Sing, Talk, Read, Write, Play: Building Early Literacy Skills

Briana Staff Image

Photograph of young child's hands stacking blue, green, yellow, and red Legos with more toys in the background.

There are a number of things parents and caregivers can do to support the development of their child’s early literacy skills. Among them are five simple practices: singing, talking, reading, writing, and 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. Read on to discover some specific ways to include children of all abilities in these early literacy skill building practices!

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.

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, 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.

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… you can get as creative as you like! 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, 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, 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.

Child with a visual impairment sits on caretaker's lap while playing with a toy piano and smiling.

– Provide toys that engage many senses: rattles, textured balls, vibrating toys, colorful blocks. For some excellent tips on selecting developmentally appropriate toys for children of all abilities, click here.
– Encourage your child to pretend and create stories!

Ready to sing, talk, read, write, and play, but not sure where to start? Visit your local public 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. Children and families of all abilities are encouraged to visit the library and attend library programs!

Briana is a Children’s Specialist at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (LBPH). She loves exploring the outdoors with her dog, Duke and dancing.