If you had to guess at what point a child begins learning to read, what would you say? Kindergarten? First grade? It may surprise you to learn that children begin building early literacy skills at birth. And their parents and caregivers are their first teachers. As you read, write, sing, talk, and play with your young child, you’re helping her acquire important skills that will prepare her for success in school—and in life.
One way to help your child build a strong literacy foundation is to make the connection between print and daily living, and make it often. “Print awareness” is a key early literacy skill, referring to a child’s understanding of print: things like noticing words on a page, seeing letters and words in the world around her, knowing how to handle a book, understanding that text flows from left to right, top to bottom.
Of course, reading books with your child each day is one of the most important pieces in building a strong early literacy routine and fostering print awareness. Before reading together, be sure to set the scene so that it’s an enjoyable experience for both you and your child. Find a cozy spot to snuggle up together and select books that you both enjoy. If your child is not in the mood to read, don’t force it. Just try again later.
Research shows that 95 percent of a child’s attention is on the pictures when we read books to them. Help them discover the importance of the words by finding picture books, like “Hogwash” by Karma Wilson, which incorporate text into the illustrations. You can also try running your finger under the title, particular words, or a repeated phrase to show that you are following the words on the page and that they have meaning. When you’re at the library or bookstore, find a book about a character who writes a note, list, or letter.
Another way to foster print awareness is by keeping paper, markers, and crayons handy and encouraging your child to “write.” Even scribbling is an early form of print awareness. On a nice, sunny day, go outside and experiment with sidewalk chalk.
Here are a few more tips to encourage your child’s print awareness:
- Make a game of finding print in the world around you. As you go through your day, ask your child, “Where are the words?”
- At the grocery store, point out labels on cans, boxes, and signs.
- While traveling, highlight words on signs and billboards.
- When paying bills, writing checks, or making a grocery list, give your child a piece of paper to write on, too.
- Ask your child to write a note to your family members when you leave the house to run an errand.
- When you’re putting away toys or groceries, make a game of finding all of the items with print on them and talk about what the words say and why they are there.
Want more information about encouraging early literacy in your child? Most local public libraries offer free, curriculum-based early literacy storytime classes for children ages 0 – 5 and their parents and caregivers. Library staff can also offer book recommendations and additional tips on literacy skills development for preschoolers. l
Katie Cerqua manages youth and family services for Va. Beach Public Library. She holds a master’s in library science from Clarion University of Pennsylvania and has been providing curriculum-based storytime classes and youth and teen programming for more than 6 years. She lives in Norfolk with her daughter and husband.