How to build your child's literacy skills from birth to year 2

​​​​​​​This page includes tips on how to help build your child's skills in speaking, listening, reading and writing.

General tips

You play a key role in developing from birth a child’s language and literacy skills. Children starting school with greater literacy skills perform better in school.

Literacy in the early years include a range of different activities like music, dance, storytelling, visual arts and drama.

It's never too early to read to your child. Reading should start in the first few months after birth. This stimulates language development and will encourage a love of reading

Talk as much as you can with your child and engage them in conversation often. Your child will learn new vocabulary faster and speak with greater fluency.

And remember, literacy in your child’s early years can always be fun. Excursions and playtime are great activities in which to engage and talk with your child. Fun activities can teach your child new vocabulary and ways of saying things.

Helping your child to speak and listen

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Talking with your child

Talking and interacting with your child regularly increases their language and listening skills. While helping to grow their confidence in language.

Outings can also provide a world of new vocabulary. Discussion during outings can enrich your child’s understanding of the world.Visit a park, the zoo, shopping centres, museums, libraries and art galleries.

Other fun activities can include:

  • Share rhymes, poems and songs. Encourage your child to join in.
  • Share and talk about family histories and family photos.
  • Look at picture books or art books. Ask your child to describe what is happening in the pictures and make up stories together.
  • Collect cardboard and other household items for your child to build with. Ask your child to describe what they are building.
  • Look at ‘junk mail’ and talk about the things for sale.
  • Listen to simple radio programs or podcasts together and discuss the content.
  • Play vocabulary games with your child such as, “what’s the opposite of ….?” (for example, “what’s the opposite of big?”) and “what’s another word for….?” (for example, “what’s another word for angry?”).

Oral storytelling

 Storytelling extends your child’s speaking and listening skills. As well as expanding their memory and imagination.Either you can tell the story, or you can encourage your child to tell the story.

Storytelling might be about:

  • your child’s favourite toy
  • another family member
  • a pet
  • a favourite fictional character from a book or television program
  • a famous person
  • different work professions, such as astronauts, firefighters, nurses and teachers
  • an imaginary world with imaginary characters
  • an imaginary animal that can speak.

Here are some tips to start your storytelling:

  • Make it exciting, with different voices, puppets, or a finger play.
  • Have a dress-up box for your child to use for storytelling and imaginative play.
  • Start with what interests your child.
  • Start by creating a character and a setting.

Helping your child to read

Reading together

Reading together is a valuable thing to do. Reading increases your child’s vocabulary and understanding of the world. Reading also gives them confidence when using language. Reading is an important way to make the link between spoken words and written words.

Here are some general tips:

  • Visit your local library to select and read books together, and to attend story time sessions. Library story time sessions are a great way to share the joy of reading with your child in a group setting.
  • Encourage your child to choose reading materials that match their interests.
  • Set aside time for reading every day. Reading before bedtime is a good habit to get into.
  • Position yourself so your child can see the words and the pictures.
  • Run your finger across the page with each word to help your child identify and remember words and sounds.
  • Develop imagination, ideas and vocabulary by naming and describing elements in picture books.
  • Look for rhyme, rhythm or repetition in books. This will help develop your child’s love of language.
  • Read stories to your child with expression, or try putting on the voices of characters. This will help make reading fun. 
  • Identify important features about a book. For example, the words and pictures, the front cover, the spine, the contents page, or the title.
  • Explore words using a dictionary.
  • Encourage your child to take over some or all of the reading if they feel confident.
  • If your child is confident, allow them to read without interruption. Fluency increases with confidence. Discuss mistakes after a block of reading, or in subsequent readings.
  • Allow your child to read at their own pace. Model good pace when you read to them.
  • Give your child the opportunity to re-read books.
  • Encourage your child to join the Victorian Premiers' Reading Challenge. Run each year from March to September. Participating services and schools will register your child, otherwise your child can register.
  • Join the 1000 Books Before School program at your local library.

Helping your child work out difficult words

When your child begins to read to you, they will often have difficulty with long or tricky words. It is important to give your child time to work out difficult words themselves. This helps develop their reading skills.

You might, however, help them if they are stuck by asking questions like these:

  • Look at the picture. What word makes sense?
  • Look at the picture. What object can you see in the picture that might start with that letter?
  • What letter (or letters) does the word start with? What sound does that letter (or letters) make?
  • What letters are in the middle of the word? What sound do these letters make?
  • What letter (or letters) does the word end with? What sound does that letter (or letters) make?
  • Can you put those sounds together to make a word?

Another good strategy is to ask your child how they worked out the word. This helps reinforce reading strategies they learn from you and from school.

Book chat

Discussing the content and meaning of books is an important part of reading. Chat about the book before, during and after reading. Encourage your child to share their ideas and to ask questions about the book.

Here are some questions you can ask before, during and after reading the book:

  • Look at the cover. What do you think this book might be about?
  • How would you describe the character at the beginning of the story?
  • How does the place the book is set in make you feel?
  • What is happening in the pictures?
  • What do you think is going to happen next?
  • Why might a character have done this? What would you do in the same situation?
  • Who was your favourite character in the story? Why did you like that character?
  • What was your favourite part of the book?
  • Can you retell the story in your own words?

Making the most of screen time

Use the same book chat questions to discuss TV programs or films you watch together.Understanding visual media is a key element of your child’s literacy.

There are also a number of great games on the internet to help engage your child in reading.

These games include:

  • Phonics games that improve reading and letter sound awareness.Phonics involves sounding out individual sounds in a word. Make the whole word by putting the sounds together.
  • Grammar, punctuation and spelling games.
  • Vocabulary games.

Here is a short list of good websites to help begin your online search for games and other resources:

Reading the world together

The world is full of letters and words you and your child can read together.

Activities could include the following:

  • It is important to show your child the value of reading for everyday purposes. Include your child when reading all types of materials. For example, you could read a recipe together and follow the steps to make your child’s favourite meal. Or you could ask your child to read and tick off each grocery item on a shopping list as you buy or unpack them.
  • Cook alphabet soup and say letters together as you eat them.
  • Play a word hunt. Write random words on bits of paper and place them around a room. Say one of the words and ask your child to find the right word.
  • Put post-it notes on objects around the house so your child can read and learn new words every day.

Helping your child to write

General writing advice

Learning to write begins with scribbling and drawing. Encouraging your child to write is an important first step. The next step is to encourage your child to write letter-like shapes. Then moving on to practise writing the alphabet – both capitals and lower case letters. After this, encourage your child to write sentences containing short words.

If your child cannot write yet, you could write for them. Here is a strategy:

  • Ask your child to talk about an experience or something that interests them.
  • Ask your child what part of the conversation they would like you to write down.
  • As your child is talking, write down their ideas. Use their language.
  • Ask your child to describe back to you what you wrote down, or ask them to read back the writing.
  • Your child may want to draw a picture or create something to match the writing.

Encourage your child to take over some or all of the writing when they feel confident. When your child starts writing, try the following:

  • Discuss the topic to give your child some ideas to explore. This gives them confidence to begin writing.
  • Teach your child any vocabulary they might need.
  • You can encourage your child by writing on a similar topic alongside them. Then you can share your writing with each other and discuss the differences.

Here are some general tips to help your child when writing:

  • Make sure you give your child the necessary resources, such as pens, pencils, paper or notebook, and a desk.Creating a special ‘writing box’ helps them see writing as an important activity.
  • Support your child to read their writing aloud.
  • Encourage your child to create a picture that visually represents their ideas.
  • Always proudly display your child’s work in a prominent position in your house. This will give them confidence, and demonstrates the importance of writing.
  • Create an ‘ideas bag’ or ‘ideas folder’ to use as a writing prompt.Inspire writing ideas by collecting objects. For example, photographs, pictures from magazines and brochures, movie tickets, or other items.

Writing about experiences and interests

Topics might include:

  • a piece of writing about a recent experience, such as a wedding or birthday party, or an excursion.For example, recounting the day’s activities, a report, a short story or a written list
  • something that interests them. Your child could create a poster or a short article on a hobby or other interest
  • a dream or memory they have discussed recently.

Writing creatively

Because creative writing is fun, it is an excellent way to foster a love of writing. It also helps develop your child’s imagination. Which is also important in critical thinking and problem solving. You can use a book you have recently read together as a source of inspiration, or create something new.

Some ideas for writing creatively include:

  • Create a short story in cartoon form.
  • Cut out pictures of people from magazines and create speech bubbles and dialogue.
  • Create your own superhero and have them go on a short adventure.
  • Use artworks found on the web, such as paintings and photographs, as inspiration for a story.
  • Write a story or create a cartoon together by taking turns at writing sentences or cartoon cells.
  • A simple story structure involves a character who has a goal but has problems in achieving that goal. For example, to win a football match, to find a lost dog, or to save the world). This structure can be the basis for a short story you write together.

Opportunities to write every day at home

Like reading, writing with your child should become an everyday activity at home.

Try some of these writing ideas:

  • Write a shopping list or add items to a list.
  • Keep a board to write and read family messages.
  • Give your child a pad of sticky notes to write reminders for themselves.
  • Plan and write your weekly menu together.
  • Write captions for photographs in your family photo album.
  • Write labels for your child’s art works and creations.
  • Make words using magnetic letters and stick them on the fridge.
  • Make and write greeting cards, birthday cards, and thank you notes.
  • Keep a family calendar on display and write down family events.