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During the infant and toddler years

Children need relationships with caring adults who engage in many one-on-one, face-to-face interactions with them to support their oral language development and lay the foundation for later literacy learning. Important experiences and teaching behaviors include but are not limited to:

  • Talking to babies and toddlers with simple language, frequent eye contact, and responsiveness to children’s cues and language attempts
  • Frequently playing with, talking to, singing to, and doing fingerplays with very young children
  • Sharing cardboard books with babies and frequently reading to toddlers on the adult’s lap or together with one or two other children
  • Providing simple art materials such as crayons, markers, and large paper for toddlers to explore and manipulate

During the preschool years

Young children need developmentally appropriate experiences and teaching to support literacy learning. These include but are not limited to:

  • Positive, nurturing relationships with adults who engage in responsive conversations with individual children, model reading and writing behavior, and foster children’s interest in and enjoyment of reading and writing
  • Print-rich environments that provide opportunities and tools for children to see and use written language for a variety of purposes, with teachers drawing children’s attention to specific letters and words
  • Adults’ daily reading of high-quality books to individual children or small groups, including books that positively reflect children’s identity, home language, and culture
  • Opportunities for children to talk about what is read and to focus on the sounds and parts of language as well as the meaning
  • Teaching strategies and experiences that develop phonemic awareness, such as songs, fingerplays, games, poems, and stories in which phonemic patterns such as rhyme and alliteration are salient
  • Opportunities to engage in play that incorporates literacy tools, such as writing grocery lists in dramatic play, making signs in block building, and using icons and words in exploring a computer game
  • Firsthand experiences that expand children’s vocabulary, such as trips in the community and exposure to various tools, objects, and materials

In kindergarten and primary grades

Teachers should continue many of these same good practices with the goal of continually advancing children’s learning and development. In addition every child is entitled to excellent instruction in reading and writing that includes but is not limited to:

  • Daily experiences of being read to and independently reading meaningful and engaging stories and informational texts
  • A balanced instructional program that includes systematic code instruction along with meaningful reading and writing activities
  • Daily opportunities and teacher support to write many kinds of texts for different purposes, including stories, lists, messages to others, poems, reports, and responses to literature
  • Writing experiences that allow the flexibility to use nonconventional forms of writing at first (invented or phonic spelling) and over time move to conventional forms
  • Opportunities to work in small groups for focused instruction and collaboration with other children
  • An intellectually engaging and challenging curriculum that expands knowledge of the world and vocabulary
  • Adaptation of instructional strategies or more individualized instruction if the child fails to make expected progress in reading or when literacy skills are advanced

Although experiences during the earliest years of life can have powerful long-term consequences, human beings are amazingly resilient and incredibly capable of learning throughout life. We should strengthen our resolve to ensure that every child has the benefit of positive early childhood experiences that support literacy development. At the same time, regardless of children’s prior learning, schools have the responsibility to educate every child and to never give up even if later interventions must be more intensive and costly.


Excerpted from: Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children. (May, 1998) A joint position of the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

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