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Children begin to develop literacy skills long before they go to school; in fact, early literacy begins at birth. 

Early literacy is everything that children learn about books, stories, reading, and writing before they learn to read and write independently in school.  Singing, talking, and reading are three of the most important activities you can do with your child in their earliest years to build the skills that will set them up for success in kindergarten and beyond.

Singing with your child slows language down so they can hear all the small sounds in words, helps them learn new words, and provides comfort. To incorporate singing into your day, try associating songs with different parts of your routine, like diaper changing, clean up, and bedtime. To learn new songs, attend a story time at your local library, ask a librarian for recommendations of picture books based on songs, or find some new favorites to stream on Freegal!

Talking with your child, even before they can respond, allows your child to hear fluent language and rich vocabulary, and exposes them to the structure of give-and-take conversations. With babies, try narrating your actions throughout the day and responding to baby’s  babbles. As children get older, ask questions about what they see, hear, smell, taste, and feel, and give them lots of time to respond. Try playing some games with your child on ABC Mouse, talking with them as you problem-solve and have fun!

Reading aloud with your child helps them understand how books work, learn about the world around them, and develop a positive,  joyful association with stories and learning. As you search for your next read, check out check out the displays in your neighborhood library's children's area, or consult with a staff member there. If you live in DC, make sure you’re enrolled in the Books from Birth program so that your child can receive a free book by mail each month from birth until age five. If your child is between ages 5 and 8, enroll them in our Beyond the Book program for developing readers.

Writing and playing are also important activities that help your child build their pre-reading skills. Writing can include simple scribbling, drawing shapes, and practicing letters to build  fine motor skills. Play offers benefits such as encouraging problem solving and making learning fun!

Tips for Selecting Books to Share

Expecting a baby

Did you know that in the second and third trimesters, your unborn baby can hear your voice? Singing, talking, and reading with your child is beneficial even before birth. Sing songs you like, talk about your day, and read anything at all aloud – whether simple baby books, news articles, or a current bestseller.  At this stage, you may be particularly  interested in reading about pregnancy and childbirth, parenting, and early childhood development, and the library has you covered there, too! Scroll down for some book recommendations for this stage of development.

Birth to 1 year

Babies are taking everything around them in through their developing senses and learning their first lessons about language. When choosing books to share with your baby, consider:

  • Black-and-white or high-contrast illustrations. Your young infant’s eyesight is still developing.
  • Books with animal and vehicle sounds. As your baby starts to make sounds, these are great noises for them to try to mimic.
  • Books that feature human faces, especially photographs of other babies’ faces!
  • Text consisting of short, simple rhymes.
  • Board books that incorporate different textures. Babies learn through sensory experiences.
  • Books that aren’t plot-heavy. Even just an object and its name on each page can keep babies transfixed, as they are just beginning to identify objects themselves.

Scroll down for some book recommendations for this stage of development.

Ages 1 to 3

Wiggly toddlers are busy adding words to their vocabulary, developing fine motor skills, and growing their sense of independence. When choosing books to share with them, consider:

  • Singing the words as you read books that feature song lyrics or simply lend themselves to a melody. Songs are fun, introduce new words, and encourage repetition.
  • Books that encourage the reader to move, whether through hand motions, dancing, jumping, or acting like other creatures.
  • Introducing simple plots with a beginning, middle, and end, especially relatable stories about other young children.
  • Lift-the-flap books that allow toddlers to actively participate in the story

Scroll down for some book recommendations for this stage of development.

Ages 3 to 5

Preschoolers are developing their independence even further, as well as their self-esteem, sense of humor, and knowledge of the world around them. When choosing books to share with your preschooler, consider:

  • Encouraging your child to choose some books independently when you visit the library
  • Simple nonfiction titles about topics your child finds interesting to help them build their background knowledge.
  • Seeking out  books with relatable characters for your child so they can see themselves reflected in the story
  • Books that feature concepts like letters, numbers, shapes, opposites, and colors, as well as social and emotional concepts like feelings and kindness.
  • Humorous stories, stories about imagination and play,  and stories that feature elements of surprise
  • Books that encourage participation through repeated phrases your child can learn or text that has built-in questions or opportunities to make guesses.

Scroll down for some book recommendations for this stage of development.

Ages 5 to 8

At this stage your child is in school and is learning about new words, interests, and topics all the time. Children this age crave affection and friendship, are becoming independent readers and writers, and tend to have an interest in fairness and how the world works. When helping children this age choose books, consider:

  • Continuing to read aloud with your child even as they read on their own. This shared time with books and with you is still special and important!
  • Books about everyday friendships and family relationships.
  • Books that allow children to have fun with language,  featuring poetry, jokes, riddles, or wordplay.
  • Easy readers that match their interests.  Allow children to choose books that they are excited about.
  • Beginning chapter books with more words than pictures, as your child moves beyond easy readers. 
  • Graphic novels that encourage visual literacy as well as reading motivation.
  • Nonfiction books with craft project ideas, recipes, or science experiments  to encourage their growing interests and abilities
  • Books that feature concepts of  good and evil, right and wrong: fairy tales, myths, and even nonfiction about real world events.

Scroll down for some book recommendations for this stage of development, and check out our Beyond the Book program for even more reading suggestions.

Expecting a Baby

Check out our literacy initiatives for kids from birth to third grade

Beyond the Book

Beyond the Book engages developing readers ages 5 to 8 and their families in the joy of reading through quality literature, imaginative installations, and fun activities and events.

From WE ARE WATER PROTECTORS by Carole Lindstrom; illustrated by Michaela Goade. Text copyright © 2020 by Carole Lindstrom. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Michaela Goade. Reprinted by permission of Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership. All Rights Reserved.