[This is an archived article]

Suggestions for Promoting Literacy Development: Infants

Historically, we used the term "reading readiness" to describe the early years as preparation for reading. Now, we use the term "emergent literacy" to characterize these early activities as part of a continuum of reading development, rather than as preparation for it. Find out how to support children's emergent literacy in this discussion of perspectives on development.

As the research on literacy development continues to emerge, it is important to translate the findings into practical suggestions for supporting early literacy development. The following is a list of suggestions which can promote early literacy development for newborns.

  • Introduce cardboard or cloth books with brightly colored pictures. Try to select books that reflect the child's own experiences such as books about daily life, family members, animals, or food (National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), 1997).
  • Read books that have rhyme, rhythm, or repetition such as nursery rhymes since the sound of the language is especially important to infants who cannot yet focus on pictures very well (McMahon, 1996).
  • Help increase vocabulary by playing "What's that?" or "Where's the ball?" when reading books together (NAEYC, 1997).
  • Point out words on signs at the park, at the zoo, when walking or driving. Explain what the words mean as you name them (NAEYC, 1997).
  • If the infant becomes restless or fussy while reading, put the book away so that the child does not develop a negative association to reading (McMahon, 1996).

It is never too early to begin reading to a child (McMahon, 1996). By reading to infants, parents can help their children develop an understanding about print at an early age as infants learn to make connections between words and meaning (NAEYC, 1997). By engaging children at an early age in reading and allowing children to observe those around them engaged in reading activities, parents can help foster a lifelong passion for reading that leads to benefits in all areas of development as the children grow older.


Click the "References" link above to hide these references.

Barclay, Kathy; Benelli, Cecelia; & Curtis, Ann. (1995). Literacy begins at birth: What caregivers can learn from parents of children who read early. Young Children, 50 (4), 24-28.

Clay, Marie. (1966). Emergent reading behaviour. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Clay, Marie. (1975). What did I write? Auckland, New Zealand: Heinemann Educational.

Council for Exceptional Children. (1996). Reading: The first chapter in education. [Online]. Available: http://www.cec.sped.org/ericec/frstchap.htm [1998, March 3].

Idaho Center on Developmental Disabilities. (1996). What is emergent literacy? [Online]. Available: http://www.ets.uidaho.edu/cdhd/emerlit/intro.htm [2000 April 6].

McMahon, Rebecca. (1996). Introducing infants to the joy of reading. Dimensions of Early Childhood, 24(3), 26-29.

Morrow, Lesley Mandel. (1997). Literacy development in the early years: Helping children read and write. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (1997). Helping children learn about reading. [Online]. Available: http://npin.org/library/texts/home/learnabo.html [1997, September 25].

Teale, William, & Sulzby, Elizabeth. (1986). Emergent literacy: Writing and reading. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.



Click the "Endnotes" link above to hide these endnotes.

Ramsburg, D. (April, 1998). Understanding Literacy Development in Young Children. NPIN Parent News. National Parent Information Network.

Add comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
"Today a reader, tomorrow a leader." — Margaret Fuller