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Promoting Early Literacy Skills

Promoting Early Literacy Skills with Your Toddler and Preschooler By Guest Blogger: Abigail Sullivan


I’ve been teaching for over a decade and my favorite students are, of course, my children. Although my training is for elementary aged children, I’m having so much fun seeing the learning process begin from the very start. Watching your children learn is incredibly satisfying, especially when you are the teacher.

Our children start learning about language and literacy as infants. They listen to our voices, the sounds we make, our intonation, and soon our words. They watch us hold books, turn pages, and point to words and pictures. They communicate with us through pointing, gesturing, and making sound approximations to mimic our words.

So much of early language and literacy development happens naturally in the way we interact with our kids. There are also many simple and enjoyable ways to build off of their natural language and literacy development.

During read alouds: You are likely doing so much for your kids, already. Did you know that when you read rhyming books you are developing their phonological awareness? Try asking them which words sound alike in the line “I do not like them, Sam-I-Am. I do not like green eggs and ham.” Perhaps you can also question their awareness of alliteration in “Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse”. You are helping your children develop concepts of print as you hold a book the right way, show them the cover, turn pages, and point to the words on the page. Try asking them to find “their letter” (the first one in their names) or another letter they know. Try asking them to turn the page and point to where you should begin reading next. When they hear you use a new word in the context of the story their vocabulary is growing. Try isolating that word to bring it to their attention. “The book says that the baby was constantly crying. Constantly means it happens all the time without stopping. Such as, “Today it rained constantly.” When else could we use the word constantly?”

Books are meant to be enjoyed. Not every read aloud needs to be a deep learning experience. Yet sprinkling questions and prompts on occasion will gradually help your child develop awareness and skills.

Your children are probably requesting the same books over and over, right? That is because there is still something interesting about that book that they are working through. It’s very possible that they will enjoy you taking things a bit deeper as you reread their favorite text.

Choosing read alouds: Children love picking out their own books. Follow their lead. Whether you are reading a book based on a cartoon character or a Caldecott Award winner, you are reading and they are thinking. My kids don’t always cooperate at the library and my vision of leaving with a tote full of engaging children’s literature is not always fulfilled. So I often place books on hold from my computer at home and then pick them up in a few days. It’s so easy! You search for a book, click “place hold”, and then wait a few days for all of your books to arrive at your local library. They even bundle them together and have them waiting on a shelf.

Some children’s librarians set out a special collection of books for each holiday or season. I also grab a bunch of those and pop them in a special basket in our house with our own collection of holiday or seasonal books. This basket of novelty books helps us branch out from our usual favorites and helps us enjoy the current holiday or season. In addition to rotating holiday books, I also rotate the books in the car, in their rooms, and our our living room shelf. I don’t over think it, I just switch things up once I notice that the books we have out are being tossed around the room instead of read.

Don’t forget about nonfiction. Children love learning facts about their favorite topics! There are plenty of books and series written just for toddlers and preschoolers. My children have loved books on shapes, colors, and animals. I bet other kids would love learning about dinosaurs, famous heros, places they will soon visit, sports, construction, etc.

Lastly, consider audio books. Most libraries have hanging bags with a CD and matching picture book. I play them in the car and uploaded some onto my phone so we always have access to our favorites. Warning – you will listen to these over and over so choose wisely 😉 If you have an old discman or CD player your preschool will love the opportunity to listen on her own. Teach her how to change the CDs herself and you will keep her busy for a long time!


Beyond read alouds: Are your curious to learn more about how young children develop language and literacy skills? One of my favorite websites for teachers is also very readable for parents who aren’t educators. Reading Rockets provides resources for how to promote literacy with your young children. They have many short articles explaining the basics of early literacy.

Print is everywhere in our homes and out in the world. You have probably noticed your young toddler “reading” logos on the cereal box. How exciting! Capitalize on their interest in symbols, print, letters, and numbers. Literacy development does not happen through formally sitting down with books.

And finally – on my summer to-do list is to visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA and the Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield, MA. What better way to enjoy picture books then to step inside them at the museum. I’m planning on checking the exhibit list online ahead of time to make sure that my girls are familiar with the art that they will experience. And you can be sure we’ll be listening to a stack of audiobooks on the long ride there 😉

Abigail Sullivan is originally from Hingham but currently lives in Cohasset with her husband and two beautiful young girls, Isla (4) and Fiona (2). Abigail worked as an elementary classroom and reading teacher for nine years. She also taught graduate classes in reading specialty while working on an Ed.D. in Curriculum, Teaching, Leading, and Learning. If you missed her Meet a Mom feature, check it out.

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