Supporting Early Literacy Development
How does early literacy and reading develop? Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers develop oral language and pre-literacy skills on a constant and daily basis. These skills help them learn to become readers. Therefore, it’s important for parents to understand basic reading development and to have the skills for supporting early literacy.
General Developmental Milestones for Literacy:
8 to 12 months of age:
- Briefly looks at pictures in books that the caregiver points to
- Enjoys hearing their caregiver tell or read a story.
From 12 to 24 months of age:
- Makes sounds while looking at the pictures in books
- Makes sounds or sings along with familiar songs and rhymes
- Points to or touches pictures in the book when their caregiver names them
- Turns single or multiple pages in the book
- Briefly listens to simple stories
- Starts to name colorful pictures in the book.
From 24 to 36 months of age:
- Understands that words have meaning
- Begins to name black and white pictures in the book
- Points to and names common pictures in books
- Enjoys rhymes
- Enjoys having a favorite book read to them repetitively
- Begins to sit alone while looking at books
- Enjoys listening to books that repeat words and phrases
- Knows that books have a front and a back
- Knows how to open and hold a book
- Turns the pages in the book one at a time
- Knows that the direction of the words move from left to right
- Listens to and enjoys when a caregiver reads for 5 to 15 minutes at a time
From 36 months to 4 years of age:
- Recognizes words via familiar objects, including restaurant signs, cereal boxes, or street signs
- Pretends to read books by holding them, turning the pages, and beginning to say words
- Says some of the familiar words in a story or book
- Recognizes and says words that rhyme (e.g., bat-cat-mat-sat), and words that begin with the same sound (e.g., big, ball, boy)
From 4 to 5 years of age:
- Says rhyming words and words that begin with the same sound
- Understands that the caregiver is reading words and not simply talking about the pictures in the book
- Recognizes where words start and stop by pointing to the spaces between words
- Pretends to read a book by telling the story from their memory
From 5 to 6 years of age:
- Realizes that words can be broken into smaller parts (e.g., ba-by, or cup-cake)
- Names printed letters in the alphabet from A to Z or numbers from 1 to 10
- Knows that letters have sounds, and the sounds are associated with letters (e.g., /b/ is for B, and “sss” is for S)
- Says the first sounds in spoken words (e.g., baby begins with /b/)
- Begins to point to letters on a page
- Starts to read unfamiliar words
By 7 years of age, most children should learn to read.
Supporting Early Literacy Skills for Babies and Toddlers:
The best way to promote your child’s literacy skill development is to read to your child and talk about their environment. This includes talking about objects, actions, and people. Mimic the sounds that your child makes, and add more sounds and words. For example: if your child vocalizes “nana,” expand what your child says with “yes, eat nana.” Read to your child, and share stories with them as often as possible. This should be a part of your everyday routine. Identify your child’s favorite books with pictures, sounds, or rhymes. Share these with your child as often as possible. From your child’s environment, read them food boxes, words on the TV, or words in magazines. Point to words and pictures while reading to your child.
Promoting Reading for Preschool Aged Children of 3 to 5 Years:
In addition, constantly talking to your child about what you or they are doing, are going to do, or already did can help your child learn new vocabulary. This new vocabulary can be used for speaking, reading, and writing. From your environment, point out printed words to your child. This includes: cereal and toy boxes, restaurant signs, street signs, and books and magazines. Make a point of taking your child to the library. Help them pick out books they might like. Sing songs, and read books that use rhyming. Talk to your child about books, newspapers, and other reading materials (e.g., recipes, phone books, instructions for a toy or game, emails, or text messages). Use an alphabet chart or letter magnets, and display them in your home. Use these tools to talk about letters and the sounds that they make. Practice naming letters and have your child name familiar letters. This can be done for numbers too.
Tips for Reading with Your Child:
As you read to your child, point to the words being read. Talk to your child about the print and text (e.g., “This word starts with a “b,” and this one ends with a “p.”). When reading, talk to your child about what they think will happen next. Also, try to read a variety of books and nursery rhymes including: fairy tales, picture books, story books, poetry, and alphabet books. Include books that repeat words and phrases so that your child can participate in telling them. Play guessing games with sounds and words (e.g., “I’m thinking of a word that starts with “c.” Can you think of one?”).
Remember, the more that you expose your child, the better. If you have concerns about your child’s literacy development or supporting literacy, see your family physician, and consider options to better meet your child’s needs. The following resources have more information about what to expect for supporting your child’s literacy. Check out Reading Rockets or our blogs Early Literacy: Reading, Writing, Learning and Early Language and Literacy.