10 Ways to Promote Children’s Literacy at Home

Elise Moser

Staff Writer

Elise works with kids and teens at a public library, where her speciality is finding awesome book recommendations for customers. She has a degree in journalism and is a certified early childhood educator. When she’s not reading, Elise enjoys watching baseball, running, board games, and playing the flute. She lives in the St. Louis area with her partner Allen and their three cats.

In a coronavirus world, many families are worried about their children falling behind academically. School availability has varied widely across the country and many families are choosing to or having to take a much larger role in their children’s education. At the foundation of it all is literacy. Promoting literacy at home can have a huge impact on a child’s learning.

While teaching a child to read can feel daunting, there are actually a lot of really simple ways to encourage a positive relationship with reading. Here are some easy ways you can boost your child’s literacy skills, whether they’re learning in-person, virtually, or at home:

1. Read!

Reading to your child is the best way to help children develop literacy skills. Studies from around the world have found that children who are read to by their caregivers see numerous academic benefits. Kids who are read to have stronger early literacy skills, which makes learning to read easier. They also have a larger vocabulary. Simply reading books with your child every day will have a huge impact on their literacy skills.

2. Teach children rhymes and songs

Nursery rhymes are not just cute songs children love to recite. They play a crucial role in language and literacy development. Rhymes help children develop an understanding of the patterns of language and understand the sounds and blends that are the building blocks of words. Teaching and practicing nursery rhymes will lay an important foundation for literacy.

3. Model reading behavior you want to see

If you want to encourage literacy at home, make sure to model that behavior at home. Set aside time to turn off distractions like the television or your phone and sit down with a good book. This type of modeling will be powerful as children get older and are able to read independently. They’ll see how they can incorporate reading into their daily lives even as other activities demand their attention.

4. Turn on the captions

Reading doesn’t just have to be with a book. We all watch online videos, television, and movies. Promote literacy by simply turning on the captions. It will help kids make a connection between the words they are hearing and the words they’re reading on the screen. It’s also a great way for them to identify any new vocabulary they hear. Next time they read that word in a text, they’ll be more likely to correctly identify it.

5. Talk to your kids

Speaking to your children is a great way to increase their vocabulary. Many in education point to a “word gap,” or a difference in vocabulary between children when they enter school. There are many causes for this gap, but one thing researchers have found is that children who get regular conversations with adults learn more words. Don’t be afraid to use “big words” when talking to children. You can always explain their meaning, and the more often kids hear new words, the more likely they are to pick up on their meaning through context.

6. Practice storytelling

A simple way to promote literacy at home is to encourage your child to tell you stories. This will help them gain a better understanding of the rhythm of narrative storytelling, which will benefit them as they grow and read more complex fiction. They can tell you real stories about their lives or make up stories and flex their imaginations.

7. Consume nonfiction to help build better readers

Many adults shy away from nonfiction for young children, believing the topics and vocabulary are too complex for little minds. But creating a strong knowledge foundation is one of the best things you can do for your child. Children who have more background knowledge have an easier time learning new concepts. Since you’re spending so much time reading together at home, mix in nonfiction about history, culture, and science. For some inspiration, check out this list of picture book biographies of Black people or this list of great children’s books about plants.

8. Play word games

For younger kids, these games can be informal, like naming a word that rhymes with another word. You can play these kinds of games anywhere, such as riding in the car or while taking a walk. There are also a lot of fun board games that promote literacy for kids of all ages. Some great ones are Zingo, Quiddler, Bananagrams, and Rory’s Story Cubes.

9. Make reading easy for your kids

Just like any habit, the fewer barriers to reading, the better. Make sure books are readily available to your child in whatever spaces they spend the most time. Have books in their bedroom, in the living room, in the kitchen, and even in the car. It’s also helpful to give you child a mixture of familiar and new books. You might purchase favorite books for your home collection while regularly checking out new books from the library. Keeping books accessible at all times will encourage your kids to read.

10. Encourage all forms of reading

Make sure you don’t inadvertently dismiss certain forms of reading. Graphic novels, comics, audiobooks, and picture books are all valid forms of reading regardless of your child’s age and ability. We know the best way to improve literacy skills is to read more, so families should encourage children to read whatever they like. Favorite picture books long past a child’s “reading level” can provide comfort. Graphic novels can keep reluctant readers engaged. Audiobooks are an accessible way to access the same content as a physical book. Trust that your child is reading grade-level material at school and let the at-home reading be truly their choice.