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Language and Literacy

Language development refers to children’s emerging abilities to understand and use language. Language skills are receptive—the ability to listen to and understand language—and expressive—the ability to use language to communicate ideas, thoughts, and feelings. Children's language ability affects learning and development in all areas, especially emerging literacy.

Emerging literacy refers to the knowledge and skills that lay the foundation for reading and writing. For infants and toddlers, emerging literacy is embedded in the Language and Communication domain. This reflects how closely connected these emerging literacy skills are to very young children’s beginning receptive, expressive, and vocabulary skills. For preschoolers, Language and Literacy are distinct domains. They reflect children’s growing skills as they begin to grasp differences between spoken and written language, as well as how they are connected.

Language and literacy skills can develop in any language, and for the most part, they develop first in the child's home language. Supporting development of the home language helps prepare young children for learning English. Head Start and Early Head Start programs must promote language and literacy goals for all children that are age, culturally, and linguistically appropriate and responsive. However, children who are dual language learners (DLLs) need intentional support to develop their home language as well as acquire English. For example, this may include creating environments that include their home language and culture; planning and organizing thematic instruction; and supporting them through transitions.

Language and Literacy for DLLs

To learn more about language and literacy development for DLLs, view the Dual Language Learners video. Review the following resources under the Planned Language Approach:

Research Base

Home Language Support

The Big 5 for All

Specific Strategies to Support DLLs When Adults Do Not Speak Their Language also offers a variety of resources for supporting infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who are DLLs and their families.

Language and Literacy Domain

To read more about the Language and Literacy domain, visit the interactive Head Start Early Learning Outcome Framework (ELOF). There are two domains under the Language and Literacy domain: Language and Communication, and Literacy.

Language and Communication Sub-Domains

The Language and Communication domain includes the following sub-domains for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers:

The Language and Communication domain also includes the following sub-domain for infants and toddlers:

Literacy Sub-Domains

The Literacy domain includes the following sub-domains for preschoolers:

Effective Teaching Practices

The effective teaching practices that follow are grouped in three categories: Interactions, Environment, and Individualization. Examples of ways to support goals for children are provided by sub-domain. It is likely, however, that these practices will also support goals for children in additional domains and sub-domains. This is the nature of teaching and learning in the early years.

Home Visitors

Teaching practices in home visiting are the ways that home visitors work with families to provide experiences that support their child’s development and learning, engage in responsive interactions, and use the home as the learning environment.

Home visitors:

  • Facilitate parent-child interactions
  • Engage parents in focusing on their child’s development
  • Directly encourage parents to teach, talk, and interact with their child in responsive and warm ways
  • Use family activities, routines, and materials in the home for learning
  • Collaborate with parents to plan activities and experiences

Home visitors may consider using group care teaching practices in the “Know,” “Do,” and “Improve” sections during home visits and group socializations. They can engage with parents to identify, adapt, and use these practices, or when appropriate, model the practices.

Language and Communication Sub-Domains

Literacy Sub-Domains

Last Updated: June 8, 2018