Montage 4

Six Early Literacy Skills

Children need a variety of skills in order to become successful readers. The National Research Council recommends that children enter school with six specific "early literacy skills" that serve as the foundation for learning to read and write. Children who enter school with more of these skills are better able to benefit from the reading instruction they receive when they arrive at school.


Knowing the names of things, vocabulary is an extremely important skill for children to have when they are learning to read. Most children enter school knowing between 3,000 and 5,000 words.

What can parents do to help babies and toddlers learn vocabulary?

blue bullet   The best way to help children learn new words is to talk and read to them.

blue bullet   Reading to children is especially important in building a larger vocabulary because children hear more new words when you read books.

blue bullet   Explain unfamiliar words to your child rather than substituting familiar words; this exposes children to many more words.

Print Motivation

Print Motivation is a child's interest in and enjoyment of books. A child with print motivation enjoys being read to, plays with books, pretends to write, asks to be read to and likes trips to the library.

What can parents do to help babies and toddlers enjoy books and want to read more?

blue bullet   Read often and make it enjoyable.

blue bullet   Make sure you and your child are in good moods, so the experience is a positive one.

blue bullet   Stop reading when your child becomes tired or loses interest.

Print Awareness

Print Awareness includes learning that writing in English follows basic rules such as flowing from top-to-bottom and left-to-right, and that the print on the page is what is being read by someone who knows how to read. An example of print awareness is a child's ability to point to the words on the page of a book.

How can parents help children notice print and understand how books work?

blue bullet   Point to signs and other words around you and read what they say.

blue bullet   Use stick board books with rounded corners with your child.

blue bullet   Let your toddler turn the pages as you read a book. Use your index finger or his to follow the words as you read.

blue bullet   If a book has a word that repeats, point to it on the page and let your toddler say it.

Narrative Skills

Narrative Skills, being able to understand and tell stories, and describe things, are important for children being able to understand what they are learning to read. An example of a narrative skill is a child's ability to tell what happens at a birthday party or on a trip to the zoo.

What can parents do to help babies and toddlers develop narrative skills?

blue bullet   Name things as you go through the day. Use songs and nursery rhymes like Head and   

blue bullet   Sing songs and nursery rhymes with your child.                                                       

blue bullet   Make sure your child has lots of opportunities to talk with you, not just listen to you talk. Communication is two-way and involves interaction. This interaction helps develop parts of the brain involved with language. It’s important that children not watch too much television because this is passive and does not lead to the same growth in language skills as talking.

Some ways of talking are better at developing narrative skills.

For example:
blue bullet  Talk to your child in ways that encourage interaction and a response.

blue bullet  Ask your baby a question and then answer for her.

blue bullet  Ask your toddler to tell you about something that happened to him today; ask for more details so he can expand on his narrative.

blue bullet  Ask questions that cannot be answered with “yes” or “no.” This encourages your child to think and increases comprehension.

blue bullet   Tell your child stories about your life and about his or her life so far.

blue bullet   Narrate your life. As you go through your day, talk about some of the things you are doing. Explain them in simple terms: "First we‘ll buy the pancake mix, then we’ll go home and then we’ll make pancakes." This helps children understand that stories have a beginning, middle and end.

blue bullet   As your child gets older, label not just things but also actions, feelings, and ideas. Happy, sad and angry are common feelings, but think of less common ones, too: embarrassed, quiet, sleepy, jealous, frustrated and others. Talk about your own feelings. Use words to say what your child might be feeling. 

blue bullet   Find out more about how to increase the power of picture book reading by incorporating dialogic reading.

Letter Knowledge

Letter Knowledge includes learning that letters have names and are different from each other, and that specific sounds go with specific letters. An example of letter knowledge is a child's ability to tell the name of the letter B and what sound it makes.

What can parents do to help children learn about letters?

blue bullet  Learning to tell one letter from another involves being able to see the differences in letter shapes.

blue bullet  Helping babies and toddlers learn about different shapes and understand how things are alike and different will help prepare them to learn the alphabet.

blue bullet   Read books that feature geometric shapes like Black and White by Tana Hoban. 

blue bullet   Babies also like to look at human faces.  Use books like Baby Face by Margaret Miller to entertain and help your child compare and contrast shapes.

blue bullet   Point out the shapes of toys: This ball is round. Help your baby or toddler feel the rounded shape.

blue bullet   Use simple puzzles to help children see different shapes.

blue bullet   Read alphabet books and sing alphabet songs to introduce children to letters.

Phonological Awareness

Phonological Awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the smaller sounds in words. Phonological awareness includes the ability to hear and create rhymes, to say words with sounds or chunks left out and the ability to put two word chunks together to make a word. Most children who have difficulty in reading have trouble in phonological awareness.

What can parents do to help babies and toddlers hear and play with the smaller sounds in words?

blue bullet  One of the best — and most enjoyable — ways is to say nursery rhymes and sing songs.

blue bullet   Hearing words that rhyme helps your child learn that words are made up of smaller parts.

blue bullet   Songs have different note for each syllable; this helps children break down words. Sing throughout the day, as you do routines such as diapering, bathing, etc. Make up your own songs, too.

blue bullet   If you are using tapes or CDs with songs or rhymes, be sure to choose versions that repeat and that are a little slower in pacing than those for older preschool children. Library staff can suggest books, tapes and CDs that your baby or toddler will enjoy.

Bookmark and Share

The information presented here is from the Every Child Ready to Read @ your library® early literacy project of the Public Library Association (PLA) and the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), in partnership with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), a division of the National Institutes of Health. PLA and ALSC are divisions of the American Library Association.

© copyright 2004 -- PLA/ALSC, divisions of the American Library Association
50 E. Huron, Chicago , IL 60611