Stages of early literacy development

Early or “emergent” literacy refers to the set of skills children will use to learn to read, write and communicate. Your child is growing and developing in many ways: physically, mentally and socially. Even from birth, your child is developing early literacy skills.

Here is a guide of skills for each age level and suggestions on how you can promote your child’s early literacy development.

Remember: all children are unique and develop skills at different times.

Young couple reading book with baby boyBy 3 months

•Shows interest in contrast between light and dark

•Makes eye contact with pictures in book

•Looks intensely at pictures for several minutes

What can you do to help?

•Introduce your baby to books right from birth

•Sing lullabies and recite your favourite nursery rhymes

•Offer books that feature faces or contrasting colours

By 6 – 12 months

•Enjoys music, songs and rhymes

•Reaches for and explores books with hands and mouth

•Sits on lap and holds head up steadily

•Shows preference for photographs of faces

•Uses both hands to manipulate the book to make the pages open and close

What can you do to help?

•Hold your infant comfortably, with face-to-face gaze

•Follow your infant’s cues for “more” and “stop”

•Point to and describe pictures

•Offer cloth or rubber books: let baby touch, feel and chew

•Play social games with your baby, like “peek-a-boo”

By 18- 24 months

•Asks for favourite books to be read over and over again

•Pretends to read to dolls or stuffed animals

•Names familiar pictures

•Fills in the words in familiar stories

•Holds books the right way and turns pages easily, relates events in books to his/her own past experiences

•Notices print rather than just the pictures

What can you do to help?

•Relate the books you read to your toddler’s experiences

•Use books in routines and bedtimes

•Ask “what’s that?” and give your toddler time to answer

•Pause and let your toddler complete the sentence in books with repeating of familiar lines

By 24 -36 months

•Goes back and forth in books to find her/his favourite part or pictures

•Recites whole phrases and sometimes the whole book

•Is able to find the word that matches the pictures

•Protests when you get a word wrong or skip a page

•Recognizes familiar logos and signs (e.g. stop sign)

•Starting to recognize some words that rhyme

What can you do to help?

•Keep using books in routines

•Read to your toddler at bedtime

•Be willing to read the same story over and over again

•Ask “What’s that?” and “Where else have you seen that?”

•Relate book to your toddler’s experiences

•Do other activities that relate to the book

By 3 years 

•Pretends to read familiar books aloud

•Knows how to use a book (holds/turns pages one at a time, starts at the beginning, points and talks about pictures)

•Looks carefully and makes comments about the book and story

•Fills in missing words/phrases in familiar books that are read aloud

•Talks about events that relate to a story

•Understands that print carries a message and is aware of the function of text in menus, signs

What can you do to help?

•When reading the story, ask “What’s happening?” or “How do you feel?”

•Create a reading corner for your child

•Always have books that your child can get to

•Sing songs and play rhyming games

Your child is learning and developing their early literacy skills every day, so why not be involved and share these special moments together?

Remember: all children are unique and develop skills at different times. What is important is that a child reaches a marker or stage, rather than their age when they do it.

You know your child best, but if you have any concerns, make sure to speak to a professional.