Fundamentals of Early Childhood Literacy

I want to begin the blog content with an overview of the stages and characteristics of early literacy development. It is important to note from the beginning, however, that not all children learn to read in the same way or at the same ages; every child is different. But understanding what early literacy behaviors look like and how to promote them is good for all stages of development.

Early Literacy Skills
These skills are also known as preliteracy skills, because they form before a child is developmentally ready to read and write. These skills come together to form a child’s reading ability, and develop at different rates in the same child. Let’s look at the skills that go into literacy development in children.

  • Vocabulary – knowing the words for things
  • Print motivation – taking an interest in books
  • Print awareness – understanding that a book has pages with words that are read from top to bottom, left to right
  • Narrative skills – the ability to tell a story
  • Letter knowledge – identifying letters
  • Phonological awareness – understanding the component sounds of words

Learn more about early literacy skills in this parent handout: early literacy skills.

Early Literacy Stages
Children develop these preliteracy skills through being read to, through looking at books on their own, and through everyday interactions with parents/caregivers and their environment. Let’s look at how children develop literacy throughout their early years.

Babies 0-12 months
Yes, babies learn literacy skills! Babies may enjoy looking at books with bright, simple pictures and with objects and people they recognize from their everyday world. Baby may cuddle with a soft book or chew on a hard one, but is learning what a book is and why it is interesting. We may not even realize how much vocabulary baby is taking in at every step along the way!

The second year
Between 12 and 24 months of age, young children often like books with pictures of children doing things they do every day – going to bed, visiting Grandma, playing at the park, saying hello and goodbye to mom or dad. They may also like books with pictures of animals, trucks, or other objects of interest to them.

Two to three
Children ages two to three may enjoy simple stories that can be told over and over again, or books with rhymes, and may start to memorize and retell the stories they hear. Counting, alphabet, shapes, sizes are all themes that are good for children of this age; children in this age group also enjoy seeing their favorite characters in books. Now is a great time for toddlers to discover that books have interesting characters and are meaningful to their lives.

Read more about developmental stages of literacy in this handout: zero-to-three early literacy

The development of a young child’s brain is rapid and remarkable. Among the things a child learns between birth and three, we find gross motor, fine motor, language, music, spatial, and other skills. Children learn words to describe everything – things they do, things they see, things they eat, things they hear, people and places and things in their environments. We may not even realize that they are learning those things. And they are learning rhyme, rhythm, melody and musicality. Together with print-based skills, these concepts form connections within the child’s brain in which the brain learns to process the words, the meaning, and the context ever more efficiently. This is an exciting process that has many implications for the child’s cognitive and scholastic development throughout childhood.


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