Early Literacy Development

Early Literacy Development

How does early literacy development begin?

During the first three years of a child’s life early literacy development begins and continues to develop. The experiences that a child initially has with literacy sets the stage for other experiences a child may have with books and stories. Children learn literacy through adult interactions. These interactions are when adults expose children to literacy materials, like books, pencils, and crayons. Social interactions between adult and child are vital to teaching children how to talk, read, and write. Literacy skills develop from these settings through positive interaction with literacy materials and adults.

Prior to reading and entering formal school, children learn about language from their surroundings. This is called environmental print. Environmental print is the print of objects and places that we see daily. Usually it consists of symbols, signs, numbers, and colors found in logos. Some common logos are Burger King, Target, or Pizza Hut. Since children are already aware of these products, these logos are excellent starting points for children to begin their first literacy experiences. Other reasons why these are a great way to start literacy is because  children have experience going to these places. When they attend these places with an adult they are constantly reading within context daily.
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Although it is crucial for children to be fluent readers, it is important to realize that very young children must have developmentally appropriate literacy experiences. Meaning that it would not be appropriate to have infants and toddlers exposed to formal reading and writing instruction. Instead, at this age the focus should be on the pure enjoyment of reading. Allow children to explore books at their own pace. Provide positive interactions between children and adults, as well as literacy rich experiences. If children are forced into writing and reading of actual words before they are ready, they can become discouraged. This can result in lack of confidence.

Behaviors that demonstrate literacy awareness

As children become more aware of literacy you will notice a difference in their behaviors. A child’s first initial response to a book is to put it in their mouth. However, as the child grows, you will observe that they will pay more attention and interact with pictures in books. For example, you may notice how a child will stare at pictures or laugh at their favorite picture in the book. Soon children will begin to recognize pictures seen previously by pointing at them. Another example, children demonstrate understanding is when they imitate an action they see in a picture or they will engage in a conversation about a particular picture. Finally, understanding of verbal interactions are apparent when children begin babbling and pretending to read by making up their own words, or by using their finger to point at the words.

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Choosing the right books for your child

Selecting a book can be a challenge. Here are some suggestions for choosing a book for infants to 3 year olds.

Infants 0-12months

• Simple books with large pictures, bright colors, and designs.
• Sturdy books that can be placed in a crib.
• Washable books like cloth that have very simple pictures.
• Books with pictures of other children.
• Sensory books that are colorful.
• Sturdy large books with many pictures.
• Vinyl books for bath time.

Toddlers 12months to 3 years

• Heavy duty books for them to carry.
• Plenty of books with illustrations of children playing and doing similar things like eating, sleeping, or reading.
• Simple message books like how to open and close.
• Books with only one or two words for each page.
• Simple non-fiction books.
• Books with story rhymes and predictable text like Brown Bear.

How do you teach literacy skills to babies and toddlers?

  • Plan on reading books daily and make it part of your routine.  Select a designated time specifically for reading.
  • Take advantage of learning moments.  If your child asks what something says then read it out loud and spell each letter in the word.
  • At this age, keep in mind that they move a lot.  They may not be able to sit through the entire book. This will change as they get older.
  • Let the child show some independence and allow them to turn the pages.  In the early years they may need assistance. By the time they are 3 they will be able to do it alone.
  • Teach about book awareness.  Let children know about the front of the book, the back of the book, the spine, and show them where to open the book to start reading.
  • Take a moment to explain what the story is about.  This will help with story comprehension.
  • As you read the story use your finger to point to the words.  When you do this you are teaching print awareness.
  • Bring the story to life by making funny voices to go along with the characters.
  • See if there is anything in the story that relates to the child’s life.
  • Have a conversation about some of the items in the story they know about and which objects were new.
  • When you have completed the story, discuss the story, and make up some questions about the events, or setting.


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