Get Children Ready to Read: Birth to Two-Year-Olds


"By the time children are two years old, they understand 300 to 500 words. You help your child learn new words by talking and reading together."

Six pre-reading skills your child can start learning from birth!

Vocabulary - Learn new words

  • Talk with your baby or toddler about what is going on around you.
  • When your baby babbles or your child talks, listen carefully and answer.
  • Ask your baby or toddler lots of questions. Even if she does not have the words to answer, she learns that questions are invitations for her to respond.
    Speak clearly. Use short sentences. Repeat yourself when your child shows interest.
  • Speak in the language that is most comfortable for you.
  • Read together every day. Books have pictures of things you may not see often. Name the pictures as you point to them — this helps children learn new words.
  • Research shows that children who have larger vocabularies are better readers. Knowing many words helps children recognize written words and understand what they read.

Print Motivation - Love of books

  • Begin reading books early — even when your child is a newborn.
  • Make book-sharing time special time — just you and your baby or toddler.
    Let your baby or toddler see you reading.
  • Visit your public library often.
  • Children who enjoy being read to will want to learn how to read.

Print Awareness - Use books

  • Use board books or cloth books and have your child hold the book.
  • If there are only a few words on the page, point to each word as you say it.
  • Read aloud every day — print labels, signs, menus. Print is everywhere!
  • Being familiar with printed language helps children feel comfortable with books and understand that print is useful.

Narrative Skills - Tell a story

  • Talk to your child about what you are doing.
  • Tell your child stories.
  • Encourage your toddler to tell you about things. Listen patiently and ask questions.
  • Read favorite books again and again.
  • Talking with children develops comprehension skills that will help them understand what they read.

Phonological Awareness - Hear and make sounds

  • Say nursery rhymes so that your child hears words that rhyme. Emphasize the rhyming words.
  • Add actions as you sing a song or recite a poem. This helps your child break down language into separate words.
  • Singing songs is a good way to help your child hear syllables in words. In most songs, each syllable in a word gets a different note.
  • Make up your own silly, nonsense rhymes.
  • Say rhymes and sing songs in the language that is most comfortable for you.
  • Being able to hear the sounds that make up words helps children sound out written words as they begin to read.

Letter Knowledge - See and know letters

  • Help your baby and toddler see and feel different shapes as you play. (Say, “The ball is round.”)
  • Read alphabet books.
  • Point out letters on toys, food boxes and other objects around the house.
  • Talk with your toddler about what is the same and what is different between two things.

Make sharing books something your baby or toddler wants to do often. Children learn best when they enjoy what they are doing.

  • Look for books with clear and simple pictures.
  • Choose a good time to read, when you and your child are relaxed and happy.
  • Point to pictures. Talk about them in an excited voice.
  • Notice what your baby looks at, and then talk about it.
  • It is natural for babies to play with books, even to chew or tear them.
  • Stop for a while if your baby loses interest or gets upset. A few enjoyable minutes at a time is better than a longer unhappy time together.
  • While you read, make your child feel loved and special.
  • Share books with your baby every day. Even a few minutes are important.

Talk and have fun!

The Early Literacy Initiative
A partnership among the Public Library Association, the Association for Library Service to Children and the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development

This information created by Dr. Grover (Russ) Whitehurst, Leading Professor of Psychology, State University of New York and Dr. Christopher Lonigan, Associate Professor of Psychology, Florida State University.

Funding provided by the Public Library Association (PLA) and the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), divisions of the American Library Association. Spring 2001
© copyright 2004 -- PLA/ALSC, divisions of the American Library Association
50 E. Huron, Chicago, IL 60611

Early Literacy:
Get Children Ready to Read

   Birth to Two
   Two and Three
   Four and Five

What's New in Picture Books?

What Children Like in Books

Early Literacy Resources

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