What is Early Literacy?

Northeast Library

What is Early Literacy?

Tips for parents and caretakers of young children

True or False?  Early literacy begins at birth.


From the moment your baby is born, he is constantly taking in and learning new words, ideas, concepts and emotions.  The process of getting ready to read begins long before a child’s first day of kindergarten. Children’s brains are naturally wired to be curious and make connections to the world around them. 

Here are just a few ways your baby is showing early literacy development:
  • Making sounds
  • Imitating facial expressions
  • Babbling
  • Pointing to pictures
  • Turning pages in a book
  • Imitating hand movements (i.e., fingerplays)
  • Holding a crayon

Early Literacy Defined 

"Early literacy refers to what children know about communication, language (verbal and nonverbal), reading and writing before they can actually read and write. Early literacy encompasses all of a child’s experiences with conversation, stories (oral and written), books and print."

(Source: National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families, www.zerotothree.org)

Sing, Talk, and Read DC (STAR) is a citywide campaign that was initiated last year, which focuses on the importance of singing, talking and reading with your child to help develop early literacy skills.  

Singing helps children learn, memorize and enjoy new words and rhythms.  It also helps children break down and understand the smaller sounds and syllables in words. Picture books by Jane Cabrera such as Row, Row Your Boat add fun verses and colorful pictures to already well-known songs and tunes.

Talking with children through conversation or storytelling increases the amount of words they hear each day, and increases their vocabulary.  Try telling a story to your little one using a wordless picture book by David Wiesner, such as the 2014 Caldecott Honor Winner Mr. Wuffles.

Reading aloud is not only an important bonding experience to have with your child; it is the single most important way to help your child get ready to laern to read.  It also helps motivate a child to read for enjoyment.  It's never too early to read to your child. According to Dr. Sally E. Shaywitz, the author of Overcoming Dyslexia, a child can gain 1.8 million words per year by reading only 20 minutes a day. Choose to read a story with great new vocabulary words and wonderful rhythm and rhymes such as Grumpy Gloria by Anna Dewdney.

Interested in more early literacy tips?  Attend story time with your child and check back at dclibrary.org/northeast next month for another early literacy tip.

--Cassie F., Children's Librarian