Sharing the Joy of Literacy Learning: Parents’ Contribution

Literacy Learning; Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Literacy Learning; Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Children start developing their literacy and language skills from the womb of the mother. A child can listen to outside sounds, particularly the mother’s voice, from the womb and at times respond to it with movement. Therefore, parents should be active in developing the child’s literacy skills even before the birth of the child. A child’s literacy development starts long before they walk in to the pre or primary schools. Home is the first learning space for a child to start developing language, print and phonological awareness. Responsive parents utilize this space to give the child a platform for future success in language efficiency through early exposure and intervention towards literacy learning development. Therefore, parents’ nurturing role in their child’s literacy development is referred to as “planting the seeds of literacy”1.

Parents’ Role in Children’s Early Literacy Development

According to National Literacy Trust (UK), parents play the most significant role in literacy development of children2. Parents’ support and participation in daily literacy learning activities promote a joyful learning environment for children. This is essential to instill interest of reading and writing in children, the pre-requisite of all academic and some non-academic achievements of life. It is necessary for parents to be aware of what important role they can play and how they can involve themselves in their children’s literacy learning development. There are plenty of evidences based on research on this issue and the following is one of them that depict the critical role of parents for future success of children in literacy3:

A recent study about mothers’ academic beliefs illustrates the importance of parents’ active support. The study found that mothers who believed they played an active role in building their preschool children’s knowledge actually created a more literacy-rich home. Their children developed greater interest in reading and more print knowledge than children whose mothers believed that schools are primarily responsible for teaching their children4.

Therefore, parents’ awareness as well as active involvement plays a crucial role in children’s literacy learning development. Parents should engage themselves in the daily literacy developing activities with their children such as: reading books with the child, playing literacy games, telling stories, introducing letters, words and sentences, support in developing phonological awareness, help to learn to write and make literacy an enjoyable activity for the children. According to the Foundations of Literacy Study, University of Nevada, Reno5, young children develop stronger early literacy and language skills when parents:

  • value their role in their children’s literacy and language development,
  • engage their children in literacy and language enhancing activities regularly,
  • organize the home to support literacy and language,
  • are role models for literacy, and
  • are active partners with their child care providers.

These activities have been related to children’s lifelong learning behavior by the National Literacy Trust, UK6. The following diagram depicts this relationship clearly:

Therefore, parents should involve in simple but meaningful literacy learning activities with children so that children can acquire literacy in an enjoyable way.

Interactive Literacy Activities of Parents and Children

Interactive literacy activities are intended to foster adult-child interactions that encourage children’s active participation in reading, writing, and language activities and in so doing, enhance their language and print literacy development7. Following are the descriptions of two literacy learning activities that parents from any socio-economic background can undertake to improve children’s literacy and language skills:

Activity 1: Name Game (Naamer Khela)

Age Group: 2 – 5 year old children; later toddlerhood through pre-school age

Objective of the Activity: Children will be able to-
•    Name object
•    Understand that print carries meaning
•    Connect print with real object

Required time: 10 – 15 minutes

Description of the Activity
•    Parents will put labels on the everyday used objects with their name. For example: chair, door, table, TV, bed etc. The older children of this age group can write the label themselves with the support from parents. Fruits, vegetables and other groups of objects can be used as well and the level of difficulty may increase according to age.
•     Parents will point at the label and spell and pronounce the name of the objects.
•    Parents will then ask the children to pronounce the names
•    Then parents will read the labels again
•    After that they will point at the labeled objects and ask children what it is
•    Parents will praise the children if they can tell the names correctly and scaffold them if they need more support to learn the names

Children’s literacy skills that will be promoted through this activity.

Through this activity children will be able to be familiar with written words that refer to certain objects. This activity will actively involve the child and parents in the process of developing the knowledge of print in a fun way. In future it will develop children’s ability to name or label their art work, pictures and stories. It will also enrich their vocabulary. They will easily be able to learn new words and relate it to real life objects.

Activity 2: Ami holam (I am)

Age Group: 1 – 3 year old children; Toddler and early pre-school age

Objective of the Activity: Children will be able to-
•    become more familiar with spoken words and actions
•    develop symbolic expression

Required time: 10 – 20 minutes

Description of the Activity
•    Parents will show pictures of (or real life) animals/birds/insects and act as the animals using the movement and sound that the particular subject makes. For example: parents will say Ami holam khude shingho (I am the little lion) and then pretend to have claws and roar like a lion cub.
•    They will describe physical features of the chosen subject.
•    They will describe the actions and activities of the animal/bird/insect and may make simple stories involving or relating the activities with the child’s everyday activities, for example: The lion cub plays with her mother after finishing his lunch/breakfast just the way you play with mommy after your lunch/breakfast.
•    Parents will encourage the child to copy the act they are doing.
•    They will ask questions related to the described animal behavior (e.g. how does a bird fly?) and encourage the child to ask questions as well.
•    The child will be encouraged to repeat or tell some narratives related to the animals

Children’s literacy skills that will be promoted through this activity.

This activity will develop children’s ability to express ideas and feeling in a symbolic way. Children will be able to connect oral expression and language to living subjects and actions. This activity has significant impact on children’s future literary ability. They will begin to develop their understanding of descriptive narratives which refer to the conception that language can be used to describe things or situation. This concept will help them in future to use verbal description or to write descriptive narratives of things and situations in stories or in any other form of writing in their primary age or even during the adolescence and adulthood. This ability includes – description of physical features, behavior and actions of living animals, people and situation.


Literacy learning activities that engage parents and children in an interactive and fun way are the most effective ones to develop children’s literacy and language skills. Parents are the first language teachers children have and therefore they should be active to intervene from an early age. Policy makers, educators and literacy researchers should emphasize more on the issue of parents’ involvement for improving children’s literacy skills. In the context of Bangladesh where parental education is still not widely available and accepted, more grass root level awareness building initiatives have to be taken by government and non-government education providers and early childhood practitioners. Interactive literacy activities for low income and marginalized families, particularly for those where parents are illiterate, should be designed so that all children irrespective of socio-economic backgrounds get access to literacy rich environment. Finally it has to be realized by parents that maximum exposure to language and literacy enables children to fully utilize their socio-cultural experience and provides them a window to connect to the world. This fact has been elaborated in a fascinating way by Brock and Rankin (2008)8:

Each new creation – a new word, a new way of expressing something, extends the system for the generations that follow. In turn, old ways are replaced with new and so it goes on ad infinitum. Such is the power that language offers to children, and such is the power they have over it.

1 Vukelich C, Christie J and Enz B (2008). Helping Young Children Learn Language and Literacy: Birth Through Kindergarten, p. 220-221. Cited in

2 Close, R (2001). Parental Involvement and Literacy Achievement: the research evidence and the way forward. London: National Literacy Trust.

3 Lopez, E (2013). Helping parents understand and foster their child’s literacy development. Texas Child Care quarterly, VOLU ME 37, NO. 2. Texes: Baylor University.

4 Weigel, D. J., Martin S. S., and K. K. Bennett (2006). Mothers’ literacy beliefs: Connections with the home literacy environment and pre-school children’s literacy development. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 6(2).

5 Weigel, D and Martin, S (2008). The Crucial Role of Parents in Children’ Literacy and Language Development. The Foundations of Literacy Study. Reno: University of Nevada.

6 Close, R (2001). Parental Involvement and Literacy Achievement: the research evidence and the way forward. London: National Literacy Trust.

7 Jacobs, K. (2004). Parent and child together time. In B. H. Wasik (Ed.), Handbook on family literacy (pp. 193-212). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

8 Brock A and Rankin C (2008). Communication, Language and Literacy from Birth to Five, p3. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

About the author

Rafiath Rashid Mithila

Rafiath Rashid Mithila

Rafiath Rashid Mithila is the Head of Early Childhood Development programme, BRAC International, Bangladesh and PhD researcher, University of Geneva.

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