you are doing, and what is happening next,” I’m making your lunch, and then we’ll eat.”  Or “I’ll wash your face and then we’ll get dressed and go for a walk.” Narrate and describe activities throughout the day, to increase the number of words that your baby hears. The number of words a baby hears is strongly linked to later reading ability. In the car, in a line-up, or waiting for appointments, are opportunities to provide literacy activities. Sing favorite songs, recite verses and nursery rhymes, and bring along favorite books in your bag.

Books for babies should be durable and easy to clean. A baby’s fine motor coordination is just developing and it is difficult for them to turn paper pages, and easy to tear them. Do not worry about teaching a baby to be careful when handling books; simply provide books that can stand up to a baby’s use. Thick cardboard pages, or plasticized or cloth books with few pages are good choices. Babies will put corners of books in their mouths, and chew on them. After exploring a book in that way, the baby will open the book. Later on, a baby will bring a book for you to read aloud. Point to pictures in books and identify what they are. At this stage, there’s no need to read the exact words of a story, just make up a story based on the pictures.


Literacy Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Continue providing books that are durable. Join the library and get your child their own library card. Allow your child to choose books at the library and buy books as gifts or special treats. Some parents avoid the “I wants” when shopping by allowing their child to buy a book, rather than toys or junk food. Have a low, accessible shelf or area for your child’s book collection. Read out loud daily (aim for 20 minutes a day) to your child, and have books in his or her room as well as around the house.

Let your child choose books for you to read aloud. Children typically have favourites, and may ask for the same book over and over, enjoying the predictability and repetition. You may find that well before learning to read, your child can memorize a favourite book exactly and will repeat the words perfectly, knowing exactly when to turn the page. Ask questions like, “What happens next?” with familiar books, and “What’s that?” while pointing to pictures. Alphabet books and counting books are great for preschoolers and they enjoy reciting letters and numbers. Around age 4 or 5, children can often recognize the first letter of their name (or many letters) and it’s fun for them to find letters in a book.

As children get older, they can handle longer books with paper pages. Have books in many places around the house, including the child’s bedroom. Your child can then look quietly at a book during nap or quiet times or before sleep. Continue to read together daily. If your child has an interest in a particular topic, find books on that subject to enjoy together. Talk about the books you are reading, using open ended questions about the plot and characters, such as, “Why do you think he did that?” “Would you like to do that?” “What do you think is going to happen next?”  “What was your favourite part of the story?” Ask your child to tell the story in their own words, and encourage them to explore books with younger siblings, ‘reading’ a story themselves.


Successful parenting includes giving your child a good start to learning, and reading is a key component.  Children learn best from a caring adult, so enjoy these special times with your children.