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Kids: Early Literacy: Early Literacy

What is Early Literacy?

"Early literacy" is what children know about reading and writing before they know how to read and write. It includes everything from noticing when a book is turned upside down to building a broad vocabulary that will help them recognize words when they begin to sound them out.

This page features general resources on early literacy from around the web that offer guidance on how to get the most out of reading (and talking, singing, playing, and writing) with your child.

Click the above tabs for the library's storytime schedule (currently all virtual), early literacy programs in Northfield, and more.

Early Literacy Resources Online

Sites for Caregivers

*Six Early Literacy Skills 

      Specific ways to develop the six key early literacy skills  (letter knowledge, phonological awareness, vocabulary, narrative skills, print awareness, and print motivation) while reading with children. From Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy. 

*PBS Parents: Child Development page

*PBS Parents: Reading and Language page

*Reading Rockets 

*Zero to Three: Early Literacy 

     This link goes straight to the Early Literacy Resource page at Zero to Three, a nonprofit organization dedicated to nurturing healthy brain development, social and emotional development, and more. See for the full site.


Sites for Caregivers and Children to Explore Together


     Starfall includes short songs on letter sounds (example), make-a-word games, short online books focusing on specific letter sounds (read the text, click to hear the text narrated, or click on an individual word to hear it sounded out slowly), and more as children become more advanced. I can't vouch for the paid premium content, but there's plenty of free content to explore. I appreciate the short books as they are often at a lower entry point than many of the easy readers on our shelves, similar to the level of Hop on Pop. (Emily)

*Unite for Literacy: Online Books in Multiple Languages 

     I LOVE this site! It includes very simple well-written picture books on basic concepts. You can choose either English or Spanish for the text of the books, and hear narration in a wide variety of languages, including Somali, Hindi, Chinese, and more. (Emily)

Dialogic Reading: a Book is a Conversation

We strive to model dialogic reading in storytime, and encourage parents and caregivers to approach reading with their child the same way. In a nutshell, it entails asking questions that involve your child as you read: "Oooh, what do you think will happen next?" "Which animal is this? What sound does it make?" "Look at his face! How do you think he's feeling now?" Dialogic reading builds skills--prediction, observation, reasoning, and more--that a straightforward reading of a story can't. It turns children from passive listeners into active participants, engaging them more deeply. For more information on dialogic reading, try this excellent tipsheet from CLEL.                     


Our Top Ten Early Literacy Tips

1. TALK with and to your child about everything you do. Use specific vocabulary words: "Should we steam the broccoli, or have it raw and crunchy?" Expand on what your child says: if she points to a truck and says "truck," say, "Yes, it's a big yellow dumptruck."

2. Use the word "TELL" to encourage your child to talk at more length and use more words. For example, instead of "How was daycare?", say "Tell me about your day." Instead of "Did you draw a horse?", say "Tell me about your drawing."

3. READ with your child. Every day is ideal. If you can't make 15 minutes happen, strive for five. If you're too tired at bedtime, try a story at breakfast. Reading time should be fun, intimate, special, cuddle time--never forced. If your toddler can't sit still for a book, that's okay. Keep reading while she explores or reaches for toys.

4. READ not just stories, but nonfiction, too. If your child loves dinosaurs, page through a factual book about dinosaurs together. Never feel like you have to read all the words on a page! Just talking about the pictures is beneficial. Nonfiction books contain more "rare words"--words we don't encounter in daily conversation--than picture books, and picture books contain more than everyday conversation. The more rare words kids hear before they start kindergarten, the easier it will be for them to recognize words when sounding them out.

5. Practice dialogic reading with your child (see definition below).

6. SING with your child! Singing breaks up the sounds in words and helps children hear that they are made up of smaller parts. It also builds listening skills and the ability to distinguish one sound from another. Daily routines offer the perfect opportunity to introduce songs (they even help to get kids going on whatever task you have at hand). Try these lyrics to the tune of "Frere Jacques" when your child is washing his hands: "Tops and bottoms, tops and bottoms, in between, in between, rub them all together, rub them all together, squeaky clean, squeaky clean." 

7. Encourage, and allow lots of time for, dramatic and open-ended PLAY--whether it's playing with dinosaurs, trains, or in the kitchen area at the library, or playing dress-up at home. When they make believe, children invent stories and use words they wouldn't in daily conversation. 

8. Point out print everywhere around you: on store and street signs, on cereal boxes, etc. Also point it out in books! Studies show that 95% of a child's attention is on the illustrations when we read picture books with them. Occasionally point to the words themselves, running your finger under them while reading them. 

9. Encourage your child to WRITE her name even if she can't form all the letters yet. It's good practice for recognizing that these abstract shapes--letters--have significance when strung together. Let your child see you writing, too: write out a shopping list together instead of typing it into a phone. Say what you're writing out loud as you write it: "M-I-L-K: milk!"

10. Brace yourself for repetition! You've probably already experienced your child wanting to hear the same book over and over for weeks on end. Repetition is one way young children learn (and enjoy learning). Boring as it may be to an adult, understand that your child's brain craves it. And don't worry, it won't last forever. 

Early Literacy: Videos

Early Literacy 101: carefully selected videos with great tips for parents and caregivers and the reasoning behind them.

Early Literacy Skills--from Fairfax County Public Library


Learn as They Grow: Early Literacy and Libraries--from Hennepin County Library


Read, Speak, Sing: Your Baby and Early Literacy--from the Canadian Pediatric Society