How does the magic happen? Literacy development in young children.

One little word, so much power.

Why does this small word have so much power? Let’s look at how we use it and why our children do as well. NO. The word many of us dread to hear from our children and the word that so easily slips off our tongue when we are tired, distracted and under stress. This little word can be the cause of much unhappiness. Our children learn to use it because we do.

When babies and toddlers are starting their language journey they have been listening for a long time. They start to understand and then repeat the words they hear often. Very importantly they learn to repeat these sounds and words with the same emphasis and tone. Have you ever stopped and realised that something you just said sounds like your mother or father?

The word no is simple, one syllable and effective. As babies and toddlers start to assert their independence they learn that language is one of the many tools to use for this purpose. When used by babies and toddlers this one syllable can convey a need or want. It’s an immediate response to a situation or request where they may not yet have sufficiently developed language skills to use for the purpose. It is easy as an adult to over react to their use of the word no. It may help if instead we think about the need of babies and toddlers to practice skills over a long time before they are competent and proficient- and so with the word no.

When used by adults the word no can be a warning of danger, a protection and a control. It can save and it can help, it can set boundaries, it can be playful and it can be demanding. It can be submissive and it can be controlling. As adults we care and nurture, influence and support, respect, teach and guide our children but we do not have control over them. It pays to be mindful of using controlling and demanding language when talking with your children. Is your language demanding? Controlling?

Let’s look at an example of the power of a respectful request versus the power of a demand.
“Sunny, please come and sit here and eat your meal.”
“Sunny, get down and eat this now.”

Which one would you rather hear?
Food for thought ………..

Mary Digges *
MDR Education
Early Childhood Consultant for Angsana Education.
* Mary Digges is an early childhood teacher, lecturer, trainer, assessor and consultant in education and has long promoted bilingual and multilingual education. Mary has worked in Australia, Singapore and China.

Now, the use of the word NO with older children? – That’s another article. Until then you may be interested in further reading from these references.
Laura Markham, Child Psychologist, UK.


Dr Randy Cale, Psychologist, US


Raising Children, Australia: Building positive relationships with children


I have always been amazed at the way children begin to read. As an educator and as a parent I watched in wonder as children’s language and literacy skills grew from noises and gurgles into fully fledged spoken, written, heard and read language. A very complex process.

Even with the COVID imposed delay our children from early learning programs to upper primary school  delighted in the celebration of Book Week in October this term (CBCA Book Week 2020 Theme: Curious Creatures, Wild Minds). This major literacy event brings language alive for children, teachers, educators and parents. I am sure there were lots of curious creatures and wild minds all engaged in literacy.

Literacy can be defined as the ability to listen, speak, view, read and write, critically think and use language.

The development of children’s literacy evolves in the everyday at home, in our communities with our families and friends and in the environment. It is a process that begins long before birth when your developing baby hears your voice, and the voices of others close to you, your partner, other children, family and their life, music, rumbles from your body, the sounds of the environment.

Along the way in this magical process of literacy development children……..

  • hear……listening, one of the first senses activated in utero and the last to go ……..
  • make sense of sounds……decoding, recognising patterns, making meaning
  • make sounds……making understanding, initiating sound, (baby babbling)
  • copy sounds……imitating, responding
  • form spoken words……speaking sounds
  • make sentences……putting 1,2,3, + words together
  • converse……share and respond with you and carers
  • recognise symbols…… identify and understand the meaning of  symbols
  • make marks……using tools, pens crayons and attribute meaning to these   
  • form letters
  • write……words, sentences and stories …..
  • read……increasingly complex texts, both visual and digital 

Some ways to help include …..

…From baby’s early days share storytelling and reading books with your child (sliding your finger under the words as you read)

…singing, with action, movement and rhythm

…reading and reciting nonsense rhymes, (the author Roald Dahl is great for older primary aged

    readers), poems, traditional stories and songs.

…pointing out words and symbols as you go about every day activities.

…by acting out, being dramatic and funny, using different tones of voice to convey meaning.

…make paper and pens available at home

…model reading and writing in everyday life, digitally and visually


Children who hear more words engage in more meaningful conversation.

Spark the wonder. Let the magic happen.


Mary Digges *

MDR Education

Early Childhood Consultant for Angsana Education. 

* Mary Digges is an early childhood teacher, lecturer, trainer, assessor and consultant in education and has long promoted bilingual and multilingual education. Mary has worked in Australia, Singapore and China.



You may be interested in further reading from these references.

Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority -ACARA


Australian parenting website Raising Children


Spread the word

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp
Share on email

Enquire Now

Enquire Now