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Navigating Early Language and Literacy Development: Expert Insights and Strategies

Updated: Mar 24

Understanding the milestones of language development in children is a priority for parents and guardians eager to support their child's communication skills. Addressing common concerns and providing actionable strategies, Speech Language Pathologist Steve Brim and Early Childhood Special Educator Tim Ostdahl offer expert guidance on fostering language and literacy from infancy through early childhood. Navigating early language and literacy development may seem daunting, but overall, it's about working with your child and having fun.

Key Language Development Milestones

Early Speech and Vocabulary Growth: Brim and Ostdahl highlight crucial benchmarks in a child's language journey. By 18 months, a child typically knows 5 to 20 words, a range that expands to about 200 words and the formation of two-word sentences by the age of two. Children should form three-word sentences by three years, indicating healthy language development.

Pronunciation Skills: Mastery of specific sounds is another area of focus. Children are expected to pronounce certain consonants correctly by specific ages, with milestones set from age 3 through 7 for different sounds. These benchmarks help parents and professionals gauge the natural progression of speech clarity.

Enhancing Language Through Everyday Interactions

Engagement and Repetition: The experts recommend simple yet effective methods to enhance language skills. Engaging with your child through reading, singing, and playing enriches their vocabulary and comprehension. Brim emphasizes the importance of "pattern books" for their repetitive nature, which encourages children to participate and practice new words.

Simplification and Choice: In the early stages of language development, minimizing the complexity of communication helps toddlers grasp new concepts. Offering choices and celebrating any attempt at communication fosters a positive learning environment and encourages further attempts at speech.

Patience and Corrective Feedback: Giving children time to respond and gently correcting their mistakes without discouraging their efforts are crucial strategies. This approach respects the child's learning pace and reinforces proper language use without resorting to baby talk, which can hinder development.

Literacy Development: Building a Foundation for Reading

Fostering a Love for Reading: Ostdahl stresses the importance of cultivating an interest in reading over rote memorization of letters and sounds. Encouraging storytelling through pictures, letting children choose their reading materials, and incorporating playful learning activities like rhyming and book creation lay a solid foundation for literacy.

Sound-Letter Connections: Transitioning to phonics, exploring how sounds correlate with letters, and introducing sight words should be engaging and driven by the child's curiosity and readiness.

Resources and Recommendations

Recommended Reading Materials: For parents seeking structured reading programs, the "Bob Books" series is suggested for early readers, offering a gradual introduction to reading through simple narratives and phonics-based principles.

Making Learning Fun: Both experts underline the importance of keeping the learning process enjoyable and stress-free, ensuring that literacy development is a positive experience for parents and children.

For parents navigating the complexities of language and literacy development, the insights from Brim and Ostdahl offer valuable guidance. Emphasizing patience, engagement, and a supportive learning environment, these strategies aim to equip children with the tools they need for successful communication and literacy skills.

By adopting these expert-recommended practices, parents can play a pivotal role in their child's language development journey, setting the stage for a lifelong love of learning and reading.

Tips for Teaching Your Child to Read: Boost Language Development.

Time Ostdahl is not only an Early Childhood Special Educator but specializes in Childhood Literacy. Here’s what he recommended when it comes to teaching your child to read.

Above all else, “Don’t drill and kill.” He said thoughtfully, “The whole point of teaching our kids to read is so that they enjoy reading.” Instead of worrying about letter recognition and learning which letters make what sounds, the FIRST step to learning to read is looking at a picture and telling the story of what’s happening.

Ostdahl explained, “Yeah, it’s great when kids come to kindergarten knowing their letters and sounds, but we don’t expect it… knowing this information does not give them an advantage later in life.” His point was that the kid who goes into kindergarten knowing how to read might not further his education later on because he never learned to LOVE reading.

On the other hand, the kid who came into kindergarten not knowing anything other than what books he loves went on to love learning and furthered their education.

Memorization is NOT the Answer

Don’t force kids to memorize flashcards, that’s all it is: memorization without a proper understanding of the concept of reading. If your kid does not enjoy the flashcards, don’t make them do them. It will only kill the joy of learning to read. The most important thing is to READ TO YOUR KIDS.

However, the books need to be CHOSEN BY YOUR KIDS. Let them choose their interests. The school system has changed ways of forcing students to read specific books. Kids are allowed to pick the books they WANT to read because every child is different and does not have the same interests as their classmates. 

Playing games, singing songs, and learning how to rhyme before they learn to read is VERY helpful before venturing into reading lessons. Let them CREATE their OWN BOOKS. They can draw pictures and explain what’s happening in the pictures. 

When your child it ready and WANTS to learn to read. Start changing the way you talk about letters. It’s very helpful to say, “How do you spell ‘kuh’?” and allow them the time to answer with “C” or “K.” This way, they are making the connections between sounds and spelling those sounds using letters. Allow your children to pick what they want to learn. Have fun figuring out how to spell their favorite (smaller) words.

Talk to your child every day. Let them begin making their own connections between sounds and letters. Ostdahl recommended a series of books called “Bob Books” for early readers.

Finally, he suggested focusing on teaching kids to memorize “sight words”, these are words that, if sounded out, will not actually sound the way they’re spelled. Here are printable lists for “sight words” you can start working on, but make them fun. Always make every part of learning to read fun—everything from learning letters to sounds, to sight words, to storytime. 


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