Development of Language and Literacy Skills

In Literacy Promotion: An Essential Component of Primary Care Pediatric Practice: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that pediatric providers promote early literacy development for children beginning in infancy and continuing at least until the age of kindergarten entry.

Research shows that the earliest months and years of a child’s life are critical periods in brain development for language acquisition, including both the development of spoken language and the pre-literacy skills that equip him or her to arrive at kindergarten prepared to learn.

These steps of language/literacy development are achieved through responsive interactions with a child’s primary caregivers, in the context of stable attachments and relationships. Given that differences in language, the ability has been documented as early as 18 months, ensuring optimal development of early literacy skills requires attention to these critical early years. When a child’s early environment does not support this kind of development, valuable developmental time can be lost, with potential negative outcomes for a child’s social/emotional and educational development. Parents need to understand how essential this time period is, and how critical their own role can be.

diagram of human brain development

As language and early literacy skills develop throughout infancy and toddlerhood, they become the foundational skills for literacy instruction, starting in preschool and kindergarten. Eventually, “a child not reading at grade level by the end of 1st grade has an 88% chance of not reading at grade level by the end of 4th grade.” Reading at grade level by the end of 4th grade is a critical benchmark for students making the shift from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Lack of reading proficiency by this point is associated with a cascade of other problematic outcomes such as dropping out of high school, which in turn increases the likelihood of living in poverty.