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Develop Early Literacy One Step at a Time
Iowa Ag Connection - 09/14/2018

Parents can help their children develop literacy skills long before they are old enough to go to school. By starting early and making learning part of everyday activities, parents can encourage the skills children need for success in school later on, says Joy Rouse, a human sciences specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

"Many parents already are doing literacy-building activities with their children, but may not realize the important skills they are sharing," said Rouse, who specializes in family life issues.

"For example, by simply talking with your child, you help him or her learn the sounds of spoken language. Children can have fun while they are learning about the sounds," Rouse said.

The first step to literacy is to develop listening skills. Parents can make a game of listening to sounds with their children and naming the sounds.

"You can speak the sounds to your child, or you can listen to a recording together, or you can listen to sounds in your home or backyard or in the car or anywhere. You also can ask your child to match the sound with a picture of what makes the sound. Even though your child isn't using written words, he or she is learning to listen carefully to differentiate the sounds," Rouse said.

The next step is helping children learn to distinguish words that sound alike or rhyme. Many children's books and songs contain rhyming. Families also can make their own books with words and pictures to illustrate the rhyming words.

"As you say the rhymes be sure to emphasize the rhyming words by your tone of voice or body actions to help your child hear the sounds. At age 3, children are able to make simple rhymes. At around age 4 they will play with different words and sounds," Rouse said.

The third step is alliteration -- speaking adjacent words with the same first consonant or vowel sound. Parents may remember examples such as Silly Sally or Peter Piper, often referred to as tongue twisters. Children can help make up a tongue twister or find examples in books, Rouse said.

These activities can be a time for parents and their children to have fun as well as learn. It also can be a time to get other family members involved in the fun.

"Building listening, rhyming and alliteration skills are some initial steps for developing literacy in children. These activities provide a way for families to have fun together while children learn and build skills that will lead to success in school, Rouse said.

For more information, see the following publications. They are available for free download from the Extension Store at

- 3-Year-Olds -- Ages and Stages (PM 1530E).

- 4-Year-Olds - Ages and Stages (PM 1530F).

- 5-Year-Olds - Ages and Stages (PM 1530G).

- Language Development - Understanding Children (PM 1529F).

- Learning to Read and Write -- Understanding Children (PM 1529E).

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