Zero to Three: National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families Early Experiences Matter

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From Baby to Big Kid

An e-newsletter that showcases how children learn and grow each month from birth to 3 years. From Baby to Big Kid translates the science of early childhood and offers strategies parents can tailor to their unique family situation and to the needs of their child.
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The Importance of Early Language and Literacy

Many people believe that children learn to read and write in kindergarten or first grade; however, the foundation for literacy skills is laid years before children enter school. Emergent literacy, much like any other cognitive skill, begins at birth. During the early years, children develop competency in language and literacy not through a set curriculum, but through interactions and experiences with the adults around them. Young children benefit when teachers are both knowledgeable and intentional in how they support and nurture early language and literacy.

When we use the term “early,” or “emergent literacy,” we are referring to what children know about communication, language (verbal and nonverbal), reading, and writing before they can actually read and write. It encompasses all the experiences children have had with conversation, stories (oral and written), books, and print (Parlakian, 2003). Early literacy skills unfold simultaneously as children master other domains of development, such as social emotional skills. In fact, the emotional bonds between young children and their families, other adults, and peers influence children’s motivation and potential to learn (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). It is through positive, meaningful relationships and experiences that children gain confidence in their ability to explore and learn from the world around them.

Similarly, research indicates that family expectations and involvement are also important factors influencing later school achievement in young children. Families who support and believe in their children’s ability to learn are promoting their school readiness (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). Likewise, teacher expectations have also been shown to influence children’s school achievement (Bamburg, 1994).

For young children, literacy, language, and culture are interrelated. Through literacy experiences, children see the values and beliefs of their culture presented in a positive and nurturing light. Language is also an important expression of culture. As young children acquire their home language, they are mastering the knowledge and skills that form the basis of their cultural identity. For this reason, it is important for young children to be supported in maintaining their home language, especially when they are receiving care in English-language settings.

This article was excerpted from the following publication:
Im, J., Osborn, C., Sánchez, S. and Thorp, E. (in press). .  Washington, DC: ZERO TO THREE.

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