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Keene Public Library

Six Early Literacy Skills

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


Knowing the names of things and vocabulary is a vital skill for children when 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?

  • The best way to help children learn new words is to talk and read to them.
  • Reading to children is especially important in building a larger vocabulary because they hear more new words when reading books.
  • Explain unfamiliar words to your child rather than substituting familiar words; this exposes children to many more words.
  • Try dialogic reading.


Print Motivation is a child's interest in and enjoyment of books. A child with print motivation enjoys being read to, playing with books, pretending to write, asking to be read to, and liking trips to the library.

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

  • Read often and make it enjoyable.
  • Ensure you and your child are in a good mood, so the experience is positive.
  • Stop reading when your child becomes tired or loses interest.


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?

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

Use stick board books with rounded corners with your child.

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

If a book has a repeated word, point to it on the page and let your toddler say it.


Narrative Skills, being able to understand and tell stories, and describe things, are essential for children to know 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 a zoo trip.

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

  • Name things as you go through the day. Use songs and nursery rhymes like Head and   
  • Sing songs and nursery rhymes with your child.                                                       
  • Ensure your child has many 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. Avoid watching 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:

  • Talk to your child in ways that encourage interaction and response.
  • Ask your baby a question, and then answer for her.
  • Ask your toddler to tell you about something that happened to him today; ask for more details so he can expand on his narrative.
  • Ask questions that cannot be answered with "yes" or "no." This encourages your child to think and increases comprehension.
  • Tell your child stories about your life and their life so far.
  • 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 make pancakes." This helps children understand that stories have a beginning, middle, and end.
  • As your child ages, label, not just things but also actions, feelings, and ideas. Happy, sad, and angry are common feelings, but think of less common ones: embarrassed, quiet, sleepy, jealous, frustrated, and others. Talk about your feelings. Use words to say what your child might be feeling. 
  • Find out more about increasing the power of picture book reading by incorporating dialogic reading.


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?

  • Learning to tell one letter from another involves seeing the differences in letter shapes.
  • Helping babies and toddlers learn about different shapes and understand how things are alike and different will help prepare them to learn the alphabet.
  • Read books that feature geometric shapes like Black and White by Tana Hoban. 
  • 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.
  • Point out the shapes of toys: This ball is round. Help your baby or toddler feel the rounded shape.
  • Use simple puzzles to help children see different shapes.
  • Read alphabet books and sing alphabet songs to introduce children to letters.


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

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

  1. One of the best — and most enjoyable — ways is to say nursery rhymes and sing songs.
  2. Hearing words that rhyme helps your child learn that words are made up of smaller parts.
  3. Songs have a 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 songs, too.
  4. If you are using tapes or CDs with songs or rhymes, choose versions that repeat and are slightly slower in pacing than those for older preschool children. Library staff can suggest books, tapes, and CDs that your baby or toddler will enjoy.


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 
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