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Language & Literacy

What Is the Link Between Health and Language & Literacy?

A child's physical development has a direct impact on their ability to develop and use language. Hearing and vision provide access to the sounds and sights associated with verbal and written communication skills. Children need to be able to communicate "needs, wants, and thoughts verbally"1 to be successful in school. Health services help children to develop effective communication skills and learn how to engage in meaningful language and literacy experiences. Services include maintaining and encouraging use of young dual language learners' (DLLs) home languages.

Staff promote children's language and literacy development through:

  • Sensory screenings to ensure children are physically able to participate in language and literacy activities
  • Well-child visits that ensure children's physical health promotes language development
  • Creating language-rich environments and experiences that help children practice:
    • Using language to express themselves and communicate with others
    • Engaging in literacy experiences and activities

Examples of School Readiness Goals

The following table includes sample goals developed by the Early Head Start National Resource Center and the National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning. Review the links to health services in the third column to find strategies to accomplish your Approaches to Learning school readiness goals. If program school readiness goals address topics that are different from the examples offered, find links to health services here.

Early Head Start Head Start Links to Health Services
Goal 1: Children will demonstrate receptive and expressive language skills and communication strategies in their home language/s (may be English or other language/s). Goal 1: Children will build, use, and comprehend increasingly complex and varied vocabulary. Children with Special Health Care Needs or Disabilities
  • Modify and adapt services to meet children's unique developmental needs.
Family Health Literacy
  • Promote relationship-based competencies for all staff to support school readiness connections between a child's home and the program.
  • Cultivate effective partnerships to support healthy child development and promote school readiness.
Mental Health
  • Help children develop positive social behaviors that help them engage in learning.
  • Develop a mental health education program for families and staff to encourage supportive, nurturing relationships.
Oral Health
  • Promote access to oral health care so children are better able to eat, speak, and focus on learning. 
  • Capitalize on partnerships to expand oral health resources that support children's ongoing engagement in learning.
Physical Health
  • Capitalize on partnerships to expand health resources to promote optimal brain development.
Goal 2: Children will understand and begin to use oral language for conversation and communication. Goal 2: Children will use and comprehend oral language for conversation and communication.
Goal 3: Children will hear and distinguish the sounds and rhythms of language. Goal 3: Children can identify and discriminate sounds within words as separate from the word itself.
Goal 4: Children will begin to learn and discriminate how print works. Goal 4: Children will use and understand print as a system of visible marks that represent the sounds within words and words themselves.
Goal 5: Children will engage with stories and books. Goal 5: Children will engage with literature in developmentally appropriate ways.
  Goal 6: Children who are dual language learners (DLLs) will demonstrate increased competency in their home language while developing proficiency in English.

Research Connections 

Language ... is the principal way we formulate thoughts and convey them to others."2 Children develop neurological connections to receive and process information, speak, read, and write. "Speech requires motor planning and precise and complex coordination of breathing, sound production, and articulation. Language requires complex and integrated brain function."3 


1California Childcare Health Program. (2006). School readiness and health. San Francisco, CA: University of California, San Francisco School of Nursing, Department of Family Health Care Nursing.

2Caplan, D. (2007). Speech, language and reading. In F. E. Bloom, M. F. Beal, & D. J. Kupfer (Eds.), The Dana Guide to Brain Health. >Retrieved from http://www.dana.org/news/brainhealth/detail.aspx?id=10038

3McCormick, L., Loeb, D. F., & Schiefelbusch, R. L. (1997). Supporting children with communication difficulties in inclusive settings: School-based language intervention (p. 85). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Last Updated: July 30, 2018