Through just this one simple act you are bonding with your child, inspiring a love of reading—and are helping them develop strong early language and literacy skills that will become the foundation for their future learning and success. In fact, studies show that reading aloud is a primary driver of young children’s early language development.

To help you and your child get the most out of your storytime while celebrating Read Across America Day at home, here are 12 early literacy tips from our early learning experts at Start Early and our Educare Chicago school:

  1. Start early. Reading to babies is important for healthy brain development and lays the foundation for language and writing skills.
  2. Make reading a part of your daily routine. Establishing a routine helps ensure that reading is part of your daily schedule, such as at naptime and bedtime. It also creates times during the day that both of you can look forward to.
  3. Try board and cloth books for babies. By age 1, babies can grab books.  Board and cloth books are great options for babies who like to touch things and put everything in their mouths.
  4. Take turns with your toddler. By age 2, toddlers can hold a book and point at the pictures. Let your toddler turn the pages of a board book and respond to her when she points or reacts to the story.
  5. Ask your child questions. As you read to your child, make the experience interactive by asking him questions, such as “What do you think will happen next?” “What was your favorite part of the story? Why?”
  6. Reread your child’s favorite books. By age 3, children can complete sentences in familiar stories. Read her favorite books over and over to help her learn through repetition.
  7. Point out similar words. By age 4, children begin to recognize letters. You can point out words in a book that begin with the same letter to your preschooler to help him become familiar with the letter and begin to associate certain words with that letter.
  8. Count objects on the page. As you read to your child, count objects on the page together to help her also strengthen her early math skills.
  9. Have your preschooler tell you the story. By age 5, children can sit still for longer books and can create their own stories based on the pictures. Ask your preschooler to tell you the basic plot of the book or to make up stories based on what he sees on each page.
  10. Read with passion! Using inflection and maintaining the same highs and lows in your voice at the same point in a story helps your child begin to remember the words.
  11. Set an example. Let your child see you reading your books to help her develop her own love of reading.
  12. Just keep reading. Reading to your child helps him develop a habit of listening to stories and loving books. One the most important pieces of advice is to make sure you are reading to him early and often.

No matter how old your child is — from babies to toddlers to preschoolers — these tips will help you capitalize on this valuable time with your child, making reading a fun, educational and memorable experience for both of you.

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“One… two… three…” you say as you count your baby’s toys for them. Even though your baby can’t solve equations, let alone speak, they are building early math and language skills with each number they hear.

And you don’t need to stop at numbers — there are many early math concepts that you can introduce to your young child, simply through language, play and reading books.

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Here are some fun Pi Day activity ideas to help introduce early math concepts to your child:

  • Discover geometry: Shapes are a big part of geometry. Labeling different shapes — from squares to circles to stars — will help your child start to associate the words with the shapes, setting the early foundation of geometry. With toddlers and preschoolers, look at two- and three-dimensional shapes, so they can see how each object looks and functions. Blocks in different shapes are a great tool to use for this.
  • Play with volume: If you cook in the kitchen, you are already using volume. For babies and toddlers, start by using words like teaspoon, tablespoon, cup, pint and quart while you are cooking to get them familiar with the terms. Preschoolers can help you measure out ingredients using measuring cups and spoons. You can play fun games that teach incremental volume: how many tablespoons does it take to fill a quarter cup? How many cups go into your quart measuring cup?
  • Use comparisons: Many math lessons will involve word problems and comparisons as early as kindergarten. The more familiarity that your child has with comparison terms, the easier it will be for them to understand the word problems. You can create opportunities for your child to learn to compare by using toys of different sizes and words like more, less, lighter, heavier, bigger and smaller.
  • See how tall they are: By the time they are preschoolers, most children become interested in how tall and how heavy they are. One idea to help talk about height is to chart their growth on a wall, showing how tall they are each year. For preschoolers, you can also begin to introduce units of measurement like inches and feet by helping your child use a ruler to measure how much they have grown.
  • Reading books: Reading is an excellent way of introducing math language and concepts to your child. Books are a natural entry point that make learning math fun in the early years. Engaging your child in the math in storybooks build on their interest, discoveries and questions. Here are some great children’s book recommendations that are full of wonderful math concepts:

Through simple language and play, young children will start to learn essential early math and STEM skills. And remember, especially for babies and toddlers, just hearing these words early and often helps plant the seed for your future mathematician.

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While the idea of “history” may be outside the understanding of a very young child, we can still celebrate Women’s History Month with them by reading books together that celebrate the potential and achievements of girls and women.

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Young children are constantly learning about the world and what is possible for them. Themed history months offer a wonderful opportunity to take stock of your home or classroom library and ask yourself: am I presenting a rich view of the world? Am I offering children ideas and possibilities? Am I fostering a strong sense of self, and an openness towards difference? Books are windows and mirrors, they can reflect children’s own lives, and they can offer glimpses into the lives of others. Women’s History Month presents us with a wonderful opportunity to explore the infinite paths a child might choose to pursue, regardless of gender.

When you select a new book to read with your child, choose something you think you will also enjoy. Your enthusiasm will be catching! Look for books with features that appeal to young children’s imaginations—not too many words on each page, rhythmic or rhyming text and illustrations that invite wonder. The books below are chosen for their appealing texts, rich illustrations and simple—but not simplistic—concepts. While the titles are sorted by age, all the books for the youngest readers will work with preschool-aged children also, and some, (like I Am Enough,) are books you might want to read even without a small child at your side! A high-quality picture-book with beautiful illustrations works for every age, (including adults!) because images are texts that foster meaning-making.

Children’s Books to Read During Women’s History Month

Whether your child is a toddler, in pre-K or on their way to kindergarten, here are some great book recommendations from Anne-Marie Akin, our Educare Chicago librarian to read during this month and beyond:

Books recommended for infants:

Books recommended for toddlers:

Books recommended for children in pre-K or kindergarten:

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The 2024 National Home Visiting Summit brought together over 1,300 systems leaders, researchers, practitioners, policy advocates, key partners and decision makers in a collaborative pursuit to advance the home visiting field and systems of care to increase service quality and improve child and family outcomes. Attendees joined in-person in Washington, D.C. and virtually from across the globe participated in workshops, communities of practice and plenary sessions that discussed issues facing the home visiting field today.

Stay Updated on the Summit!

Join our mailing list to learn more about the National Home Visiting Summit and to be notified when registration and call for proposal opens for the 2025 conference.

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Community of Practice (CoP) posters from the 2024 National Home Visiting Summit are available below as a resource. These include a poster from the Advocacy & Policy CoP highlighting their work from the previous year, as well as posters from two Professional Development Project Teams on this year’s research projects.

Professional Development CoP

Establishing Coaching Behaviors for Home Visitors

Start Early’s National Community of Practice (CoP) for Home Visitor Professional Development has developed and begun conducting an eDelphi study to conceptualize the behaviors and beliefs that comprise current approaches for coaching home visitors. This poster will present the survey as well as an overview of the study’s methods, progress, and expected benefits.

Advocacy & Policy CoP

This poster is intended to provide high-level information about the membership, activities, and key lessons learned from the National Home Visiting Summit Advocacy & Policy Community of Practice. This poster describes key advocacy strategies, public financing tools, and state home visiting policy wins as covered in the 2023 CoP cycle.

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At Start Early, we are committed to cultivating an environment built on the values of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. The opening remarks were provided by Chandra Ewell, DEIB team lead.

February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate the achievements, culture and legacy of Black Americans who have made contributions and played a critical role in shaping our country. We take the month of February to center Black voices and honor Black stories as we lift up the past, recognize the present and share hopes for the future.

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It’s never too early to start sharing positive reflections by sharing diverse stories with your children. It is important for children not only to see themselves, but others represented in the books we read to them. Reading books with your little one is a fun and easy way to help introduce them to new cultures, experiences and events in history.

Literature transforms the human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation.

"Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors" by Rudine Sims Bishop
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Children's Books To Read During Black History Month

Whether your child is a toddler, in pre-K or on their way to kindergarten, here are some great book recommendations from Anne-Marie Akin, our Educare Chicago librarian to read during this month and beyond:

Books recommended for infants:

Books recommended for toddlers:

Books recommended for children in pre-K or kindergarten:

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The earlier that we can start to help our children understand their emotions, the better the outcome in raising kind, empathetic children. Brain scientists, educators, economists and public health experts all agree that building a good foundation for healthy relationships begins at birth. The earlier that your child can adapt and develop key social-emotional skills—like attentiveness, persistence and impulse control—the sooner they can begin engaging in healthy social interactions with peers.

Young children aren’t necessarily born with the skills to engage in healthy relationships; they are born with the potential to develop them. With young children, it’s important that parents teach empathy by being the example. Show empathy daily to your children, family, and others in your community during your day. When empathy is shown by the parent, talk that through with your child by being attentive to their feelings. Use language like “I know that was hard for you, you seemed sad but you’re safe and loved.” This language will help children to be aware of their own emotions and feelings, in turn helping them be empathic to others.

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Tips for Parents:

  1. Explore your child’s emotions together and engage them in imaginative play to learn how to express those feelings so that they can better manage their emotions before starting preschool.
  2. Teach your child that it’s okay to have whatever feeling they are having: anger, frustration, embarrassment, fear, even rage, but that it is not acceptable for their actions to cross over and affect someone else negatively.
  3. Teach your child that it’s good to try to understand why someone else is having negative feelings. There may be a very good reason for their friend or acquaintance to be feeling angry or afraid.
  4. Teach your child that it’s never okay for them or anyone else to use their feelings as an excuse to verbally attack someone. And that when someone does this, it is time to get an adult into the situation.

You as a parent play an important role along with your child’s teachers in laying a strong foundation for social-emotional skills that will help your child to form healthy relationships. It is important for the adults in your child’s life to model positive behaviors and set clear rules.

Activities

Here are 2 activities that you can do at home with your little one to help teach them about empathy:

Conscious Discipline Kindness Tree

Make a Kindness Tree

The Kindness Tree is a symbolic way to record kind and helpful actions. Family members place leaves or notes on the tree to represent kind and helpful acts. Parents can notice these acts by saying, “You __(describe the action)__ so __(describe how it impacted others)__. That was helpful/kind!” For example, “Shubert helped Sophie get dressed so we would be on time for our library playdate. That was helpful!”

The Kindness Tree can also grow with families who have children of mixed ages. Initially, young children simply put a leaf on the tree to represent kind and helpful acts. As children grow and learn to write, the ritual evolves to include writing the kind acts down on leaves or sticky notes. Start your own Kindness Tree with this template.

Families with older children can simply use a Kindness Notebook to record kind acts and read them aloud daily or weekly.

Make a We Care Center

Two girls playing togetherThe We Care Center provides a way for family members to express caring and empathy for others. Fill your We Care Center with supplies like minor first aid items (Band-Aids, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, scented lotion), card-making supplies (preprinted cards, paper, crayons, sentence starters), and a tiny stuffed animal for cuddling.

When a friend or family member is ill, hurt, or having a hard time, your family can go to the We Care Basket to find a way to show that person they care. At first, parents might need to suggest how and when to use the We Care Center, but your children will quickly understand the intent. In this way, the We Care Center encourages the development of empathy by providing a means for children to offer caring and thoughtfulness to others every day.

This content was cross-promoted on our partner’s website, Big Heart World. Check out Big Heart World for additional social-emotional resources for parents and educators.

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As we reflect on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the National Day of Racial Healing, we asked our early learning experts for advice on how talk to your little ones about racial healing, equity and justice.

As a parent, it can sometimes be difficult to talk to your children about serious issues like racism, but it is so very important. Sparking conversation with your little ones on this topic can help them to address bias and to be mindful as they navigate this big and sometimes scary world we live in.

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Children's Books on Racial Healing

One of the best ways to help your child learn is through reading. By choosing books that affirm the identities and backgrounds of all children you and your child can have an open dialogue about recognizing and celebrating differences. Here are book recommendations from our early learning experts to read aloud with your little one to learn about racial healing:

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Enrollment and retention data have long suggested the home visiting field could do more to meet the needs and desires of families, and workforce data point to challenges finding and sustaining a highly-qualified workforce. Start Early’s Illinois Home Visiting Caregiver and Provider Feedback Project used an organic, mixed-methods approach to understand what families and providers see as needed improvements to the home visiting system, and from this input, created precise recommendations.

The findings of this multi-year project carry significance for programs, model developers, researchers, systems leaders and policy makers. By actively engaging with the recommendations, leaders at all levels can ensure that resources are optimally allocated and can drive transformative change, paving the way for a more responsive, equitable and effective system that uplifts families and nurtures the healthy development of young children.

We encourage members of the home visiting field – including funders, model developers, researchers, program leaders, home visitors, and family participants – to read this report and identify the levers for change that they can act upon to strengthen and improve how the home visiting system supports caregivers and providers.

For questions about this report, please reach out to alowefotos@startearly.org.

Key Recommendations

National Models

  • Create curriculum, program materials, and use language that is more inclusive and representative of all caregivers, including gender non-conforming or non-binary caregivers, male caregivers, and caregivers who are not parents.
  • Embed and allow for more individualization in service delivery to meet families’ needs; prioritize new and strengths-based measure of the quality and effectiveness of programs, such as parental efficacy and length of retention.
  • Reduce educational requirements and create additional flexibilities for programs to hire individuals without a Bachelor’s degree, including developing guidance for how to hire former parent participants, in order to address vacancies and to reflect competency-based skills.

 

Federal Agencies & Funders of Home Visiting

  • Coordinate federal funding streams and offer states added guidance on braiding across different sources (e.g. Head Start/Early Head Start, Title IV-E, TANF, Medicaid, etc.) for more efficient state home visiting systems. The Office of Head Start and Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) should coordinate on allocation of funding, funding timelines and program requirements to ensure that state systems are able to plan around the braiding of these funding streams.

 

Illinois Agencies & Funders of Home Visiting

  • Identify opportunities to extend and individualize services to engage a broad array of family needs and desires, including creating cross-model guidance on enhancements and modifications for priority populations.
  • Align funding mechanisms and administrative requirements to alleviate the burden on programs, including streamlining data collection, compensation, monitoring and other requirements.
  • Increase supports for programs surrounding workforce recruitment and retention, including implementing cross-funder compensation targets, hiring supports including sample job descriptions, pay differentials for bilingual staff.
  • Increase access to supports including infant and early childhood mental health consultation.

The Start Early Illinois Policy team is pleased to release our newest multi-year policy agenda, guiding our work for the next four fiscal years (FY24-27) and building on the work of our recently-concluded inaugural agenda.

The FY24-27 Policy Agenda incorporates the many advances in the field over the past four years, including Governor Pritzker’s exciting multi-year Smart Start initiative, and encompasses our priorities – both within and alongside Smart Start. Our work will also both inform and be shaped by the governor’s recent announcement of the creation of a standalone early childhood agency. The agenda continues to be anchored in community and provider voices, and is organized into four foundational components:

  1. A stronger, more cohesive infrastructure for early childhood services where families can find the services that work for their children, where providers can easily access supports like I/ECMHC and strategies for inclusion of children with disabilities, and where quality, transparent data guides decision-making.
  2. Well-designed and administered early childhood programs where programs have the resources they need to meet the diverse needs of young children and their families.
  3. A thriving representative workforce with stronger pathways to earning needed credentials, receive the compensation and benefits that reflect the importance and complexity of their work and who receive ongoing professional learning opportunities.
  4. Improved access to health and mental health care, economic supports and healthy communities, which we know are basic necessities all children deserve and need to thrive, particularly in the prenatal to kindergarten entry period of life.

We look forward to work that not only drives us toward this vision but is rooted in the current challenges we know families and early childhood providers and programs face on a daily basis. The challenges the field faces are significant and urgent, and while recent investments have been incredibly helpful, our progress is tenuous. We can be successful only when we work in partnership with families and providers, our advocacy partners, our public partners in city and state government and the tremendous philanthropic community in Illinois. We look forward to tackling these challenges with all of our partners to make Illinois the best state in the nation to raise a child.