What is early literacy? 

Early literacy is what children know about reading and writing before they can read and write. Whether it's babies chewing on board books or toddlers learning which way to hold a book and turn the pages to the way preschoolers learn that adults are not reading the pictures but the words with the pictures on pages. All of these are examples of early literacy. 

So what do parents and caregivers need to know? 

Learning to read begins before children start school. Parents and caregivers are a child's first teacher. Cultivating early literacy skills now will help your child once they reach school age by making it easier for them to learn to read and advance their reading skills. There are five ways parents can prepare their child for a lifetime of reading success: talking, singing, reading, writing, and playing. 

Check out the suggested activities to find ways you can incorporate early literacy learning at home. And don't forget storytime at your local libraries! CCPL incorporates these practices into our storytime events, whether it's in Toddler Storytime, or Preschool Storytime. Continue the practices at home with one of our 50 Storytime Kits to Go


Activities that Encourage Talking

Telling stories is a wonderful way to increase children’s vocabulary. As you tell a story, use new words and explain what they mean, or talk about something your child hasn’t experienced and explain what happens. Here are some tips. Remember that almost any story you tell your child will be of interest -- just because you are the one telling it!

Picture books also give children a chance to tell their own stories. In telling their stories, children develop language skills and also get a sense of sequence of events in stories. Ask any of our children's librarians about the newest picture books in our collection!

Here are some easy story ideas:

  • For infants and toddlers, start with silly sounds. Children delight in mimicking the sounds you make. This is just the beginning of having conversations with your child.
  • Tell your child how you felt the day he or she was born.
  • Tell a story about your childhood. Children have a great interest in hearing about experiences their parents had at a similar age.
  • Use simple props such as a puppet or a stuffed animal to tell a story. Use silly voices for different characters and ask your child to join in.
  • Use family photos to tell different stories.
  • Make a book by clipping photos from magazines. Use them to tell an imaginary tale.
  • Encourage your child to tell a story about a favorite event, or act it out.

Activities that Encourage Reading

Let your child see you make time and space for reading. Start filling a bookshelf as you finish books you read for yourself and you read with your child. Remember: if you want to raise a reader, you have to be a reader.

If you find a way to involve your child in a story, they will be more interested in it. Take turns reading or work together to identify the characters in a book. 

Picture books often contain words that people don’t often use in everyday conversation. The more words a child hears, the easier it will be when he starts to read.

A great resource at CCPL are the Storytime Kits To-Go! They offer a selection of books, activities, rhymes and songs, and toys to make storytime at home an immersive experience.



Activities that Encourage Play

Children learn about language and literacy skills through play. While playing, they practice putting thoughts into words. Pretend play helps kids think symbolically and develop oral language skills while dramatic play helps develop a child's narrative skills as they make up a story about what they are doing. It helps them understand that stories happen in an order. 

Make believe play lets children act out real life situations, work through worries and fears, and use their imagination to solve problems. 

Think of play as a child's work. Even though it looks like child's play, children are expanding their imagination and gaining an understanding that words stand for objects and experiences. 


Activities that Encourage Singing

Parents have dozens of silly songs and rhymes that delight their small children, and now studies have down that the songs may do a lot more than make babies smile and giggle. What happens in their brains when parents sing and read to their child is more beneficial than you realize. There are a number of great benefits of singing to your baby. 

It creates a bond between your baby and your voice. Singing makes your voice the first and most important one they hear.

Singing also helps a baby transition and gives them a routine. They learn there's a song for waking up, for sleeping, and other regular activities.

Here are some of the other benefits of singing: 

  • Singing helps children learn new words.
  • Singing slows down language so children can hear the different sounds in words and learn about syllables.
  • Singing together is a fun bonding experience with your child — whether you're a good singer or not!
  • Singing develops listening and memory skills and makes repetition easier for young children — it's easier to remember a short song than a short story.

Activities that Encourage Writing

One of the most important things for a parent or caregiver to remember when their child starts trying to write is that it can be messy as they learn. The goal is to help children understand how writing works, that it connects in meaningful ways to reading, and that it communicates information, through words and symbols. 

Note how a child progresses from swirls and squiggles to trying to make an X or a plus symbol and then trying to recreate some of the letters in a name.

Foster your child's curiosity in writing with some fun activities: 

  • Let your child use writing tools such as pencils, washable markers, chalk, and crayons. Gather and organize these materials, along with some paper, in a box that your child can decorate and have access to.
  • Encourage your child to use drawing to express ideas and tell stories.
  • Show your child that written words are a part of daily life. From grocery lists and email messages to billboards and signs in stores, writing is everywhere!
  • Teach your child to print her first name. Teach them, and yourself, to be patient because it takes time and practice, but mastering it is very empowering for a preschooler.
  • Label your child’s belongings with his or her name. And, let your child label some of his or her own things.
  • Use clay to give your child practice forming the letters of the alphabet. 
  • And let your child make a menu using pictures from the newspaper or a magazine then write out the dishes for dinner one night.