Print awareness (also called “concepts of print”) is the understanding that the squiggly lines on a page represent spoken language and that print is organized in a particular way. It is knowing that words consist of letters and that spaces appear between words. Print awareness is a child’s earliest introduction to literacy.
Most children become aware of print long before they enter school. They see print all around them, on signs and billboards, in alphabet books and storybooks, and in labels, magazines, and newspapers. The ability to understand how print works does not emerge magically! Adults are “teaching” print awareness when they point out letters, words, and other features of print in a child’s environment.
Demonstrate print awareness naturally as you read with your child — she will quickly learn how to hold a book, turn the pages while reading, and recognize that print is read from left to right and top to bottom.
Try these print awareness activities at home
Introducing … the book!
Very young children need to learn what a book is for, the different parts of a book, how to hold it, the purpose of the print, and why we turn the pages.
Sit beside your child or hold him/her on your lap. Hold the book yourself or ask your child to hold the book so she can learn how to properly handle a book. While holding it closed, point out the front cover, and then turn the book over and point out the back cover. Turn back to the front cover and read the title, moving your finger under each word as you read it. You can also ask your child totalk about the picture on the cover and tell you what they think the story might be about.
Point to the name of the author on the front of the book and tell your child that this is the person who thought of the story and wrote the words in the book. Then show your child the name of the illustrator and say that this is the person who created the drawings for the book. Sometime the author is also the illustrator!
Left to right, then turn the page
Tell your child, “I am going to read this page first and then this page over here next.” Or “This is the top of the page. This is where I begin reading.” Ask your child, “Do we begin reading from the front or the back of the book?” When you turn the page of a book, you can ask your child to show you where to begin reading on a page.
The meaning of print
Point to words when reading with your child to show that print carries a message. For example, “Here are the penguin’s words. He says, thank you.”
What’s a word?
Show your child that books are made up of letters that combine to form words. If your child is ready, point out simple some written words, say them aloud and talk about the match between spoken words and written words. For example, “Let’s point to each word as I read it. Ready?”
Follow my finger
When reading aloud, follow the words with your finger from left to right as you read them along with pointing to the pictures and any interesting details. As your emergent reader starts to read, they will learn to do the same thing.
Introducing the alphabet
Point out individual letters in print and show how each letter has an uppercase and and lowercase form. Help your child learn the names of each letter. For example, “This M in the red block is an uppercase letter. See how this uppercase letter is bigger than these lowercase letters?” There are lots of easy to help your child learn the letters of the alphabet, including the following:
- Read alphabet books to your child.
- Make alphabet cookies and say the individual letter names as you start to eat each one!
- If your child eats alphabet-shaped cereal or soup, point out the letters he eats, particularly the letters in the child’s name.
- Make or buy alphabet letters and encourage your child to play with them.
This book is full of letters!
This is a fun kind of alphabet search. Choose any picture book you might have in your home and have your child find each letter in the print. Your child may start by identifying letters randomly; later, your child can find the letters in alphabetical order. Look for lowercase and uppercase letters, too.
License plate alphabet
As you take walks with your child, be on the lookout for letters of the alphabet on the cars in your neighborhood. You can start with trying to find the letters in your child’s name. Make it even more challenging by trying to find all of the letters from A to Z!
Be a letter and word explorer!
Environmental print is the print of everyday life. This includes familiar symbols, words, and numbers found on signs, billboards, coupons, and stores. They are a natural way for children to learn that print carries meaning. Understanding that the big K means Kmart is a first step toward learning to read.
Cereal boxes are colorful and interesting to look at. Ask your child to find the first letter of his name somewhere on the box. See if he can find other letters from his name too. Cut out familiar words from cereal boxes, labels from soup cans and from yogurt containers. Use these individual words (Cheerios, tomato, Dannon) to talk about capital and lower case letters. Talk about the sounds of letters (“The letter T says ‘tuh’ ”).
Becoming aware of print
Mira gets a head start on reading from her parents. Her mother does what reading researchers recommend: she finds opportunities to point out print and how it’s used. (From our Launching Young Readers program, The Roots of Reading .)
Everyday moments to teach your child the alphabet
This video is from Home Reading Helper, a resource for parents to elevate children’s reading at home provided by Read Charlotte . Find more video, parent activities, printables, and other resources at Home Reading Helper .
More print awareness resources
- Roots of Reading (VIDEO: PBS Launching Young Readers series)
- Let Your Child Teach You: How Showing You the Parts of a Book Makes Kids Stronger Readers (VIDEO: Read Charlotte, Home Reading Helper)
- Simple Yet Powerful Things to Do While Reading Aloud (In English and Spanish)
- Print Awareness During Read Alouds
- Emergent Readers: Look! That’s My Letter! (In English and Spanish)
- Grocery Store Literacy for Preschoolers (In English and Spanish)
- Environmental Print (In English and Spanish)