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What is Early Literacy?

Early literacy is everything children know about reading and writing before they can actually read and write. This starts long before they enter school – whether it's a toddler who wants his favorite book read over and over, or a preschooler who "reads" the story to you from memory.

Early literacy skills begin to develop in the first five years of life. Your child's early experiences with books and language lay the foundation for success in learning to read. Don't worry about teaching your young child to read-- that can wait for school. The most important thing you can do to get your child ready to read is to have fun with words and reading.

The library has lots of resources to help you. Reading and talking with your child helps your child become a better reader later. Children who play with words and language are better prepared to learn to read. Make sure your child sees you reading, too!


What has your child learned today? You can help your child succeed: Read together. Talk together. PLAY!
  • Five Ways To Help Your Child Get Ready To Read

    From the time they are infants, children learn language and other important skills that will help them learn to read. Whether your child is four days old or four years old, it is not too early or too late to help him or her develop important literacy and pre-reading skills. Doing this now will make it easier for your child to learn to read when he or she starts school.

    The five best ways to help your child get ready to read are:


    ... and they are easy to make part of your everyday routine. You don't need to push your child, just have fun with these activities so your child wants to do them again and again!


    Talk with your child, so he or she hears a variety of words. "The giant wasn't just big.  He was enormous!"


    • Songs often include words that are new to a child.
    • Songs help children develop listening skills and pay attention to the rhythms and rhymes of spoken language.
    • Most songs have a different note for each syllable. This helps children break down words so they hear individual sounds in a word. This is an important pre-reading skill.
    • Singing also slows down language so children can hear different parts of words and notice how they are alike and different.
    • Clapping along to rhythms helps children hear the syllables in words, and it helps them practice motor skills.
    • Singing helps children remember things for a longer time.


    What do you think is the single most important activity that you can do to help your child get ready to read?  Phonics drills?  Memorizing letters?  No matter what your child’s age, reading together with your child—or shared reading—is actually the most important thing you can do. 

    Shared reading is valuable because your child has your full attention, and you are enjoying the experience together.

    Shared reading develops a love of reading and an appreciation of books. Children who enjoy being read to are more likely to want to learn to read themselves.

    Did you know that a child’s interest in reading is a good way to predict how well they will do later in reading?


    Try to write your name with your non-dominant hand. How does it feel? Imagine you were a child, trying to write for the first time.  Children need time and lots of  practice to develop the physical ability to write.

    Reading and writing go together. Children notice that printed letters stand for spoken words as they see print all around them. Make sure your child sees you reading the newspaper. Point out letters on stop signs when driving, and cereal boxes while shopping. Spell out what you are writing when you make a list or make notes on your calendar.

    Children start to write by scribbling- they have associated marks on paper with words in a book, and want to "write".  One of the first words children write is their name. As children learn letter names and improve their motor skills, they begin to form the letters of their names. As children scribble and draw, they practice eye-hand coordination and exercise the muscles in their fingers and hands. This helps develop the fine motor control they need to write letters and words.


    Play is one of the best ways for children to learn language.  

    Play helps children think symbolically: a box becomes a house, a blanket becomes a magic cape, a mud puddle becomes an ocean to sail across.

    Through play, children realize that one thing can stand for another. This also helps children understand that written words stand for real objects and experiences.

  • Resources for Parents

    Click to:

    Learn more about Early Literacy from the Center for Early Literacy Learning.

    Find more information at Multnomah County Library.

    Learn more about choosing books for babies and toddlers at Zero to Three.

    Explore Early Literacy at Hennepin County Library.


  • Fingerplays

    Fingerplays, such as "Eensy Weensy Spider," use hand movements with rhymes. This involves children more directly; fingerplays and songs can be used to:

    - improve a child's motor skills and coordination
    - help children to observe and follow along
    - teach concepts (body parts, counting, up/down)
    - make sounds (phonological awareness)
    - have fun!

    Rhymes and songs are important. Babies enjoy rhythm. When they were in the womb, they felt the rhythm of the heart. Rhythm also helps children hear the individual sounds of the words.

    Bounce/lift rhyme: Ride a cock horse

    Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross     (Bounce baby on knee facing you)
    To see a fine lady upon a white horse.
    With rings on her fingers     (Wiggle baby's fingers)

    and bells on her toes,    (Wiggle baby's toes)
    She shall have music wherever she goes.     (Bounce baby on knees again)

    Tickle/touch rhyme: Two Little Eyes

    Two little eyes to look around,     (Point to baby's eyes)
    Two little ears to hear each sound,     (Wiggle baby's ears)
    One little nose that smells what's sweet,     (Wiggle baby's nose)
    One little mouth that likes to eat!     (Wiggle or tap baby's mouth)

    Finger/hand rhyme Ten Little Fingers

    Ten little fingers dance and play,     (Wiggle baby’s fingers)
    Ten little fingers wiggle all day.
    Ten little toes dance and play     (Wiggle baby's toes)
    Ten little toes wiggle all day.

    Tickle/touch rhyme : Eye Winker, Tom Tinker

    Eye Winker     (Touch one eyelid gently)
    Tom TInker.     (Gently touch other eyelid)
    Nose Dropper     (Touch nose)
    Mouth Eater     (Touch mouth)
    Chin Chopper     (Touch chin)
    Gully Gully Gully Gully Gully!     (Tickle chin or tummy)

    Bounce/lift rhyme- Trot, Trot to Boston
    Bounce baby on your knees. On last line, open your legs and let baby fall in.

    Trot, trot to Boston;
    Trot, trot to Lynn,
    Watch out baby,
    Or you'll fall in!

    Finger/hand rhyme: Hot cross buns!
    Hot cross buns! Hot cross buns!     (Hold baby's hands and clap together)
    One a penny, two a penny,     (Swing hands left, then right)
    Hot cross buns!     (Clap hands together again)

    If you have no daughters,     (Pull hands back to chest)
    Give them to your sons!     (Pull hands out again)
    One a penny, two a penny,     (Swing hands left, then right)
    Hot cross buns!     (Clap hands together again)

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