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Emergent Literacy Skills à la Carte

According to research, there are six emergent literacy skillsets children need to get ready to learn to read. These include phonetic awareness; vocabulary; motivation, narrative skills/comprehension; print awareness; and alphabetic principle.

Phonemic Awareness

What is Phonological Awareness?

What is Phonological Awareness?

This is the ability to hear word sounds and to pronounce words and parts of words. Children who have phonological awareness can recognize the sound structure of speech and manipulate those sounds.

Phonological awareness requires meta-linguistic skills. This means the person can think about language objectively, as well as use language to communicate to others.

Children, who are learning to read and write in an alphabetic language like English, need to have phonological awareness to use the alphabetic principle. Those who don’t have this skill will experience more difficulty.

Phonological awareness includes phonemic awareness, as well as the perceiving and pronouncing of rhyming words, syllables, word segments, on-sets and rimes.

For many years, researchers have theorized and argued whether the development of phonological awareness is a hierarchical process. That is, do children become aware of the syllable first, then the onset-rime, and finally the phoneme? After lots of research, it seems phonological awareness is a developmental and sequential process, which usually begins to develop at about age three.

The extent of children’s phonological awareness understanding is closely linked to their general language ability.

Teaching practice must reflect the age appropriate and developmental abilities of the children and not require them to understand language constructs beyond their skills. There is much for young children to learn, and the teaching can be done in fun and exciting ways.

Few children develop phonological awareness without help. And, for some, it is a very difficult task. Young children who are four to five years of age and aren’t beginning to develop phonological awareness (e.g., can’t make rhymes, or segment words into syllables), need deliberate phonological awareness training.

This could make a huge difference for these children because they will likely have difficulty learning to read due to their lack of phonological awareness skill. It is very important that staff of any preschool program (daycare, nursery school, home daycare, or children’s program in an adult literacy program), understand how phonological awareness develops and purposely plan activities that promote it in all the children.

In the primary years, as children are taught about the alphabetic principle and phonological awareness, a dual process begins to happen. That is, their growing understanding about the alphabetic principle seems to drive their phonological awareness beyond what they have been already been specifically taught.

As well, there is a connection between reading and phonological awareness. It has been argued that skilled phonological decoding of words helps the reader figure out unknown words when combined with vocabulary knowledge and the context of that which is being read.

Phonological awareness starts the first time we talk and sing to children and continues to develop during the preschool years. In general, most children, who have had good teaching and language-rich environments in the early years, can develop this very useful and powerful tool. Children who come from less language-rich environments need more help to develop phonological awareness.

Children whose first languages are not English, but are or will be learning to read in English, need help to develop phonological awareness as it pertains to English. To become proficient readers in English or any other alphabetic language, children, whose emergent literacy skills have been developed in a language which is not alphabetically based, will need to learn the alphabetical principle and develop phonological awareness.

What can you do to help children develop phonological awareness?

What can you do to help children develop phonological awareness?

  • Develop a program that includes listening, talking and thinking about the sounds of language. Make sure the programs take place in short blocks of time, about five to ten minutes, two times every day.
  • Choose fun activities that focus on listening to sounds and language, such as rhyming, making syllables and alliteration. These are critical to a good language and literacy program.
  • Make songs and rhymes part of your program. Beyond circle time, you can include songs and rhymes during transition times and outdoors. Movement reinforces learning and so, action songs and fingerplays are very helpful for developing phonological awareness. Many rhyme collections are available at bookstores, libraries and online.
  • Speak clearly and take some time each day to make sure the children can see you exaggerate the way your mouth moves to make the sounds and words. Encourage the children to imitate as you make the sounds. It is easier for children to remember if they make the sounds as they learn them.

To find ideas and model descriptions for teaching, two books that might be helpful are:

Phonemic Awareness in Young Children : This book describes a program that is developmental and sequential. Activities are grouped under the chapter titles of Listening Games, Rhyming, Words and Sentences, Awareness of Syllables, Initial and Final Sounds, Phonemes and Introducing Letters and Spelling.

Fee, Fie, Phonemic Awareness : This book outlines 130 pre-reading activities for preschoolers which are grouped under themes that reflect those described in Phonemic Awareness in Young Children.

Children who are slow to gain phonological awareness might have a reading difficulty. These children have difficulty identifying the syllables and/or separate sounds in words but, they also have strengths in thinking and reasoning.

We need to make sure all children’s abilities are recognized and their weaknesses are supported by good, direct teaching of reading. Children who have language and reading difficulties often suffer from lack of self-esteem and confidence, and this impacts their learning potential more than the single reading problem itself. They don’t like reading because it’s hard for them. Because it’s hard and not fun, they don’t practice and fall further and further behind their peers. These children need help to gain confidence.

Phonemic Awareness: What is it?

Phonemic Awareness: What is it?

Phonemes are smallest units of speech sound, which link to the letters of the alphabet. In English, there are 40 – 50 different sounds. Phonemic awareness is the understanding that every word is a composed of linked or sequenced sounds. Children become aware of syllables, rhymes and alliterations before they can segment words into phonemes. Usually, children gain phonemic awareness at six or seven years of age.

Why do children need to have phonemic awareness to learn to read?

Children need to have phonemic awareness to understand the way the alphabetic principle works. They need to use the alphabetic principle to read new words. To understand and make sense of the alphabetic principle, children must know that the individual sounds they hear in words are linked to the written letters of the alphabet.

Phonemic awareness does not mean the same thing as phonological awareness. Phonemic awareness is just one part of phonological awareness.

In truth, it seems good readers forget the difficulties they may have had in learning to hear and identify individual sounds. After we’ve learned how to read, instantly knowing that there are separate sounds in words seems very obvious.

Why is developing phonemic awareness so difficult?

We don’t pay attention to phonemes as we speak or, as we listen to others speak. Naturally, we are far more interested in understanding what is being said, not to attending to the small sounds of speech, which in themselves have no meaning. This is what makes it difficult to get children to pay attention to phonemes.

For beginning readers, phonemes are best learned through making the sound rather than through listening to the sound. Children need to discover how their voices and the position of their mouths and tongues change as they say each sound.

Research shows that the understanding that the words we say to each other are made up of linked individual sounds does not come naturally. In fact, around 25 per cent of middle-class first graders and many more of those who come from less literacy-rich backgrounds, have difficulty with phonemic awareness and need direct teaching in this area. If the direct teaching of phonemic awareness does not take place, these children have serious problems when learning to read. (Phonemic Awareness in Young Children: Adams, Marilyn Jager; Foorman, Barbara: Lundberg, Ingvar; Beeler, Terri; 1998)



Phonics involves the relationships between printed letter and their corresponding sound in language.

“The study of phonics can give teachers and students a sense of the great intellectual feat of the development of alphabetic writing. According to historians, the development of the alphabet is one of the great intellectual achievements of mankind. When used by children, its main purpose is to gain knowledge and skill in identifying words not recognized immediately.” (Teaching and Assessing Phonics Chall, Jeanne S.; Popp, Helen 1996)

Children have to develop an awareness of the sounds that make up words in order to understand and use the sound-letter relationships. This is called phonological awareness.

To learn and use phonics, children must be able to hear phonemes. Phonemes are represented in print by single letters or, by letter combinations such as ck which stands for the sound /k/, or kn which stands for the sound /n/.

The ability to use phonics helps children in primary school as they learn to read. How easily children develop skill in phonics can depend on emergent literacy skills they learn in the preschool years and their ability to hear the sounds in language.

Emergent Literacy Development Guide

Emergent Literacy Development Guide

Children’s Book List

Children’s Book List

Rhyming Books

The Itsy Bitsy Spider by Iza Trampini
The Piggy in The Puddle by Charlotte Pomerantz
Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss
Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy Shaw
Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
Is Your Mama a Llama by Deborah Guarino
I Went Walking by Sue Williams
The Lady with the Alligator Purse by Nadine Bernard Westcott
The Napping House by Audrey Wood
Silly Sally by Audrey Wood
The Three Little Pigs by Paul Galdone
Time for Bed by Mem Fox
Skip to My Lou by Nadine Bernard Westcott
Over in the Meadow by John Langstaff
To Market, To Market by Anne Miranda
Big Fat Hen by Keith Baker
Down by the Cool of the Pond by Tony Mitton
Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee
Very Boring Alligator by Jean Gralley
Old Mother Hubbard by Jane Cabrera
Ten Terrible Dinosaurs by Paul Strickland

Alliteration Books

Piggy in The Puddle by Charlotte Pomerantz
Sheep in a Shop by Nancy Shaw
Sheep on a Ship by Nancy Shaw
Miss Mary Mack by Mary Ann Hoberman
Silly Sally by Audrey Wood
Alligators All Around: An Alphabet by Maurice Sendak
The Baby Beebee Bird by Diane Redfield Massie
The Duchess Bakes a Cake by Virginia Kahl
There a Wocket in My Pocket by Dr. Seuss
Eating the Alphabet by Lois Elhert

Word Fun Books

The Cow that Went Oink by Bernard Most
Dr. Seuss


Fee Fie Phonemic Awareness Hohmann M., High/Scope Press, Ypsilanti MI USA 2002

Phonemic Awareness in Young Children Adams M.J., Foorman B.R., Lundberg I., Beeler T.,
Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children National Reading Council, National Academy Press Washington DC USA 2003

Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read Armbruster B. B., Osborn J., Center for Improvement of Early Reading Achievement, 2001
Teaching and Assessing Phonics Why What When How Chall J. S., Popp H.M.


To become good readers, children must have a good — and growing — vocabulary.

A person who has a good vocabulary knows the meanings and usages of thousands of words.

A good vocabulary and understanding of concepts is probably the most important of all language skills. It reflects children’s previous experience with language and their growing general knowledge. This knowledge is definitely related to literacy development and is linked to future academic success.

We all read the words we know more easily than words we don’t know. Children who are beginning to learn to read need a good oral vocabulary to help them decode words and make sense of text. Over time, the words children have in their oral vocabulary become part of their reading vocabulary. At about Grade 4, children begin to read more difficult texts. At this age, they are reading to learn as opposed to learning to read.

To understand these new and more difficult texts, children need to know the meanings of most of the words they read. Children constantly need to learn the meanings of new words.

There are four types of vocabulary: Listening vocabulary, which are the words we need to know to understand what we hear; speaking vocabulary, which are the words we need to know to understand when we speak; reading vocabulary, which are the words we need to know to understand what we read; and writing vocabulary, which are the words we use to write.

Vocabulary is the Cornerstone to Literacy

Vocabulary is the Cornerstone to Literacy

The importance of a good and growing vocabulary in literacy development cannot be overemphasized. Young children’s vocabulary development is enhanced through language-rich environments and life experiences as well as by being read to regularly many times a week from birth.

Older children develop vocabulary by these means and by personal reading. The size and quality of vocabulary has a great influence over children’s learning potential. Children should learn many new words every day to ensure good vocabulary development.

Here is an amazing fact: young children can learn two to eight new words per day. Children who are unable take part in rich language environments and life experiences are at risk of learning fewer new words each and every day. It is clear that the vocabulary gap between children who have rich language experiences and learn about eight new words per day (3,000 words per year) and those who only learn two new words per day (750 words per year) is ever increasing. At school, this gap is difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.

Teaching Vocabulary

Teaching Vocabulary

Young children learn new words by taking part in everyday conversations with adults and peers about the world around them and by being read to.

Meanwhile, older children can learn vocabulary by taking part in conversations, being read to, and by the reading they do themselves.

When teaching vocabulary, tell children the meanings of specific words; provide strategies to learn new words that are found in text; use dictionaries and encyclopedias; use word parts, root words and so on; and use context clues.

Choose the words to be taught directly carefully. It’s important to ensure the words are important to understanding the text and often used or seen in text.

Be aware of words that are difficult, because they have many meanings or look the same as other words. Children will need more help to learn these words.

Strategies to Support Language and Vocabulary Development

Strategies to Support Language and Vocabulary Development

Treat Children as Partners in Communication

Conversations are the building blocks of language development. Attentive and caring parents and caregivers stimulate cognitive and language development in young children. Learning to talk is all about social interaction. To learn language, children need to listen to someone talk and to talk to someone. Remember, children need to know you are paying attention to them and that you value them and what they have to say. What better way is there to show your interest in your children than by taking the time to have a conversation with them?

Talk with Infants

Infant behaviours such as smiling, cooing and vocalizing serve as conversation starters for babies. We need to be responsive to these cues and do so by talking with infants and babies in soothing voices and by making frequent eye contact.

We often hear parents and teachers talking to babies in their care in a different way. Adults seem programmed to adapt their speech to help in communicating with infants. This distinctive speech style is called “motherese” or “parentese”. “Parentese” seems to help infants hear and make sense of the stream of language sounds they find themselves in.

Talk with Toddlers

Children this age need to hear simple language that is clear and easy to understand. Adults need to remember to enunciate words clearly with children of this age. To learn to speak clearly and to begin to understand how the sounds of language work (phonological awareness), toddlers have to hear the sounds in words and to see how mouths are shaped when the sound is being vocalized. Try to use children’s names when talking with them. This helps to personalize the conversation and build self-identity. Infants and toddlers benefit from trips around their home and preschool centre as well as from field trips beyond. Trips like this are a gold mine for vocabulary development and general learning opportunities.

Talk with Preschoolers

Preschoolers’ language development can be stimulated and enhanced by story reading and telling; singing songs; saying rhymes; and especially by talking with parents, caregivers and other children.

Talk with children about what they are doing and seeing. Remember to talk with children in the full range of adult language including past and future tenses. Encourage conversations between children and adults. Try to help young children become comfortable talking to new people in different settings. Visit different places where they can meet and talk with a variety of people. Encourage children to use language in different ways. Children need to know how to ask questions, and explain feelings and emotions. They need to talk about what they have done and to be able to describe things and events.

Dialogic Reading

Dialogic Reading

Dialogic Reading is a great way to support language and literacy development in small groups or on a one-to-one basis.

What is Dialogic Reading?

How we read to children is as important as how frequently we read to them. Dialogic reading is essentially an adult and a child having a conversation about a book, an approach developed by Dr. Grover Whitehurst. Dialogic reading encourages the adult to engage the child to become the teller of the story. The adult becomes the listener, the questioner, and the audience for the child. Over time, the adult reads less and less of the text and the child takes over as the leader while talking about the story.

Why Dialogic Reading?

Children learn most from books when they are actively involved in the story.

Dr. Whitehurst’s research indicates children who have been read to dialogically are significantly ahead of children who have been read in the usual way on language development tests.

Reading to children in small groups and encouraging them to talk about the story results in more talk and longer sentences than occurs in the typical story time, turn taking, and opportunities to develop higher level language through thinking and imagining.

To find out more about Dialogic Reading, visit www.readingrockets.org.

Small Groups for Language Learning

Research shows small group, caregiver-led activities are more effective in developing cognitive, language and literacy skills than the large group activities usually a part of the daily preschool program.

Traditional large group circle times don’t always meet the unique developmental needs of each child. In order to develop high-level language skills, children need more opportunities to be engaged in small reading groups.

Acting out and extending the story into play activities helps children understand the vocabulary in the story and to develop language skills. Children also need ample opportunities for boisterous, physical play to act out and integrate what they learn.

Activity Guide

Activity Guide

The very best way to develop vocabulary is by talking to children about things they encounter in daily life.

Reading to children and discussing the words, ideas and the children’s opinions is a great way (probably second on the list) to develop vocabulary.

There are other activities that help develop vocabulary. Here are some ideas:

Walking Around the Town

Look for things that begin with each letter of the alphabet (apple, bicycle, car); look at the signs and name all the words that begin with only one letter; look at the signs and name all the words that begin in one colour.

Alphabet Word Game

Start with one person saying, “My mother drives a delivery truck and one day she delivered something that begins with an a”. Everyone then has a turn to try and think of something that starts with that letter e.g. apples, aprons, art. After the first letter words are finished, the next person repeats “My mother drives ….begins with a b”, and so on until the alphabet is finished, or the participants are wordless!

Twenty Questions

One person thinks of a mystery word. The others ask questions to try to figure out the mystery word. The first question is usually, “Is your word an animal, vegetable or mineral?” Each question is answered with only a yes or a no but each answer does narrow the possibilities for the next questioner.

Commercial Games

There are a few commercial games such as Scrabble, Pictionary or Balderdash. If you play these games, make sure the children have the ability to play and/or that someone is available to help them. Children need to be able and to have fun to feel success when playing games like these, otherwise they may lose their confidence.

Emergent Literacy Development Guide

Emergent Literacy Development Guide


To learn, we need to be motivated.

In the early years, children’s motivation to learn is apparent in everything they do. Babies and young children are motivated to learn to walk (even though they might fall over), talk (even though they might not be understood), snap fingers (even though it’s hard to do), read letters (even though they are funny looking) and so on.

Children who are motivated to learn are likely to persevere when the learning experience is a little difficult or challenging.

Unfortunately, a lack of motivation to learn seems to emerge as children get older. Some reasons for this are that they are beginning to feel unsuccessful in learning; being asked to learn that which is not necessary; and/or being asked to learn that which does not relate to their everyday experience. This is especially true of learning to read and write. Children who believe that they one day will be readers — that they can learn how — in general do become readers.

Alternatively, children who believe that learning to read will be difficult and possibly do not believe that they will be able to do it are more likely to struggle.

Children need to know reading and writing is important to their life experience, that the adults in their lives value these skills and that even though it can be a difficult skill to learn, they will (except for the very unusual situation) be able to learn to read and write.

Parents and caregivers play a huge role in helping their younger and older children keep their wonder-filled motivation to learn.

Children, who know their parents and caregivers believe that they can learn to read, learn. Parents and caregivers who provide children with fun-filled and developmentally appropriate learning experiences that are linked to their children’s interests and daily life experiences give their children an optimism about learning that will last their lives.

Source: Baker Linda, Scher Deborah, Mackler Kirsten, 1997 Home and Family Influences on Motivations for Reading Educational Psychologist, 32(2), 69-82

Print Motivation

Print Motivation

Print motivation is children’s interest in and enjoyment of books. Children who enjoy books will read more, and children become good readers by practicing.

To develop print motivation, children need to value and enjoy reading; view reading as an activity to be shared with others; see reading as a way to learn about their interests; read widely for enjoyment and for gathering information; and be at ease with various formats and genres.

You can encourage print motivation in children by beginning to read books early in children’s lives — from infancy is best.

Make book-sharing a special time with lots of one-to-one interaction, and letting the babies and toddlers see you reading. You can also take children to the library from a young age.

How to Promote Motivation

How to Promote Motivation

Children who enjoy story time are likely to become interested in learning to read. Here are some ideas to help you make reading aloud fun.

  • Choose the Best: Choose books that you enjoy reading, that the children enjoy and that are fun to read. Libraries often have children’s book lists and children’s librarians are very knowledgeable. Use this great community resource!
  • Read with Gusto: If your children like it, read picture books using different voices and lots of expression. There are children who do not like the different voices. You know best what they will enjoy.
  • Over and Over Again: Young children love to hear the same stories over and over again, so read them over and over again because it’s good for children. Believe it or not, it seems they learn something new with each read through.
  • Let Them Talk: As you read, let the children add their comments; reading aloud should be interactive. The children need to talk about what they see in the story and they need to link what they see and hear in the book to their everyday experience.
  • Words, Words, Words: Explain the words in the story. Books are a great source of new and interesting words.
  • Link to Think: Link what the children see in the pictures to things in their environment. For example, if you are reading about cars, talk about the cars the children see every day.
  • Join in for Reading: Encourage your children to join in if you are reading a book that has a repeated line, or one which is based on a nursery rhyme that your children know.
  • Stop: Stop reading if you realize the book is a dud or if most of the children become distracted.
  • Words to See: As your children get older, point to the words as you read them. This will help them link the printed word to spoken language.

Emergent Literacy Development Guide

Emergent Literacy Development Guide

Activity Guide

Activity Guide

Different Books for Different Folks

It’s important to remember boys and girls tend to react to reading differently. Boys may like to read things about sports or factual accounts together and talk about what they have read. They can be more boisterous readers, but this does not mean that they are not reading.

Meanwhile, girls may like stories and curl up in a comfy chair to read by themselves and then talk about what they’ve read.

Here are some things you can do with your child:

  • There are many children’s magazines, such as Ranger Rick, Owl, and Chickadee. Ask family or friends for a children’s magazine subscription as a gift for your child. It is fun to get a new magazine in the mail each month!
  • With your child, read parts of the newspaper that interest him or her.
  • Always remember children are motivated to read things that interest them.
  • Make sure you have a selection on of “fact” books at home. Your collection might include books about machines, how things work, dinosaurs, true stories, food, and disasters (e.g. The Titanic).
  • Add to your collection on by buying books at Value Village or Goodwill stores, and by trading with relatives and neighbours.
  • You could also create a treasure hunt for your child. The treasure can be a small gift, such as a toy car or a box of crayons. Even though the treasure is small, reading the clues and finding the treasure can become a reading adventure your child will want to do over and over again. Children who can’t read can still enjoy treasure hunts. The clues can be written using some words and pictures that are hand drawn or taken from magazines. Do the treasure hunt with your child so that he or she will learn how it works.

Here are some treasure hunt tips:

  • Give the first clue to your child and tell him or her to follow the clues to find a treasure.
  • Make sure the treasure hunt is only as complicated as your child can manage easily.
  • Help your child as much as necessary. The goal is to have a reading game that is fun, motivating and active.

Children’s Book List

Children’s Book List

Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? by Eric Carle
Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
Counting Kisses by Karen Katz
Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allen Ahlberg
One Duck Stuck by Phyllis Root
Over in the Meadow by Ezra Jack Keats
Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy Shaw
The Pokey Little Puppy by Gustaf Terggren
Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Go Away Green Monster! by Ed Emberly
How Dinosaurs Say Goodnight by Jane Yolen
No David! by David Shannon
I Love Colors by Margaret Miller
The Seals on the Bus by Lenny Hort
No Haircut Today! by Elivia Savadier



Early Literacy and Beginning to Read Position Statement Southern Early Childhood Association, Little Rock, Arkansas USA 2002

Baker L., Scher D., Mackler K., Home and Family Influences on Motivations for Reading, University of Maryland, Baltimore County 1997

Educational Psychologist 32(2) 69-82 Relations of children’s motivation for reading to the amount and breadth of their reading
Click Here

Narrative Skills/Comprehension

To be a good reader, children must be able to understand what they read.
Young children who have narrative skills can describe things, talk about events and tell stories.

Research shows narrative skills are important for children to have in order to be ready to read. Narrative skills are essential to reading comprehension.

To help develop narrative skills in young children, try using props as you tell or read a story. This helps the children remember it better. You could also encourage the children to use the props as they retell the story. Make sure you also ask some questions about the story. Thinking about the story and putting it into words takes time.

It’s also important to remember to give children lots of time to come up with the answers, and to talk about the story after you have read it. Summarize the plot or main idea for the children.

You can also talk to children about their day; what did they do first, second, third and so on, or ask your children to retell their favourite story.

Remember to read developmentally appropriate, quality picture books to children often.

Understanding Story Structure and Narrative

Understanding Story Structure and Narrative

Children learn about plot structures and logical sequencing when they listen to stories.  We can teach by pointing out plot structures such as sequence or cause and effect and by giving them the vocabulary to describe these things. Later, when children understand story structures, we can support and extend their understanding by asking them to describe the story sequence, the plot, problems and solutions, characters, settings and so on.

Young children can be exposed to the thinking strategies that help comprehension while you read stories to them. These strategies are very helpful for children to use later in life, when they are trying to understand what they are reading. If you model the strategies for young children, they are likely to internalize them and use them on their own when they are reading. Actively thinking about text is called meta-cognition.

Helpful strategies for comprehension are rereading the text; summarizing what has been read; identifying the most important information in the text; and predicting what will happen.

Children need to experience the same sort of things when they are reading expository or informational text. This type of text can be even more difficult to understand, because it is not based on a storyline and the information may not be describing something the children know about.

It’s key to remember that good readers actively think about the text as they read; they ask themselves questions before, during and after they read.

Before reading, they may ask what the story will be about, who will be in the story, and whether or not he or she will like the story.

During reading, the child may ask him or herself what the story is about, if it makes sense to him or her, and if it is relating to anything he or she knows.

After reading, the child may ask themselves whether they liked the story, if the ending was sensible, and what they learned.

These questions and thoughts lead to understanding. You can help children learn to actively think about what they are being read by asking a few questions as you read. For example, before you read the story, you can look the cover of the book and talk about what the story might be about. By doing this, you are activating children’s knowledge about the upcoming story and you are helping children understand that very often, the picture on the cover gives readers ideas about the story or information inside.

Emergent Literacy Development Guide

Emergent Literacy Development Guide

Activity Ideas

Activity Ideas

Dig into Spring

Dig into some great springtime books!
From Caterpillar to Butterfly by Deborah Heligmar
From Tadpole to Frog by Wendy Pfeffer
How a Seed Grows by Helen Jordan A Nest Full of Eggs by Priscilla Belz Jenkins
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle
Sunflower House by Eve Bunting
The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss

How can you help?

With your child:

Play a guessing game with your child. Say, “I’m thinking of something we do often.”

Describe a familiar activity (e.g. making a sandwich, taking a bath, brushing teeth, gluing a picture). Only say one sequential step of the activity at a time. How many clues does your child need to guess the activity?

Story Cards

Colour and cut out each picture. PICS ARE IN THE PDF*** Mix them up. Ask your child to put them in an order that tells a story. Use the cards to help your child plant spring seeds. Can your child draw a picture that shows a new ending to this story?

Draw and Tell

Draw and tell stories capture children’s interest and imagination. You don’t have to be an amazing storyteller or artist to mesmerize your child!

Draw on paper, sand at the beach or restaurant serviettes. Draw with a marker, chalk, pencil, paint or shaving foam. Drawing is a fun way to strengthen writing skills, too.

How can you help?

“Draw and tell stories” encourage your child to anticipate the story ending as well as the finished picture. Use them often to encourage your child’s listening, speaking and thinking skills.

Can’t think of a story idea to draw? Visit www.drawandtell.com, a great website for easy draw and tell story suggestions, and click on Pictales.

Let Me Tell You a Story

The pictures tell the story.

Well-constructed wordless books have detailed illustrations and good plot lines.

Children use the pictures to apply their own meaning to the story.

Wordless books stimulate creativity and language; introduce the importance of sequence; show that the plot is related to the sequence; invite close observation of the pictures and the use of vivid vocabulary; stretch the imagination; teach an understanding of character development as children look at the pictures and think about the characters’ feelings and thoughts.

Wordless books can be enjoyed by everyone, no matter their age, culture or literacy level.

Wordless Book List

Wordless Book List

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
Do You Want to Be My Friend? By Eric Carle
Freight Train by Donald Crews
Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day
Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie de Paola
Black on White by Tana Hoban
Frog on His Own by Mercer Mayer
Sunshine by Jan Omerod
Rain by Peter Spier

Children’s Book List

Children’s Book List

Annie and the Wild Animals by Jan Brett
Fix It by David McPhail
I Went Walking by Sue Williams
Red is Best by Kathy Stinson
Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins
Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman
The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen
Where’s Spot by Eric Hill
Bark George by Jules Feiffer
Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann
Llama, Llama Red Pajama by Anne Dewdney



Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children National Academy Press Washington DC USA, 2003

Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read Armbruster B. B., Osborn J., Center for Improvement of Early Reading Achievement, 2001
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National Centre for Learning Disabilities
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Alphabetic Principle

To learn to read, children need to know the letters of the alphabet and understand the alphabetic principle.

The alphabetic principle is the understanding that there is a systematic and predictable relationship between letters and spoken sounds.

Children learn about the alphabetic principle in a predictable sequence: letter names, followed by letter shapes and then letter sounds.

Children learn letter names by singing “alphabet songs” and reciting rhymes about letters; shapes of letters by using magnetic and wooden letters, using play-dough to make letters and using alphabet books; sounds of language through rhyming, alliteration, and games that point out the sounds and direct teaching.

This sequence of learning helps children get on track for reading and because of this, mastery of the letter-sound relationships is a key activity during kindergarten. Many children leave senior kindergarten knowing most of the sounds of the letters of the alphabet.

Letter Recognition

Letter Recognition

Children gradually learn to understand and use symbols during their early years.

We’ve all been amazed at how soon young children learn the meaning of signs in the environment like the golden arches at McDonald’s or the shape and colour of stop signs. It must be remembered though, that young children generally cannot use or understand symbols in the broad sense. A three-year-old child who knows the “M” in McDonald’s means lunch probably won’t know that a different shaped “M” is the first letter in the word marble.

It takes children time and learning experience to develop the symbolic understanding necessary to grasp the letter-sound relationship.

Many three year olds can say the letters of the alphabet as they sing the alphabet song. These same children are likely not able to match the letters in the song to the letters on a page. Over time, children need to learn the names of the letters and what the letters look like.

Four year olds are interested in their names and the letters that spell them. This interest is very motivating and many children at this age begin to match some letters to their corresponding letter names. And, they can learn the alphabet by being taught in a direct and deliberate way. Usually children will need both approaches to learn as completely as they need for reading.

By the end of senior kindergarten, children should be able to recognize and name all upper and lower case letters.

Three and four-year-old children display a rapid growth in literacy knowledge.

Children’s exploration and experimentation with scribbling, writing strings of random letters, and drawing letter-like forms helps them learn about written language and reading. This is the reason it is said that reading and writing are learned together.

Some four year olds try to use invented spelling by using the consonant letter/sounds they have learned.

A close look at children’s writing shows what they know about written language.

Help Children Learn Letters

Young children benefit by learning about letters through forming the letter shapes with manipulatives, such as play-dough and paint; using toys such as magnetic and tactile letters; and playing games like letter bingo or letter hop-scotch.

To lay the foundation for reading success in Grade 1, children need to recognize all the letters of the alphabet and how to produce them. As well and equally important, they need to experiment with the sound structure of words; practice how to manipulate the sounds within words; learn how fictional stories work and that non-fiction is different; have a good and growing vocabulary.



Phonics is a reading strategy that is concerned with the connection between written letters and the spoken sounds those letters represent.

A child’s ability to use phonics is closely related to their phonemic awareness or understanding that spoken words can be broken into individual sounds.

Jean S. Chall did a comprehensive survey of reading research in the 1960s, 1980s and 1990s. In her book, Learning to Read: The Great Debate, she concluded comprehensive and systematic phonics instruction for beginning readers is supported by a majority of reading research.

“The research…indicates that a code-emphasis method – i.e., one that views beginning reading as essentially different from mature reading and emphasizes learning of the printed code for the spoken language – produces better results.”

Chall, Jean S., Learning to Read: The Great Debate, 1996 Pg. 307

Marilyn J. Adams surveyed the reading research in the late 1980’s. Her conclusion was the same as that of Jean Chall.

“In summary, deep and thorough knowledge of letters, spelling patterns, and words, and of the phonological translations of all three, are of inescapable importance to both skillful reading and its acquisition. By extension, instruction designed to develop children’s sensitivity to spellings and their relations to pronunciations should be paramount importance in the development of reading skills. This is, of course, precisely what is intended of good phonics instruction.”

Adams, Marilyn J., Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning about Print, 1990 Pg. 416.

Activity Guide

Activity Guide

Shapes Make Letters

The ability to identify letters of the alphabet before entering Grade 1 is a good predictor of your child’s future success as a reader. Reading and writing go together. Children often teach themselves to read by trying to write. It helps them focus on the sounds and the letters.

Children need to have strong muscles in their hands and shoulders to be able to write well.

Cutting with scissors (supervised) and playing with play-dough strengthens hand muscles. Swimming or climbing on play structures strengthens arm muscles.

How can you help? By creating lots of opportunities for your child to write at home!

Keep scrap paper, little notebooks, blank cards, fancy pieces of paper and pencils and crayons available so your children can write any time.

You can also show your children the different shapes found in letters; a stick and a circle make lots of different letters.

Try making a game of finding and pointing out the first letter of your child’s name in their favourite story.

One last idea: spread a layer of shaving cream on a plate or a plastic table top and draw the letters of your children’s names in the cream. Let your children practice drawing letters in the cream.

Emergent Literacy Development Guide

Emergent Literacy Development Guide

Children’s Book List

Children’s Book List

A Was Once an Apple Pie by Edward Lear
ABC of Canada by Kim Bellefontaine
Alphabatics by Suse MacDonald
Alphabet City by Stephen T. Johnston
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr.
Dr. Seuss’s ABC by Dr. Seuss
I Stink by Kate and Jim McMullen
Old Black Fly by Jim Aylesworth
Superhero ABC by Bob McLeod
The Handmade Alphabet by Laura Rankin
K is for Kissing a Cool Kangaroo by Giles Andreae



Overcoming Dyslexia Shaywitz S., Vintage Books, Toronto Ontario Canada 2005

Phonemic Awareness Adams, M. J., Foorman B., Lundberg I., Beeler T., Irwin Publishing, Toronto Ontario Canada 1998

Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children National Research Council National Reading Panel, Washington DC USA 2003

The Alphabetic Principle Texas Education Agency 2002 Reading Rockets
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