How to Build Children’s Literacy Skills by Strengthening Home-to-School Connections

by HighScope | March 2, 2021

early literacy

March is National Reading Month, in honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday! What better time for us to share ideas about building children’s literacy skills by strengthening your relationships with families?

It goes without saying that children’s learning is optimized when teachers engage families by building authentic relationships, cultivating two-way communication, and partnering with parents to support children’s well-being. This type of strong home-to-school connection has been shown to improve children’s literacy skills. However, focusing on language and literacy alone misses the larger purpose of partnering with families.

When we consider parents’ needs as a means to enhance children’s language and literacy development, we are able to build relationships with families that benefit children’s overall growth and development. One of the key premises of family engagement is to support and provide information to families. To effectively inform and support families, it is critical that we understand the needs of families and their children, especially their current knowledge about activities that promote language and literacy learning.

3 Ideas to Effectively Inform and Support Families


Programs and schools could do a needs assessment with families to examine what their goals are, what programs and supports would be most helpful, and what programs and services they are engaged in and have engaged with in the past. This information could be used to tailor or refer services and programs to families.


Families have many assets that could be beneficial for schools, programs, and other families. For example, the parent who works at a garden could help teachers and schools bring nature and outdoor learning to life. Or another parent who knows how to bake can help schools and teachers teach math and science using real-life examples.


Co-sharing of teaching responsibilities with families will reduce the burden for schools and teachers to be the “experts,” while also acknowledging and valuing the expertise of families and other individuals.


Teachers can’t support families alone, but they can help to activate the capability and capacity of parents through sharing of information and providing opportunities. Start with these strategies to help families promote early literacy, enrich the learning materials available at home, and enhance parent-child interactions.  

4 Tips for Supporting Language and Literacy at Home


Dialogic reading activities include parents talking with the child about something related to the book, responding to and expanding on the child’s response, and then repeating this sequence. Dialogic Reading is a specific technique that builds children’s verbal language skills. As they read, parents talk with children about the story and ask open-ended questions (e.g., “What’s happening on this page?). To encourage language development, parents repeat and expand children’s words and ideas.


Shared reading is the act of reading a book to a child. We all love to see children enjoy reading all kinds of books, which is best supported when those they love share that activity with them. Shared reading is another interactive reading experience that supports emergent literacy. During shared reading, parents focus on enjoying the story with their child, but occasionally pause to talk with them about the story, draw children’s attention to letters and words, and encourage children to read familiar words and phrases with them.


Parental engagement in emergent literacy skills includes practicing code-related skills — such as letter identification, print concepts, alphabetic knowledge, and spelling — and comprehension-related skills like vocabulary and storytelling.  Practice these skills during everyday activities (e.g., reading signs and labels, writing a “to do” lists) and playful games (e.g., I spy a Letter).


Research shows that children’s exposure to books and engaging in reading and talking at home are positively related to their vocabulary and listening comprehension skills in the early years, which then transfers to literacy and reading ability in the third grade and beyond. In addition, parents who intentionally engaged in teaching specific early literacy skills like letter identification and alphabet knowledge were likely to have children who had higher rates of reading early and stronger reading ability by third grade.

Based on an interview with Dr. Iheoma Iruka, research director, professor, and fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Dr. Spring Dawson-McClure, psychologist and prevention scientist in the Center for Early Childhood Health and Development, Department of Population Health, New York University School of Medicine.

Read the original article, “Bringing Literacy Home” in The Active Learner (Spring 2019).

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