Effective Practice Guides

Emergent Literacy: Do


Try the following practices with infants and toddlers. Use as much of the child’s home language or tribal language as possible. Find out how home visitors can put these practices to work with families.

Infants and Toddlers1

  • Cuddle up to read. This shared experience helps children associate reading with pleasure.
  • Point to the pictures in a book and label them, using facial expressions, varied vocal tones, and gestures to communicate the meaning of words.
  • Reinforce the meaning of words by connecting them to children’s real-life experiences at home, school, and in the community.
  • Ask children questions about the pictures or plot of a book.
    • With infants, watch and listen for a response (e.g., vocalization, facial expression, body movement) before providing answers and comments.
    • For children 18 months and older, provide opportunities to complete predictable sentences or rhyming phrases while reading aloud. Make connections between the book and children’s own lives.
  • Tell children stories. Encourage more verbal children to tell stories.
  • Use songs and fingerplays to model rhyming and enhance children’s ability to predict what comes next in the song or fingerplay.
  • Talk with children about how print is used around them. For example:
    • Point out signs and what they mean during walks
    • Explain what symbols mean on materials in the setting (e.g., empty food boxes used for pretend play, alphabet letters in children’s names)
  • Provide time, safe and appropriate materials, and space for mark-making experiences, such as scribbling, drawing, and painting. These experiences can be provided indoors and outdoors.
  • Model writing for different reasons. Explain what you are writing and why you are writing.

Home Visitors

Home visitors can support parents in identifying, adapting, and trying the practices listed above during home visits and during group socializations. Here are more ideas.

  • Encourage parents to share oral stories, lullabies, finger plays, chants, and nursery rhymes from their own childhoods with their child in the languages they know best.
    • Explore new ones with parents that they may be interested in learning and sharing with their child.
  • Share strategies and tips for reading books with their child. Talk about book-reading and -sharing as chances to have fun and deepen their bond and relationship with their child.
    • Note how parents contribute to a shared reading experience by holding their child close, pointing out familiar and/or novel people, objects, animals, and events in the book, and talking about what is happening and why.
    • Explain that, sometimes, very young children will respond to books by mouthing and dropping them, or squirming or moving away when being read to. These are typical behaviors.
  • As appropriate, work with parents to find sources of free or low-cost children’s books.
  • Encourage parents to show their child how speaking or signing and writing are connected (e.g., writing a note to grandma, a grocery list, holiday cards, or a caption for a photo).

1Allyson Dean, Sarah, LeMoine, and Maria Mayoral, ZERO TO THREE Critical Competencies for Infant-Toddler Educators (Washington, DC: ZERO TO THREE, 2016), 64–65, L&L-2.

Topic:School Readiness

Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: December 3, 2019