Six Early Literacy Skills

Early literacy is everything a child knows about reading and writing before he or she can read or write.  Six basic skills comprise early literacy and help determine whether a child will be ready to learn to read and write.

Why Is It Important?
Kids who enjoy books and reading will be curious about reading and motivated to learn to read for themselves. Motivation is important because learning to read is HARD WORK!

It’s important that we make sure our children start reading and listening to books from day one and that they have a good time with books. 

What Can You Do to Help Build this Skill?

  • Have fun!
  • Read books you both like
  • Stop (or shift gears) when it is no longer fun. Length of time is not important; enjoyment is!

Picture Book Ideas:
Pop culture books like Barbie or Batman (follow children’s interests)
Non-fiction (follow their interests)

Why Is It Important?  
Children have to be aware of words before they can read them. They need to know how books work–the front cover, what’s upside down, which page to start on, how to look from left to right.

When kids are comfortable with books, from knowing how to open a book to understanding what those black squiggles are, they can concentrate on starting to read the words.

What Can You Do to Help Build This Skill?

  • Read board books that your child can handle on his/her own; let him/her turn the pages as you read together.

  • Sometimes point to the words as you read.

  • Talk about print even when you are not reading together. Look for letters and words on signs, labels, and lists.

Picture Book Ideas:
Books about books and reading 
Books with repeated phrases
Books with word bubbles
Books with large print
Books with print as part of the illustrations


Why Is It Important? 
To read words, children have to understand that a word is made up of individual letters.

What Can You Do to Help Build This Skill?

  • Look at and talk about different shapes (letters are based on shapes).

  • Play “same and different” type games.

  • Look at “I Spy” type books.

  • Notice different types of letters (“a” or “A”) on signs and in books.

  • Read ABC books.

  • Talk about and draw the letters of a child’s own name.

Picture Book Ideas:
ABC books
Concept books (shape, color, opposites, etc.)
I Spy

Why Is It Important? 
It’s much easier to read a word when it’s a word you already know. Children with bigger vocabularies have an easier time when they start to read, since it’s much easier for them to make sense of what they’re sounding out. 

What Can You Do to Help Build This Skill?

  • Encourage children to learn their native or home language first; this makes learning another language (speaking and reading) easier later.

  • Talk with children in positive and conversational ways; commands and “no’s” do not encourage language development.

  • Carry on lots of conversations with children.

  • Explain the meanings of new words.

  • Read books! Picture books use a different vocabulary than casual spoken conversation.

Picture Book Ideas:
Word books
Picture dictionaries
I Spy
Search and find
Alphabet books
Longer picture books
Any story with rich language

Why Is It Important? 
Children who can hear how words “come apart” into separate sounds will be more successful at “sounding out” words when they start to read.

What Can You Do to Help Build This Skill?

  • Sing songs; most break words up into one syllable per note. Reading works with syllables also.

  • Recite rhymes; rhymes depend upon ending sounds.

  • Play with tongue twisters.

  • Pick a sound for the day. Notice it at the beginning of words and at the end of words.

Picture Book Ideas:
Rhyming books Songs
Animal sounds 
Mother Goose 

Why Is It Important? 
When children can describe something or retell stories, it shows that they are comprehending what they are reading. Understanding what they’re reading is crucial to helping them stay motivated to keep reading.

What Can You Do to Help Build This Skill?

  • Ask open-ended questions that encourage conversations rather than yes/no or right/wrong answers.

  • Talk about your day and its series of events.

  • Mix up the events in a story; make it silly!

  • Guess what comes next—or come up with a different ending.

  • Read stories without words; they really help focus on this skill.

  • Name objects, feelings, and events.

Picture Book Ideas: 
Repetitive and predictable books
Cumulative stories 
Wordless books 
Sequential plots 
Familiar folk & nursery tales

Borrowed with permission from the Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy