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Literacy- Why it is Important to Start Early!

Article Written by: Victoria Mannella-Gupta

Children begin learning literacy before they can even read! That’s why it’s extremely important to begin working on literacy early. These skills do not magically develop. If a child is not taught literacy skills, they will not innately learn them on their own. The early years are critical to developing reading skills, so read with your children every night, and start teaching literacy now!

Literacy is not only reading, it encompasses so many other things! Did you know literacy levels and income are strongly linked?* Children who are read to once a day will hear 290 000 more words by age 5 than those who aren’t read to?** That reading for fun can lead to many emotional benefits and social well-being?***

Children begin acquiring “print awareness”, which means they understand that print has different purposes, such as recognizing a Tim Hortons or McDonalds sign or understanding that books tell a story. Your child may begin to recognize their own name or recognize letters within their name. Print awareness also involves holding a book upright, knowing that print in English reads left to right and top to bottom, or knowing we flip the pages from right to left.

Where do I start?

1. Point out print in your environment (signs, labels, titles of books, letters and numbers in play and crafts)

2. Read books together every night

  • Talk about the front of the book vs. the back of the book

  • Talk about the title, author, and illustrator

  • Show your child how to hold the book upright

  • Show your child which way to turn the pages

  • Show your child that the pictures and words are linked

  • Point to the first word of a sentence and the last word

  • Point to the capital letter at the beginning of the sentence and the period at the end

  • Let your child know how much you enjoy reading

  • Children tend to want the same books read over and over. Don’t worry, your child is gaining a lot of information each time you read it! Add a new book to the rotation as well.

3. Show your child how to spell their name

  • Ask your child to find letters in their name elsewhere in a book

4. Teach your child the alphabet

  • Teach your child their letter names

    • It’s important that your child knows the letter names of upper case and lower case letters, however lower case letters are very important since the majority of written text contains lower case letters!

    • I personally prefer letter cards that have one letter on it (i.e. “a” instead of “Aa”)

    • If you want to teach your child upper case vs lower case, play a matching game with the letters (i.e. matching A to a, B to b etc.)

  • Teach your child their letter sounds

    • This is extremely important! Many kids come to school knowing the alphabet song, or the names of the letters, however they don’t always know the sounds the letters make.

    • When teaching the vowel sounds, teach your child the short vowel sounds such as “ah” for the letter A, instead of “eh”, or “aw” for the letter “O”.

    • When your child is just learning, flashcards that are linked to a specific picture can be beneficial (i.e. “ah” is for “apple”).

    • Make it fun! Hide the letter cards around the house, toss bean bags on the letters as your child says them, or point out print while your driving or out in your community.

    • If you choose to purchase flashcards, pay close attention to the pictures that are associated with each sound. For example, you don’t want to see a picture of an oyster associated with the letter O card if you are trying to teach your child that the letter “O” makes the “aww” sound (since oyster begins with the “oi” sound). This becomes too confusing!

Did you know that literacy falls under the scope of practice for Speech-Language Pathologists in Canada? We are eager to share our knowledge and training with your child, this is just the beginning! You will begin to see your child reach exciting milestones. Use this opportunity to bond with your child as they enter into the amazing world of literacy!


Canada’s Children’s Literacy Foundation

*Insights on Canadian Society, Statistics Canada: “The association between skills and low income.”

**Ohio State University, “When Children Are Not Read to At Home: Million Word Gap”

***The Reading Agency. “The Impact of Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment”

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