School Readiness: Birth to Age 3

What is School Readiness?

School readiness means that a child is ready to learn how to do things independently and enter a social and educational environment. A school ready child should be able to:

  • Express thoughtsChildren on bus 
  • Listen and ask questions
  • Speak with others
  • Use a growing vocabulary
  • Be curious, active, and want to learn
  • Follow directions
  • Be familiar with “classroom setup” (e.g., teacher at front)
  • Work by himself and with others
  • Think before she acts
  • Share and take turns
  • Be experienced with and excited about books
  • Be aware of language and written words
  • Understand how words are put together

How Do I Make Sure My Child Is Ready for School?

1. Foster confidence and a sense of safety with daily routines so that your baby learns what to expect from his world. 

If a child feels safe and loved, he is more likely to feel confident about himself and to make friends with others.   Self-esteem and social awareness are just as important to school success as familiarity with letters and numbers.

  • Have a set bedtime with a song, story or prayer.girl dancing
  • Have a set place to eat meals.
  • Hold hands with your toddler as she begins to walk.
  • Praise her when she does something right.

2. Talk, sing, and play games with your child.

  • Talk to your child in any language, using as many words as you can to help build vocabulary.
  • Include your child in everyday conversations. Use lots of detail and short sentences.
  • Repeat words and phrases. Repetition helps children develop familiarity with the building blocks of language.
  • Don’t expect your child to say every word correctly.  Let him make his own mistakes and then casually 'model' the correct pronunciation.
  • Sing, dance, and clap with your baby, even if you don’t think your singing voice is good.
  • Take walks together and describe the things you see along the way.
  • Use everyday items to introduce math.  Ask questions like, “How many cookies are on the plate?” and count them.

3. Use books with your baby. 

  • Always have books for children in your home; it doesn’t matter if they are library books or if you own them.
  • Board books are great for babies and toddlers. Don’t be surprised if they chew on them. It's part of their learning experience at a young age. toddler
  • Describe the pictures, or ask, “Where’s the dog?” and then point to a dog while saying “Here he is!” 
  • Change your voice to enhance the actions in the book.
  • Either read the book aloud or, if the story is too long, make up your own words to match the pictures as you turn the pages.
  • To teach a love of books, read to your child in a comfortable, relaxed, and loving environment.  Forcing children (or yelling at them) to sit still and listen is not useful.  Even a toddler who can’t sit still will benefit from a positive interaction with you and a book.
  • Let your baby see you reading.  Be a reading role model.

4. Bring your child to the library.

  • Bring your child to early childhood programs at your local public library. Libraries have free programs for children of all ages. The Enoch Pratt Free Library offers:
  • During the summer, sign your child up for the Summer Reading Game at your library. Even babies can play!

You do NOT need a college education, a background in child development, or a large home in order to give your baby the foundation needed to be smart and do well in school. Scientific studies have proven that there are things anyone can do to help their child be successful in school and in life.

What Can the Enoch Pratt Free Library Do to Help My Child Get Ready for School?

The Enoch Pratt Free Library offers programs that help children get ready for school by providing the following:

  • Experience with routine: builds comfort with the structure of schoolParent reading to Child 
  • Experience with social skills: shows how sharing, taking turns, and appreciating other people are important
  • Movement: develops motor skills
  • Vocabulary: increases through the repetition of rhymes
  • Music: develops listening skills
  • Art: provides an outlet for creativity and expression
  • Experience with using books: shows how to turn pages, follow text, and match words to pictures
  • Relaxation: soothes infants with lullabies and music (and teaches parents skills and resources for relaxing infants)
  • Experience with verbal expression: teaches appropriate self-expression
  • Games: build self-confidence

What Does Brain Research Say About Children’s Learning?

“The brain does a lot of growing after birth. Billions of brain cells are already formed at birth. These cells connect with each other during the first years of life. And what happens to a baby affects the kinds of connections her brain makes.”  (from Building Baby’s Brain: What Parents Can Do, 1999)

  • Children begin learning when they are born.
  • Birth to age three are the most important years for building the brain strength necessary for learning later in life.
  • Regular, affectionate caregiver/child bonding is needed for healthy brain development.
  • Having a large vocabulary gives children a strong start in school.  Talking to your child in any language helps him develop vocabulary.
  • Adult social skills are developed in early childhood when children first learn to interact with others.
  • Children learn best through repeated experiences.
  • Singing to your child (even if you can’t sing on key!) helps her learn.
  • Raising children in a joyful and calm environment promotes brain development; raising children in a stressful environment negatively affects brain development.
  • Babies thrive in nurturing atmospheres.
  • Play is essential for a child’s healthy development.
  • Listening to classical music can help develop math and science abilities in addition to helping the body.

Resources for Further Information

Better Brains for Babies 
This website from the University of Georgia includes many fact sheets on subjects such as “The Role of Music” and “Learning Language.”  

Benevolent Society
Founded in 1813, the Benevolent Society is Australia's first charity. Their website offers much useful information for parents such as this fact sheet on the social and emotional aspects of school readiness.

The Center for Development & Learning 
The Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to increased school success for all children. Get answers to questions about your child’s health or hear real-life stories from other parents.

Posted by the Nemours Foundation's Center for Children's Health, this website provides access to reliable, up-to-date, health information about children from before birth through adolescence.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children
To learn more about giving children a good start, look at Early Years Are Learning Years™, an ongoing effort to focus attention on the importance of the early years for children's learning and all aspects of development.

Reading is Fundamental
The largest non-profit literacy organization in the United States, Reading is Fundamental motivates children from birth to age eight to read by providing free books and literacy resources. The parents’ website includes tips for inspiring children to read, featured books for children of all ages, and activities.

Reading Rockets
Reading Rockets makes the most up-to-date research on reading instruction available in accessible multimedia formats to those who need it such as parents, teachers, librarians, and other childcare providers.  Subscribe to Reading Rockets parenting tips delivered to your inbox.

The Urban Child Institute
The Urban Family Institute focuses on the health of the people of the Mid-South, especially children, through advocacy, research, and education. Their website is a resource for those interested in learning about brain development in early childhood as well as other important topics.   

University of Georgia, College of Family and Consumer Sciences Cooperative Extension
Publications from the Cooperative Extension help parents understand their young children's needs and developmental processes. 

Zero To Three
Zero to Three is a nonprofit organization that informs, educates, and supports adults who influence the lives of babies and toddlers. Pages for parents include information on sleep, brain development, health & nutrition, and temperament & behavior.

Ask Us

If you have questions about school readiness, please e-mail us, call (410) 396-5402, or contact us by mail:

Children's Department
Enoch Pratt Free Library
State Library Resource Center
400 Cathedral Street
Baltimore, MD 21201