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CASA GRANDE — First Things First recently launched a new resource page designed to get parents reading and talking with their children at an early age.

FTF’s Language and Early Literacy Development page provides ways families can help build early language and literacy skills. These include how to read with your baby and toddler, how reading helps develop life skills and videos that show the importance of back-and-forth conversations with babies.

Many parents might think that literacy starts in school. But early literacy starts way before a child reaches a classroom. It begins before babies can talk and continues as they become toddlers and preschoolers. In fact, gaps in children’s vocabulary start to appear as early as 18 months.

By the time children are 3 and 4 years old, their vocabulary, attention and general knowledge are predictors of third and fourth grade reading comprehension. According to the 2018 AzMERIT standardized test results, less than half (44%) of Arizona’s third graders passed the English language arts test.

The reality that third grade reading ability is one of the best predictors of high school graduation is something that elementary school principals see on a daily basis with their students.

“Parents are their child’s first teacher,” said Lisa Raymond, principal at Mary C. O’Brien Elementary School in Eleven Mile Corner. “Young children who have listened to stories read or told by their parents start off school with an advantage. Enjoy reading with your child, cherish the time spent reading and know you are making a difference in your child’s future!”

That’s why language and early literacy development starting from the very beginning is important. Babies are listening in utero, and once they’re born, they’re communicating through eye contact, facial expressions, crying, smiles and touch. When adults respond with words, conversation and attention, it helps promote healthy development and learning.

For babies, a quality conversation starts with talking to your baby during everyday moments, such as meal time, baths, getting dressed and diaper changes, to name just a few. Those opportunities grow as the child grows. Reading, talking, singing and playing with young children are some of the easiest ways that families can use everyday moments to encourage literacy and language development.

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