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Early Literacy Skills and How to Encourage Them

Jan 13, 2022 What is literacy? The basic definition is that it is the ability to read and write. Simple, right? Not for children who suffer from a communication disorder.

Literacy is so much more than just being able to read and write; it’s about understanding, listening, speaking, spelling, and vocabulary. If a child is weak in any of these areas, they will have problems with literacy-based tasks like spelling. Do you know those weekly spelling tests? Those are a nightmare for kids, verbal expression, and writing. 

Unfortunately, kids who struggle in this area are often labeled as “lazy” and “unmotivated” because they shut down when they have to use these skills. I work with high school students and see this on a daily basis. Like when I ask them to write a five-paragraph essay and they fail because he/she doesn’t turn it in. It’s not that they don’t WANT to do it, rather it’s because their disability in one of the literacy areas PROHIBITS them from doing it! 

This blog goes over the main parts of literacy, what they cover, and some practical strategies to help your child’s skills. 

Comprehension – What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Comprehension is, very simply, the ability to understand what is spoken or what is written. Children who have a hard time understanding information have a hard time in every academic area that they try. They can’t absorb information, have difficulty solving problems, and fail to express their ideas effectively or clearly. 

Read to Your Child from a Young Age

According to The Literacy Cookbook, by Sarah Tantillo, children from families of higher socio-economic status hear over 1,500 more words per hour than children from low-income families. This is equivalent to a thirty-two million word gap over a four-year period and is why reading to your child from a young age is very important.

This is the most important suggestion that I give to all parents who come to me for private speech therapy. READ. JUST READ. Ask your child to point to words, have them repeat the words back to you, and ask them questions about what you read (e.g., Where did the fairy go?). These questions and vocabulary tasks will all help with their comprehension of information. 

Answer Their Questions with an Explanation

Another way to help your child with comprehension is to explain ideas or arguments. I know. I know. My toddler is in the “why” phase. At the end of a long day, all I want to do is say “because I said so.” The speech pathologist in me tells me to take a deep breath and EXPLAIN.

Explaining is so important is because it involves so many more words than just giving a basic response. So, the more you explain information to your child, the more they will ask questions, which shows their comprehension skills are growing!

Ask WHY and HOW Questions to Nurture the Skill of Inferencing

Another way to target comprehension is to work on inferencing skills. These skills involved predicting, solving problems, making connections, etc. While reading or conversing with your child, ask questions like, “How did the girl feel,” “What do you think happened?” 

For example, my daughter was watching “Garfield.”

In the movie, Odie is left on the front porch by his owner, he paces around for a bit and then lays down.  As an adult, we can infer that Odie is very sad because his owners didn’t want him. Without skipping a beat, my daughter said, “Mommy, the puppy is very sad” and then she started to cry. Her ability to show empathy at such a young age was amazing.

Also, I was also surprised by her reaction. I decided to ask her why Odie was so upset and she said, “his mommy left him.” That skill of inferencing is being shown by her being able to say WHY. It wasn’t outwardly stated in the movie, but by his actions, she knew that he was not happy.

Even if your child doesn’t have a reaction like mine did, you can still take the opportunity to work on this important skill! 

Repeat New Words as Frequently As You Can

Finally, another way to work on comprehension skills is to review and reinforce words that your child is exposed to. The first way you can do this is by making sure your child can actually SAY the words. If they are producing words that are unclear, they won’t be able to use them when writing or reading. It’s never too early to focus on this because our school curriculums start working on writing in Pre-K with basic pre-writing skills.

With my own child, and my students, I will say the word, and then ask them to repeat it. I do this THREE times to ensure that she/they are understanding. I use the words as frequently as I can and monitor if the word is coming out clearer every time exposure occurs.

Keep in mind certain speech sounds are developed until a certain point. You can still say frequently used words three times so your child gets the model and knows what is expected. 

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Be Confident with Your Skills

I know this is a lot of information and you are probably feeling overwhelmed since this is the first literacy skill that can be addressed. Don’t be nervous and be confident with YOUR skills. Chances are, you are doing some of these recommendations already. If you aren’t, pick ONE suggestion that I wrote about and target that skill first! It’s all about breaking down this information and taking it one step at a time.

My suggestion? Work on vocabulary to start. Read to your child before bed for at least 5 minutes and ask them what pictures are being seen to see where their comprehension skills are! From there, you can decide if you need to break things down further or if you could make the reading more complicated (e.g., asking those inferencing questions). Before long, you’ll see those skills blossom and develop!

Feel free to download Speech Blubs, where you can get even more fun activities to boost language development.

Did you know that early exposure to reading leads to an easier transition into elementary school? It also builds vocabulary, writing skills, and verbal expression!! For more information, take a look at the next article, which is all about READING.

In the last blog of my literacy series, I provide a literacy definition, go over the rest of the literacy elements, and provide you with some easy, practical strategies that you can start implementing now to boost your child’s literacy skills.

The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not necessarily reflect the views of Blub Blub Inc. All content provided on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgement, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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