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The Six Early Literacy Skills

In today’s world, the abilities to find out and to think are critical. These abilities depend upon language. We use language to communicate and understand orally through speaking, aurally through hearing, and visually through reading and writing.

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.

The six skills that help prepare children for reading later include:

PRINT MOTIVATION: includes being interested in and enjoying books.

Why Is It Important?

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

Children who have negative experiences with books and reading wind up with less interest in reading and less desire to learn.

It's important that we make sure our children start reading and listening from day one and that they have a good time with books. We want them to want to be read to often, we want them to know books are interesting and reading is a pleasureable experience.

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!

PRINT AWARENESS: includes noticing print everywhere, knowing how to handle a book, and knowing how to follow the written word on the page.

Why Is It Important?

Children have to be aware of words before they can read them. They need to know how books work--which is the front cover, what's upside down and right side up, which page to start on, how to look from left to right on each line of text.

When kids are comfortable with books, with how to open a book and where the story starts and what those black squiggles are, they can concentrate on starting the decoding process.

What Can You Do to Help Build This Skill?

  • Read board books that your child can handle on their own; let them 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 and labels and lists.

LETTER KNOWLEDGE: includes knowing that letters are different from each other, knowing letter names and sounds, and recognizing letters everywhere.

Why Is It Important?

To read words, children have to understand that a word isn’t one single thing—it’s made up of smaller things, and those smaller things are letters. 

What Can You Do to Help Build This Skill?

  • Look at and talk about different shapes (letters are based on shapes)—circles, triangles with diagonals, squares.
  • Play “same and different” type games.
  • Look at “search for the picture” books.
  • Notice different type styles 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.

VOCABULARY: includes knowing the names of things.

Why Is It Important?

It's much easier to decode a word on the page when it's a word you already know. So 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. Children who understand what they're reading are more motivated to keep reading.

What Can You Do to Help Build This Skill?

  • Encourage children to learn their native home language first; this makes learning another language (speaking and reading) easier later.
  • Talk with children in positive and conversational ways; commands, “fussing,” 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.

PHONOLOGICAL AWARENESS: includes hearing and playing with the smaller sounds of words and recognizing that words are made up of a number of different sounds.

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

NARRATIVE SKILLS: include describing things and events, telling stories, knowing the order of events (sequencing), and making predictions (what might happen next).

Why Is It Important?

If children can describe something, they have an understanding of it. If children can tell what’s happening in a story they’re reading, they are comprehending the story and not just the sounds of each individual word. Understanding what they're reading is crucial to helping them stay motivated to keep reading. If they don’t understand what they’re reading, they won’t care, and they won't want to put in the practice they need to become fluent readers.

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.

Check out the links in the box to the right for more information!