For parents with children under 5

It matters what children do before they start school.
Here are Yolanda’s tips for setting children up for success in literacy before they learn to read.

Your young child is listening to everything you say and learning an incredible amount from the experiences you provide. Just because a baby cannot talk to you or seems to be oblivious to these activities, do not assume such activities are a waste of time. These activities shared every day will have a powerful impact on their developing brain. As your child grows, they will continue to develop their brain with more active participation in these experiences with you.

Yolanda’s key strategies for setting up the Under 5’s for later success in literacy.

Develop phonological awareness

It has been shown repeatedly that children who start school with good phonological awareness have better literacy outcomes.

Here are some easy and fun ways to help develop phonological awareness for your child:

Tell nursery rhymes every day (at nappy changes, in the car, etc).

Sing to/with your child (songs, rhymes, chants).

Turn off the radio and television so that your child can hear other noises, and also appreciate silence.

Talk about the sounds you can hear around you (e.g., a dog barking, a car revving, rain on the window).

Listen to music, nursery rhymes, and songs for children (Yolanda recommends Tessarose and Love to Sing).

When reading, talk about the stories, point to the pictures, make the noises of the animal characters (Yolanda recommends Eardrops).

Use silly voices and vary your tone and pitch when speaking, singing, and reading.

Include a cuddle and smiles with all these activities.

Use sound lotto games such as Listening Lotto and Sound Tracks to develop a wide repertoire of known sounds.

Top tip: Yolanda’s book Developing Phonological Awareness is packed with quick practical activities you can do with your child from birth. Parents are also welcome to take part in a Developing Phonological Awareness training webinars with Yolanda to learn how to effectively develop phonological awareness with their child.

Develop graphic knowledge

The skills required to be able to visually discriminate between words are laid down well before children read their first book. Games and activities where children must use visual information to match or separate one item from another visually will hone this skill.

Teach your child the principle of ‘same same’:

Basic colour/shape matching activities (e.g., puzzles where shapes and pictures are matched like to like).

Simple matching card games e.g., Snap.

Putting matching socks in pairs.

Sorting buttons/cutlery or other household items where like must go with like (e.g., put this fork with the other forks, put the teaspoon with the other teaspoons).

Name recognition (name their hat, lunchbox, bedroom door, and ask the child to point to the read and read their name).

Did you know that children can learn to read their name from the age of two years, if not earlier?

Develop oral language.

Talking to and with your child from birth is vitally important. Many studies have shown that the quantity of language spoken to the child predicts their later vocabulary and progress in literacy.

Have conversations. Talk about stories, people, places. Talk talk talk and read, read, read.

Reading to children

Start at birth and continue until they leave home. There is no reason to stop reading to your child. Did you know that children’s picture books have three times more interesting words in them than the conversation of university graduates? Building vocabulary early has long-term positive benefits for young readers.

Reading to children extends vocabulary, oral language, phonological awareness and opens the world for children. Read at least five stories over the day with your child. Also include rhymes and poems.


Read to your baby (try reading lying down on the bed with the book held above your faces) choose ‘real’ stories (such as Hairy McClary, Dr. Seuss) rather than baby board books.

Make visiting the library and borrowing books to read at home together later a weekly (or more frequent) routine.

Set up a reading corner/den for your child with cushions and books for you both (or by themselves) to take time out and relax with a book.

Instead of reaching for a device when you need your child to be occupied, reach for a bag of books that your child knows and loves for them to go through by themselves.

Incorporate reading a book in your regular activities such as going to the park or playground. Take a book for yourself too and find five minutes for you both to sit reading your books.

Yolanda’s favourite books for babies and toddlers

Hairy Maclary, Lynley Dodd

We’re going on a bear hunt, Michael Rosen & Helen Oxenbury

My cat likes to hide in boxes, Eve Sutton

Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?, Bill Martin Jnr

Each peach, pear, plum, Janet & Allan Ahlberg

An anthology of nursery rhymes such as This Little Puffin

Yolanda’s favourite books for pre-schoolers

Farmer Duck, Martin Waddell

The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson

Animalia, Graeme Base

The Story of Ferdinand, Munro Leaf

Dr. Seuss books

plus classic traditional tale books

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