By Susan Larson, Director, Milton Public Library

Early literacy is what children know about reading and writing before they can actually read and write.  It’s a key element in helping children enter school ready to learn, according to the organization Zero to Three.

At Milton Public Library, we structure our year-round preschool programming to present and model early literacy skills.  Our summer reading program includes Rubber Ducky Readers, in which we give caregivers a sheet of early literacy activities each month that they can complete with their charges.  This summer when the sheet is turned in at the end of each month, the child will receive a free book, courtesy of the Milton’s Promise Community grant.

Caregivers can have a big impact on preparing children for learning to read and loving books.  The six primary early literacy skills are listed below, with examples of how to easily incorparte them into daily living.  We’ve included a few suggested book titles, too.

Letter Knowledge is the ability to recognize the letters of the alphabet in both upper and lower case, and to know the names and sounds of each.

1 – Research shows that recognizing shapes is a precursor to identifying letters.  Point out the shapes of objects as you encounter them.  For example, the round ball, and the square block.

2 – Name letters and their sounds.  For example, at bath time you can say, “Bath starts with B; bath, bubbles, body, baby.

3 – Read an alphabet book with a story.

Max’s ABC by Rosemary Wells
SuperHero ABC by Bob McLeod
Alphabet Under Construction by Denise Fleming

Narrative Skill is the ability to describe things, and to tell stories.

1 – Start with babies by naming things throughout the day, and with toddlers by asking them questions about a story you’re reading.

2 – Use puppets and toys to act out a story.

3 – Invite your child to tell a story using the illustrations in a picture book.

A Good Day by Kevin Henkes
The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
Draw! by Raúl Colón.

Phonological Awareness is the ability to hear and play with the smaller sounds of words.

1 – Recite nursery rhymes like Mary Had a Little Lamb, and play with tongue twisters like “Granny grows grapes in her garden,” and “She sells sea shells by the sea shore.”

2 – Sing songs and use instruments like bells and shaky eggs.  Most songs break up words into one syllable per note.

3 – Read a book with rhyming text, and emphasize the rhyming words.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen Christelow

Print Awareness is the ability to understand how books work and that the text on the page has meaning.

1 – Let even the littlest kids play with books.  Board books are great for babies, because they can turn the pages and look at the illustrations without fear of damaging the pages.

2 – Choose a book with a repeated phase and have your child say it along with you.

3 – Notice words and letters as you go through your day — on menus, license plates, signs, and more.

Go Away, Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems
Peekaboo Morning by Rachel Isadora

Print Motivation is an interest in and the enjoyment of books and reading.

1 – Keep reading time fun.  If your child loses interest, stop for now.

2 – Use books as a starting point.  For example, read Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star by Jane Cabrera, then sing the song.

3 – Let your child choose the same book repeatedly.  You may be bored, but they’re engaged!

Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! By Candace Fleming
The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates
Big Fat Hen by Keith Baker

Vocabulary is learning new words.

1 – Read aloud to your child every day, and be prepared to explain the meaning of new words.

2 – Use vivid and varied words in conversations with your child.

3 – Share wordbooks with your child – books that have a picture and a word identifying it.  One of my favorites is Richard Scary’s Best Little Word Book Ever.

Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert
Honk Honk! Beep Beep! by Daniel Kirk
Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward

All the early literacy skills can be summed up in this: Read with your child.  “Reading together is more significant than targeting any specific content or skills,” said Sharon Rosenkoetter and Lauren R. Barton in “Bridges to Literacy: Early Routines That Promote Later School Success.”

Would you like more suggestions for early literacy activities and books?  Ask us.  We’d be happy to help!

The Book Bits column was originally published in the Milton Independent on May 10, 2018.  It is reprinted here with permission.

Read previous columns at Book Bits.