When Does Literacy Begin?

We know children pick up language starting from birth—they hear our conversations, they repeat our words, and then words turn into sentences. But when does literacy really begin?

Literacy begins the first day you bring your baby home and starts with the process of language development. This is displayed through body language and signals your baby uses to communicate. To foster this communication further, parents should speak to their babies frequently as they interpret cues and focus on different kinds of communication.


In the last ten years, neuroscientists have done tremendous research on infant brain development and identified areas of the brain responsible for different functions. Here is a quick and easy overview:

Wernicke’s area: Located in the temporal lobe and plays a critical role in the ability to understand meaningful speech.

To develop this area, speak to your baby in whole language (use short complete sentences) and read to him or her daily, as reading helps develop listening skills, language skills, speech patterns, and memory. Age appropriate music with rhythm is another great way to develop of this area of the brain. Not only does music help with language, it also introduces other cultures and teaches infants how to follow directions—like the song “If You’re Happy and You Know It” (clap your hands!).


Broca’s area: Located in the frontal lobe of the brain and controls the production of spoken and written language.

Once your infant is mobile, place a bin of interactive picture books on the floor within reach, so your baby has the opportunity to expand his or her vocabulary. Make sure to interact with your baby while he or she flips through pages, but also give him or her time to play with books and toys alone.


Temporal lobe: Located above the ears and responsible for hearing, speech, and some learning and memory.

Infants and toddlers love repetition! This is because it’s how they start to understand what you’re saying and what words mean. To encourage temporal lobe development, repeat the words to a favorite song frequently over a period of time, and you’ll see that your child will start to know what comes next and develop important memory skills.

When babies are born their brains are 25% developed, and by the time they are five years old development is at 95%! So focusing on developing these three areas of the brain between birth and age three is crucial in order to avoid problems later on.

By Daseta Gray, an educator with over 20 years experience. She consults for Sabree Education Services. Read her previous posts here.

Author: Daseta Gray