Books and Print
Young children build their vocabularies and learn the rules of language through
constant exposure to words and print. High-quality early education programs make
language development and reading key components—and books lie at their center.
Books not only draw children into language and literacy, they also help them learn
about the world. Best practices include placing books in every area where children
spend time, including outdoor spaces. Best practices also tell us that books with
realistic pictures (rather than cartoons or drawings) work best.
Select books that are age appropriate and that meet the developmental needs of
the children you care for. Babies savor books by placing them in their mouths, so
infants’ books should be sturdy, texturally stimulating (cloth and/or chunky), and
easily cleaned. The youngest children enjoy word-free books; these stimulate their
imaginations and prompt imaginative storytelling and creative interpreting by adults
and children alike. Once children understand a bit about the relationship between
words and print and have built up their language and cognitive skills, they enjoy
books with simple text and large print, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric
Carle. As a caregiver, you should point to the words and read slowly to emphasize
the relationship between spoken words and print on the page.
Printed materials found at home and in the community also help children learn
about language. Call children’s attention to the signs outside their classrooms, the
words and symbols on street signs, and classroom area labels, such as “Library and
Art Area.” By the time they’re toddlers or twos, children begin to recognize the colors
and shapes of words they see regularly; they’re learning that print is all around them.
You can’t reread a favorite book too often! Children respond well to picture books
and stories with rhymes and repetition—for example, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What
Do You See? and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, both by Bill Martin Jr. Silly words and
pictures make reading and language development fun. Be sure that your reading to
young children is two-way: ask them simple open-ended questions about the pictures
and what you’ve read; encourage them to identify colors and what’s in the illustra-
tions. Such active reading teaches children new vocabulary, helps correct develop-
ing language errors, and expands learning opportunities. We call this approach to
reading dialogic reading.
Dialogic reading engages children actively in what might otherwise be a passive
activity: being read to. Instead, children ask and answer questions about what they
hear and see; they turn the pages of the book. They learn language by storytelling
and talking with you, their caregiver. They become invested in reading when they be-
come invested in their relationship with you. Their interest in print grows whenever
they learn or repeat new words and identify objects. Best practices include reading to
the children in your care for at least fifteen to twenty minutes every day. In addition,
you should make sure that books appear everywhere in your program.
Songs, Chants, and Fingerplays
Songs, chants, and fingerplays promote language development too. Babies and tod-
dlers love listening to adults sing to and teach them songs and nursery rhymes.
10 Activities for Responsive Caregiving