Enhancing Early Literacy Through Family Engagement

Enhancing Early Literacy Through Family Engagement

Did you know: newborn babies have about 100 billion neurons? By the time they are 3 years old, babies have about 1,000 trillion connections between those neurons. The first three years of a child’s life are the most critical for speech and language development because this critical growth stage is when their brain is best able to absorb language.

Research shows that reading, talking, and singing with children are the most important activities that families and early educators can do to support children’s early literacy skills. When it comes to reading to our little ones, just 15 minutes daily, starting at birth, can make a big difference! As babies learn language skills best through interactions, families and caregivers play a key role in a child’s brain development in these first years of life.

Throughout our tip this month, we’ll highlight ways that you can support families, both in person and virtually, to build early literacy practices into their day-to-day interactions with their children at home.

Strengthening Families Protective Factor: Supporting Knowledge of Parenting & Child Development Via Early Literacy Knowledge

As we work in partnership with families, we serve as a trusted source of information on what to expect for their child’s development and how to parent accordingly. As early educators, we can help strengthen families’ understanding of what early literacy milestones to expect and what is developmentally appropriate.  See below for some common milestones:

Age Range Learning and Communicative Behaviors
Babies: Birthday
to 12 Months
  • Show what they think and feel by using their sounds, facial expressions, and body movements
  •  Learn to be good communicators when their caregivers respond to their sounds and actions
  • Learn by playing!
  • Learn to love books and reading when their caregivers read to them often
Young Toddlers:
12-24 Months
  • Use more sounds and actions to let us know what they think and feel
  • Learn to say many new words
  • Benefit from hearing stories that help them learn the meaning of words and develop a love of reading.
  • Can put together a few words, like “Mama, up?”
Older Toddlers:
24-36 Months
  • Learn how to pretend; this is an important skill, particularly in building their imagination and thinking skills
  • Can put words together to share their thoughts and feelings
  • Learn how ideas are connected. This is the reason they ask “Why?” all the time!
Preschoolers: 3-5
  • Begin to understand that words are for sharing ideas and information
  • Understand stories with plots. They can also tell us stories with a beginning, middle, and end.
  •  Imitate adult writing by scribbling, including making lines, squiggles, and circles
  • Are figuring out how sounds make up works. They are also learning the names and shapes of letters.

For more detailed information on how to help children become confident readers and writers from birth by age categories, check out Zero To Three’s guide here.

Note: Each child is different and develops on their own timelines within the ranges above.  If you have any concerns about the development of a child in your care, please contact your local resource center or visit First 5 LA’s site.

Remember, teaching children between the ages of 0-5 yrs to read is not developmentally appropriate. According to Zero To Three’s research, it’s most important that children learn early literacy skills through enjoyment of books, literacy-rich experiences, and positive interactions with adults related to reading. In fact, formally teaching young children to read when they aren’t ready yet is counterproductive and may create negative associations between reading and books and failure.

Let’s Discuss: Interview with a Children’s Librarian

Ahead we have a 10-minute video interview with Joanna Fabicon, a Children’s Librarian with the Los Angeles Public Library. Joanna brings her expertise and experience to this video as she shares some common early literacy myths, family-friendly early literacy strategies, and how to make reading fun!

Want more tips from your local librarians?  Check out the Los Angeles Public Library’s Birth to 5 website for great early literacy programs, online books, physical book bundles to go, virtual pre-school events, booklists, fun games and more! All of these are free of charge with a Los Angeles Public Library card! These are great resources to use in both early education programs and for families at home.

Early Literacy Habits: Talk, Read, Sing, Write, Play

As Joanna shared in the video, Talk, Read, Sing, Write, Play are 5 key early learning habits that help prepare our children for reading and learning; they are “bridges” to literacy. Let’s break these habits down, based on this article:

  • Sing: Singing is a great way to learn about language. When we sing, the sounds that make up words become clearer.
  • Talk: Children need to receive and create language to learn it.
  • Read: Share books together! More detail is shared in the next section.
  • Write: Scribble, draw, and make tactile art. Scribbles come before adult writing!
  • Play: Children experience the world through play, which in turns builds their fine and gross motor skills, cognition, language and social skills.

Read this creative article Sing, Talk, Read, Write, Play: Building Early Literacy Skills for great in-depth examples for each type of activity that are suitable for children of all abilities!

How Can We Share These Best Practices with Families:

No matter which method we use to engage families in at-home early literacy activities, we must always make sure that resources are culturally responsive, reflective of the families we serve and as much as possible, available in the home languages of our families. See the resources at the end of this tip for some great on-line resources to support your efforts!


  • E-mail or text links to age appropriate Read-Alouds that families can enjoy together
  • Share early literacy resources, such as First 5 CA’s
  • Create a video of an early educator at your program sharing tips for reading aloud to young children (i.e. using fun voices, stopping to ask questions or look at pictures, explaining new vocabulary, etc.) and send it to families
  • Host a virtual family meeting focused on age appropriate early literacy activities (i.e. serve return for infants/toddlers, sound scavenger hunts for preschoolers, singing songs, telling stories, and the importance of reading aloud for 15 minutes every day) . For information on how to host virtual events for families, check out our Family Engagement Webinar YouTube video on the matter!
  • Share information about virtual story-times and activities from local libraries

In Person (following health and safety COVID 19 procedures):

  • Create a lending library: As not all families can afford books, allow families to borrow books each week
  • Send home a flyer or newsletter with family literacy activities or read-aloud tips
  • Print out a story for families to take home along with a craft to accompany the story (i.e. a short book and a puppet cutout or related craft)
  • We can also support families by modeling these behaviors through everyday actions, intentional programming, and connecting them to accessible resources.
  • For more direct approaches, we can speak with families at end-of-day check-in or during family conferences.
  • (Post COVID) Host in-person workshops on early literacy topics, with hands on activities and resources

Talking Points for Families: The Importance of Reading at Home

As early educators, we understand the importance of reading to children from birth, but we cannot assume that everyone has that knowledge.  Thus, it is important that we explain to our families, why early literacy skills and reading aloud (even for infants) is an essential habit that can have a huge effect on their child’s development. Below are some of the key “Why”s of at-home reading that we can share with our families:

  • Language Development: The number of words children know upon entering kindergarten is a key predictor of success.
  • Instilling a Love of Reading: A family’s example demonstrates that reading is important, pleasurable, and valued.
  • Knowledge Gained and Shared: Books are informative; families can learn with their children as they read, showing that learning is a family value
  • Literacy Skill Building: Reading aloud builds vocabulary, phonics (the relationship between sounds and letters), and grammar skills, helps children become familiar with printed texts, develops storytelling, imagination and comprehension skills
  • Brain Development: Children develop critical language skills from birth to age 3, so it’s important to take advantage of their brain’s incredible growth and connection-building during this period.
  • Bonding: Sharing a story, cuddling, and connecting over newfound knowledge through reading further strengthens a family’s bond with their child.

Most importantly, we need to support and build the confidence of our families in their role of being their child’s first and most valuable teacher. Through the strong, supportive relationships that we build with families, we can create a home-school connection that benefits both the family and the child in developing life-long skills.

Literacy and Dual-Language Learners

How Can We Support Families of Dual Language Learners with Early Literacy at Home?

Many of our programs serve diverse families who speak languages other than English at home. It’s important to consider what we know about a family’s language usage at home and how we can support their child’s language development in English as well as in their home language(s). Some facts about supporting the early literacy development of dual language learning that are worth noting:

  1. Exposure to both languages daily: Dual language learners benefit most when they similar amounts of exposure to high-quality input in each language everyday – speaking and listening. Children will often learn foundational skills in one language which makes it easier to transfer them to a second.
  2. Grammar takes time: Children learning two languages might use words from both languages in the same sentence or confuse grammar rules. This is a normal part of Being a dual language learner. Children often learn their home language grammar first and then their second language.
  3. Speaking in two languages is difficult: Some children may not talk much when they start using a second language. This “silent period” can last for several months. This is normal and will evolve as the child feels more comfortable in both languages.
  4. Children can successfully learn two languages: Learning more than one language at the same time is not confusing to young children. Rather, it helps them develop multiple, but inter-related, language systems. It also increases their brain function. Switching between languages gives children an increased ability to monitor their environment more efficiently.

In working with families, we should encourage them to speak their home language at home with the comfort of knowing we will incorporate supports for the home language in our early education programs as well. Some ways families and early educators help children develop dual-language skills include:

  • Reading books in different languages.
  • Listening to music in different languages. Listening to songs over and over again helps children learn and understand words.
  • Pointing and describing the world around children in multiple languages. Programs can label items in more than one language including toys, animals, colors, etc.
  • Inviting children to share their expertise and share how to say a new word in their home language.
  • Allowing children to discuss a topic or learn a new skill in whichever language they prefer, while supporting their development of new vocabulary and content understanding in their second language.

Dig Deep: Consider checking out the ECE Competencies video on Dual-Language Development for more information and inspiration; some topics include: dual-language program models and strategies, development of the home language and of English, and relationships with families of dual-language learners.

Early Literacy Resources

  • Check out these ready-to-use resources for early education programs and family homes!
  • Check out the wide variety of QSLA’s Early Literacy Resources, offered in English and Spanish; including an Early Literacy Toolkit with guidance on how to create reading routines, bring in fun, create a book nook, & storytelling!
  • QSLA also offers a variety of themed booklists on topics including culture, traditions, feelings, holidays, and history – in English & Spanish!
  • QSLA has 2 Reading Strategies from Classroom to Home infographics – with guidance for early educators and families in both English and Spanish!
  • LA County Public Library offers story time (virtually for the time being), parent-child workshops, and a rich variety of virtual resources through Tumblebook Library!
  • Colorín Colorado shares resources for families and early educators – including guides, links to other resources by state, reading tips and English Language Learner information, all in Spanish and English!
  • Reading Rocket’s Preschool page has great informational resources for reading and writing reading readiness including articles, developmentally-appropriate activities, booklists, developmental milestones, and more – great for both early educators and families seeking understanding and guidance!
  • ReadAloud.org – 15 Read Aloud Tips for Babies and ToddlersCheck out their downloads page for tips, posters, infographics, bookmarks, parent handouts, and more!
  • Looking for a read aloud videos? Check out Storytime with Ryan & Craig and ONSCR!

As we already incorporate reading and early literacy in our work as early educators, this is a pivotal chance to intentionally engage families as part of each child’s education team. On that note, there are some great opportunities coming up where we can tie in early literacy skills with our family engagement programming including:

Let’s keep building young children’s early literacy skills through teamwork and creativity alongside their families!


Check out our other Family Engagement Tips!

Cristina Espinoza
Family Education Coordinator, Quality Start Los Angeles

Cristina Espinoza has worked as a family and youth development professional for 5 years, including having served as a Peace Corps Volunteer as a youth development promoter in Costa Rica. In conjunction with Quality Start Los Angeles, Cristina is passionate about supporting families to feel empowered in the changing landscape of their surroundings with their children’s wellbeing at the forefront. She is a champion of strengths-based systems and services that build resilient families and youth.