What is early literacy?
Early literacy is what children know about reading and writing before they can actually read and write.
Early literacy skills are the roots of reading success — and it is never too early to plant the seed! Children prepare to read long before they enter school.
Why is early literacy important?
Children introduced to reading early on will read earlier and excel in school compared to children who are not exposed to language and books at a young age.
Reading, rhyming, singing, and talking (beginning from birth) profoundly influence literacy and language development — the foundations for all other learning.
Developing early literacy skills makes it easier for children to learn to read. Children who enter school with these skills have an advantage that carries with them throughout their school years. Reading is an essential skill for success in school and later in life.
How can I help my child?
The research is clear: children raised in homes that promote family literacy grow up to be better readers and do better in school than children raised in homes where literacy is not promoted.
Do you have to read 100 books a week to your 4-and 5-year olds? No way!
While family literacy activities are often based in reading, there are lots of other ways families can conduct literacy activities at home through picture books, songs, poetry and storytelling.
Books: let them become part of your family
- Make a special place to store your child's books. Making room on a bottom shelf of the family bookcase or placing books in a drawer within your child's reach are great ways to create a home library.
- Parents and family members should model how to read. Let your children see YOU reading.
- Read for 10 minutes per day. Allow your child to point to a picture, turn pages and be involved in the story. Young children love to use their imaginations to create stories to go along with pictures.
- One of the earliest literacy skills children develop is the concept of sequencing, or telling a story from start to finish in order. One way to practice this skill at home is to create your own picture books, or books without words. Use photos, pictures from magazines or your child's drawings. Family members can "read" the story with the child by asking them to take them through the story. As the child gets older, family members should have the child dictate the story to them so they can write it down and then move on to encouraging the child to write the words themselves.
Storytelling: talking about family history
Encourage all family members to engage in storytelling and share family history. Start by having an older member of the family tell a story about a major family event (wedding, birthday, graduation). Afterward, ask a younger member of the family to re-tell the story in their own words. This activity helps build vocabulary, understand sequencing and recall information.
Using your local library with the whole family
Visiting your local library together is a great way to foster family literacy. Libraries offer access to books on a wide range of literacy levels and subjects and have materials in several languages as well. Adults and children can improve their literacy skills by reading books in the family's first language and then reading the same book in English. By doing this, family members will build vocabulary, and enable adults to ask the child questions about the illustrations and predict what will happen next.
Families should also visit the library to connect with community literacy projects, storytimes, 1000 books Before School and reading and literacy events. It’s FREE!
What is Storytime?
Storytimes are fun and interactive sessions for children and their caregivers. They are offered by age group and last around 20 minutes. Each program is a little different, but most include age-appropriate songs, rhymes and stories. Some will also have a craft or play activity. Toys, puzzles are made available for the children and parents to participate with the purpose of encouraging social interaction.
Looking for more information? Details about the different types of storytimes and the timetable can be found at your local library or on the website. Storytime sessions at your local library are FREE and membership is also FREE.
- Integrates visual (pictures and words) with auditory (spoken words) to facilitate language learning
- Helps children develop a lifetime love of books and reading
- Provides early language and literacy skills
- Extends reading experience with music and finger rhymes
- Helps build memory with repetition
- Introduces children to being part of a group, turn taking and helps with school readiness
- Provides phonological awareness and listening skills
- Models reading aloud for parents
- Introduces children and parents to high quality books and library materials.
Children not only learn word meanings from listening to adults read to them, but through conversations with them. During these exchanges, children will often hear adults repeat words several times. They may also hear new and interesting words that stick out to them. The more oral language experiences children have, the more word meanings they learn.
What happens during Storytime?
Storytime at the library has a purposeful design. Every part is delivered with a specific reason in mind.
Your child has an opportunity to ask and answer questions about the story. This can lead to parent-child conversations later on about the content of the story and provide opportunities for teaching moments.
As the story is read aloud, your child is developing listening skills. It’s an opportunity for your child to practice focusing and tuning out distractions, which are important skills as your toddler prepares for school.
When children listen to a story, they have to remember the characters and events in the tale to follow along and make sense of the plot line.
When children hear stories, they create images that represent the characters and events in the story. An important cognitive shift that occurs in the preschool years is the development of symbolic representation—the ability to mentally represent concrete objects, actions, and events. That is what children are doing when they hear stories and picture the characters and events in their head.
Even a craft activity benefits your child in ways you may not realise. It helps to make connections to the story, fosters imagination, fine motor skills, socialisation and much more.
Try to make reading part of your daily routine. It helps your child develop important cognitive skills while also giving you a chance to spend time with your favourite person.
Literacy is much more than an educational priority – it is the ultimate investment in the future.
- UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova