First Months Through the Second Year of Life
Oral language development precedes literacy and then parallels it (Strickland & Morrow, 1988). Infants make sounds that imitate the tones and rhythms of adult talk. They "read" gestures and facial expressions and begin to associate words and meanings (International Reading Association & National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1998).
Children's literacy development also can be observed through their use of literacy materials. After babies can purposefully grasp and manipulate objects, books and writing tools become a part of their exploration. Infants between 8 and 12 months who are read to regularly progress from mouthing books to playing with the covers to turning pages. This book handling is usually accompanied by babbling, which is thought to imitate an adult's vocalizations during reading (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998).
As children continue to develop as language users, they learn the grammatical structure of their language, expand their vocabulary, and gain metalinguistic skills. Metalinguistic skills involve not just the ability to use language but also the ability to think about it, play with it, analyze it, talk about it, and make judgments about correct forms (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). Young children also use their language in connection with literacy events, providing an opportunity for researchers and caregivers to observe their ideas about literacy.