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    Tips on How to Develop Early Literacy Skills


    What is Early Literacy?

    Many individuals associate the term “early literacy” with skills developed for reading before a child can actually read. Literacy, however, is not just about reading but also writing. Those skills children develop early help them develop the necessary skills to read and write. Many people do not realize that these skills begin to develop at birth. Some would argue that a fetus could start to develop these skills before birth. Regardless of the opinion, early literacy begins in those early experiences a child has while interacting with his or her environment in specific ways.  Without early literacy skills, young children do not enter school ready to learn.

    How to Develop Early Literacy Skills?


    The best way to explain early writing experiences is through an example from my experience. An occupational therapist visiting my prekindergarten classroom was trying to help a young man with his writing skills. His grip was weak and his impressions on his paper were barely noticeable. I sat down with the adult and child with a container of Play-Doh. The therapist’s expression was priceless. I explained to her that if the young man’s muscles were not strong enough for writing that he would not be able to write. Play-Doh is a fun vehicle through which a child can play while developing the fine motor skills necessary to hold the pencil with a firm grip for writing on paper. Therefore, children’s play activities— beginning with trying to grasp a rattle through learning to scribble on paper—develop the skills required for writing.

    When young children begin to develop their more formal writing skills they scribble on paper as they mimic the behaviors of the adults or peers around them. This is considered a prewriting skill and is an important first step. One way to encourage this is to have different types of writing materials available in as many physical areas as possible, whether in a classroom or in your home.  Samples of writing may include: different types of paper, crayons, pencils, markers, stencils, brushes, finger-paints, shaving cream, watercolors, and paint.


    There are many ways to help young children develop the necessary skills for reading. One is speaking to children using the same words we use with other adults. Often, adults speak to children with small words, made up words, or short sentences. This type of “baby talk” does not help young children build their vocabulary. Children need to hear and practice the words for the many different objects in their environment. Vocabulary also expands by reading a variety of books to young children. Take the time to look at the pictures and point out the information the pictures are portraying.

    Another way to develop early literacy is to have many appropriate books available for young children to explore on their own. Children should have the opportunity to play with the books, pretend to read books, and have books available to them in many different physical areas. Examples of good practices for making books available to young children include: placing a book about building near a child’s box of blocks; giving a child a cookbook while the child helps you prepare dinner; and arranging books about brushing teeth in the bathroom.

    More ways to develop early literacy skills as children learn include motivation for print, awareness of print, developing narrative skills, furthering knowledge of letters, and phonological awareness. The most important part of developing early literacy skills is to model the behaviors you would like to see in the child. Grab a book, get comfortable on the couch, and read a book to a child.



    Our young children are exposed to many different types of electronics from an early age. It is questionable whether television, computers, or other electronic devices promote early literacy skills in children. While it is hard to deny the benefit to young children of watching Sesame Street on television, could this be more harmful to the development of early literacy skills?  Children as young as two years are more proficient at playing games on an iPad than most adults.  Is this something that increases or decreases a child’s chances to develop early literacy skills? Think about this: do these electronic devices have a conversation with the child?

    Teaching Children to Read

    Products that claim to have babies reading before they can walk are purchased by parents who assume that these products will help their child perform better than other children in school. Does this type of programming of word recognition wire a young child’s brain differently than it should be? Are flash cards and watching DVDs appropriate for children under the age of two?  Is it appropriate for children under the age of four? These are questions I ask of you. Do you believe these considerations develop early literacy skills better than a book or a container of Play-Doh?

    I would like to hear your comments.

    Dr. Patti Pelletier

    Educational Studies Academic Chair, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences


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