Raising your child bilingual can have its benefits but it can also be a challenge. (Photo/Getty Images )

Literacy skills start with your baby

Despite the record number of Latino high school graduates enrolling in college, literacy rates among Latinos continues to be dismally low. How can that be? It’s certainly not because Latino parents don’t want their children to succeed. But frequently they don’t realize the important role they themselves play in their children’s literacy development. Here are tips from birth through elementary school.


Literacy is a skill that is developed from birth. Those infant coos and babbles are a child’s first attempt at communicating. To speak, babies must learn phonemic awareness, which is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds in spoken words. This process is developed within the first eight to 10 months of life. A baby who is frequently spoken to and read to will develop this skill better than one who receives little interaction. And the ability to identify individual sounds is one of the basic skills necessary for reading and writing.


Read. Your child is never too young to be read to – in fact, reading to a child increases their vocabulary, which makes learning to read easier. Read with expression, not in a dull, monotonous voice. Colorful books with animals or other babies are especially attractive. But it doesn’t matter what you read, just pick something up and start reading.

Talk to your child and encourage him to respond. Interacting one-on-one with your child promotes healthy brain development, so make sure they can see you speaking, not just hear you.


During the toddler years, children continue to develop their preliteracy skills by learning to speak, increasing their vocabulary, and developing the fine-motor skills that are necessary for writing. Letter recognition is a must and should begin at home before they even enter preschool.


Sing. Singing the alphabet song, rhymes, poems, and fingerplays are a great way to develop all of your child’s preliteracy skills.

Color. Give your child plenty of coloring books, paper, pencils, crayons, and other art supplies. All that creativity helps them learn how to hold and control a pencil, and lets them practice “writing.”

Write. Teach your child to write her name. This is easier for those with shorter names, but it is important for a child to recognize his or her own name. This activity also helps them begin to learn that sounds are associated with specific letters.

Hang it up. Look for wall art and other decorations that include words. A print-rich environment supports literacy instruction and helps children get a jump on reading. You might hang a sign that says “Ana’s Bed” or “Juan’s Room.” Or you could write the word “Books” or “Read!” above their bookshelves. There are many possibilities.

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In elementary school, your child actually begins learning to read and write. Supplement their schoolwork by helping your child read at home. Look for emergent readers at your local library or bookstore, then take time each day to read together.


Ask questions. Read books together with your child and take the time to pause and ask your child questions about the story to measure their comprehension. Why do you think that happened? What do you think will happen next? What would you have done differently? All these questions and more require your child to think about the story.

Retell it. After reading a story, ask your child to retell what the story was about in his own words. Variations of this include having your child draw the story out on a sheet of paper, or even act it out.
By fourth grade your child should be reading fluently. They should be able to decipher long, complicated words and understand the main idea of a story. This is not an impossible task, and can be achieved relatively easily with parental involvement and steady practice.

Literacy skills start with your baby  monica oliveras profile small 1 parenting family NBC Latino News

Monica Olivera Hazelton, NBC Latino contributor and the founder and publisher of MommyMaestra.com, a site for Latino families that homeschool, as well as families with children in a traditional school setting who want to take a more active role in their children’s education. She is the 2011 winner of the “Best Latina Education Blogger” award by LATISM.

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