Literacy Strategies for Language Development

Welcome and thanks to my guest blogger, Mary Elizabeth Shaw! Today she is sharing literacy strategies to utilize in speech therapy or at home.

Mary Elizabeth Shaw has her masters in language and literacy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and her doctorate in educational leadership from University of Bridgeport. You can follow her literacy tips on @Busybeeliteracy on Instagram. 

Did you know that literacy skills begin at birth?

I know that sounds crazy but the foundational skills for literacy success begin the moment you start talking to your baby. That’s not meant to be overwhelming, but instead exciting to know that you can have an impact on your child’s literacy skills simply by talking to them as you move through everyday tasks like diaper changes. 

You see, early literacy does not mean ‘early reading’; instead, early literacy builds language skills such as vocabulary, comprehension, and self-expression. Early literacy skills can be developed with even the youngest babies by talking, singing, and playing. Early literacy skills also include developing print motivation, print awareness, vocabulary, narrative skills, and phonological awareness. 

As a literacy specialist, my favorite tools for building literacy skills are of course, books! With my first baby, I quickly realized that babies don’t sit still to read. I had envisioned quietly sitting to read a book with my baby before putting her to sleep, and well, that just wasn’t happening with our super active, wiggly baby. Over the months I stuck with it and read ‘Brown Bear’ until I had it memorized and would then recite it to her before sleep. I knew that even at that age she was benefitting from hearing the rhythm and rhyme of the story. As she got older, she’d slowly sit a bit longer and pat the pages and practice animal sounds with me.

My point is that you don’t have to read the book from cover to cover to get the benefits of reading.

Practice animal sounds, point to pictures, ‘open’ and ‘close’ the book together, and soon you’ll have a little one who understands how books work even if you’re not reading from start to finish. As babies are sitting up, it helps to sit face to face with them while reading so that they can see your face as you read the words as well. As they start to toddle around, remember that they can enjoy a snack, wander to play with a toy, and come back and plop on your lap again.

Reading should be fun and shouldn’t be something that they have to sit and be quiet to enjoy! Babies love to chew, and throw books around so we often pick simple board books which are wonderful. But don’t be afraid to pick a book that seems a little more complicated that you enjoy reading. My husband used to change words in books to simpler vocabulary thinking that our daughter would have an easier time understanding the story. And while that may make sense, the more vocabulary we expose our children to and teach them about, the better their reading comprehension will become. Don’t underestimate your little one and read the ‘big’ words!

As babies turn into toddlers and preschoolers, the opportunities to promote early literacy skills are truly endless and they can be so simple. I’m not a crafty person, and I am not great at planning ahead so I’m always excited when I remember that my everyday tasks can be used to promote literacy skills. 

Here are just a few ways to promote literacy skills with toddlers and preschoolers that require little to no planning. 


Need to go to the grocery store? Let them write a grocery list! They don’t need to be able to write letters yet, they can draw pictures of food, the idea is to teach them about concepts of print. Other activities include making name tags for dolls or stuffed animals, and playing hide and go seek with the letters in your child’s name as they get older. Again, letters don’t need to be perfect, a lot of this is modeling for your child that written words have a purpose! Is your child just starting to notice letters? Start with the letters in their own name. This is highly motivating for kids. These activities play into print motivation and print awareness. 


Sing songs in the car! Songs often rhyme and developing rhyming skills is a key early literacy skill and part of developing phonological awareness. Songs also tell stories and provide opportunities to talk about characters, people, places and activities and develop narrative skills.

Pretend play:

Through pretend play kids learn about telling stories, categorizing (a key concept for writing), and using their imagination and creativity. Have a pretend kitchen? Make a menu, write a recipe, write down an order for a pretend restaurant and more. 

Social Emotional Learning:

One of the most important skills for all children is developing their social emotional intelligence. This includes everything from understanding their own feelings to understanding those of others. If there is one other skill that I can recommend parents work to promote it is social emotional awareness, and books and stories hold so many opportunities to promote these skills. Every character faces a problem and in turn, an opportunity to teach your child about feelings and emotions. Use books and everyday activities as opportunities to develop these early literacy and social emotional skills whenever possible. 


I love using modeling as a way to promote skills instead of testing. What do I mean by this? If you’re reading a book with your child, instead of asking, “What letter is that?” Instead say, “I see a J” and pause, your child may point to it themselves, and if not, point it out for them. Instead of asking, “what happened at X part of the story?” Model for them describing what happened. Or instead of saying, “How do you think X feels?” Model, I think this character is feeling______, what do you think?” Kids don’t like to be tested and sometimes our most well intentioned questions can leave them feeling pressured instead of truly enjoying a story and thinking freely about it. 

Reading is fun! Even if your toddler asks for the same book for the millionth time, just know that it is for a good purpose and they are learning and growing every time you open the book.

Happy reading! 

Thank you Mary for sharing these literacy ideas to incorporate in your speech therapy sessions! You can find her at and on Instagram at @busybeeliteracy.

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