Early Literacy

Early literacy is everything a child knows about language before s/he learns to read and write. This early learning begins at home with parents and caregivers. Children’s librarians make great allies for parents and caregivers: they can recommend books, offer dynamic story times, and model a number of ways to engage children through story, rhyme, and song. Libraries are great places to begin the early literacy journey.

Early Literacy Behaviors, Skills and Importance

Did You Know?

  • The building blocks of language and literacy form in the first three years of a child's life. In their first year, a child's brain doubles in size.
  • By age 3, a child's brain is twice as active as an adult's.
  • A baby's job is to learn.
  • Brain connections form through the five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell
  • The more activities a child experiences from warm, responsive care-givers, the more connections that child's brain forms.
  • Early childhood experiences determine how a child's brain will develop.
  • Simple things like holding your child, talking and singing with the child and reading to the child will form these brain connections.

Early Literacy Behaviors

  1. Book handling turning pages, mouthing or chewing books
  2. Looking and recognizing paying attention to pictures, pointing, laughing
  3. Picture and story comprehension imitating actions or talking about the story
  4. Story reading pretending to read or following the words with their fingers

Early Literacy Skills

  1. Knowing the names of things
  2. Being interested in and enjoying books
  3. Noticing letters and words, knowing how to handle a book, knowing how to follow words on a page
  4. Being able to describe things and events and tell a story
  5. Knowing that letters have names and sound different from each other
  6. Hearing and playing with the smaller sounds in words, like cat, bat, hat

Why are Early Literacy Skills Important?

  • Developing these skills makes it easier for children to learn to read in school.
  • Reading is an essential skill to success in school.
  • Children who enter school with these skills have an advantage.
  • This advantage carries with them throughout their school years.

Five Easy Ways to Help Your Child Develop Literacy Skills

These 5 simple activities help children get ready to read.

TALK together

  • Have two way conversations with your children - children learn language by listening.
  • Respond to what they say and add words to stretch their vocabulary.
  • If English isn't your first language, speak to your children in the language you know best.
  • Talk while you prepare meals, do chores, get ready for bed, go to work and school in the morning.
  • Speak slowly to young children and enunciate - this helps their brains identify sounds.
  • Repeat words to strengthen the brain pathways used for language.
  • Speak face-to-face when talking to infants - they can match shapes to sounds.
  • Dont talk baby talk - the more complex sentences a child hears the more complex sentences theyll be able to speak.
  • Limit television time.

SING together

  • Sing the alphabet song so the child learns the letters.
  • Sing nursery rhymes so children hear the different sounds in words.
  • Clap along to the rhythm so children hear the syllables.
  • Play music designed for children.

READ together

  • Reading together is the most important way to help children get ready to read. It increases vocabulary and general knowledge and it helps children understand how print works and how books are put together. Children who enjoy being read to are more likely to enjoy reading themselves.
  • Read every day.
  • Make reading interactive. Look at the cover and try to guess what the book is about before you begin. Ask the child questions as you read and listen to the answers. Ask the child to retell the story when you've finished.
  • Use books to teach new words. As you read, talk about what these words mean.
  • Have books within easy reach or in a special spot in the house.
  • Visit the library often.
  • Read yourself. Children imitate what they see the adults in their lives doing.

WRITE together

  • Encourage scribbling by providing many opportunities to write and draw. Keep crayons and paper on a table where children can return again and again.
  • Get magnetic letters for the refrigerator or make letters from cardboard or paper for the children to play with.
  • Have them sign their drawings to develop hand-eye coordination and build up their writing muscles. Children also begin to understand that writing represents words.
  • Talk about what they draw. Have them make up stores or write captions for their drawings so they make the connection between written and spoken language.

PLAY together

  • Play helps children think symbolically so give them plenty of unstructured playtimes.
  • Encourage dramatic play with puppets or stuffed animals. Making up stories this way develops narrative skills so children understand that stories have a beginning, middle and end.
  • Have the child tell you a story based on the pictures in a book or ask the child to read you a book that you've read together many times. This develops vocabulary and other language skills.
  • Have a prop box of inexpensive items that children can use for imaginative play.

Choosing books for young children

Best books for

  • Pictures of babies
  • Clear, bold pictures of familiar items
  • Rhythm and repetition
  • Touch and feel books
  • Animal sounds
  • Lullaby books

Best books for

  • Fit into their hands
  • Simple rhymes
  • Familiar items & routines - toys, pets, bedtime, bath time
  • Lift the flap
  • Few or repeating words that they can learn by heart
  • Bedtime books

Best books for

  • Tell a story
  • Humourous
  • Simple text they can memorize
  • About kids similar or different
  • About experinces like going to school and making friends
  • Playful or rhyming language
  • Concept books: Alphabet, counting, colors, etc
  • Featuring real world things like trucks, insects, dinosaurs

Maine's Best Loved Storytime books & authors

In Janurary 2018, librarians around Maine voted on their storytime favorites. Results are below:


For more information, contact the Early Literacy Specialist at 207-287-5660 or by email.