How to: Teach early literacy to preschoolers

I’ve mentioned before that I work in a preschool. We are a faith-based, developmental school, serving ages 2 through Kindergarten. It’s a diverse group of kids from about 15 different countries and speaking numerous different languages at home, and a similarly diverse staff. We teach early literacy skills at all ages and stages, and we have a BIG range of abilities represented in our school. I feel like it’s great preparation for working with children in the library too.

So I want to highlight some tips from NAEYC on teaching in the classroom, because I think it’s useful for pretty much any setting with children – including parents! (Read the whole thing here: Essentials of Early Literacy Instruction)

Can we do all these things in every storytime? Probably not! But we can incorporate these ideas throughout our program so that we hit each of these strategies for learning. I hope they are helpful for you!


The idea of “rich talk” is so useful. Rich talk includes words and ideas that might be new to kids – along with the context to understand it. We can do this by enriching our storytime themes with content. For example – are we reading Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar? We can enhance that theme with vocabulary around fruits and vegetables, with pictures or real ones for kids to touch and look at. We can talk about sweet, sour, crunchy, soft, and other attributes of things. Just imagine how many words can be explored this way!


We got this one, right? Don’t worry about reading favorites over and over again. Repetition is good and useful and helpful.


Playing with words and sounds is fun. All kids like books with rhyming sounds in them. Sometimes they can predict what the word will be because it rhymes! Kids a touch older – like 4’s – can tell you other words that start with the same sound, or words that rhyme. You can write the words on a whiteboard so they see the word and hear it said at the same time.


We do “letter of the week” in school, but we have the kids for a whole school year so we have that continuity. For storytime, in addition to reading books with alphabet awareness, we could also theme around a letter. An example: Storytime Katie’s “E” storytime.


Providing a book list to parents and bringing out a selection of books that are related to what we did in storytime can help parents promote emergent reading, too.


For emergent writing activities, it’s useful to consider what’s developmentally appropriate for our storytime guests. Younger children display emergent writing in the form of scribbles and sometimes tracing or writing mock letters. Here’s a useful graphic describing how a child’s writing develops over time:


If you do center times, you can also do hands-on activities like allowing children to form letters with a finger in a tray of rice, or in a sealed bag of paint. (Here’s a handout on sensory ways to promote letter development with young children.)


These are some simple concepts related to books and reading which we might forget to discuss – but which promote fundamental understanding of how to use a book.

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These ideas reinforce why play in the library and in the context of our programs can be useful – these ideas represent using hands-on activities to give children an opportunity to explore the ideas we’ve been talking about in storytime.


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