By age two, the language skills of children of Mexican descent in the United States lag three to four months behind their white peers, especially those living in low-income communities, according to a recent study published in the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences. There are simple things families can do at home to help children build language skills critical for academic success.

AnnaMaria Smeraldi, a Teach For America preschool teacher, offered tips on things families can do with their young children to help develop critical reading and vocabulary skills.

Teach For America is one of the largest providers of new Latino teachers in the nation, recruiting more than 4,300 Latinos to teach in low-income communities since its launch in 1990. According to a recent study released by Mathematica, the students of TFA teachers in preschool through second grade outperformed their peers in reading by the equivalent of an additional 1.3 months of learning.

Smeraldi believes that the first five years of a child’s life is the best time to create a lifelong love of learning. She also believes families are essential for supporting the work she does in the classroom because activities parents do at home can build or reinforce the language skills of their young children. Below are three activities any parent can do with their child at home in English or Spanish.

SING: Smeraldi’s students love “Follow the Leader” by The Soca Boys. They love to follow the moves and make up their own. They sing the words and love taking turns being the leader so they can make up their own lyrics and dance. Smeraldi says it gives them an opportunity to express themselves and have a little bit of fun!

TALK: Encourage your child to talk by having them respond to at least five open-ended questions every day and encourage them to a rich vocabulary.

READ: Read the same book to your child on three different days during the week. When you are done, ask your child a question that starts with “why?” or “how?” On the first day, focus your question on what is happening in the story; the second day, focus on how the characters are feeling; and the third time, have the child read the story to you (even if they only use the pictures).

“As an early childhood educator, I am honored to work with Latino students and their families,” she said. “I’m happy my students’ parents have a teacher who can communicate with them in their native language and that the first teacher my students’ meet shares their background.”

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