Five ways to help your child learn

Children are natural-born learners, and the grownups in their lives are their first teachers from the day they are born. Here are five activities adults can do with even the youngest kids to help get their brains ready to learn to read and succeed in school later on.

Read: Reading out loud is a wonderful opportunity to snuggle with your little ones and help them learn about the world around them.

Talk: Talking to and with young children in whatever language you are most comfortable speaking helps them figure out how to form words and learn new vocabulary.

Sing: Singing helps children learn to play with sounds, including rhythm and rhyming, and develops language, math and science skills.

Write: Writing starts with activities that strengthen finger muscles. This helps with fine motor control that will make scribbles turn into letters and numbers later on.

Play: Playing helps children gain vocabulary as they learn how to express themselves creatively and interact with other people.

Tips and book recommendations

Though babies don’t understand the words you read, sing, or say to them, their brains get stronger from cuddling, feeling safe and hearing language.

Singing nursery rhymes, a song from your favorite musician, or making up a silly song helps babies hear the smaller sounds that make up language. Our brains are hardwired to respond to music, and your baby loves the sound of your voice, whether you do or not!

Responding to your baby’s cues of interest (looking or babbling at an object, touching or reaching for it) helps them start to understand “serve and return” or having a conversation back and forth.

  • Saying things like, “Oh, do you want that book?” pausing for a moment to make eye contact, letting them smile, wiggle, or make noises, and continuing, “You’re looking at it, so let’s read it together,” helps their brains learn how to have a conversation long before they can talk.

Letting your baby play with, touch, and taste books — and see and hear them being read — helps them figure out how to hold a book and turn pages later on.

Books for babies

Books for tiny tots

Letting your child use crayons, paint, or even water to make marks and scribbles encourages them to experiment with writing long before they are forming letters.

Talking about what you’re doing throughout the day — what you’re eating for breakfast, what clothes they are wearing, or what you see on a walk — encourages language development and helps your child learn vocabulary.

Pointing out things in the pictures as you read and asking questions like “Can you find the bird?” and “What does the bird say?” can help children connect with a book whether they are sitting still or moving around the room.

Reading books with a rhythm to bounce along to or which include or inspire movements like stretching, hugging, or clapping takes advantage of active children’s natural urge to move.

Books for toddlers

Making up silly songs with rhymes for your child’s name encourages them to play with sounds and recognize rhythm and rhymes. Putting sounds together and breaking them apart is important for reading later on!

Picking books that interest them helps young children learn to love reading. It’s OK to read the same book repeatedly if your child wants. It can be boring for grownups, but toddlers are learning how to tell a story and the concepts of beginning, middle, and end.

Telling your child a story can be a great way to share new words, help them learn about the world, and connect with aspects of their culture they might not see in a book.

Books for preschoolers

Talking with preschoolers about what you’re doing throughout the day, and asking them what they see and feel helps them expand their vocabulary.

Making a game out of finding letters and text in the environment — looking for familiar letters on a sign, finding a crack in the sidewalk that looks like a letter T, and counting the number of STOP signs on your route to the store — all help them build pre-reading skills.

Reading a wordless book together and letting your child lead the storytelling gives them practice in figuring out a sequence of events. This is an important skill for creating their own stories, too!

Giving kids a chance to solve a problem themselves or figure out possible answers to questions is a great way to practice using their vocabulary.

Books from birth to 6 

Having a family dance party is a great way to blow off steam! Singing breaks words into smaller parts, making it easier for young brains to hear individual sounds, and even babies can clap or bounce to the beat.

Crafting is great for helping develop finger muscles used for writing later on. Babies and tots can tear paper, while some toddlers and preschoolers can practice with child-safe scissors and gluing them down to make colorful collages.

Playing with boxes can be fun for any age! Pretend it’s a car, boat, rocketship, or tent and create an adventure story for babies and toddlers, or let older children tell you their adventures.

Related resources:

Community links: