5 Early Literacy Practices for Babies

For: Caregivers/Parents

Ages: Birth-2 Years

The love of books and reading starts when we are born. As care providers, parents, and teachers, we need to connect the experience of reading and learning with a ludic/game activity or experience. When you connect a learning or reading experience with a fun experience, your child will associate the learning experience with having a good time. The child will continue to be eager to see this positive experience.

*Focus on having a good time rather than teaching a word, letter, sound or something specific.

Creating a full brain experience:
The left side of the brain is responsible for organizing our thoughts and makes us think logically, whereas the right side of our brain is the emotional side. The right side of the brain experiences feelings and emotions. Developmentally, a baby’s brain development weighs heavily on the right side of the brain.
When your baby is having fun and engaging in activities that they like, such as hearing your voice and enjoying your company, the right side of the brain is in complete activation. This is the ideal moment to connect baby’s left side of the brain with a learning experience.


Crying is a baby’s first means of expression. Your baby will learn that the act of crying will call upon mom’s attention. When your baby cries, they are trying to communicate hunger, a need for comfort, or the desire for company.
A baby’s brain is wired to speak any language, but it will choose the language/or languages that he hears in his environment. The brain will sort out sounds that compose his language or languages and make connections with those sounds. We as caregivers and parents need to create an environment rich with speech since your baby needs to hear a language in order to speak it.

  • Make eye contact with your baby: When your baby reaches 3 months of age, they will be able to follow your face when you talk and follow familiar voices.
    Repetition is always helpful: Your baby is aware of the sound of your voice and the rhythm of language more than what the words actually mean.
  • Active listening: Your baby is actively listening to you. Studies have found that when your baby is listening to you, the sound of the speech stimulates areas of the brain that coordinate baby’s speech. (National Academy of Science, July 14th, 2014)
  • Talkback: Imitate your baby’s babbles and gestures. Having this back and forth conversation is called serve and return. When an adult responds to these actions, the baby’s brain will create connections and strengthen the foundation of their brain.


  • Look in the mirror and name body parts. Ask questions like: Where is the baby’s nose? Then, point to your child’s nose. Your child will love seeing their reflection in the mirror!
  • Wiggle fingers or toes. Support fine motor skills and gross motor skills; connect sensation (touch) with music and a fun experience.
  • Tickling of body parts like the tummy, face, and cheeks, will create sensory stimulations as well as laughter and fun.
  • Explore textures: Exploring a variety of textures activates the senses and different parts of your baby’s brain. You can do this activity with elements you already have around the house. Try using scarves, clothing with different textures, stuffed animals, fabric, feathers, grass, and sand. To make it more fun, use opposing elements such as rough and soft, dry and wet.
  • Moving objects/ disappearing objects: Object permanence is one of your baby’s milestones. With this skill, he will develop the understanding that people and objects still exist even if he can’t see them. Games like Peak-a-Boo will help your baby to develop this skill; they will also help develop socio-emotional, language and logical thinking.

Every time you play these games, you provide opportunities to make eye contact with your baby. Take turns playing and let him make a prediction. Try changing the phrase; instead of saying Peak-a-Boo, ask your baby: Where am I? And then answer: Here I am! You can also cover objects with a scarf and ask: Where is the ball?

Try this: In a dark room or a room with little light, turn a flashlight on and off.


Reading to a baby will strengthen bonds between the caregiver/parent and the baby while also helping to build vocabulary and stimulate the imagination.
Babies’ attention span is very short; the recommended time for reading a book with your baby is around 2-5 minutes per session. However, if your baby can stay interested and engaged for a longer period of time, reading for a longer stretch is perfectly fine.
We recommend hardcover books as an incentive for manipulation. Bright colors and contrast (black & white) will catch your baby’s eyes. Make voice inflections, point out pictures in the book and relate them to objects around the house. Babies will love books with disappearing objects.


The key to creating stimulating activities for your baby depends on observing the child’s development. Observe what the child is interested in or trying to do. If your baby is trying to grasp, pinch, pull or reach with their fingers/hands, create an environment or cultivate activities that will enable your baby to use this skill.
Grasping, pinching, pulling, pointing, poking and reaching will help strengthen the hand’s muscles that your baby will utilize for writing. When your baby is ready to grasp, give her/him sticks, pencils, or big crayons which they can easily grasp by making a fist.
When your baby is ready to pinch/poke/point, have dough, clips, and squeaky toys readily available for them to play with. Let him/her sort small materials like cheerios, point at pictures in the book, and in their environment.


Your baby will love the sound of your voice and at 3 months old your baby will be able to follow familiar sounds and music. Familiar music will soothe your baby and stimulates his/her brain.
Sing a lullaby or follow simple rhythms with instruments. Bouncing the baby on your lap will let baby feel the beat in and throughout their body. Tapping, clapping, and stomping will create the opportunity to follow rhythm, beats, and patterns. Dance with your baby! Rocking your baby and having physical contact will create bonds and will stimulate them to follow a rhythm.

Key moments
Key moments are a period of time where you can develop closer experiences with your baby. Daily, routine activities where baby already has your attention can be used to your advantage. Below are some great options to consider:

  • Changing diapers
  • Breastfeeding/bottle feeding time/meal time
  • Bath time
  • Going for a walk
  • Going for a drive
  • Groceries shopping
  • Baby’s crib time
  • Reading time
  • Bedtime


Pamela Mejia de Rodriguez
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