Parents Are Their Child’s First Teachers

Father playing with his infant son in the tall grassMany simple everyday occurrences provide excellent opportunities to enhance your child’s development. Never underestimate the value of even 15 minutes of quality time spent with your child. Remember, you are your child’s first teacher! Talk about everything around you and respond with sentences using any words the child contributes. Play games with the alphabet to introduce new letters. Tell stories about your childhood, your child’s favorite book or video character. When reading a story, describe what’s going on in the pictures and ask your child what he thinks. Let your child see that reading is fun and it’s important to you.


From the time of birth, talking to your child has a big impact. With the first babbles, language exchange is important to your child’s language development. Talk about your surroundings: things familiar to your child’s world. Name what you see in the house; as you ride in the car; and as you shop in stores.

If your child speaks in one word utterances, expand the word into a sentence, so that the child hears a sentence:

Child: “dog”
Parent: “The fluffy brown dog is barking.”

Always encourage the child’s use of language. Some tips:

  • Place a favorite toy out of reach.
  • Give the child one cookie; give the child’s friend two cookies.
  • Say rhymes and let the child fill in the rhyming word.
  • Encourage counting – “one nose,” “two hands” – to develop a sense of oneness, twoness, threeness.

As you talk, give individual attention for five or ten minutes. The amount of time should match the child’s attention span. Be a good listener. Follow your child’s lead for conversation and enjoyable interaction.

Read, Read, Read

With picture books, talk about the pictures. If a book has too many words, tell the story more simply, in your own words. You may need to begin by talking about the pictures.

    • Read as long as the child’s attention lasts. Be ready to read the same book over again and again.
    • Talk about the front of the book, the top of the page. Point to the words.
    • Play games with sounds. This is very important to your child’s reading development.

This activity lets the child know that words are made up of sounds; that conversation is made up of words.

  • Clap names of family and friends – “Joe” (one clap), “Mother” (two claps)
  • Stretch out the sounds of the word – “fff aaa nnn” – then say it fast, “fan.”
  • Play rhyming games.
  • Play I spy: something that begins like “pan” (pillow); something that begins like “mug” (mat, man).

These games can be played with a child before the child has any knowledge of the alphabet.

Story reading or story telling is important, as this activity helps the child know the typical pattern of events that one expects to hear in a story.

When your child shows interest in the alphabet, follow your child’s lead. Print names, and then print familiar words that begin with the same letter. Help your child know which letters are the same and which are different. If your child has an interest in learning letters of the alphabet, introduce letters that are not similar in their looks or sounds.

Be creative in helping your child develop remembering devices. Use things that are funny and familiar. Encourage your child to draw and tell you the story of the picture, which you can write down. Children’s writing emerges from squiggles, to strings of lines, to favorite letters, to a beginning letter followed by other letters or lines.

Young children’s art work may consist of lines and colors. Comment on the strong lines, e.g., “What a great blue color!” Reflect on what you see; ask the child to tell you about the picture. If a child isn’t interested in drawing, provide plastic animals, people, and vehicles the child can manipulate and use to create a story.

15 Minutes Every Day

The important component is consistent, daily quality interaction. The development of literacy requires 15 minutes of quality interaction each day. Your child needs to see that reading is important to you, that reading is an enjoyable experience, and that it is worth the hard work that it may require.