Early Literacy: 101

There are six early literacy skills that children need to develop before they can learn to read and write.


Vocabulary is knowing the names of things. The larger your vocabulary, the more things that you know the name of! There are lots of easy and fun ways to build your child’s vocabulary. One of our favourites is by reading to them. According to one study, children’s picture books contain 50% more rare words than adult prime time television and the conversation of collage graduates. Which makes picture books a fantastic way to build your child’s vocabulary!

 Narrative Skill

Narrative skill is being able to tell a story or describe something. Your children will learn this skill first from listening to you (and other adults in their life) demonstrate how to tell stories, and then by doing it themselves!

When you read a story to your child, or tell them about your day, they are learning narrative skill from you. Here are two activities you can use to help your child practice once they are able to talk and tell stories on their own:

Literacy at Home: Retelling a Story

Between the ages of 2 and 3, children usually hit a developmental stage where they want to hear the same story over and over and over again. While it’s exciting to see them reaching this stage (their literacy is developing!) it can be a bit tiring if you’re the one repeating the same story for the umpteenth time.

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Print Awareness

Print awareness is knowing that reading, writing and words are all around us in our everyday lives. How do you build your child’s print awareness? Point out the places where you find reading, writing, and words in your everyday life!

  • Signs: on the road, at the grocery store, at the post office, etc.
  • Newspapers, magazines, books, and flyers: show your child how reading is a part of your everyday life.
  • Grocery lists, emails, and text messages: involve your child in writing them so they know writing is a part of your everyday life.

Phonological Awareness

Phonological awareness is being able to hear and change the smaller sounds in a word. When you play a rhyming game with your child, changing bat to cat to sat to mat, you are practicing phonological awareness.

When you sing with your child, you are also helping to support their phonological awareness! Singing slows down the rhythms of our speech, and makes the sounds of our language easier to hear and identify. 

Letter Awareness

Letter awareness is knowing that there are different letters and that they can be combined in different ways. This doesn’t mean that you have to start teaching your children the alphabet right away, but it does mean that incorporating letters into games and activities where and when you can will help support their development. For example: 

Print Motivation

Print motivation is being interested in and enjoying books! There are lots of easy ways to help build this skill for your children: 

  • Read books together with your child on a regular basis
  • Attend free early literacy programs at your library
  • Let your child see you reading so that they know it is something you value
  • Make a habit of borrowing books from the library together

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