You have heard it said that “parents are their child’s first teachers.” Nothing could be more true. In addition to feeding, sheltering, and clothing a child, literacy is another essential aspect of parenting. There is no one in a better position to do that than parents.

Parents who talk, sing, play, and read to their infants and young children prepare them for success in school and in life. Young children who hear more words spoken and say more words in conversations with others are better prepared to read. A research study showed that some children already have a 30 million (!) word gap by the age of three.

No one wants their child to start school behind in language development. High-quality early childhood preschool experiences are important. But in those first two or three years before a child starts preschool, a great deal of brain development has already occurred. Talking and singing to an infant from birth is a gift of love and an investment in the child’s future learning.

In addition to talking and singing with a child, reading is a fun and effective way to build a child’s vocabulary. “In picture books and nursery rhymes/fairy tales from other times.” Making meaning from pictures is a baby step on the path to being a reader. Older readers engage young children by pointing to the pictures and talking about what is happening in the book. They ask children questions that are first answered by pointing. Later, a child’s answers will be single words, phrases, and finally full sentences. When children can ask questions about what is being read to them, they are well on their way to becoming motivated to learn to read.

When children are enfolded in a parent’s arms while reading a book together, they experience reading as an act of caring. Children who are read to develop positive feelings toward books and stories. These feelings help children grow curious about words. Positive feelings about reading support them in making meaning from words as well as pictures.

As a former elementary school librarian, I enjoyed meeting kindergarten children and their families. From their first day in the school library, I could tell which children had been read to in their homes and which had not. The lucky children came to school excited about stories. They knew how to hold books and turn the pages. They had already taken their first steps on the path to reading for enjoyment and learning.

Parents can be very busy and may be unable to provide early literacy learning experiences on a daily basis. That’s when brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and other caregivers can step in to make sure the young child is nurtured in these essential ways. With a shared responsibility and commitment, let’s engage every child in experiences that show literacy is simply an essential part of life.

Judi Moreillon received her doctorate in education from the University of Arizona. She is the author of three picture books for children and families. The quoted rhymes in this blog post are from her book Read to Me/Vamos a leer. Judi’s homepage is http://storytrail.com.