Overview: You are never too young to start working on literacy skills. Take a look at the different stages of literacy development and a few of my favorite activities.

I really can’t think of anything more important than literacy skills. You need to be able to read to properly function in this world.

Literacy development really starts at birth. When Sicily was born, I made sure books were something I had packed in my hospital bag. Actually, it was the first thing I packed. Now books are her favorite thing. She is constantly wanting to read throughout the day.

Stages of Literacy Development

The stages of literacy development do not correlate with any age range. Children move through these stages based on past experiences and skills. Each stage builds upon each other, but a child may be in two stages at once.

Pre-Reading Stage of Literacy Development

The pre-reading stage is were your toddler and preschooler will be on this developmental track. During this stage, children rely on you to read, read, and read some more. Children understand more than we think they do and a lot of that understanding comes from reading books. The more books we read, the more vocabulary and experiences we expose them to.

Related: How to Incorporate Read Alouds in Your Home Preschool

During this stage, you may see your little one pretending to read by using the pictures to help them. Three year olds can start to retell a story by using pictures and symbols. They start to identify letters and understand that letters make words and words make meaning.

At the end of three years and into four years old, children begin to recognize letter sounds, syllables, phonemes, and rhymes. Phonemes are the smallest sounds that make up a word. Preschoolers can start to identify the beginning, middle, and ending sounds of simple, one-syllable words.

Pre-readers are also working on concepts of print. They should be able to identify:

-The way we hold a book.

-The direction we read (left to right).

-That print tells a story.

-Simple punctuation

-The difference between letters and words.

-One to one correspondence between written words and words read. That means they can point to each word as you read it, even though they don’t know what the word means. They know that each word you say is a word in the book.

Emergent Readers

This stage typically begins in Kindergarten when children are around 5 or 6 years old. They still need enriching and enjoyable stories read to them. Provide many different experiences with books at this stage because again they can understand more than they can read or say.

Related: Developing a Love of Reading

Emergent readers are working hard on decoding one syllable words and recognizing word patterns. They can make predictions and extend stories by using the pictures to help them. Emergent readers can make connections from their real life to the story being read.

These readers can read books with simple one-syllable words and a lot of high frequency words. They need direct instruction in letter-sound relationships and decoding.


Early Readers

Early Readers range from Kindergarten to second grade. These readers can use several strategies to predict a word and use the pictures to confirm their guesses.

At this stage, readers begin to read for meaning by using visual cues and language patterns. High repetitive books will help with comprehension and transitioning from reading the words to reading for meaning.

Early readers still need direction instruction in advance decoding strategies. They are in between learning HOW to read and reading to find meaning.

Transitional Readers

This is the stage where readers fully transition into reading for meaning. This stage typically ranges from end of first grade to beginning of third grade.

They know how to use different strategies to decode unknown words and figure out their meaning. Now that they know how to read, they are learning how to use different strategies to make meaning from the words.

Reading series will help with comprehension at this stage in their development. Having prior knowledge from other books in a series helps with focus on the true meaning of each book.

Transitional readers can read at a good pace and know how to slow down when reading something important. They mostly practice developing meaning in fictional stories, and need help with understanding increasingly difficult text and non-fiction text. Transitional readers still need direct instruction on comprehension strategies.

Fluent Readers

These readers are confident, independent readers. They know how to use reading as a learning tool and as enjoyment.

As they progress through this stage, fluent readers can maintain meaning through longer, more complicated text. They understand that text can influence people’s ideas.

Literacy Development Activities for Your Preschooler

1.Read- Reading should be an everyday activity. Listening to an adult read increases vocabulary, models good fluent reading, and models different purposes for reading. Letting your child see you read your own materials shows them that reading is needed to function in the world.

2.Songs/Poetry/Nursery Rhymes- These plays on language help develop vocabulary, and help understand language patterns such as syllables. Songs, poetry, and Nursery Rhymes help children understand alliteration, rhymes, and phonemic awareness which is being able to isolate individual sounds.

3.Rhyming Games- Playing games and identifying words that rhyme get kids thinking about different letter sounds and word structures.

4.Printed Words- Having a word rich environment helps kids understand that words have meaning, that words are composed of letters, and the left to right direction of reading and writing. Label things around your house that your little one uses often to help them associate the word with the item.

5.Imaginative Play- Giving children opportunities to practice writing and reading in their play helps them understand the real need for literacy in everyday life. I like to keep notepads and book baskets all around the house. Give children the opportunity to see you using literacy skills in everyday life, and they will try to mimic that in their play. Dramatic play encourages communication and language skills.

6.Extend Child’s Comments- To develop a deeper vocabulary, repeat what children ask or say to you with more complex words. A child may say something like “The ant is carrying a leaf.” You can introduce new vocabulary by saying “Yes that tiny ant is carrying a heavy load on his back with that green leaf.”

Chances for literacy development fall naturally in a child’s life. We are there to point it out and extend those learning opportunities.