Early Literacy


Literacy is the ability to read, write, and learn. It is a human construct, meaning we are not born with the ability to read like we are born with the ability to walk or speak. It is something every single one of us must learn. We think of learning to read and write as starting in preschool or kindergarten, but did you know early literacy starts when you are an infant! You must provide the building blocks of reading before learning to read.

You cannot start building the foundation of literacy too early. Reading, singing, and playing are all part of the foundation for literacy. These are things we naturally do with our children. Did you know if you read your child 1 book per day, they will have read 1825 books by the time they are 5! 

Early literacy building increases language comprehension, results in a larger vocabulary at, and is associated with higher cognitive skills. We can see the differences that early literacy skills as early as 2 years of age!

Here are some great recommendations for early books to add to your library. Also story time at local bookstores and libraries is a great early literacy exposure that can include reading, singing and socialization. If your child has screen time, shows like Sesame Street, Electric Company and Super Why are fun ways to incorporate early literacy.




While you can read to your child before birth and after, most early literacy skills start around 3 months. At this age exploring books is a great start. Let your baby play with books such as board books, let them touch and feel books. Babies enjoy looking at pictures. Around 9 months they will often start to help you turn pages. They can show interest in what you are reading by patting the page. As they approach 12 months, they may start naming items in the book or pointing to a named item. They can also indicate preference between two books!


At this age, your child may be able to sit longer while you read them a book. They like to turn pages and point or label items in the book. They recognize books by their covers. They also like to pretend to read books on their own. In addition to reading, early literacy skills your toddler enjoy includes singing songs and rhyming.


Some two-yea- old can listen to stories for a longer period of time, while others need multiple short reading times throughout the day. They may want you to read multiple books at a time or repeat the same book over and over. Repetition is a very important early literacy skill. Children actually learn and retain new borks better when they hear them over and over again in the SAME book versus hearing those words in different books! So as much as we all groan when they bring you the same book every night, this is great early reading practice.

A child of this age can tell the difference between writing and drawing. They can hold a book correctly and may even be able to recognize logos and name them. They continue to enjoy rhyming and singing songs.


This is the age where we see interest in early literacy practice increase among most children. Now this doesn’t mean learning to read, it means we are working to set the foundation for literacy. At this point, our focus is having fun and making sure they are enjoying reading! They may start to learn to recognize letters or letter sounds. They may practice writing their name and other letters.

A preschooler likes to pick out their own book. They may pretend to read a favorite book or even have a favorite book memorized. Don’t forget to include non-fiction books in their choices. A preschooler can tell a story, ask you questions about a story, and repeat the story they were just read in their own words.

When reading to a preschooler make it fun! Use silly voices! Also try to “trick them” by reading the book upside down or leaving out familiar words. When singing, try changing the rhyme or leaving out words in the song.


Learning to read starts in kindergarten but like every developmental milestone, there is a range in which children learn to read. Do not push your child to read as this tends to build frustration and refusal to read or a dislike of reading. Most children are on similar levels of reading by 2nd to 3rd grade. If you feel your child is having difficulty make sure you discuss this with their teachers. Most schools have a Title 1 program, a program where trained reading specialists provide extra help to a child who many need it.

There are two methods used to teach reading. The first is word recognition for example sight words like and, the, and go. The other method is phonics where your child will learn to decode sounds. Most often, teachers use a combination of both when teaching reading.


Learning to read doesn’t need to be work or something “special” you do. You can incorporate things that help your child learn to read into your normal reading time. You can:

• Run your fingers under the words as you read them

• Use funny voices or make noises that go along with the text

• Stop to look at pictures

• Stop to ask questions about the story

• Answer any questions your child has even if it means stopping reading.

• If the story has repetitive text, you can have your child join in

• Discuss books after and link them to real life events

What is your child is already reading? How to you offer support? The most important things you can do while your child is reading to you, is to make reading a positive experience with limited frustration. We want to build their confidence about reading. If you note any fatigue or frustration, take a break. Your child should take the lead with reading aloud. Do not help them sound out words unless they ask for help. If they make a mistake, ask them to read the sentence again to help you understand it better.

And let them choose what they want to read at home. This means supporting their choices even if you don’t agree. Let them explore different subjects or different types of books like graphic novels. And if they want to read the same series over and over, allow that to happen. School will make sure they are getting the quality reading material required for their age. Remember, our goal is to instill a love of reading!


A reading disorder is when a person has trouble reading or understanding what they are reading (comprehension). It is believed 20% of the population has a reading or writing disorder. It may also be seen to run in families.

The most well-known reading disorder is Dyslexia. Children with dyslexia have normal intelligence but can be reading at a level below their expectations. People with dyslexia have a hard time sounding out words, understanding written words, or naming objects. They may have impaired decoding skills or not be able to read fluently. Hyperlexia is when a person has advanced reading skills, but they can’t understand what is read or spoken out loud. Dysgraphia affects the writing process. A child with dysgraphia may have trouble with letter formation, spelling, or word choices. They may also have a hard time organizing what they want to write and editing their writing. Sometimes a child is affected by one of these disorders and sometimes the disorders are combined. When disorders are combined this is called Oral and Written Language Learning Disability.

If your child is diagnosed with a reading or writing disorder, treatment includes intensive instruction in language and reading, often with a reading specialist. Depending on the severity of their disorder, children sometimes require assistive technology including audiobooks, text-to-speech or speech-to-text programs.

A love of reading starts with an early introduction to books. It is never too early to expose your child to books of all types, songs, and rhyming. Our goal during the early years is to make reading fun and a natural part of your child’s life.

Children’s Health Care of Newburyport, Massachusetts and Haverhill, Massachusetts is a pediatric healthcare practice providing care for families across the North Shore, Merrimack Valley, southern New Hampshire, and the Seacoast regions. The Children’s Health Care team includes pediatricians and pediatric nurse practitioners who provide comprehensive pediatric health care for children, including newborns, toddlers, school aged children, adolescents, and young adults. Our child-centered and family-focused approach covers preventative and urgent care, immunizations, and specialist referrals. Our services include an on-site pediatric nutritionist, special needs care coordinator, and social workers. We also have walk-in appointments available at all of our locations for acute sick visits. Please visit chcmass.com where you will find information about our pediatric doctors, nurse practitioners, as well as our hours and services.

Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.

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