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Suggestions for Promoting Literacy Development: Toddlers and Preschoolers

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 to preschoolers.

  • Provide a rich literacy environment by purchasing books for children; taking the children to the library; subscribing to newspapers and magazines; and providing such materials as checks, menus, or greeting cards for play at reading and writing (Barclay, Benelli, & Curtis, 1995; NAEYC, 1997).
  • Add simple stories with a basic plot and one central character to nursery rhymes and favorite books as toddlers' language abilities allow for greater listening capacity and understanding (McMahon, 1996).
  • Provide a warm, accepting atmosphere for reading and writing by responding to children's requests for reading and rereading favorite stories. Also, respond to questions and comments about print inside and outside the home such as packages at the grocery store, road signs, and menus at restaurants (Barclay, Benelli, & Curtis, 1995; NAEYC, 1997).
  • Capitalize on your child's developing interests and take short trips which relate to those interests as well as reading and rereading stories about similar events or places (NAEYC, 1997).
  • Create an environment that is supportive of early writing by making sure paper, crayons, pens, pencils, and markers are available. Let toddlers help you write shopping lists (Barclay, Benelli, & Curtis, 1995; NAEYC, 1997).
  • Allow preschool-age children to carry out the steps written in recipes (NAEYC, 1997).


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 Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Auckland, New Zealand.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.


Parents cannot start early enough introducing their toddler to reading material.

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