Cay Holbrook Listen to Cay Holbrook’s advice on what families can do at home to support their child’s literacy skills.


My name is Cay Holbrook, and I’m an Associate Professor of Special Education at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia, in Canada.

How can parents and other family members support the child’s acquisition of literacy? What you like to ask families do at home?

I believe that parents and other family members play a very important role in the acquisition of literacy skills—parents are their child’s first teacher, and early literacy skills are based on activities and experiences that children have in the home. So I think that the importance of parents in the acquisition of literacy skills cannot be overstated—it is critical.

I think, just like for children who don’t have visual impairments, one of the most important things that parents can do is to read to their child, read with and to their child, often, with a variety of materials. Children who are learning how to read typically love literacy experiences; it’s a time to cuddle, it’s a time to inform, and it’s a time for warmth and affection between parents and children. This is something that parents can really participate in and help their child with.

The second thing that I would say is critical is to provide rich and varied experiences that support concepts that children will need in their early reading and writing. These experiences range from going to the grocery store and exploring the produce section of the grocery store, to going to the circus, or a farm.

One of the ways that parents can determine how to do this and what kind of experiences children need is to look at some of the stories that are available for young children. So if a parent looks at a story and it’s about a picnic, then having their child experience a picnic, with everything that that entails: going outside, being on a blanket, having a basket, eating snack food, feeling the wind in their face, playing games at the picnic—everything that can be done surrounding a picnic will support the child’s understanding of what that story is about.

In ensuring these experiences for your child, I think one of the important pieces of that is to make sure—and a difficult piece, actually—is to make sure that children experience the entire activity. So, for example, if you have decided that one of the things you would like for your child to experience is washing the family car, then your child needs to help you gather the materials to wash the car, and that might actually be a trip to the grocery store to buy what you need to do, but if you have it in your garage then going to the garage and picking out the things that need to be picked out, putting the water in the bucket, feeling the suds, and then washing every single piece of the car. But not stopping there! Doing the drying, and then putting everything up afterwards.

So making sure that the child experiences the entire activity, can help the child see the beginning, the middle, and end of something that happens.

The third thing that I think is a really important aspect—and I would say this important for all children—is to let your child know that you love to read, that reading is a pleasurable experience. That reading is fun, and that you read for many, many different reasons. Mention books that you’re reading. Mention interesting stories that you’ve read in the newspaper, just making sure that your child understands the importance of reading, certainly, but also your pleasure in the written word.

And in writing, as well! Sometimes I think we overlook the writing piece, but writing a letter to Grandmother or writing a letter to an aunt or a thank you note to the man at McDonald’s or whatever it is that gives your child a sense of accomplishment can really help in your child learning how to read but also learning how to love to read.