What Is Early Literacy?

J.M. Densing

Early literacy is the development of essential skills that will allow a child to learn to read with understanding when he or she is developmentally ready. Sometimes called reading readiness, it is everything a child needs to know and learns about reading prior to the beginning of formal instruction. Ideally, the acquisition of early literacy skills begins when a child is an infant and continues right up to the point when reading instruction begins. Some of the easiest ways for parents and caregivers to develop these important skills include reading and talking to children while keeping the experience enjoyable for the child.

Children will often pretend to read when literacy is just beginning to emerge.
Children will often pretend to read when literacy is just beginning to emerge.

Children should be developing early literacy skills from birth until they reach school age. An important factor in being ready to learn to read is a high level of interest. Children should be eager and excited to enter the world of reading because they enjoy books. This love of reading can be encouraged by reading aloud to children, and making it a special time. It's also a good idea to read in front of kids, so they can see that adults also enjoy it.

Early literacy involves helping children to develop reading skills.
Early literacy involves helping children to develop reading skills.

Another component is the development of vocabulary, since children with large vocabularies have an easier time recognizing and reading many words. Vocabulary can be built by narrating what you are doing to children, having conversations with them, and telling them what words mean, even when they are babies. Learning about print, often called print awareness, is also extremely important and can be developed by reading together and encouraging children to handle books. Print awareness refers to the child's knowledge about print, such as the fact that print represents words and meaning, or the manner in which it is read.

Parents reading to their children is often the first step in developing literacy.
Parents reading to their children is often the first step in developing literacy.

Another important factor in developing early literacy is called narrative skill, which is the ability to tell stories. It can be encouraged by asking children to tell about their day, having them describe things, or talk about a book to which they've listened. This helps them comprehend what they are reading once they start learning how to read.

Adults can help children to develop their early literacy skills.
Adults can help children to develop their early literacy skills.

Letter awareness is also very important and refers to skills such as identifying letters and their sounds, as well as understanding that letters make up words. This knowledge can be encouraged by pointing out letters and words while reading together, through handling books, and by utilizing fun activities that involve letters and shapes. Another important component of early literacy is called phonological awareness, and refers to the ability to hear and identify the individual sounds in words. It can be developed by reading rhyming books and amusing poems, as well as playing simple word games.

The skills involved in early literacy are vitally important to ensure that a child is successful in school. Solid reading skills are critical and necessary for learning across the curriculum. A child with an extensive early literacy background will usually begin formal instruction ready and eager to learn. Many of these skills are encouraged by two simple activities: reading to children and talking to them, which can build a firm foundation for literacy.

Most linguists concur that the process of vocabulary acquisition is completely learned and in no way innate.
Most linguists concur that the process of vocabulary acquisition is completely learned and in no way innate.

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