6 Essential Early Literacy Skills

Early literacy is not learning to read. Early literacy is the development of the skills needed to be able to learn to read. Don’t get me (and child development experts) started on the madness that is expecting kindergartens to read.

A huge part of early literacy involves awareness and appreciation of books and print and starts way before formal schooling enters the picture. Even tiny babies can develop early literacy skills.

toddler at library

Why Is Early Literacy Important?

There’s one basic tenet that underscores the importance of early literacy: Literacy is the foundation of all learning.

Eventually, all children will shift from learning to read to reading to learn. It’s imperative that they can read well.

Developing early literacy skills makes reading easier and more exciting, and sets children up for a lifetime of knowledge retention.

Kindergartens with early literacy skills have an advantage that carries with them throughout their school years.

The development of early literacy skills:

  • Builds empathy
  • Expands vocabulary
  • Increases general knowledge
  • Improves attention span
  • Develops language
  • Encourages love of learning and books
1000 Books Before Kindergarten building early literacy skills
We LOOOOOVE the 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program

What are the components of early literacy?

Print anticipation is being interested in and enjoying books.

Increase print anticipation by making reading aloud fun! Create a cozy reading nook and use all the funny voices and theatrics.

Print awareness is noticing print, knowing how to handle books, and the ability to follow words on a page.

Build print awareness by surrounding kids with books. Let little babies grab, bang, and chew on sturdy board books. Encourage toddlers to sit with their books. Point to the words on the page while reading aloud.

Letter Knowledge

Letter knowledge is knowing that letters are different from one another, that letters have sounds and names, and that letters can be found everywhere.

When out and about, point out signs and letters to increase letter knowledge. Talk about what letter words begin with and sing alphabet songs. Ask young children to name the letters you point to when reading aloud.

toddler activity at story time for early literacy

Vocabulary Expansion

Knowing the names of things is important.

Expand children’s vocabulary by talking about what’s going on around you and pointing to the pictures as you read aloud.

Narrative Skills

Narrative skills are the ability to describe things and tell stories.

Repetition increases narrative skills. Luckily, toddlers and preschoolers love to read the same books over and over.

Phonological Awareness

Phonological Awareness is knowing that letters make different sounds, being able to hear those sounds, and picking out the sounds in words.

Reciting nursery rhymes, playing with rhyming words, and acting out songs (including dance parties!) are great ways to increase phonological awareness.

Father and toddler laying on floor of children's section in Morrisson Reeves Library in Richmond Indiana

Do you see a common thread here?

It’s reading aloud.

This one simple activity is incredibly important. Reading aloud with our children increases early literacy skills, releases dopamine, and makes for an easy, do-anywhere activity.

The Best Easy Early Literacy Activity

Checking out your local library is the best (and easiest) early literacy activity. Take frequent trips and hype it up every single time.

Attending storytimes is a great way to increase print anticipation and peer socialization. Participating in a reading program (like 1000 Books Before Kindergarten) boosts skills like phonological awareness and goal completion.

Every picture in this article was taken at our local library.

toddlers enjoying children play area at Morrisson Reeves library in Richmond Indiana

Other Easy Early Literacy Activities

  • Alphabet or book-specific sensory bins
  • Letter scavenger hunts (“can you find all the things that start with ‘T?'”)
  • Magnetic letter fun (use the refrigerator or cookie sheets)
  • ABC Memory Game: write each letter twice (use 52 notecards), flip over, spread out, and attempt to match the letters
  • ABC songs: sing the alphabet song, Bingo, etc.
  • Listen to audiobooks
  • Recite nursery rhymes (bonus points for “forgetting” parts so the child has to fill in the blank)
  • Match letters and sounds: using the same note cards from the ABC Memory Game, walk around the house affixing the proper letters with the proper items
  • Alphabet ball in the cup: label cups with letters and ask preschooler to throw a ball into corresponding cups for the letter sounds you make
  • Write or trace letters in unusual ways: in the dirt with sticks, with fingers in finger paint, etc
  • Make letters with homemade playdough
  • Label stuff around the house

A Note on Self Regulation Skills

It’s ok if little ones can’t sit still! Don’t stop reading aloud.

My middle son (Little A) is at the age where he runs everywhere. Sitting down, for any reason, is not appealing to him. I just read while he runs. Eventually, his laps slow and he sits beside me.

Sometimes I read to the baby and ignore Little A. The same thing happens. Soon he’s helping me pick out books “for the baby” and joining our reading circle.

Start with very short books and increase the length as you go. Praise your active toddler or preschooler for sitting still while reading, even if it’s only for 30 seconds.

1000 Books Before Kindergarten instilling early literary skills
Reading is exciting!

Happy Reading (Aloud)!


megan imhoff
Picture of Megan


Megan writes everything on Ish Mom. She possesses a bachelor's degree in psychology, a flair for theatrics, and a whole lotta nerve. She lives in the Midwest (and loves it) with her wonderful husband and three young boys.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up and get exclusive content not shared anywhere else!