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First Things First and Read On Arizona discuss early literacy


PHOENIX – Schools across the nation celebrated of famed children’s author Dr. Seuss’ birthday this past week. In the follow up to Read Across America Day, First Things First and Read On Arizona are issuing a reminder to families that literacy starts way before a child reaches kindergarten.  

“Early language abilities are directly related to later reading abilities. Studies have linked the number of words children know at ages 3 and 4 to their reading comprehension levels at ages 9 and 10,” FTF Chief Executive Officer Sam Leyvas said. “And gaps in children’s vocabulary can start to develop between 9 and 18 months of age; those gaps only widen as babies get older. So if we want to make our children good readers, we need to start when learning begins: at birth.”

State Literacy Director Terri Clark emphasized that while many link literacy to reading books, it really starts with language.

“Language is the foundation of literacy,” said Clark, who leads Read On Arizona. “The more words that young children learn, the more prepared they’ll be to read and comprehend later on. And even more than quantity, it’s the quality of words that makes the biggest difference in developing a rich vocabulary.”

Babies begin to develop language skills through high-quality interactions with caring adults in their lives, like their families or their teachers in childcare and preschool.

Families can help foster early language and literacy skills in several ways. Help children build their vocabulary by talking, singing, and playing. Make these activities part of your daily interactions. For example: sing along with the car radio; point out letters, shapes, colors, and objects at the grocery store or park; and make up stories or rhymes about things you see all around you. And most importantly, read with young children from the day they are born.

“Research shows that reading books to young children introduces them to a wider range of words than they might normally hear in everyday conversation,” said Clark.

First Things First and Read On Arizona offer several resources to help families instill a love of reading in their young children. First Things First’s early literacy Web page,, hosts videos that demonstrate how to read with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Read On Arizona, an FTF partner that engages communities in supporting early literacy for children from birth to 8 years old, has an early literacy guide and book suggestions for every developmental stage online at

Another way families can help their children become good readers is by ensuring that their childcare and preschool settings are learning environments rich in language and literacy. At, FTF offers families tools to help them choose quality early learning programs that meet their needs.

By helping children develop language and a love of books from an early age and by ensuring that early learning settings are of high quality, families and communities are setting young children up for success in kindergarten and beyond.