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Reading & Language

Seven Tips for Early Literacy Learning: From Knowing Your ABCs to Learning to Read

learning to readHooray! Your child can sing the alphabet like a pro! Now what? Once your child has mastered letter recognition, what can you do to help her get on the path to literacy? Here are seven important tips to consider after your child has learned the letters of the alphabet, but before she’s reading fluently.

  1. Focus on the letters of her name. Names are the most important words for children, so it makes sense to begin literacy learning with the child’s name. Acknowledge the “child’s letter”—the first letter of his or her name—by pointing it out whenever and wherever you see it. Then do some letter scrambles using blocks, magnetic letters or letters on index cards. Mix up the letters of the child’s name and work together to put them back in the proper order. Repeat this often with your child’s name, and then introduce “Mom,” “Dad,” and the names of siblings, friends, family and pets.
  2. Recognize each letter and know their sounds. It’s one thing for the child to know the letters in order, but it’s a bit harder for her to recognize each letter individually. When you see “her letter” on a sign, cereal box, or book, remember to point it out. Say, “Hey! Look here! I found your letter, Maddy! Here’s an M for Maddy. Mmmm, mmmm, Maddy!”

    Talk about the sounds that letters make and return frequently to easily relatable objects or things that interest the child. For example, say: “There’s a letter B for ‘blankie.’ I know you love blankie and sleep with it every night. Blankie begins with the letter B, like ‘ball’ and ‘butter’ and ‘baby bear.’ What else can you think of that begins with the B sound?”

  3. Introduce uppercase and lowercase letters. Your child will not likely be reading books that have all uppercase letters, so it’s imperative that you talk about uppercase and lowercase letters early on. Play games that involve matching uppercase and lowercase letters and spell her name using both cases.
  4. Practice early writing techniques. If children practice creating several simple letters, they will most likely be able to write the majority of the alphabet. Begin with X and O and then move on to a square and a triangle. Encouraging kids to “write” on sand, paint with water, or use their finger in shaving cream will make creating these shapes fun, and before you know it, they’ll be ready to move on to the letters of their names.
  5. Connect objects with words. Because reading involves creating meaning by combining words, pictures and prior knowledge, early readers lean on illustrations when reading—and that’s okay. Label everyday objects and point to the word as you say it. Play games where children connect simple words with pictures, like “cat” with a photo of a cat and “dog” with photo of a dog, etc. Model how to do it by pointing out the first letter of the word and saying the sound that the word makes, followed by the word, and then pointing to the picture.
  6. Practice print referencing. Print referencing is a simple yet meaningful way to enforce early literacy skills. It involves pointing out print elements in texts: pointing to the title of the book as you read it, running your finger under the words as you read the text on a page, or talking about anything related to the text. This helps children learn the basics: every book has a title and an author (and sometimes an illustrator), and we read from left to right, followed by a sweep down to the next line. Later, consider touching on basic grammar conventions and punctuation marks, differences between fiction and nonfiction texts, and different genres (news, magazines, poetry, short stories, etc.).
  7. Read, read, read! Read with your child every day, many times a day. Read books, signs, posters—anything with words. Read in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night. Read at the park, in the living room, at the pool. Read print everywhere you can find it!

Most importantly, make an effort to celebrate your child’s successes, because learning to read is something to smile about!

  • guest

    Great article!  (from a former reading specialist, and now full-time Mama)

  • Little Stars Learning

    Phonological games of rhyming, singing, alliteration, etc. Not just reading, but the most instructive way to read to preschoolers – Dialogic Reading , making reading fun such as at and letting the child lead in the choice of letters, words and stories so that they are actively engaged in the process. The letters that cross, such as X, are often very difficult for young children, especially those that have difficulty crossing the mid-line. I begin with asking my students to draw circles, lines and dots,suggesting that they get progressively smaller in size and closer together each day of journaling, until the children begin to notice letters within their “writings.” Once they notice a letter, then they usually will want to repeat it, especially if it is in their name. We also add a word a day to our “word wall,” that is  suggested by the children as a word that they want to know how to spell. 

  • Colleen

    These are great tips. I absolutely agree with making sure you introduce lowercase letters as well — it simplifies things when they start really trying to read. Another good idea for helping them learn letter sounds is to let them make nonsense words (with letter blocks, magnets, etc.) and tell them what they spelled. They get a kick out of hearing you try to pronounce their made-up words, and it also helps them understand that each letter makes a specific sound, and that when you put those sounds together, you make words.

  • Kylenebrooks

    Great tips – I am a kindergarten teacher and just couldn’t agree more!!

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  • Natalia

    and having a sibling read with them, too, is a great idea. My oldest reads on level but because of her influence, my middle, who is only 3, is “reading” from memory. She recognizes letters, knows some sounds, and LOVES reading books and making up stories to pictures. She is regularly found “reading” to her little brother, who is 21 months, throughout the day.

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  • melba

    thanks, it will be a great help

  • Thea

    In addition to the tips in the article and the comments, we taught our son to say the alphabet letters with the sounds the letters make. The next step was to have him point to each letter in a particular word and tell us what it sounds like. The 3rd step was for him to ‘sing’ the word. Basically that means joining all the letter sounds in one go. First slowly, then faster and faster until they’re almost saying the word. ‘Buh – Auh – L = BALL’

  • CharredFrogLegs

    My daughter is 3 (41 months to be exact) and can already do 1-5, and I do 6 every time I read to her. We’ve already started on sounding out 3-letter words (which she’s really good at)… I’m afraid by the time she’s ready for kindergarten (in 19 months) she’ll be bored but I don’t want to stop her progress either…

  • Dan

    These are some great steps. I recommend taking a look at they have some really great ideas as well.

  • Meeghan

    Thank you for posting these great tips. Absolutely agree with teaching both the upper and lower case letters. Too often children start kindergarten writing in all capital letters -yet much of what they read are lower case. After completing these steps, visit for a free reading readiness test.

  • Nick

    My wife and I have been reading to our son since the day we brought him home from the hospital. He is now almost 3.5 years old. We really started about a year ago to really hit the books and try to get him to see and notice and maybe even read some words. He was having difficulties but we just figured that we were pushing the matter at too young of an age. One day a daycare, I noticed that other kids his age were a lot more progressed than he was. So I got online and found this program, and it worked GREAT! Not only was it fun for him, but it was easy and grew with him due too different stages of the program. If your just starting or having troubles, give this program a try. If the link is not lit up, simply copy and paste it too your address bar. GOOD LUCK!

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