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Lena Engel
Worked as an Ofsted Early Years Inspector for Kensington and Chelsea Borough. Supported teachers in schools to improve outcomes for children’s learning, and written for Nursery World Magazine. She trains, assesses and mentors early years practitioners, and offers advice and guidance to parents.
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Child development & learning

How to help your child enjoy literacy and language

Children have a natural love of language, songs, and stories. With a light-hearted attitude, you can help harness your child's natural affinity with language and reading.
In Short
Stories, songs and books should be enjoyed from birth so that literacy becomes a joy and a habit rather than a 'school subject.'

Join a library and make use of your local community services to expose your child to lots of stories and literary events.

Lots of chatting and conversation is vital to your child's emotional and cognitive development as well as his vocabulary and communication skills.

As with all other aspects of learning, parents play a crucial part in inspiring their children to develop good communication skills and a love of talking and listening. Despite the fact that there is so much available electronic equipment that draws our attention away from our children, it is really important not to let it dominate the experiences of the young, or impede warm and close relationships.

Sing songs and rhymes

From birth use your voice to stimulate your child’s response and to create a warm bond with him. Singing songs that you like, lullabies and nursery rhymes that have repetitive rhythms are excellent to help calm your child, and help him get used to spoken language and the sound of words. Your child will pick up tunes very quickly and will associate your voice with feelings of love and closeness to you as his first carers. Sing songs in all your languages.


Music can be used to calm children and familiarize them with the sounds of instruments and the beat of the rhythm. Try not to use radio pop channels or nursery rhyme tapes as background sound, as they often disturb your child’s ability to listen and to notice the intricacies of speech patterns that make up language. When you are sharing songs and stories try to sit with him so he can join in and feel part of the social experience of enjoying singing together.

Stimulating conversations

Babies and young children need parents to speak to them directly and face to face so that they can see your mouth moving as well as the expressions in your eyes. Your child will read your moods by interpreting the tone of voice he hears and by scanning your face to try to understand how your are feeling.

Also, use non-verbal communication signals such as physical movements with your hands and your body to fully engage your child’s attention. Make sure that when you talk with your child you are asking him open-ended questions and giving him time to listen and respond. Even if there are silences, value the fact that he responds with a smile or a gurgle when he is still very young, and before he begins burbling and chattering. Open-ended questioning are asking questions that do not have only yes and no answers. For example: ‘which t-shirt would you like to wear? The blue one or the red one?’ This question engages children more and gives them the opportunity to think and to make a choice, which is a way of showing independence, as well as having to internalize the words to describe different colours.

As your child grows, always make sure you keep instructions simple if you want him to understand and carry them out effectively. Also if you want them to do something, it is much better to get down to your child’s level and tell him in a calm and encouraging way just what you want him to do. Give your child a chance to respond, and to show that he understands what he has heard you ask him to do.

Older children will enjoy side-by-side conversations as you complete tasks together or e.g., walk the dog. Movement is very meditative and allows children to open up and express themselves rather than undergoing direct questioning.

Reading stories and non-fiction books

Children love to enter into the imaginative world or stories, both told from memory and in story books. Try to offer as much variety in children’s stories as you can, and also read your child non-fiction books that teach him about natural history, interesting facts he can learn and aspects of the real and man-made world.

Join the local library where you can browse the books with your child, participate in weekly story sessions and borrow several books a week. This is a wonderful resource, and as you pay central and local taxes, you should make full use of the service and thereby be part of keeping them available to all families. If you just rely on going to bookshops, you will often buy books that are not ones your child enjoys, or you want to keep. Borrowing from libraries is an excellent habit for your child to learn as they are places where they can begin to value reading, learning and doing research within a quiet and safe environment. It also teaches respect for books as they need to be kept safe until they are taken back to the library.

Inspire your child to act out stories with you that they know well, simple ones to start with such as Goldilocks and The Three Bears. Encourage him to remember the sequence of events in the story and bring the story to life by giving different voices to each of the characters. Maybe you can also involve your child in supporting you reading the story by ending the sentences that he has become familiar with from hearing the story many times over.

Reading stories and exploring information in non-fiction books not only stimulates creative thinking, but it also extends your child’s knowledge of his environment and how it works. Most important of all it enriches his vocabulary and use of expressive language.

Read and sing songs

Read and sing with your children at any time in the day. It is always a good excuse to cuddle up together on cushions on the floor, on the sofa or in bed before they go to sleep. It is restful and soothing and helps put children in the mood to sleep and dream. As children get older, they may like reading by themselves or listening to taped stories to help them drop off to sleep.


If you and your partner speak different languages – young children can easily learn 2 or even 3 at a time. The best idea is to have one person always speak in one language to them – then maybe a third language at school. Young children learn languages very easily. At around the age of 7 it becomes more difficult, so don’t be afraid to start at birth. Also sing to them in all your languages.

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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.