As crazy as it sounds, developing children’s literacy skills actually begins during pregnancy. When mothers talk to their babies while they’re still in the womb many researches believe that is actually the first step in language development. One thing for sure is that babies get used to the sound of their mother’s voice and perhaps when they are born, that familiarity lends itself to quicker recognition and a fast bond after birth.
Of course when babies are born, it is very helpful to them for their parents to continue speaking. Babies will start to recognize sounds and get to know gestures and facial expressions. Babies learn so much from the sights and sounds around them and will begin, almost immediately, to try to imitate the sounds their parents make. This is all part of the process of babies figuring out how we, as humans, communicate with each other. They will start to recognize how we relay information to each other in narrative form and begin to learn how to do that themselves.
We begin to see babies’ story-telling skills emerge in the toddler days when they launch into those long, animated baby monologues. When we listen intently to one of these stories that babies tell, it is almost like we can actually follow along, because, the child is so excited in relaying the details to us. It is very much like watching a foreign-language TV show. If you watch it long enough, you begin to follow the story, even if you don’t understand a word of it. That is the power of the narrative – and the baby has learned that skill from watching us and listening to us intently.
Parents can use every opportunity throughout the day to talk to their baby about anything and everything. That is a great way to build up the babies’ early literacy foundation. When washing the dishes or making dinner or cleaning up, parents can explain the tasks they are doing to their baby. Babies will begin to hear familiar words if the parents are in the habit of doing this frequently.
It is so tempting, when talking to babies and toddlers, to use baby talk. Experts suggest parents speak properly to their children, however, so the children can have the most possible exposure to the correct sound of words. For example, if a child has a ‘baby word’ for banana, and the parent constantly uses that ‘baby word’ back to the child, they are only reinforcing the incorrect pronunciation.
Even if a parent sometimes uses their babies’ pronunciations of words, the important point is that the child is being talked to frequently throughout their day. It is an essential building block of language, and therefore literacy, development.