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Playing With Books Is Important Step in Path to Early Literacy

I can remember reading picture books to my kids when they were babies and noticing how they were more interested in flipping the thick cardboard pages than in paying attention to the simple stories.

That behavior—and the occasional gnawing of a page—is one of several associated with babies' development of early literacy skills. That's according to the website of Zero to Three, a national, nonprofit organization promoting the health and development of infants and toddlers.

"Looking at early literacy development as a dynamic developmental process, we can see the connection (and meaning) between an infant mouthing a book, the book handling behavior of a 2-year-old, and the page turning of a 5-year-old," says the website's page on early literacy. "We can see that the first three years of exploring and playing with books, singing nursery rhymes, listening to stories, recognizing words, and scribbling are truly the building blocks for language and literacy development."

Educators are recognizing the importance of developing early literacy skills to kids' future success as readers. A 2008 report by the National Institute for Literacy found that sharing books with adults helped young children develop print knowledge and oral language skills, which play a role in later development of reading and writing skills.

But don't confuse early literacy with early reading—formal instruction that pushes babies and toddlers to read and write is not developmentally appropriate, experts say.

According to the Zero to Three website, babies and toddlers develop early literacy skills through having fun with books. The youngest kids like books made of stiff cardboard or cloth or vinyl with bright colors or pictures, while young toddlers are ready for books with simple rhymes and just a few words on a page.

So there's no need to worry if babies and young toddlers are more interested in destroying a picture book than paying attention to a story. Rest assured that any contact with books is helping little ones prepare for a lifetime of literacy.

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