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What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of early literacy? For most people, it’s books. But storybook reading is not the only way to help your child learn reading skills.

Surprisingly, one of the best ways to teach reading skills is also the simplest: talking! Children need to say or hear about 21,000 words each day to develop their vocabulary, and a good vocabulary increases kids’ chances of completing both high school and college.

  1. Play with hi and bye

    Teach your child different ways to say hello and good-bye — in English and other languages. (Here are some examples: good morning, buenos dias, allo, konnichiwa, zao, aloha, good-bye, ciao, see you later, buh-bye, adios, later alligator, hasta lluego, bai bai la). Practice different greetings every day. Even the physical act of waving helps children learn these expressive statements at an early age. Not comfortable speaking other languages? Try stringing words together to make longer and longer sentences: Good morning. Good morning, Monica. Good morning, Monica, with the big pretty eyes. Good morning, Monica, sitting on the blue blanket.

  2. Play storyteller and listener

    Use stories to introduce new words your child might not encounter in everyday conversations, such as the names of planets, flowers, or animals. If your child is a little older, you can switch off who is telling the story. Be sure to add questions while telling a story (e.g. What do you think the boy should do?). This gives your little one a chance to be creative and practice both speaking and comprehension skills. Plus, the bonding time helps children’s brains make important connections between emotions and words.

  3. Hit pause regularly

    You’re probably already watching TV and movies (Frozen, again?). If so, make it a habit to hit pause to share your reactions. Was that surprising? Funny? When a program or movie is over, talk about what happened in the story and how it ended. For example, How else could the movie have ended? For kiddo-appropriate TV, Sprout and PBS Kids are great channels.

  4. Do chores and errands together

    Tackle grocery shopping and laundry as a team. While creating your grocery list, ask your child what to add. At the store, ask questions like Where do you think we’ll find the milk? In the produce aisle, let your child touch the rough outer layer of a pineapple and compare it to the smooth skin of an apple. Ask questions that get your little one using descriptive words, like How do these feel different? When you’re doing laundry, name different items of clothing (e.g. socks, shorts, skirts) and talk about separating the clothes into groups, such as by color. As you sort, ask your child questions like Which pile does this shirt go into? Why?

  5. Sing!

    Listen to music and sing along. Whether it’s the ABCs and nursery rhymes or T-Swift, listening to — and singing along to — songs helps your child develop an ear for different words and sounds. Singing, chanting, and rhyming help kids learn new words, practice telling the difference between sounds, and even boost thinking skills. When it comes time to learn or grow their reading skills, all of these other skills will help. Try age-appropriate rhyming games and songs you may remember from childhood, such as “This little piggy,” “Itsy bitsy spider, “I’m a little teapot,” “The wheels on the bus,” and “Pat-a-cake.”

  6. Play make-believe

    The more your child uses their imagination, the better. Games such as follow the leader, dress up, and make-believe (with dolls or household items) help your child set goals, stay on task, and avoid distraction. Model pretending by saying things like Let’s pretend we’re on a pirate ship or Now you be the mommy. As your child grows older, continue to add more complex and exciting twists. For example, What might be Goldilocks’ next adventure?

  7. Ask your child open-ended questions

    Parents often try to make things easy for children by asking simple questions that only require a yes or no answer. Did you have fun at the park? Yes! Can you eat your broccoli, please? No. But yes or no questions fail to promote language development. Flip the switch on your conversations by asking questions that require your child to use more and more words, starting with nouns, then adjectives and nouns, and then full sentences. For example, The legos go in here, what is this? At first, try to get your child to give the basic answer, shoe box, then see if your child can build on that over time. For example, blue shoe box, or even better, answering with a full sentence: The legos go in the blue shoe box.

Want more? Help your child learn how to wait — a key skill kids need in kindergarten — by playing these 10 waiting games.

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