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Print Awareness: In Depth

Print Awareness: In Depth

Print awareness is a key pre-reading skill. Children with print awareness can begin to understand that written language is related to oral language. They see that, like spoken language, printed language carries messages and is a source of both enjoyment and information.

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 story books, and in labels, magazines, and newspapers. Seeing print and observing adults’ reactions to print helps children recognize its various forms.

The ability to understand how print works does not emerge magically and unaided. This understanding comes about through the active intervention of adults and other children who point out letters, words, and other features of the print that surrounds children.

Print awareness as a predictor of future reading achievement

Some children lack strong print awareness skills when they enter kindergarten. When a child tests poorly on print awareness tasks, it can be a red flag for future reading difficulties. Effective early literacy instruction becomes even more critical to help that child catch up.

When children are read to regularly, when they play with letters and engage in word games, and later, when they receive formal reading instruction, they begin to understand how the system of print functions; that is, print on a page is read from left to right and from top to bottom; that sentences start with capital letters and end with periods, and much, much more.

As they participate in interactive reading with adults, children also learn about the features of books — authors’ and illustrators’ names, book titles, tables of content, and page numbers, and so forth. They also learn about book handling — how to turn pages, how to find the top and bottom of a page, how to identify the front and back cover of a book, and so forth.

As part of this learning, they begin to develop the very important concept of a “word” — that meaning is conveyed through words; that printed words are separated by spaces; and that some words in print look longer (because they have more letters) than other words.

Books with predictable and patterned text can play a significant role in helping children develop and expand print awareness. These books are composed of repetitive or predictable text, for example:

Two cats play on the grass. 
Two cats play together in the sunlight. 
Two cats play with a ball. 
Two cats play with a toy train. 
Two cats too tired to play.

Most often, the illustrations in these books are tied closely to the text, in that the illustrations represent the content words that change from page to page.

As they hear and participate in reading the simple stories found in predictable and patterned books, children become familiar with how print looks on a page. They develop book awareness and book-handling skills, and begin to become aware of print features such as capital letters, punctuation marks, word boundaries, and differences in word lengths.

Awareness of print concepts provides the backdrop against which reading and writing are best learned.