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Literacy Development

In my readings I came across This site has some really good information for parents of young children. The following post is an adapted copy of their free handout for parents on early literacy:

Early Literacy
What We Know About Early Language and Literacy Development
Early language and literacy (reading and writing) development begins in the first three years of life and is closely linked to a child’s earliest experiences with books and stories. The interactions that young children have with such literacy materials as books, paper, and crayons, and with the adults in their lives are the building blocks for language, reading and writing development. This relatively new understanding of early literacy development complements the current research supporting the critical role of early experiences in shaping brain development.
Recent research supports an interactive and experiential process of learning spoken and written language skills that begins in early infancy. We now know that children gain significant knowledge of language, reading, and writing long before they enter school. Children learn to talk, read, and write through such social literacy experiences as adults or older children interacting with them using books and other literacy materials, including magazines, markers, and paper. Simply put, early literacy research states that:
•    Language, reading, and writing skills develop at the same time and are intimately linked.
•    Early literacy development is a continuous develop- mental process that begins in the first years of life.
•    Early literacy skills develop in real life settings through positive interactions with literacy materials and other people.

Early Literacy Does Not Mean Early Reading

Our current understanding of early language and literacy development has provided new ways of helping children learn to talk, read, and write. But it does not advocate “the
teaching of reading” to younger and younger children. Formal instruction which pushes infants and toddlers to achieve adult models of literacy (i.e., the actual reading and writing of words) is not developmentally appropriate. Early literacy theory emphasizes the more natural unfold- ing of skills through the enjoyment of books, the impor- tance of positive interactions between young children and adults, and the critical role of literacy-rich experiences. Formal instruction to require young children who are not developmentally ready to read is counter productive and potentially damaging to children, who may begin to asso- ciate reading and books with failure.
What Infants and Toddlers Can Do – Early Literacy Behaviors
Early literacy recognizes that language, reading, and writ- ing evolve from a number of earlier skills. Judith Shicke- danz first described categories of early literacy behaviors in her book, Much More Than The ABCs. Her categories, listed in the box below, can be used to understand the book behaviors of very young children. They help us to see the meaning of these book behaviors and see the progression children make along the path to literacy.
Early literacy skills are essential to literacy development and should be the focus of early language and literacy programs. By focusing on the importance of the first years of life, we give new meaning to the interactions young children have with books and stories. Looking at early lit- eracy development as a dynamic developmental process, we can see the connection (and meaning) between an infant mouthing a book, the book handling behavior of a two year old, and the page turning of a five year old. We can see that the first three years of exploring and playing with books, singing nursery rhymes, listening to stories, recognizing words, and scribbling are truly the building blocks for language and literacy development.
Early Literacy Behaviors
Book Handling Behaviors
Behaviors related to a child’s physical manipulation or handling of books, such as page turning and chewing.
Looking and Recognizing
Behaviors related to how children pay attention to and interact with pictures in books, such as gazing at pic-
tures or laughing at a favorite picture. Behaviors that show recognition of and a beginning understanding of pictures in books, such as pointing to pictures of familiar
Picture and Story Comprehension
Behaviors that show a child’s understanding of pictures and events in a book, such as imitating an action seen
in a picture or talking about the events in a story.
Story-Reading Behaviors
Behaviors that include children’s verbal interactions with books and their increasing understanding of print in books, such as babbling in imitation of reading or run-
ning fingers along printed words.
-Schickedanz, (1999). Much more than the ABCs: The early stages of reading and writing. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
What Young Children Like in Books
Infants 0-6 months
•    Books with simple, large pictures or designs with bright colors.
•    Stiff cardboard, “chunky” books, or fold out books that can be propped up in the crib.
•    Cloth and soft vinyl books with simple pictures of people or familiar objects that can go in the bath or get washed.
Infants 6-12 months
•    Board books with photos of other babies. •    Brightly colored “chunky” board books to touch
and taste!
•    Books with photos of familiar objects like balls and bottles.
•    Books with sturdy pages that can be propped up or spread out in the crib or on a blanket.
•    Plastic/vinyl books for bath time.
•    Washable cloth books to cuddle and mouth.
•    Small plastic photo albums of family and friends.
Young Toddlers 12-24 months
•    Sturdy board books that they can carry. •    Books with photos of children doing familiar
things like sleeping or playing. •    Goodnight books for bed time. •    Books about saying hello and good-bye. •    Books with only a few words on each page. •    Books with simple rhymes or predictable text. •    Animal books of all sizes and shapes.
Toddlers 2-3 years
•    Books that tell simple stories.
•    Simple rhyming books that they can memorize.
•    Bed time books.
•    Books about counting, the alphabet, shapes, or sizes.
•    Animal books, vehicle books, books about play- time.
•    Books with their favorite TV characters inside. •    Books about saying hello and good-bye.
Ways to Share Books with Babies & Toddlers
Make Sharing Books Part Of Every Day – Read or share stories at bedtime or on the bus.

Have Fun – Children can learn from you that books are fun, which is an important ingredient in learning to read.

A Few Minutes is OK—Don’t Worry if You Don’t Finish the Story – Young children can only sit for a few minutes for a story, but as they grow, they will be able to sit longer.

Talk or Sing About the Pictures – You do not have to read the words to tell a story.

Let Children Turn the Pages – Babies need board books and help turning pages, but a three-year-old can do it alone. Remember, it’s OK to skip pages!

Show Children the Cover Page – Explain what the story is about

Show Children the Words – Run your finger along the words as you read them, from left to right.

Make the Story Come Alive – Create voices for the story characters and use your body to tell the story.

Make It Personal – Talk about your own family, pets, or community when you are reading about others in a story.

Ask Questions About the Story, and Let Children Ask Questions Too! – Use the story to engage in conversation and to talk about familiar activities and objects.

Let Children Tell the Story – Children as young as three years old can memorize a story, and many children love to be creative through storytelling.

Visit for more information. BrainWonders is a joint project by
Copyright 2003. ZERO TO THREE Source: BrainWonders & Sharing Books with Babies
This may be freely reproduced without permission for nonprofit, educational purposes. Reproduction for other uses requires express permis- sion of ZERO TO THREE.


U.S. Dept. of ED Reading/Language Milestones

Remembering that children vary in their development and learning, these are milestones that have been put out by U.S. Department of Education. If there are any concerns about a child’s progress, it is important to talk with the adults actively involved with the health and education of the child. Early intervention is important with any question of special learning needs. The following list of accomplishments is based on current scientific research in the fields of reading, early childhood education, and child development. [ *** ]

  • From birth to age 3, infant/toddler:
    • Respond to gestures and facial expressions.
    • Begin to associate words they hear frequently with what the words mean.
    • Make sounds that imitate the tones and rhythms that adults use when talking, which gives way to enjoying rhyming and nonsense word games such as “peek-a-boo” and “pat-a-cake” with a parent or caregiver.
    • Recognize certain books by their covers.
    • Pretend to read books.
    • Understand how books should be handled.
    • Share books with an adult as a routine part of life.
    • Name objects and talk about characters in books.
    • Look at pictures in books and realize they are symbols of real things.
    • Listen to stories.
    • Ask or demand that adults read or write with them.
    • Begin to pay attention to specific print such as the first letters of their names.
    • Scribble with a purpose (trying to write or draw something).
    • Produce some letter-like forms and scribbles that resemble, in some way, writing.

    From ages 3-4, preschooler:

    • Enjoy listening to and talking about storybooks.
    • Understand that print carries a message.
    • Make attempts to read and write. (remember development of fine motor skills may not support grasp and writing at this age)
    • Identify familiar signs and labels. (environmental print)
    • Participate in rhyming games.
    • Identify some letters and make some letter-sound matches.
    • Use known letters (or their best attempt to write the letters) to represent written language especially for meaningful words like their names or phrases such as “I love you.”

    At age 5, most kindergartners:

    • Sound as if they are reading when they pretend to read.
    • Enjoy being read to.
    • Retell simple stories.
    • Use descriptive language to explain or to ask questions.
    • Recognize letters and letter-sound matches.
    • Show familiarity with rhyming and beginning sounds.
    • Understand that print is read left-to-right and top-to-bottom.
    • Begin to match spoken words with written ones.
    • Begin to write letters of the alphabet and some words they use and hear often.
    • Begin to write stories with some readable parts.

    At age 6, most first-graders:

    • Read and retell familiar stories.
    • Use a variety of ways to help with reading a story such as rereading, predicting what will happen, asking questions, or using visual cues or pictures.
    • Decide on their own to use reading and writing for different purposes;
    • Read some things aloud with ease.
    • Identify new words by using letter-sound matches, parts of words and their understanding of the rest of a story or printed item.
    • Identify an increasing number of words by sight.
    • Sound out and represent major sounds in a word when trying to spell.
    • Write about topics that mean a lot to them.
    • Try to use some punctuation marks and capitalization.

***Based on information from Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, a report of the National Research Council, by the Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children, 1998; and from the Joint Position Statement of the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), 1998. Complete biography references can be found at the original article linked above.


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