The idea of babies and toddlers talking and reading can seem incredible. It is hard to imagine them debating with you about curfews or curling up with the newest Harry Potter book. But language and literacy skills start early—from birth. Watching your baby and learning how she communicates through sounds, facial expressions, and gestures are all important ways to help her learn about language and the written word.
It isn’t necessary to “teach” very young children. Formal classes and other activities that push babies and toddlers to read and write words do not help their development or make the do better in school. In fact, they can even make children feel like failures when they are pushed to do something they don’t enjoy or that is beyond their skills.
Early language and literacy skills are learned best through everyday moments with your child—reading books, talking, laughing and playing together. Children learn language when you talk to them and they communicate back to you, and by hearing stories read and songs sung aloud. Children develop early literacy skills (internal link to definition below) when you give them the chance to play with and explore books and other written materials like magazines, newspapers, take-out menus, markers, and crayons.
Language and literacy, while two different skills, build on one another in important ways.