ABC’s of Early Literacy: The importance of developing early literacy skills

Emergent literacy, or reading readiness, skills begin to develop very early in life. These critical school-readiness skills go beyond knowing the ABC’s. Learn more about how to support your children’s reading readiness and school success!

There are many activities parents and child care providers can do to support children's emergent literacy skills. Photo credit: Pixabay.
There are many activities parents and child care providers can do to support children's emergent literacy skills. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Did you know that preschoolers whose parents read to them, tell them stories and sing songs with them tend to develop larger vocabularies, become better readers and preform better in school? Did you know that reading proficiently by the end of the third grade is considered a “make it or break it” benchmark? Or that 83 percent of children who are not reading on grade level by the beginning of fourth grade are at risk of failing to graduate from high school on time? In order to be sure that your child is reading on grade level, it’s important to support their emergent literacy development. Emergent literacy skills are critical “getting ready to read” skills that children need to develop before the can learn to read.

These early literacy skills begin early on as young children learn to use verbal and nonverbal communication patterns, including speech and sign language, to express themselves.  Parents and other primary caregivers often understand these early attempts at communication best. Along with language development, children are building their vocabulary. They learn new vocabulary in many ways, including through reading books and talking with adults in their environment. Studies have shown that the larger a child’s vocabulary, the quicker they will learn to read, as they are familiar with more of the words they will encounter.

Experimental writing is another critical early literacy skill. Children’s first efforts at writing typically resemble scribbling, but children usually know what they have “written” if you ask them! Often, the first legible marks are letters in the child’s name. When children do not have access to writing materials, they may enter Kindergarten not even knowing how to hold pencils or crayons!

As children begin to understand that print on the page stands for something, they are developing what is known as print awareness. When children begin to develop this skill, they may hold a book correctly, even though it is upside down and backwards, for instance. As these skills progress, they will know where a story begins and ends, and learn that text is read from left to right.

Two additional emergent literacy skills that are important for children to learn to read are the concepts of letter knowledge and alphabetical principle. Letter knowledge is knowing the letters of the alphabet and recognizing them in print. Alphabetical principle is the concept of associating letters with sounds and sounds with words, knowing for instance that “B” makes the “buh" sound. These skills are critical for children to be able to learn to decipher the text on the page. Children will often begin to notice letters that are familiar to them first, such as the letters in their name, or other letters they frequently see around them such as the S on stop signs.

There are many activities parents and child care providers can do to support children’s emergent literacy skills. Talking with children, reading to them, signing, playing games, saying nursery rhymes, playing word games, having access to writing materials and books, and taking them to the library will support their literacy. Michigan State University Extension recommends engaging in 30 minutes a day of literacy activities with your child.

Learn more about how you can support your children’s continued academic success, find articles on a wide variety of topics and learn about informational programs offered both online and in a community near you at MSU Extension.

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